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[center][FONT=Lucida Sans Unicode][B][SIZE=3][IMG]http://i16.photobucket.com/albums/b16/Blayze54/LeftBelow.jpg[/IMG]

[/SIZE][/B][/FONT][center][FONT=Lucida Sans Unicode][B][U][SIZE=3] Left Below[/SIZE][/U][/B][/FONT]

[FONT=Lucida Sans Unicode] Night had thrown a dark shroud over the vast, indifferent landscape, the tiniest pinpricks of stars glittering in the sky, even these now almost obscured by thick, black clouds of smog. The sand skittered in the harsh wind, the tiny grains hurling themselves into the eyes and onto the skin of travellers who dared to cross the barren wilderness.[/FONT]

[FONT=Lucida Sans Unicode] One figure stood in the face of these unbearable conditions, and felt the cold wind bite at their eyelids, the only part of them that remained exposed. The rest of their body was cloaked in thick khaki trousers, a matching jacket and black boots, their head covered by a ragged headscarf, the colour all but faded from it. The boots struggled against the wind and the sand, trying desperately to get to shelter before midnight came, and they emerged.[/FONT]

[FONT=Lucida Sans Unicode] The figure clutched in its hands a long plastic tube, and on its back there was a long pole, almost a staff, made of dull black metal. It seemed that these were the only two objects this person was carrying, as if they had nothing else in the universe.[/FONT]

[FONT=Lucida Sans Unicode] They travelled on, through the night and across the seemingly endless plains of sand and dust, coming at last to a shallow valley, sparsely populated with a few wiry shrubs which poked out of the sand and cracks in the rock of the valley walls. This seemed to be the only kind of vegetation anywhere, but they had no time to stop and stare, they merely carried on, moving as quickly as they could. Atop the rocks, shadowy creatures stirred, moving to the edge and looking down on the traveller. Snarls jumped from one creature to another, and soon enough they were moving down the rock face, human enough in their silhouettes and their movement, but terrifyingly inhuman in the noises they made as they did so.[/FONT]

[FONT=Lucida Sans Unicode] The figure looked up at the walls, and saw the creatures scaling down the rocks, clouds of dust billowing up at their feet as they did. The traveller began to run, kicking up their own clouds of sand as they did. They sprinted through the valley, trying desperately to escape the creatures coming after them.[/FONT]

[FONT=Lucida Sans Unicode] The creatures moved like the shadows, and cut the traveller off, jumping down to the valley floor in front of them. The figure stopped, looked around and saw the creatures on all sides of him. They looked human enough, two arms, two legs, but they were shorter, slightly squatter, but more muscular. They were all dressed similarly, in dirty brown rags that barely qualified for clothes, spattered in a dried reddish-brown substance. Their faces, though, were terrifying mockeries of those which God blessed humanity with. The foreheads were wrinkled, pushed further down than normal, casting deep shadows over slitted yellow eyes with snake-like pupils. Tattoos covered the faces, moving from the eyes outwards, right down the chin and onto the neck, then past their necklines. Their mouths were thin, their teeth wickedly pointed, as if used for tearing flesh, and small forked tongues repeatedly flicked out and ran over the teeth and lips.[/FONT]

[FONT=Lucida Sans Unicode][B] "Hu...man..."[/B] growled one that stood in front of the figure, clearly struggling to get English words out through the teeth and the bizarrely-shaped tongue, [B]"You are...hu...man."[/B][/FONT]

[FONT=Lucida Sans Unicode][B] "Human..."[/B] the whisper spread through the crowds that were now gathering, lining the walls of the valley and swarming atop the cliffs. Sharp sticks, spears and axes lay in the hands of each and every one of these creatures, male and female, old and young.[/FONT]

[FONT=Lucida Sans Unicode][B] "Yes,"[/B] the figure replied, the voice slight and feminine, but muffled by the headscarf, [B]"I am human. But I don't mean to cause trouble with you. Please just let me pass and I will not venture here again."[/B][/FONT]

[FONT=Lucida Sans Unicode][B] "Hu...man do not tres...pass here,"[/B] the leader spat, [B]"We kill...hu...man."[/B][/FONT]

