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Connection - 47

by Rook


Kerra sat on the floor of her living room, trying to will her heartbeat to decrease.

“Want me to make you something to eat?” No Name asked.

“No,” Kerra said. “I don’t think I could eat anything right now. And I don’t want to see anyone in the kitchen.” She eyed the knife that’d been kicked into the corner.

“Understandable. Let me know if you need anything. I’m here for you, and I’ll stay as long as you need.”

“Thanks No Name. I think for now let’s just talk, okay?” Kerra tried not to sound as scared as she felt. The danger was over. She should be calm now, right? She took a steadying breath. Then another.

No Name seemed to be struggling to come up with something to say. Kerra knew that small talk was one of their weaknesses, but normal conversation was what she needed right now.

Maru shifted her shoulders awkwardly. “I don’t know what to say other than I’m sorry. Hirschel wasn’t- I mean, I didn’t-”

Kerra squeezed her eyes shut and rubbed her hands on her forehead. “It’s not your fault. That was… completely unexpected. I still don’t understand what happened. Or why.”

“I don’t think any of us do,” said No Name. They sat on the floor near Kerra, close but not too close.

There was another period of silence.

“So, forgive me,” Maru started, “but I don’t believe I have met these friends of yours, Kerra.”

“Oh! This is No Name. They and the rest of those guys are in the gang that Shandi was in. I’ve probably mentioned the gang at some point.” It felt good to be doing something as normal as an introduction. It was as if she could just forget that what brought these two to meet in the first place was her life being threatened.

“I see,” Maru said, nodding. “It’s nice to meet you, No Name.”

“Likewise, um… Maru, was it?”

“Indeed. I run Dark Lake Books.” Maru pulled out a business card from somewhere and handed it down to No Name.

“Gotcha. I don’t read old books a lot so I’ve never been in, but I’ve passed the place a few times.” They tilted the business card in the light so the glossy black lettering shined.

“Glad we made an impression at least,” Maru said with a smile. “You’re welcome any time, even if you aren’t interested in books. Any friend of Kerra’s is a friend of mine. And,” Maru shot a surreptitious look around the room as if someone might be listening in, “our lines of work might intersect more than you might think. Stop by sometime and I’ll tell you more.”

No Name raised an eyebrow. “I’ll take you up on that.”

They continued with introductions and small talk until, just as Maru was describing Drigg’s love of underground bot racing, Kerra’s communicator went off.

It was The Grin. Kerra quickly answered, pulling The Grin’s holovid up so No Name and Maru could see too.

“Hey Kerra,” The Grin said. “We’ve got that guy locked up. I don’t think they should be a threat, but if you want to talk to them, I recommend you do it now while they’re still dealing with the aftereffects of Angelface’s little needle. Plus, we’ll all be here to keep an eye on you. What do you think?”

Kerra bit her bottom lip. She was scared. She didn’t want to see Hirschel again, but she knew she had to or she’d be left forever wondering. She nodded. “Yeah, I’ll be there soon.”

“Good. I’ll send you the address.”

Kerra walked into what appeared to be a regular, nondescript—if somewhat out of the way—apartment. But when she saw what was inside, it seemed anything but normal. Instead of furniture and household items, there were just boxes and crates stacked nearly to the ceiling. There was only a narrow walkway, and at the end of that walkway was Numbers, looking embarrassed.

“This place isn’t usually this tight, but we had to move all of the stuff in the holding cell out into the rest of the room. So be careful you don’t bump into anything. I didn’t spend much time making sure the stacks were stable.

Kerra gingerly walked down the aisle. “What is all this stuff anyway?”

Numbers grimaced. “Doesn’t matter.” He turned his head over his right shoulder and called, “Angelface?”

“Yeah?” Her higher, hoarse voice responded.

“Kerra’s here, is the guest ready?”

“As ready as they’ll ever be.”

Numbers turned back to Kerra. “Are you ready?”

“Ditto,” Kerra said.

