Quarantine

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Unlike most stories that I write, which take place just after or just before an event, this is a retelling of one of the moments from this past Dystopia Rising event. Dear goodness, this stuff was good.

**********

When they go to repair the morgue, all the Psions are going to be quarantined to the bar and away from the morgue. You’re considered a Psion for this. If any Psion leaves, it is going to be considered endangering the town and they will be executed.

The bar was nearly empty. Most everyone was by the morgue or in triage. Both places the unborn pharmacist were not allowed near at the moment. Despite the fact that she could stop people from dying, if that’s what they wanted. She could be a first step before they went to doctors for their injury, a quick fix to keep them alive until the doctors could get to them. She could help, if only they would let her.

There were about ten people total in the bar. The young half breed doctor. The dragon. The new female bar tender. The bone hat bar owner. The blue ridges. A few others.

There was a scream echoing from the skinless skeleton creature that entered the doorway. She grabbed her head from the pain of the scream.

“BONEHEADS” someone shouted as one or two launched themselves after the undead visitor.

Another scream.

“If they keep coming, we may have to spray down the door.” The bone hat walked with authority across the room. “It has to be a last resort. It’ll hurt She if we do.” He pointed with his gun towards her as she backed into a corner away from the newest Bonehead entering the room. “Someone protect She.”

There was another scream.

Her knees gave out from under her as she collapsed to the floor in a moment of agonizing pain. Her head hit the ground.

Peace.

A deep breath and her body relaxed. She could feel them, the ancestors. Reaching out. Brushing against her fingertips. They were ready for her. A euphoric calm washed over her body. Everything was going to be alright.

“She? Can you hear me? Say something?” a voice cut through, disrupting the peace and calm.

She closed her eyes and shifted. No need to worry about the gunfire and screams. No need to worry about the frantic running of feet across the bar room floor. Focus on the peace.

“She? Talk to me. Tell me if you can feel this.”

Why wouldn’t that voice go away? Leave her be. Let her go to her true family. She wasn’t suffering, go to someone who was.

The euphoria began to fade. The sounds of the running feet and the weapons hitting hard against the bone of their attackers became louder. The voice became clearer.

“She are you okay? Stay with me.”

She sat up. The half breed doctor had been kneeling next to her.

Something was wrong. The room was… different.

“She,” someone called out, “Get away from the door.”

Then it hit her.

The smell.

It emanated through the room from the door to the building. It caught in her throat. She gagged and hurriedly made her way to the bar, opposite from the doorway. She had to get as far away from that smell as She could. Oh God, it wouldn’t go away.

The Unborn glanced around the room. Everyone was walking as if it were all fine. Most everyone had relaxed a bit knowing that they were safer. No one else seemed to notice that the room had such a putrid and unavoidable smell overpowering it.

They had sprayed the door.

The colonial came running through the door. Screaming for help. Who could save people? She stood on the stage screaming, trying to hand out supplies for people to bring to triage to help save lives.

The Unborn tried to make her way over. She gagged. She had to back up. She couldn’t get over there.

The colonial screamed again. “If you can save people, get over here now!”

The Unborn tried again. Struggling to get closer. Each step closer to the door and the smell got worse. Each step closer to the door was more difficult. She stopped and gagged again before backing up quickly. She tried calling to the colonial, getting her attention, but the colonial was focused and opening her mouth almost made the smell worse.

She had to get away.

The Unborn backed up again to the bar corner.

She had been told, the only way she could leave quarantine was if it had become too dangerous in the bar. They had tried to keep the bar safe, but in doing so, prevented her from leaving the bar even if it became dangerous.

They had succeeded in their quarantine.

The pharmacist could no longer go to help anyone. She could no longer try to show the town that she wanted to be a friend and not the enemy. She was under quarantine and confined to the corner of the bar, away from everyone.

Just like she had always been kept away from everyone on the caravan.

Maybe the town wasn’t that different from the caravan.

Quarantine the monster.

If something attacks, it’ll kill her while everyone else gets away.

The Unborn sat down on the bar stool of the empty bar and sighed.

Maybe the ancestors were right.

Do not use them to replace us, your true family.

They are not one of us.

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What is Freedom?

