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Stone Seeds

Stone Seeds by Jo Ely

"Ely's fictional voice resonates with raw emotion, and her writing is as tactile as the damp walls and the crack in the ceiling of Antek's cell. The simplest description can be imbued with a complexity of feeling and meaning. Her characters seem rendered with great tenderness, a tenderness that can only inspire in the reader empathy and affection."

New York Times Notable Author, Sandra Tyler

"An intelligent, creative, imaginative, original writer."

Guardian Book of the Year Author, Trevor Byrne

"Jo Ely's superb debut novel combines the vision of Russell Hoban and Ursula Le Guin with her own unique talents as a powerful and poetic storyteller."

Oprah endorsed writer Roman Krznaric, bestselling author of Empathy and The Wonderbox

"Very talented"

British Science Fiction Association Best Book of the Year nominee, CM Taylor

"The cinematic effect is remarkable ... a wild emotional ride through a maze of plot twists and jaw dropping landscapes. A truly enjoyable read."

Independent Publishers Book Awards USA Gold Medal Award Winner, Andrew Smith (Edith's War)

"There are images and scenes in this novel that will probably stay with me always, much as if I had dreamt them ... The writing is starkly poetic, haunting, skilfully fractured. Jo Ely certainly knows how to manifest a sense of the uncanny ..."

Mark Mayes, shortlisted for the Bridport prize, broadcast on BBC Radio 4, BBC World Service, & author of forthcoming novel 'The Gift Maker'

Stone Seeds has five stars on writer Salena Godden's goodreads page

'For more reviews of Stone Seeds ...'

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Jo Ely's Urbane Publications Profile

Excerpt from the novel ...

Water

Antek remembers it was Jengi. Jengi, the shopkeeper's assistant, who struck a match, eyed the workers. He said they looked thirsty. He said that the last guard had a whim to dock their water rations. And in this heat. Might lose a few.

Jengi shrugged. Then sloped off, the way Jengi does, as though disowning his thought. Antek  remembers it was Mamma Zeina, the general's Sinta slave-cook, who rolled the rain barrel over toward him, careful not to spill, and then abandoned it by his left foot. Left an ancient looking tin cup floating on the surface of the water. No word. No eye contact even. As if she left it there absent-mindedly. A mere suggestion. And the rest was up to Antek.

Antek knew it was against regulations but ... Once he knew the gem miners were thirsty, he noticed other things too ... became aware of the rows of eyes watching his hand as he raised his flask to his mouth. The trickle of cool water streaming onto his wrist, blotting his sleeve. And then staring at the water marks speckling his shirt front.

Antek was meant to be guarding the gem miners. Instead he'd played look-out whilst they drank the clean rainwater from the tin cup.

He was bound to be found out. The general always has a guard to watch the guards. Ever since the rumours started. The rumour being that an undercover Sinta infiltrated the labs before batch 47, Antek's military unit, were hatched out. The rumour that batch 47, Antek's batch, were ... different.

The bottom line is that Antek has been a suspect since birth. That's what the cameras and the listening devices, the endless testing and retesting in the labs are for ... It's to find out the truth about Antek and his batch of Egg Boys. The truth, one way or the other. Everything for Antek either is, or else might be, a test of his loyalty to the general. Including this, now.

Antek had been made to walk hot rocks all day for rehydrating the workers.

Soothing the burns on his feet with the cool mud from under the rain barrel, and when that dried in the welts on his soles, the moist waxen leaves passed to him quietly by the workers had, to his surprise, helped. Sap along the surface of the leaf almost healed his wounds.

Antek had thought at least that's the end of it. But it turns out there'd been another witness to Antek's wrongdoing. Someone more important than a second guard.

…………………….

 

Sweat. The youth wing officer twitches. Metal blind snaps open. The left side of the officer's face seems to light up, silver-white with perspiration. The mirage lasts a moment. The officer blinks and grimaces, changes his mind. Yanks the blind down hard, so it snags and droops on the runner, buckles and dips softly forward. Stripes of light through the gap at the top and down one side.

Antek notices a slick of sweat is seeping from the officer's hairline, gathering in a soft sheen at the roots and then drips. One long slow trickle eases into the umbrella of the officer's thick blonde eyebrows. And then escaping down his short curved pink nose. Gathers at its round, bulbous tip.

The officers are rarely Egg Boys like Antek. The general prefers to select his own tribe, the OneFolk, for the top jobs.

