Fractured Orbits Chapter 8
Fractured Orbits is book one in the Encoded Orbits Trilogy, It’s being released as a serial with chapters coming out on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The first ten chapters are free, the remainder will require a paid subscription.
Rows of symbols filled Veena’s screen—one hundred and one symbols, to be exact. Way more than needed to encode their human language but not enough to be a pictogram representation of actions.
What she hadn’t admitted to Orin when he assigned her this decoding project was that she recognized the code; it was the same as the one Theo65 had been working on for years. Just before the military shut down their off-Rock links, Theo65 contacted her about new writing in the same code. It couldn’t be a coincidence.
She ran a hand over her head and down her ponytail. Her notes from her previous decoding attempts were safely stowed on a civilian server—one she could no longer access. She was starting from scratch. Scrolling through the encoded message, she pondered her options. She started one of her brute force decoding algorithms, then headed for a cup of coffee.
As Veena filled her mug, Gloria burst into the break room. “Veena, you’re here!” She tossed her blond hair over her shoulder and smoothed her hands down her cherry-red dress. “Orin’s asking for you; he seems to be in a bit of a tizzy too. He wants you to go to his office.”
Veena nodded. “I’ll go see what he wants.” She started towards the door. “You still haven’t filled me in on last night’s fun.”
“Ohhh! I have stories. Ted from the comptroller’s office...” Gloria shook her head. “We’ll talk after you find out what Orin wants.”
“Right.” Veena took a sip of coffee before looking out the door.
Veena turned and met Gloria’s gaze.
“General Swa’s in his office too.”
Veena’s breath caught in her throat. Swa’s presence meant this had to be about Hwicce. Did something happen to him? But the war was over… Leaving her full mug of coffee on the counter, she headed for Orin’s office. She counted her steps in an effort to remain calm—it didn’t work.
Orin’s office door stood open. From behind his desk, Orin gestured for her to enter as soon as he saw her. Swallowing, she went inside.
“You’ll need to sit for this,” Swa said. Even though Swa was tiny, her presence filled the small office.
Struggling to keep a veneer of calm, Veena swallowed and sank into the single chair in front of Orin’s desk. Behind the piles of paperwork and dirty mugs, her boss sat bolt upright with his gaze fixed on the far wall.
Swa leaned against the side of Orin’s desk. “I came down because I felt it was important I deliver this news in person.”
“It’s about Hwicce, isn’t it?” Veena clenched her hands together to keep them from trembling. Hwicce had promised to stay safe.
“Hmmm.” The general crossed her arms over her chest. “Yes. Lieutenant Oswiu has been reported absent in the aftermath of the Battle of Candy Cane Lane.”
Veena’s jaw dropped. She’d been afraid of something like this happening ever since the war began. The weight of the news pulled on her, and she struggled to take a breath.
“He’s okay,” Orin jumped in. “He just submitted his resignation.” He glanced at Swa then back to Veena. “He’s okay.”
Veena bit her lip. “He’s okay? All he did was resign?” It wasn’t like him to just take off—there had to be a good reason.
“Yes. However, your husband was last seen traveling with one of his subordinates.” Swa cocked her head and smirked. “A woman.”
“What are you implying?” Veena fixed her gaze on the general.
“You need to know the facts.” Swa pressed her lips together.
Veena cocked her head. Swa’s rush to tell her Hwicce ran off with someone seemed odd. “You have given me few facts. Why the innuendo?”
Swa glared at her in return. Just as she opened her mouth to speak, an alert flashed on Orin’s display, and he leaned in to read it.
“Oh, no.” Orin glanced at Veena. “You need to get to the school right now. Something’s happened.”
Veena didn’t remember the tram ride or even the walk to the makeshift school. One moment she was in Orin’s office; the next, she was running along the corridors towards the school office.
Major Zane, the head of the Rock’s security, was the only person around. The big woman pursed her lips together as Veena approached. Her indigo and gold uniform seemed out of place in the school office.
“Where’s Molly?” Veena asked. Why was the head of security waiting for her in a school’s office?
“Dr. Oswiu,” Zane started, stepping in Veena’s way.
“I just need to see Molly.”
Zane pulled herself up to her full height. The square set to her jaw made her an intimidating barrier. Then she sighed. “Your daughter is in there.” She pointed to the door labelled ‘Infirmary.’
Veena rushed inside. Sitting on a cheap printed cot on the far wall, Molly had her arms wrapped around her knees. Glistening tears streaked down her cheeks, and her nose was red. Her eyes widened when Veena entered.
“Please don’t be mad. I didn’t mean it.” Molly sniffed as a fresh tear cascaded down her face. “It was an accident.”