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My goodness. If you haven’t checked out Dystopia Rising by the amazing people at Eschaton Media, you need to do so. This past weekend was a game and it was intense and wonderful and made the world amazing. Seriously guys, play this game.

**********

Jeanie glanced over at the new ink on her left forearm. It was one of two new pieces. Or maybe one new piece and one updated piece. The updated piece was on her shoulder. The bow of ship leaving a cloud of smoke. A number added to the bow of the ship A-825. The new piece was down on the forearm, in purple. The number 25 and the Hedon triple X figure.

Do you want to be free?

What kind of question is that? Of course.

Do you want to be free?

Yes.

She slowly slid her fingers over the new number and sighed. She had spent years fighting to remove the numbers that had been tattooed to her face back in Motor City. She had searched and fought and cried. Mickey had gotten ahold of the syringe that removed the numbers branded into her skin. She had cried in agony as she remembered the pain of having it placed on her cheek while Caleb had held her and the brew burned the ink out of her skin.

Only to have not only the old number returned but a new one.

And by her own choice.

You know how the Dock Workers ink their story into their skin? Well, Irons sort of do the same. We claim the ink in our skin as our story and wear it with pride. Only I haven’t. And I’m trying. I’m trying to be proud.

As much as she wanted to be proud, there was a certain hurt that came every time she got new ink and remembered the pain of getting her first tattoo. There was a certain pain in the knowledge that she was once again marked as property of someone else, as a slave. She was trying so hard to reclaim pride in her life and in what she had lived.

It still hurt.

Hey Jeanie. Have you torn up your papers yet?

No. Why would I?

Slavery is illegal now. You’re free.

Her papers were still in Charles’ pocket. She had not torn them up yet. He had asked, but for some reason, she wasn’t ready. It wasn’t the right time yet. And despite numerous members of the town reassuring her that she was now free, she didn’t feel free.

She never had.

Remember the first question you asked me?

Yeah.

Well, I’ve never felt free. And every time someone reminds me that I’m an Iron or comments on my glow, I don’t feel free. And I’m trying, but honestly, it’s hard.

Jeanie sighed and stared down at the empty glass in front of her.

Would she ever feel free?

“Yo, asshole,” she shouted to the red headed rover chatting at the other end of the bar before waving a 5 chuck lager at him. “I want another.”

Withdrawal

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Dystopia Rising piece about Jeanie. You know the drill. The world is by the awesome folks at Eschaton Media (go explore all of their work. Seriously, just go do it.) And the characters are characters created by other players in the LARP and used with their permission (or it’s me quoting actual interactions we had while in play).

**********

Glowing red hands were tightly gripping the large mug of steaming hot tea. The retorgrade had warned her that it would be hot, but she didn’t care. Very calloused fingers desperate for warmth didn’t care that the mug was hot. It’s not like she’d burn her hands. The forge didn’t and that was hotter.

Jeanie sipped at the hot tea, trying to stop the shaking. She was certain it was from the cold. It had to be from the cold. It wasn’t unreasonable to think otherwise.

Got an itch you can’t scratch?

Jeanie dropped her forehead onto the counter and squeezed the mug tighter.

Years of addiction don’t go away with one conversation.

The iron sighed and bounced her forehead against the counter of the bar. It was difficult without the needles. Without the milk ensuring that she was calm and able to think. Without the salvation giving her comfort from the overwhelming stress caused by the Hansfields and the lack of Charles.

Fuck where was Charles? He hadn’t been seen since Pequod Port. He was her owner. He had the contract. But without him and the contract, his protection meant nothing. Did he even care? Would he ever come back? After Caleb died, he’s one of the few who still understood. Was this the time that his business would keep him away for good?

Charles is an Ascensorite. He’s not capable of loving. He just has those that are his and fuck anyone who messes with his things. It’s not love. It’s pretending to love things he’s decided to own.

Jeanie sat up and shook her head. No. Jak was wrong. Had to be wrong. Charles was like her. Emotions too strong to handle. Easier to control them with drugs. Stop feeling and then you know how to function again. That’s why he hadn’t stopped her from using until she went crying to him in Pequod. Right?

The iron scratched at her right fore arm.

The only reason he cares for you is because you’re his and he cares for what he owns.

