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  • Curtis Wray Carter

PREVIEW OF CONFESSIONS OF SHINES AND SHADES I: CHILDREN OF LUNA

Updated: Mar 12

CHAPTER 1

--Nahum--

Feoroan 1, 395 New Era (N.E.)

Where the hell is she?

The six-wheeled rover skittered to a stop, kicking up a dense plume of grey dust. The driver popped out of her seat, swinging out from the roll bar, a mess of bouncing blonde curls. Storming towards him, her oversized boots punished the ground beneath her feet.

“I don’t wanna hear it,” Naomi barked.

“Didn’t say a word,” sighed Nahum, shaking his head and grinning.

“Fucking drill. Piece of shit kept overheating ‘til the motor crapped out.” When she stood toe-to-toe with Nahum, she just came up to his shoulder. They shared the same blue eyes but there was something different in hers he didn’t have in his own.

“What the fuck?” she snapped throwing up her arms.

“Just marveling at your mastery of vocabulary,” said Nahum. He walked over to the grey rock where his tool bags were sitting and slung one over each shoulder.

“Being short of quota will wipe that stupid smirk off your face,” she said stomping after him, hefting another pack onto her shoulder. Following him back to the rover she dumped the pack into the cargo bed. “That’s two strikes this month.”

“Maybe if you weren’t so rough on the equipment—“

“Spare me the lecture,” she said putting up her hand like a shield.

“Sorry,” said Nahum cinching down one of the securing straps. “Just figured being your older brother, you’d benefit from my wisdom and life experience.” He made another trip to get the rest of his gear.

“Seriously?” she said trailing after him. “You’re like, seven minutes older than me.”

They finished packing up the drilling unit: the motor, the four-legged stand it mounted on, the core-cutting cylinder. There were the core samples, ten in separate meter-long chrome canisters. After it was all strapped down and secured, there wasn’t room for anything else.

“So what’d you have to do to keep this bitch going today?” said Naomi clamping the drill motor in place.

“The usual,” said Nahum tugging at one of the legs on the drill stand. It wasn’t going anywhere. “Kept the dust out as best I could, tweaked the throttle when I bared down, whispered sweet nothings into the exhaust port.”

“You’re so full of shit,” she said laughing, punching him in the arm as she walked around him towards the driver’s seat.

“Uh, Nay? What are you doing?” asked Nahum.

“What’s it look like?” she said climbing inside, blowing the grey dust that settled on the dash as she started flipping several switches.

“I think maybe I should drive,” he said standing next to her, his hand resting on the roll bar overhead.

“Nahum, I love you, but you drive like a girl.”

“You’re a girl.”

Naomi smiled and shook her head as she shifted the rover in gear. “Let’s go,” she said. Nahum sighed, shoulders slumping as he went around to the passenger seat. He hadn’t even strapped in when she stomped on the accelerator. All six wheels spun free, kicking up a new storm of dust. Naomi cut the steering wheel hard to the right just as the tires bit. The rover whipped halfway around and shot off like a rocket.

This far beyond the perimeter it was mostly rock. Rock covered in that grimy, grey dust that gets on and in between anything and everything. Its chalky smell filled his nostrils, stuck to the roof of his mouth, caked at the back of his throat and ran down in his lungs doing god knows nothing good.

There were a few scatterings of green here and here. Hardy shrubs and mosses mostly. It was the only stuff that could cut it out here, botanical pioneers of what was to come.

The rover bounced up and down, his stomach jolting along with it as they caromed over every rock and rut. Taking slow, deep breaths, the chalky air swelled in his chest. He tried to focus on something in the distance. What he saw were reminders of what once had been. Standing poised down in the flatland he spied a giant gold and silver spider. He knew it was a relic of the First Ones, an idol to some long-forgotten god.

And above him he saw Carcass, the Old World, peeking halfway out from the void. So many white clouds cluttered the surface, but some days, like this one, he could make out the greens and browns of continents, the blue of the ocean waters. So much water. So much everything, or so the stories go.

