Not Today, Never Tomorrow


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Scene Title Not Today, Never Tomorrow
Synopsis "I'll come back for you."
Date December 28, 2018

A storm has come.

Driving wind, stinging sleet, and thunder shrouds sight of the battle for the Pelago on the horizon. The bloom of explosions, fire, and tracer rounds streaking through the air has quelled. Among the civilian ships in the flotilla that stayed behind, many are willing to brave the inclement weather to watch the battle waged at such a great distance. Stephanie Winters and her son are not alone in that.

Aboard the deck of the Fairweather Friend she watches the horizon for signs of victory or, unthinkably, defeat. Nate remains bundled up in front of her, in his mother’s protective embrace with eyes focused on the dim glow of dawn ahead. Both are bundled in as many layers as they can, but the cold is still biting and oppressive. Still, they linger.

It has been eight minutes, according to Stef’s wristwatch, since the noise of fighting stopped. But still no word from the Pelago. Dawn may have come, but without word of victory, nothing is assured.

It is a worry she is not alone in.

The Civilian Fleet
Three Miles Outside the Pelago

December 28th
7:25 am

Losing the library should have been the biggest loss— but it wasn’t. There were still cats aboard the deck with them, most of them were curled up together in an attempt to stay warm, but such warmth was not easy to find in this dreary winter morning. They’d lost the library. They’d lost their home.

They’d lost Nicole. They’d lose how many more they did not know. The loss was not unknown to Stephanie. Nor was harsh winters. She had lost her brother. Her father. Her parents. She had lost Peter. The only thing she had left of the world she had built was wrapped in her arms, and in a single book wrapped in plastic that she had stashed. Would Sumi survive? Would Iris?

What would the library be with only the binding that had held the books together? A library with no walls, no books, no pages or ink.

Stef presses a kiss against the boy’s hair and then looks back out toward the now too quiet sea and waits. Because that’s all she can do.

There’s a crackle over the radio down toward the cabin. Not loud enough for Stef to hear, but the whoop of excitement that comes from inside the cabin is far louder. It is short-lived though, and the silence is palpable in the aftermath. Over the sound of the surf Stef can hear some sort of clunk or thunk come from the small sailboat’s cabin.

Nate twists in Stef’s arms, looking around and behind her at the noise rather than the dawn horizon. “Mom?” Nate says, and his tone immediately sends the hair on the back of Stef’s neck on end.

When she turns to see what her son sees, the first thing in Stef’s field of view is an unfamiliar man in a black divine suit standing on the deck of the ship with a blood-covered knife. He sweeps a hand over his head, pulling down the hood of his suit, letting wet black hair spill out.

Behind him, there is a trail of bloody footprints going to the cabin.


For a brief moment, there’s a hint of relief on Stef’s breath. A smile that wants to form against her son’s hair. It’s short-lived. Like so many things in this world had been. Faded before they even had a chance to see the sun. The sight of the man coming near them trailing blood behind drops a rock into the pit of her throat. “Nate— You need to fly. You need to— ”

Nate was too much like his father. Nate was too much like her.

She knew this. She couldn’t tell him just to leave, to run. She had to tell him to do something, to give him hope, a chance to come back and help. To do something—

“Go get help. Hurry.” She unwraps him from the blanket and tries to give him a push, keeping some of the blankets— for a weapon. For a shield. For something. Those within the cabin hadn’t been able to buy any time, what could Stef do? The same thing any mom would do, really. Buy some time with the only thing she had.

Mom,” Nate doesn’t want to run, he understands the danger, trembles in fear of it. “Mom I—” and Feng Daiyu strikes like a serpent against the rabbit’s hesitation. Stef is able to get between the Sentinel and her son, using the heavy blanket to take the blow of the knife. She twists it, just like she’d been showed how to do, wraps it around Feng’s arm and pulls, stripping the knife from his hand at the cost of losing the blanket.

Mom!” Nate screams as Feng doesn’t relent, closing in to grab Stef by her hair and swing her around onto the deck of the ship. She falls backwards, slides across the icy surface and winds up next to the blanket Feng’s knife is tangled in. Feng, forgetting Stef for the moment, turns back to Nate.