“No,” she muttered under her breath before guzzling a large amount of the still scalding hot tea. “No, I won’t give in. I won’t do this. I’m gonna stay sober. I have to.”

The iron shuddered.

“I gotta find someone to talk to.”

“I hate withdrawal.”

Rock Bottom

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It’s a Dystopia Rising story about Jeanie! Like normal, the world of Dystopia Rising is from the amazing people at Eschaton Media. Outside of Jeanie, the characters are from the amazing players who play them. Seriously, if you haven’t checked this stuff out yet, you should.

CONTENT WARNING!

Drug addiction and Withdrawal

If, for your own reasons, you are not comfortable reading about someone going through some serious withdrawal, you might not want to read this one.

**********

The iron collapsed to her knees and wretched. Her body shook while trying to violently remove the contents of her empty stomach. Tears formed in her eyes as her body shook and finally dropped to her side. Jeanie blinked away the tears and looked around the remains of the hidey hole she used to share with Caleb. If she couldn’t get into the Grove, this was the safest place to be, especially with Charles and many others gone. The woods around the Grove were very dangerous and it’s the harvest. Now is not the time to be alone, especially when one is struggling to stand from the pain of craving.

Craving.

Those were most of her thoughts right now. The needle. The high as the drugs coursed through her veins. The resulting lack of feeling as everything turned to logic and the world became easy to deal with.

You enslave an iron with milk and they still smile as the high courses through them. You don’t even smile. You stop feeling. You don’t enjoy it. You hide in it.

Jeanie reached for the bottle of water at the side of the mattress. She rinsed her mouth as Jak’s words echoed in her head.

I don’t know when. I don’t know how. But somewhere along the line you gave up. You decided you weren’t worthy of freedom. You stopped trying.

Jeanie shook and glanced down at the healing marks on her right forearm. Faded bruises and pinprick holes were scattered along the skin.

The only master you have is the brew inside that needle. The craving is the order. The withdrawal is the punishment. The high is the reward…

She closed her eyes and scratched at her forearm, wishing for Caleb, for Charles and his bottle, for any way to make this punishment go away.

Punishment for refusing to feel. Punishment for not letting Caleb or Charles help when they had offered. Punishment for hiding her addictions from her mate and for spending every chuck she had over the past few months on getting high. Punishment for being weak and stagnant.

You say you’re a Darwin, evolving and pushing forward. If you’re going to let this drug rule you, if you’re going to refuse to get any better than this, then you should really rethink whether or not you belong in your faith.

Jeanie sighed and stared up at the ceiling. Delta and the others were right. Evolution was more that just exposure to radiation. Exposure was important but it was never the only part of the path. An individual needed to make a cognizant effort to change. Isn’t that what she taught every time she used her faith to heal someone?

You want to know what I think? I think that you never got the help you needed. You’ve been struggling along all on your own and you never got the support or teaching you needed to understand what you needed and somewhere along the line you decided you were unworthy of getting help.

She sighed and thought back to all the moments that had made her feel like no one would ever be there to help her. She remembered trying to calm down and being told that she wasn’t calming down quickly enough. She remembered being told she was free now and needed to stop acting like she didn’t get it. She remembered not being fed during the famine. She remembered being yelled at for having died. She remembered being yelled at for the radiation making her ability to fight difficult, even though she was just a crafter. She thought about her adoptive parents disappearing. She thought about the organizations she would join and how they always disbanded. Even the Dock Workers Union barely had a presence here in the Mass.

Jak was right. She had been on her own and struggling to make sense of it all since the beginning. There was no growth. There was just stagnation because she had never learned how to get past the struggles she had learned from the assembly line in Motor City.

What was the one thing that Jeanie struggled with the most?

I could break you. I could get all loud voiced and watch you cower as you follow every command I give you.

The only master you have is the brew inside that needle…

Jeanie scratched at her healing right forearm. She groaned, rolled over, and gripped her stomach, once again attempting to push the cravings out of her mind.

The biggest struggle was that Jeanie couldn’t disobey an order. When Charles and the Hansfield family ordered she follow for evaluation, she did. When she got back to Hayven after being kidnapped and branded by the Confeds, she obeyed everything that Commander Dantes had ordered. When Jak had harshly gotten angry in a discussion they had, her eyes dropped and she immediately waited for the order that needed to be obeyed. Hell, for the past four years or so, she had given in to almost every drug craving she ever had.

