Saturday, 26 June 2021

[Glory Brats 32] Glory Brats

"Here kid, take your food, you earned it..."

Sparrow jerked her head upwards in surprise. She was standing in line by the food cart. Someone shoved a plate and spoon into her hands and gently pushed her along the line. Carter patted her shoulder and steered her towards one of the empty ammo crates they were using as seats. Bee, Zed, Dee, Tekla and Rat drifted over with their own food.

"You brats worked hard today."

Sparrow nodded, her eyes half closing again. Any elation she had felt earlier had disappeared and now she just felt tired through her whole body. She shivered and hugged her hands around the edge of the warm plate. Carter shrugged his jacket off and draped it over her shoulders. It smelt of sweat and smoke, but she didn't mind. The weight of it was comforting.

"Eat up, kid, you're a Glory Brat now."

"Glory Brats..." she murmured, testing the name out. It felt good, like being part of something. She mechanically shovelled the food into her mouth, and before she knew it, her plate was empty. Her eyes slowly closed and she felt the plate slide out of her hands onto the floor with a clatter.

***

Carter and Perkins wandered over in the morning, "Rise and shine Glory Brats."

"We're already awake." Bee said flatly, folding her blanket and putting it to the side.

Sparrow was still wearing Carter's jacket from last night. She slipped it off and passed it over. "Thanks."

Carter flung it on his back and crouched down next to the bedroll. "How's the little 'un?"

Sparrow gave Tekla a shake to wake her up. Tekla crawled out from underneath the blanket and sat up. "I'm hungry..."

"Breakfast is on the go." Perkins said brightly. "The finest the army can provide."

"I'm hungry too." Dee said as he scrambled to his feet. "What's for eating?"

Breakfast was oatmeal porridge, served scaldingly hot, so hot that Dee burnt his tongue when trying to eat it too quickly. Perkins brought some water over to cool his mouth down. "Here you go, kid. Take little sips."

"What do we call you individually, then?" Carter asked. "Can't just call you Glory Brat One, Glory Brat Two, can we?"

Sparrow knew that soldiers were typically referred to by their second names, but that wouldn't work for Bee, Zed, Dee and Rat. They didn't have another name. While she was thinking this over, Dee spoke up, in between mouthfuls of porridge. 

"I'm Dee - look!" He held out his arm to show them the letter inked in black on the inside of his wrist. There was silence while Carter and Perkins looked at the mark and then over at the others.

"Do all of you have those tattoos?"

Sparrow shook her head. "No, Tekla and I don't have them." 

Bee and Zed held out their arms. 

"And this is Rat, well her name is Em actually but we call her Rat." Dee said, licking out the contents of his bowl. "That was good. Is there any more?"

***

Before they went out on duty, Carter made the kids a make-shift ball from a bundle of old cleaning rags tied together. Perkins found some burnt bits of wood from the clearing up the day before, and showed them how to draw with them on the concrete floor and walls. Sparrow started to put all their names up on the wall above their bedrolls. Zed studied the wall.

"That's my mark!" he said, pointing to the Z at the start of his name.

Sparrow stopped what she was doing and looked over. "Yeah...can you find everyone else's?"

Dee and Tekla were drawing pictures on the floor. Rat crouched hunched over a little way away from them, scrawling a mess of lines and circles.

"I've found them all..." Zed said after a while. "But what are these ones?"

Sparrow took the burnt bit of wood and licked it. Then she drew an S shape on her own wrist and showed it to Zed. "S for Sparrow," she said.

Zed traced the S on the wall. Then he came to the next letter and stopped. "And this one?"

"P for porridge." Sparrow said, finding a blank bit of wall and starting to write. "They're not marks, they're letters of the alphabet. Here, look..." She handed Zed the blackened bit of wood and pointed to the wall. "You can copy this."

While Zed was occupied in copying the alphabet, Sparrow drew pictures of Garden City. She drew her house, the school, and her friends. When she finished, she started to draw other things in the spaces left on the wall. The Outsider fort, the Shambles, Mattie lying on the farm track, the ruined city up above them.

Carter and Perkins came back and looked at the drawings covering the concrete. Perkins shot Carter a look, pointing at the image of Mattie. Carter picked up the ball of rags. "Come on, let's have a game."

Dropping the burnt stick by the wall, Zed got to his feet and came over. "How?"

Carter responded by kicking the ball into the air and hitting the opposite wall. "Goal!" he cheered, raising his hands above his head.

Tekla and Dee ran to join them. Sparrow noticed Bee sitting on the bedrolls by herself and was about to go over, but Perkins swept her into the game. They kicked the ball about, with more enthusiasm than skill. The game attracted the attention of some of the other off-duty soldiers, who gathered by the side to watch. Carter waved them into the game, and a couple joined in, others hanging back. It was a messy, noisy match, with unequal teams and goalposts that constantly changed as it suited the players.

As Sparrow raced after the ball, she didn't think about anything else. For the first time in ages she let her guard down and properly laughed, half out of breath, pushing her way past Zed and nearly tripping over Tekla. The game ended in a tangle of bodies, collapsed in a heap on the floor. Rat padded forward on bare feet and grabbed the ball, running off with it to the side. The onlookers laughed.

Dee crawled out from the pile, rubbing his head, a grin plastered across his face. "I like that game! It's even better than the It game."

Sparrow threw herself down on the bedroll next to Bee. "Ugh...that was fun. Tiring, but fun."

"It sounded like you were having a good time." Bee said, pushing her hair back behind her ears. Sparrow looked at Bee's long dark hair and pushed herself up on her elbows. "Can I plait your hair for you?"

"Why?" Bee asked.

"Because it's fun. You can do mine if you like."

"I don't know how." Bee said quickly.

"It's easy; I can teach you." Sparrow said, sitting herself in front of Bee and dividing her own hair into three. Bee hesitantly reached out to touch Sparrow's hair. "Fine. What do I do?"