The OneFolk are one hundred percent organic, not manmade like the Egg Boys. Meaning they can't stand the heat the way Antek, with his tweaks and regulation modifications, can.

Dab, dab, dab goes the officer with his damp rag and Antek has to look away now.

The officer eyes the door several times more, adjusts its angle. Half open and half closed, nudges it back and forth minutely. The officer never seems satisfied with that door.

Antek, who is at his happiest being ignored, is right now doing his best impression of a piece of furniture. Pulls his long and boney legs up, hugs his knees and stares at the window: rain combing down it. He's briefly mesmerised by the stripes of water. Now the officer's moving softly round Antek's room.

"Shhhh," the officer says. "Shhhh."

Who knows what it all means.

Antek's heard the stories. Many of the OneFolk senior officers were forest workers in the previous era. Charged with tracking and culling the runaways. Rewarded for their patriotic work with status positions in Bavarnica's army, the food rations to go with the promotion. They were the ones who rounded up the Sinta, hidden in the copses, undergrowth and trees when the revolution failed, and the general declared the Sinta an illegal cult. Killed those escaping, made those who couldn't run slaves to the village. Slaves to the OneFolk.

Of course there were some of the OneFolk who let Sinta go free, run into the killing forest in The Before. Some live there still, that's always been the rumour. Gradually becoming immune to the poisonous plants which the general thickened out the forest with, the nipping saplings. They've learned how to avoid the huge snakes. Evolved quickly, like the rest of the killing forest. Changed. "Into something rich and strange," that's the whisper on the Sinta farmsteads.

Fairytales, Antek thinks. The killing forest is not a home of any kind, it's just a trap. And the runaway Sinta are dead, the sooner those left behind realise it ... Even guarding the fence beside the forest you can see it's just a set of manmade jaws that will lure you in and close its poisoned teeth around you.

The main thing to take home from all this is ... You can't know what you're dealing with, what or who. Not in Bavarnica and not with an organic. And especially not with the OneFolk. The general's tribe. Leastways that's how Antek sees it.

Antek can hear the sound of his own heart beat, stomach pumping. Inside sounds. The officer moving slowly through his things. Picking up this and that and eyeing its contents. Because nothing should be private in the army, for the general's Egg Boys. The youth wing, batch 47.

The officer speaks in a strange, wistful voice. As if hoping for some kind of signal from Antek. As though provoking Antek to disagree with him. Watchful for any small sign that he does.

Antek doesn't like being watched.

He looks down. He can't say what he feels at this moment. Winces as he laces up his left boot.

The officer's tone hardens. "The youth wing is ripe for exploitation by The Underground, The Sinta Resistance, ripe for their lies. Private is bad, Antek." And then in a different voice, "At least that's the drill in sector three now." He sniffs. Checks his notes. Takes a key out of his pocket, un-cuffs Antek.

There is a long pause in which the officer appears to be trying to decide something. "Village shopkeeper." He gets the words out. Low voice. "Name of Gaddys," he says. "She informed on you. You're on a list now, Egg Boy. That's bad." And then softer, "That's bad, Antek. The shopkeeper's power is growing."

The officer closes Antek's door behind him gently. Antek hears whispered voices in the corridor outside. He looks up.

Antek's digs are up in what the Egg Boys call the crow's nest, meaning the upper reaches of the soldiers' barracks. Naturally the Egg Boys' only window faces inwards. They're on the left side of the look-out towers, their view: rows and rows of brick and corrugated steel, far as eye can see. Metal pipes run across the rooftops, sliding in the cracks between the buildings, dark red as if to acknowledge they're the veins of the system.

Egg Boys like Antek don't get to see the huge industrial equipment that drives the system, but Antek with his specialised ears can hear it. Groans and clanks of the mechanism, lulling him into a fitful sleep at the end of a long job.

Yesterday was Antek's first guard duty at the gem mines. Until yesterday he's been mostly sent to guard the clean up crews, on the edge farms. These crews are people, organics, edge farmers certified tame. The crews are untrained amateurs, mostly will accidentally kill those whom they're trying to save from the rubble. But they'll sweep up the bomb damage, the way that the general likes.

The edge farms are lands outside of Bavarnica-proper, they lie just beyond the living fence of the killing forest, which was built to keep the hungry folks out of the village. Even amongst the most hardened Egg Men, this post is known to be ... Well. Antek finds it best not to dwell on what it is, or what it isn't.

