by Sadhar Choudary

It isn’t safe at night. She knew this as well as anyone else, had been taught to repeat the phrase like a mantra ever since she was a child. Don’t travel alone after dark, and if you must, never go unarmed. Yet here she was, hurrying defenselessly along the side of the road. The steep mountains sloping away from either side of the single lane reached high, blotting out the brilliant star-spangled sky. If she were on home base, she would have retrieved her telescope and immersed herself in the view of Earth. But she was here, her muscles tight and her heart thudding out of her chest.

Preoccupied with her thoughts, she didn’t sense the glare of headlights wash over her back until the rover had passed. Shaken, she stumbled and hit the ground, her gloved hands sinking into the fine red Martian soil. The sensation combined with her nerves proved overwhelming, and she began to weep. The pitiful noise didn’t go far into the night. To her relief, the vehicle was gone, turned around the next bend in the valley. Steeling her resolve, she rose to her feet and briskly dusted off the kneecaps of her thermal suit. Then she realized the rover was returning.

Quickly, she tried to press herself against the valley wall, but it was too late. Before she could prepare herself, the driver brought the machine to a halt on the side of the road and disembarked.

He was clean-shaven, with fair, slightly tousled locks. He swung easily out of the rover, landing gracefully on the road. He had a lean, tall figure, and bent slightly over her to make eye contact. When he spoke, his voice was cordial, but there was a note of concern lurking under the surface.

“Are you alright? You shouldn’t be alone at this hour, especially not out here in the middle of nowhere.”

Something about him immediately calmed her: he seemed to be the quintessential Good Samaritan.

“Well, I was rover-jacked- I guess that’s what you would call it- and I’ve been trying to flag someone down but it’s dark and no one’s here and-”

Her voice broke, and she felt dangerously close to tears once again. She swiped the back of her hand across her cheeks, fully aware that they were still wet with moon-dew.

“Hey, hey, it’s OK,” he said reassuringly. “Come with me, and we can try and get you to remember the details of the theft while I drive, okay?”

Normally, she would be more hesitant about getting in with a stranger. However, she was fully aware of the helplessness of her current situation. More simply, she trusted him.

The two of them made their way toward the rover. I watched them from above, uncertain of when to act. Her guard was lowered for the moment, but I was unsure of my chances against the man. I did have the upper hand. For one, there was the element of surprise. Besides, they wouldn’t be able to discern me descending from the mountains in the darkness until it was too late. I had to act fast.

I leapt. With a thud, I landed on my limbs at the base of the mountain in front of the rover, easily absorbing the shock of the impact through the four prosthetics.

Immediately, their faces blanched, the woman visibly swaying. For a second, I thought I saw recognition in her face, but she made no move to identify me. The man put a hand out to grip her and steadied himself simultaneously.

“Get into the rover and close the doors,” he said to her, lips barely moving and eyes locked on mine. I held his gaze evenly until it broke, then watched his eyes flit toward the driver’s side of the vehicle, telltale of the weapon waiting inside.

“I don’t think so,” I said cheerfully, lifting my palm and shooting the tires. They deflated with a hiss. His face was an exact mimicry, slowly sagging in defeat.

“Try to defend her, and you’re next,” I told him, baring my teeth in a mockery of a smile. Behind him, the woman collapsed.

In direct contrast, the man seemed to compose himself, and his tone came out level and clear. “It is my duty to defend a civilian. I will break my body to uphold it, but I will not break my oath.”

I had to give him credit for standing his ground so well. Usually humans drove themselves silly with fright at the mere mention of the fabled star-scum. Advancing slowly toward him, I put up a hand, fingers splayed. Pointing directly at his chest was my other palm. The moonlight glanced off the metal as I lowered a finger. When I let a second one fall, understanding dawned on him. With it came fear. As the third digit came down, so did he. He sank to his knees, a sickly look on his face.

“Please don’t hurt her,” he whispered, his voice jagged with vulnerability.

“We’ll see,” I replied. “Depends on how helpful she is.”

