Content warning for: More female nipples. Me dipping my toes into high-concept sci-fi rigamarole.
I fell asleep once we were done, and I swore that I heard Clara snore once. It was a cute, little one. Her moving jolts me awake, sometime around 1 in the morning, but I don’t question it at first. I just miss the feel of her firm belly against my back. The slight outline of Clara’s abdominal muscles could mesmerize me for days.
She mutters some curses under her breath and digs around her suitcase. I get up in time to see her bolting out the bedroom door in a white, floral-print bathrobe. I can understand why, as the windows in the hallway don’t have curtains. But then again, does she plan on just lingering in there? Maybe it is more than having to use the bathroom.
The pale teal light shines through the crack in the door. This is…new.
“You know the rules: no unauthorized use of the time stream.”
“Geez, I was just taking a break. Don’t be such a dink about it.”
Okay, if I have to watch this in the hallway, I need a shirt too. I grab an old, long one from my drawer and peek out from behind the door. Even if it’s open, I do my best to hide.
She was a little more open about our shared origins to me, but no one told me about the holo-phone. I knew about playing back memories and time travel, for God’s sake, and this feels impossible.
But there it is, right in my hallway. A glass tube, powered by a glass egg and emitting teal light, does more than light up the room. A small camera hole opens up on top, and projects a near-perfect image of a person.
He towers above Clara. This man, tinted in futuristic blue, looks like a relic in every other way. He wears a vest and tie, dress trousers, and brogues. His hair is cut into a conventional Caesar cut. The short style reveals his pointed ears, which might be the only marker of him being a little more than human. His clean, groomed eyebrows furrow a bit with disappointment.
And he could kill me. Those biceps are as thick as a loaf of bread. I keep myself behind the door, peeking out as little as I can.
“So why are you taking a break here?” he asks Clara. “Did Empire City start to bore you?”
“It’s none of your business,” she says.
“It is my business! Do you think I’m here to run a ship of fools? All of you are lucky that you’re working for us at all.”
“So what? Arthur gets to take breaks so he can bone others without stigma.” Clara places one arm akimbo as she asks her defiant question. “It’s tough for me over there too! Why can’t I?”
“Arthur is the best assassin we could find in the period of thousands of years. You’re just a grunt worker, and your mother sucked dick in the military,” he says. “At least the rest of us had parents who did something.”
“Yeah, I get it. I work for the greatest Antarean Time Lord, and your grandmum built that fucking beacon. I get it. I’ll be back! It’s not like you can hurt me right now, man. You’re a hologram.”
Even with arms made of light, he grabs Clara and holds a fist close to her face. “I can still make light hurt you for weeks, Kang,” he snarls. Her eyes widen with fear at his words. “And Maeve can do a whole lot worse to you. You’re going to go back.”
Clara toughens her face up, and crosses her arms. “Fine. Next train to Magic City, next boat to San Severo. You know I hate flying. Sounds like a deal?”
The holographic man nods in approval. I feel like the phone will turn off, so I creep out of the door a little. As silent as I am, the flickering hologram notices me, and shines as bright as usual. His head is turned towards me, contorted with confused anger again.
“Is this where you’ve been spending your time?” he asks Clara. His voice sounds nervous and rushed. “In the house of this enemy? You weren’t supposed to be seen! We hired you to follow orders, not to fuck them…I could kill both of these bitches right now-”
As Clara looks at me, she turns the light off with her foot. The man is gone, until he dials again. Maybe she can ignore that call. But even if she can, her limbs are stiff and I could hear her breathing from any other part of the house.
“I’m sorry,” she chokes out. Disregarding me, she bolts back into my bedroom. In an impressive speed, she gets some modest, warm clothes on. A turtleneck sweater and bell-bottom jeans. As if it is at all important, she makes sure that her diamond pendant is worn outside the sweater and visible to all.
The light is stuffed into her suitcase, cushioned by a pile of clothes.
I chase Clara down the stairs, trying to pry answers from her. “Clara, who was that?” “What are you hiding from me?” Granted, there’s a lot I’m hiding too, but I don’t care about that right now. If I can trust the man behind the light, I’m the enemy I never knew I was. “Okay, who’s in danger here?”