Twenty minutes later they were back inside the perimeter. Settlement Grid Seven. Home. Laid out like the dozen or so others that dotted the Near Side. Each grid was divided up into four quadrants. Each quad was designated for one of the four fields of service: Agriculture & Food Service, Resource Exploration & Extraction, Maintenance & Mechanical, and Research & Development. The quads were then divvied up into different departments and sub-departments.

They skidded to a stop in front of a two-story cracker box of corrugated steel, like many of the buildings on the grid. This one was the Analytics building in Research & Development. Nahum and Naomi unstrapped the eighteen canisters and carried them inside. Being short of the daily quota, they earned a rather stern look from a humorless and wrinkle-ridden old bag in dark blue coveralls named Esther. “One more strike…” she said, clicking her tongue.

“No shit,” muttered Naomi.

Nahum was still feeling a little green when they screeched to a stop in front of the maintenance warehouse. Rufus, the chief mechanic, was standing out front. In his late sixties, Rufus was ancient. Tall and lean, his big bulbous head looked like it might tip him over. His brown coveralls, smeared with oil and grease, hung loose off his stooped shoulders. Now, thanks to Naomi, they were covered with a fresh coat of grey dust.

“Sorry, Rufus,” said Naomi wincing from behind the wheel. “Didn’t see you there.”

“That’s what worries me,” said Rufus already making his way to the back of the rover. “But apology accepted.” Nahum and Naomi both jumped out and helped the old man unload their gear.

“I see you burned up another motor, girl,” said Rufus.

“How do you know it wasn’t Nahum?” she said. Rufus peered down at her over the wire-rims of his dust-covered spectacles. “Well, it wasn’t my fault—“

“And how in holy hell did you do this?” asked the old mechanic holding up two halves of a shattered cutting cylinder. “I didn’t know this could even happen to neusteel.” Nahum sniggered. Naomi backhanded her brother across the chest.

“Quite an accomplishment, Nay,” said Nahum grinning, rubbing the place where she’d belted him. She was winding up for another when Rufus stepped in between them.

“Cut it out,” said Rufus. “You two need to head over for count.”

“What about you?” asked Nahum.

“Don’t worry about me,” said Rufus, giving Naomi’s motor a once over. “Run along now,” he said shooing them away.

They both thanked him and hurried for the square at the center of the grid. Along the way Naomi did her ranting and raving. Mostly it was bitching about how shoddy their gear was. How unreasonable and unfair quotas were. How someone should do something. Not that Nahum was paying much mind by now. Lots of nods and “uh-huh’s”, his eyes darting around. It wasn’t that Nahum disagreed with her; he just didn’t see the point. It was what it was. It wasn’t like they could do anything anyway. It was better not to say anything. Better still to avoid offering her any kind of advice. Best not to propose any solutions of any kind. He’d learned these lessons the hard way. He knew she just needed to vent, get it out, be heard, something she was doing more and more of these days. At least she’d learned to use a hushed tone.

All laborers, everyone over the age of twelve cycles, was herded together and arranged by quadrant, department and so on down the lines for a morning count before shift and an evening count after. As the twins neared the square they saw more and more of their coverall-clad comrades. Agriculture & Food Service in green. Maintenance & Mechanical like Rufus wore brown. Research & Development wore dark blue. Nahum and Naomi wore the grey of Resource Exploration & Extraction..

There were enforcers too, members of the governor’s security service. They wrangled people like cattle, pushing and prodding anyone within reach of their meter-long pain batons. They looked human enough, not that anyone could tell for certain what they were with the face shields on their helmets or the armored exoskeletons that covered their bodies. Well armed, every trooper had a lase-rifle clipped to their back, a lase-pistol holstered on the hip and pain batons in hand.

Nahum and Naomi were among the last wave filing in. Naomi pushed and elbowed her way to their proper place in the row, Nahum following in her wake, mouthing muted apologies to every dirty look and stink eye aimed at them.

