The Minda Verda School

By: EnigmaInk

Chapter Two


"Sky Ships and Named Stars"


'All Chapter Names Are Interim Until I Think of Appropriate Things'

Cesca hadn't wanted much. At least, she really didn't think she had wanted much. There wasn't a lot of framework to compare such fragile things as dreams to these days.

She stopped briefly to consider her current train of thought before realizing that there was no way she could backtrack it far enough to make it okay for the circumstances, and subsequently giving up. That was the problem with tangents. If she let them go far enough they always went to the same place, somewhere drippy-maudlin and utterly unsuited to the mind frame she required just now.

An untypical creak gave away a movement across the aging floorboards of the hall outside the lab. Squelching her ramblings to rise as silently as possible from her seat to the door, Cesca was momentarily horrified to glimpse a stranger striding down corridor. To her, all strangers were Rovers, a justified if less-than-well-reasoned paranoia. Wait, wait, he's kind of familiar…' The terrifying intruder turned out to be none other than Mark Ildri, returning to his dorm room after all these years.

Cesca felt ambivalent towards this and refrained from calling after him as she felt her panic bleed away. There were some people Cesca just didn't care about all that much. Mark was amongst them. There were others who felt differently, and she would deal with that later.

Cesca was responsible for attending to Minda Verda's one fragile link with the outside world, a process which grew harder every few weeks as yet another computer succumbed to the treacherous combination of the lack of availability of proper maintenance and fickle power sources. She was only working off five screens now, which given that what she was looking for could be anywhere was almost laughable.

Today, however, one of the last postspaces had made an unusually predictable server jump, enabling her to access the beginning of the bulletin. Run semi-reliably by an entity calling itself PreCon, what had formerly been as elaborate as to include audio and various visuals was now just white type moving across a blank black screen. Even still it meant more to her than any elaborate coding ever could. It was from this and the half dozen or so other postspaces run by various anonymous groups calling themselves 'entities' that she was able to find out any tiny fraction of the information that used to flow everywhere unnoticed. Traditional broadcasts and publications had long since ceased, and even if some were still available in other places, which sometimes seemed possible along the coasts, there was no way of accessing them from Minda Verda.

There was no current news about the issue Cesca was most concerned with, so as soon as preliminaries were dispensed with she typed the question that kept her awake at night in different variations: were the failing shields, un-maintained since their unexpected initial use, weakening? PreCon concurred and asked for her whereabouts so as to advise her. Some locations were so much worse than others that fleeing them was all that should be safely attempted. Wary as ever as to who could be watching, and from where and with what intentions, Cesca gave a vague response. PreCon said that was not enough to go on, that some of the most dangerous spaces were still perilously small and thus going to be difficult to pinpoint if she sought to fix or avoid them. PreCon then added an afterthought, the only part of which she was able to make out before the screenlight faded was "Ghobl-" But that was almost as exhilarating as anything else she'd discovered today and nearly worth the loss of another screen.

If in the extremely unlikely case that anyone Minda Verda-related was still on-grid, Ghoblins could be one of the best possible references for subtle confirmation. Her own username was Grem, a nod to the fact that those who frequented the Ghoblins establishment were sometimes somewhat disparagingly referred to as gremlins.

Giving away information over the internet didn't seem an especially better idea now that it ever had, though those who were most dangerous were probably not the sort capable of reading postspaces. The day's task accomplished Cesca allowed all the recent events to swirl into recollections of how there had come to be a time bomb over everyone's heads of deteriorating shields holding away the lethal nuclear fallout, a bowling alley she had not spent enough time at, and other things that could make a girl miserable.

It is entirely possible that rings can sit untouched on dusty dressers for years at a time and not creep anyone out even slightly, but this was not one of those cases. It was in fact so not the case that Mark was distracted enough to not notice the girl watching him from the doorway of his former room. One would've thought that two years spent alone in semi-dangerous woods constantly watching one's back would've hypothetically sharpened one's senses of things such as being intensely scrutinized from a few feet away, but alas, no, at least not to the extent that these aforementioned hypothetical senses wouldn't instantly disappear upon making such a discovery as the one confronting Mark.

He had retreated to his room under the pretense of resting before seeing the others but was instead staring spellbound at the silver jewelry, his mind blank of logical explanations. Kim knocked softly on the doorframe and he jumped, startled out of his reverie. She held up in front of her, shield-like, a worn bag, its cross still faintly emblazoned red.

"Sorry! I didn't mean to-"

"No, no, it's alright. I was going to come out soon anyways."

Kim wiped off some of the dust next to where the ring had lain and placed the bag down, removing a bottle of antiseptic. Referencing his still-bloody face she said, "At least he didn't shoot you."

"True. Hey, you wouldn't know anything about this, would you?" Mark asked, holding up the ring.

It gleamed in the light, painfully reminiscent of other times and places and things that would have to be attended to as soon as probable.

"No. Is that-?"


"Weird. No one's really been in your room, as, I guess you can see, so I don't know how it would've gotten there." Kim glanced around the disheveled room. "I'm sorry, I guess we should have dusted in here it's just, I, we… we didn't know if you were coming back."

"Of course I was coming back." He didn't add "Because you're here." But he might as well have. He pocketed the ring.