Jeanie glanced down at the healing marks on her arm, the results of her years of addiction.

The only master you have is the brew inside that needle…

Jeanie shook her head. No more more. Mickey had marked her left arm with he phrase “no masters.” But she had yet to reach a point where she had no masters. The drugs had controlled her for years, but no more. No more would she obey the order given with every craving. No more would she follow the order to jam a syringe into her veins.

Dock workers marked their story on their skin with ink. Irons would do the same as a way of reclaiming the hurt of their strain being forced into their skin with ink.

Jeanie would do the same.

She would add this part of her story to her right forearm. She would mark the site of all her healing track marks and tell the world that these drugs were no longer her master.

She would refuse their orders from here on out.

Debt

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Woot! New Dystopia Rising piece. As always, this main character is my own. The other characters mentioned are the property of their respective players. The world the story takes place in is the property and creative genius of Eschaton Media (Seriously, go check them out).

**********

A shiny new fucking workbench.

It was currently set up next to the Dunwich, but all the way in the back where the grassy quiet spot is. Out of the building so no one risks a case of black lung.

But, where it was set up, didn’t change the fact that the Hansfield family gave her a shiny new fucking workbench.

Hey, we’re here with the Hansfield Family and we were just looking to see what kinds of things people in the town need. We do try to encourage trade in this area and we feel supporting the town will help support that trade.

Ummm… Pretty sure the town needs a workbench. I literally don’t know anyone who has one right now.

A workbench? Alright, and who might you be?

Ummm… Jeanie.

She hadn’t asked for a bench for herself. But it was delivered to her. With her name on it. From the fucking Hansfield Family.

Jeanie plopped onto the ground and stared up at the bench. It was well built and good quality (of course it was, idiot, the Hansfield’s are not fucking stupid). And of course, that would also be part of what came back to haunt her.

Jeanie groaned and grabbed her stomach, she took a forced breath through clenched teeth before sitting up strait again. The Hansfield family didn’t give anything for free, especially to someone whom they saw as property. She would end up owing them. The question was, what and how much. Would they even tell her what they felt her debt was?

How could she pay back a debt that she didn’t even know about?

Jeanie groaned again and doubled over to take another deep breath. The worst part about this was the amount of stress it was giving her as she tried to figure out what was going on. She had even tried asking Jak if he had something to help relieve her stress, a syringe of the drug proven to calm her down. He was willing to offer what he had for money… or a deal.

Fuck deals.

Jeanie rubbed at her forehead. As much as she needed the milk, she was not willing to make another deal to get it. Not when getting into an unknown deal is what fucked her over in the first place.

For the first time, the Iron was actually glad her mate was dead. He wouldn’t get upset with her for this now.

But on the other hand, what about Charles? He was her legal owner. Were the Hansfield’s the type of people who would target an owner if they felt the slave was out of line? Would Charles be held responsible for this debt? Or would it fall squarely on her? And what did it all mean?

She grabbed her head again before jumping up and brushing herself off.

She was gonna go into the bar and scrub some of the dishes. Jak would probably give her a drink or two for helping with that and it would at least lessen the need a bit.

When Charles got back, she was going to have a long chat with him about this mess and what it meant.

Hopefully, he would be able to help her figure it all out.

Evolution

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This past Dystopia Rising game was emotionally tough for me. I don’t usually say it, but I tend to use the stories as a way of processing everything that’s happened on a weekend. So, when I have some very tough weekends, these are super helpful to me. So yeah…

Note – There are some topics here that can absolutely trigger some people, so be warned that there is self-harm described within the story.

**********

“What are those?” the Ascensor asked quietly, his head tilted to the side with confusion.

“Playing cards,” she answered as she shuffled them up again, “Mister Oddfellow gave them to me.”

“What do you do with them?” He shifted the spear in his paw.

“You play black jack.”

“How do you play?” He sat down across from the Iron and rested his spear against the back wall of the medical center. He smiled gently as the Iron dealt out the cards and started to teach him the simple game.

The flames flickered around the logs in the fireplace. Red and gold dancing back and forth. Violently. Mirroring the pain from the memories and images racing through the Iron’s mind. A large mug of hooch sat in her hands as she stared at the flames.