I ask that as I grab onto Clara’s arm. She’s almost out the front door as I do.
She wriggles free and turns to me. “No one, if I can help it.” The resigned fear on her face tells a different story. “Just…don’t follow me. Even if you think you know where I’m going.”
“Is there at least something more you can tell me?” I ask her.
“I’m sorry, there isn’t any right now. Maybe later. I don’t want to see you get hurt, and learning about this…this hurts everyone. Call it blissful ignorance. You might thank me later for it.”
Something chokes me as I try to say something, anything to try and get Clara to stay. But maybe that man is right. He can hurt us no matter where he is, whether on earth or in the depths of Hell, or in the heart of Scorpius. No matter when he is from, even. Because it’s hard to gauge the era of when we get dapper-dressed holograms.
So all I can do is let her run, and catch her train to Magic City. I don’t even offer to help her with her luggage. Running with a full suitcase sounds like a rough thing, and the train station is on the other side of town.
It sounds cheesy to mourn the departure of someone who was a glorified one-night stand. I should be mourning myself, for my own stupidity. I should have never expected her to stay, and stay up all night answering my questions about myself. Someone who knows that much has to be a part of something greater. Something far more sinister.
Well, back to the old Joanna. I have a purpose, and it is to follow orders and shut up when told to. I tried to run away before, thinking I could escape to San Severo and let some magic or technology take me away to somewhere greater.
I couldn’t even kill myself. Of course I’m under the thumb of something bigger than I am, even if that is just my own fear. Maybe that man is the only thing keeping me away, but I fear him.
Or I fear what he knows. He recognized my face, whether I ever met him before or not.
The thing about fear is that I never felt comfort in it either. I had no reason to, as it kept me in worse situations than courage could bring me to. On the coffee table, about five feet away from me, is a book that documents a lot of them! I kept telling myself that I could beat it, but yet again, I’m stuck and screwed either way.
If I follow Clara, then my life is screwed over with her at my side.
And if I don’t, it’s back to this rut.
I grab the first warm cardigan I find in my dresser, and some jeans cut a few sizes too big. I think I grabbed them from Sarah or my mum by mistake, but it gives me plenty of room to run. Unlike Clara, I pack light for the occasion. Just a wallet full of money and active credit cards in my back pocket, and all volumes of Eight Cicadas tucked into my cardigan. Which is the opposite of light, when I think about it. I just want something to read during the train ride. I’m fine with flying, but if Clara insists on spending over a day cooped up in a train, so be it. I just have to stay entertained.
When does the next train on the Magic City route leave? Who knows. But at least I know most of the route she’s taking, even if I lag behind.
It’s easy to guess why San Severo, of all places. It’s hard not to love its beaches and mimosas, but she knows a lot more than I do, and even I know of that satellite island. The one with the glass statues and the old time machine. That might be where I lose her, but I can try. And if I fail, I can still get a daiquiri.
I’ve lived in Riverview for a while at this point. In an area so rural, a small town like Riverview can still be a hub, and it also is home to Hinckley Station. It is the closest passenger train station for at least ten of the surrounding counties. At this late hour, a few passengers still mill around for a train set to go at any moment.
However, I still ask myself if I can make it.
The conductor plays on his phone and wouldn’t notice me. But I still spot Clara in one of the cars. I at least want to look obedient for a little bit, so I need to find a back door.
These antics seem best-reserved for…any other Waverly. I climb onto the back car, bathed in the saturated yellow light of the warning beacons. I guess for my benefit, everybody would have a strange skin color in that light.
I look in through the window in the back door. It’s a fancy train, part of a private service. I heard a lot about Red Poppy Rail from Annette, mostly in how she lamented never using them before they went out of business. That was long before I came into the world, so now I’m riding on a piece of history I never thought I’d see! They made a name for themselves based on their posh interiors. Plush seating, good food, and tolerable beds.
While I can afford a ticket, it would be fun to not have to buy one.
The door opens easier than I thought it would.
The back turns out to be a bathroom car. I have the choice to either sit on the toilet until someone finds me, or hide in a bathtub.
There is a chair in the bathroom. I can hide in there for a while. After all, I can’t name anyone who would want to take a bath at 2 in the morning.