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Speculative Science Fiction Thriller

A police transport zipped by overhead just above seasonal signs that read, in most cases, the generic “Happy Holidays.” Larken Marche leveraged her laser swordspear to keep her upright as she crunched through the knee-deep snow that covered most of 56th street. She glared at the whiteness covering the streets below, bringing to a freeze all of the normally bustling commerce, and more importantly, passable walkways and streets in the dregs. She pulled her cloak more tightly around her shoulders and watched her breath mist before her in dismay. There was no way that her ragtag group could make it through the sludge, and it would be a week or more before it would be passable again.

She took a breath.

It’s okay, she told herself. Nobody’s expecting an attack today, and they won’t next week either.

The gust of wind from the police vehicle’s wake knocked snow free of the interconnected canopy overhead and sent flakes drifting down around Larken’s black ringlets, occasionally landing on her Nubian nose or over-glossed lips. The augmented reality glasses she wore told her that the snow was almost two feet deep in some places, and of uneaven densities. Without clearing first, the route would be impassible, and with clearing, there went their element of surprise.

She let out a long breath that lingered in the crisp air before her as mist. The taste the smell of Portland, Oregon clung to the back of her throat as she exhaled. Cigarette smoke and spent wine, though subdued in the chill, still laced the air. Larken pulled her cylindrical communicator from a hidden pouch in her black synthetic fiber cloak. 

"No passage, Carol," she said.

Larken's second-in-command coughed into the microphone. "No passage, noted."

"It can't be today. These are impassible."

"That's good for us though, right? There's no way those machines will work in this. We could have a fighting chance.”

“Neither will our boots,” she replied. “Look.”

She tapped her communicator to the glasses, sending the information about the snow’s composition across. Larken could practically hear Carol’s disappointment manifest. The woman recovered quickly though.

“I guess,” she said. “We could get some snowplows out there.”

“Without plowing the rest of the city, we would be obvious.”

The Liberti group had taken over a failed bank on the corner of second and Hawthorne for their new Portland headquarters and she wasn’t close to there yet. She hadn’t even crossed over the Willamette yet from the East side of the city, and already she had difficulty walking. She examined the perimeter for any way they might be able to go forward when she caught a glint in the distance. Larken thought she saw an outline of a woman so familiar that she had to glance at it twice. The second glance, though offered her no more clarity as the sheen of the snow washed out everything except for the woman’s vague outline, which she acknoweledged to herself could have as easily been a snowman.

“Larken, are you there?”

She shook her head and rubbed her eyes, forgetting temporarily the dampness of her gloves until they smeared melting snow across her forehead. Then she let out a quick laugh.

“Yeah,” she said, her grin stretching across her face as she mentally chided herself for stupidity. “Yes, I’m here.”

“Perhaps we can send a contingent in through the canopy?”

“That won’t work,” she said. “You know how locked down it is up there, right? Just call it off today. Tell the troops they get an extra day for the holiday.”

“Oooookay. Are you coming back then?”

“Not yet,” Larken said. “There’s something I want to check out.”

“Happy Feast and Survival Day, Larken,” Carol said. Larken arched an eyebrow, keeping her focus on the figure in the distance. “I’ll save some beets for you.”

“I didn’t know you were Martian, Carol,” Larken replied. She hadn’t heard of Feast and Survival day except from, incidentally, the one person who the figure in the distance couldn’t possibly be. Then she processed the rest of what Carol had said. “And don’t save me any beets.”

A quick laugh into the phone on Carol’s side, and she hung up, taking in the canopy. The holiday had surprised Larken, and without the snow forcing her to personally inspect the attack route, the festivities would have passed her by completely. It was just another day combating extremism, in her mind, except it wasn’t. That glimmer on the horizon seemed stronger now, as though whatever it was she had seen had shifted under the sun and now reflected more. That, or it was getting closer. She squinted through her AR glasses, which were supposed to track her pupils and relay information about what she was looking at. They did nothing at first, and when she was ready to launch them into the side of a building, they seemed to detect the threat and projected a distance near the object. Only about two-hundred feet and closing…fast! Ninety-five feet, then eighty, then…

She turned and began to slough her way back to the cleaner streets farther up the hill on forty-third toward her makeshift temporary headquarters. The AR glasses chimed fifty feet before they caught up with her new direction, then the heartbreaking numbers rose before her: one hundred twenty feet back. Larken wouldn’t make it.

Pivoting again, this time with her laser swordstaff armed and glowing, Larken braced for whatever it was with her leaning foward behind the weapon to give it better leverage. Her mouth dropped open when she finally saw the entity before her, within less than ten feet.

“I thought it was you,” Dandelion said, freckles high across the bridge of her nose and cheekbones. Shaking snow fell down around Dandelion’s blond hair, sticking to her exposed arms. So many thoughts crowded through Larken’s head that she could only blurt out her surprise.

“Why are you here?”

“I thought you would be here, so I sent myself,” Dandelion said. “Or one of me. Or me. It’s confusing.”

“Tell me about it,” Larken said. “You’re not even trying to blend in anymore, are you?”