 "Take the right bunch and put it over the middle bunch, then take the left bunch and put it over the first bunch that's now in the middle..."

After a few tries, Bee picked it up quickly, her nimble fingers twisting the hair into place. Sparrow reached a hand up to pat her head, checking the work. "See, I knew you could do it."

Bee almost smiled. "I suppose you could do mine now."

Sparrow crawled round to sit behind Bee. She pulled her fingers gently through Bee's dark curly hair and started to twist and braid the strands.

"My friend at school, Minnow, has hair like yours and she always wore it in lots of tiny braids on her head. I can't do it like hers, but yours would look just as nice like that."

Bee raised her hands to her head, feeling the tightness in her scalp where Sparrow had started the braid. 

Sparrow suddenly stopped, as if she'd just thought of something. "Glory has her hair styled like Minnow. Maybe she could help you with your hair."

"No." Bee said, "I don't want to ask for her help."

Sparrow continued to braid Bee's hair, "I could ask for you..."

Bee considered this. "Maybe later."

"But she might be busy later - I can see her now and she's just sitting over there. Besides, I've done all I can."

Tekla appeared at Sparrow's shoulder and looked at Bee's hair. "Pretty! Do my hair now, Sparrow, please?"

Sparrow pushed her away. "Not just now, Tekla. This is big girl stuff."

Tekla pouted and looked like she was going to cry. "But I'm a big girl too..."

Bee got to her feet. "Sparrow, will you come with me?"

"You're going to ask Glory?" 

"I need you to take me to where Glory is."

Glory was sitting with her back against one of the concrete pillars that supported the roof. Her eyes were closed. Sparrow and Bee approached quietly. Without opening her eyes, Glory raised a warning finger. "This had better be good."

"Sparrow says you could help me with my hair." Bee blurted out.

Glory's eyes snapped open.

Tuesday, 25 May 2021

The Muckle Cauldron

Is it a tale of witches you're speering after now? Ach, awa wi you, you've had all my tales. Well, mebbee not all. You've heard about the brounies and the bogles, and you know well enow to poke a hole in your eggshells so as the witches canny use them to sink ships. And about elf-shot cattle that sicken and dinnae thrive when a witch puts a spell on them. But I've ane tale left that you've no heard. Pull up that wee stool then and mind you dinnae stop peelin those tatties.  When I wis a wee lassie, I was aye slipping off to do ma ain thing, or threepin at the auld folks to tell me a story - aye, jist like you now, altho I flatter mesel that I'm no as auld as they yins.

But this time I'd been caught and told to clear out the auld threshing barn. It was a richt stoorie place - fu o spiders. So I wisnae best pleased and I didnae tak ower much time wi my task. I carried out all the sticks and stalkies to the midden at the back o the yaird, and swept a bit stoor an oose oer the threshold. This still left a wheen o trashtrie frae the hoose at the far end, and I amused mesel by luikin through it. Maist o it was trashed - a luggie that had tint it's chain, a yoke wi a muckle crack in it, twa bits o a bowl I mind my sister brak on the hearth. But there was ane thing that caught my een - a muckle great cauldron, fat and blackened wi fire. It had unco marks around the rim, and seemed to grow in size before ma verra een. All o a sudden the air aroun me grew derksome an I shivered in the cauld. I ran oot the barn screaming o bogles and lang leggity beasties.

They gathered roun and speired at me what the matter was but not ane o them ever minded seeing the cauldron afore. All but the auldest auld yin who nodded and minded a story she'd heard as a wee lassie, jist like I was. A loon wha minded the plough was makin his way hame frae the smiddy, an the road took him along towards the auld Kirk o Alloway. It was an eerie place then as it is now, wi hoolets an siclike craturs, an weel-kent as a place o ferlies an unco doings. The nicht was mirk, the rain was plashing and spattering doon, an the wind squalling amang the trees. As he drew close to the Kirk he noted a bricht glow glimmerin roun the auld stanes. His thochts turned to witches, and the verra Deil himself, wha was said tae sit in state in the ruins.

Noo there are twa thochts as to why he did what he did next. Ane says that the Almichty above gave him courage; anither has it that he'd got unco fou at the Smiddy. For whatsoever reason, he took ae step towards the Kirk, an anither, an reached the windae afore he knew what his ain feet were daein. An eerie glow cam frae a fire made up in the middle o the ruins. The place was empty. He heard a soughing noise frae ahint him, and turned tae see derk shapes o men, and wimmin, in the field by the Kirk. Ane by ane, they each pullit up a stalk o the ragwort and cried out some word or words that he didnae catch. An ane by ane each rose into the sky wi shouts and skirls. The ploughboy was left alane. 

The flames frae the fire still danced though, sae he loupit up through the windae an drapt doon intae the empty Kirk. Atop the fire he saw a muckle cauldron, black as pitch. The contents seethed and jouked - heids o bairns no yet blessed by a meenister, lang banes o those hangit on a gibbet, an ither foulsome things. He seized the side of the cauldron an rocked it back an forth on its chain, makin the foul liquid spill oer the lip. He poured oot the contents onto the hearth an unhooked the jinkin chain. Empty noo, the cauldron didnae seem sae heavy, sae he raised it oer his head and tuik it hame, where it stayed in his faimly doon through the years tae this day.

The ithers aw laughed an clappit the grandame for the tale, an slipped back awa tae field and fireside. My fright almaist forgotten in the sun, I spiered at grannie to go wi me tae the barn, an see the muckle cauldron for herself. She hirpled oer the yaird an in at the barn. The corner was still derk an fu o shadows. A wee mousie rin oot oer the stanes but she paid it no mind. The cauldron sat there, lowring at us. 

