Assemblage – Prestidigitation

This is a nightmare, isn’t it? Because this is awful. She couldn’t talk. She could open her mouth, but only grunts and hisses came out and not human speech. Olivia tried to explain, tried to tell the police she hadn’t done anything, but that was a lie, and they couldn’t understand her anyway. I killed people. Remember? I even attacked my friends once, and only through blind luck didn’t attack them again in that second fight.

Everything passed in a blur, for what felt like hours. They held her in chains she couldn’t break free of, and poked and prodded at her in tight, suffocatingly small rooms. She couldn’t ask them, tell them to stop. They called her monster. It went on and on and on. Then they wheeled her into some sort of medical looking room with people with surgical masks and scrubs waiting inside. Nonononono. Wake up. Now.

She dragged herself into wakefulness, rolling over and sitting upright on her mattress. Curtains obscured her view of the rest of the lair, but she could hear the faint breathing of Miya and Ben, off to either side of Olivia’s curtain cubicle thing. I think they’re sleeping. I hope I didn’t thrash around and wake them up or something. Rob was inside as well, awake and eating something with bread and ham.  She threw off her sheets. Uuuuugh.

She wrapped her arms around her knees, clasping her hands together. With my stupid, freakishly long fingers.  She re-closed her eyes momentarily and sighed softly. As was becoming her ritual, as she had nothing with which to occupy herself since they took care of Freedom Fighter, she thought, I forgot their names. I only know about five people, and I almost forgot them. I can barely remember a good chunk of time when I killed a ton of… people. Been stuck in the same building for five days so no one accidentally sees me. Stupid, stupid… No! Crying is not going to help.

Things are better. I actually have people to talk to. I’m not squatting in an abandoned apartment or under a microscope in some lab. I’m not eating dumpster food or wearing old stolen clothes. But the things I have are basically handouts because I can’t even walk into a stupid store. She sighed again. Stop feeling sorry for yourself. Just get up and get out of your pity square.

She took a moment to clear her thoughts, then got up and went out into the rest of the lair. Olivia paused when she realized that Rob sat in Amanda’s chair, playing with one of her tools and eating a bagel. I kind of made a fool out of myself to him last night didn’t I? Just… stop stuttering and look up more. No need to be nervous. He had a box of bagels from a local bakery next to him. Those kind of smell good.

“Good morning,” she said. Just act normally, whatever that is. “Rob.” she added. You say names when you don’t know the person that well, right? Right?

“G’mornin’,” he said, tossing the tool carelessly to the side. Then he faced her with a grin and said, “Of course, I could possibly be Ben.”

She looked at him questioningly. “No you’re not.” I’m pretty certain you’re Rob.

“You sure?”

“Well, yes.”

“Dammit,” sighed Rob. “It’s fun to fuck with people on that. Don’t tell Miya or anyone else when they show up, OK? It’ll be great!” He wore a pair of jeans and a light grey hoodie, and Olivia got the suspicion that Ben would dress the exact same way.

She smiled slightly. “Um… alright.”

He took a large bite out of his bagel, then around it asked, “How’d you know it was me?” Her smile vanished. Oh god, both of you talk with food in your mouths. Why?

She began to reflexively look down, then stopped herself. No, stop it. Bad habit, bad. Even with the food. “Well, you two are kind of… different.”

It was Rob’s turn to shoot her a questioning look. “Ummm, I’ve never heard that before. Ever.”

“No, no. I mean, you know…” This is going to be weird, just get it over with. ”you two… kind of… smell different. That’s… more or less…” she trailed off. She didn’t add how he talked a little slower than Ben, or how he was slightly more muscular than his brother.

His eyebrows rose slightly, but he shrugged and said, “Oh, cool. How does that work, anyhow?”

“I don’t really know. There’s always a lot, and I kind of just tune most of it out.” Good job me. You didn’t say he smelled greasy and burnt, while Ben smells chemical-y and donut-y. Or the associated tastes. Baby steps. Now, change the subject. “So, you’re a techie, right?” Sure, that might work. People like talking about themselves. I think.


“How do you come up with stuff, exactly?” This isn’t a stupid question, right?

He smiled and sat back. “Ermmm, let me think. The thing is it’s intuitive for me, but explainin’ it to someone else is kind of hard. Same with any power. It kind of just is.”