The square was little more than an equilateral patch of grey dirt, set aside for the sole purpose of the counts. Rising up from the center of the square was the metal scaffolding of the observation tower. Sitting on top was a neusteel booth, a black banner draped across the front with “Conservation Through Compliance” stamped across it in big white block letters. Enforcers were everywhere. Surrounding the square, lining the quadrant rows, half of them taking positions around the base of the tower. Nahum was one in a sea of placid faces pointed towards the tower, his eyes following with the rest. It was the first day of a new quarter. The commandant was there. He could see her at the top standing ramrod straight, flanked by her top lieutenants.

The alarm horn blared. Nahum could feel his sister’s eyes roll as he and everyone else snapped to attention. No one dared move or speak, not even Naomi. The enforcers started down the rows. One enforcer walked up to Nahum, holding out his forearm. Mounted on the enforcer’s armored plating was a screen he raised to Nahum’s face. Nahum stared into the screen waited for the green flash and beep. The enforcer moved on, leaving Nahum to blink the dots from his eyes. Another alarm horn. The count was complete. No one moved. Not on the first day of a new quarter. There was a squeal and crackle as the public address system kicked on. “The count is clear. Stand by for the commandant,” said a voice.

All of the laborers remained rigid, frozen in place, eyes locked on the tower. The commandant stepped to the microphone. Her uniform was like any other enforcer save the five-star gold cluster emblazoned on each shoulder plate instead of a trooper’s silver service bars.

“The following persons, by virtue of turning eighteen cycles this past quarter, shall report to their respective medical facilities for the registration,” she said in a cold, flat tone. Nahum looked at Naomi who was already looking back at him. His was the fifth name called, hers right after of course. “You shall report after tomorrow morning’s count. Participation is not an option. Quotas will not be reduced for those reporting. Pairings will be announced at evening count. Females shall report to new grid assignments in one week.”

Nahum shared another glance with his sister. Maybe she’d get a match here. Naomi was already shaking her head, no, they would never let that happen. “Conservation through compliance,” said the commandant. She put her fist to her chest and saluted.

“It is the only way,” chanted the crowd, returning her salute. One more alarm horn. The rows dissolved as the people filed out. It was feeding time and every quad melted back towards their respective mess halls. Nahum and Naomi fell in with the grey stream of their kind.

They followed the growing smell of steaming staleness emanating from the mess hall, a rectangular box of corrugated neusteel laid on its long side. There was an entrance at one end, an exit at the other. Nahum and Naomi went through like everyone else, each taking a rublastic tray off one of the stacks and one of the all-in-one utensils from a big metal bin. The food was doled out like an assembly line. One green-clad worker dumped some brown slop in his tray’s biggest slot. The next spooned out some greenish-looking goo in a smaller slot. Another tossed on a roll of bread that nearly bounced off the tray. At the end of the line, they were each handed a clear rublastic cup. They went over to the machine at the end of the line, holding it under while a cloudy white liquid was squirted inside. Then they went to their usual spot at one of the long white tables that ran the length of the interior.

Nahum could see Augustus in his white coat, waving them over, the crinkled crow’s feet around his eyes hinting a smile through his thick dark beard. A few grey hairs had sprouted up around his chin and invaded the curly dark hair around his temples. He looked better than most at forty-five cycles.

“Didn’t see you at count,” said Augustus as they all sat down. “Had me worried.” Nahum just shrugged, grimacing as he swallowed a mouthful of the brown stuff.

“How are things at the clinic, Gus?” asked Nahum.

“Just the usual,” he said. Augustus tore his roll apart, using half of it to sop up some of the brown mush before tossing it in his mouth. There was a loud crunching sound as he chewed. Little else was said. More of the same idle chatter. Anything more was unwise amid so many listening ears.


CHAPTER 2

Feoroan 2, 395 N.E.

