Warlands of Song

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Chapter Six: Glen

Glen found himself looking out for Saige like he watched his nieces and nephews. A few things were changed, as their situations were different, but the basics were the same. He tried his best to add some meat to her frame, feeding her more than he otherwise would have. She seemed to enjoy eating his food. And she never complained about his over-attentive ways.

Now he found himself lifting her collar and adjusting her scarf as they took a walk in town. She tucked her hands into her elbows, shivering. It was one thing to know Siren were naturally cold, but quite another to see the evidence for himself. They’d been walking for half an hour, and she looked like she’d be blue if her skin weren’t almost black.

“We can go back. Come on.”

She stopped and turned. “How many t-times do I have to tell you I’m okay?”

“When you could say it without stuttering, I believed you.”

“Look, if I can’t go any further, I’ll let you know. Can we just sit down for a second?”

She fell onto a bench without waiting for his answer, slumping like she’d run miles. He stood beside her, observing. Saige-watching, again. He couldn’t help it. She seemed so fragile, he felt like if he took his eyes off her for a moment, she would break into pieces. But he caught himself after a second and sighed, looking around instead.

A child, no older than ten or eleven, walked down the street toward them and sat on the bench next to Saige. The boy wrapped his arms around his tiny frame and shivered, teeth chattering. He wore no winter gear at all. Glen frowned. His eyes were drawn down when Saige turned to the boy.

“Where is your coat, sweetie?”

The boy glanced back the way he came, almost too fast to notice.

“My mom is bringing it. I’m okay.”

Before he was finished speaking, Saige was removing her coat and settling it along with her scarf over his shoulders. Glen almost stopped her. Surely she couldn’t survive for long without anything to keep her warm. But he knew she wouldn’t listen to him.

“When is your mom coming?”

“In a few minutes. She asked me to stay her and wait for her.”

The boy had little smudges of dirt on his cheeks, and his clothes were worn and old. He was even skinnier than Saige. Either he and his mother were both homeless, or he didn’t have a mother he was waiting for.

“Honey, is your mom really coming?”

The boy had the sense to looked affronted. “Yes! She’s coming right now and—”

Saige reached out and rested a hand on his knee. Glen couldn’t see her face, but he could see the boy’s. The kid looked ready to cry.

“You can tell me, sweetheart. It’s okay. What’s wrong?”

The boy held a brave face for all of five seconds under her compassion. But when the floodgates opened, they exploded. Saige gathered him in her arms and held him while he cried, murmuring soothing things to him. Even as she began to shiver herself, she comforted the child. Glen rolled his eyes to the sky. There was only one way this could end.

*_*_*_*_*

Even Robert looked concerned when he and Saige returned. She lowered herself to the couch and pulled the thick quilt off the back and around her shoulders. Her jaw clenched tight against the chattering of her teeth, and her entire body was held stiff. But her shivering looked near to violent.

“What happened? Where is her coat?”

Glen scowled. He didn’t even want to explain. On one hand, he was impressed with and had major respect for her, and on the other hand, he was so incredibly disturbed that he wasn’t sure what to do. What she’d done was amazing, loving, wrong, and blood-chilling all at once. Instead of answering, he went to make a few mugs of hot chocolate. He placed the tray filled with mugs in front of her, and left to retrieve more blankets. Robert questioned him again on his return, but he walked past him and out the front door.

He expected Robert to follow him, and his friend didn’t disappoint. He heard his roommate’s footsteps not far behind him as he tread. When they were a small distance away, Robert asked again what had happened.

Glen slowed, but didn’t stop, crouching to pick up a suitable log. When he glanced back, Robert was following his lead in gathering firewood.

“We’re going to be puddles by the end of the night, you know that right?”

“Either we become puddles or she dies.”

Even if Robert wanted to make a smart retort, which Glen figured he did, he didn’t. Instead, Robert sped to walk alongside him.

“Seriously, I can’t tell if something good or bad happened. You look like you can’t even decide.”

“You know we’ve lived together far too long when you know exactly what I’m thinking and you aren’t telepathic,” he replied.

Robert laughed, the sound loud in the darkness. “Are you going to tell me or not?”

“Saige—We ran into this little kid earlier. A boy, eleven years old. He was obviously homeless. It’s a really long story, but let’s just say Saige managed to find him an adoptive family today. In just an hour or two.”

“Why is that bad though?”

Glen thought about what to say, if anything. Did he out Saige’s disturbing actions to Robert or keep it to himself? Robert already didn’t want Saige around, so this news would no doubt make that dislike all the more potent.

“It isn’t. It just... it surprised me. That’s all. It was a shock. But it’s fine, and everything will be fine. Now I’m just upset because she gave her coat to him and is about to freeze to death.”

They returned to the cabin and Glen loaded some of the logs they’d gathered into the fireplace, starting a fire. He had Saige huddle closer to the warmth, and drink the hot chocolate she hadn’t touched. Sometime during the night, Robert went to bed, and Glen glanced at the fireplace where Saige still sat, back toward the fire at this point so she could see the television.