There’s almost no time to actually feel the pain of the impact. It’s there, Stef knows it, but the fear overwhelms her. The adrenaline pulsing through her drowns out almost everything except what is most important. Her son’s voice, calling out for her. The sound of the knife clattering under the rough blanket, the feel of the ship deck. The sound of the man’s movement.

And the fact he’s focused on his target. A young boy— rather than a powerless woman sprawled on the deck nearby. A woman who was gasping for breath, reaching, pushing, trying to get back to her feet.

“Leave him alone,” she rasps out, as she finds herself standing once again, one arm dangling as if useless, fingers clenched. “He’s only a child.”

“The children must die as well,” Feng says as he begins a ceaseless advance toward Stef, “for the safety of the world.” A wave strikes the ship, sending a sea spray across the deck and over Feng. But the assassin of the Sentinel, even in the face of his organization’s defeat, is undeterred. Feng closes the distance to Stef and then breaks into a sudden burst of movement, snatching her by the front of her shirt before striking her across the face with the side of his hand.

Mom!” Nate screams, and as Feng whirls Stef around so her back is to his chest, he locks his arm around her throat in a choking vice and fixes his stare on Nate.

“Come here,” Feng says to Nate, holding out his free hand as Stef chokes and gags, feeling the pressure around her neck. “Come here and I’ll let her go.” He lies, trying to lure the flying child into his reach.

For a moment, Stef makes a sound that seems like something a surprised and helpless woman might make, someone powerless, someone untrained. The library had a few fighters in its halls, but the Librarian Winters had not been one of them. She had relied on the head of security, the other librarians who all had abilities, and even the army of cats that roamed the halls led by two cats who seemed too intelligent for their own good…

But Nicole Nicols had insisted Stephanie Winters know how to defend herself.

With a sudden shift of her arm, the knife she had hidden in her grasp moves and comes down quickly, sharply, firmly— onto Feng’s side. Nicole had always said, the best places to stab were the neck, the kidneys, and the inside of the thigh. Under the arm was also a good place, if possible. The kidneys were the closest to her stabbing range— but she didn’t have the best angle. The back was more efficient.

But it might slow him down. She just needed to keep the knife. And keep stabbing.

Until her son could get away.

Feng is surprised by the sudden return of his knife—several times—into his right flank. By the time he’s realizes what’s happening his right boot is slipping on the deck in his own blood. Nate flies away, some fifteen feet, hovering off the side of the ship, crying for help. But he won’t leave her.

He won’t.

Stef realizes this the moment Feng turns a chokehold into a shoulder throw, turning against the pain to flip Stef onto her back with a resounding clang of the deck beneath her. He drops a knee on her shoulder, grabs her wrist and with a twist breaks it, eliciting an involuntary scream. Feng turns the knife around and drive it down

square into the center of Stef’s chest.

Mom!” Nate howls, flying forward at Feng who is too slow to react, knocked off of Stef by the child. Feng grabs at Nate by the throat, swings him around and smashes the boy against the cabin of the ship, knocking him out of the air and to the ground. Something tore in Feng’s side in that motion, and he can feel the steady, warm flow of blood down his side and into his pant leg. He wobbles, then drops to a knee holding his side.

Stef’s world comes in flickering stops and starts, appearing and disappearing from one moment to the next, tunneling down. The blinding white-hot pain in the center of her chest quickly turns to a cold, piercing ache. She can see the handle of the knife sticking out between her ribs. Her arms feel heavy, breathing hurts.

It’s cold.

She’s tired.

Feng gasps, looks at his bloody hand, then up to Nate who groans something incoherent from the ground. Reaching down to his boot, Feng slides out a second knife.

Never pull out a sharp object that’s still in a wound. It could cause more damage and it might be the only thing keeping the blood in. Nicole had always made sure to educate everyone in important things, to know how to survive. The woman had taken better care of everyone else than she had herself…

Some part of Stef was aware of what was happening, but at the same time, all that she could think about was that boy— The one she couldn’t lose. Not after everything—

A hand grasped out toward the man struggling next to her, grasping for clothes, for skin, for anything, to hold onto him, to keep him close, to distract him. She tries to speak out again, but all that she manages is a small gasp that sends blood trickling down the corner of her mouth.

She can’t let him have her son. Not her son. Not him.

The other hand grasps at the hilt of the knife— the one buried in her own chest.

