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An Old Inuit WomanAn old Inuit woman ambles out onto the cool, morning Tundralittle girls on either side, holding hands as one.She is the Elder, they are the learners.She takes them to the crest of the small hillwhere the girls bend to gather twigs.It is a simple task.What they bring back will start the firesboiling the caribou.What they bring back will feed the emberson the damp spring nights while others sleep.The girls run about the hill making tiny piles of sticksbringing them back to the old woman whose wrinkled brown hands feel the lengthand snap the small willows to an even size.She feels for how dry they are and wraps them one by one into a piece of caribou hide.The little one scamper on either side of the hillat the end of their task, the Elder slaps the ground hard.Two heads turn towards the sound of the shudder.The girls rush to gather the old womanhelping her stand, one on each side.The old woman keeps the bundle of willows tying it around her crooked back.She takes a hand from each little girl And they guide the Elder back to camp.The old woman is blind and the girls are deaf.Together they complete a worthy task.It is how they maintain their importance to the group.It is how they keep themselves alive.Mamaqtuq (good tasting or smelling)Roll out of my hidesto smell the winds.Looking every wayfor the shadows toshow. Women gathertwigs and moss, killkuutsiuti, the smaller keepers ofsmall life.Ilnautuq. Crawling, sliding alongTaalu, smelling the winds.An Eskimo ProclamationWe came here to make you betterTeaching you church and how to knit sweatersChanged your names and made them rightYou dirty little animals full of fightTaught you how to wash your handsTook you off your hostile landsBrought you into our enlightened ageGave you names on a census pageYou're happier than you've ever beenA better side of life you have finally seenOur mission is soon completeYou will no longer eat raw meatYou'll soldier on in our god's nameYou lowly people we have tamedYou will thank us for this soon one dayAnd on your land, we will forever stay

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Excerpt

Beth Poole smirked as she looked across the table at the man who had just issued one of the most absurd statements she'd ever heard. "Really! You're really asking me to believe ...it just disappeared?" Morgan Watson smiled and nodded to her. He didn't know why he had brought it up. Supper had been excellent, he loved pub grub, plus the conversation had been flowing very easily between them. It had been quite awhile since he had been on a first date and had always followed one rule when on one: never to bring up the subject of his cat, Tiberius. He knew many women enjoyed hearing people talk about their cats but whenever he spoke of his, he ended up telling the entire story. Although true, it sounded so far fetched and unbelievable he felt he came off as just another bullshitter trying to impress a woman. In the past whenever he had brought the subject up on a first date, there never was a second. "Really?" Beth repeated. "It just disappeared and you expect me to believe that ... that your cat cured itself ... completely ... of diabetes!" Why did he have to go and break his rule? He knew he should've never mentioned he had a cat which seemed to have entirely beaten the disease until after maybe a few dates, probably more than a few and certainly not on a first date. Perhaps it was because he had already known her for awhile. He had met Beth in a yoga class he took every Wednesday. Although his buddies kidded him about his weekly classes, he felt he really needed them. Morgan was a fencer and the footwork involved really tightened up his body, especially his hips. Yoga helped open them back up and he felt stretched and loose when class was over. It seemed no matter how many people had shown up for class, Beth always managed to be on the mat beside, in front or behind him. He found her so easy to talk with, so after five weeks of chatting before and after class he finally decided to ask her out. Dinner and drinks for a first date was a natural. She had said yes and they decided to hook up at a downtown craft beer pub after work the next night. She was thirty-two, just a couple of years younger than Morgan, dark blonde hair touched with champagne highlights, exuberant in nature, and her skin-tight yoga outfit did not hide what Morgan considered to be a very nice figure. Morgan had stood up and smiled when he saw her entering the pub. It was the first time he had seen Beth in street clothes. She looked stunning in her dark dress pants and blue top. Now instead of enjoying the evening with her, he found himself on the defensive. "Well, it sure seems that way," Morgan said knowing he had to do his best