"Thon's but a gey guid parritch kettle," grannie said, an seized it by the handle to swing in the crook of her arm. She scoured it and rinsed it, and set it on the hearth and cooked her sowans in it on the morn. An afore ye ask, she didna dee til some years after that, an ne'er took ill afore her last. Sae mayhap it was but a tale. An what happened tae the cauldron ye ask? Whit did ye think ye were peeling tatties intae?

Glossary

speering (asking)

elf-shot (flint arrowhead thought to be made by fairies)

threepin  (insisting or persisting)

stoorie (dusty)

midden (rubbish pit)

oose (fluff)

wheen (indefinite quantity)

trashtrie (worthless rubbish)

luggie (bucket/pail with 'lugs' or ears rising up from the staves)

tint (lost)

muckle (big)

unco (strange)

loon (rascal)

hoolets (owls)

ferlies (unusual sight)

mirk (dark, gloomy)

fou (drunk)

soughing (noise as of wind through trees)

skirl (shrill, piercing sound, shriek)

loupit (hopped)

jouked (bobbed)

jinkin (making a chinking noise)

clappit (pat affectionly)

grandame (grandmother or great grandmother)

hirple (to walk slowly, to hobble)

lowring (scowling)

parritch (porridge)

sowans (a dish made by soaking oats in water) 

Sunday, 23 May 2021

[Glory Brats 31] Sparrow's Mission

Grabbing a torch, Glory took Sparrow through a blocked off part of the station, where the soldiers had barricaded the passageway with benches and crates. A lone soldier was stationed by the one gap, rifle at his side and a radio at his belt. He straightened up when he saw Glory approaching.

"Nothing to report, Cap."

Glory nodded. "Keep sharp, soldier."

She walked over to an unmarked door at the side and opened it. Inside it was dark, but Sparrow could see pipes and wires running along the side.

"Follow the main passage to the end and take the stairs up to the street level. The gate up there will be open." Glory handed Sparrow the torch. "You should find the survey team over where we came across you lot. Keep to the smaller streets and come back this way when you're done." 

Sparrow clicked the torch on and cast the beam of light along the passageway. It stretched off into the distance.

Glory patted her shoulder. "You'll be fine." 

She didn't trust herself to speak, so instead she nodded and stepped through the doorway. Glory shut the door behind her. Immediately the darkness seemed much worse. The light offered by the torch lit a small patch of floor ahead of her. She took a deep breath and set off as quickly as she could without actually running.

In the dark she didn't know how much time had passed, but she counted three corridors running off from the main passageway, before she arrived at the stairs. The metal steps rang under her feet and echoed in the darkness. At the top of the steps there was a dark hallway, and another door. She pushed it open and found herself in a different part of the station, next to a ticket office. She could see light streaming in through a large opening to her right. The metal gate was pulled across, but as Glory had said, it wasn't locked. Sparrow heaved it open just enough for her to slip out into the street.

She could hear the noise of the battle coming from the square away to her left. Running in the opposite direction, she took a turn into another side street that led away from the battle. The empty buildings stared down at her. She found a lane that took her between two blocks in the direction she wanted. Her feet slowed to a stop. She didn't want to bump into the soldiers unexpectedly. She ran to the end of the lane, crouched down, and peered around the corner.

The street was empty. As she watched, however, one of the doors opened, about half way along the street, and a crowd of soldiers poured out of the building. She was about to step out of the lane when something made her stop. They weren't wearing the uniform the other soldiers back at the station were. In fact, they weren't wearing a uniform at all - they were wearing ordinary clothes. They started to walk in her direction and she backed further into the lane, ducking down out of sight behind a rubbish bin.

Once they'd passed the end of the lane, she stood back up and inched towards the corner again, her back to the wall. She saw them turn out of sight in the direction of the square. The street was quiet again. She let out the breath she'd been holding in.

Someone grabbed her arm from behind. "What are you doing here, kid?"

Sparrow twisted round and found herself staring at another group of soldiers. This time they were wearing the Central uniform. She tried to shake herself free from the soldier's grasp, but he was too strong. 

"I've got orders from Glory...I mean Captain Glory Everton!" she blurted out.

He let go of her arm. "We heard the noise and were heading back. Walker dropped the radio and it won't work now, so we had no way of finding out what was going on..."

"Hey, it was an accident!"

One of the others spoke up, a shake of her head indicating impatience. "What are the orders?"

Sparrow relayed the orders Glory had given her and made as if to run off, but was stopped by another of the soldiers. "Hold up. What's Glory doing sending her orders through you?"

"Captain Everton said I was the only one who could do it..." Sparrow boasted, "It's true!" she added, as a ripple of laughter ran through the group. "Anyway, shouldn't you be following your orders now?"

"She's right." The girl who'd spoken before brought her rifle down off her back. "Cap's counting on us. Let's get going. Taylor, take your guys and head back with the kid. You can come in from that direction. I'll take the rest in towards the square from this end. See you back at base."

Sparrow headed back the way she'd come, followed by Taylor and four others. They joked around at first, but fell silent as the sounds of the battle grew louder. Taylor and the others left Sparrow at the gate to the station, heading off towards the square. It started to rain. She slipped in through the gap and pulled the gate shut behind her. A display of sweets in the ticket office caught her eye and she swiped a couple of packets to shove in her pocket for the others. She opened one for herself and tossed the contents into her mouth as she opened the door to the stairs. 

She turned the torch on but it only shone for a couple of seconds before the light flickered and died. The darkness seemed to pour out of the doorway. She shook the torch in frustration and succeeded in getting enough life out of the battery to take her a few steps to the top of the stairs before the light faded again.

It was so dark she couldn't see her hand in front of her face. Clutching the handrail, she slowly made her way down the steps until she reached the bottom. Here it was just as dark, so she shuffled along the hallway, one hand feeling along the wall. A sudden gap where her hand fell into space made her stomach lurch, then she remembered about the corridors leading off to the side. She slid her feet forward until her outstretched hands met with the wall again. 

