Umbra tossed on the mattress. It was late, or early, depending on how one decided to judge the time. The little clock on the night table said it was three o’clock in the morning. And Umbra couldn’t sleep. The mattress was too soft, the sheets too new. The pillow too firm. This was the first night she was trying to sleep in her room at the new base.

Part of her wanted to drift through the ground and find a cave somewhere to hide in. Or the closet. She’d spent weeks alternating between Harry and Willis’ closets, and neither of them asked why. She supposed that was a blessing. Harry probably didn’t even know the words to form the question, and Willis had been through enough trauma of his own to question that there was a reason.

She flipped the pillow over to the other side and felt the cool cloth on the back of her neck. The ceiling above her was still bare metal. With a sigh, Umbra rolled onto her right shoulder and stared at the board she had posted on the wall next to her. There were several pictures that glowed faintly as they ran through a slide show. Pictures from their first day of training, some of her friends from the woods, Professor Jove actually smiling while talking on the phone with Prime Minister Skylar, Professor Carpenter looking awkward and holding a hand in front of his face to block the camera, but grinning despite himself.

Good times.

One picture cycled through the slide show, one that she coveted very much, and had forgotten she even had it until digging through old files on her beat-up, ‘borrowed’ wristcom. A single shot of a young man with sandy brown hair, dirt-covered face, and winning smile holding up a large fish, still flopping as he pulled it from a lake. The jawline was similar to her own, and though his eyes were closed, she remembered that they had the same green eyes. They could have been siblings.

Because they were.

She reached out her left hand and turned the screen off. Her brother’s filthy, but pleased face disappeared. The last picture she wanted to see before she went to sleep. A memory of some of the hardest times in her life. Running for their lives and hiding in the woods, trying to stay forgotten. But times like that, fighting with a large freshwater bass, or hiding out in a bedridden senior citizen’s summer home while he was in a nursing home, or even just making dinner and watching TV. Those times were memories she treasured.

She felt the rising urge to hide herself in the closet the longer she thought about her brother. The dark recess would provide a refuge, keep her sane, give her a safe place to let the tears flow and finally get some rest.

But now that she finally had a place of her own, she thought hard about what Derek would have wanted her to do. The last thing he had told her was to hide in the closet and he’d keep her safe. But now…

“Dummy. Why would you want to do something stupid like that forever? That’s gotta be cramped.” He’d probably say, and she found herself smiling despite her spike of sadness.

Well, yes, the closet was cramped, but it was something she had gotten used to.

“Michelle, that is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. Go to bed. Pancakes in the morning.”

Yeah, Harry liked pancakes. So did Willis. But Mister Wormwood was a terrible cook. So she sighed, turned back onto her back, and shut her eyes.

And for the first time in months, slept in her bed instead of the closet.

((What is this! Umbra has a name! Why yes, yes she does. Something short and simple and not that good before I go to bed. g’night!))


Bill stared at the display of his computer briefly. How did this sort of thing keep happening? It made little sense. But he supposed that it was flattering of Carpenter to call and ask if he could figure out what was going on.

He brought up some footage from Oklahoma City that was on the news. Ice animals were roaming the streets, attacking police officers and civilians. And in the thick of things was Jason Jove. Of course. The idea of having a crisis without the presence of at least one well-known hero was ridiculous. He studied the footage, along with his mother and father, who were horrified by the whole thing.

But what Bill saw was much different. The first thing he noticed was that this attack was clearly targeted towards police. Every time an officer appeared, all the ice creatures swarmed around he or she. Interesting. As he watched, Bill found himself writing an array for this in his head. Not too difficult.

He reached for a napkin and started jotting down ideas to break the spell. But then he remembered another detail: they were originally small statues. That complicated things by working another layer into the array. Still, if he could reverse the targeting algorithm, or erase it, that could buy him some time.
“Mom, Dad, I’ll be in my room.” He said quietly, stepping past his transfixed parents. He needed to get a closer look at one of these animals. But for now, he could at least start working. One of his walls had been painted over with chalkboard paint, and it was here that he erased a large portion of what he had been working on previously. The array that would give him superhuman toughness had not been going well anyway. But he started re-constructing this new spell as best he could. Two effects, the targeting and the shrinking, meant two concentric circles. He glanced at his computer again, and saw an ice griffon attacking the reporter. Griffon. A mythical creature. Up until this point he had just seen normal animals in the ice. This changed things slightly.

He added another circle, between the inner targeting layer and the outer shrinking layer. The animals were clearly being fed behavioral information from a source in the array. That was the much harder way to go about things. Sticking with existing animals would have just had the sculptures default to basic instincts in the fabric of nature. But whoever made this was flashy. More advanced than he had anticipated. His parents knocked on the door to his room.