Augustus being the quad’s physician had its perks. Nahum and Naomi had skipped the morning meal and gone straight over to the clinic before the count. Augustus had taken their blood and submitted the samples himself. Pairings would be announced at the evening count. They would worry about the results then. Not that they could change anything. For now the important thing was the twins hadn’t lost any time. They got over to the warehouse, signed out a rover, loaded up all their gear and were rolling out to the first site as fast as Naomi could drive them.

But even though he’d worked through the night, Rufus Truex couldn’t repair Naomi’s busted drill motor and there were no spares available. He said he might have something by midday but there were no guarantees. Not that they could lose the time going back and forth anyway. They would work both sites together praying it all went perfectly.

It did not. Past noonday they were still at the first site with only four cores bored. Whatever had afflicted Naomi’s drill the day before must have been contagious. The remaining motor was running hot and Nahum couldn’t figure out why. On top of that, there was a short somewhere between the motor and the cutting cylinder. He figured it had probably been jarred loose on the ride over. Without a sound connection, the cylinder didn’t spin, so no cores could be cut and collected. Throw in a handful of the usual glitches and the day was a full-on disaster. A third strike seemed a foregone conclusion.

Nahum tried to push all this from his mind as he wiped the sweat pouring off his forehead on the back of his glove. He’d found a fix for the short and hoped it would hold as he and Naomi huffed and grunted through their respirators, dragging the drilling unit across the dust into a new position. Once they had the unit in place, Nahum set the laser sight. Naomi went and crouched down nearby, checking and rechecking the drill’s calibration on her hand-held. She gave Nahum a thumb up and they both pulled down their face shields. Nahum powered up the drill motor. “How’s it looking?” he shouted over the din. She gave another thumb up. Nodding, Nahum started the cutting cylinder, turning the control handle, easing the cylinder down to the surface. The vibrations radiated up through his arms and made the tips of his fingers dull and tingly. He held his breath as the cylinder burrowed into the ground. Less than halfway down there was a loud knock and the whole unit jolted to one side. The knock begat a louder knock, followed by a bang and a series of metallic cracks and pops as the whole unit started bouncing on its legs. Nahum tried to shut it down but the motor whirred to a stop on its own, a last gasping bang before smoke belched from the motor’s housing vents.

“Fuck!” said Naomi kicking at the ground. “Now what?”

“I was hoping you could tell me,” said Nahum. He bent over to take a closer look, his hands resting on his knees.

“Dunno,” she said shaking her head, smacking the side of her hand-held with her palm.

“All the sudden everything just spiked.”

“Probably the throttle control. Maybe we got lucky,” said Nahum taking off his face shield and respirator. Nahum reached for the housing panel. “Damn it!” he said jerking his hand away and shaking it in the air. “That’s hot.”

“No shit,” said Naomi coming over to take a look at his hand. “Smoke means hot, dumbass.”

Nahum glared and snatched his hand away from her. He turned back to the motor. Getting a pry bar from his tool kit he slid the side housing panel free. “Take a look,” he said pointing with the pry bar. “See? When the T.C. let go, it tore all its guts out.” He threw the pry bar down in the dirt, putting his hands on his head as he took a deep breath. It didn’t help. Not even a little.

“Fuck!” Naomi kicked one of the unit’s mounting legs.

“You said that already,” said Nahum.

“Well I’m saying it again, goddamit!”

“And it’s not helping us. Take a beat,” he said.

“Take a hike,” she shot back, throwing off her face shield and respirator to the ground.

“I’m sorry,” he said reaching out for her. “Come here.”

“Nahum,” she said backing away, “we don’t have time—“

“We make time,” he said. “We promised.”

“We were five.”

“So? Come on,” he said going to put his arms around her. “We need this.” Naomi nodded and sighed. They moved close, leaning into one another until their foreheads were touching.

“Endurance,” he began.

“Perseverance,” she replied.

“Patience.”

“Always patience.”