[FONT=Lucida Sans Unicode][B] "You can try,"[/B] the human said, grabbing the staff on her back and whipping it out of it's restraints, spinning it into a comfortable grip and waiting for the creatures to come closer. She knew, deep down, that she really had no chance of beating this many of them, but she needed to try. What she had in her hand was more important than any of this.[/FONT]

[FONT=Lucida Sans Unicode][B] "Attack!" [/B]boomed the leader, one English word he was apparently familiar with, and the creatures began to charge the young woman, who whirled the staff in her hands, and smashed the length of it into the first creature that came near, slamming him to the ground with ease. She forced it backwards, and it crunched into the chest of another, knocking him back into a rank of creatures, knocking them all to the floor. They kept coming, and she kept fighting them off, using all the skill she had gained from her years of fighting to keep herself alive. But soon enough her arms were growing tired, and the fight was beginning to take its toll. One of the creatures managed to drive the tip of a spear into her abdomen, a splatter of her own blood slapping onto her boots, but she pulled the point out and continued, blood now pumping steadily out of the wound.[/FONT]

[FONT=Lucida Sans Unicode] Eventually, though, the battle became too much. The creatures overpowered her five to one, and she stood no real chance against numbers that great. She was stabbed, sliced open and beaten down to the ground, her blood staining the sand crimson. The creatures, their clothes spattered with fresh blood and their blood lust sated for now, moved away slowly, leaving the body lying, torn, bloodied and bruised, the last hope for her kind clutched in her cold fingers...[/FONT]

[FONT=Lucida Sans Unicode] ---[/FONT]

[FONT=Lucida Sans Unicode] In the year 2034, humankind had ravaged the planet Earth. Every drop of oil had been sucked from the ground, every last tree had been cut down to make furniture and paper products, houses and garden decking, every river was poisoned by the chemicals that pumped from the factories and power plants, and the skies were blackened by smog.[/FONT]

[FONT=Lucida Sans Unicode] The fight of the early 21st Century people to combat global warming had proved futile, and it came, with devastating effect. The ice-caps melted totally, the sea levels rose dramatically, flooding entire countries, wiping them off the face of the planet. Some countries became barren Arctic wastelands, others became dry deserts. Yet mankind was still growing, and soon enough overpopulation became as much of an issue as the destruction of the planet.[/FONT]

[FONT=Lucida Sans Unicode] In the early 2040s, a solution was created by the United Government of Earth, made up of leaders from almost every country in the world, those that were left anyway. A new way of terraforming planets had been quickly and effectively created, along with a much quicker method of travelling to distant galaxies. This combination allowed the Government to create Project Exodus, in which the entire human race was transported off the Earth and into the distant galaxies, where planets would be terraformed, and made totally inhabitable. By 2047, the ships had taken off, and all power plants were powered down. The Earth was literally turned off. [/FONT]

[FONT=Lucida Sans Unicode] But the hundreds of ships from all different continents took off, passing through the atmosphere and reaching into the furthest corners of the galaxies. Humankind would live on, far amongst the stars.[/FONT]

[FONT=Lucida Sans Unicode] But this is not the story of those who travelled to far-off worlds in search of a new life. This is not the story of those who participated in Project Exodus.[/FONT]

[FONT=Lucida Sans Unicode] This is the story of those who were Left Below.[/FONT]

[FONT=Lucida Sans Unicode] Many people did not qualify for boarding the vast ships that took people off the dead world that was Mother Earth. Criminals, many disabled people, and a number of uneducated men and women were left below, along with a number of volunteers, doctors, priests, and more, who chose to spend their life trying to ease the suffering of those who did not qualify.[/FONT]

[FONT=Lucida Sans Unicode] But there was another problem.[/FONT]

[FONT=Lucida Sans Unicode] Somewhere in the West, most probably where the Americas used to be, something happened which none of Earth's scientists had predicted. Due to the large amount and variety of chemicals in the smog that now filled Earth's atmosphere, those who breathed it in, especially in areas of high pollution like the Americas, were beginning to change. The chemicals were beginning to mutate their DNA, turning them into something that was not quite human. They became shorter, squatter, but stronger, more physically capable than most humans, able to run faster, jump higher and sustain more physical injury than a normal human being. Their facial features also changed, becoming far more fearsome to look at. This transformation seemed so drastic that those scientists left on Earth, the doctors and geneticists, began to believe that it was the next stage in human evolution, and began to call them "Morlocks," after the creatures described in H.G. Wells' "The Time Machine".[/FONT]

