A woman in a nightclub, singing. She's belting out a song and the room around her's chattering away. She's background noise in their dinner theatre. Her hair's swaying as she throws the sounds, perfect pitch at every turn. C, F, D#, Fb. Lyrically complex, she doesn't stumble. She's not allowed to.
This is how she relaxes.
Irving sat in a bar, running his finger around the rim of his glass. The beer in Mas tasted funny. To be honest, he hadn't bought beer in a long time. He'd just sort of... drifted away from it. As he drifted back in the corner of a faux-rustic place called 'Father Frank's Tavern', he began to regret it. He was trying to take his mind off the day's events. A cryptic message addressed to him in the blood of a bystander was more than he was capable of handling at the moment.
Maybe it was the taste of the beer. It seemed unusually iron-ish. Unusually, given that Beer rarely tasted of iron. He'd eyed some old wooden kegs, held together with iron rings, on the way in. Perhaps they stored it in one of those, keeping with the faux-rustic charm.
Maybe it was the atmosphere, putting him off. The music was bad. Some song about being someone's life, then their strife. It sounded pretty by the book. There had been a song on earlier, though, that he liked. It referenced the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. He knew them. The former group, quite literally. So that one song had endeared itself to him. The rest, not so much. As he mused on this, the guitar rose to the tune of a different song, and it was already aggravating him. No, ma'am, he thought to himself, I don't think you're pretty without any make-up on. His smugness abated as he decided to ignore the music.
Maybe it was the patrons. There was a group of about six men over by the bar. They'd been loud and obnoxious for almost the entire evening. There were a handful of other people in the bar, but there was one sat on the opposite wall to Sepia's booth that kept rolling his eyes every time he looked anywhere near them. Some of the patrons were, at the very least, of discerning taste.
He drunk another drop of the beer and decided to call it quits. He rose, half-full glass in hand, and moved over to the bar itself. He placed it gently down, smiled and gave a half-shrug when the bartender eyed him oddly. As he turned to the exit, he walked straight into the man who had been rolling his eyes. As he regained his composure, he began to apologise. The man, seemingly in his early twenties, wearing a clean-cut blazer and, strangely enough, a bow-tie, smiled.
“Hey, sorry. I was really looking in front of me. Shoulda seen you coming.”
“Well, I'm sorry too.” Sepia smiled and turned to the exit again. The man interrupted.
“Hey, look, could you do me a favour?” The man motioned to the booth he'd been sitting at. A woman sat there too, filing her nails, looking bored. He made a face as he turned back to Sepia. “She's a friend of a friend. We met at a party, and she's kinda... boring. But, drunkenly, I agreed that we should meet up some time.”
“And,” The young man laughed a little and leaned over. “She hasn't seen any of this. I work part time at a newspaper. Not much, but I'm somewhat known for my boss literally showing up and taking me somewhere he needs photographs taken. You look a little like him, so could you maybe pretend to be him?”
Sepia narrowed his eyes a little. He was slightly overwhelmed by how openly conniving the man was. “And what's in it for me?”
“I dunno. Another apology?”
Sepia nodded in an exaggerated, pleased manner. “Alright, I'm convinced.”
“Great! Thanks a lot. I'm going to sit down. In about a minute just come over and tell me you need me to take pictures. She's sitting away from the door so she won't notice you're not actually coming from outside.”
“Alright, then.” Sepia sat down on a bar stool as the man returned to his seat. He could see him awkwardly striking up some small talk. It wasn't much, but Sepia was getting the impression it wasn't because he was expecting the conversation to end soon. He checked his watch and stood up, slowly sauntering over to the booth. As he got closer, he broke out into a light jog. Only for a second, but it made it seem like he was in a hurry.
“Hey, kid. Need you at the Heisner to take some pictures. Come on.” He nodded to the door. The man protested lightly.
“Oh, hey boss. Look, I'm with a friend. I shouldn't...”
“Come on, I'm paying you.”
He turned to his friend and feigned a lack of agency. “Sorry, I should go... It's work...”
“You'd rather be at work than spend time with me?” The girl stood up and grabbed her purse. “Whatever. Do what you like.”
She stormed out and Sepia raised an eyebrow, turning back to the man as she disappeared out the door.
“I guess I don't have to go now.” The man motioned for Sepia to sit.
“I shouldn't, really. I should be going.”
“Oh, stay a while. You're my rescuer. I should at least by you a drink to say thank you.” He smiled and nodded to the bar.
“Alright. If you insist.” He paused a moment and stated, matter-of-factly, “A red wine. I'm not a huge fan of the beer here.”
Lucy MacKaelan stood in front of an apartment building, holding a card. It had no name, no phone number, nothing on it that would suggest a normal business card. It simply read “2C”. She climbed inside the elevator and pushed for floor 2. As it dinged to let her out, door C was right across from it. She knocked, and a creepy voice answered.
“I'm... I'm here to see Wraith. Talbot sent me.”
The door clicked open, revealing a man who seemed to be far too thin to be healthy. He motioned her in and she stepped forward three times, shutting the door behind her. She craned her head, checking out the room. It was small, dirty and seemed to smell faintly. She was unimpressed, and declined his offer to take a seat. He shrugged and raised his head to her as he sat down.
“So what can I do for you?”
“Talbot told me you do some work for him.” Lucy coughed and shifted her posture slightly. She felt exposed in the tiny room. “That you move some cargo.”
“What of it?”
“Did you make a delivery to Hra about seven years ago?”