It was clear that for all his heroics, his spirit had been shattered by his own guilt at giving way. He was no longer a threat. I stepped around him lightly and hoisted the woman over my shoulder, causing her to stir.

There was certainly a great satisfaction I felt in scaling the mountainside while carrying her, added weight though she was. I had zeroed in on the woman a year and a half ago, and had been patiently tracking her and waiting for the perfect opportunity ever since. Finally, she was in my grasp. That meant I would soon have their secrets. I looked back once as I climbed and noticed the man lying completely still in the middle of the road. I was quite high up by then and relied on his heat signature to see him through the pitch-black night. Confident that I was in the clear, I pulled off the mask and allowed myself to inhale the crisp mountain air. It would take some time before I reached the peak, especially while transporting her, but I was built to withstand the strain. Until I got there, I was left with my own thoughts.

As we neared the top, the scientist began to come to. She had been unconscious for a good while, and I exhaled a breath of relief to see her awaken. I carried her inside the mouth of the cave I had spent the last few days in and set her on the ground. The pale moonlight washed across her face as she opened her eyelids, blinking blearily. Tugging my mask back on, I sat down across from her and waited for her to orient herself. When she became aware of my presence, she gasped and shrank against the wall of the cave. Her small, fragile frame and upturned face reminded me of a child. I was struck by a flash of pity.

“What do you want from me?” she stammered. “Who are you?”

“You’re Dr. Linda McLellan, one of the leaders of the research team that created me 23 years ago. Human society decided they no longer wanted my kind, so you abandoned us-pushed us out into the wild under the pretense of releasing us into a natural environment- and waited for all 30 of us to die off. I dare you to tell me this isn’t what you did.”

She didn’t say anything, silently confirming what I already knew to be true. It was then that I was sure she had recognized me, if only subconsciously for a fleeting moment, when I first descended from the mountain. A whole minute went by before she spoke.

“What do you want?”

I grinned at her. “Glad you asked. Give me your data.”

“It’s classified information. The experiment is not to be re-conducted under any circumstances. The results last time-”

“Don’t you tell me a word about the results from last time,” I hissed through clenched teeth, interrupting her. It shocked her, and she gave a little squeak. “I am the result from last time. I know what you think of me, half-human hybrid that I am. The thing is, I couldn’t care less. All I need is the data. My species deserves the same chance at life that you do. You created the mess that I am, so look in my eyes and tell me how to make more messes.”

Another period of silence passed between us, and I turned to the heavens to gaze at Phobos while I waited for her reply. It finally came with a heavy sigh.

“You weren’t just an independently researched passion project, you know. At one point, scientists thought the next step for humanity was biological integration with both technology and other species. The government did too, and they’re the ones who drove us to…develop you. Evidently, we were all wrong. We’re suspicious, resistant creatures, we humans, and we weren’t ready for you.”

“Tell me about it,” I laughed bitterly.

“What I’m trying to say is,” she continued, “even if I wanted to help you, I couldn’t. As far as the government knows and wants, you’re dead by now. They have the research, and they’re not going to give it up. It’s hopeless to dream about creating more of you. I’m sorry.”

Her voice caught on the last word, and I was surprised to realize my anger at her had drained away. Left in its wake was a tired bitterness.

“I’m going to find a way to recover all of the work.”

“God help you,” she said gravely, and looked directly at me for the first time.

I met her stare.

“That saying went out the window when you started playing God.”

The Vivificantem

by Paula Hung

“Dim, damp, musty, metallic, retching,” I whisper to myself. One word for sight, touch, taste, smell, and hearing. A ritual almost, to ground myself into a reality of sickness and suffering rather than a fantasy of life and opportunity. I lie sprawled over my sheets, about to doze off when a piercing scream jolts me awake. Before I can register what has happened, I find myself in the market, peering through a mass of bodies towards the central Nutri-Vent that has been out of order longer than anyone today has been alive. However, the installation is not the recipient of a hundred curious eyes, rather a young boy that writhed on its rim, bone protruding from his left arm. Through scattered glimpses I make out one of the orphans from before the wave of illness and death we’ve come to call the Scourge. I struggle to recall his name, but land on Ka’mey. I fight my way through the crowd in an attempt to help, but by the time I arrive, the bone has retreated and only a minimal gash along his lower arm remains. It could not have been more than a few seconds since I saw him, I think. I advance towards him and begin to introduce myself when I notice that the previously ruckus crowd has gone silent.