Guarding the gem mines, on the other hand, is generally considered to be a plum job for an Egg Boy. Only a handful of guards are deemed necessary to guard the edge farmers working the gem mines, on account the miners are given a slave's pay, meaning food, and only just enough to survive on. They are hand picked by Gaddys, the village shopkeeper. Generally expected to be compliant with their guards. It's a useful way to train the newly hatched guards from batch 47. At least that's the idea.

So many different tribes in Bavarnica that it's hard to keep up. But all of them under the one tribe, the OneFolk, and the general. Under them in one way or another.

Tribes aren't s'posed to mix, but Antek's gotten to know a few edge farm faces from his guard duties.

And then there's Tomax.

Antek hears the slow throb of the energiser, watches its fitful light coming back on. Yellow. Antek thinks. Like a bad omen. There are bright yellow seams running thickly down it, texture of molten gold. Now Antek hears the long low whir and thrum of the system, cranking into gear.

The officer doesn't come back to Antek's room until the lights are dim.

"You've been called for." He says.

Antek gets up and follows him.

He wilts a little, outside the tall black door of the officers' headquarters, his hands are clenched. Sweating. Antek makes up his mind not to mention Jengi or Mamma Zeina in his interrogation. They never told him to give the workers water, at least not exactly. No sense bringing them into this. It's not in Antek's nature to take folks down with him.

"Come." Brisk, cold tone. Whoever is inside must have heard Antek's feet. He knocks, belatedly. Tries the handle. The officers' door is heavy, even for Antek. There is building sweat running down it from the vent over the door. The door handle is slick. Antek eyes the metal slats of the vent suspiciously. Thinks he saw something move inside it. A twisting, sliding motion. Sense of something heavy in the space over the door. Something big enough to shake the sides of the vent when it breathes.

He tries the door again. This time it opens. Hears the soft click as it closes behind him. Senses a hand on the other side, try the handle then wait. Whoever it was lingers for a moment. Fingers sliding over the steel surface of the door. Antek turns back toward the room. He closes his eyes.

Smooth, cold voice now, running down Antek's left and inside ear, like it comes up from Antek's own stomach. Antek realises at once this is going to be what they call a soft interrogation. He hates those the most. A seeping familiar heat passes over his face. Blink, blink. He looks down. And as though he expected this, the senior officer smiles. Rubs his chin. "So. We heard you made a friend, Egg Boy." The officer's voice is soft, provoking. His long yellow fringe flops down over his left eye. Pale blue, squinting. He scoops his filthy hair between his fingers, presses it all under his cap. Checks the room, eyes the vent. Then he turns and looks at Antek coldly.

"Okay, Egg Boy." He says. "Give me some names and it ends here."

Antek eyes the vent over the officer's head. Something wriggles in there, bangs the sides. Rattling against the opening and then stills. Antek can feel rather than see the huge creature watching. The officer winces. "Snake." He says. Gazing at Antek. "It's one of the general's. He can open the vents from a button in central control, any time he likes." He says it like he is apologising. The officer goes on gazing at Antek. Licks dry lips. He can't speak for a moment.

Antek knows the threat implied by the snake in the vents of the officers' quarters is a threat only to an organic like the officer. Snakes are no longer any danger to the Egg Boys, as Antek's had cause to learn once or twice in his days working the fence to the killing forest which runs between the edge farms and the OneFolks' village. He doesn't know why the general's lab technicians gave batch 47 the anti-venom feature. But the technicians will do nothing without a reason. Not even a small tweak. Maybe Antek's mission will be in the killing forest some day. Who can say for sure what the Egg Boys are being repurposed for. Certainly not the Egg Boys themselves.

Antek briefly wonders why the general's got this extra security measure in the officers' headquarters, and then tries to put the thought away. It doesn't do to ask questions, not even of himself. A thing like a question can show up in your face and that's dangerous. Batch 47 are still deemed to be an active experiment. Antek's batch can be cancelled at any time, and he doesn't want to be the reason for his friends' deaths. Although strictly speaking that emotion should be beyond the reach of an Egg Boy.

The senior officer has a window, it's north facing. The view from here is vast, looking out beyond the barracks and over Bavarnica, right up to the long mountain range of The Reach and the dark lake in its shadow. The view gives the officers a certain perspective that the Egg Boys in their inward looking crows nest barracks are deprived of.

The skyline's broken, the sun seems to Antek strange and huge behind it. The daylight moon too, visible edge the left and lower corner of his window.

"A reliable source has told us you been fraternising with the enemy. Talking to a worker you were s'posed to be guarding?"

Antek has learned better than to answer a leading question. He never speaks before he strictly has to.