“What happened?” Veena sank down onto the cot next to Molly. She had never gotten in trouble before.
“Amber said Dad deserted. She said he isn’t coming back to us.” Another wave of tears started to flow.
Veena felt tears of her own start to well up. She wrapped an arm around Molly and pulled her in tight. She didn’t know what the news about Hwicce meant or why another child had known about it, but she was sure that neither of them had heard the full story.
“What happened next?” The head of security wouldn’t be there if it weren’t for bad news.
“I... I...” Molly’s voice trailed off, and she sniffed again.
“I’ll make sure you are safe, no matter what.”
Molly nodded. “I got mad at Amber.”
“Did you hurt her?”
“I wanted to,” Molly said. “But I didn’t.” She buried her face into Veena’s shoulder. “I...I made all the desks move.”
Veena forced herself to inhale slowly. This was bad news.
“The other kids were sitting in the desks. Once it started, I couldn’t stop it. All the desks moved to the walls.” Molly swallowed. “The teacher saw it.”
Molly’s secret was out. A whole room full of kids and their teacher saw what she could do. It wouldn’t be long until an investigation would be called. Questions would be asked. A breath caught in Veena’s throat.
To be safe, Veena needed to get Molly off the Rock—the sooner, the better. She hugged Molly tight. “It’s okay.”
Molly wrapped her arms around Veena’s neck. “Are you mad at me?”
“No, love, I’m not. I should never have brought you here.” She released her daughter and stood. “It’ll be okay. Let’s go back to our room.”
Veena reached a hand out. Molly nodded and took it.
Out in the main part of the office, Zane was waiting. She glanced at Molly and frowned. Then she met Veena’s gaze.
“I don’t understand what happened,” she said. “There’s going to be an inquiry.”
Veena nodded. “I expected that. Is Molly expelled from school?”
“If this were a normal school, probably.” Zane shrugged. “Kids aren’t really my area of expertise. But they need you to work, so Molly gets to stay in class.”
Molly pulled Veena’s hand. “I don’t want to go back.”
Veena swallowed and knelt down. “I’m sorry, but you’ll have to.”
“I will need you to keep Molly in your quarters outside of school hours,” Zane said.
“Okay.” Veena stood again. It would take a day or two for her to come up with an exit plan. She needed to play normal until then.
“I’m worried about everyone’s safety.” Zane’s brow wrinkled as she glanced at Molly. “Especially yours.”
Molly’s face took on a somber expression.
“Can you try to avoid doing that again?”
Molly nodded and squeezed Veena’s hand. “Can we go home?”
Veena glanced at Zane. The head of security gave a curt nod before turning and walking away.
Once inside their quarters, Veena sank down onto her bed and put her face in her hands.
“You okay?” Molly asked in a tiny voice as she sat on the bed beside her.
Veena sighed and looked at her girl. “What happened to the desks in the classroom?”
“I don’t know.” She turned away and shrugged. “I got mad, but I knew it wasn’t okay to hurt Amber. The desks just moved.”
Uncertain what else to do, Veena nodded.
Molly balled her hands into fists. “Why doesn’t Dad want to come back to us?”
Veena shifted to face Molly as she ran through the facts in her head. Hwicce had left the army with another soldier—that much she believed. Swa’s implication of a romantic tryst didn’t sit right. He’d never do that. He was always clear in his messages that he loved her and Mol.
“Mom?” Molly’s dark eyes were wide.
“Sorry, Mol, I was just thinking.” Veena ran her hands down the fabric of her pants. “Your dad loves us. I’m sure he’ll get in touch soon and explain everything.”
Molly went silent for a few moments. She reached for her Click stuffy and cuddled it against her chest. She yawned and snuggled into Veena’s side. It wasn’t yet dinner time, yet Molly was acting like it was late.
“Are you okay?”
“I’m tired,” Molly said before yawning again—and Molly never admitted to being tired.
“Why don’t you lay down and get some sleep?” Veena smiled while wishing she knew how better to support Molly. Maybe moving desks with only her mind had wiped her out.
“Will you read to me first? I want to know how Click helps Bubble escape.”
“Sure.” Veena leaned over and pulled a comic off the narrow desk between the beds. The paper felt soft under her fingers, and the cheery colours on the cover appealed to her right then.
Molly snuggled up beside Veena as soon as she leaned back on the bed. Molly’s warmth and scent seemed so right. Veena flipped to the first page and started reading.
to be continued…
This is the eighth free chapters (only two more!). Make sure you don’t miss a thing and subscribe now.
If you’re enjoying Fractured Orbits, why not share it?