to explain and make it sound like the truth and not some pile of horseshit. He picked up his beer, took a sip and looked around as if seeking help. "You see, Tiberius has, no sorry, I mean once had diabetes. Again, it's really hard to explain. "I adopted Tiberius from a cat rescue when he was just a little kitten and a year later he developed diabetes. I had to test his blood sugar twice a day and give him a shot every two to three days to keep his glucose levels below ten. Then after about two and a half years his levels seemed to stabilize on their own. It's been three years now since I've given him a shot." "And you're sure he had diabetes to begin with?" "That's what Dr. Everingham, his vet, said. For two and a half years I had to give him insulin and it's not cheap. If I went away for a three day weekend, his glucose levels would shoot through the roof and I would have to give him a shot the moment I got back, the next day and sometimes three days in a row to get it back down to where it should be." "Interesting," Beth said while giving him a look which said she really wasn't sure whether she should buy into his story or not. She changed the subject slightly, "So, why the name 'Tiberius'?" "I'm a bit of a Star Trek fan. If you know the franchise James T. Kirk was the captain. The 'T' in the name was short for Tiberius." Damn! This could be strike two, thought Morgan right after answering. First she hears what she considers a bullshit story and now thinks I'm a full out Trekky. Next she'll be asking me if I live in my parents' basement! Beth looked down at her watch and then back at Morgan. "It's almost eight-thirty. I've got to get going. Remember I told you I had plans at later on tonight?""Yes you did," he answered and managed to stop their server on the way to request the bill. "I'll pay so you can get going. Your get-together is at nine-thirty if I remember right and I don't want to hold you up." "No, we're splitting the bill. Maybe I'll let you pick up the tab next time. Let's talk about it next Wednesday after yoga."Bingo! She wants to go out again. She doesn't think I'm a dick.Morgan walked Beth out to the sidewalk and hailed a cab for her. They said their goodbyes with a hug outside and she gave him a kiss on the cheek before she climbed into the rear seat and sped off into the night. The next day, Friday, when Morgan walked into his third floor Toronto condo after work, Tiberius was there as usual, waiting to greet him. Morgan was always amazed by an animal's internal clock. Every morning, Tiberius seemed to know minutes before the alarm went off it was just about to. He stationed himself in front of Morgan's face accordingly so he would be the first thing Morgan saw when he opened his eyes. When Morgan arrived home from work, he was always sitting in the same spot, staring at the door "Hey Tiberius! How's my boy?" he said bending over to give him a pat. Tiberius never acknowledged the question as he was too busy purring away. After a few pats, Tiberius always flipped over onto his back to get his belly rubbed. Morgan would then scoop him up and walk over to the window so they both could look out. Same routine, every single night after work.

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Home by the Sea
Excerpt

Unmarked roads took unexpected turns near cliffs, dipped so suddenly that objects ahead appeared to be swallowed up whole, sucked into invisible chasms. Bev couldn't even be sure if they were in fact traveling on a road. There were parallel lines somewhere underneath, faint borders on either side. Everything else either emerged or dissipated at the front or rear end of the compact little container in which she found herself ensconced. Nothing else seemed to exist outside of this limited frame of reference. As far as she was concerned, nothing else mattered. The further they went along the craggy rolling hills, the darker Bev's mood became. She looked out the window, tried to be specific about what she saw. She wanted to name a plant, describe vegetation to herself, name aspects of the landscape. She longed for a passing bird, the sudden appearance of a plane in the sky. She searched a peculiar shade, an unusual color. Desperately needing to keep her mind occupied, she wanted to focus on concrete objects. Nothing registered. Everything moved so slowly all around her and yet remained incomprehensible to her There was so little I can hold onto. By now, the strange rock formations she had noticed earlier had disappeared. She was left with occasional glimpses of parched land, barren trees. She witnessed the outside world in much the same way a passenger on a train observes the outside landscape in fits and starts. She drifted in and out of consciousness, barely made sense of the collage of fleeting images on the