“Vivificantem,” whispers a stranger.

An ancient word from a forgotten language, the story of one that could resuscitate a corpse and heal impossibly fast was not unknown to the village, especially in a time of unrelenting death. I quickly turn back to the boy, whose heavy breaths and frantic eyes only highlight his now completely healed forearm. Murmurs of unsheathed phase blasters and stifled tears fill the atmosphere. It really is a wonder how quickly the human conscience can turn in times of desperation. My own mind floods with competing streams of self-preservation, ethics problems I’ve debated thousands of times, and a thought I only need a second to suppress. Yet, only one idea prevails through the adrenaline-induced fog. This boy has done nothing deserving of atonement, an orphan too young to properly register the hero’s sacrifice the village has forced upon him. I make my choice and whisper in a confident and assuring facade, “Follow me.”

Abandoned mech, metal, water, ash, wheezing. I scavenge through the cockpit of a broken-down crawler, hand against my heaving chest and mind racing, perhaps faster than my feet were seconds ago. I focus on the boy sitting across from me and notice his quivering chin and eyes on the brink of tears. I even my breaths and shuffle close to his side, careful as to not overly disturb the delicate balance of the decaying machine. 

“They want me dead, why?” he simply asks.

“Ka’mey, right?” I verify, receiving a nod in confirmation, “I have no idea.” 

Immediately, I guilt fills my chest and flushes by face, though the bitter wind that has reddened my face hides it. I resent my lie, but knowing that your death could save countless others is a burden few could bear, especially at his age. “Regardless, I know of a port-town that will keep you safe. We’d be looking at several days on foot, maybe less if we pass through a town and get transportation there. What do you think?”

“That’d be nice,” he mumbles.

As I lead a wanted orphan towards a foreign port-town through unexplored woodlands, the much needed opportunity arises to process my sudden situation. Ka’mey is being hunted for his ability to resurrect the dead, which he seems to be unaware of, and I have undertaken the responsibility of protecting his life from the very settlement that was supposed to raise him. Clearly, I have acquired no more than simple task. As dusk approaches, I notice the faint glow of a settlement through the glimmering leaves. We quickly advance and find refuge in an elderly widow’s spare room. Already homesick, we make ourselves comfortable on a stiff cottage and we both succumb to the temptation of sleep before we can review the day’s events.

Nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing. No words or idiotic ritual can serve me now, not when I have just been told of my own mother’s sickness. I lie on the unshaven wooden floor, breaking my confident facade. I look back to the drowsy boy in the doorway with new eyes and struggle to repress the thought I had subdued with ease no more than a day ago. An orphan, with no one to mourn him, for the lives of a thousand. 

“No, no, no…” I mutter, horrified at the limits of my freniezed mind. Ka’mey is as innocent as they come, and should by no means be the sole recipient of the compounded suffering of a sickly settlement. Satisfied with my strained conclusion, I turn to embrace him, and with his reluctant response, realize a harsh truth.

“Is this the first time anyone has hugged you?” I hesitantly inquire. The steady flow of reflective beads dragging down his rosy cheeks elucidates any doubt. As rash as my judgement may be, no life is worth more than another, and if by chance they are, it is certainly no decision of mine. 

I enter the forest once more, with rejuvenated purpose and a sack heavy with supplies graciously granted by the settlement’s temple. The sun is at its peak when our surroundings are suddenly devoid of light and a gust of wind pushes us to the ground. A warm grip around my ankle assures me of Ka’mey’s presence. I only crawl a few feet forward when I notice not the absence of the sun, but the presence of a gargantuan Sarlamek above the treetops. Much to Ka’mey’s dismay, the discovery was mutual. An intelligent species, known for its territorial behavior and impressive feather wings, the Sarlamek nosedives towards the surface, flattening the surrounding timber for a considerable radius, yet leaving us both intact. 