“Why do you like my glow so much?” She shifted her head from where it rest on his stomach so that she could look him in the eyes.

“I’m ascending. I’m losing my humanity. But your glow, it’s like a lantern. It keeps me grounded.”

She nodded and returned her head to his stomach and looked back up at the stars. “Your bells, I hear them and I know I’m safe.”

Someone scraped their chair across the floor on the other side of the room. The Iron slowly turned her head to look and see who it was. She saw a flash of blue tribal markings on their outfit. Someone from Warsong. No one important right now. She turned back to watching the flames.

“Jeanie,” the Curie muttered softly, “You don’t have to lose all emotions to evolve. You can grow and use them.”

“But what about Sliphox?”

“Talk to him. Tell him what you found in the Gravemind. Tell him you love him.”

Jeanie sighed and slowly put the mug down beside her. It was cold in the room. She slid her arms into the brown leather coat. For a moment, she paused and the tears welled up in her eyes. Caleb had helped her find this coat when her other one started getting too thin.

Gentle paws rested on each cheek and his forehead rested against hers, but she still couldn’t look him in the eye. “Jeanie, I will never leave you. I will always take care of you and protect you. You are my mate and I love you.”

She quickly brushed the tears from her eyes. It was over. It wasn’t worth crying when that would change nothing. As she lowered her hand, she noticed the scar, a rover promise that he made to protect her, faded. The lightest shade of pink. It could barely be seen.

“Of all people,” Delta scolded her, “you rely on an Ascensor of autumn, an Ascensor of Hedon, and a Pure Blood of Hedon? You should be relying on your faith. The ones you are relying on are holding you back.”

“You want to take her choice away?” Caleb asked, appalled. It looked as though he was going to launch himself over the table to hit Delta.

“I want her to evolve.”

“Jeanie,” the familiar gentle voice began. “What do you want?”

“I…” she stuttered, “I don’t know.”

“She won’t know. She needs a pivotal moment. So, you fight me to the death. Or, I will take her from this town until she evolves.”

“Jeanie,” he gently and painfully asked again, “do you want this?”

Delta had made it clear that her reliance on others was holding her back. She held on to way too many people. She quickly glanced around the room. Someone was passed out with their knife on the floor next to them. She grabbed the knife and slid the blade into the flames.

The Iron then opened her bag to all the letters she had saved up. She began separating them into two piles. Muttering about what was going on as she went. Notes on science, the grave, evolution, radiation, disease… Anything of pure fact went to the pile on the left. The rest, went on the right. When the piles were sorted, the notes and facts were carefully returned to her bag. The pile of letters was then pulled into her hands.

A letter from Nevada on the railroad? A letter from Glitter about traveling safely through the wastes. A letter from Dorito about the Underground Iron Horse. A letter from Dusty about the family of Dock Workers. An invitation to Shea’s wedding and a letter about missing her Iron daughter. A note from Yossarian about her improvements in reading and writing. A note from Jinx about finding the mother of No-Glow. A letter from Medic on taking care of a burn. Letters from Cadence about finding her inner strength. A letter from Jimmy about surviving the tank heart. A card from Rosemary, who never gave up. Two letters from Sal hoping to help them both get through the frustrations of their strain. A note from her niece, Honey Badjur. A letter from the sister that had raised her. A letter from Russell on the rover’s travels. A letter from Disco on growing in the faith.

A pile of letters, people who had reached out to the Iron to help her. A pile of paper in the hands of the Iron. A flick of her wrist and the entire pile was tossed into the flames. The dancing red and gold swallowing the paper and messages of love.

One last letter, written on a scrap of fabric and still faintly smelling of spices, the first letter that Caleb had ever sent her. She gripped it tightly in her hand. A deep breath pushed the tears away from her eyes and the fabric was also tossed to the flames.

The Iron slid the white hat from Medic off her head. A second later, she pulled the Juggalo hat from Bones out of her bag. Both were thrown into the flames.

Jeanie then slid her necklace off and began tearing pieces off the chain. Goodbye to the beads from Wave. Goodbye to the anchor from Dusty. Goodbye to the craftsman charm from her Sister. Anything that she held on to as a reminder of the past, tossed into the flames.