window pane. "Where am I?" she wondered. Bev felt disconnected, removed from what had, until now, constituted her carefully constructed reality. Here, everything seemed insubstantial, ephemeral almost. The more she thought about it, the more she became upset with herself. She had been wrong in not arguing more forcefully against the trip. Though she had been opposed to the idea right from the start, she hadn't found the arguments to sway her husband from his resolve. Had she tried hard enough? Obviously not. He had been going on for days about his need for a new start. "Are you that unhappy?" she would ask him. "What does happiness have to do with it?" invariably came his gruff reply. She would try to reason with him. "If you need to start over, that means you want to leave something behind." "You're missing the point altogether." Yes, she was obviously missing the point. "I've got to get out of here," he would sometimes say out of the blue. "Then just go," she lashed out at him. "You have to come with me," he simply responded, without giving any explanation He had no specific reasons for wanting her to accompany him, could only state the urgency of the action itself. "We have to go," he insisted more forcefully each day. "Where in hell do you want us to go?" He had no answer. At night, he clung to her more and more. She had to wrench herself away from him. "You have to come with me," she pleaded each morning and throughout the day, either on the cell phone or in e-mail messages he constantly sent to her from work. "This is crazy," she tried to reason with him. "If we leave, we have to have a destination." He had a look of consternation on his face. Obviously she was missing the point altogether. "Don't we?" The frown on his face provided her with his obvious answer. Her resistance grew weaker by the day. There was something in the way he insisted that made it almost impossible for her to deny him. Perhaps it was the tremulousness in his voice, implying vulnerability, or the emphatic tone, suggesting that what he was asking her, according to his skewed logic, made perfect sense, went beyond words. His eyes projected such certainty. A finality also. They had most definitely reached a turning point. She either had to believe him, or else let the whole matter drop once and for all. On some level she knew he was pleading with her. She could sense that his obsession with leaving wasn't just a whim. It was in fact a matter of life and death to him. Still she didn't completely trust him. He had tricked her before. She had to be on her guard. She was torn. A part of her wanted to view his behavior as mere theatrics while the other sensed that much more was at stake. The tragic side of his personality had such a strong appeal to her. She was a sucker for pathos. Tragedy brought out the best in her. Whenever disaster surfaced, she always caved in. She was now paying the price for her deficiency. She had submitted to his subtle bullying, had agreed to go with him on this insane ride, had stopped asking questions. The moment they left the city, he became sulky, had ripped the cell-phone out of her hand when she tried to call her mother to explain her absence, had unceremoniously thrown it out the window. She tried to focus on a reflection, any reflection, in the side-view mirror only managing to pick up patches of mist and fragments of branches. She couldn't shake the feeling that she had once again fallen into one of his traps.

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Secret of the Azure Stone
Excerpt

"Secret? What do you mean secret?" Owen asked, almost laughing as he spoke. Since killing the dragon Kalureth, and ridding his home village of the evil King, Owen was now a hero amongst his people and the dwarves. So much had changed in his life. No longer was he a picked-on kid, but a respected knight of both human and dwarven kind. Yet, after all of his adventures, here he was sitting with his mentor, afraid that more challenges may await him.Uthgar's arms lightly shook under his immense bulk, obviously still weak from the evil King's powers. Owen thought he heard a low grunt as his old friend repositioned himself higher on the bed and pillows. "The Azure stone is no ordinary piece of rock, it is not something that we come across very often. The one you and I retrieved was the first I had ever seen in my time.""Well I gathered it was pretty important given the fact that both you and the evil King wanted it. And I know it was much lighter than it looked, and stronger. But, that's not really what I would consider a secret. You forged it, made my armour and sword, which are awesome, so there can't be too much else, right?""On the contrary, Owen. The azure stone contains mystical power that if placed in the wrong hands can be tremendously