“These are our watch words,” they said together.

“These words are hope and life,” he said.

“Our time will come,” she answered.

The last line they said together, “Let it be so.”

Naomi broke away and made for the rover. “What’re you doing?” asked Nahum going after her.

“Maybe Rufus came through for us,” she said jumping into the driver’s seat and strapping in.

“I’ll go with you,” he said starting around for the other side.

“No way,” she said waving him off. She toggled the ignition and started the engine. “Stay. See if you can work your magic. Whisper sweet nothings and all that crap.” She smashed the accelerator and was halfway to the horizon before the dust settled.

Nahum waited until she was out of sight before he went back to tinker with the drill motor. It didn’t take the two minutes he bothered with it to see it was terminal. He planted his foot against the side housing and kicked the whole damn thing over on its side.

“Keep her safe.” That was his mother’s mandate the last time he saw her. He said he would, a boy too young to realize the weight of what she’d asked or the promise he’d made. And now he was about to fail and there was nothing he could do to spare Naomi from what would come next. He shuddered at the thought of it. He’d bear the brunt of it if they’d let him. He’d beg, plead, grovel. He wasn’t above that so long as they let her be.

That mantra was the last thing his mother had ever given him. It was all he had left of her now, of both their parents. He said the words again, to himself this time. He took a deep breath. Then another. And one more after that. He whispered the words over and over until he wore a circular path in the dirt. With each recitation he felt the knot in his stomach give, the tightness in his chest ease. It would be okay. Everything would be okay. Somehow, some way. It wasn’t denial or delusion, but a feeling as real as the heart beating in his chest.

When he opened his eyes it was like looking at his world for the first time. He could smell the chalkiness of its earth. He squatted down and ran his hands through it, feeling the cool grit of its grains between his fingers. Tilting his head back he basked in the deafening silence all around. And beyond all of it, beyond the veil of his sensory experiences was this thing, this otherness he couldn’t put a name to. All he knew was that it had been there all along, before his knowing it, like it had been waiting for him to feel its presence. It came with this strange awareness both new and familiar at the same time. He was now conscious of the physical space he filled and his being’s place in time and how space and time were related, linked, the same. He found himself chuckling, laughing at the idea of it, that it had taken him this long to see the truth of it. His people had come far in space and time over the generations. Once a person would’ve needed a special vacuum-sealed suit and a bulky oxygen tank to stand where he was now. He took another long, deep breath and let it out slowly, savoring it. Maybe he’d snapped. Maybe he’d lost it. If this was going crazy, it wasn’t so bad.

Worry came out of nowhere, shoving its way into the front of his mind. “Naomi,” he mumbled. “Where the hell are you?” Looking back towards the grid, he saw no telltale plume of dust to sign her returning. What-if’s started swirling around in his brain. What if she’d wrecked the rover? What if she was trapped or hurt? What if she needed him and he was here daydreaming like an idiot? One image flashed in his mind after another. Not the twisted metal of a wreck but something else, like broken pieces of a dream he couldn’t quite remember. Staggering, he put his hand on a rock for balance.

Naomi.

Nahum was running now. He didn’t even realize it until he felt the burning in his lungs, his legs. The images were just fragments, but there was that feeling, that feeling that made him push himself, churn his legs harder than he ever thought he could.

Bent over, hands on his knees, he couldn’t stop coughing. Gasping for air, his lungs croaked. Falling to his knees he stuck his fingers down his throat until he gagged. He hacked out a lump of grey clay that splattered on the ground like a loose turd. Pushing himself up on his knees he saw the dull corroded sheet metal of the warehouse façade. Their rover was there. Parked out front, all crooked like he would’ve expected. The cargo bed was empty though. Getting to his feet he shuffled inside.

The warehouse was one big open space that reeked of engine oil and industrial cleaner that made the insides of his nostrils burn. The floor was concrete. There were several rows of work stations, each with its own mechanic or service technician. Sectioned off by a chain-link fence, the back half of the warehouse was for storage, tools, spare parts and the like. In the back corner was the monitoring office with a large picture glass window. It had that kind of mirrored glass where only the people inside could see out.