“What brings you to my domain? Have you sought honor in combat? Or perhaps my pelt?” he demands in an imposing and booming voice.

“No!” I respond, failing to reach a comparable level of command, “We simply seek passage to the land of the port-town of Bardek.” A mocking laugh enveloped my surroundings.

“I’d gladly accept death before yielding to one of your kind. Alas, I will humor your request. Answer this riddle to prove your excellence and perhaps you will gain passage.” the beast of strength taunted. 

With my solid affirmation, he began, “I have been the loyal friend of countless heroes and the action of a bird who flew over mountaintops. Shall I continue?”

“No need,” I quickly respond, to the surprise of the towering beast, “A sword” I tauntingly reply. My answer is immediately verified through his feeble attempts to hide an amalgamation of fury and frustration shattering his grandiose figure. A primal roar exits the Sarlamek’s chest and without a moment’s hesitation, the beast is nowhere to be found. Ka’mey emerges from behind me just slightly more confident than his previous outings. Perhaps, my show of confidence against a Sarlamek has made him more trusting of his guardian. Soon enough and more hopeful than ever, we reach the port-town of Bardek. As I slowly escort Ka’mey to the local temple for further instruction, I notice a shifting figure behind the treeline. Within seconds, I’ve placed myself between a terrified child and a vengeful assailant, the tip of a blade lodged squarely in my abdomen.

Ka’mey, metal, iron, blood, worry. I lie in the mud supported by Ka’mey’s weak thighs. I run my fingers down the cold and intricate blade of a dagger meant for an innocent soul wedged in my stomach. By the end of the day, we had reached Bardek and all seemed well. It was unknown to me at the time that a brash man from our own home settlement was awaiting our arrival, set out for vengeance. Despite all of our hardships and emotional trails of our voyage, here I lie, defeated by a man’s anger. Ka’mey however, could not accept this end.

“You can’t go,” he wailed between sobs, “Not you too. Not for me.” As I drifted in and out of consciousness, unable to make my final remarks, in a whisper, he added, “Please let this work,” and pressed his hands to my mortal wound. 

Health, warmth, sweet, cinnamon, laughter. I lie sprawled over my sheets, about to doze off as I run my fingers down a scar marking where an ill-intentioned dagger pierced my abdomen. Realizing Phillip’s abilities and being knowledgeable of our situation back home, Bardek provided us with transportation home. With his newfound ability to rapidly heal others with no damage to himself, the Scourge, the terrible disease that had been the source of endless suffering, was eliminated without a second thought. I rise and get ready for the day. As I walk downtown I see the village is slowly returning to its former state, one of happiness, support, and adventure. I watch and think of Ka’mey, an orphan who was threatened by the despair of society, now symbolic of those very ideals. 

“Perhaps, one day the Vivificantem will find his true place in the world,” I say jokingly, hiding documents behind my back, “but in the meantime, Ka’mey, how would you like to live with my mother and I?”  Without a second’s hesitation, an enthusiastic embrace gives me the response I awaited.


by Angela Tao

Mia stood in front of the mirror, gritting her teeth at the painful sensation of her skin twisting and crumpling and pinching itself into Leah Wintern, the loved and well-known darling of her school. Her bones screamed in protest as her features molded into place. Warm, brown eyes, mousy locks of chestnut hair and elegant horns spiraled out of the crown of Mia’s head and painfully warped into shape. 

Last week Mia impersonated the blue-eyed, fair-skinned Calla Corte, who was a mysterious and intelligent vampire. Before that, she was the hourglass-figured and flat-stomached Ava Smith, who was a playful and graceful elf. Mia had been more people than she had strands of hair on her head, but Leah Wintern was her favorite of them all.