The added fuel made the flames dance brighter and faster. The knife sitting amongst them glowing red from the heat of the fire.

Jeanie stared at the beaten and bloodied form of her Ascensorite, her Caleb, as he struggled to breathe where he was curled up in the snow. The snow around hims was slowly growing a deeper and deeper red.

“Evolution is supposed to hurt. Lean on your faith and not people around you.”

She carefully rolled up her sleeve. A tattoo of dots upon her wrist. Red for promises made. Caleb. Cadence. Blue for those she had left behind. Her sister. Emily. Black for those the grave had taken from her. Medic. Caleb March. Cadence. Ethan. Green for those who had left the Iron behind. Yossarian. Disco. Agustus. Shea. Doctor Thomas. Mister Oddfellow. All people she relied on and continued to hold onto. People who were holding her back.

She jammed the heated knife into the tattoo and dug into the skin. There was a sizzle from her skin meeting the red hot blade and a bit of smoke started to snake it’s way into the air from the tattoo. She wriggled the knife through the dots destroying every piece of their existence, the heat of the blade cauterizing the wound and keeping blood from dripping to the floor.

She dropped the blade to the floor and grabbed the cup of hooch, dumping the remaining alcohol onto the wound before wrapping her wrist up in a bandage. She’d find a doctor for it later.

The iron grabbed her bag and stood up brushing any remaining tears from her eyes.

“Be the bird, I know you can become.”

“Jeanie died with Caleb,” she muttered, coldly, pushing aside any emotion or memories and locking them away. “Delta gave you a precipice to evolve from. You held on to everything. You held on to Caleb. You were stagnant, an Iron who couldn’t get over the past. That’s all gone now.”

“Only a bird of prey, a Raptor, remains.”

 

Scrap Ring

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It’s interesting writing Dystopia Rising pieces now. Like, it used to be so easy because they were always Jeanie pieces except for one or two. Now, I have two characters. That two head spaces to inhabit (on top of my own) and when I go to sit down and write, I actually have to find the appropriate head space. Just interesting to me. That said, if you haven’t already done so, seriously, check out Dystopia Rising by the amazing people at Eschaton Media. I know I’m always raving about their work but it is seriously good. And it is also important to note that while Jeanie is my own character, the others in the piece are from the other players in this world and borrowed with permission and their guidance in writing the scene.

**********

Jeanie glanced down at the mug of tea in front of her. It was just tea. There was no mother’s milk infused into the mug. She wouldn’t be able to get high off it. And with the remains of the feeder disease, drinking mother’s milk tea would probably be a bad idea. No, plain tea. Something to soothe the stomach that currently could barely keep down any food of any kind.

Calloused hands gently grabbed the fancy fucking mug and lifted the hot drink to her lips.

Of course Natasha had pretty fucking mugs.

The Pure Blood sat on the other side of the table, waiting. Not in that snotty Pure Blood way. Natasha had some how proven herself the outlier. She didn’t fit into the data set. It was infuriating.

But it also meant that she could be counted on.

Evolution is fucking hard sometimes.

“So, I have this necklace I wear.” Jeanie’s hand instinctively went up to grab the necklace. She wrapped her fingers in all the scrap ring pieces hooked to it. “I never take it off.” Jeanie pulled her brother’s hat off and then pulled the necklace up and over her head. She stared at the pieces that were on the necklace.

Natasha nodded in understanding.

“I remember when Hayven had the near grave. A lot of us were figuring out what thing we had that was most us. And for me, it was this. This necklace. It’s me. It’s my life.”

Natasha carefully sipped from a mug and quietly asked. “I’d love to hear the story. But, don’t feel like you have to.”

Jeanie shook her head. “No, I have to.” She turned her face to look over at the wall and not the Pure Blood in front of her. “I always tell people that because the gravemind is incapable of independent thought, anything you experience, you created it yourself.” Jeanie looked back to Natasha. “People say the gravemind lies and manipulates, but that’s just not true. It can’t. Everything we experience is something we already thought of but maybe didn’t want to admit. Or maybe it’s all the things we’re afraid of. If anything, death is the way we can see ourselves as we truly our. It is our best tool of evolution.”

“Use it as a tool, but not your only tool.” Natasha took a sip of her tea. She put the mug down and her eyes widened with realization. “You died again?”

