Conversations with Death (cont)

+

What? No, I'm not crying. Death's Minions don't-- bloody hell, I am.

Anyway, little did I know then, how much like foreshadowing that truly was.

The next few years were very hard on my little Duo, long days spent scrounging and stealing, running from the authorities and hiding from the scum that preyed on the young and weak. He never had enough food or water. He never had a warm, safe place to sleep... and there was really nothing I could do to help with this. My inability to take and keep a material form was frustrating me beyond belief. Since I couldn't do more than reassure him of my presence while he was awake, I did my best to make his dreamscape a refuge from his daily reality.

You know, I now have a great respect for mortal parents and teachers. I also pity the ones who deal with children like my Duo.

My little human kept me on my toes, so to speak. He was intelligent beyond his years, with an insatiable curiosity and hunger for knowledge. Obviously what mortals call a 'gifted child'. His dreams became his classroom, I became his teacher, and his favourite words were 'what', 'why' and 'how'. There was no structure to the way he learned... I taught him to read with myths and legends, which in turn led to history, arithmetic, geography and the sciences. It was amazing how he focussed on one thing, then expanded it until he understood complex ideas, all by asking one question. Of course, it helped that we could change the appearance of our 'classroom' to suit the subject. I realised what a benefit that was, and its implications, the first time he changed the dreamscape.

+

'...the sunset was brill-- brilliant--' he read from the book I had 'supplied', and suddenly stopped.

'Death, what's a sunset? What's it look like?' he asked, curiously.

'When the sun starts to drop below the horizon on earth, the sky seems to be painted with shades of red, orange, yellow, and, even sometimes, purples,' I answered, as I always did with his questions, no matter how odd they were.

'Like this?' Suddenly, the sky was painted with colour. It was a bit off, so I made some corrections, and just watched as he took it all in. He sighed a little sadly. 'Do you think I'll get to see a real one? Like on earth?'

'Someday, Little Death. We'll go to earth and you can see all of the wonders of nature that you can't see here,' I assured him. I would figure out how to get him there, but he interrupted my musings with his next question.

'Why're there colours? How's it happen?'

I chuckled. My little Duo's grammar still needed work. 'As the sun sets, its light comes into the earth's atmosphere at sharper angles. The colour comes from the refraction of that light through ice crystals, dust particles and gas bubbles.'

My child nodded thoughtfully. 'What's 'refraction'? Is it like when it's raining, an' light shines through raindrops an' makes rainbows? Like in that other story?'

I hugged him and nodded. 'Exactly, child.'

He grinned impishly at me. 'So... what's 'atmosphere' and why does it have dust an' ice an' stuff in it?'

+

See what I mean? Insatiable child.

That was the norm for the next four years, and honestly, as hard as it was, it could have been-- and almost was-- much worse.

By the time he was twelve, my Duo had grown, both mentally and physically. Yet while he had the intellect and 'education' of someone a couple of years older, he was still small and too thin for his age. Despite that, he was a pretty child, with large blue-violet eyes, long, thick chestnut hair and almost delicate features. Because of his appearance, he began his daily foraging earlier in the morning, and was returning to his hideaways earlier as well, trying to avoid the gangs, pimps and other dregs of society. With the Alliance build up, it was getting harder for my mortal to steal enough to survive. Between his age, lack of identification and formal education, and the abject poverty of this place, it was impossible for him to find a job... unless it was as a prostitute or drug dealer. That was something both my Duo and I refused to consider. We had to get him away from here if he was going to survive, and I was not going to take his soul, nor would I allow anyone else to, either.

The last straw, and the opportunity to escape this place came suddenly and all at once.

My human had been canvassing the spaceport for travellers to beg or steal from. It was a slow day, and we ended up staying there until after dark. There was a ship loading cargo in one of the bays, mostly unattended, and he sighed as he watched with a wistful gleam in his eyes. "I wish I were on it," he murmured, then turned and left the port.

I brushed his soul urgently as he stopped to wrap thin arms around his body just outside the doors. There was a reason why we never stayed until after dark. During the day, there were people everywhere and plenty of distractions to hide my little man from hostile eyes. Not so now. The street was practically deserted around us, and there was no cover to speak of for about five blocks, no cars to duck behind. Nothing.

