More Briefers flash fiction! Gotta love Wednesdays, right? This week my flash was inspired by the prompt: the best years of my life. Enjoy!
Fortitude Part 20
Teddy hovered behind me, his breath against my neck distracting me as I experimented with the cogs on the borders of the metal plaque. “Can you open it?” he asked.
“Shh.” I needed to hear as well as feel the clicks as each cog slipped into place. Teddy sucked in a breath, and then it felt like he stopped breathing, distracting me even more. Thankfully, I was on the last cog. We both exhaled when it clicked into place and Murci’s face popped away from the rest of the plaque. I had to wiggle my fingers into the tiny gap and pry it away from the wall, but it didn’t come off.
Metal springs inside the mask held it to the plaque on either side. I probed the inside, hoping there weren’t any rough edges that would cut my fingers since I couldn’t risk a light. That would be too unusual. It was daytime; I shouldn’t need a light.
The metal was smooth behind it, so I felt the back of the mask. There was a shallow depression inside. I was expecting to find something like the box I’d found in Schvesla’s museum, but instead something crinkled under my fingers. Paper?
I pulled it out. The crinkling sound was paper, remarkably well preserved, even if it’d been protected within the metal. I glanced around; no one was in sight, but it felt like what we were doing was so monumental someone should’ve been on to us.
Of course, there was no one about. It was abominable weather, and the scrap yard was very few childrens’ idea of a playground. My long-time fascination with Schvesla—given our mutual Beta status—had ensured I spent a lot of time wherever he was remembered in the city.
“What does it say?”
The writing was spidery and faint, faded to a brown ink on brown paper. I squinted at it. “It’s hard to read.” Copies of Schvesla’s journals had been printed; I’d never had to try and read his actual handwriting. My hands shook, knowing I was holding something he’d once held. The tremor didn’t make any easier to make out the words.
“I think it’s an address,” I said slowly.
“To the museum?” Teddy asked. “That was his house and where you found the box.”
“No.” I shook my head. “This is on the opposite side of town; not too far from here, actually.”
“Is that it? Just an address?”
I flipped the paper over, expecting it to be blank. “Actually, there’s something written on the other side.”
“There is?” Teddy crowded closer, his chest pressing against my back. I relished the contact, ill-advised though it was.
“Beware the well-intentioned folly; such is the hubris of man,” I read aloud. I frowned.
“What in the world does that mean?” Teddy must’ve tilted his head, the way he usually did when he was puzzled. His silky hair brushed against my neck, and I shivered.
“No idea.” The words were breathy. Maybe I’d get some idea or clue if I had proper blood flow to my brain, but just the feel of Teddy against my body—even so innocently—had my libido clamoring for more than its fair share. I took a deep breath and let it out slowly, trying to regain control. I flipped the paper over and read the address several times, committing it and the odd turn of phrase to memory.
Then I put the paper back in the metal mask. Hopefully it’d go back in, and the springs weren’t permanently sprung. The metal fought, but finally began to move back.
“What are you doing?”
“If we fail, there may be someone who follows in our footsteps. I put the map back when we were at the museum. I’ll just hope we don’t need either, but if we do, we’ll know where they are. Help me out and turn the cogs.” I’d finally gotten the face into position, but it wasn’t staying in. Hopefully they’d lock it back into the plaque.
“Good?” Teddy turned the cogs, releasing the catches. The face stayed in place.
“So now what?”
“Now we keep going.”
“Even if it leads to just another clue? Are you sure we don’t need the box and the paper?”
“Even so. And no, I’m not sure. But this way there’s no evidence of our quest, other than what’s in my head.” I tapped my temple. “Far safer.”
“True.” The rain had eased off while we read the enigmatic note. “Shall we go?”
“After you.” I ushered Teddy through the park toward the address. He’d never had as much time on his hands as I had as a child; his father had needed him to work. After I’d caused a few of my father’s experiments to go awry, he’d sent me away for large portions of the day so he could work on sensitive inventions. Really, they’d been some of the best years of my life. Halfway there, though, Teddy began to stumble.
“Teddy?” I snagged his elbow, pulling him to a halt. There was a familiar look in his eyes. He’d gone into a fugue state. It’d been almost two weeks since he’d done it last. “Teddy!” I shook him. What idea had gotten him stuck in an endless loop this time?
“We don’t have time for this,” I muttered. I knew it wasn’t his fault, though. Sometimes Teddy got an idea in his head, and he had to think it through. I couldn’t force him to focus outside of his own mind; this was the curse of being a gamma. Betas had the fastest brain waves; we created the most energy and power. Gammas had the slowest.
It was one of the reasons so many people though they could look down on Teddy. But not on my watch. I carefully steered him to the mouth of an alley. It wouldn’t do to be spotted in this neighborhood.
Teddy shivered. I wrapped my arms around him and sighed.TBC
Another clue! What will they find at the address?