[FONT=Lucida Sans Unicode] But these Morlocks showed far more violent tendencies than was normal, they were far more aggressive, and killed for next to no reason. In a single move, they wiped out all humans that remained in the Americas, and used makeshift boats to travel across the Atlantic to Europe, where people were largely unaffected by the chemicals. It was here that they began to systematically wipe out the remaining members of the human race, moving through Britain and into Europe.[/FONT]

[FONT=Lucida Sans Unicode] The last remaining survivors of the race fled to Russia, which had been transformed by the climate change into a vast desert, devoid of life save for one tiny epicentre of activity.[/FONT]

[FONT=Lucida Sans Unicode] A deserted power plant on the outskirts of what used to be Moscow became the headquarters for the human race, where all survivors attempted to travel to. The plant became known as "New Moscow" to some, but was most commonly known as "The Hub," the centre of all human activity, and the only safe place left in Europe.[/FONT]

[FONT=Lucida Sans Unicode] This is where the story takes place.[/FONT]

[FONT=Lucida Sans Unicode] ---[/FONT]

[FONT=Lucida Sans Unicode] Alright, now I realise that this is a hell of a lot of information to take in all at once, and for that I apologise. But I am planning this to be a very in-depth RP, a sci-fi adventure of epic proportions. But I cannot make this work without your help.[/FONT]

[FONT=Lucida Sans Unicode] For this RP, you will be playing the third-generation descendants of those who were originally Left Below. This means that, for the most part, you are not criminals or convicts, but simply those unfortunate enough to have these people as your ancestors. The human race is tough, as we all know, and even with the limited supplies left at their disposal, those who remained of the population of Earth survived, and bred, keeping the Human Empire alive on it's planet of origin.[/FONT]

[FONT=Lucida Sans Unicode] The plot as a whole will be about survival, but there are certain elements of the story which will be introduced at various intervals, such as:[/FONT]
[FONT=Lucida Sans Unicode] who was the woman fighting the Morlocks at the beginning?[/FONT]
[FONT=Lucida Sans Unicode] what was she carrying that was so important?[/FONT]
[FONT=Lucida Sans Unicode] what are the exact details of the origin of the Morlocks?[/FONT]
[FONT=Lucida Sans Unicode] and just how did the human race manage to survive in such inhospitable conditions for so long?[/FONT]

[FONT=Lucida Sans Unicode] Here is what I want from you as a sign-up. As many people have done in the past, I am looking for a short story (short meaning around 1000 words) concerning your character. They could be a Scavenger, hunting around the wilderness for anything that could prolong the existence of the human race, a Scientist, dedicated to using a mixture of new and old science to put the objects the Scavengers find into use; you could be an Engineer, trying desperately to keep The Hub up and running, or you could just be a human refugee, struggling to find a safe place to live. That choice is up to you, just give plenty of detail about your character, their looks, their personality, a little about their history - I plan for most of the character's histories to be revealed in the RP itself.[/FONT]

[FONT=Lucida Sans Unicode] If there are any further questions, please direct them to the Underground thread, which can be found here. I will try to answer them as best I can. I shall be posting an extract for my character once I have received a few responses to this thread, but other than myself I will only be accepting a relatively small cast, around five or six depending on the quality and quantity of sign-ups I get.[/FONT]

[FONT=Lucida Sans Unicode] Until then, have fun![/FONT]
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Running, endlessly running. That was all he did. But, there were so few people left...

He ran down the ancient concrete sidewalk, through what was once Tokyo, Japan. The ancient skyscrapers loomed, some leane haphazardly, ready to fall with the next earthquake. Indeed, so many already had. He wondered what to do, he was so lost. They had come here to Tokyo on a salvage mission, aboard a former luxury liner, which had been it by a stray mine, and sunk in Tokyo Bay. He knew he would have bended right into the former people that once resided here, as he was of Japanese decent.