"You been seen talking to the same worker. The same edge farm boy, Antek. Talking to him on both sides of the border." Softly, "Antek. You know you're not supposed to talk to them. Don't try to deny it. They ... We know who he is." Pauses. Eyes the vent. "We have a name."

Antek waits.

"Tomax. It's Tomax, Antek." He leans back, rolls his shoulders, "And you just got him killed."

Antek feels a cold, sliding feeling in his chest. He hears his inside sounds now. Stomach pumping, churn of his blood. Gaddys. He thinks. It was Gaddys who told.

The room turns dark. It's sudden.

…………………….

 

"Wake. Wake." The lab technician closes the door stiffly behind himself. Heat expands the doorways so the old doors don't fit their hinges in the interrogation rooms now. The second lab technician approaches the bed and fingers the strap on Antek's right arm. Secures it. Prods to check Antek for a natural reflex. There's none. Antek wakes. Antek tries to wake.

"One, two, three and wake, Antek." Says the first lab technician.

And turning toward the second lab technician, "Fellow talks in his sleep."

The two lab technicians eye each other.

"Will they keep him?"

"They'll put him in the cells. They'll reboot him."

…………………….

It's quiet for a long time in the cell after the guard has gone. Antek's hand reaches for his chin. And then falls away, quivering.

Something is moving underneath Antek's blanket, there's a scratching, subtle but relentless tugging at the toe of his boot. It's an ominously hunched shape, he sees it moving to and fro by the crack of light under the door, from the unshaded lightbulb in the corridor outside. A gnawing sound, he kicks out at it sharply. It's a shock, feeling its small body against his boot. It bares its teeth, scowls and scatters. Back out into the light.

Antek hears a tin cup clattering, rolling. The guard outside, cursing in a broadside, kicks Antek's door. Just as if it was Antek had sent the scurvet to knock over his stool.

Scurvets were one of the general's early experiments in tame and wild creatures, back when the general was a lowly lab assistant. Even Antek has heard the story about the scurvet, although he's never clapped eyes on the creature before now. They say that the scurvet gave the general his ideas for Bavarnica.

"Quiet." The guard outside Antek's door says. "Quiet down in there."

Tomax came to Antek in a dream that night, the field behind the village gem mines. The trees were burning, smoke rolling up from them in swathes. The wind just seemed to curl the smoke back on itself, so that it fell in strange, unnatural folds, and Antek wakes with a choking feeling.
Long gasp for air. Swallows painfully. He closes his eyes. In the moment before he wakes, believes a cat is winding slowly round his leg. There's a whirring sound, and when he opens his eyes it's just a grey scurvet. This one seems tame. Tamer than the last one. Nice and Nasty he decides on the spot to call the two. He hears Nasty scatter in the corridor outside, hiss.
Antek's heart beat gently thrums against his rib cage.

Antek notices that he has a cellmate, an organic. A slumped shape in the cell's darkest corner. The cellmate's trousers are ripped and bloodied but they're officer's trousers. Bare feet, small burn marks. The man's floored and breathing strangely. He looks briefly at Antek. And then recognising that his cellmate is an Egg Boy, looks away.
Antek guesses that the officer would rather not share a cell with an Egg Boy. A thing that isn't human.

Antek falls asleep again, waking in fits and starts all night long, but the dream he's had these past weeks, the dream still finds Antek. Even here. Tomax again. Tomax is running from the Egg Men.

It takes Antek a while, in the dream, to realise that he's one of them, the Egg Men, and that Tomax is also running from him. Just a beat ahead of him, and at first Tomax sees only Antek and he is laughing, turning toward Antek the way he used to turn toward Antek. And Tomax's smile. The one that'd make Antek feel weak suddenly. Weak on guard duty. Which has to be a feeling that's against regulations. Antek would look down or away. But when he'd look up again, Tomax would always still be looking back. And Tomax's smile then, like slow cloudburst. Soft rain.
Tribes can't mix.
That's the first and most important of the general's rules.

The running dream has lasted several weeks, it is never exactly the same dream twice but one thing never changes. The ending. Tomax eyes shift up, he sees something coming behind and then above Antek. Tomax's smile slides slowly off his face, his eyes become wide and amazed. And then blank with horror. Antek sees a shadow move across the left side of Tomax's face and then the dream ends. Blink, blink.
Antek wakes to his cold cell.

