Justica

Susan York lives on the East Coast of England. Three of her short stories have been published by Midnight Street Press in the anthologies, Night Light, Hellfire Crossroads 7 and Strange Days and her story, Happy Birthday is to be published in The BFH Book of Horror Stories Vol 5 in May this year. Two of Susan's poems are being republished by the British Fantasy Society in their publication Horizons.


After a dry and dusty day amongst the library’s archives, Justica enjoys being in the forest bordering the park just outside the city gates. The pleasure of slipping between the trees and walking through disorderly undergrowth, on a track shaped into the earth by her own feet, lifts her spirits. Bushes and vines flourish. Flowers burst through the foliage and sunlight dapples her path as she winds her way under branches covered with vibrant purple leaves. When she enters the clearing, a pool of light illuminates every blade of grass, every faceted flower. Reaching the centre, she spins, arms outstretched, dress swinging above her knees with the momentum, until joyfully dizzy. Stopping, Justica supports her hair with her hands and lifts her face to the late afternoon sun, allowing its warmth to penetrate her tawny skin. She breathes in the honeyed perfume of the blossoms. Justica’s job is quiet, solitary, despite the other scholars who work alongside her, but here, in this beautiful space, she finds a different manner of solitude.

A cough disturbs her peace.

Slumped against one of the trees surrounding the clearing sits a creature. Nothing she has ever seen, or read of in books, prepares her for its appearance; it’s not a species which is native to Orrack. Stranger still, it is clothed. An escaped pet maybe? Her mother has told how some citizens of Hasalem import exotic species from distant continents, but she’s never seen one. She approaches with caution. The creature regards her warily; its eyes flit upwards and stare at her hair. Has it come loose from the tower she coiled it into this morning? Justica quickly checks all is in place while she sniffs the creature before her. It smells ripe, unwashed; its clothing is dirty and in places torn. A section of its lower leg is bandaged and a rusty stain has seeped through. As Justica slowly draws closer, she catches the putrid stench of pus. The creature coughs again, placing a hairless five digit paw against its torso. Clearly, coughing hurts. Making soothing noises, Justica edges nearer, crouches down then tentatively, places a hand on the bandage. The creature winces, but doesn’t lash out. Gently she unwraps the injury, then rips the smooth fabric above it to examine the limb. The area around the wound is swollen and weeping, the skin hot. A red line runs from torn flesh towards the creature’s groin, and Justica knows that veins and vessels are carrying poison towards vital organs. Sitting back on her haunches, she considers her options.

She should report this creature to the Guards, let the authorities deal with it. As a responsible citizen, this is her duty, one which has been drummed into her since childhood. She hesitates, recalling play-time tales of what happens to unusual beasts once the authorities have them - even if they are lost pets. Then again, she could leave the creature to die and let nature dispose of its remains, or she could find herbs, make a salve, and treat the infection. The creature sits still, gazing at her. Its oval eyes are brown, and most of its face has no hair. Strange. Looking into the creature’s eyes, Justica decides what she will do, and sets off deeper into the forest, taking care to ensure her hair doesn’t catch on the lower branches of the trees. There are plants nearby the creature can chew to reduce temperature and inflammation, and those she can chew into a paste and place on the wound. This will have to do until she can get home. Mamin has plenty of dried herbs and ingredients in her workshop to make proper poultices. The trick will be to do this without her realizing. Mamin is sharp, will notice if Justica steps out of line.

Returning to the clearing, she sits near the creature, giving it the herb to ease pain after placing a small amount in her own mouth, chewing and swallowing. It copies, grimacing at the bitter taste. Once the other herb is on the wound, she places a purple leaf around the paste, then ties this in place using some vines she’s gathered. Glancing at her patient, Justica can tell its pain has lessened. She indicates the creature should lift the cloth covering its body. It does so immediately, revealing an area where bruises shine purple, edged with a green-blue, fading into yellow.