Leah was unconventionally beautiful, contradicting everything Mia thought popular and amiable people looked like. Leah’s teeth were too large, her arms were covered in faded scars, and her eyes were a dull and ordinary color. But as time passed and Leah rose to the top of her school’s social hierarchy, Mia noticed that people were not fazed by those obvious flaws. Leah spent so much time smiling and spreading contagious bouts of laughter that no one cared about the size of her teeth. The amount of radiant joy and confidence that twinkled in her eyes made them incredibly captivating and magnetizing to gaze into despite their common brown color, and Leah’s scars seemed to be less noticeable with each day that she spent hugging her friends and lifting spirits.

As soon as the transformation was complete, Mia clenched her fists, gasping for air as the world spun around her and her stomach contracted. She shoved down the bile rising in her throat, looked into a mirror, and stared hard into her face, ironing out any accidental dents and imperfections that had unknowingly been created while transforming. Mia smoothed out her freshly-ironed dress and tried to get a feel for her new body by bending her fingers and walking a few steps. She scrutinized her reflection, feeling an angry knot form in her stomach. The difference between Mia and everyone she mimicked was that Mia was the faded and washed-out version of them, like a photo that had been photocopied too many times. Nowadays, it seemed like the more and more she changed, the grayer and grayer she became.

Mia breathed in deeply, forcing out all of her negative thoughts and smiled brightly, channeling her idol. I am no longer Mia, she recited to herself. I am better. I will be noticed. I will be like her. The passion and determination that Mia expressed at the start of the school year had gradually changed to a miserable desperation. 

Mia never ceased to marvel at the way Leah always seemed to attract her own personal galaxy, a group of planets orbiting around her beaming light. Maybe if Mia acted like her, she would have a galaxy, too. 

But unsurprisingly, she was not orbited that day. She was ignored. Drifting in and out of classes, stares followed Mia like death at an elderly man’s side. The whispers in the back of the classes drowned out what the teacher was saying. The snickers and side glances in the hallway made Mia want to peel off her skin, which now felt tight and constricting, suffocating her inside. She was a leech, they said with a contemptuous scoff; not smart enough to think for herself or beautiful enough to wear her own face for once.

Mia’s vision slowly filled with thick and heavy tears, and her face turned red-hot. Every time she molded into someone everyone adored, they all judged and sneered at her. A lump wobbled in Mia’s throat. She did it all for them, to please them, to be noticed by them, to be like them, but all they ever did was laugh at her for attempting to fit into their standards. 

She could feel everyone’s eyes boring into her in every class she attended. Mia’s fingers itched to tear off her skin. The whispers roared in her ears. She couldn’t stand it anymore. She couldn’t take it anymore. She couldn’t, she couldn’t, she couldn’t. 

Mia shoved away her chair, grimacing at the harsh, scraping noise that cut the teacher off mid-sentence. Everyone’s heads whipped to stare at her with distasteful frowns and eye rolls. The teacher opened his mouth to sound her off, but Mia was already halfway to the bathroom by then. 

Her fingernails dug into the side of the sink. She could hear her blood rushing through her veins, her heart pounding against her ribcage, and her breaths coming in rough, ragged gasps. Mia slowly lifted her eyes to the mirror. They would never see all the effort and pain she had suffered through to be accepted by them. Tears of anguish fell onto the lip of the sink.

All of a sudden, the door to the bathroom swung open. Mia jumped back and shielded her face from whoever it was. She was about to rush into the stalls, but a voice stopped her in her tracks.

“What’s wrong, Mia?” the voice gently asked her. Mia’s eyes widened as soon as she realized it was Leah Wintern. She lowered her arm and let it fall to her side. 

Surprise flashed across Mia’s face. “Y-you know m-my name?” 

Leah’s eyes wrinkled kindly as she smiled. “Of course, I’ve heard so many things about you. You’re the talented shapeshifter girl who can change into anyone and anything, right?” Leah scanned her up and down. Mia locked her arms at her sides to resist hugging herself and hiding her body. “But why would you change into me?” Leah’s tone was not sharp or upset but simply curious. 

A red blush creeped up Mia’s neck. “Everyone likes you. Everyone notices you. You’re always the center of attention,” she mumbled, hesitant to say the words. “Is it because you’re perfect?” Mia dared to ask her.