It seemed to take longer than the outward journey, but eventually she arrived back at the door to the main part of the station. There was a different soldier on guard duty at the barricade, with a bandage wrapped round her lower leg. She nodded at Sparrow and thumbed over her shoulder towards the concourse.

"Job done? Cap's waiting for you through there."

In response, Sparrow held out the open sweet packet as she passed. The girl's eyes lit up. "Thanks kid, might take my mind off this..." she pointed to the bandage and grimaced.

"What happened?" Sparrow asked.

"Bullet. Doc had to dig it out. Lucky it missed anything major. Might have a bit of a limp for a while though. Still, there's lots more worse off..."

Sparrow wandered back through to the concourse, only to find it was rapidly filling up with the wounded. Some were hastily patched up and sent back out, but others were sitting or lying around on whatever bedrolls were available.

She spotted Glory standing by the entrance and ran over. "I found them and delivered your orders, Cap."

"Good work. Now all we can do is wait and hope that it does the trick."

***

The sound of the guns and rockets stopped. Glory got a radio message saying that the Outsider soldiers had retreated. Sparrow thought this would mean a lull in all the action, but the underground station just got busier with weary soldiers returning and transporting the wounded.

Brodie reluctantly accepted help from Sparrow and Bee when dealing with so many patients. They passed bandages or tools to the medic, and gave out water and painkillers to those waiting to be seen. Dee and Zed helped too, clearing away the debris and dust to make more room.

"Where did you go earlier?" Bee asked Sparrow as they worked. "One minute you were there and the next you weren't. "

Sparrow explained about the mission that Glory had given her. She started telling Bee about how dark the tunnel was and how it felt when her hand missed the wall, when it struck her that that was how Bee must feel all of the time. She fell silent. 

"You were really brave..." Bee said after a pause.

"Thanks." Sparrow said awkwardly. She hadn't felt brave while she was doing it, being mostly focused on what she had to do, but now it was over she started to feel that, yeah, she'd been pretty brave.

One of the injured soldiers pushed Bee's hand away, "I don't want you near me, Outsider."

Sparrow scowled. "She's just trying to help you."

"I don't need her help, creepy kid like that. Might make my injuries worse."

Sparrow threw the water in the girl's face. It was a knee-jerk reaction, but she didn't regret it. 


Friday, 14 May 2021

[Glory Brats 30] The Battle Begins

"Wakey wakey brats, time to go."

Sparrow woke up with a start. She hadn't meant to fall asleep. And now one of the soldiers was standing over them, bucket in hand. As she rubbed the sleep out of her eyes she felt the water hit her and she yelled out. The boy dropped the empty bucket to the ground and walked away.

"What just happened?" Bee asked from the other side of the alcove. Sparrow got to her feet, knife in hand. "Hey!"

The boy turned round and laughed. "You gonny come at me, wee girl?"

Sparrow picked up the bucket to throw it back at him but was stopped by the sound of an explosion from the entrance. They both ran towards the other troops, who were struggling to their feet. Glory was in the middle of them, shouting orders.

"Baine, Taylor - get up there and tell me what's happening. Carter, Perkins and Tunks follow and support. Will the lot of you stop mooning around and get moving!"

Sparrow looked up at Glory, "Is it a fight?"

Glory glanced at Sparrow, dripping wet, still holding her knife. "Don't know what it is yet, kid; now scram before you get hurt."

Sparrow chased after her, "But I want to help! I can help, I've done my cadet training at school. Only a year, but I know about..."

"You can help by staying out of the way, kid."

Deflated, Sparrow hung back as soldiers raced around her, pulling arms into jackets and grabbing their guns. Another explosion followed, then another, and Carter came running down the tunnel into the concourse.

"It's an attack, their snipers must have got Connel and Jardin before they could warn us. It's chaos up there, we need more troops."

"Head back up there then and form a defensive line; I'll send more as soon as I've got them."

Sparrow ran back to the others. "They shot two people! Glory says we've to stay out of the way."

"I'm all wet." Tekla said.

"Me too." Sparrow knelt down and used the blanket to wipe Tekla's face and hair.

"I want to help." Dee said, scrambling to his feet.

"What can we do?" Bee said, "They've got guns and we've got knives...and a stick."

"In cadet training we had to carry water and ammunition to the soldiers. We could do that. But not Tekla or Rat. They're too little."

"Not too little..." Tekla sulked.

"I mean, you can't because you're already wounded. You need to recover first."

"Good save..." Dee whispered.

Tekla and Rat were put 'on guard duty' over the bedrolls and the packs, and strictly instructed not to leave their post, not for anything.

"But what if I need to pee, Sparrow?"

Sparrow pointed to the bucket. Tekla pulled a face.

The rest of them sprinted over to where the Quartermaster was organising the stocks of water and ammo to go out to the soldiers. "We want to help."

He looked them over and snorted in derision. "How?"

Sparrow seized one of the metal canisters and took it to the water barrel. She filled it from the tap without spilling a drop and screwed the lid on tightly. "It's easy. Even Dee could do it. And Bee could fill the ammo packs, and Zed and I could run them up to the troops at the gate."

The Quartermaster scratched his chin,"That would free up the rest of these grunts to go up top...alright but you do exactly what I say, when I say it, that understood?"

Sparrow nodded, fizzing with fear and excitement. They were set to work at once, Sparrow and Zed each taking one end of an ammo crate that was all ready to go. They both had a bag of water canisters slung over their shoulder too. The crate was heavy and the edges bumped against their legs. The rope handles dug into their palms. They began the long walk up the tunnel to the entrance gate, moving as fast as they could. The last of the soldiers ran past them. Up ahead, they could see the gate had been damaged by one of the blasts. Twisted bits of metal lay scattered across the floor.