dangerous.""Wait, did you say mystical power? You aren't serious," Owen smirked at Uthgar skeptically."I am very serious, Owen. There's a reason the evil King wanted the stone so badly. He too knew of the immense power the stone contains.""Listen, Uthgar, I know you're really tired from the fight and it's going to take you some time to recuperate, so why don't you lay back down and get some more rest. I'll go get you a glass of water and put it beside your bed. Then I'll leave you be for a little while longer, ok? I'm sure you are under some heavy medicine from the doctor as well." Owen smiled reassuringly as he stood to leave the room."Owen, stop!" Uthgar commanded. Owen was more than aware of the seriousness of his friend's tone, and immediately turned, looking quite agitated. "Now listen to me. Although you may not completely understand what I am trying to tell you, it is paramount that you remain here and allow me to finish. We could all be in great danger. Now sit, and be quiet.""Alright, I'm listening," Owen sighed as he sat back down in the wooden chair adjacent to Uthgar's bed. "Sorry, I didn't mean to be rude. It's just that when you started mentioning mystical power I was a bit thrown off. Go ahead."Uthgar cleared his throat, his eyebrows wrinkled with irritation. "As I was saying," he began sarcastically, "the Azure stone does contain power. That power translates differently for the intended user." "Intended user? What is that, like good and evil?" Owen asked. "Yes, that's one way to describe it. Think about yourself, Owen. You wear the armour and wield the sword, what does it do for you?" Owen's mouth opened slightly and his eyes narrowed. He stared hard at Uthgar, not sure what answer his friend was looking for. "For me? Well, um.... I don't really know," Owen stumbled over his words. He didn't want to upset Uthgar again, but in his mind, he didn't know how to take the question seriously. "Think, Owen. When you fought Kalureth, how were you able to find the strength within yourself to hold your ground as he blasted you with fire? You were still very early in your training. Would you have been strong enough to withstand the force without the suit on? Or when you faced the evil King?" "When I fought the dragon, the suit started melting, you had to repair it, and I wasn't wearing the armour against the King. You know that," Owen argued. "Yes, but you were holding the shield." Uthgar painfully adjusted his position once again. "Owen, it may be difficult to understand, but there are healing properties within the Azure stone which assist you; healing properties and an aura of strength. While these properties may seem mild, they are present, nonetheless." "O.k., let's say these mystical powers are there, what happens if someone like the evil King gets a hold of them? Do they heal him too?" Owen still didn't believe Uthgar's claims but decided to play along. "Someone as powerful as the evil King would gain even greater strength and increase his abilities. It's impossible to say exactly what would happen to him, however, it would certainly be a tremendous evil." "Why are you telling me this? The King is gone. He vanished before our eyes in the castle the other day, you saw it yourself. Why are we even talking about this?" Owen asked, exasperated. "Your adventure is far from over, my son. While the King may have vanished, I fear his hatred and lust for power lives on. There are still those who would seek the scepter in his name." "But, if there is only one azure stone, and..." Owen stopped talking and slunk back in his chair, momentarily allowing his head to drop into his hands. "There's another stone out there somewhere isn't there?" Owen grumbled in a muffled groan. "Not another stone, but something that was crafted by my kind many years ago when the last Azure stone fell to this earth. It was many days travel from here. The stone was considered a gift from wherever it had fallen. The dwarves tried to craft it. For years they toiled in their forges until one day, a great dwarf named Kralthin discovered that by heating the stone to a specific temperature and adding other minerals to the molten, he could craft a scepter of enchanting beauty. Once the scepter was finished, Kralthin polished it and presented it to the King, my great, great grandfather. It was then that we dwarves discovered the healing powers the azure stone possessed. The scepter was a symbol of strength and allowed my great great grandfather to have a clear mind when he made decisions that would affect the masses. As years went by, he passed it to his son, my great grandfather. His reign was one of much war and unrest. Not wanting the scepter to fall into the wrong hands, he decided to protect it. He wanted it destroyed, however, the best smiths could not break or destroy