“Yes?” He asked, not moving from his chalkboard.

“Bill, honey, what are you doing in here?” His mother asked, opening the door a little to peak in. “Are you… trying to do magic again?”

“Tracy, let him work.” His dad interjected.

Bill was very thankful at least one of his parents understood, at least a little.

“Mom, this is really important. Oklahoma City is in danger, but I think I can fix it.”

“But Bill, it’s Christmas Eve!”

“I’ll be sure to tell the rampaging ice sculptures that. I’m sure that will stop them. Now, please let me work.”

“C’mon Tracy. Let’s leave him be.” His dad pulled his mother from the door with a conspiratorial wink at his son. Mom always got hysterical under pressure, and worried constantly. But at least she had let him continue attending school in Oklahoma next semester.

The chalk scraped across the wall, becoming more complex with each pass. The base spell, the enlargement, was the first finished. Physical focus, size dictated by the layer above, for the instinctual levels.

Bill frowned. Something was wrong with this… what was he missing?

He called Carpenter. Umbra answered instead.

“Can you capture one of these things alive?” He asked, not giving her time for a greeting.

“Uh…” he heard her calling to Carpenter on the other end, gunshots, the woosh of flame, and a roar like a lion passed through an echo chamber. He added another line to the array at the second layer. Noise was included. This whole thing was very complex.

“Maybe?” Umbra finally answered.

“I need you to put one of them in the communications array back at base.” He explained, and could almost hear the gears in her head start to turn with how they were going to accomplish this feat.

“Sure thing.” Umbra finally said, but the tone was that of incredulity. The call ended abruptly.

He switched the view on his computer to link to the communications array, in case this happened quickly. But the longer he stared at the array, it felt wrong. Then it hit him: these things were made of ice! He added a new circle in the center of the array, but did not flesh it out at that moment. Ice could be kept from freezing in one of two ways: the ice was magically generated using an integrated array perpendicular to this on the ‘z’ axis, or it was a temperature controlled system. Based on the rest of the spell, he’d put his money on the third dimension in the array.
He’d managed to build a counter to either measure, but implementing the wrong one could instead add to the integrity of the target spell, rather than breaking it.

Fortunately, he was getting a video call from Umbra. Was that an… ice rabbit?

“That rabbit is adorable.” He said, and it was true. The creature was huddled in the arms of Professor Sommerman, munching at some carrots.

“Yes it is.” Umbra agreed, and relayed the message to the people off screen. “Sommerman wants to know if whatever it is you’re going to do is going to kill it?”

Bill considered. The ‘z’ axis break would certainly kill the focus as well, but the temperature change break…

“I’ll see what I can do.” He said, and with a nod from his teammate, he ended the call.

The rabbit was placed in the array not long after, and Bill grinned. He would have lost that bet with himself. The innermost layer was a temperature control spell. With Carpenter and Umbra following his directions, he input the new spell to counteract the old, breaking it at its most simple point: raising the temperature of the spell from twenty degrees to seventy degrees, but with an exclusion for point of origin.

Fifteen long seconds later, news footage showed the city wet with melted sculptures. Including the giant Santa Clause in front of City Hall.

Ha. He’d like to see Mason pull off something as elegant as that!
When he finally emerged from his room, his dad gave him a clap on the back, and his mother hugged him before urging him to eat his holiday meal.

“But no magic at the table.” She insisted.

Blue Drinks (A short Harry story)
Harry likes Slushies.

Harry found Umbra in his closet that morning. He had no idea why she was in his closet, but could not find the words to voice the question. He settled for a confused grunt and quirked head.

“Don’t worry about it.” She had said. But Harry worried anyway. She looked tired, and walked through his room to get to the kitchen. Breakfast was a simple affair. Ms. Reed had told them to eat pretty much anything they wanted, and to just not make a mess. Umbra was cooking. Something smelled delicious. It sizzled on the pan, and filled his sensitive nose in way he hadn’t experienced before. And he was suddenly ravenous.

“Hungry.” He grunted out. Umbra nodded in reply.

“I’m hungry too. Bacon’s almost done. How do you want your eggs?”

“Bacon?” What was Bacon. And what did she mean by that question?

“Yeah, you can’t smell it?” Umbra said, and flipped whatever was sizzling in the pan. “I think I managed to not burn it either. I’m not used to cooking on an actual stove.”

Now Harry was really confused. Then again, a lot of things had been confusing him. Like the idea of the Hallway. Apparently, you could walk through one room, and get to many rooms. The first time he could remember seeing another place was when Mr. Jove had saved him. The journey to the real world had been harrowing. And Harry distinctly remembered almost passing out in the submarine. Pressure changes were hurting his head. At least, he was told that afterwards.