Leah laughed. It was a hearty, easygoing sound that diffused the tension in Mia’s body. “I’m not well-liked because I’m perfect. That’s far from the truth. I’m liked because I don’t let people who comment that I need to change or that I’m ugly and annoying affect me,” she paused. “And, I guess in a way, that is perfection.” 

A crease formed in between Mia’s eyebrows as she processed everything Leah said. She was taken aback by her answer. It was a completely different perspective that she had never considered before.

“You don’t need to copy me to be liked. It won’t get you anywhere. Be yourself. You can move mountains with that,” Leah advised. 

Her words resonated in Mia’s mind for the rest of the day. As soon as she arrived home, she threw her backpack on her bed and sprinted to the bathroom mirror. Mia smoothed her bones back into their normal structure and let the flesh on her calves grow back. Leah’s heavy horns finally loosened their aching grip on Mia’s skull and disapperated into the air. Her mask quickly undid itself. The gray filter removing Mia’s colors of vigor fell away to reveal her flushed cheeks and rosy lips and glowing skin. If shapeshifting into someone else was the constriction of a straitjacket, then shapeshifting back into yourself was the freedom of a flowing dress. 

Mia brushed her hand up and down her arm, feeling smooth skin run under her fingertips, her skin run under her fingertips. She lifted a hand to rake through her thick, onyx hair. There was a newfound realization blooming in the eyes of the girl in the mirror, who Mia would one day be acquainted with personally. It would be a long journey to fully know and understand herself, but at least it was the beginning of her own acceptance. 

And, Mia guessed in a way, that was perfection.

But Now She Would Be Called Queen

by Brishti Chakraborty

Margeret Bane had been called many things in her past life: thief, liar, outcast. Now, however, she would be called queen.

“All hail Queen Margeret.” She gave a thin-lipped smile to the crowd assembled before her in the large throne room. These people are now my subjects. How very fitting, she mused as she adjusted her gilded crown and sat down on the throne. She had once viewed all this as beneath her — she hated the pompous and unnecessary — but here she was. “Dearest subjects, I thank you profusely for coming to my coronation. It is my honor to be your queen. It is a heavy responsibility that I have to bear, but I assure you that I will not fail you. I am here to serve.” She raised her golden scepter high as if making a toast. “To a new era!”

“To a new era!” the crowd chorused, raising their fists in reply. The festivities began, and everyone paired up to dance. Margeret, watching the merriment from her place on the throne, fiddled with the copper ring that she always wore on her right hand. She admired the design: an ornately-carved dragon with a serpentine body that wrapped around her finger. It was the only remnant of her past besides her name, and she treasured it dearly.

Suddenly, as if to make a dramatic of an entrance as possible, a man loudly burst through the heavy double doors. It was a spectacle: this slender, well-dressed man racing across the throne room. The music screeched to a halt. “Liar!” he shouted as he ran towards her. “Liar!” He appeared to be a handsome man in his thirties, but as he came closer, it became apparent that he had seen and done things beyond his youthful age. His auburn hair, which must have once been lustrous and neatly-combed, now was matted and grizzled with gray. A permanent frown furrowed his sharp features. His somehow familiar icy blue eyes shone with a hint of madness. A copper ring similar to her own gleamed on his finger. Confusion turned into recognition, and shock came over her. She almost immediately chastised herself for losing her cool. The crowd was deathly quiet as it waited for her reaction to the intruder.

“You will come with me to the dungeon.” she suddenly said decisively, regaining her composure. Her butler, the old Mr. Howas, moved as if to join them, but she shook her head.

“It will just be the two of us, I’m afraid. Mr. Howas, show these wonderful subjects out, will you?” The crowd murmured, confused, as they trickled out the double doors. When the room was empty, she turned to the intruder. “Shall we?” As they walked out of the throne room, a mousy maid with limp, dirty-blonde hair handed her a bronze hurricane lamp. The man looked surprised, but she smiled coldly. “They always know when I need one.”