It just is. What is that supposed to mean? At her presumably confused look he added, “Like how your extrasensory – I think that’s more to do with ghosts but you get the point – stuff you’re always livin’ with, but describin’ it, you can’t find the words. Explainin’ color to the colorblind. Am I makin’ sense?” She nodded. Are ghosts real? I need a better handle on what is normal, don’t I?

Rob continued, “So to actually answer your question, what it boils down to is the power gives me ideas and information. How I go about it is I present myself with an issue, say… the harvestin’ of the tears of oil executives to run a hybrid car or somethin’. Or orphan tears for their curative properties. Doesn’t matter, either way. You gotta induce the tears somehow, either through physical pain or forcing them to watch pictures of a third world country tragically bereft of oil rigs. Somethin’ to that effect. You gotta restrain ‘em so they don’t run off on you, an’ cycle through them so they don’t become numb to whatever it is you’re using to coax the sweet, sweet tears out.” This… this isn’t a real thing is it?

Rob bounced up and down in his seat, excited now. “So my power tells me how to do the stuff. The mechanics of it are a bit more complex, but you ain’t an engineer or scientist so you don’t gotta worry about it. My power is tellin’ me to entirely mechanize the process, an’ this is why a lot of engineers end up workin’ in industry. We’ve got ‘em strapped to their own mobile table thingies. Right now I’m thinkin’ a sort of perpetual motion machine, technically impossible but I can get it damn close, with about half a dozen table people attached. The machine deposits one to the tear harvestin’ room, an’ continues spinnin’ for a set amount of time, then picks ‘em back up and puts a new one down. If I know the average weight of the people an’ how long to put ‘em down for, I can make the machine.”

But wait, there’s more. “Now I can give restraints, say an orphan has to crank somethin’ to keep it movin’, cuz I’m lookin’ to violate child labor laws as a kicker in this scenario. Kids ain’t the strongest people around, so me an’ the power gotta compensate for that in the design.” Suddenly he said, “I don’t even know if I answered your question, but I kind of wanna do this now.”

“Please don’t,” said Olivia. I really hope this isn’t a real thing. I don’t think it is but I’ve been wrong before.

“What? No. the logistics for doin’ somethin’ like that are super impractical. I mean, maybe if I were -” He raised his hands into the air, adopted a particularly maniacal grin, and raised his gaze to the ceiling, “- EMPEROR OF ALL MANKIND -” he resumed his normal posture, “- sure. But I ain’t, so I won’t.” Olivia heard some shifting from Ben’s area.

“OK,” said Olivia. Stop the conversation, even I can tell this got really weird. Or redirect, or anything besides listen to a guy talk about orphan tears.

“You didn’t take me seriously, did you?” asked Rob.

“Um… kind of. A little bit. At the beginning. Until… I don’t know. At some point in the long rant about tear harvesting.”

He laughed a bit. “You need to work on your bullshit detector.”

“We’re working on it,” said Ben sleepily, walking over to join them, wearing a light grey hoodie and jeans. “An’ fuck you for talkin’ so loud. Pass me a bagel.”

Rob complied. He told Olivia, “Feel free to take one or three, got more than enough.”

“Thank you,” she said, taking one. They ate in silence for a little bit.

Rob said, “So, we got anythin’ particularly important to do today? You lot haven’t actually gotten any contracts of late have you?”

“Nah,” said Ben. “Been thinkin’ about gettin’ a microwave and fridge today. And more chairs, don’ know why we don’ have more yet. Oh, an’ Amanda will probably need to see yer phone sometime. She’ll give it some security and performance upgrades an’ the like. She jus’ got Miya’s finished an’ she’s workin’ on Olivia’s. She refused to work on mine on general principle, but maybe you’ll have better luck.” There’s a reason she calls you jackass Ben. Take a hint.

“Hold up, did I charge mine before I went to sleep last night?” Rob asked himself, getting up and heading towards his car outside.

Ben grinned as he left. “Take his seat, quick,” he said to Olivia as the door closed behind Rob, motioning to the vacated seat. He still seemed to be riding some sort of happy high on seeing his brother again, same as Rob.

“No thanks,” said Olivia, shaking her head.

“What? Why?”

“Because it’s his seat. He’ll want it back when he gets back.”

“Wha…? Fine, mine!” He took the seat, maintaining an innocent smile, right as Rob returned.

