Chapter 1:


Curiosity Killed The Cat

Once upon a time there were two cats named Curiosity and Kat.

Curiosity had black fur while Kat’s was white. They found themselves in love.

Did I get that wrong? Murder, you say?

Well, it must have been a crime of passion.

Unavoidable, even.

Nothing can live without curiosity.

The small room creaked. There were no windows, but those inside could hear the wind batter against the walls. Outside, the cold night carried on without consideration for the four people waiting inside. Three at the metal table and one guarding the door. It couldn't have been more than a minute that they had been waiting, but the air was getting more and more tense by the second. The dim glow coming from the guard’s holstered gun was a vicious sight to those at the table. They were equipped with the military's latest technology that locked onto any target of their choosing making escape not an option. Stress pulsed through their veins like needles beneath their skin.

The creak of the door was accompanied with a warm light from the hallway. Another person had walked in. Sounds of footsteps and the shuffle of a jacket filled the silence. It was a welcome respite from the tension. 

“Chilly for this time of year, isn’t it? I hope I haven’t kept you waiting too long, Taryl family.” A friendly voice accompanied with an equally friendly smile. The man took off his black gloves one by one as he approached. He looked to be in his mid-twenties with a thin frame. “My name is Kothur Corvus from the Department of Education. I want to fully explain the situation that you find yourselves in and hopefully put your minds at ease after such a stressful week.” He reached out his right hand to the man at the table. 

The older man at the table looked at Kothur closely before moving, not trusting the new stranger in front of him. He was just a regular man from a small town of average build. The very picture of normality. He noticed Kothur's suit and slim tie, all a color that matched his dark hair. His skin was pale and a large black eye patch covered his right eye with hair slightly longer by it. Kothur's friendly smile clearly couldn’t distract from the strange aura he possessed, much to his chagrin. And so, the pause continued despite his peaceful gesture. The others at the table, a wife and daughter, made no motion either.

“Ah, government officials aren't really welcome very much in this area, right? I can assure you this will just be a simple talk. I want you to see that our interests are mutual.” Kothur decided to throw in some more friendly speech to gain their trust as he remembered more details. This small town bordered the big city and was seeing a rise in crime lately. 

Hoping that what he said was enough, Kothur leaned in just another inch; hand stretched out wide. He relied heavily on the handshake. After all, it was a perfect starter. An ageless tradition to prove no ill wishes between two people. Both parties just had to accept it even when one clearly had an advantage. Failing to do so was dangerous. It might just prove fatal.

The older man stood up to return the gesture. Kothur was glad they finally realized what was expected of them as a respectable man. Mr. Taryl exchanged some words and something about his name. It didn’t really matter to Kothur. He already knew his name and he could care less about polite insincerities. All he needed was his hand. It would be so simple after that. The whole dishonest situation cut like a knife to him, even though he was no better. He pretended that all he was asking for was a simple handshake. Every second felt like an entirety, but still he waited patiently. He didn't want to show a shred of his deception, lest he ruin the favorable mood he worked so hard to build up.

Their palms connected and the scene changed for Kothur. No longer was he trapped in that claustrophobic room. The air now carried a soft warm breeze, a complete contrast to what he felt earlier. In this incorporeal form, he could feel with hands that were not his. He could hear with ears that were not his. It was as if proper sight had been restored to him. A completely different scene was playing out in front of him.

The light breeze rustled the nearby treetops as everything was painted the dull yellow of sunset. Endless empty fields stretched out before him. It was easy to get lost in the new sensations, but Kothur needed to pay attention. He looked in front of him to see the same older man hunched on the ground next to a large piece of machinery. His face covered by his hands.

So this is Mr. Taryl's memory, Kothur thought. He wondered exactly how long ago this took place. That machine seems broken. Did they need it to plant new crops for the fall? It must have been a hard year for them. A feeling of sadness penetrated through to Kothur’s heart. A familiar feeling. Common ground between two members of the same species. He understood what to do. Now he just had to wait. How many seconds had it been since he came here? One? Two? The feeling of commonality had already been pushed away and replaced with apathy.

Suddenly, Kothur gave the man’s hand a firm shake before releasing. “Please have a seat, Mr. Taryl.” He said with kindness dripping from his voice. How many words did he have to say to convey his point? How few could he get away with? He wanted to leave as quickly as possible, but the guard would know if he did a poor job at convincing them to hand over something so precious as their own daughter.

Kothur effortlessly continued his battle of friendliness. “I know it has been unpleasant with the government’s presence in this town since last night. I hope you can understand we just wanted to know the details about the event before making any rash decisions.” He continued while taking a seat at the opposite end of the table. The scraping noise of the chair made the teenaged girl jump and he quickly apologized. “I understand your family has been having trouble repairing your only tractor for a while. Suppliers always have trouble getting enough supplies out to small towns these days, don’t they? Hopefully that won’t be the case for much longer. We are prepared to offer parts free of charge, immediately.” 

Mr. Taryl’s shoulders tensed at Kothur's last sentence. Nothing costs more than what is offered as free, that much they both knew. Kothur continued. “I also understand your daughter, Soline, was a key witness in the violent incident earlier this week.” The girl turned her head as her mother put a hand over her shoulder. He interlocked his hands with a gentle expression before his next statement. It was critical that he delivered it successfully or his mission would end in failure. “We feel it would be in her best interest to have her move schools to the head branch at the capitol. There she would be offered the best protection, receive the best support, and-”

“Are you saying we aren’t good enough for her here? As her own family?” The mother spoke up.

Kothur smiled at her. “Of course not. I want us to be on the same page here. This will be beneficial for everyone! I can assure you it’s a wonderful school. Everyone that graduates is eligible to receive a government job with benefits for their family. Your daughter will receive the best education in the country and then you will be able to feed your town.”

“That school is for soldiers.” The mother spoke uneasily.

Kothur put his hands smoothly on the table with practiced ease. “All schools have soldier training with the war going on, but only this school has guaranteed safety from domestic threats.”

Mr. Taryl reluctantly spoke up. “I do think it would be for the best. But can I ask, what’s your job there, Mr. Corvus? You’re from the Department of Education, you said, but what part?”

This made Kothur hesitate. “Oh, did they not inform you beforehand?” This was the question he wanted to avoid the most, but it comes up every time anyway. Maybe he should learn to get better at lying when it comes up.

“All they said to us was that someone from the head branch at the capitol was coming to talk to us.”

That was all you needed to know, Kothur thought. It sure got you to come quietly, didn’t it? Oh well, since I already convinced them, it can't hurt to say it now.

Kothur smiled again. “I’m a teacher at the head branch.” 

Taylor Victoria