None of them spoke as they made the lengthy trip to the dungeon. Margeret led  the way, her dark hair and silk train flowing behind her. The throne hall had been three floors above the main entrance hall, meaning that they would have to climb down many floors. As they descended, the corridors began to look darker and more dreary. She lit the candle in the lamp when they were four or so floors below the entrance hall. Finally, they came to a narrow hall that seemed to be crudely carved from the earth. Their footsteps echoed loudly off the walls. She gripped his arm tightly to ensure that he would not wander off. At the end of the hall was a heavy stone door. Bars had been fitted on the top half. Margeret took out a ring of keys and, selecting one, inserted it into the keyhole. She twisted the doorknob and the door creaked open.

The dungeon was empty, save for a single, filthy lightbulb hanging from the ceiling. Margaret let the candle out so that the lightbulb’s weak light was the only source of light in the entire hall. Shadows danced across the walls. Looking around, the man seemed satisfied and his lips curled mirthlessly. “Never one to resist having a horrible dungeon, were you, Maggie, or should I say, Queen Margeret?” He examined one of the walls. “You don’t plan on keeping me here, do you?” the man asked as coolly as one would ask about the weather. “It took me a while to find you. I never expected you to survive, after all. I sent at least ten assassins after you.”

Margeret sneered. “They are undoubtedly terrible at what they do, my dearest brother. For someone so close to me, you know so little about me.”

“That won’t matter. You know I will eventually kill you. I swear that I will.”

“Ah, but that is a rather far-fetched promise.” “Why didn’t you even use an alias? Anyone could find out your past. No, better question, how on earth did you manage to become queen?”

Her grip on the scepter tightened. “That is not of your concern. Know that it is impossible  for anyone to know about what I once was. You know that I don’t want to deal with my past, that I want to change. It will not be pretty if you bring it up.”

“Who is to say that the truth will not accidentally slip from my mouth?” His haughty  expression was met with a cold, calculating one.

“That will not be a problem, Renard.” She played with the scepter. “Send my regards to our late mother, will you?”

Renard was suddenly horror struck. “Poison, but how?” he muttered. He suddenly collapsed. Unsurprised, she bent over him. He was breathing heavily and eyed her suspiciously.

“Ring. Gives you a good ten minutes to live. For an intelligent assassin, you are very  slow. I never wanted to kill again, but you got in the way.” she replied, as he breathed his last. When she was sure he was dead, she locked the dungeon room and headed upstairs. Something  didn’t seem right — killing him had seemed almost too easy — but she decided to worry about it  later. For now, she had business to attend to. Dinner was about to be served, and she had more  than her brother to worry about.


From “The Apology Broker” and taken by Sarah Gonzales for NPR

by Saanvi Gutta

I’m very, very good at apologizing,

Because I feel like it’s always my fault.

If my mistakes were all locked up,

I’m a robber who steals them from a vault.


Every problem is a solar system

That revolves around me.

Every misstep or disturbance,

Sets them all spiraling.


I say all the wrong things.

And mess up the big part.

I trip and keep falling,

For a brain all I have is a heart.


If the world was a clear lake,

I always ripple the surface,

And ruin the tranquility,

I’m the cause, more than less.


So for every blunder,

Mistake, misstep, problem,

I have an apology.

Because I’m good at those.

I’m very, very good at apologizing.

In Loving Memory of Qing Han

by Saanvi Gutta

A girl dressed in darkness,

With a hole where her heart should be,

With nothing but a red string threaded through,

A red string that connected two souls,

Plugged into their hearts while listening to the same song,

Lying on the ground,

With wildflowers sprouting through the skin and soul,

Looking out from in a fishbowl of a universe,

Golden fish swimming with glowing stars,

The blue,

The black,

The purple,

The in between,

Around the hands and hearts,

A Rapunzel,

Painting her dreams of stars into a sky,

With nothing but an IV keeping her dreams alive,

And the girl,

Eating the stars and the moon and the sky,

Grabbing the sky and wiping it onto her face,

Freckles of stars dancing over her cheeks,

The world of a galaxy in every one.

The galaxies you dream of,

The ones you expressed,

The ones you inspired millions with,

Aren’t dreams anymore.