Feng doesn’t see. Instead, he finishes sliding that knife out of his boot and lurches toward Nate. “Ssh,” he whispers, “easy. It’s okay. Lěngjìng de.” Nimble fingers spin the knife around into a forward grip.

Nate rolls onto his side, then tries to push himself up to sit, but his head is spinning. The boy looks up to see Feng’s darkly-dressed form looming over him, silhouette by dawn’s light at his back, knife in hand and favoring his side he was stabbed in.

“Relax,” Feng says to him, “it only hurts for a second.”

There was probably something witty that Stef would have liked to say in another life right about now— but the most that he’ll get is the sound of a stumble behind him, a gasping cough, and then a sharp pain in the side of his neck. That was the wound that she had wanted originally. The one that she had been told was the best— one of the fastest, and the most efficient. Deep, hard, and fast. Like the one cut that was required to kill a goat quickly before it had a chance to feel it. Before it could even scream.

The library had had goats once. Before they had set up trade routes.

The blood flowed freely from her chest now, darkening the front of her body, pooling at the floor around her, but she had known the moment her hand had touched the handle. And some things were more important.

Feng and Stef collapse to the ground together. He under the shock of the wound to his neck, she as the feeling in her extremities dies. Feng rolls onto his side, mouth gaping open and closed like a fish hauled up onto a ship deck. He chokes and gags, and the blood pulsing out of the open wound flows like a river.

Stef knows Nate is screaming, but his voice feels muffled. The knife lays unclaimed between she and Feng Daiyu, their blood commingling on the deck. Her vision tunnels fast and the pain she was only starting to feel is already turning to an icy, numb chill. Stef sees her son come landing at her side, hands pawing at her chest, trying to hold the blood in. It slips between his fingers like sand through an hourglass.

Stef’s eyes shut, darkness consumes her. For a moment there is nothing, but a spike of awareness and panic forces her eyes open again. She sees Nate leaning over her, she knows he’s screaming but she can’t hear him. But in that blurry, tunneled vision, she sees that they’re not alone.

Behind Nate she sees his father. She sees Peter.

But it’s not.


Nate turns to see the blue-eyed silhouette of Kazimir Volken looming over him with the light of dawn glowing at his back. He does not recognize the face of his father, he was born after Peter died.

Kazimir is slow to move on Stef, approaching her like one might a wounded animal. His eyes are wide, mixed with fear and apprehension. But also, perplexingly, love. Searching Stef’s face, Kazimir slowly settles onto one knee and looks past her. She doesn’t have the energy to turn, to follow his line of sight, but she knows he’s looking at Feng.

Nate is silent, still, and wide-eyed in Stef’s peripheral vision. Kazimir says something to the boy, and Nate takes a step back. Not out of fear, but compliance. Then, gently, Kazimir pulls off one black, leather glove and looks down to Stef.

“I’ll come back for you.” Peter says, cupping Stef’s cheek in one hand.

Kazimir rests a hand on her cheek, and it hurts. It aches with a blinding hot pain she never knew in life.

“I promise.”

But the pain Stef feels isn’t one of death, but horrifyingly, one of life. Kazimir’s brows furrow together, his jaw clenches, and his eyes wrench shut. She feels the bone-deep agony of his ability, and in that same moment feels his conflicted feelings, his compassion, and Peter’s love as if in that instant she and Peter were somehow linked.

“Save this,” Peter says, pressing a ring into Stef’s palm and curling her fingers around it. “For another time.”

Stef’s back archer, her fingers curl, and she feels a sudden desperation for life. Kazimir’s face wrinkles, his hair begins to shift to a shock white color, flesh separates like old tissue paper and crumbles like fine ash. Stef’s hand involuntarily comes up to his wrist, an involuntary hunger joined with a primal scream.

“There’ll be a time for us…” Peter says with a sad smile, brushing his thumb over her cheek.

Kazimir’s skin around his mouth rots away like a centuries-old mummy, turning to ash and soot to reveal grayed teeth and porous bone. He struggles, gasping for breath and exhaling a lungful of blackened smoke. His mandible falls from his jaw, shatters like powder on the deck of the ship. The blue of his eyes flickers and turns to Peter’s brown.

“But not today.”

Stef’s eyes wrench shut, then open a pale blue.

And never tomorrow.

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