“Then come with me, and remember, we’ve got your back.” Numbers led her down another narrow aisle that led to another doorway.

The room she came into, which must have, at one point, been a bedroom, was split in half. The half she was in was mostly open, with some boxes piled up at the far end. The other half was empty except for Hirschel, who was sitting on the ground, restrained with chains and manacles. Their milky blue eyes were half-lidded. It was a sight that shook Kerra. It felt wrong.

Separating the two sides of the room was a shimmering blue force field with iron bars on both sides. Angelface was standing next to a heavy-looking metal door that looked like the only way to get between the two halves of the room.

Not wanting to address Hirschel yet, Kerra asked, “Why do you have this place?”

Numbers shrugged. “I bought it like this. I don’t know what the previous owner used it for. She seemed like the kind of woman you don’t want to ask too many questions to. I thought the holding cell would be useful, but we’ve only used it a few times before today, and those times were a few years ago.”

“Kidnapping used to pay more,” Angelface said ruefully.

Kerra gave a surprised snort of laughter. Then her eyes focused on Hirschel again. They were looking at her. A shiver ran through her body. “Okay. To business. Who are you, and why did you try to kill me?”

Hirschel was silent.

“You better talk to her,” Angelface growled, “Or trust me, there will be consequences.” A knife flashed between her fingers.

Hirschel stared that half-lidded look at Angelface. Then they opened their mouth. Their teeth looked too big and too flat and their tongue was short and seemed almost stuck to the bottom of their mouth. At first, no noise came out, but then a high keening wailed out from their throat before fading away. Hirschel snapped their mouth shut.

“What the hell was that?” Angelface asked, turning to Kerra.

Maru’s voice came from the doorway, “I’ve never seen them do something like that before.” She rolled further into the room. She looked just as shaken as Kerra had felt when she’d seen how Hirschel was chained up. “Also, I don’t think they can speak. It might not be physically possible.”

“That’s right,” Kerra said. “I don’t know why I forgot that. I think they can only speak over the connection.” She grimaced. “But I’m pretty sure they controlled me over the connection too.”

“We won’t let them do anything to hurt you,” Numbers said.

Kerra took a deep breath. She had to be brave. But she knew she could trust her friends. She opened the connection.

Nothing happened.

She had been expecting something. Like Hirschel’s laughter in her mind. Or their anger or pain or anything. But Hirschel was surprisingly silent. They just stared steadily.

Well? Kerra asked, trying to infuse the thought with more confidence and confrontation than she felt.

I have explained already. Tired. Bored. Defeated.

I still don’t understand. You tried to kill me. Why?

Impatient frustration. Humans never listen.

I’m listening now.

No. I could show you though. A curl of a smile appeared on Hirschel’s face.

Dread pooled in Kerra’s stomach. Show me?

If you insist.

Kerra’s vision started going black. She stumbled to the floor, and the last thing she felt was Numbers catching her before her head hit the ground.


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Mon Jun 27, 2022 10:30 am
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IcyFlame wrote a review...



Hi Rook!

I think I've previously caught a chapter or two of this but definitely not in order. I did notice this has been in the Green Room for a little while though, so I thought a review was due! I popped back and had a skim read of both chapters 45 and 46 so hopefully I have a little bit of context for this one.

Hirschel's character is certainly an interesting one. They clearly have a hatred for Kerra - seemingly based off something she hasn't done yet which always makes for an interesting plot because inevitably she will try and outrun this destiny and get sucked further into it despite everything. It's a well known trope but it works well I think! It does make me feel sorry for Hirschel though. If what they're saying is true they're not necessarily bad, just trying to save their brother in the future. Although doesn't that create a time loop? If they were to kill Kerra and stop her doing all these things in the future then they wouldn't have a reason to come back to kill her in the first place. Time travel is tricky.

I would agree with Lim about needing something to reestablish the setting at the start of this chapter. I was confused when I read through the past chapter and couldn't link it to this one until I realised we had multiple story threads. Of course I'd know that if I'd been reading the full thing but I think it would be helpful to remind the reader where we are with this narrative as it felt a bit of a sudden setting switch and took me a little while to reacclimatise.