Justica can’t breathe. The creature’s torso is almost hairless. She’s never seen anything like it before, and longs to touch, her fingertips tingle in anticipation. She glances at her own arms, at the back of her hands. They’re covered with fine soft hair the colour of honey. The creature’s head has dark hair and some is present on the lower limb she examined, but it’s torso is fascinating. Swallowing hard, she examines the bruised area. Underneath her fingers, the skin is wonderfully smooth and soft, but the muscles are firm and its bones, oh so near the surface, are hard. Justica conveys her satisfaction at finding no breakages with a nod. She points at the path which leads out of the clearing, then at where the sun will rise in the sky, indicating how far it would journey before she would return. The creature’s mouth twists strangely as she does this; it bares white teeth. As she rises to go, the creature points towards itself and utters a noise, then it points at her. She responds instinctively saying, “Justica.”

The creature stumbles a little over the pronunciation, but repeats her name back to her.

Oh holy Goddess, what has she got herself into? They said in school that any creature, other than themselves, that could talk must be reported to the authorities. She should have walked away, reported her find. Now she’s helped it and, it can speak her name. Justica flees from the clearing on all fours, running out of the wildness into the orderly calm of the park like a panicked cub. Before her are the city gates, beyond them lies home. The setting sun causes Hasalem’s famous towers to stand starkly silhouetted against the darkening sky. Years of painful training in stance and decorum kick in just in time, and she stands upright. The action of smoothing her dress over her thighs calms her mind. She’s later than usual. Mamin will question why she’s been in the park so long, and Justica needs to lie.

~

The following day Justica returns to the forest after work. She hadn’t dared to alter her routine; that would be noticed. In the pockets of her dress she carries a poultice – made after Mamin fell asleep last night – a small bottle of antiseptic lotion, a cloth and most of her lunch. Her stomach churns with apprehension. Part of her prays the creature has died. The other part is excited to see what develops - if it still breathes. Ancient tomes, resting deep in the archives, detail such happenings, but she’s always regarded these as merely stories. Justica knows of no other who has actually met a creature able to speak. Excitement made her steal a sheet of parchment and an ink pen from her work-station. Mamin is accustomed to seeing ink stains on her dresses, so it won’t matter if the pen leaks a little. Once out of sight of the Guards, she breaks into an upright run.

The creature is alert. It bares its teeth, raises a paw and once more says her name. Uncertainty swells like a storm cloud, then abates. Justica nods, crouches so she can check its wound and begins pulling the cloth and lotion from her pockets. She gives the cheese and rough grained bread to the creature. It rapidly devours Justica’s leftovers. Some of her knots haven’t held. The leaf holding the poultice in place has loosened and slipped a little. Justica removes both, pours some lotion onto the cloth and cleans the wound. It looks calmer and the red line is no higher than before. As she turns to the fresh leaf and vine she’s already gathered, the creature places its paw on her arm, then points at the vine. Bemused, Justica hands it over. The creature then shows her how to tie a different kind of knot. Softly hooting her pleasure, Justica uses this knot to tie the leaf to the creatures leg. It holds the dressing firmly. She claps her hands happily, then picks up the parchment and pen.

Pointing to herself, Justica says her name, then writes each letter. The creature bares its teeth then claps its paws. It must be happy. When it indicates the parchment and pen, Justica can hardly believe it. Pointing at itself, the creature says the word it uttered yesterday evening. It then writes four symbols or letters unlike any script Justica has ever seen. Brimming with excitement, she snatches the pen and parchment from the creature’s paws. Pointing at a tree, Justica says the word then spells it out. She thrusts the parchment forward. The creature speaks then inscribes four more symbols under her letters.

