Ashlyn Forge has called four different continents home, America, Europe, Latin America, and Asia. Having spent most of her childhood staying out of trouble in upstate New York, she now lives in Japan. She is currently working on her “Toys and Soldiers” series, which is set in a Sci-Fi Fantasy underground world. The books of the series are released out of order with the debut (book 1) “In Liam’s Wake” and “From Johann to Tannnenbaum” released in 2013. Book 2: “Beyond Riley’s Slumber” as well as “The Stuff of Dreams” and “Erosions” are slated for publication in 2014.
An Excerpt from From Johann to Tannenbaum:
Johann worked well into the night, having received a message on his interface aroundfrom Kobal. Dinner was off, but they’d reschedule.
“Right.” Time and again he’d repeat that single-sentence text to himself and snort bitterly. “Yeah. Right.”
He was late in leaving the office, and, as anticipated, most workers had retreated to the area designated for staff by the time Johann arrived at the seemingly empty kitchen. When he saw the outline of someone sitting at the table in front of the food that had been set out for him, he approached with caution. It wasn’t a body he readily recognized.
Tanner sat hunched at the table, writing on a piece of paper.
Johann paused, thinking back to the days prior to figure out when or where the E had gotten that paper. He made a mental note to count his stack.
The E’s bald head snapped up, and he gave a weak smile. Tanner’s brown eyes settled on the paper once more. He studied what he’d written and pushed it forward.
Johann decided to sit and did so slowly as he picked the paper up. The very texture made him want to cry; it was from the office. By the Colony, how much more paper can be sacrificed for the good of communication? What he saw made him pause for some time. It was a picture. He’d seen E drawings before. Hell, when he’d called up Queen and Tanner’s profiles to see if they were single, he’d seen a few samples of Queen’s artwork. The man was a genius with a brush. Tanner, however…was much less sophisticated than the other E’s. When Johann lowered the paper and saw Tanner’s smug look, he focused on the picture again and finally laughed.
“So this is your way of giving me a message?” Johann pointed at the drawing. “I guess this is Queen?”
Tanner took the paper back, ran his thumb along the pen to change the ink color, and scribbled green hair on the stick figure.
“Right.” Johann studied the message again and smiled in spite of himself. He turned the paper around to Tanner for inspection as he spoke. “So Kobal told Queen to tell me he wasn’t coming.” He pointed down to the second row of pictures to show Queen’s stick figure with a frowny face. He took on the same gruff tone the E was noted for. “So Queen said ‘hell no, I’m not going.’ So you’ve decided to come tell me. But that was a good three hours ago.” He got to the final image with the Tanner frowny face, made all too clear that it was Tanner because he’d drawn everyone else with exaggerated eyebrows, yet this stick figure was the only one without. “So you’re pissed because you waited out of the kindness of your heart and I took a long time to get here?”
Tanner only gave him that calm, pleasant look Johann had come to like. When the man folded his arms and sat back, Johann bowed humbly.
“So sorry.” He didn’t get a response, so he clapped his hands together and bowed. “So sorry. Sorry.”
In response Tanner pushed the tray of food forward and sat up with his elbows on the table as he pointed to what was on the tray.
There wasn’t much, but then again, Johann wasn’t surprised. Marian had brought the hammer down, and although Gulliver didn’t usually act all that servile to her, whatever Marian threatened to do must have convinced the cook to take heed.
The sight of the soup, bread, and yogurt caught his attention, and he nodded.
“Right. A hearty meal.”
With no way of making conversation, Johann waited for Tanner to leave. The E didn’t budge; he just sat and watched him. For an instant Johann missed Gulliver. Sure the man couldn’t talk, but at least he could understand.
Now Johann truly felt like he was talking to himself. He sighed and started on his soup. Halfway through, he noticed that Tanner had slouched lower to watch him, eyes on Johann’s mouth.
“Oh yeah, you guys don’t eat, huh?” At the curious look, Johann decided to offer some of his food. “Never? You just never eat? Not even for pleasure? Some of you eat for fun, don’t you? Here, try it.”
The gesture prompted Tanner to sit back and shake his head. He took interest in the bread roll next, and Johann studied him closely. As large as Tanner’s body was, despite all the power he exuded just by being there, he did appear harmless on many levels. There was a gentleness about him.
He didn’t think of it as much of a risk when he broke the bread and handed a piece over. Tanner looked at him cautiously and then took the piece. He seemed apprehensive, to say the least, but he took a bite and spat it out immediately.
Johann smiled and then laughed when Tanner looked from the bread roll to the paper he had scribbled on and nodded between the two.
“It does not taste like paper. Come on,” Johann mused.
When Tanner reached for the paper and threatened to take a bite, Johann sat up to snatch it from him.
“Stop already.” Johann chuckled. “Other than the fact that they both burn easily—”
Tanner made an attempt to snatch the paper back, but their fingers brushed, and a slight spark flickered between them at the contact.
Johann stood cautiously. “What the hell…”
He managed to catch a glimpse of Tanner’s eyes widening in fear before the paper caught fire.
No doubt in an attempt to shield Johann, Tanner pushed him back.
The very touch of the E’s hand on his skin made Johann howl.
Johann looked up from the burn mark on his chest. Tanner stood, both hands engulfed in flames, staring at the offending appendages, clearly at a loss of what to do.
A chime sounded, and the System’s voice boomed. “Fire. Oxygen depletion in five, four, three, two…”
The kitchen door slid shut, and the lights dimmed. Tanner was the only light source then, his fists burning blue. Within a matter of seconds, there was no more air for Johann to gasp.