The end of the chapter feels pretty foreboding, and I get the feeling Kerra is about to see some things she isn't going to like! The question is whether she's going to accept them at face value or whether she thinks that Hirschel is manipulating her.

I liked the pacing of this too, and I think we move forward well into what promises to be an interesting next part!

Happy Monday!

Icy




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Mon Jun 20, 2022 1:35 pm
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Liminality wrote a review...



Hi Rook! It’s Lim again with a review.

First Impressions

Right now I’m pretty interested in Hirschel’s character. I wonder where they’re coming from and why they did what they did. I know from reading one of the previous chapters that Maru just kind of found them out of nowhere, and that their people were harmed by humans. Even though they’ve been trying to kill Kerra, I tentatively sympathise with them because it seems they thought it would prevent harm from coming to their people.

The atmosphere towards the second half feels a little uneasy. All the likeable characters are suddenly involved in this interrogation and threatening the prisoner with violence. This is the first time I’m reading about Shandi’s gang, so I have no background for them, but I feel it’s new territory for Kerra, at least. So I’m curious as to how this will play out, and if it will change my view of the characters. I think you put quite a bit of effort to show how all the characters on the protag’s side are protective of her and how they’re all ‘one team’ in a way, both in the dialogue and in their actions, for example, this description of No Name in light of Kerra recently being attacked:

They sat on the floor near Kerra, close but not too close.

The characters also express this verbally quite a lot.

Plot

I think it’s super interesting that there are seemingly two non-human species who are enmeshed in the plot here. One is the group that telepathically communicates with Everen, and the other is Hirschel’s people. (Unless they’re actually the same group?) Hirschel’s interactions with Kerra at this point are more negative than between Everen and the group she’s talking to. I’m wondering if and how those contacts are related, and what it is Hirschel has to show Kerra.

Setting

Since the previous chapter followed Everen and took place in a different location, I thought it would be nice to have some description in the beginning of this one that reestablishes the setting here. I felt as though Maru just kind of appeared out of nowhere in the midst of the conversation between Kerra and No Name, because that was the first mention of her in this chapter.

I’m not sure what counts as a “regular, nondescript” apartment in a sci-fi setting. I know Kerra would know and find it not worth mentioning since she lives there, but I’m curious and want to imagine it :D

The room she came into, which must have, at one point, been a bedroom, was split in half.

It would be nice to know what exactly about the room makes her sure it used to be a bedroom.

Something I do enjoy that’s been in the setting for all your chapters is the naming of characters. They all seem to have such a cohesive naming style while still having variation. Like ‘Everen’, ‘Kerra’ and ‘Shandi’ all sound like ‘Earthling’ names to me, whereas there’s another group of names like ‘Angelface’ and ‘Numbers’ made up of what we’d think of as common nouns that have a totally different energy.

Characters

From what I gather, Kerra seems to be motivated by a desire to make sense of things. She’s been looking for her mother’s killer, and now they’ve shown up to kill her instead with claims that her or her family somehow brought a terrible fate onto their own. And that’s all very confusing, so Kerra wants to know why. I liked the line:
She didn’t want to see Hirschel again, but she knew she had to or she’d be left forever wondering.

I think that’s a good description of her feelings surrounding what happened because it shows what she has to lose, which is the understanding she’s been trying to gain of the situation she’s in. There being something at stake makes me more invested in her feelings.

Overall

I think this is a good chapter to move from the previous incident with Hirschel towards exploring why it happened. It allows readers to process things a bit before giving us the explanation. It also shows two groups of characters coming together and establishing a kind of rapport, which to me at least, can kind of give momentum to a story, like the new dynamic is going to propel something forward.

Hope some of this helps and feel free to ask for more feedback!

-Lim





"And the rest is rust and stardust."
— Vladimir Nabokov