Tucking her black hair behind her ear and smiling conciliatorily she doused a cotton ball in the stinging liquid.

"It's the old fashioned stuff, it's going to hurt."

"I've been through worse." Not wanting her to question what that'd been exactly, he quickly added "So what's with that Peter kid anyway?"

In a frighteningly offhanded 'oh-that' tone Kim said "He and one of the other girls were sort of kidnapped by Rovers, it's made him skittish."

"How are you 'sort of' kidnapped?'"

"Well, they didn't get too far before Kerri went after them, barely off the grounds, but it shook both of them up a lot. That's why we've got the guard now, Kerri's does a good job with it."

"Of course she does, or she wouldn't be on your staff. Our little Katie seems to have gotten pretty hardcore."

"I have a staff? Cool. Calling her that's frowned upon these days though. "

"Really? I- ow!"

He recoiled involuntarily as the alcoholdripped down the neck of his T-shirt. Before he could stop her Kim pulled the neckline down to reveal the ugly half healed scar across his neck and collarbone.

"Were you not going to mention this?"

"No, actually, I wasn't. It's not a good story."

"Fair enough. Take off your shirt, let me see."

Mark resisted sniping or making an unrefined comment, this was Kim after all, but it wasn't easy for him.

Mark thought of how he'd gotten the scar in question and attempted to shrug, only to be thwarted by Kim's holding his shoulder in place. Her fingers found a different scar on said shoulder, and she raised her eyebrows in hopes of an explanation.

"Oh, that. That is a good story actually. That's how I met Gretch."

"… Come again?"

"This never came up? First day of preschool, she came out of nowhere and took a bite out of my arm. Completely unprovoked."

"Yeah right."

"Quiet you. So I hit her back and got blood all over the carpet, and we were both expelled. Obviously we were best friends ever after. Anyways, that's my version of it. She's… not around to give her's, is she?"

"No she… wanders."

"As bad as it was?"


"Oh, Gretchen. We never knew if she was taking apart the world, or if it was going to take apart her."

" And you aren't upset about that? I mean…"

"Yes, but she's…

"What is it you told me that time? 'Not to be held?'"


Too quick to prevent a clearly-encroaching awkward pause Mark leapt in with, "So… is Tristan around?"

Kim had forgotten to take her hand off Mark's shoulder, creating an unintentional closeness, but at the mention of Tristan she took a step back, her hand fluttered back to her to rest on her stomach. "Oh, he's around here somewhere. Dinner should be ready soon, you want to walk down?"


"You might want to put your clothes back on."

"Right, good idea."

Outside the kitchen Darian and Tristan both greeted Mark warmly, which was as characteristic for one as it was un- for the other. Even still Tristan excused himself to attend to the food, leaving Darian to explain the absence of Tessa and Jolene.

"How long ago?"

"Two years next month."


"Yeah. They just… I think it wasn't that she wasn't strong, I mean I know, there was sort of a wave, and…"

"And Jol could take anything but losing Tes."

"Pretty much."

And as tragic as that was it was, it was hardly uncommon enough to elicit any more than a sad quiet moment in either of them.

"I'm glad you're still around, Dar."

"Thanks. It really is great to see you Mark. So… what did you find out there?"

"Nothing I was looking for. It's, well, probably as bad as you'd expect."

"I'm sorry."

There was no point pretending to say that it was alright, that he was fine, that it would be okay. They were both beyond lying.

There were several other former-students there, but a significant part of the Minda Verda community now seemed to be composed of drifters drawn from the surrounding areas, creating a motley cross section of every demographic with the no-longer-startling absence of people much over thirty. Most of the people born before a certain year had been particularly vulnerable to one of the plagues that sometimes swept through, and it wasn't like there was anyone available to properly look into that.

Upon Mark's entry Cesca raised one eyebrow at KT, who shrugged. Their skills as conversationalists had undergone a vast simplification, but there was a comfort in sitting next to each other.

The meal itself was a plain affair, eaten communally as always, although the dining hall that had previously felt overcrowded was now mercilessly cavernous. Between the kind of news he and others had gleaned along the road and the pieces someone, maybe KT's friend, was apparently still able to pull off the web it was a dismal picture that seemed to assemble itself over the course of the conversation, and so by unspoken mutual consent further discussion was postponed. Things being what they were Mark had little desire for the company of others, and after so much time spent alone the number of people at dinner made him uncomfortable regardless.

Bidding a casual good night to the assemblage Mark slipped off into the night, not without a promise to still be there the next morning. He briefly felt as though he might have been followed, but when nothing and no one showed itself he continued the three mile walk west by starlight. The forest blurred by him, unseen thanks to his distraction, thoughts deep and dark. And then there was the clearing, familiar from being so often recalled to memory if not for frequency of visits, the reason for his return etched into the white stone. A name and a date and something trite.


Mark gave in to the desire to fall to his knees and weep, ignoring whatever eyes watched him from the shadows.

Unseen, KT sighed softly out of disgust for Mark and herself both. "He loved her," she murmured.

KT didn't flinch when the forest itself seemed to whisper back, "Yes, but his heart wasn't in it."

She considered this. "Possibly. You pulling a homecoming?"

"Not in the traditional sense."

KT arched an eyebrow into the night and disappeared without saying anything more. It's possible the forest watched a while longer.