At the top of the slope they were met by a soldier with a radio, crouched behind a barricade of sandbags. He pointed to where they were to put the crate and water bags. Gunshots and smoke filled the air. They turned to head back down the tunnel.

"Incoming!"

Sparrow grabbed Zed's hand and they ran down the slope, skidding in the dust and debris. Behind them, there was an explosion, and the tunnel entrance was hidden in a cloud of smoke. As it cleared, they could see the radio operator lying on the ground by the gate. They ran back to see if they could help.

He was coughing as they approached, his body shaking with the effort. He shook his head from side to side as if trying to clear ringing in his ears. His lower trouser leg was torn open, with a gash on the skin below. A shard of metal jutted out from the wound, blood seeping around the edges.

"You need a medic." Sparrow gasped, watching as the blood ran round his leg and dripped onto the floor. "Can you stand?"

"Someone needs to man the radio..." 

Zed crawled over to the radio and crouched behind the barricade. He set the radio back upright and checked it over. "I don't think it's broken. How do I work it?" 

The soldier got to his feet, grimacing with the pain. "Thanks kid, I got this." He hobbled forward a few steps before his leg gave way and he collapsed to the ground. "Ugh...just listen for any intel coming through." He pulled the headset off and threw it to Zed.

Sparrow helped him get up again, and he dragged himself over to the handrail in the middle of the tunnel. Together they shuffled down the slope and over to the medic. Brodie scowled when she saw Sparrow, "What are you doing here?" she asked, manoeuvring the injured soldier onto the bed and starting to clear the wound area of any fabric fragments.

"Helping!"  Sparrow called over her shoulder as she ran back to grab more water bags from Dee. 

***

Glory caught Sparrow by the shoulders. "I want a word with you."

Sparrow wriggled round to face her, "But we're helping!"

"I can see that..." Glory said grimly, marching her over to the area set up as headquarters, with half-drawn maps pinned to the wall. She pushed Sparrow onto one of the boxes serving as chairs and sat opposite her.

"I need someone for a special job. I can't spare anyone else from the field and I think you'll be able to do it."

"What is it?" Sparrow leaned forward, her hands clutching the edge of the box.

"I've got ten soldiers out on survey duty. They are due back soon, but I can't have them stumbling into a fire fight and I've got no way of contacting them.  I need someone small and fast to find them and deliver orders. Do you think you can do it?"

Sparrow nodded.

"I need you to memorise the orders because I can't risk them being seen by the enemy if you get caught."

"I won't get caught!"

"I hope not... now listen carefully: they've to split up into two groups and come in from the north and west sides of the square. Snipers to move quickly between targets. They've to use everything they've got to convey the idea of reinforcements coming. That's very important. We need to convince the enemy they're outnumbered, or going to be. Now repeat it back to me."


Friday, 7 May 2021

[Glory Brats 29] The Station

 The soldier called Carter prised Tekla gently from Sparrow's arms, carefully avoiding her knife."It's ok, kid - we'll take care of your sis."

"It was probably you that shot her..." Perkins muttered. Carter gave him a pained look and covered Tekla's ears.

Dee and Zed reluctantly lowered their knives. Bee still held her staff protectively in front of her. "Why should we come with you?"

"Bee!" Sparrow said, "They can help Tekla..."

Bee didn't move. "We've got the medikit - we can help her ourselves."

Sparrow laid a hand gently on Bee's arm, "Not this time. Bee, please?"

Bee shook her hand off, but lowered her staff. Sparrow turned to the captain. "Is it a long way?"

The girl shook her head briskly. "Not far. Just across the square."

The base turned out to be in the depths of the station. There were more young soldiers guarding the gates at the bottom of the stairs down from the square, and even more spread around the concourse in various stages of uniform. Some were sitting around playing cards, others were sleeping on thin mats between the pillars.

The returning soldiers laid their guns down and took off their helmets and jackets. Beneath their camouflaged faces they were young. Older than Bee of course, but not that much older. The captain looked to to be one of the older ones. "Carter, take that kid to Medic right away. The rest of you, stop standing around staring like you've never seen a bunch of kids before."

Tekla was crying for Sparrow, and struggling in Carter's arms. Rat ran up and grabbed hold of his leg. When Perkins tried to pull her away, she bit his hand. He jumped back, waving his hand in the air. "Son of a...! She bit me, she actually bit me!"

Dee and Zed laughed while Bee stood impassively by. Sparrow walked up and took hold of Rat's jumper, "It's ok, Em - they're going to help. Tekla, stop wriggling. I'll be right there with you."

"We all will." Zed said, coming up behind Sparrow with Dee and Bee. Carter shuffled over to the side of the hall, Rat still clinging to his leg.

The medic carefully cut away the ragged edge of Tekla's shirt and washed the wound out with water. Sparrow held her hand tightly as the medic then wrapped a bandage around Tekla's arm. She looked at the other children, then over at the captain. "I hope you don't expect me to cure the rest of them?"

Captain Glory Everton narrowed her eyes at the children clustered round the camp bed. "These two seem normal but the other four look strange..."  The girl with the wrap over her eyes, the thin boy with one hand twisted in on itself, the pale-skinned boy with white hair that looked like all the colour was bleached out of it, and the wild thing that bit instead of speaking like a normal person.

"That's not a very nice thing to say..." Tekla pointed out, turning round to frown at the captain. Sparrow flushed as she remembered thinking of the others as 'stupid and broken' when she first met them. Everything she'd been taught told her that being different was wrong and dangerous. She sneaked a glance at Zed and saw that he was staring at the ground. Even the normally cheerful Dee looked deflated. Bee had her chin stuck up defiantly, but her shoulders were drooped. Only Rat didn't seem to care what anyone said about her.

"Being different isn't bad..." Sparrow said slowly.