He stopped, listening. His light wind breaker gluttered in the cool breeze coming in from the ocean, He could hear rustling, and he shivered from fright. Those...things were after him, as they had seen his ship explode. He needed to get to the harbor, to find another ship. He had to get back to Moscow, before all was too late. All of his comrades had been lost, but he alone remained. Asl ong as he was alive, there was hope.

He began to run again, before coming to stand still. One of the hge sky scrapers had fallen, littering the path with debris. The only way was through, or he'd be killed. He stepped up onto the broken wall, once so high above the ground. He made his way up, before making the wrong move, and falling through ancient glass.

"AHHHHH!" He cries, latching onto a twisted girder, and looking below him. Jumbled wooden structures, metal, glass.. al a very painful death or sever wounds if he had fallen. His red sneakers dangled below him, and he sighed, hoisting himself up. He was strong for his age, and a technological genius. His bright dyed blue spiked hair ruffled slightly, the breeze was blowing again. He cautiously made his way our of the wreakage, and proceeded into the down town Tokyo area.

"[I]Chikishou...[/I]" He swore, and looked around. Old cars and trucks rusting away littered the road. Fallen peices of buildings lied everywhere.

"This... will be hard...." He muttered, making his way through it, patting the 74 magnum in his belt. "But at least I can kill whatever comes at me..."

He managed to find his way to the Marina, and found what he wzs looking for,a dry docked ship. It wasn't big, but It certainly would have suppiles. To his knowledge, they were all simply scrapped or abandoned, when everyone fled the planet. He ran, barely being misses by a spaear.

"Shimatta!" he yelled, running at ful sped to the ship. He ducked and dodged, until he was finally at the flood gat for the ship dock. He ran up the tower, and shut himself in the control tower.

"Come on.. there has to be an 'on' switch somewhere!" Hopeing this thin g still had a charge in the battery, he flipped the switch, having finaly found it. The machine slowly rumbled to life, the battery was indeed almost dead. It stopped, and he groaned, slumping down in the seat.

"Damn it all to hell...." He slipped off his back pack, and took out an old C4 registered explosive. He looked down at the base of the tower, and then athe gate. If he planned it right, he could jump onto the dck of the ship and have the tower lodge the gate open just enough to where itwould give on it's on. It already looked like al that was holding the gate up was the rusty metal that had adhered together over the years.

He tied up some explosives to the tower, then dropped one below, and pressed a switc.A loud roar echoed, and the tower gave. He jumped, and just barely grasped te railing of the ship. He looked just in time to see the tower crach, and water slowly leaking in. Hiosting himself up again, he pressed another switch, and water came rushing in. Within minutes, the ship was bouyant, and slowly floatng out of the dock, scraping the wreakage of the gate.

"Well Saio is coming home..." he said, and went to pilot the ship home, knowing well this baby was in top shape to get back to Moscow.
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[SIZE="1"] In a world that wasn?t called home by the race that it birthed, Ben Morrison believed he was lucky to have one. He was born in the building and once imagined he would die there, as well. Perhaps years from now; perhaps on the end of a Morlock spear in his sleep the next night, but Ben truly believed he would never leave.

The dust around his feet swirled up and was carried off into the wind, streaming east into the barren land that stretched before him, seemingly conveyed to the end of the earth. Buildings lay crumbled on the ground, however most were decayed and fragmented beyond recognition. To the west, on a clear day, Ben could make out the wreckage of the former city of Warsaw. He never ventured a journey that far ? not after his father never returned from his search for the Hub. Ben had long since forgiven him, and forgiven his mother for passing away when he was 17, but that never made life alone for 8 years easy.

The ?Wehrmacht? building seemed to be a blessing from God, of course ? a nuclear generator and a cooking range and huge storage refrigerator. His father always remarked, ?Ben, you don?t need to worry. I promise you, for three of us, this generator is going to deplete before the food source does.?