“Fuck you,” said Rob with a sarcastic smile, rejoining them. Olivia heard some rustling from Miya’s section.

After a minute Miya walked up and grunted something to Ben. Then she stopped and looked at Rob. Then Ben. Then Rob again. Both watched her with the same grin, heads tilted at the same angle. “Fuck you guys,” she said. The brothers burst into laughter. Olivia smiled. Over the laughter Miya asked her, “Which one of these idiots is which?”

Before she could respond, Ben said, “Nah, nah, nah. Don’ tell her, don’ tell her. I wanna enjoy this a bit more. But let’s be honest here, Miya. Wha’ did ya expect?”

“Fine, fuck it,” she said, stifling a yawn. She pointed to Rob, closest to the bagels. “You. Thing One. Food. Now.”

“Well, Thing One certainly isn’t my name, so I don’t really know who you’re referrin’ to,” said Rob, not making a move. Ben snickered. Why must you two be difficult?

Olivia saw Miya’s eye twitch. Before anything bad could happen, Olivia pointed to Rob and said, “That’s Rob.” She pointed to Ben in the chair, “That’s Ben.” I need to get some fresh air at some point. It’s quieter up in the air.

“Dammit, Olivia,” Ben whined.

“Fuck off. And you know what?” said Miya. “You know what? Thank you for that, Olivia. Jackasses…” and then Miya’s speech regressed to angry mumbling.

“You are not a morning person,” said Olivia.

Miya let out a bizarre half grunt, half sigh thing. It was just an observation. “No idea how you three are so fucking chipper.” Olivia had begun slowly adjusting to a normal sleep schedule. She was used to sleeping through the daylight, and as such she found herself awake sometimes when everyone else slept. Then she could barely stay awake during the day. It’s been getting better though.

“They serve donuts in the mornings. That’s what gets me out of bed, nine times out of ten,” said Rob.

“Oh, fuck. I was supposed to have work today,” said Ben.

“Yeah, how did that fake name thing work out, anyways?” asked Miya.

Rob frowned, but Ben just shrugged. “I told my boss it was a fake. I also told him the kinda people with fake names are the kinda people who sometimes miss work, an’ are exactly the wrong kinda people to fuck over. Me an’ him then reached a sort of understandin’. We got along swimmin’ly enough after that. Still probably gonna quit if this here takes off.”

“You two don’t make any sense,” said Miya.

“Well let’s explain it to you,” said Rob and Ben simultaneously with grins. That was kind of creepy, right?

“Fuckin’ creepy, both of you,” said Miya under her breath. Yay. Called it.

“You see, we enjoy bein’ amused, especially at other peoples expenses,” they said, still simultaneously.

“Take prestidigitation. Kind of a fun word,” said Ben. “No idea what it means. I could find out, but tha’d take the fun outta it.”

“Cuz we’re not really concerned with such trivialities like logic…” said Rob.

“…or common sense,” continued Ben. “We’ll use the word prestidigitation horribly wrong…”

“…cuz it sounds fun! An’ everyone else can go fuck themselves. Say it with us now…”

Again speaking simultaneously, they said “Prestidigitation!” Miya and Olivia said nothing. As they stared, Ben and Rob began laughing hysterically. Wh… whaaa? She chanced a look at Miya, who caught her eye and shook her head.

“Or, in normal people words, what really matters is what ya do. Words are pretty an’ shit, but actions are really what causes shit to happen,” said Ben. You could have just said that.

“I’ve never heard you use that word before,” said Miya, starting to sound more awake.

“Seriously?” they both asked.

Rob looked at Ben, and repeated, “Seriously?”

“I guess I’ve been slacking in my annoying duties.”

“I guess. Anyways,” said Rob. “What do you lot usually do around here? Non work related.”

“Movies, mainly. We started with the original Star Wars movies. I stuck around just to watch Olivia at the end of Empire Strikes Back. She had no idea what was coming,” said Miya. Olivia enjoyed the movie at the time, but everyone kept harping on how surprised she was. Olivia began to tire of sitting and watching various movies for hours on end as well. All things in moderation, I guess.

“Like that time she surprised you,” said Ben. Oh, this is going to be embarrassing.

“Pft. Exactly the same,” said Miya sarcastically.

“Wait, what is this?” asked Rob.