"Of course it is!" The medic interrupted. "Captain, I strongly suggest you dump these brats back where you found them."

"That's enough, Brodie. I'll decide what happens to them. Is the girl stable for now?"

Brodie nodded and stepped back from the bed, "She'll need the dressing changed daily though."

"We can do that ourselves." Bee said.

"Well I'm not chucking you back out there in the dark. You can stay the night." 

***

Glory found them an alcove away from the rest of the troops, and brought them over a few of the thin bedrolls. "Here, we don't need these ones anymore."

Sparrow took them from her, "Thank you." They spread them out in the alcove and arranged the backpacks around like a barrier.

Glory glanced back at the other soldiers, then crouched down to Sparrow's level. "What are you kids doing out here alone anyway?"

"We're looking for our dad." Tekla said, appearing at Sparrow's shoulder." But we found new friends."

Dee looked up at that, and smiled. "We're helping Sparrow; that's what friends do. Sparrow got me these glasses so my eyes don't hurt in the sun." He pointed to the plastic sunglasses on top of his head.

Glory's face quirked into a smile in spite of herself. She ruffled Tekla's hair and stood up. "Hungry, much?"

"Always..." Dee said with feeling, and rubbed his stomach.

"I think we can sort that out."

***

"I ain't serving them, Cap!"

Glory's face hardened. "Just give them some grub or you'll be on latrine duty next."

The cook slopped stew into six bowls, grumbling, "Outsider brats don't deserve good honest food..."

"I don't know if I'd call it good...or honest either, considering where those vegetables came from." Glory scooped up the tray and passed it to Sparrow. "Maybe best to find somewhere quiet to eat this."

Back at their bedrolls, everyone grabbed a bowl and started to eat. The hot stew was thickened with barley and filled them up. Sparrow took the bowls back while Bee and the others shared out the blankets from their packs. When she came back, Tekla was the only one still sitting up.

"My arm hurts..."

Sparrow wriggled under the blanket next to her little sister. "You were such a brave girl." She reached into her bag and searched around until she found what she was looking for. "Hold out your hand. Close your eyes."

Tekla's fingers closed around the cold, hard object. When she opened her eyes, she saw Sparrow's red pin badge from school. "Blue for new, red for bled..." she mumbled sleepily.

"I think getting hit by a bullet beats having a blood test for bravery any day." Sparrow said, pinning the badge to Tekla's jumper.

Tekla reached up and gave her a hug, then curled up underneath the blanket. Sparrow slid down next to her, but lay awake, her eyes fixed on the ceiling. She could hear Tekla's breathing slowing as she fell asleep. The shadows on the ceiling jumped and changed as people walked past the lights that were shining over where the others were still awake. 

She closed her eyes but all she could see was Tekla lying there on the ground in the dying light of the flare. Her little sister got shot because of her. She was supposed to take care of her, not put her in danger. Tekla should be able to run around and play like normal kids did. Not hiding in a run-down train station with a bunch of soldiers. Sparrow opened her eyes again. She'd stay awake all night if she had to, but nothing else was going to happen to Tekla. Or any of the others. She checked underneath the bedroll for her knife. Still there. She eventually fell asleep with her fingers wrapped around the handle.


Sunday, 2 May 2021

[Glory Brats 28] Exchange

Getting through the outer ring of forest was easy this time. From the outside of the fence it looked as though something large had ploughed through the metal and trees taking everything in its path. All they had to do was pick their way through the mass of twisted metal and broken tree stumps. This alone took some time, but at least they knew which direction they were going. Sparrow and Zed helped Bee find her way through the tangled mess underfoot. She was surer when she could use her hands to clamber over things, but on the flatter stretches her hands were no use, and Sparrow and Zed took an arm each to help her along.

"I feel like a baby. Being led by the hand."

"It's just for a while, Bee." Zed comforted her.

Dee ran in front of them, hopping from one clump of grassy sedge to another with nimble feet. Tekla trudged steadily behind them, followed by Rat, who was distracted by every muddy puddle or mossy ditch.

Soon they could see the outskirts of the City. It looked similar in layout to Garden City with fields and warehouses littering the outer circles. But something was different. Here the buildings were wracked and torn open as if some giant from a storybook had ripped them apart, and the fields were scarred with the tracks of many vehicles. 

"What happened here?" Zed asked.

As they got further into the City they saw that the damage was not restricted to the outer circles. Once tall buildings were little more than ruins rising out of rubble, and the streets were filled with bricks and piles of rubbish. Once again, it looked as though a path had been cleared through the debris, so here at last Bee could walk unaided apart from her staff. She shrugged off the others.

While around them the city was silent, in the distance they could hear what sounded like gunfire. They walked warily through the ruins, wondering if at any moment they would bump into some soldiers.

"How are we supposed to find my dad in all this?" Sparrow grumbled at last and sat down on the road in the dust. Rat and Tekla were playing hide and seek behind the concrete boulders.

Bee struck the ground with her staff. "You're not giving up that easily, are you?"

"Maybe we should stop and have some food?" Zed suggested hastily, sensing an argument rising.

"I wouldn't give up, not if I was searching for someone." Bee continued, twirling the staff in her hands.

Sparrow got to her feet. "I'm not giving up!"

"Good." Bee said.

"How were you planning to find your dad once we got here anyway?" Zed asked, before Bee could say anything else.

"I dunno...ask around? I thought there would be more people here. I thought there would be a city here."

"Yeah, where is everyone?" Dee asked, looking around.

"They must have got evacuated out like everyone at Garden City did." Sparrow said.