Unable to contain her excitement, Justica springs up and spins. She doesn’t care if her hair spills out of its carefully constructed tower, but she resists the urge to hoot loudly. That might draw unwanted attention. Justica’s occupation, studying ancient tomes and deciphering strange languages, means every text she translates in the archives is old, written by those lost to time. This work has filled Justica with a longing to connect with an intelligent race other than her own. The creature might still die; she should use what time there is wisely and, not get caught. Goddess knows what would happen if she was found conversing with an alien species. Justica stops spinning. Water is running down the creature’s face. Softly hooting her concern, she kneels beside it placing a hand upon one of its upper limbs. Picking up the discarded cloth, she finds a clean corner and gently wipes, making soothing noises as one would do to a cub. Brown eyes stare into hers. They shine wetly with an internal agony Justica doesn’t understand. It tries to lift the corners of its mouth, she thinks to reassure her, and one of its paws begins stroking her arm.

~

In the days which follow, Justica soon begins to understand what is being said. She learns his name is Paul. He comes from a planet called Earth, a place called America. His ship crashed deep in the forest and those with him died. Paul teaches her many different ways of knotting vine. He used to be a Boy Scout. Justica finds this title confusing, but the knots are interesting – she’s become good at them. Paul’s leg is healing well. The red line is gone and with it the infection. He now has the strength to walk and Justica has shown him a nearby stream, so his clothes and skin are clean and she no longer has to fetch him water. Justica repeatedly checks the bruising on Paul’s torso. The smooth skin calls out to her, stirs unaccustomed feelings. When she strokes Paul’s skin, he tends to begin stroking her arm.

“I love how soft your fur is,” he says.

Justica has grown to understand what those words mean. She feels the same way about his bald skin.

“Can you let your hair down?” he asks, indicating her tower of braids. Justica shakes her head.

“Decorum,” she replies, “I cannot be seen in Hasalem with my hair down.” What she doesn’t tell him is that, for a female of her race, the higher a tower of hair is, the more desirable they are. Justica is aware she’s regarded as very desirable; has already received a number of proposals. But, none of the males have engaged her the way Paul does.

~

Justica’s deep in the archives when she hears whispering. Gathering up the tomes she’s found so far, she sneaks towards the sound, peering around the edges of the wooden shelves holding records of ancient civilizations and voices of the dead. The whispers are louder now. Soon she’ll be close enough to hear whatever gossip currently has the city in its grip.

Mamin never gossips. “No good ever comes of listening to gossip. I never want to hear that you have engaged in spreading rumours.”

But often those rumours are interesting, hold a grain of truth. Justica creeps close enough to hear, yet not be seen.

“I tell you it’s true!”

Justica knows the voice; it belongs to Arun, a trainee she’s assisted on more than one occasion. He speaks on, sounding irritated.

“They’ve found a crashed object deep in the forest, about twenty kiros from here. It was heavy enough to plough a line between the trees. Came to rest on its side, apparently.”

“Enough of your nonsense, I’m going back to work.”

Footsteps walk away from where Arun stands, and Justica hides.

“Don’t believe me then!”

Arun’s exclamation is loud enough to warrant a response. Taking a deep breath, Justica steps around the corner cheerfully saying, “Don’t believe what?”

“What did you hear?”

Justica shrugs. “Crashed spaceship, twenty kiros from here. Were there any bodies on board?”

“Hush!” Arun says, pressing a finger to his mouth, “Not so loud.” He looks around to see if anyone in authority is nearby, then continues, “Yes, five in all, but they think there were six. A trail of blood led into the forest, heading towards Hasalem.” He leans in closer whispering, “The Watchers and Guards are on high alert.”

“Do you think that’s true?”

Arun steps back holding his hands out in a who knows gesture, then returns to searching along the dusty shelves, leaving Justica to do the same.

~

Dread fills Justica as she hurries upright through city streets on her way to the gate. She thanks the Goddess that her habit of visiting the park is an established one. Less chance of any Watchers, who will be looking for changes in routines and behaviors, noticing her. She passes the Guards, then takes her normal route towards the forest, hoping she can slip between the trees without being observed. What really worries her is how, if the rumor is only just beginning to spread, Watchers may already be in place.