Paint the stars and sky with ease.

Qing Han (@qinniart) passed away a few days ago after her long battle against cancer, leaving millions of people who were inspired by her art devastated. In memory of her, they built a hashtag (#galaxiesforqinni) that truly touches the soul. Make sure to check out the love everyone has expressed for her. 

“Metal Memories” by Saanvi Gutta

A whisper blew through the bare trees as a foggy, lonely mist settled around the forest. Small creaks and hollow moans echoed across the empty playground as the breeze drifted by. A summer taste lingered in the sky, contrasting the cold sweat the mist left behind.

Whirrrrr. A small robot rolled into view, clean and white. Little lime and cyan lights flashed on its body as it traveled around the rusted, brittle metal playground equipment.

“Rover!” called a young voice. A girl came running after the robot, wild black hair rustling in the wind. A blush crept over her ears, cheeks, and nose, bringing out her pale complexion.

The girl stopped short, glancing around the clearing. Her eyes widened.

“Rover! Avoid the metal!” She pulled her shirt up to her nose to prevent inhalation. Cautiously, she approached the slide.

Remnants of red paint hung from the rusted metal, clinging for dear life. The metal was all bent, and though the metal must have been smooth before, it was all rough now.

“Detecting uranium,” said the robot. “117 years.”

The girl shook her head in dismay. How would she search in this contaminated place?

Closing her eyes, she envisioned a little boy sliding down the polished red slide, squealing with laughter. A little girl, straining from the effort, would be hanging from the sturdy blue bars. And a little babbling baby with a cute pink dress, pushed by her tired but happy mother, would be on the creaky swing. A few kids by the colorful swinging horses mimicking neighs and shouting cowboy phrases as they rocked back and forth, and there’d be some older kids digging in the dirt, getting it all over their fingers and pants.

All these people would be spending time in this playground. But they can’t anymore. Sighing, she turned back around, pulling her shirt back down.

“Rover! Let’s go! It’s not here.” With that, the girl began walking to where she came from, with the little robot following closely at her heels.

“Faceless” by Saanvi Gutta

I can’t see their faces.

Blank heads without features,

Without eyes,

Without ears,

Without a nose,

Or a mouth.

They can’t see me.

They can’t hear me.

They won’t be able to catch a whiff or feel my aura.

They won’t be able to speak to me.


It’s hypocritical to ask for them to,

When I can’t do the same.

I can’t see, hear, feel, or speak to them,

Because just like I can’t see their faces, they…

They can’t see mine either.

They can’t see my face.

“Dreams Make” by Saanvi Gutta

They say clouds are made from dreams.

But I don’t think that’s true.

Colored white like lies and

Covering a sky so blue?


They never stay long,

Always on the go.

They bring horrid rain, hail,

Misery, and cold snow.


What kind of dream

Would such a tragedy be?

I think the sky is what holds

The dreams of you and me.


The sky is always blue,

Unless it’s the end of day,

Then it explodes into color, 

Like paint on a blank array.


Even if it’s dark,

It lets the stars glow and shine.

It’s a never-ending expanse,

That withstood the weight of time.


Head above the clouds?

So that head can see the sky.

Even our old proverbs,

Tell us the clouds lie.


We made a sky,

Of hopes and dreams.

Clouds are just doubts

Of what they all mean.

“Just me, I Am” by Anushka Yerramareddy

She just so happened to be there that day,

as I was taking a stroll around Glenforest Bay.

So I decided to go and greet her there,

and I told her my name was Sally O’Hare.


“Nice to meet you,” she said with a smile,

and she claimed she had lived somewhere near the Nile.

But of course I knew her words were lies;

she was a pale little thing with ocean-like eyes.


Yet I dared to ask, “Who are you, ma’am?”

And she replied with, “Just me. Just me, I am.”

“Just Me,” I addressed her in a mocking way,

“will you be here tomorrow, right by the bay?”


“Of course,” she answered with a sly little grin,

and off she went, with a small tilt of her chin.

So I came for her the very next day,

but Just Me was nowhere in sight at Glenforest Bay.