“Alright, so we had just spent hours drivin’ around in a car lookin’ for Olivia. We’re drivin’ down the road, when we come across this utterly fucked cop car…” began Ben.

“Why were you lookin’ for Olivia?”

“Marcus, the MHU head guy knocked her out, sending her to… what was it?” Miya asked Olivia.

“Houston research… facility, I think it was,” said Olivia. Which I will never go willingly to, ever.

“Yeah, you an’ me need to do somethin’ about Marcus someday,”

“Alright,” said Rob.

Ben continued with the story, “An’ this utterly fucked cop car an’ a van with its back doors messed up.”

Miya said, “So we looked at each other and said ‘whelp, time to get back to Westward’.”

“So we book it back up north,” continued Ben.

“And at this point we’ve been in the car for six hours, and we only stopped for gas for about five minute. So we finally get back, but there’s no sign of Olivia. Me and Chris got out to let the car in.” Miya motioned to the garage door.

“Ya shoulda seen it. Miya an’ Chris jus’ turnin’ around, then outta nowhere Olivia comes, an’ WHUMP!” Why do you all talk so loud?

“I think I made some weird squeaking sound,” said Miya. If it means anything I’m still sorry about that. Rob was laughing.

Ben asked, “Hey Olivia. You ever think about learnin’ how to drive an’ shoot an’ stuff?”

What prompted this? “Ummm, no?”

“Why not? Both’re useful for our line of work.”

“Do I need either of them?” she asked. “I can just fly anywhere.”

“Can you fly while carryin’ a heavy load or another person? Not sayin’ it becomes yer primary mode of transportation, but it can helpful,” said Ben. “Besides, what else we got goin’ on?”

“I… guess? If we get rid of the backrest on the driver’s seat.”

“What? Why?” asked Miya.

“Do you know how annoying those things are? They always get in the way. That’s why I usually avoid sitting in chairs.” She shifted her wings against her back slightly.

“I know this don’ really apply to cars, but ya could jus’ sit in most chairs backwards,” said Ben, looking bemused and making a spinning motion with his hand.

“I… Well…”

“You never considered doin’ that, did you?” said Rob.

I am not above admitting my own faults. “No,” she said, looking down. At least we’re not talking about me learning to shoot people.

Miya rescued her, saying, “Does anyone know how well Chris is handling the whole… you know… dead girlfriend thing? He was sad and stuff the day of the funeral, but other than that it’s like nothing happened.”

After a silent moment, Ben said, “Uhhhhh… he doesn’t smile much anymore. Which is kinda understandable.” He looked to Olivia for confirmation.

I have no idea. “That’s… accurate. He’s usually pretty stone faced though.”

“That’s… probably not healthy, but it’s up to him, so whatever,” said Miya. An awkward silence followed her statement.

“Alright!” exclaimed Rob. “I’ve got some gear in my truck that needs unloadin’. Who wants to sit around an’ watch me do manual labor?”

“Sure, I’ll help ya out,” said Ben. I’m going to guess that was your weird triplet telepathy. “You parked in the back, right?” Tall fences covered with some cloth stuff on the outside obscure the view of the back. Miya and Ben dumped a bunch of bones in the back one day. Olivia found the smell somewhat unpleasant (they had come from a slaughterhouse, then dumped in the open air. Miya hadn’t gotten around to dealing with all of them) when she went out to stretch her wings occasionally.

“Sure, might as well,” said Miya.

The four of them went outside to the back. Rob threw off the tarp covering the back of the truck, revealing about a dozen cardboard or welded metal boxes of varying sizes. “I need everything outta the back, if you don’t mind,” said Rob.

They began moving the boxes to the interior of the lair. Olivia went out to help Rob with the last box, a large metal one at the very back of the truck bed. He had pushed it forward about a foot when Olivia, not thinking, grabbed it and began to carry it inside.

Rob, who had followed and been reaching to help her carry it, said, “Or… OK. That works”

“No, no, let me guess,” said Olivia with a somewhat bitter tone, setting the box down on the ground. “It’s really eight hundred pounds, and there’s no way I should be able to lift it. It’s just another one of the many ways I’m weird, isn’t it? It’s just another reason for people to stare at me slack jawed and comment, isn’t it.”