Duo saw them at about the same time I did. "Oh, Jesus." A gang - you could tell which gang they belonged to by the symbols on their jackets and the scars they bore, and this was one of the worst there was on the run-down satellite.

And that's saying a lot.

Shoving his hands in his pockets, Duo turned in the opposite direction and began walking as fast as he could. I hovered just around him, letting him know how close I was, that he wasn't alone. At the same time, I felt my own fear and anger growing. He was just a small boy, and they were...

Duo broke into an all-out run, and yelped, hearing pounding footsteps and harsh voices behind him. But hastiness leads to mistakes, and sure enough, he was forced to come to a skidding halt as he turned the wrong way down an alley and was faced by a tall wall. He spun - they were already there, and leering down at my Duo evilly.

As they advanced on him, I could feel my charge begin to panic, knowing what they'd do when they caught him. He closed his eyes, murmuring, "No, no, no," over and over again.

I'm not sure if it was his fear or my own anger, but suddenly I was there in the flesh... or bone, if you prefer, since I manifested as their worst nightmares, making them stop and stand as still as stone. I stood behind my little mortal and just stared at them for a few moments, then raised a hand, pointing right at the leader. He screamed, turned, and fled, the rest of the gang following behind him.

You know, I think that was one of the more satisfying moments of my existence.

My Duo's eyes flew open at the scream, and as I faded away, I brushed his soul, my sign that he wasn't alone. He spun around, trying to see what had scared the gang off, but there was nothing there, of course. He backed up to a wall and slid down it, wrapping his arms around his knees.

"Death... I can't do this anymore. I have to get out of here," he whispered, holding back tears.

I sighed and concentrated, trying to remind him of the unattended ship in the loading bay of the space port. This not being able to talk to him while he was awake was getting frustrating. I'd have to figure out some way around that, but for now, we had to get him off this colony.

Whether he 'heard' my reminder, or he remembered on his own, he quickly rose and headed for the loading bay and the ship that could possibly take him away from here. He watched the dock workers' movements and listened to their conversations. This was a Sweepers' ship, a salvage vessel, taking on provisions and repair parts. My human timed his run perfectly, slipping past security with a bit of work, both human and electronic, and sneaking into the cargo bay just as the doors were closing. He found a concealed area in the back corner behind some large crates and settled down, exhausted by the long day and frightening encounter. Within minutes he was asleep and we were in his dreamscape.

+

We were in a cargo bay, like the one his physical body was in, and he was curled up in my lap, staring at a crate. I sighed and hugged him, wondering if maybe we'd been too hasty. He must have wondered as well, because when he spoke, his voice was soft and timid.

'Death... what if this is a mistake? What if they depressurise the bay? What if--'

'Little One, what's done is done. We can't go back. The doors are sealed and they're beginning their preparations for take-off. But I believe the cargo area will stay pressurised because the lights are on. If they weren't leaving this area pressurised, they would have turned off the lights and started depressurisation by now. Besides, these crates are filled with spare parts and provisions for their trip. They'll need to get in here for them.'

He nodded slowly. 'But what about food and water? What if they find me?'

'Think, my Duo. There are food stores all around you, or we wait until they're in their night cycle, when there's only a skeleton shift on duty, and you forage then, little thief. If they find you... well, we'll worry about that if it happens. I'm sure there are other places to hide where they can't get to you. Now, while we have the opportunity, why don't I tell you one of my stories, hm?'

+

My Duo went undetected for five days, then our luck seemed to run out.

There was food here in the bay, but no water, so he had to get that from the crew sections of the ship. He'd taken to sleeping during the 'day' period, so he could wander and forage at night. This day, we were doing his lessons when I noticed some crew members moving through the crates.

"Hey! This crate's been opened!" I heard one say.

"Yeah, this one too. Looks like we may have a stowaway. Go get the boss, Tetsurii. We'll find the thief."

"Gotcha," the first crewman, presumably Tetsurii, called and I heard footsteps running out of the bay.

Hmmm. This could be a problem.

+

'Little Death, you're going to have to wake up,' I told my little mortal back in the dreamscape. 'We have company, and if you stay asleep, they'll definitely find you. If you're awake, at least you'll have the chance to run.'

'SHIT!' my charge yelped and abruptly woke up.

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