When Justica reaches the clearing Paul is exercising. The cloth which covered the top half of his body has been discarded at the foot of a tree. She cannot help but notice how flesh and muscle are beginning to coat his bones. While she watches a liquid fire stirs in her stomach. No, it’s lower than that. Goddess, the heat is intense, it makes her want to... The pulse in her throat flickers as her heart rate increases. She utters a low hoot, filled with such longing and desire, that Paul stops and stares at her. For a moment, Justica feels embarrassed. She has little sexual experience and her feelings are overwhelming. Yet, the look he’s giving her. Justica reaches up and begins to unwind her tower of hair. She calls to Paul, hoots her desire softly into the laden air.

“My God,” Paul whispers as her golden plait coils snake-like onto the grass beside her. Justica walks towards him, her hair slithering across the clearing. Most of it remains in the spot where she first stood and inadvertently voiced her longing. She undoes her dress, sliding it off her body to pool at her feet, deftly revealing her naked form. Paul looks at her. His hand trembles as he reaches out to touch the pale fur which completely covers her tawny skin. Uttering soft hoots of pleasure, Justica crouches. Removing what’s left of his clothing, Paul falls to his knees; his hands stroke her fur and his lips press softly into her flesh, arousing her further. Before Justica can turn around, Paul pushes her backwards onto the ground. She squirms uneasily. Paul’s fingers stroke down her belly, soothing Justica’s instinctive fear, yet she nips his shoulder in warning when he tries to enter her. A sharp intake of breath, a lifting of pressure and Justica swiftly turns over. Raising her haunches, she presses herself against Paul’s erection, shuddering when his hardness slides into her.

~

It is late. Justica slips in through the city gates just before they’re locked for the night. Street lamps flicker and windows are shuttered. She hurries home before anyone notices that her hair isn’t as neat as normal.

“Where have you been?” Mamin asks angrily, grabbing Justica’s face with hard fingers. Her mother’s eyes pierce Justica to the bone.

“I… I fell asleep in the park. Sorry Mamin, I was so tired after work.”

“Then why did you not come straight home?”

“Because I always walk in the park.”

Mamin nods in acknowledgement, releasing Justica’s face.

“That’s true.” She steps back. “What is that smell?” Justica watches in horror as her mother’s eyes narrow. Then Mamin is sniffing and growling, a deep guttural sound from the back of her throat. She surges forward, gripping Justica around the neck snarling, “Understand this, if you have dishonored me, you will pay for it. Don’t think I’ve not noticed what you’ve been taking from our home recently.”

Justica is thrust backwards into the wall. She sinks to the floor as Mamin storms out of the house.

“Oh holy Goddess help me,” Justica whimpers. She’s certain Mamin is on her way to the Guard’s Tower.

~

Bruised and battered, Justica curls protectively around that which is in her womb. The cloth beneath her is harsh against her face. It looked newly woven when she was thrown in here, but now her blood stains the once pristine blanket. The rising sun is warm and behind her eyelids redness glows, for there are no shutters on the solitary window. Her cell is in the Watcher’s Tower and seeing the night sky for the first time was wonderful. Now it’s become ordinary.

A creaking door rouses her fully. One eye is swollen shut. She opens the other as Mamin enters and locks the door. Justica sits up, feeling the life within stirring as she does so. Her belly is so large, Justica is certain she will bear more than one cub. She rises and begins moving towards her mother, who she hasn’t seen since the Guards brought her to this circular prison.

“Mamin!” Her voice cracks.

Mamin’s movements are a blur, her slap a force which sends Justica back to the floor. She lands awkwardly and her unborn cubs kick in protest.

“I am not your mother. I took you in when your parents were executed.”

“No. That cannot be. Please Mamin, I am your daughter!”

Mamin purses her mouth. Her distaste for Justica is written upon her face as she continues spewing the harsh truth of Justica’s existence. “Your parents were thieves; they held themselves in greater esteem than the rules of our civilization. You were named after the justice which was served, but like them, you’re an aberration, a deviant and you will answer my questions. By the Goddess, if you refuse I will cut you.” She pulls a curved blade from her skirt, one used for cutting herbs. The blade gleams brightly in the morning sunshine. Justica has no doubt it is sharp.

