Quick note before you delve into the world of the Twelve: You may have noticed this cover art is different from what you're used to. We're honored this week to have Mitchell Phillips, an artist living in Phoenix, add his work to our story. You can read more about him here.
Pyat gasped with pain, jolting awake at impact. She had fallen asleep. Then she heard a sob behind her. The soldier spun around and grabbed Eva by the throat. "What are you doing?" She hissed. “This is a top secret Academy file.”
"What are you doing?" The doctor cried. "What do you want with that poor girl?" Pyat dropped her hand away from her throat.
"I'm sorry but you wouldn’t understand," Pyat said.
"Then explain it to me!" She shouted, digging her fingers into Pyat's shoulder. Pyat grabbed her wrist and twisted it harshly.
"Don't do that," she growled, standing up and twisting it more. The doctor fell to her knees in pain.
"Let go!" Eva cried. So Pyat did. "You need to go!" The woman screamed, her white face flushing.
Pyat laughed bitterly, "Why, am I bothering you?"
"You are one of the most awful people I have ever met," Eva snapped at her. "I thought you might need help, but seeing that video, I know better now. You are evil. You solve everything with violence. I do not feel comfortable having you in my home." She stood closer to Pyat, her eyebrows furrowing. "Isn't there any good in you?" She shouted, spit flying onto Pyat's face. Then she pressed her lips against Pyat's.
Pyat threw herself backwards into the wall. "Shénme tā mā de?" The soldier pushed the other woman aside and bolted from the room.
She came back three hours later. It was past midnight, but Eva was still up, waiting on the couch. The smell of cinnamon wafted out into the hallway as Pyat stood there, hesitant. She placed her hand on the door and slowly opened it. "I'm sorry," Eva whispered, barely loud enough for Pyat’s modified ears. "I can't believe I did that," her voice cracked. The lights outside danced on her blonde curls as she rose from the old, gray couch. She passed Pyat on the way to the bedroom and opened the door. She hesitated in the frame until she finally murmured, "It was stupid. I don’t even like you. I am just lonely"
"You are right," Pyat said. Her insides crumbled. "I have my duty, my mission." She lumbered into the apartment and sat on the couch to sleep. Eva closed the door to her bedroom without another word. Yet, Pyat could not bring herself to sleep. Every time she closed her eyes she could hear the girl's scream. Every time she opened them, she could feel Eva waiting in the other room.
Four insomniac hours passed. Pyat rose from the couch and walked down the hallway. She pushed open the bedroom door and listened to Eva's steady breaths. She drifted into the room like the feather she was. The sheets were already warm with Eva's body heat. Pyat curled up beside her and touched her arm. The doctor woke up immediately, startled—though not as startled as Pyat had predicted. Her blue eyes met Pyat's brown ones. The doctor smiled. “Fool," she breathed, placing her hand on the black fuzz on Pyat’s head. Pyat’s entire body was tense. But at least now it was on her terms.
They lied on the bed, limbs tangled and sweaty. "I can't believe we just did that," Eva whispered, pulling Pyat closer. Pyat curled into the woman's shoulder, burrowing in.
The next morning Pyat woke up to Eva tracing the tattoos on her face. "You can stay here," Eva said bluntly. "Are you going to leave?" Pyat hesitated, then nodded again. Eva laughed. "Of course you are. I'm a fool." She bent over and pressed her lips against Pyat's hair. "You can use my money for any supplies you need." She stroked the girl's cheek. “Just stay with me a bit longer.”
Pyat slowly gathered supplies for her journey to New York, pulling thousands of Icelandic credits out of Eva's somehow limitless account. Eva’s father had left her a hefty inheritance, which he earned by investing in the Alliance during the aftermath of the War. “It’s dirty money,” Eva would say when Pyat would promise that the Academy would reimburse her. "It’s going into the pockets my father would have wanted." Pyat warned her not to be so blasphemous in front of her, for they were likely being watched. Eva did not appear worried.
As the months hurried on, the feeling that someone was watching her became more tangible. On previous missions, she always felt as if she were being watched, to make sure she did not falter. On previous missions, that had never been a concern. Now, Pyat had Eva. She had not only failed to complete her mission in a timely manner, but she had let it slip through her hands completely. So when she began to notice a strange figure in the grocery store, or following her to the hoverboard shop, she knew that it was time to speed up her “recovery.”