Ben mouthed the words to himself as the steadily increasing wind whipped through his long, uncut dark hair. He found it hard to believe, but knew he had to suppress the urge to damn God ? ?I have been blessed by these supplies? can I now blame anyone but myself for squandering them?? Yet he resisted and refused to think of a plan to trek east, like his father had so many years before. The Hub was the only place left on earth that was still Earth, that was what they all had heard. It was not decrepit, it was not destroyed, it remained a beacon not only of hope, but of the accomplishments humanity had made in architecture, and science, and humanity, and brotherhood, and perhaps Benjamin had been reluctant to go because he did not want to shatter that dream; learn it was all only an illusion. Or worse ? learn it existed and find only the tell-tale signs of Morlock destruction in its place in the former Moscow. To learn that humanity had reared its head one last time, strong and proud, only to be brought down by its own dark shadow.

He looked directly into the rising sun for a moment. Its rays played and danced across the landscape, doing their dance, illuminating the dark blue ocean of sky that hung over the world on which Ben stood.

?No,? he whispered. ?It?s still there. I would know. I would have felt it if we had fallen, the same way I knew? that I had to stop believing dad might still be alive.? He knew no one was around to listen, but in the mornings he liked to believe the earth still had ears for those left below, as they had no one else.

Looking back into the building, branded ?Wehrmacht? above the only armored entrance, Ben carried his thin, tall frame back inside. ?What do I truly need?? The food he could carry, of course. God only knew whether he could make it or not. Scanning the blank, lifeless walls of the interior he moved to the shelf, making sure to pull down the book of the past and the book of words, along with many of the ones that were called novels (He did not think there was a book left inside he hadn?t read, but he believed some remained that he hadn?t re-read.) The maps provided by the past book were his only hope for discovering the location of the Hub, unless it had been thought to place signs.

He entered another room and emerged with a large, two-strapped bag, and another he imagined he could sling over his shoulder. He then rummaged through the fridge, trying to discover any amount of food that would not perish. ?Cans,? he suddenly thought to himself. ?In the books when they?re traveling they always eat out of cans and heat it up with fire,? These and water bottles nearly filled up the backpack entirely.

In fact, his memory of the novels almost worked as a checklist for Ben as he prepared that morning. Stuffing his packs as full as he could, he left room for one more thing. Diving back into the store room, he began to search for what his father long ago hid from him. After moving several crates he discovered it ? a long, steel device with a round opening on one and a large butt on the other. Next to it was a box of cylindrical shells the novels called ammunition. Ben had never fired it, but read a book in which a character with a gun was quite safe.

Walking outside, the morning had come in full. He stared east again at the unforgiving terrain and raised the gun to his shoulder.

Had anyone been in hearing distance, the crack of gunfire would have been heard for the first time in the area in a century. However, having no idea what kind of force a shotgun packed, Ben found himself flat on the ground facing the realization he would be walking with a very sore behind on the first leg of his journey.

Scooping up his bags, Ben slung them onto his body. The final piece of his outfit was the bucket hat that sat on the cooking range. It fit snuggly onto his head, and when walking outside his hair billowed out underneath like tattered black sails against the red-orange morning sky. He looked back at the footprints leaving home, and could only hope he would find another one in the former Moscow.
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"What the..." the worker said with his heavy looking helmet gittering from the light the crystals were giving off, but he did not have the pleasure of completing his statement. Due to huge metal crate full of many crystals the was heading t'wards him, maybe he was blinded by the light the crystals were giving off or maybe he was just...and idiot..

He tried to move out of the way but his pants were snaged to the railings,
i guess we can scratch the part about him being an idiot out i guess.

"Help! please! I'm stuck, Somone ple- ARGH!!!" he was cut off as someone tackled him to the ground barely missign getting hit.

"Uggh, OoooOooh. th..thanks Mr. Sinarst" The helmet wearing man said, then slightly shakeing his head to get some of the deep red hair out of his faced... that didnt belong to him..

The red head sat up now straddling the man.

"Mister..." The red-headed youth felt around the neck of the man beneth him until he pulled his miner's I.D and glanced at it. "Alserts, First of all Mister Sinarst is my father, call me Sin" He smiled then tried to put a stern face on
"Secondly, You should really pay more attention to you're surroundings and dress accordingly meeting the standers of the safety codes required by miners and all who work here" He said ... or rather recited.