***

It began to rain again, so they sheltered in one of the abandoned buildings that wasn't as destroyed as some of the others. Everything inside was eerily left as if the inhabitants were just coming back. It appeared to have been a nursery, judging from the small chairs and tables, and toys spread across the floor. Some paper flapped in the breeze from the broken window, and bright coloured crayons lay rolled across the surface of the table. Tekla fell upon the toys and immediately started stacking the coloured blocks one on top of the other. Rat watched with interest. Dee sat down at the table and discovered the crayons, "What are these for? Can I eat them?"

Sparrow grabbed a bit of paper from the floor and drew a stick figure with one of the crayons. Dee's eyes lit up and he happily gathered a stack of paper and scribbled away. The others sank down onto the large central rug and eased their rucksacks off their shoulders onto the floor.

"What do we do now?" Bee asked.

Sparrow responded by digging into her bag and pulling out the last loaf of bread. She chucked a piece to Bee, "Here, catch."

"There's food?" Tekla abandoned the toys but pulled a face when she saw what Sparrow had. "I'm bored of bread..."

"Well it's all there is."

Tekla took the piece of bread and ambled back over to the toy area. Rat had knocked her tower down and was re-stacking the blocks. "Hey..." Tekla said, and pushed Rat. Rat snatched the bread from her and retreated to the corner. 

"Spaaa....arow!" Tekla whined, and threw one of the blocks at Rat. Rat threw it back and hit Tekla on the forehead. Tekla burst into tears and ran back to Sparrow.

"Bad Rat." Sparrow said, and gave Tekla another bit of bread. Rat just crouched in the corner, chewing on the tough crust of the bread.

Bee swallowed her last mouthful and licked the flour off her fingers, "What I meant was what do we do about finding your dad?"

Sparrow frowned and threw a bit of bread at Dee's head. "Dee, come and eat! I don't know...That Grace Norden lady said my dad was helping them, so it must be something to do with the train line. I suppose if we find the station we could follow the line and maybe find him that way."

"Do you know where the station is?" Zed asked.

"It'll be in the centre of the city. All the Cities are built on the same layout. We just need to find out what sector we're in and then we can work our way inwards from that."

They started to make their way towards the centre of the city. They passed through streets that were eerily quiet and untouched, and others that had bullet holes scarring the walls or entire chunks of building crumbling across their path. The sky slowly darkened above them, and the last rays of the sun made the ruined buildings cast strange shadows. Their footsteps dragged. Sparrow pulled Tekla along, eyes flicking from side to side and all around as they picked their way through the rubble. The nearer they got to the centre, the worse the damage seemed to be. Although they had heard gun shots earlier in the day, now all was quiet, and somehow that was worse than the noise of the guns.

Eventually they came to the end of a street that opened onto a large spacious square, laid out with trees and benches. Sparrow pulled the group to a halt.

"The station should be just on the other side of the square."

"Not far then!" Dee said cheerfully and was about to step round the corner but Sparrow stopped him.

"I don't like it." She said,"It's too open and quiet."

"Surely that's a good thing?" Bee asked.

"I say we wait."

Bee sighed and leant against the wall. Tekla and Rat got restless, although Sparrow constantly hissed at them to sit still and be quiet. The shadows in the square lengthened and joined up, and the sun disappeared behind the horizon. Something moved in the darkness across the square. Zed and Sparrow saw it at the same time, and pulled the others over to the wall next to Bee.

The dark shapes scuttled across the square in small groups, running from one hiding spot to another. The rising moon cast light on their helmets and guns. The children shrank back against the wall as the soldiers drew nearer. Rat broke away from Sparrow's grasp and ran down the middle of the street. A sharp burst of gunfire rang out. Sparrow called out, springing forward to chase after her and the others followed. There was a swooshing noise, and a fiery red flare landed amongst their feet, spewing sparks and smoke everywhere. Light danced across the insides of her eyelids. More gunfire filled the air.

Coughing, Sparrow lunged forward to grab the back of Rat's shirt and dragged her round the corner. The others emerged out of the smoke and darkness, Zed pulling Bee and Dee by the hand.

"Where's Tekla?" Sparrow screamed at them and darted back round the corner. In the fading red glow of the flare she spotted Tekla sprawled on the ground and then the flare died, leaving only tendrils of smoke. With her heart thumping in her ears, Sparrow reached down and pulled Tekla up by the shoulders. The little girl howled. Sparrow shook her and pushed her forward into the shadow of the buildings where the others were huddled.

Tekla continued to sob and Sparrow put a hand over her mouth to dull the noise. They could hear voices coming closer.

"I think I got one of them - didn't you hear that screech?"

"I dunno - sounded more like an animal to me..."

"Carter; Perkins - shut up! If they're injured they could still be close by."

"Sorry Glory."

"Sorry Cap."

The third soldier spoke up again, louder this time, her voice carrying in the silence between the empty buildings. "You might as well come out with your hands up. We know there aren't that many of you."

Sparrow chewed her lip, still keeping her hand across Tekla's mouth, although the sobs had been replaced with silent tears that left tracks down her dirty cheeks. 

"I don't trust them..." Bee whispered in her ear. 

Sparrow reached into her back pocket and pulled out her handkerchief. It was torn and dirty, but still recognisably a piece of white fabric. She wrapped it around a stone and threw it round the corner.

"Grenade!" yelled one of the soldiers and there was the sounds of them scrambling to a safe distance. When the expected explosion didn't happen there was nervous laughter and some shouting.

"Is this snot-rag supposed to be a white flag? Alright, we accept your surrender, come out now."

Sparrow eased her hand away from Tekla's mouth and took a proper look at her little sister. Mixed in with the dirt and dust there was blood seeping slowly from a wound on her upper arm where a bullet had ripped through her clothing. It was long and thin, an angry red colour with scorch marks around the broken skin.

"You shot my little sister!" Sparrow yelled. She looked around at the others. Zed and Dee had their knives held in shaky hands, and Bee had a firm grip on her staff. Rat crouched ready to spring. Sparrow pulled out her own knife.