Scattering sound in the corridor outside. A squeal then nothing.
Antek guesses correctly that Nasty killed Nice.
Hears the sound of the small furry body, dragged unresisting along the cold tiles by two perhaps three sets of sharp jaws, scuttle of several clawed feet. Antek reflects that it might have been a different story if the prisoners had only had a few crumbs to keep the Nice population of scurvet going. They wouldn't have gotten so outnumbered in here. They would not have become food.

Antek stretches his arm out softly in the dark. Feels the cold cell floor, damp underneath his left hand, his fingers splaying. Icy floor.
Boots under the door.
It's time for Antek to be stained again. He'll be rebooted after. He feels the nick in his chin. Remember, remember Tomax.

The stain is in fact only a side effect of the tweaks the lab technicians regularly make to the Egg Boys' DNA. But the stain also signifies how far an Egg Boy is along to becoming pure Egg Man.
Antek knows he'll get more Egg Man and less Antek every time he comes out of the lab. That his stain will spread out until it covers most of his body.
There is no point resisting.

…………………….

When Antek's mind collapsed toward the end of the third month in the cell, something came to Antek. The past in a tilting, skewed light, and he saw something that he'd missed. And then that thin light falling on a dark scene, the streaming damp jail wall felt to him like the insides of a stomach or a soul.

The floor is damp under Antek's hand. There's a crack in the ceiling. Water running in a long stream down the wall. Antek puts his mouth up to the filthy wall, he takes a deep drink of the cool, mottled water.

There is a long crack along the cell wall. A seam that spills a gut of bricks in the middle. Antek kicks it with his foot. He has the sudden feeling that the cell itself could clatter down on his head at any moment. One swift kick to the cell door, or one too many, and the whole room would shake and split.

There are branches running out from the crack in the middle of the wall, tendrils fingering all the corners. New seams criss and cross the ceiling. Was there a bomb above ground? It seems to Antek to be unlikely that the barracks gaol would be attacked.
An accident then. That last bomb. Maybe. Antek tries to put it out of his mind. He's trained himself since birth to put away these kinds of questions. To not accidentally show by some slow gaze, or brief shrewd glance, the little he knows, or has thought to ask himself.

He puts a hand out. Feels the dark, wet wall behind him. It's covered with a sheen of something. The damp gently tugs at his hair, pulls him stickily into it.
There's a long, deep crack in the ceiling over his head.

His officer cellmate has started whimpering in his sleep. Thrashes and flails, dreaming. And then something scurrying across the floor. A yellow scurvet dips under the door and out into the light outside the cell. Antek raises his left hand to his chin, without realising that he does so. He feels the small groove there.

Antek thinks he remembers sunshine. The old sun. It's sudden. The crack of light under the door must have triggered memory. Tomax was standing with his tin cup. Standing at the mouth of the gem mine. The light was dappling Tomax's skin then he'd shielded his eyes. Squinted up at Antek from under the shade of his hand. The sun downed softly in an arc over Tomax's head. But of course it couldn't have been like that, Antek thinks. With the sun.

And then Antek's mind goes on without him, stirred and exhausted. He should never have smiled back at the edge farmer, Tomax.
The tribes can't mix.
Antek's gently butting at the cold stone wall 'til he believes he seeps into it.
His mind is spreading into the cold damp stones of his cell.

When Antek wakes again there is a glistening seam of water, running fast down the wall. He guesses there's a split pipe above him. Antek wonders if his cell will fill up like a rain barrel, drown him at the top.
He looks down.
He notices that his cellmate's trembling. Antek reaches out a hand to rearrange the officer's blanket. He thinks for a moment. Then he gives the man his own.

Antek leans into the black cell wall. He feels disoriented.
He doesn't know what he is, what or who. For one long moment he's not anything at all.
It has taken less than three months in the dark to unravel Antek.
He draws his arm across his forehead, wiping away the seam of sweat and filth gathered in his eyebrows. He sees the guard's boots under the door again. And then he hears voices.

"Is he fully erased?" First guard.
"Yes." Says the second guard. "They did three reboots in a row. The Egg Boy is submissive now."
"Are you sure?"
Small pause. "Aye. They ... We think we can control him."
Antek hears the sound of the door being unlocked. He's pulled up to his feet.

…………………….