"Sorry sir.. Err... Sin, It won't happen again"

Sin got off the worker and held out his hand, "Good, but you're going to have to go to the medic ward and chage into safety pants that are slightly shorter and more durable." he took it and got up dusting himself off....witch made no sense to Sin but he shruged it off.

"Right away, And thank you very much sir." Sin now standing at almost haft the miner's height at 5'7 and a smaller frame but slightly muscle toned.

"No prob, just be careful. We need this project done as soon as possible, can't affords casualties like these" Sin tiped his helmet let and few strands of hair out and winked. The Miner bid his farewell and head towards the elevator to the medic ward.

Sin sighed and relaxed his composer. It was toughbeing a leader it was extremly tough for one so young and still playful but he knew he had to obey his father wishes and tend to the mine for him while his father was in the capital district.
Yet it does not change that fact that this was a pretty big job for a 16 year old.

[I]But father has taugth me everything i know, and i should be proud to be apart of something so great [/I] He was right..... this was a great thing that was happening they found yet another crystal mine very deep too, it was going to help the human race very much somehow these weird crystals contained a sorce of almost unyelding energy. And now that they've found even more of the unlimiting seeming power sorce they could do so much more and insure safety and maybe have a fighting chace for life of this harsh planet. It was still being debated on how they came into being mabye from the intense pressure and added affects of the great smog.. No one was really sure but they were very happy.

[I]Yep I am glad to be apat of a gleming new hope to humanity[/I] Sin smiled at this.

"But i can't wait to get out of here when father gets back" he said outloud as a hand slightly rested on his shoulders

"Heh, thats why I'm here to take over until he gets back, you need a break buddy" Said an older man one of Sin's father's assistant...

"Oh.. Hi Sir" He smiled and laugh slightly "So you're back? i guess father is?"

"No, Sorry. he's still trying to fix things up there with the leaders, They're being very selfish about how to use the crystals and they want to keep it to themselve.You know your father won't have that, But hey you need to get out of this gloomy place. I heard there was a search team is due in for landing today, Think you might want to go check it out?"

At this news Sin's duel bright yellow and green eyes grew big with excitement
Sin had always likedthe ships they were so amazing and cool looking to him and he wish he could be part of the crew to find and save people it's what he loved doing, helping that is..

"Woah! Yeah I'll go and do that, I knew a few people that had gone there" He took his helmet off letting red wavy cascade down to his waist, Then gave the older guy the said helmet.

"And they promised me cool stuff they might find, well i'm off" Sin took off waving goodbye. He took the elevator up and made used of the pretty long ride by cleaning his self up a bit grabing some of hair wild hair just about above the back of his neck and wraped long green ribbon tightly around until the very bottom where he tied it in a little knot but still leaving a bit ofhair out reminding someone of a lions tail or whatever the picture books called the beast. The rest of his hair was shorter and went everywhere but it fell in place and look quite nice like it was done that way on purpose. He unziped his hoody and unknowingly dust off his pants out off habit and he was done. "Right on time" he mutterd and steped out the elevator and headed toward the Ship Port district. near the front gate of the city.
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[size=1]?You know, I don?t think that?s going to work.? Her tone was light and her expression was carefully schooled, but Judith knew the engineer before her could detect her faint amusement. Said engineer scowled appropriately at her, adjusting the goggles she wore, and retorted, ?Ye of little faith.?

Many loud noises followed, during which Judith took many steps back and made many faces as she covered her ears. One would think that the young woman would be used to her aunt?s relentless hacking and sawing and putting together of pieces, but she wasn?t. Still, she thought it useful to drop in occasionally and watch, knowing that it might one day make all the difference. Plus, the woman was family ? the only one left.

The resemblance wasn?t immediate; Judith had inherited more of her father?s looks than her mother?s. Whereas Judith had dark thick hair that would consent to being nothing but straight, Aunt Magdalene?s hair was amazingly red and ambitiously curly. Of course, nobody ever called her Magdalene; most knew her as Maggie. Judith knew her as Aunt Jez, thanks to her mother. The two had been twins, and due to their notorious namesakes (her mother had been christened Delilah at birth), they?d taken to calling each other Jezebel for fun whenever they were together. The pair had been quite a sight when her mother was still alive; to see them walking arm in arm was more than enough to turn a few heads. Judith sometimes walked with them, and she gave the impression of being a dark little sparrow flitting nearby.