Her features were indistinguishable in the dim light, only her eyes bright with the reflection of the television. He moved across the room to sit on the floor, diagonal from her. He leaned back against the couch, watching her watch him. She’d tensed when he stood, but when he leaned back and settled in, she relaxed.

“We need to talk about what you did today.”

She frowned. “What I did?”

“Yes.”

“Why do we need to talk about it? You knew I could do things like that—”

“It was wrong.”

She didn’t respond, looking truly lost. “Wrong?”

“Yes, wrong.”

“Look, I know I’m staying here for a little while, but you don’t get to tell me what’s wrong. I do what I want, and I don’t answer to you. If you think that’s the case, then it’s obviously time for me to leave.”

“Exactly,” he said. “You do what you want and don’t answer to anyone. And you’d fight anyone who tried to tell you otherwise. Like you just fought me.”

Still, she remained silent.

“And yet you felt perfectly comfortable and justified in taking away other people’s free will this afternoon. Why?”

“I didn’t—”

“I hope you’re just lying to me. Because I surely hope you aren’t lying to yourself and know fully well what you did was wrong.”

“I helped that little boy! I did nothing wrong.”

He stopped arguing with her and shook his head. She stared past him, to the television, though he’d muted it. Her lips were set in a firm line, but they opened when she spoke.

“If I hadn’t helped, that little boy would have grown up without anyone. He would have been homeless, or in a foster home, or a group home, and he would’ve turned to crime. He would’ve ended up in jail or dead. If I hadn’t helped him, he would be l—” she cleared her throat, locking eyes on him. “He would have been lost. I did what I had to, to ensure that wouldn’t happen.”

“There is no possible way that you could know that for sure. Some kids rise above it. Some kids end up beating the system and overcoming it.”

"Some of them,” she yelled.

The change in her was so abrupt, he jumped.

"Some kids beat the system and overcome every single odd that’s against them. Some kids find love and attention and affection elsewhere, but the rest of them suffer their entire lives feeling like they have zero place in the world. They make their way through by any means necessary to survive. That’s not a life. Survival is exactly the way it sounds. It’s hard. No kid should have to go through that. So I did what what necessary to make sure he wouldn’t have to.

He couldn’t ask the question he wanted to. Why she’d had to go through that. She wouldn’t answer. But her response could only mean that. At one point, she’d felt that way, and went through the same difficulty.

“I understand that. I do. But that doesn’t change anything. You forced those people to want to adopt him. You used your voice, which could surely be used for something good—”

“It was for something good.”

“like a weapon. Even if it will end up being good in the end, it wasn’t their choice. They weren’t going to.”

“And—”

“Stop. Listen to me now. Everyone else has no choice but to listen to you. Not this time. I’m talking.”

She blinked. “Excuse me?”

He raised an eyebrow. She opened and shut her mouth. The expression in her eyes was something close to rage, but she kept her lips sealed. He leaned forward again to gain her full attention, even though he knew he already had it.

“Just like you want total control, and deserve it, so do other people. To force them, or even influence them, to do anything they don’t want to do, is wrong. Yes, it was the right thing to do, and yes they told you—after you ‘influenced’ them to tell you—that they’d been wanting to adopt. But plenty of people can want do things, but choose to do nothing. Lots. And they have the right. Just like you have the right. They didn’t have to adopt that boy, you just felt like they should, and so you made them. They’re going to adopt him out of the goodness of your heart. Not the other way around.”

He waited for her response. An apology, or at least a dawning realization of error. But her eyes had gone blank and distant. Her lips parted, and she looked like she was no longer there.

“Saige?”

Her eyes moved, but not in response to his voice. It was like saw something not really there, or in the distance. He waved a hand in her face, even going as far as to place his entire palm over her eyes. She didn’t move.

“Sa—”

“Someone is here,” she said.

He removed his hand from her eyes. They remained unfocused, shifting on their own accord.

“There are a lot of them. I can’t... I can’t tell. It sounds... li...”

Her face contorted in pain before her eyes crossed and she fell back. He caught her before her head struck the edge of the table beside the couch and lowered her the rest of the way. Her pulse was strong, but she was out cold.

“Great,” he murmured.

He stood and pulled her behind the couch. On a whim, he slid the quilt over her. A lot of soldiers, no doubt, were there or on their way. Okay, if that’s what they wanted... He reached behind his ear and pressed down. Robert’s voice sounded clearly in his ear as though the man were next to him.

“I heard. And I can see them coming.”

“I thought you went to bed.”

“I wanted to know what you two would discuss when I left. I deserve to be in on the secret too.”

Glen smiled. “You’re too nosy for your own good.”

“Hypocrite.”

“Get down here so we can greet our guests. Too bad I left my uniform at home. I’m supposed to be dressed for occasions like this.”

“Yes, General. Whatever you say, General—”

Glen tapped behind his ear, shutting Robert up. A peek out the windows revealed rows of soldiers dressed in their official white uniforms lined up before the cabin. The full moon reflected off the material and made them glow in the dark. A welcome sight at any other time than at that moment.