Mamin strides across the floor towards the interrogators chair. Once seated, she waves an expectant hand at the chair intended for Justica. Both are bolted to the stone beneath them, as is the table. From the floor, Justica can see how Mamin’s serge uniform sits just above her tightly laced boots. Mamin is wearing a uniform. Justica looks just below her mother’s left shoulder and sees an insignia stitched into the material.

Carefully getting up, she asks, "Since when have you been a Watcher?”

The sneer which greets this question is as hard as Mamin’s eyes. “Since before you were born. You and the poultices provided great cover until recently.”

Justica sits down, hiding her quivering hands beneath the swell of her belly. The knowledge that Mamin has been watching her all of her life, has never loved her, pains Justica more than the beatings she has endured.

“It has been found.” Mamin announces. “Despite your silence, the Guards have found the creature you’ve created the abomination inside you with.” A snarl of disgust escapes before she controls it. “You will tell me how you communicated with it.”

“Only if you tell me where Paul is and what is going to happen to him.” Justica braces herself for the flurry of blows that must surely follow. Instead, hooting laughter fills the cell. Mamin’s head is thrown back upon her long, graceful neck. Abruptly, the hooting stops, but Mamin’s black eyes glitter with acid amusement.

“With pleasure. It’s in a lab. It will be treated well until we’re able to get the information we require, after which it will still be taken care of, but in a different way.” Mamin’s eyes flicker to Justica’s belly. “And once that thing you’re carrying is born, I’ll take it to join its father.”

Bile rises in Justica’s throat at the loathing in Mamin’s eyes, the knowing twitch of her mouth.

~

Not knowing what to do, Justica sits looking out of the window. Giving birth had been easy compared to this. Her two cubs had been wrapped in cloth and taken from the room by Mamin before Justica saw them. She heard hungry cries, so knows they were alive. Her teats are producing milk, but this is beginning to dry up and her belly is returning to normal. Days are passing and, although food and water is being shoved through the slot in Justica’s door and waste is being collected, no-one has visited to cut her hair in recognition of the birthing. She shakes her head, feeling her towering hair sway with the motion. How can she expect tradition to be followed when she has broken the most sacred of rules?

Each day, she sits, wondering how Paul and her cubs are faring in the laboratory assigned to them. She has no doubt they are suffering, but what can she do? Her cell is so high that from her window citizens look like insects. The external structure of the tower is not smooth, balconies protrude lower down the building. Presumably there are doors or windows adjacent to these balconies, but Justica feels too inert to do more than wonder. Then the day comes when there is no knock on the door for her waste and neither food nor water are provided. When the same thing happens the following day, Justica realizes she has been left to die. She picks up the meat knife on her empty plate, running a finger along its blunt blade. Taking it over to the window sill, Justica starts to sharpen it. She will not die in a stinking cell. The blade rests momentarily as an even stronger resolve surfaces. Justica will find her cubs and Paul.

~

Evening falls and Justica is using the knots Paul taught her to bind strips of her rough blanket together into a rope. She’d had to resharpen the knife twice so it would cut cleanly through the densely woven cloth. Justica unwinds the coil of her golden hair, unravelling its length onto the stone floor. She unplaits it and, pulling the hair into one thick strand, begins tying her hair into sections with smaller strips of cloth. The first is tied where it reaches her shoulders, the second is bound near her waist. Justica plaits the final section very tightly, and ensures the final strip of cloth binding the plaits end will hold firm. Taking the cloth rope, Justica ties half-hitches to secure it to a leg of a bolted chair closest to the window. She then uses a double sheet to secure the cloth rope through the plaited section of her hair. Finally, she re-hones the knife.