Nahum felt something was off as soon as he stepped inside. There was the usual clanging of metal on metal, the cranking of hand tools, the machine whirring of power tools. But that was it. There wasn’t any of the usual chatter, the good-natured ribbing, the back and forth banter he was used to hearing bounce around the shop. No one even spoke to him. No one even looked Nahum’s way. Stranger still, there were no enforcers. Not one. There were always a few patrolling the aisles. Always.

The knot in his gut started to bind and twist. His eyes darted around. He saw Rufus Truex hunched over his work station. He would know where Naomi was. The old man looked up, then away as soon as he saw Nahum coming.

“Hey Rufus,” said Nahum. The old man jumped like somebody goosed him. Fumbling the circulator in his hand, it clattered against the floor. When Rufus stooped down to pick it up, Nahum saw his hands were shaking. Rufus’ hands never shook. Never.

“Sorry,” said Nahum patting Rufus on the back. “Didn’t mean to startle you. I was wondering—“

“Nope. Haven’t seen, Naomi. No idea where she is,” Rufus sputtered out shaking his head. He still wouldn’t look at Nahum. Rufus wiped his forehead with a rag, smearing some black grease across his brow. “Real busy. Don’t know who’s coming or going,” he chuckled. Nahum watched, a horrible sinking feeling inside as Rufus tried to force a star-head wrench onto the hex-bolt head of the circulator.

“Right,” said Nahum backing away. “Well, I’ll leave you to it.” Just as Nahum was about to turn he saw a woman at the station across from Rufus staring at him with her big bug eyes. He’d seen her countless times but couldn’t put a name to the face. She was just Bug Eyes. At first he thought it was some kind of weird tick. Her eyes shot to one side, then again. He followed the line of her eyes to the back of the warehouse, to the office with the big window that no one could see into. He looked back at Bug Eyes and gave the slightest nod.

Nahum started down the aisle, his heart pounding. The knot in his stomach got tighter with every step he took. It was getting hard to breathe and his vision was starting to tunnel. All he could see was the office door, a big yellow sign with all capital black letters. Authorized Personnel Only. All he could hear was the pulse of his blood beating—

There was a muffled scream from the other side, the unmistakable sound of a firm hand against soft flesh. Nahum looked back at the others. Every one of them kept their heads down, their eyes on their work.

“Naomi!” He had to do something. If that was all he could do, he had to at least let her know he was there. He threw himself shoulder-first as hard as he could, bouncing back off the double-reinforced neusteel door. Still, it jarred something loose inside, something that was now humming through his whole body.

There was the battered shaft of an old piston lying on table nearby. About a meter long, it came from one of their large cultivator engines. Picking it up he didn’t think about how light it felt in his hands. He didn’t think at all. Nahum just wound up and swung, with all he had and all he didn’t know he had. The end of the neusteel rod smashed right through the door’s magnetic locking bolt. The door flung open, smashing against the inside wall with a bang.

Naomi.

He looked down; a torn pair of white underwear was at his feet.

The four enforcers were in various states of undress. One of them was kneeling between Naomi’s legs. Unlike the others, he wasn’t wearing his helmet. Nahum had never seen one of their faces before. Two enforcers were kneeling on Naomi’s arms, pinning her down. The fourth man, bare-chested, stood off to the side, his hand on his crotch.

Naomi lay on her back; her coveralls pulled down and bunched around her ankles. Her mouth and nose were busted and bleeding. One eye was glassed over; the other cut had a gash over her brow and was swollen shut.

“Get the hell out of here, moon boy!” said The Face. He made no effort to cover himself or even get up. “You’ll get her back when we’re done,” he said, the four of them having a good laugh at that.