Robert appeared without delay. “What’s the plan?”

“Nothing hasty. Let’s see what they want first.”

He straightened his clothes beforehand. Robert’s mocking chuckles didn’t deter him. Jokes aside, he truly was supposed to be dressed a certain way to meet the soldiers. But this was the best he could do at the moment, so he’d have to deal with it.

He walked outside as fast as he could, closing the door behind Robert himself. When Saige woke, she needed a warm house. The men didn’t move at their initial appearance, but when Glen stepped off the porch, they all stood at attention.

“What are you doing, Mykel?”

He watched, mortified, as his original S.O strode toward him, through the rows of soldiers. His first instinct was to move to attention himself, but he resisted the urge. His days as a subordinate were over. He was in charge.

“Nice to see you again. What brings you to the planet?”

His old S.O. came to stand right in front of him. “Don’t mess with me, son. Rank or not, best soldier I’ve ever trained or not, you’re breaking laws right now.”

“But I’m on earth. It doesn’t count.”

“That would be true if you weren’t harboring the single biggest threat to this galaxy and all others.”

Glen raised his eyebrows.

“You mean Saige? The little girl in my cabin?”

“That’s no little girl, son. You have no idea what she is. Now look, I know you don’t want any trouble. The first man we sent to retrieve her didn’t do the job right, but we’re here to collect her. Our orders have changed, and we need her alive. Don’t worry, she’ll be taken care of.”

“What about the second group you sent?”

His S.O. didn’t change his expression. “What second group?”

Glen nodded. “You’re not the only ones who want her dead. They came a few days ago. She nearly died. I saved her, and she’s been staying with me since. So forgive me if I’m a little protective.”

He rubbed his thumb against his forefinger, forming a few droplets of matter there.

“Well I’ll figure out who they were, because they weren’t us.”

“I know. Their leader is dead now, the rest are long gone.”

“What’d you do with the body?”

“That’s none of your concern. But it will never be found.”

“Why are you making this so difficult?”

“If I can interrupt,” Robert said, moving up beside him, “I’d like to ask what Saige is exactly. You haven’t said.”

His S.O just stared at Robert. Glen spoke up.

“I think you should answer my friend, sir. He asked a good question.”

“You wouldn’t believe me if I did tell you,” the man said gruffly.

“Try us.”

“I don’t think I will. I don’t have time to chat with you. I’m expected back in less than a day, the girl in tow. So hand her over and you can go back to your... vacation.”

Sweat beaded on his forehead as he strained to keep his eyes from glowing as Matter dripped from his fingers onto the ground, moving under the cover of darkness beside each and every soldier before his cabin, and his S.O.

“That little girl is very sweet, sir. I just want what’s best for her,” he said.

“So do we. I’m sorry you ever got dragged into this.”

“I’m not a bad person. I just care.”

His S.O. looked him over. “Enough of this talking. Where is she?”

It all happened at once. He crossed his arms in the shape of an X before his body, and each bead of matter rushed to take shape in a bubble around every individual save he and Robert. Dulled gunfire sounded, fire illuminated some of the black bubbles, and others turned white with ice as the soldiers tried their best to escape.

Robert turned to him, eyes wide as saucers. “Glen?”

“I know. I know. I’m sorry. Look, you can stay and help them out if you want. Just... Wait for me to get Saige and get out of here. Can you at least do that?”

“Glen, this is insane—”

“What’s your choice? Coming or staying? There’s no turning back, and I can’t give her to them. Something a lot bigger than we think is going on. I’m going to figure out what it is. I’d love it if you came, but it’s fine either way. You’re my best friend, and I don’t want you in any situation you don’t want to me in.”

“Then you couldn’t tell me to leave before you came out here and did this?”

“It was spur of the moment. Sorry.”

Robert ran his fingers through his hair and finally shoved him in the chest. “I hate that you’re doing this to me, you know that?”

Glen didn’t answer, already walking back inside to collect a few things. Robert followed. It wasn’t until he was finished packing a simple bag that he realized Robert was also packing. He grinned.

“Don’t worry, I’ll still cook.”

Robert didn’t look up from his bag. “I know you will. If I end up eating rations even once, I’m gone.”

They gathered Saige and their simple belongings and loaded them into the truck. When he emerged from the vehicle, Robert was surveying the rows of black bubbles he’d created with a look of wonder.

“You’re scary, you know that?”

“At least I didn’t blow them up,” he muttered.

Driving down the highway, he wondered if he’d made the right choice. He didn’t know what was going on, what she was, or if he’d ever get to go home after a stupid stunt like that. He wasn’t a child anymore. But that thought brought with it another. Saige had used her voice, never once to hurt he or Robert, but to help an orphan get adopted. And her reasoning sounded far too close to home.

He didn’t know what was going on, and he didn’t know why. But before he’d give up and turn her in, he’d make sure he knew the answer to both.

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