Dandelion shook her head. Long golden hair reflected in her green-gold eyes as it swirled around her face. Larken felt her breath stop, and willed her breathing to continue. This wasn’t Dandelion, she told herself. It wasn’t her love, only an imposter. An experiment.

“It is me,” Dandelion assured her. “It’s me. And I love you, Larken. I’m…sorry I couldn’t be there for you in New York.”

“You tried to kill me,” Larken muttered.

“No. No, I never did that.”

No. She hadn’t done that, had she? Larken rubbed her eyes again.

“You tried to kill Phoenix,” she replied, referencing the woman she’d been a part of since early childhood. “You may as well have tried to kill me.”

“She wasn’t you,” Dandelion said, raising a hand of delicate fingers to Larken’s face. Larken first pulled her head back almost half an inch, before she realized the truth: she wanted those fingers. She wanted to feel Dandelion’s touch again. And a second later, fingers traced warm lines down the side of Larken’s face. “I’m different now, Larken. I understand now why you were so upset.”

“Oh,” Larken said, slapping the hand away at the reminder of what Dandelion had become. “And what’s changed? Not killing people anymore.”

“Killing the right people now,” Dandelion corrected, then paused. “Just like you.”

Larken closed her eyes as the words sank deep into her soul. She had become a killer, a transition that had happened over so many years that she’d almost not noticed it happening. But by now, she’d taken so many lives that she couldn’t deny the truth of Dandelion’s words. She couldn’t be upset about Dandelion’s propensity for violence when she’d left at least as many dead in her wake.

“We can be together,” Dandelion promised. “Can’t we? We must be. My life isn’t complete without you.”

The words would have meant more coming from someone who understood the implications, as Dandelion had already demonstrated that she didn’t. But that touch. Larken found herself inching forward. The snow fell more quickly now, like a tiny flurry had formed over their heads. She raised her gloved hand to Dandelion’s too-warm face, and found herself smiling as she traced Dandelion’s cheekbone.

“I’ve missed you,” she said, biting into her lower lip afterward hard enough to make it bleed. Her heart clanged against it’s bony cage as her mind raced. This wasn’t right. But what if Dandelion had learned?

“I missed you too,” Dandelion said, smiling. It was a deceptive smile though. It was a smile of a farmgirl from a history book, someone who should have probably worn overalls. Nothing in that smile read cold-blooded killer. That’s when Larken caught the image of herself in Dandelion’s eye. Glasses, arched eyebrows, flawless brown skin. To the untrained eye, she was in her late twenties, though in reality, she’d been around for almost a hundred years, still nowhere near as long as Dandelion. It grew tiresome, the way they circled each other. A chime sounded above, and caused Larken to clench her swordstaff with both hands. Dandelion smiled.

“Maybe we don’t need that today,” she said, reaching for it. Larken sneered at her at first, but then she handed the weapon over slowly. Dandelion could have taken it anyway if she’d wanted it. Dandelion smiled as she de-activated the laser and handed the weapon back upside down.

“It’s not like there’s going to be any fighting today, Larken. Can we, maybe, just be us today?”

Larken’s breath let out from her chest and her eyes watered. She blinked back the tears and reached out her free hand.

“Today is Feast and Survival Day,” Larken said. “Isn’t that something you celebrate?”

Dandelion wove her fingers into Larken’s and the two began a slow walk through the snow, larken in her boots and Dandelion barefoot in a sundress. The snow steamed whenever one of Dandelion’s feet touched, and the hand that Larken held slowly thawed her arm and sent heat radaiting through her body. She hadn’t realized just how cold she’d become.

Larken smiled and turned to Dandelion.

“Just for today,” she said, unwilling to trust yet that Dandelion had changed as much as she claimed. But she could try it out for one day, and see just how much of Dandelion was still in this extension copy, and whether the lessons learned had truly sunken in. In the meantime, though, she would push all of that from her mind. For right now, Larken would not be a revolutionary leader. Dandelion would not be the woman who’d tried to kill Larken’s former host body, and the two of them would be as they had once been: lovers, in a sleeping city that denied them nothing.

December 22, 2023 17:36

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4 comments

Kathleen Capacci
19:56 Dec 28, 2023

I liked the fantasy world view of a winter holiday, very creative. I wanted to read more about the relationship history between Larken and Dandelion, very intriguing!

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Andrew Sweet
14:26 Dec 29, 2023

I love them as a couple! They're characters from a series I'm working on and I wanted to feel them out a bit. This short story seemed like a good time to do it. Thank you!

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David Sweet
23:43 Dec 26, 2023

Great story! I liked that I didn't have to have a huge amount of exposition to be part of this world. I can tell it is a dense world that you have probably built in other narratives. This seems like a chapter, but stands alone well. Good luck in all your writing endeavors.

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Andrew Sweet
21:21 Dec 27, 2023

Thanks! I intentionally left it a bit open. Still learning the art of a short story, tbh. If it feels like a chapter, that's probably bc I typically write novels! Thank you for your kind words!

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