it completely. Instead, they could only break the scepter into three pieces which were then scattered throughout the land." Uthgar stopped speaking momentarily. Owen could tell he was getting weaker. "Lay down Uthgar. Here, I'll help." Owen stood and guided the ailing dwarf to gently fall back onto the bed. He remained standing so Uthgar could see him. "Thank you," Uthgar replied. "If the scepter has been broken, then hidden, why be concerned about it? Does anyone know where the pieces are? If they are found, can the power be used?" Owen asked, feeling much more intrigued with the idea than he had been at the beginning of the conversation. "No one knows exactly where the pieces lay, but I do have approximate locations where the pieces should be found. The pieces still hold power, and if put back together, are much stronger. Before you defeated him, the King sent out several of his soldiers to find these pieces. He wanted the scepter. I fear, they are still out there. There's no telling what could happen if they are placed in the wrong hands." "That's what he meant," Owen whispered. "He, who?" Uthgar asked. "When I was tied up in his castle, I thought the King wanted my armour to re-forge, so it would fit him. He laughed and told me I had no idea what power the azure stone possessed. He wanted a new scepter, or something like it. It makes sense now." "Yes, and he wanted me to create it for him. Also, if he found the pieces of the scepter, he would want me to reform them. Luckily, that did not happen," Uthgar smiled. "I still don't understand why you're telling me this now. I mean, I get that you don't want the scepter to be found and used for evil, but we don't know who would want it now." "I do, Owen. I want to give the scepter to Stephanie." "What? Why give it to my mom? Are you expecting her to need to fight off some monster or something?" Uthgar sighed and rolled his eyes. "No, I want to give it to her as a symbol of peace and unity between humans and the dwarves. If she holds the scepter, created by dwarves, all who dwell in this land will respect her and we can finally live the way I've dreamed of." "Where do I find these pieces?" Owen asked, still feeling somewhat overwhelmed and unsure if he believed everything he had just heard. "I must rest now. I'm so very tired. Send Kaia to me in a few hours. I'll explain to her what I know. I need her help to translate the words of old scrolls into your tongue. Then, you must go and find these pieces before anyone else. I fear, the search by the King's men has already begun. We cannot risk losing the freedom and peace we've worked so hard to achieve." Once again, Uthgar turned his body, his face strained, unable to hide his pain. "I'm getting better Owen, but I must rest. Go now. Discuss this with Kaia and Elsa. You will need help in your travels." Owen didn't know what to say. Instead, he nodded his head, then reached down and hugged Uthgar.

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Yemít and Merímstn
Excerpt

"Where'd Mommy go?" I am in the doorway of my god Daddy's bedroom. I was baptized so I'm an Anglican now. Sometimes I stay with my young mom, sometimes I stay with my aunties and sometimes I stay with my god parents. I love staying with my god parents, but I'm only allowed to stay with them if they aren't drinking. And next to my young mommy, my god mommy is my favorite person in the whole wide world. "I don't know where she is, Baby. Go look in her bedroom." "Hmph." I turn and march back through the kitchen. One Cent, our fat old Siamese cat, is sprawled across the living room floor licking her paws, tail twitching. My god parents have four dogs: Noopy is black and Tina is light brown, both are Chihuahuas. Lady looks like she's from the movie Lady and the Tramp. Tiny is our Lassie dog and he stays outside. They always sit right beside my mommy, except if I'm home. But I can't find any of them. My god mommy bought a brand-new tube of Speed Sew from the fabric store in town and I want to Speed Sew something. Speed Sew is glue used for sewing fabric together, really fast. Her bedroom door is closed. I turn the doorknob, but the door won't move. "Mommy? Are you in there?" Noopy yips in response. I call my god mommy "mommy," too. People always get confused so everywhere we go, we have to explain that she's my god mommy. I trace the wood grain with my finger and find the grandmother and grandfather faces there. I see them everywhere: in patterns on the tile floor or ceiling, in trees and dirt, in shadows and even in my mush. Danny's room is right next door. I stand in his doorway with my toes and my nose inside. I'm not allowed to go inside Danny's room when he's not home. Danny's my god brother and he's a teenager. He wears Wrangler jeans and a western belt and he competes in