A group of soldiers came running around the corner. They looked down at the children in shock.

"Hey, you haven't seen any other soldiers here, have you, brats?"

All the soldiers looked in disdain at the one who had spoken up.

"Carter you idiot, they were the 'soldiers'...and we shot one of them."

Sparrow looked at their uniforms in surprise. "You're from Central!"

"34th Central...the Glory Troop, kid." Carter grinned.

The girl in charge frowned and slapped Carter on the back of his head. "If I have to tell you one more time to stop calling us that..." She shook her head. "Never mind, let's get you lot safely back to base and get that wound seen to. Before all this noise attracts attention."


Saturday, 24 April 2021

Character interviews! With Weasley_Detectives!

OK so it's interview time again! This time round I'm doing a question swap with Weasley_Detectives at Weasley_Detectives - so head on over there to read her amazing Tintin fanfic, 'Tintin and the Seal of Cagliostro': A spate of mysterious high profile robberies by the gentleman thief "Kaitou Red" have captured the public's imagination. Tintin is hot on his trail, but when jewel of the opera, Mademoiselle Castafiore, is kidnapped, the infamous reporter fears he has stumbled upon a far deadlier plot. 

She also has a Tumblr account for the story: https://kaitou-red.tumblr.com (yes, that cover artwork is hers; she's ALSO an awesome artist.) 

Weasley_Detectives has chosen to interview Bee, so without more ado, let's get on with the questions. I've chosen to interview her OC Gideon Stark, and my questions and her answers will appear after Bee.

BEE from Glory Brats

What is your earliest memory?

I don't know how old I am in the memory, but I was still small and weak. I remember hearing the babies crying, and wishing they would stop because I wanted to sleep. So I got out of my bed and went towards the noise, but before I could get there one of the older children tripped me up and pulled my hair. The others joined in, kicking at me on the floor and I could only curl up and wait for them to stop. Eventually one of the wardens came in and pulled them off me. We all got punished though. I can remember thinking it wasn't fair, but then life isn't fair, is it?

Do you have any pet peeves? 

don't like when people grab me without warning, or push and pull me around. 

If you could have any superpower, what would it be and why?

I'd like to know what other people are thinking, because then I would know how to react to them and how to manipulate them better. And if you can manipulate people then you can get them to leave you alone.

Which member of the Glory Brats are you closest to and why?

Probably Zed, because I met him first. He's quiet and thoughtful. I like being around him because he treats me like a normal person, and focuses on things that I can do, rather than making me feel different just because I can't see.

Do you consider Sparrow a friend?

I wouldn't say we're friends. I think Sparrow is bossy, thoughtless and naive. She only thinks about what she wants to do. I don't even know at this point if we could ever be friends. I don't like her and I don't think she likes me. Not that I care.

How do you think your friends would describe you?

Prickly. Quiet. Blunt.

If you could change one thing about your personality, what would it be? 

I'd like to be able to trust people more. But I know I can't. People are always selfish in the end.

Do you consider yourself a follower or a leader?

I don't like this question! I guess I'm following Sparrow, because I don't want the responsibility of being a leader. Being a leader means people depend on you, and I don't like depending on others, or having others depend on me. But being a follower is a weak position, and I don't see myself as weak. So I suppose if  Sparrow wasn't here I'd be a leader, since no one else could be.

If you could live anywhere in the world, where would you go and who would you take with you?

I'd go somewhere sunny and dry, because I like feeling the sun on my skin, and I've had enough of being soaked through by the rain. I'd have a house all on one level where nothing would ever change position and I'd be able to find my way around without help. Zed could come with me, if he liked, I suppose.

You and Sparrow are stuck on a desert island together. You discover a pack of creatures who appear to treat you as gods. Do you and Sparrow share power, or do you divide the island into two warring nations?

Stuck with Sparrow?! I might start off by sharing power because I couldn't care less what other people do, as long as they leave me alone, but eventually I'd get so annoyed by her that I'd run off to be on my own, followed by like-minded individuals who'd worship me from a respectful distance. And we'd probably end up fighting over something stupid.

GIDEON STARK from The Seal of Cagliostro

What was your childhood nickname?

I don't believe I could repeat any of them in polite company. In any case, they were less nicknames, more threats of violence from an angry mob.

What would be your food heaven and food hell?

Caviar and cigarettes! As for food hell... Fish head stew. Don't ask.

You're a stylish chap - who are your style icons and why?

Josephine Baker. She's simply marvellous. Do you think I could pull off a leopard?

What makes you get up in the morning?

The call of sowing seeds of chaos wherever I may roam.

We know you're a bit of a gambler, but do you always win? Tell us about a time that you lost a gamble.

Well there was that time in Izmir with Archie, a fine vintage Ch√Ęteau Lafite Rothschild, and that damned Sicilian. Oh, and the Goat. *sighs* We.. We don't talk about Izmir.

We all have something we hold dear - what would you consider your most treasured possession?

Tintin. *dreamy sigh* He's such a delightfully trusting plaything...

It's fair to say that you're a hit with the ladies - what do you look for in a woman?

Strawberry blonde hair. Freckles. Honest blue eyes. A sense of adventure. Charming recklessness. A world famous reporter and staunch activist for the common good... *dreamy sigh*

Do you have any bad habits? (Apart from gambling and womanising, we know about those.)

Only espionage, treachery and the intricately detailed planning and execution of 101 notoriously high profile thefts. Ha! I jest, of course. I suppose telling bad jokes would be one of my many bad habits.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

I've always rather fancied donning one of those old German handlebar moustache-beard affairs. Oh you mean about my personality? I suppose I can be a tad too self involved...

What would you consider the lowest depths of misery?

Oh, jolly good question. But what to pick? A comfortable marriage of convenience? Becoming an upstanding member of society? Sobriety? Good god, so many to choose from.