Night falls and Justica slowly lowers her cloth and hair rope out of the window, down the side of the tower. She hopes it is long enough to reach the balcony she can see when leaning over the sill. The point where she has to start climbing in order to give herself more hair to use, arrives quickly. Taking a deep breath, Justica pulls the cloth rope taut against the chair leg and lowers herself over the sill, pressing her feet against the stone tower. She steadily lowers herself downwards. The rising moon is just a sliver glimmering faintly in the night sky. Justica offers a silent prayer to the Goddess that she is not seen.

The moon’s journey across the sky tracks her progress as she works her way down to the balcony. The rope is too short. Placing her toes on the balcony rail and bracing the other foot against the wall, Justica balances. She takes the knife from her pocket and cuts through her hair, as smoothly as she can, just above the first cloth tie. The remaining length should signify an adolescent cub. The sudden lack of tension, of taut support, almost sends Justica plunging below. She topples sideways, landing on the solid stone floor of the balcony.

No sound comes through the open balcony door. Crawling forward, Justica sniffs. The adjacent room is laden with many scents, but is empty. Inside she finds blue uniforms and every-day clothing, hanging from named hooks which line two of the walls. She searches for an outfit with an apprentice insignia that will fit her, finding one for a male that will serve her well. Someone has left food near their clothing. Justica eats, then drinks deeply from the half full water jug placed on a washstand. A hair brush pokes from a dress pocket. Taking it to a mirror hung near the door, she brushes her now shoulder length hair. The cut looks a little ragged, but it will do. Taking the knife from her discarded dress, Justica sharpens it once more, places it in a trouser pocket, then steps out of the room into a corridor with just enough light to walk by. With no idea if she’s on the right floor, or where the laboratories are, Justica sniffs to her right. The air is nondescript. That coming from her left carries a faint chemical smell, reminding her of Mamin’s workshop. Justica heads towards it.

~

It appears only a small number of personnel work during the night. Doors have a light close by, and those she opens lead into offices. The chemical smell grows stronger and it is with some relief that she notices a sign indicating she’s nearing the laboratories. Justica realizes she’s found them when the corridors are illuminated by light spilling from behind large sheets of glass. Justica looks into each laboratory she passes, seeing nothing but silver and black equipment which glints and gleams under the strong white light issuing from circular mounds on the ceiling. What it does, or why it is there is beyond Justica. At home, they had candles, cooked over an open fire. A burner, test-tubes and vials, resided in Mamin’s workshop, but what can be seen here makes her equipment archaic. Each laboratory Justica passes has a worker or two, but these individuals are too involved with the machinery to notice her. There’s no sign of Paul or her cubs.

The dimness of the grey stone corridors seems darker after the bright light. She almost misses the recessed doorway on her right – it is unlit. She peers at the metal panel just above her head. Justica’s insides turn to water when she reads the words, but she senses that this is where she will find Paul and their cubs. Her fear is so great it is as if someone else, not her, pushes the handle down, opens the door, and enters the Eugenics Laboratory.

~

The floor slopes downwards. After curving in on itself, the dimly lit corridor levels out. There are three doors ahead, all on the left. Light pools on the floor outside the first, and Justica can hear voices. She slips by in the shadow of the right hand wall. Just as she reaches the second door, the third opens. Easing herself into the unlit room, Justica watches through a crack as a female walks by carrying a tray of containers filled with fluids. Her uniform is a different colour to those in the changing room. Leaving the room once the female is out of sight, Justica heads for the third door.

This room is lit by light issuing from the machines surrounding Paul and their cubs. Each of them lays on a metal slab with tubes inserted into every orifice. Tubes also run from veins in their arms, and from their spines. Leather straps hold their wrists and ankles tightly in place. Paul even has one across his throat. Metal probes have been inserted into their shaved scalps. Each probe has a thin thread which leads to machines sounding like droning bees.