high school rodeos. He has tiny paints and soft paintbrushes, triangle banners on his ceiling, neatly organized stacks of records and a record player. My favorite songs are "My White Bicycle" and "This Flight Tonight," by Nazareth. My god daddy and Danny do steer roping at Indian rodeos too. They're fast and strong on their horses. When we travel, we pack the day before and load the horse trailer and horses right before we leave town, leaving lonely dogs and a trail of dust at home. The rodeo grounds are a hubbub of activity: cowgirls and cowboys with their horses tied to horse trailers; the crowd cheering for the clown; anxious calves and bulls waiting in the corrals. I'm "this close" to painting a picture at Danny's desk when I hear my Mommy's voice through the closed door. "Yes, Babygirl." "What you doing?" Her dresser drawer is scraping closed."I'll be out in a few minutes, go play." I stare at the painted door. "But I don't want to! I want to come in there." I shake the door again. She slid the butter knife under the doorframe to lock the door closed; I just know it. Noopy starts to whine. "I'll be out soon. Noopy, sit down." "Mommy! I want to come in right now!" Danny's paints don't matter anymore. I shake the knob again. "I wanna Speed Sew too!" I hear the tinkle of Noopy's bell and the clickety-clack of his claws on the floor. Then he's whining and scratching at the door too."Not right now, baby. After. Mommy's busy, go play." "No, I don't want to play!" Why won't she let me in? Since when? "Let me in!" I turn the knob, bang hard with my fist balled up tight. "Mommy!" I holler and frown at the grandmother and grandfather faces on the door, then slide to the floor. I start crying the blues and Noopy joins me from the other side of the door. Finally, the bed squeaks and the door swings wide and she's standing there. My god mommy has one blue eye and one brown eye and her long auburn hair is in a long, wispy braid. She likes to wear slacks and sweaters. "Come in, then." I stand up and walk into her room wiping tears from my eyes. Tina and Lady, those traitors, are lying on her bed. Noopy dances at my feet, licking my hands. I wipe his tears and hug him. We're both happy. Mommy always keeps a clean house but her bedroom is another story. Her dressers are overflowing. She has things stacked everywhere: coats, bras, dresses, blouses on hangers and stacked on chairs, two Holy Bibles and jewelry boxes on her dresser. She has a drawer loaded with tiny, mini lipsticks and jewelry: clip-on rhinestone earrings, rhinestone necklaces and rosaries. Mary the Virgin and Jesus Christ stand in solemn solidarity on her walls."Whatcha doing?" On her bed I see the Speed Sew, along with some foam, and a big pair of silver and black scissors. This is exactly where I want to be."You just nevermind. I'm busy." "I wanna Speed Sew something. I like Speed Sew. I want some of that." I point to the foam. She has a pink quilt and her bed is neatly fixed. The door is closed and the butter knife back in place. Noopy curls up beside me and I get right to work. Mommy draws circles on the foam with a black felt pen. Then, she cuts the circles out with her black and silver scissors. My young mom is always busy doing things with her hands, too. She likes to crochet and sew with her sewing machine. She's been gone for a while now. I feel the thickness expand in my throat, my eyes well and my chest is heavy. "When is my real mommy coming back, Mommy?" "Hmm? She'll come back soon, Babygirl. She always comes back." I try not to feel sad. She's still in the hospital because something happened. Something happened to her. I try not to worry but I always worry about both of them. They both had long hair, but now my young mom's hair is all gone. My god mommy goes to the hospital too sometimes. One time her wrists were in bandages and she had tubes to her nose and arm. She takes medicine from the doctor every day. Sometimes she takes too much. My god mommy always says, "If it wasn't for you, Babygirl, I wouldn't be here." I wonder and wonder, what do those words mean? I don't like the hospital. I use the black pen and scissors and cut my foam into circles too. Then I Speed Sew them together. She glues foam circles to the inside of a pair of brand new stretchy panties; the kind with the girdle that holds her tummy in. Speed Sew is rolled up in gooey balls over my fingers. When I look up she's wearing those stretchy panties and the foam makes her bum huge. Then she pulls on her slacks. She stands in front of the mirror looking at it from side to side."Holy cow! Mommy!" I point at her huge, brand new bum and poke the squishy foam."Ah! You! Don't you look at me!" Her face is a shade of red that I've never seen before. Then, she sits down and tugs them off. "Go on now! You go play!"