Jeanie nodded. “When you all came back from Devil’s Den. You guys found me in the trap that the Thrill Kills had left for you. After you guys all left, during the fight, one of the Thrill Kills tortured me. I died. And when I came back, I didn’t want to keep living anymore.”

“You have so many things to live for,” Natasha commented, “You have Caleb. You have Charles. You have science and radiation.”

Jeanie nodded. “I know that now. Charles and Caleb both fought to remind me that. But, I also learned where I was most stagnant. I learned about how much I hate myself and hate being an Iron Slave and hate who I am.”

“I wish I could show you how incredible you are. You’re the most intelligent person I know,” Natasha said softly.

“Hold on… I’m not done…” Jeanie sighed and took a deep breath. “Knowing where I’m stagnant means I know what steps I need to take in my evolution.”

Natasha nodded.

“So, my necklace.” Jeanie looked down to the scraps in her hand and first separated a spool of wire from the bunch. “This is sodder. It’s used in welding. In Motor City, I worked an assembly line. I welded and smelted and that was it. This is what I was.” Jeanie let the spool of sodder slide down the chain and pulled another scrap piece into her hand. It said “CRAFTSMAN” on it. “I was raised by an Iron I called Big Sis. She gave me this. She said it’s what I would become, instead of just a tool on the assembly line.”

Once again, she let the piece slide down the chain and pulled another piece into her hand. This was a jumble of scrap rings all bound together. She went quiet for a moment. “These… These are my freedom… These are what’s left over from how I got out of Motor City… There was a caravan heading to the Aysea to trade Irons. I told them I was reinforcing the rig. I welded these scrap rings underneath the caravan bottom. I tied myself to them so that I could get away. No one saw my glow among the glow of the cargo walking around the caravan.”

Jeanie paused and pulled a single scrap ring off the bundle. She let the necklace drop into her lap and lifted the single scrap ring. She sighed a moment.

“I gave one to Caleb because around him I feel free. I did that awhile ago. He had dropped it. You found it and put it on.”

Natasha smiled a moment. “I figured if I wore it, it would be on display so that the person who really owned it would find it.”

“You are a Pure Blood and you were wearing my freedom…”

Natasha’s eyes widened a moment. “I never meant to hurt you by that.”

Jeanie closed her eyes. “I know… That’s not what I’m saying. I am trying to point out that I give them to people who I feel free around. I just gave one to Charles. It’s hard for me to feel free around Pure Bloods.”

Natasha closed her eyes. Her face was hurt. “I know. And I will not stop trying to change that.”

“I know…” Jeanie dropped her hands and looked down to the scrap ring. “I’ve been talking to Caleb a lot about this. And, I know it’s hard for me, but I… I trust… you… And I know that you’re… trying… to help… me…” She twirled the ring in her hands a moment. “I can go to you if something about my freedom is in danger and you’ll take care of it. And while it hurt… a lot… when I saw you wear it before… I know that you’ll take care of my freedom when I need it.”

Jeanie took a deep breath. “Here.” She held the scrap ring out in her hand.

Natasha looked over to the ring a moment and then up to Jeanie. Her eyes began to fill with tears.

“I give them to people I know will take care of me. To remind me of things I need in order to evolve when I see the other people with them. It’s okay to wear it when I give it to you because then it means you help me not you took my freedom from me.”

The tears slid down Natasha’s cheeks. “I don’t know what to say.”

“Will you take it?”

“Of course!” Natasha grabbed the scrap ring and slid it onto her finger. “I will look for a perfect place to put this so it won’t get lost.”

Jeanie nodded and sipped the mug from her tea.

“I’m glad you trust me.”

“It’s hard… but yeah…”

“I know it’s hard, but hopefully it’ll keep getting easier.” Natasha’s hand brushed the tears from her cheek.

Jeanie shrugged and looked down at her mug of tea. Caleb had said this would show growth on her evolutionary path. She knew it was the right thing to do. She hadn’t said a single lie or hidden anything from Natasha this time. She still felt so uncomfortable about it though.

Jeanie grabbed her necklace and put it back on before standing up.

“I’m going to the bar to get a drink,” she muttered before turning and leaving Natasha, the tears, and the fancy as fuck tea set.