“Yep, that about sums it up,” said Rob. “Though it’s closer to four fifty.” He shrugged. “There’s about fuck all you or I can do about it. What we can do, however, is get this shit from where it is to where it needs to go.” Fuck all you or I can do about it, Olivia repeated to herself in her head.

She silently brought the box in and set it down again, then headed back outside. “Where ya headin’?” asked Ben as she passed.

“Going for a walk,” she mumbled back. Or a fly, whatever. It was the middle of the day but she didn’t care.

“Wait… Wait!” she heard behind her as she exited the building.

She took off, heading west. At some point a helicopter followed her, but by then she reached the mountains and lost it. She passed over the sounds of construction crews working on a stretch of road still covered in rubble, the clinks and engine noises still reaching her high above. After about an hour she came to a stop above the treeline on the side of a mountain. She sat on a particularly large boulder, facing away from the slope.

It was quieter here. No cars or people talking or computers humming or any other one of the thousand things she constantly had to blot out in the city. Other than the occasional gust of wind, nothing really stood out to her. The air felt cooler higher up on the mountain, and Olivia couldn’t really smell anything resembling pollution. Or maybe I’m just numb to it.

I’m tired. Tired of not knowing what to do. Tired of being weird. Tired of being cooped up in the same building for days. Tired of having to suppress almost every little thing I hear. Tired of wanting to say something but not knowing how to say it. And there’s nothing I can really do about most of it.

What am I doing? The others want to do this mercenary thing. But that probably means we’ll be killing people, if Ben is asking if I know how to shoot a gun. I don’t want to kill people. But I want to help, and I refuse to just sit around like a team pet or something. But I might hurt them again if I join them. For the love of god, I forgot how to talk. TALK. I killed over fifty people and I’d take it back if I could but I can’t. I can smile and laugh and talk and try to put it behind me but that won’t change what I did.

She sighed. I should save the five of them the trouble. Live out here in a shack, hunt deer and stuff like a normal feral, or weird magical thing. They’d get over it. Right? It’s not like anyone else knows me. Or cares. No more social anxiety, no local populace to hurt. It wouldn’t be that bad. I’ll just go completely insane from isolation. It’s not like I’m not going down that road anyways.

She sat on her rock in this state for a while; she guessed it lasted about an hour but she had no method of keeping time beyond estimation. It was actually a beautiful day outside, almost no clouds and a good temperature, even as it rose as the day progressed.

What am I doing?

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Side Story (It sucks) ->


13 thoughts on “Assemblage – Prestidigitation

  1. Eh. Life happens.

    Writing should be fun. If adjusting to Mondays only will mean you enjoy the writing more and don’t feel pressured, go for it. Less stress = better writing.

    I’d certainly miss the Friday updates, but I’m hardly paying you for this.

  2. And we’re back! Again, sorry for the delay.
    I’ve got mixed feelings about this chapter. I either knocked it out of the park, or it sucks. I say that primarily because I despise angst, but it was at least somewhat necessary.

    Stone Burners is now on Web fiction guide. If you enjoy the story, rate it appropriately. If you don’t enjoy it, that link is naught but an illusion. Also, if you think Stone Burners is the greatest web fiction of them all, click on that Top Web Fiction link in the upper right.

    And like I said before, I’m probably going to shift to a Monday and sometimes Friday update schedule, depending on schoolwork load, laziness levels, and/or writer’s block. That decision will be next week.

    So anyways, thank you for reading, hypothetical person I’m viewing in my head as I type this.

  3. Couldn’t resist a little bit of rewriting.
    “No, no. I mean, you know…” This is going to be weird, just get it over with. ”you two… kind of… smell different. That’s… more or less…” she trailed off. She didn’t add how he talked a little slower than Ben, or how he was slightly more muscular than his brother.

    His eyebrows rose slightly, but he shrugged and said, “Oh, cool. How does that work, anyhow?”

    “I don’t really know. There’s always a lot, and I kind of just tune most of it out.” (Don’t tell him that I can tell can tell by their scents what they would taste like. His brother would have a pleasant donut aftertaste, while he would have a slightly smoky, burnt aftertaste due to the embedded oil and grease.)

  4. “Now I can give restrains, say an orphan has to crank somethin’”

    “what really matter”

    hadn’t’ <– extra apostrophe

    "Of a fly, whatever"

    "that probably mean we’ll'

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