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Dome, The
Excerpt

Chapter 1: DeeHeart pounding, feet pounding."Pick up the pace, Dee!""Just dump them, Rogan--it's not worth the risk!""No!" he gasped. "We can eat for a week on this. Keep running!"My lungs had started to burn as soon as we'd hit the third set of stairs in the abandoned apartment building, but with a Lobot on our tails, I couldn't afford to slow down. Rogan showed no signs of giving up the search for a hiding spot, despite the fact that so far, the doors to every floor were locked. Fourth floor--no luck. Fifth floor--the same. Sixth floor--the whirring noise was getting closer. Seventh floor--finally! The door lock was broken, and we pushed through, looking wildly behind us as we raced down the hallway. The apartments were mostly empty as we passed them but the second last place, despite half the exterior wall being blown out, had some furniture in it--better yet it had an old stovetop with an oven. We could stash the baubles in there, hide in the closet and wait for the Lobot to give up. I slammed the apartment door shut behind us as Rogan threw the baubles into the oven, then we dove into a closet with louvered doors and pulled them closed--I pushed back up against the wall, while Rogan knelt down to look through the slats. "Shhh!" he whispered sharply to me. "Listen." I tried to control my breathing so that I could hear what was happening. There was a faint hiss--the Lobot was using one of its lasers to cut a hole through the apartment door. Then there was a thud, as part of the door fell onto the floor, and a low whirring sound. I inhaled and held my breath as the Lobot flew slowly by the closet, tracking the microchip signal coming from the baubles. Suddenly it stopped moving and hovered in mid-air, rotating its antennae toward the old appliance. Then I could hear banging, and Rogan smothered a giggle. He moved back and motioned at me to look for myself. I knelt down and I slapped my hand over my mouth so I wouldn't laugh out loud. The Lobot was slamming itself into the glass door of the oven; it was able to sense the microchip signal and see the baubles, but it couldn't figure out how to get to them. I turned to Rogan, and in the dim light, I noticed an old blanket on the shelf above us. I pointed to it and Rogan nodded. This would be tricky and dangerous, but we didn't have a lot of choice at this point--we needed to act before it started using a laser. Rogan took the blanket down and quietly opened the closet door. I just hoped that the Lobot was so preoccupied with the baubles that it wouldn't notice much else. Rogan began creeping towards it--it was still unaware of him. Finally, at about three feet away, he took a deep breath and threw the blanket over the Lobot, knocking it to the ground. Before it had a chance to squirm or struggle, he jumped on the blanket with all his strength, over and over, until the Lobot was still and silent. He smiled triumphantly at me.I hesitated. "We should make sure," I whispered. I tiptoed over to where Rogan was waiting and gingerly lifted up a corner of the blanket. Sure enough, the Lobot was dead--its lights were out and it looked pretty crushed. We both stared at it in distaste--the tranquilizer darts and locator cuffs it carried were spilling out of it like guts. Suddenly I was filled with fury, and I turned on Rogan."That was really stupid, Rogan! Do you realize how close we came to being caught?! Which body part are you willing to lose for a couple of coins?!"He looked taken aback and his brow furrowed defensively. "Neither of us is losing anything, and that stash is worth more than a 'couple' of coins. Otherwise, we wouldn't have been chased by the Lobot for so long, you know that. I had everything under control--it's all good, Dee. Now come on." He opened the oven door and took out the baubles--a necklace and two rings--which glittered in the light. "That stupid Fancy won't miss them--she probably has plenty more where these came from, anyway. Serves her right for wandering too close to Divinity without any Blues nearby to protect her."I sighed in frustration. "Well, it was still awfully close, and I happen to like my hands and feet just as they are, thank you very much."Rogan leered at me. "I like your hands and feet too, my lovely!""EWW! You sound like a Fancy!" I slapped him on the shoulder in mock-anger.He slapped back at me then peered around the corner of the apartment door. "All clear. Anyway," he continued cavalierly, "you could always choose an eye, although I hear it's pretty painful. Come on. We need to get out of here before some ambitious Blue tracks that Lobot and shows up."My stomach flipped at the thought of having an eye removed, and then I was overcome by a wave of emotion--a sense of questioning and worry. It was my twin brother, Cee. I focused inward and sent feelings of calm and reassurance back to him. Not only did we look exactly the same--green eyes, and hair that was called strawberry blond when strawberries used to grow, but we were on the same wavelength, so to speak. We couldn't read each other's minds exactly, but we could project feelings to each other. Right now, he was sensing that I was scared and mad, and I was telling him that everything was okay. He hated it when I went out thieving, especially with Rogan, who was a real risk-taker. It was one thing running a scam or getting a Fancy to cough up a little spare change, but outright robbery in broad daylight wasn't for