The air is fetid in the stairwell. Antek feels the proximity of bodies in the cells beneath him, smell comes up through the steel grating under his feet. Somewhere in the dark, faces softly rise to gaze at his boot-soles. Blink, blink, as the light filters in. Whispers, soft sliding sounds. Then a long hiss, sshhhhhh. Antek doesn't look down. The shuffling has the quality of bodies densely packed. Small sounds of chain-metal on damp stone tile. Then the scrape and clink as one prisoner strains against his portion of chain. Sound of gentle groans. And a hissed reproach, coming up through the grating.
He knows the prisoners will assume he had bought his freedom by naming names.
For a long strange moment, Antek can't recall if he did.
He looks down at his hands.
Bound in a web of strong white tape.

The guard on Antek's left side lifts a knife and unwraps him. "You is trussed up like a critter on the general's feast table, Antek." Slow look. Antek looks away from him. Blinks.

There's a soft breeze from outside running down Antek's face. Cools the dirt-sores a little. Back of his neck, where the iron collar once bit home and doesn't now.

There are two doors. Square of light around the exit, on Antek's right side.
Antek thinks how it would be to make it to the top of the staircase, half turn. Put his hand on the latch, just once. Feel the warm, rusting metal. He cannot imagine getting any further than that, but he has a sudden longing to hold on to the handle. To feel the wind blowing hot and sharp through the key-hole, the high pitched whistle of it round the hinges. Sunlight under the door.

A hot pulse of air rattling the door in its hinges, makes the guard on Antek's left side flinch and half raise his baton. Antek flicks his eyes toward him and then back to the door. Blank-eyed prisoner stare. 'Six steps between here and the exit.' Antek thinks. 'Just three bounds.' It might as well be a hundred. Antek glimpses the possibilities of making a bolt for freedom, then rejects them, one by one. Freezes there by the bottom step. "Go." The guard on Antek's left side. Soft hiss. Then a gentle push. "Come on, Antek. Go on home."
Shove from the right.

It takes Antek a moment to understand the words. Then for his feet to reconnect with his mind. An upside whack to the head from the first guard, right side. Antek can't tell if the guard used his baton or his fist. Pain is running down Antek's right ear. He's unsteady on his feet.
The world moves soundless, strange around him.
Blink and blink.
Antek raises his shoulder. He presses it against the hurt ear. The sound comes back slowly.
"Go." The second guard says. Gripping Antek's right elbow. Holds him up. Another impatient shove from his right side. And the voice on his left. Low voice. "Before they change their minds again, Antek."

Antek puts his foot on the first stair, pauses. He doesn't know why. In a bit realises that he's waiting to be stopped. Antek glances at the white-lit corridor behind him. He's left black boot tracks down the tiles, like a child's scribble.

They had dragged him from the cell to the stairwell. Scrabbling, sliding feet and snaking long legs. He'd hit his knees in the ruts and cracks in the tiles all the way up to this spot. Convinced he was going to his death. Panicked then, in spite of himself. And then hauled to his feet by his bindings. He was pulled around like a puppet on a string, and when he was let go, teetered. Silence.

And then clanking sounds again from the cell beneath his feet. If it's a protest then it's a tired one, he thinks. Whispering seems to run up and down the wall. 'Air vent?' Antek calculates.

In the early days of the general's crackdowns the prisoners had used the air vents between the cells to communicate. But it only served to inform the prison guards in the end. This cell will learn that too, soon enough, he thinks, and Antek lets his eyes roll left to check for the vent-slats in the wall. It's an old habit. Antek has been checking for vents and cracks in things ever since he was hatched. Anything that might double as an exit, or a hiding place. It's been a useful trick, anywhere but in here.

Two doors. One dark, leading back into the system, into the tunnels of underground cells, and the second door with golden sun-lit hinges. That one leads out. If this is a test then he's failed it already. He'll take the brightly framed door. If the guards even let him get there.

The wind must have died down because the door leading outside has stopped rattling its loose metal hinges. It seems to Antek as though everything waits for him now. For his next decision. Antek slowly lifts up his arm. Touches the scar on his chin. Tries to remember who he made the nick in his chin for. Who it was that he was trying so hard to remember. Nothing comes back to him.

…………………….

 

Blood

There is a droning sound, a long hum and it stops above Tomax. And then it feels to Tomax like he's dreaming. The window pane splits, from the bottom left of his mother's house, cloud spirals like a huge finger pointing, tracing an invisible seam upwards. Its fingers darkly stretching out then splaying. The glass in the windows expands, bricks bubbling or they seem to and then rocks flip up and the earth under the house rises, churning and heaves over. The body of the house pulsing and wrestling with the air a moment.
Everything falls then.

And there is sound, Tomax thinks. His ear drums split and bleed.
And then there is no sound.

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