Nahum wasn’t laughing. He just stood there, shaking. Not because he was afraid, no. It wasn’t the adrenaline of anger or rage either. This was something else. The humming inside was growing stronger, coursing through his whole body with the tingling vibration of an electric current. His hands tightened around his makeshift shillelagh.

“You deaf, moon, boy?” said The Face. He motioned to the men kneeling on Naomi. They got up and started towards Nahum, the bare-chested one falling in behind. The current inside Nahum rushed up like a wave, running down his arm, through his hands and into his fingertips.

Nahum took a step towards the nearest enforcer, spinning around as he swung the neusteel rod with both hands. The enforcer’s helmet shattered, his lower jaw smashed with a stomach-turning crack. Nahum felt the spray of warm blood and bits of teeth on his face. He knew the trooper was dead before the body hit the floor.

Wiping his comrade’s blood from his eyes, the second enforcer never saw it coming. Nahum pivoted and punched the end of the piston rod through his helmet visor and through the back of his skull. A mist of red and grey matter splattered all over the bare-chested man who was fumbling for his lase-pistol. Nahum dropped his arms, the second man’s head sliding off his weapon as the rest of him fell to the floor. The bare-chested man raised his lase-pistol just as Nahum swung his club, the neusteel rod. The enforcer stared with wide-eyes, his hand pointing one way, the bones of his forearm poking through his skin in the other direction, blood spurting, leaking the floor. The second blow struck the side of his head, snapping his head to one side. The enforcer swayed on his feet a few moments before flopping limp onto the other two.

The Face was scrambling, trying to get his pants up, his feet slipping and sliding in the puddles of blood and gore. He tried zipping up his uniform but his trembling hands were useless. Nothing he tried to say made any sense. It was all gibberish.

Nahum stalked towards The Face, backing him into a corner. The Face pushed against the wall, sliding up on his feet. He couldn’t look at Nahum; his glazed over stare fixed on the bits of bone and brain sticking to Nahum’s weapon and blood oozing from one end.

The room smelled like piss.

The Face held up his shaking hands. “L-L-Listen b-boy,” he stammered, getting the use of his tongue back. “You’re in a lotta trouble. B-But I can help you, see?” The Face was talking faster now. “I can be a friend, a real good friend to you. Forget this whole thing. Make it all go away. Everybody goes home. Everybody wins. What do ya say?”

Nahum didn’t say anything. He stared at The Face, cocking his head to one side. Nahum jammed the end of the neusteel rod into the enforcer’s sternum with a crack. The Face grabbed his chest as slid back down the wall, gasping like a fish out of water. Standing over him, Nahum raised the club over his head with both hands. He swung down with all he had and all he didn’t know he had. He felt no resistance. Looking down he saw The Face was gone; his head cleaved in two like a rotten melon.

The neusteel piston rod felt so heavy in his hands, impossible to hold onto. It clanged to the floor, cracking the concrete. Then he saw what he’d done, really saw it. His legs were like rubber, his knees buckling. Feeling like someone reached inside and squeezed his guts with both hands, he doubled over; puke now mixing in with the rest of the mess.

Naomi.

Nahum rushed to her side. He started to pull up her coveralls but halfway up her legs she came to and started flailing her arms and kicking her tangled legs. “Naomi, it’s me,” he said, her brow furrowing. She stopped fighting, allowing Nahum to finish getting her dressed. “Can you walk?” he asked. She gave a wobbly nod, muttering something he couldn’t make out.

“We’re getting out of here. We’re getting you help, okay?” he said. Nahum put one of her arms over his shoulder and started to lift her but she moaned in agony. Cradling her side, she cried out. With no good way to go about it, he stood her up as quick as he could, heaving her on her feet. One of her ankles, or maybe it was a knee, buckled and she started to go back down. He almost lost her again when he slipped in one of the growing pools under their feet. He took it one step at a time, Naomi shuffling along with him, using him as a crutch. He held his hand over her good eye. He didn’t want her to see what he had done.

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