He was still a bit wary of all the space he was now allowed to roam in. But at least the basment level they were staying on was fairly spartan. Not as spartan as his cell, but still enough that it felt familiar. And this place had pillows. And cold blue drinks that made his head hurt.

And, as Umbra turned around with a plate laden full of… something delicious smelling, it became clear that this place was much better than he had left.

“You kinda spaced out on me, so I just made them sunny-side up. Hope that’s ok.”

He inhaled deeply. The meal before him steamed softly, and he inspected the food on it. He thought it was food. It made his stomach growl in a way that he couldn’t fathom. In his cell he could only remember slop in a bowl, and sometimes a piece of meat that was basically raw.

This was nothing he had ever seen before. Two conjoined white circles, with smaller, puffed out yellow circles in the middle. And four strips of… that sharp-smelling thing Umbra had been cooking earlier. Bacon? Was that what that was? Or was the bacon the white circles?

His sense of smell told him this food was good. And his stomach told him he was much hungrier than he realized. The red and white strips were the first consumed, and he grunted happily. The white and yellow food was much more moist, and juicy, and he made a noise of surprise when the yellow circles burst on his face and rolled down his chin. It got all over his white shirt that he had been given, and he craned his neck to lick at the mess that was left of his breakfast.

Umbra stared at him with an expression he couldn’t read on her face.

“My cooking isn’t that good.” She said, and handed him a small square piece of cloth. “Here, use this to clean yourself up. You have yolk all over you.”


“Yeah, it’s all…” she motioned over the lower half of her own face with a hand “everywhere.”

Some time later, Mr. Jove and Willis got back from California and Willis’ therapy session. Whatever that was. And only a short time after that, the rest of the student started to assemble. They were talking about something that he had no idea what it was. A ‘movie.’ With stars. He knew what stars were. One of the other prisoners had drawn stars all over their walls, and he could just see them from his own room. The guards washed them away when the prisoner was ‘expunged.’

He hoped that the students didn’t wash away these stars, stars were pretty.

The training session went well, or at least, he thought so. He had been paired with Mason. They had completed the course, which had some puzzles and a lock that needed to be unlocked while blindfolded. It took the better part of an hour. But they had gotten it when Harry found the key after it had fallen out of the box they were supposed to carry it in.

But they had finished the test. Harry did not get any blue drinks this time. Instead, Harold and Jennifer had.

“Blue!” he had said, and Jennifer looked at him strangely, and held her drink closer to her. Harold took a sip of the beverage, then made a face.

“Ugh. There’s way too much sugar in this.” He sighed, and held the drink out to Harry. “Here ya go champ.”

“Blue?” He asked, holding a hand out to take the offered cup.

“Yep. Take it.”

Harry pulled his hand away. He knew what happened the last time he had tried to hold something when someone said that. He didn’t like that feeling.

“What’s the matter Harry?” Harold asked, holding the cup out again. “I said you can take it.”

No. He wasn’t going to get zapped again. No. No. No. He shook his head and got up from his chair, leaning against the wall of the room instead, hands out, crossed at the wrists. Hopefully they wouldn’t zap him. He didn’t like being zapped.

“Harry, what the hell?” Harold set the cup down and sat in a chair at the kitchen table. “You ok?”

Fortunately, Willis spoke up then.

“Harry, no zaps. It’s ok. No one’s going to zap you for taking the drink.” He said, and pushed the drink towards Harry’s abandoned seat.

“No zaps?”

“No zaps. It’s yours.”

Harry wasn’t sure. He’d been told that before. The guards always said no zaps. Then they zapped him harder. Stupid mutt. That’s what they said when did that. Stupid fucking mutant mutt. Not even human.

He stayed against the wall. Eventually, the debreifing happened, and Mr. Jove and Mr. Carpenter started arguing about something. But then the students left. Umbra made dinner. Something called a pizza. It had that bacon stuff on it. The blue drink was still on the table, with a big ring of water around it. No one had touched it.

He looked to Umbra, who was cleaning the counter. She was taking the ’don’t make a mess’ instructions to heart it seemed. But she wasn’t looking at him. Willis was holding a lightbulb in one hand and was staring at it intensely. The harder he stared, the more his face turned red, be eventually the thing in the bulb that made light started to glow. Willis grinned and stared harder, not at Harry. And Wormwood was reading something in the study. He liked reading.

No one was touching the drink. He reached out a hand and touched the plastic cup.

No zaps.

Success! The blue was his. He started to sip through the straw, and was sad that it was warm now, and didn’t have that head-hurting after feeling. But it was still sweet and blue-tasting and it was his.

He liked that part the best.


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