“I've made a lot of deliveries over many years.” He closed his eyes for a second, reopening them after a brief pause. “Tell me the specifics of the cargo, and I'll take a look.” He placed a pair of half-moon glasses on his nose, pausing briefly to stare at Lucy again. “You look like a cop.”
“Not... not quite...”
“Let me be clear.” He coughed and picked up three books on a small coffee table. “These are my ledgers. They record all of my deliveries. I don't just deliver to Hra. What you're looking for could be anywhere. If you breathe a word of my identity to anyone else, I will personally burn every page that documents anything that's 5 to 7 years old.” He smiled a smug smile. “Just in case.”
“Of... of course...”
“You seriously never heard of Simon and Hall?” The man laughed as Sepia raised his hands in mock-frustration. “Where have you been?”
“All sorts of places. You should go there some time.” He laughed as the man stuck his tongue out, teasing him. He'd since learned that the man's name was Darren Richter. He was a fresh-out-of-Art-school photographer for the Mas Post, a small but well-respected newspaper. He found it refreshing to be talking with someone who wasn't investigating a murder. According to Darren, the closest he'd been to one in the last six months was a pet rescue fundraiser (“It just proves how far away from murder I am”, he explained). Sepia had mentioned he was a 'sort of detective', but otherwise kept quiet about his own work. They had long since veered away from the topic anyway. Sepia hadn't visited 2025 before, and it showed. His ignorance of music, of television, of general slang and culture, it all showed greatly. He simply waived it off like nothing.
“You probably don't even know who the new Tribe Leader is, do you?” Darren scoffed, and Sepia shook his head.
“No, can't say I do.”
“It's this guy. Calls himself Lucas Dia. He's weird. Most people just persuade the eight heads-of-whatsits to vote for them. He challenged every last one to a fight. Surprised it worked. I heard he even did it for his four advisers too. Or, I suppose, soon-to-be advisers.”
“It is.” Darren flicked a bar peanut into his mouth and laughed.
“So, Simon and Hall, their show's on tonight?”
“Yeah, in like half an hour.”
“I live about 10 minutes from here.” Sepia looked up a bit, doing the mental math. “Wanna come back to mine and watch it?”
“Sure.” Darren threw his hands in the air in an expression that seemed to say 'why not?'.
Red was flicking through a file in his den. He was tired, but something just wasn't sitting right with him about the Vulca massacre.
“Yet another grizzly death keeping you awake, dad?” Came a voice from around a corner. The long red hair of his daughter, Claire, was peering at him.
“Shouldn't you be in bed?” He sighed, looking at his watch. “Where's your grandmother?”
“Out. As usual. She's got more of a life than you, these days.”
“That's because she doesn't have to earn any money. She can just spend mine.” He sighed, shutting the file.
“I thought you'd already made enough money to live off?” She said, confused.
“Oh yeah.” He laughed. “I must just do it so that I can leave you at home unsupervised.”
“Oh, I'm sure.” She said, sarcasm in her voice. “Goodnight, dad.”
Blackwood was pacing the office, studying an old text he'd salvaged from a supplier earlier in the day. There was a knock at the door, and he opened it to see a courier.
“Ah, right.” He nodded. “Thank you.”
“No problem sir. You pay extra, you get midnight delivery.”
Blackwood smiled and signed for the package.
“Oh, I will!” The courier yelled back as he headed down the corridor. Blackwood shut the door behind him and placed the package on the nearest desk. He opened it with Lucy's letter opener and removed, delicately, a book that looked far older than the one he'd been studying before. He ran a hand down the cover before opening the book itself.
“Of course. The helpful book on judgement cults is in one of the few languages I don't recognise... Looks like a Pesetan script, though. Guess I'll start from there.”
“Do you always talk to yourself?” The courier had re-entered the office. He had a small envelope that he put on Lucy's desk. “Almost forgot this. My boss said it was to be delivered with the package.”
“Oh, right, thanks.” Blackwood waved him away, still focussed on the book.
“So, this is your place?” Darren nodded approvingly as he entered Sepia's apartment. “Not bad.”
“It's new.” He fumbled with the card-reader that turned on the electricity. As it finally relented, Darren gestured approvingly.
“Looks better lit, too.”
“Oh ha HA.” Sepia laughed, crossing over to the kitchen. “Do you want something to drink? All I have is wine.”
Darren sat his messenger bag down on the floor beside Sepia's couch and fixed his eyes on him.
“Look, I'm not here to... you know. I'm only here because you seem nice and it's a new episode of Simon and Hall tonight...” He turned around and breathed deeply. “Which I'll get to see on a much bigger TV than usual. Nice.”
“What do you mean 'you know'?” Sepia asked, confused. He handed him a wine glass and Darren looked at his feet, embarrassed.
“Wow. I probably shouldn't have assumed that you were... I mean, I am, you know, but that you would be and not...” He gulped a little wine back and laughed awkwardly. “TV!”
“Good plan.” Sepia said, nodding. He sat down next to Darren and flicked the TV on with the remote. The screen flashed to an image of three men high-fiving awkwardly. “Oh, I think I've seen this one.”
Darren gave him a small, disapproving shove.
"Cause you were breathing, and you were moving..."
A singer in a nightclub singing the final bars of her favourite song, winding down her evening. Still pitch perfect.
"And you were loving, in a place you loved, where you were moving..."
The crowd had thinned. As far as she was concerned, in her quiet little corner of Mas, she was singing for herself now.
"Where you're singing, where you're breathing, come on..."
She'd often thought that there wasn't anyone worth singing for.
"Where you're breathing, c'mon..."
Mae Lee-West took her bow and gracefully left the stage.