Pyat knew that the girl, Dven, was likely long gone from New York City. Loyalty to the Academy urged Pyat to either return back to the island, or try to pick up some sort of trail. In an attempt to resume her journey to New York, she bought a new hoverboard that would be good enough to carry her across the ocean. A man helped her mold the hoverboard to her body shape; he was kinder to her than the Electricians at the Academy. She felt uncomfortable at first with people’s friendliness in Reykjavik but as the months passed, she became accustomed to it. She felt hiraeth for the life she had built for herself in Icelandia, though she had not yet left.
Pyat spent too much time programming her hoverboard, rebuffing it to last long distances and move quickly. The associate was impressed by her knowledge and offered her a part-time position, but she refused. After a few weeks, the man became suspicious, so she began to go to different stores and gather materials to upgrade the already high-quality hoverboard. She started assembling her supplies at the apartment while Eva was at the hospital.
Pyat stole Aerial armor from the local armory. The white, chained vest was a little tight on her after months of eating well and rarely exercising, but the pants fit well. While in the armory, recorded a video of the warehouse full of military gear for the Academy to use as blackmail. Icelandia was apparently extremely well stocked and prepared for war. They would use this information to force the island nation into its fold. After a couple of days, Pyat deleted it, imagining bonhs stalking through the streets of Reykjavik and holding an electric gun up to Eva’s forehead. Blonde hair and gore spread across the cement.
A month passed, then another five. At any point she could leave. So Pyat made excuses. She insisted that she needed to adjust her hoverboard, but she had perfected controlling it after a day of practice. She continued her research on Caeca Dvenadstat, but these just caused horrifying and increasingly complicated nightmares. Pyat went over the mission details a hundred times and knew every horrifying detail about Caeca Dvenadstat by month two. She was ready to leave, yet she remained.
The warm bed made her stay. It made the nightmares fade to a thin light piercing through the curtains. Eva's thin fingers moving up and down her body made her stay, causing her entire body to ache, worse than any pain she had ever felt, but better than any good she had ever known. Had she known any? Skin against skin made her curl up in a ball while spreading out and touching every corner of the island she hid on. Eva's blonde curls tickling her face as they kissed made her regret ever bringing trouble to this woman; that smile of crooked teeth made her thankful that she had. The assignment faded from her mind; the nightmares that hosted a dozen different faces she did not know began to feel like just that… dreams.
Pyat's hair grew into short, thick hair. It was wiry, not like she had remembered it being before the Academy had shaved it. In fact, she could not remember ever having hair. But when she thought of what her hair might have looked like, she figured it would have been smooth. "I like it," Eva said when it first began to bloom out. "It's easy to play with."
"But it's not as smooth as yours," Pyat complained, tangling her hands in the blonde curls. They were sitting in front of the screen projected on the glass separating the kitchenette from the living room. An old movie was on, one from the forgotten world. It was about a schizophrenic man whose insomnia had driven him to create an alternate personality. They had watched it several times because it was Eva's favorite movie. She always talked about how attractive the main character was, yet repulsive due to his insanity. In the end, the city blew up behind him as he faced his alternate personality. Since Pyat knew the ending, she was not paying attention. Instead, she was playing with Eva's hair. "Or curly. I want curls."
"You don't need curls," Eva laughed, intent on the movie. "You have waves." At the moment, the blonde man was talking to the brown-haired man about overthrowing the government. "I don't think you should leave,” Eva said, eyes fixed on the screen. Pyat stiffened and slid away from her grasp.
"I can't stay," the captain said, sitting forward and putting her head in her hands. "I have a mission."
"I… I want you to stay," the doctor put her hand on Pyat's shoulder, rubbing it. She tried to pull her closer, but the soldier stood up. “I know that you want to stay too.”
"I can't stay," Pyat snarled, heat rising in her chest. She stormed into the bedroom, fell on the bed, and began to shake. Eva came in after her and curled up beside her, pulling her into her arms.
"I got you," Eva breathed, pressing her face in Pyat's bare neck. She could feel the warm breath on her skin, wetness on her back.
Eva believed she would stay. And a part of her wanted to. But the reasonable voice in her brain said that she could never leave the service of the Academy. It was too deeply embedded in her mind.
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