But that was years ago. There were streaks of gray in Magdalene?s fiery hair, and not all of it was oil or grim. Little care lines had made their home around her mouth and eyes, but despite them her aunt still looked beautiful, and had just as many suitors as ever. Judith had none, but Magdalene had always told her it wasn?t for lack of looks. (?Maybe if you smiled once in a while??) She wasn?t as curvy as her aunt was, and not nearly as tall, and there was a small spray of freckles on either cheek that Judith assumed she?d also inherited from her father because the only thing that graced Aunt Jez?s cheeks were dimples. But they had the same eyes ? gray and piercing.

When it came to personality, Judith was told that she was more like her mother: quiet, clever, and terribly curious. She liked to know about things, liked to learn new skills and experience new things. One of those experiences had been her father, and because of him Judith also learned from her mother how to distrust people and to always keep them at arm?s length. It was an ugly scar Delilah had carried with her until her death, but it was one Judith wouldn?t soon forget, no matter how many different ways Aunt Jez tried to open her up.

Her aunt gave a shout of triumph now and turned the blowtorch off. Judith lowered her hands slowly from the sides of her head, eyebrows raised expectantly as Jez pushed her goggles up on her forehead. ?Well??

?It?s welded! Take that, you nonbeliever!?

Judith made her way back to the strange and twisted-looking object, walking around it slowly. Aunt Jez watched her, her hands resting proudly on her hips, and grinned cheerfully. ?Isn?t it a beauty??

?I don?t even know,? her niece said, as politely as one could, ?what the hell this is.?

?Oh come on.? The redhead began pointing at various parts of it while her other hand waved in the air excitedly as she named them off. ?That bit came from a scooter, look at the way the metal bends gently; that curly piece used to be a wind chime??

?Wait, isn?t that Mrs. Kincaid?s??

?Yes, I stole it, now hush; the fan and the part connected to it came from those Scavengers who came through about a week ago, thank goodness I got there so early; the chains and the belts I?ve had, of course, but only now do they actually prove themselves to be at all useful?.?

Judith rubbed her eyes, not knowing how childlike the gesture made her look, and asked tiredly, ?Are you making what I think you?re making??

?Well, I certainly hope so, otherwise I would have a halfwit for a niece.?

?But where are you going to get the fuel for it?? Judith asked. ?They?re cutting back rations as it is.?

Aunt Jez shrugged and removed her goggles completely, smoothing back some flyaway hairs from her face. Judith imagined the grease on her fingers would help to keep those unruly curls in place ? at least until she showered. ?I haven?t decided that I?ll keep it yet. The tank is sizeable; a Scavenger might like to use it. Or perhaps I can trade it later for something really neat.? She sounded a little bit like a kid at Christmas, and Judith felt a wave of love for her crazy aunt. The woman was always so cheerful, despite everything, and Judith loved her to death. The Hub might be the only place left to live on Earth, but that sure as hell didn?t make it easy.

The two women talked a little bit more about Jez?s latest invention, and then they parted ways. Her aunt was apparently going to meet a friend for lunch (?You might want to wash a bit,? Judith murmured dryly), and there was some kind of gathering later where she and other engineers would get together and discuss various theories. Judith kissed her aunt?s cleanest cheek, wished her luck with her ?friend? (whom she refused to name, which generally meant he was male and a little more than friendly), and set on her way.

The Hub was always busy, and today did not differ. She and her aunt lived a few blocks apart, but Judith didn?t mind walking. Invariably she would run into someone who knew her aunt and would politely spend a few minutes making small chat, and sometimes he or she wanted to feed her or introduce her to a nice boy he or she knew, but generally she would be on her way shortly after. Her slinky gray cat Viola would mew loudly in greeting when she got home and would more than likely proceed to trip her up for the rest of the night as she darted playfully around her feet. Judith might do some reading, or she might play the small stringed instrument she?d traded a neighbor for a few years earlier, or she might even go back out into her little city and try to be useful to someone somewhere. Oh, the possibilities.[/size]
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