the faint of heart. Not that I had much of a choice. Cee and I used to be workhouse kids, and like all "provincial wards", once you hit 15, you were sent to the agri-complexes up north as farm labour. The alternative was to run away and fend for yourselves as "Freeworlders". And after spending most of our lives as workhouse kids, neither of us wanted to finish out our days as agri-slaves in the Upper Belt, so we made our way to Divinity, a tent city in Metro.Cee and I had been left at Happy Valley, one of the workhouses up North, when we were about three months old. After the Frag riots in 2087 and the Water Wars that followed, babies were being abandoned on a regular basis by parents who couldn't afford to take care of them, sometimes as many as twenty a day, so The Consortium, a supergroup of countries across the water, set up the workhouse system. All the kids were given letters of the alphabet instead of names, and he and I were the third and fourth babies dumped there that day, so "C" and "D". Our actual "designations'" are a lot longer and include the date as well. By the time most ward kids were 4 or 5, they'd been given nicknames or picked out new names for themselves, but we were fine with Cee and Dee. The workhouses weren't great, but if you kept your nose clean and did what you were told by the Protectors, the adults who ran the place, you could survive. And you were told a lot. By the time you were a One, you were expected to stay with an older kid, a Guardian, who either worked in the dorms or the kitchen--like an apprentice. Depending on who your Guardian was, you either got slapped regularly or ignored most of the time. When you got to be a Five, you were responsible for making beds or washing dishes, or garden work. At Ten, you worked in the nursery with the babies, in the kitchen doing meal prep, or in the schoolhouse, teaching other kids about soil and plants from a textbook. At Twelve, you started working the fields full-time, in preparation for a life-time of servitude in the Breadbasket, which was the area of the Upper Belt where farms could still exist. All the fruits and vegetables from up North were planted and harvested by agri-slaves, mostly the workhouse kids who had chosen farm labour and three meals a day over freedom and starvation. But it was a hard life too--from what I heard, most agri-slaves didn't make it into their thirties--too much exposure to chemicals. I was pretty sure that Cee and I stood a better chance on our own--if we didn't end up in The Dome, that is. Cee and I ran away from Happy Valley right before our 15th Drop-Off Day. That wasn't a "birthday" exactly--none of us really knew when we were born, but the workhouse had a record of the dates that all of us had been left there, and if you'd been a good little "agri-slave in the making", you got a piece of candy on your Drop-off Day each year. Kind of a twisted thing to celebrate, but we didn't have much else. Anyway, Cee and I had no intention of going to the Breadbasket so we took off and headed for Divinity, the biggest tent city in Trillium Province, where we've been for over a year now. Scraping together a living hasn't been easy. Cee brings in a little money at the Hidden Market, where he sells his handmade "pretties" to the Fancies, the rich people who come into Divinity on Sundays with their Blue bodyguards, looking for unique objects to impress their friends with. He's an amazing woodcarver--he can take an old scrap of anything and turn it into an elephant or a parrot, things that sell really well because they're extinct now. I don't know how he knows what they all look like, but they're beautiful, and the Fancies will pay a lot for them. The problem is that we can't both be out at the same time. It's a cutthroat world, and your tent and everything inside it is fair game for squatters if you leave it empty. Someone has to be there at all times to protect it, so Cee can't come thieving with me, and I can't go to the Market with him. Not that either of us minds. His hands are his most important asset--if he got caught by a Lobot, he'd get sent to The Dome, and more than likely the crowd would choose hand over foot--they usually do for thieves, unless, like Rogan said, you want to give them a real thrill and choose your own eye. As for me, I hate the Hidden Market. Well, I don't hate the Market, I just hate the Fancies. They come in their finery and jewels, with their servants and bodyguards, sometimes with Lobots hovering around them for extra protection, and then they want to barter for lower prices. It's sickening really, when I think how long Cee works on his pieces and how little he has to sell them for sometimes.I felt his wave of worry start to subside, and I sent a projection of the idea of home to him, so that he'd know we were on our way. Rogan once asked me what the "idea" of home was, since I couldn't actually send a picture of the tent to Cee--the only way I could describe it was to say it was like the emotion you felt when someone you loved squeezed your hand. I know it sounds stupid, but home to me was always just Cee, never a place. Whenever I was scared or sad, I could always count on him to take my hand and hold it tight, to let me know that, no matter what, we were together and that nothing could separate us. That was home. Then, just for fun, I sent him the feeling of being well-fed--we were going to eat well as soon as we pawned our hard-won treasures.

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