Unable to understand what she is seeing, Justica draws closer to the slabs which her cubs lay on. They are beautiful; both have Paul’s five digits, instead of her four. Their faces reflect her mouth and nose, but their eyes are shaped like his. Each of them is slightly different; the female cub perhaps takes after her, whereas the male reminds her of Paul. Their backs show none of the spinal curvature that is normal in newborn cubs. They will not need to go through the painful straightening process she had to; they will walk upright with ease. Justica longs to hold them in her arms. She wants to watch them grow, see them develop. Gently, she runs a hand down each of their small bodies. Her fingers register the scars where they have been opened, the flesh folded back and their glistening insides laid wetly bare in the name of eugenics. They do not respond to her touch; their eyes remain closed. Her cubs are breathing, but they do not live.

A cry begins to build inside her, one unlike anything she’s ever felt. Deeper than one of rage, it boils up from the depths of a despair scouring the core of her being. Her chest heaves. It’s as if she’s choking on air. She looks at Paul. His eyes are open and she sees that he is in terrible pain. With a strangled cry, she goes to him, trying in vain to wipe the tears from his beloved face. He cannot talk, due to the tube down his throat, but he communicates by moving his head, lifting a finger, with his eyes. And Justica knows what she must do.

She undoes the strap around Paul’s throat. His scent fills her nostrils and she kisses the soft skin, feeling where his life force pulsates. Taking the knife from her pocket, Justica stands above his head, pressing the knife against the pulse. Paul nods. There is no fear, only acceptance of what must be. He closes his eyes when the knife pierces his flesh, his body shakes as it pumps a crimson spray across the grey stone floor. When it stops, she kisses him goodbye.

Knife in hand, Justica goes to her cubs. They look so peaceful despite the tubes, despite the suffering already inscribed upon their innocent forms. Looking at the scars running down their bodies, Justica is aware she cannot inflict another cut upon them. The knife clatters to the floor. Justica goes to her female cub, kisses her forehead saying, “Go with peace little one,” and calmly places firm hands over the tiny nose and mouth. It doesn’t take long for her cub to stop breathing. As she approaches her male cub, Justica recalls the word Paul would have used to describe him. Her kiss is as loving as those which went before it, her hands just as firm.

“Goddess take care of you, my boy, on this journey,” she whispers in his ear.

~

Silent and wraith-like in the shadows, Justica makes her way back to the changing room. Once there, she strips off, using what remains of the water to wash away the blood. Fortunately, the male clothing she’d noticed earlier still hangs from its hook. After putting it on, Justica leans over the balcony to establish how far down the tower she still has to go. She can see the street-lights, the guards walking in long established patterns through the city. She takes a moment to wonder why the street-lights are lit by hand when the lights in this tower function without flame. Then she briefly considers the machines she’s seen in the laboratories, but there’s no sense in trying to understand that which bewilders her.

Back in the grey stone corridor, Justica takes the opposite direction to earlier. She walks at an even pace as the corridor slopes down and around. Before long she is joined by others also dressed in day clothes. Some trot past her eager to be home, others chat in pairs or groups. Like Mamin, these citizens must hold their secrets silently. Justica keeps to herself. A flight of stairs leads to a room with a reception area. There are two desks, one for signing out. Using the name on the hook above the clothing she’s wearing, Justica signs Habain R, then leaves the building with a cluster of other citizens.

Early morning sun lights the road through the city centre. It leads past the building Justica once thought of as home, takes her past a time when she believed Mamin was her mother. Her steps falter. The emotions which ravaged her as she realized what had been done to her cubs threaten to re-emerge. Justica battles for control. She wants to kill Mamin, make the bitch suffer, but she must remain hidden. The knowledge of her escape will be Mamin’s undoing. All Justica needs to do to achieve this, is to go for a walk in the park with the multitude who take a morning stroll. From there, she can sneak into the forest, cut through to where it runs alongside the road and make her way to another city. One which has a forest where she can live, harvest herbs, make poultices and potions; build a name for herself as a healer, create a new identity.

Justica passes the guards in the midst of the morning crowd. All they see is an adolescent of no note.





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