by Jill Marcotte



“Anything to trigger,” she whispered to herself, crouching deeper back in the shadows as the guard drew nearer. “Anything.” She waited until he paced his predictable steps right in front of her, not even realizing she was there, and then sprang out, tackling him at the knees.


The pavement had been particularly gritty that morning, the ashes of the nearby factories belched out into the sky only to settle down into the cracks, the pores, the lungs below. Marya could hardly bear it some days. And so she had gone to see Grist.

He had leered at her, grinning crookedly, and apologized heartlessly, “I’m sorry, sweetheart. You just can’t afford it.”

“I can,” she had insisted grimly.

“No, doll, you can’t. Magic Pens ain’t cheap.”

“Give me a job.”

His smile widened, twenty-seven crooked teeth.

“Any job. Anything to pay for the shot. Anything to trigger.”

“Alright, alright,” he chuckled. He pointed to her gloved hands and said, “Show me what you can do and we’ll talk.”


They tumbled to the ground together, most of the impact passing through his armored hip and into her cheek. She scrambled back to her feet, boots skittering in the gravel, and kicked him across the face as he labored upright. He fell over backwards, hands going to his broken face, and she leapt onto his chest, reaching for his exposed neck.


“I can’t let you do this,” Cobb had insisted quietly, his hands balled at his sides.

“You can’t stop me,” she had told him flatly, painting her nails steel gray. She had kept her eyes on her fingers. Brush, brush, building up the metal paint. “I’ve developed enough,” she had continued, still painting the nails out longer and longer. “All I need now is the trigger. And then everything-”

He had sighed impatiently, knuckles clenched white. “Marya-”

“Don’t.” She had held up her fingernails, examining their length. Then she had taken up the file and started to sharpen them.


Her claws slashed at the exposed flesh of his neck, tearing open long scarlet lines. He cried out and the lines erupted into welted rashes, their borders racing across his skin. He reached for his throat and then his back arched, his mouth opening silently.

Marya surged to her feet again, ripping the access badge off his arm, and darted for the door. Panting, she pressed the card against the pad with bloodied fingers, and the door opened with a hiss. She swallowed, hesitating, and then darted down the darkened hallway.


“Alright, listen up, kid. This is everything you’re gonna need to get you in the door and up to the lab. After that, you’re on your own, got it? No onions in there.”

She had nodded silently, greedily staring at the bag that represented her future.

“You be careful with that stuff, alright? I want it in one piece or the deal’s off. No sniffin’ around, either. One piece.” He had helped her ease the strap over her slim shoulders, adjusting it so she could reach everything and then clipping it in place over her hips. Her fingers had brushed his and he had jerked back angrily, spitting, “Watch the nails!” She had glared up at him for just a bare moment, hungry dark eyes in a pale face. He couldn’t help but smile a little at the predatory glint as she had looked away again. Oozing gutter charm once more, he had leaned close, brushing her hair back behind her ear, and whispered, “Remember me when you’re living uptown, alright, sweetheart?”

She had turned away wordlessly.


Marya sprinted to the far end of the narrow building and then climbed stairs: one, two, three flights, her damaged lungs burning in her chest. She paused briefly at the top landing, peering out into the empty hall. She glanced down at a note scrawled on her hand and jogged down the hall, silently counting off the numbers on doors, gasping like a woman thrice her age, until she found the proper one. She tried the card, but it turned red, denying her entry. She dropped it and took a step back, eyes scanning the door. She took the knob in her fingers, driving her nails into the metal, but the toxins did nothing. Swearing, she stepped back again, digging into her bag. She pulled out a box of onion bombs and opened it, glancing up at the door. She lifted out the smallest of the onions. She carefully held the sticky little bulb up to the base of the knob, letting its roots take hold, and then yanked out the top and ran.

There was a loud pop, and the knob spiraled wildly through the air, immediately followed by a jarring alarm that bathed the halls in a brilliant, flashing red light. Still clutching the box, she rammed her shoulder against the stooped door, spilling into the room. She ran back to the far door, vaulted over a couch and tripped on a potted plant. Rolling to her feet, she slammed into the door and jammed a fat onion against the knob, immediately diving behind the couch again.

The boom rocked the air, rattling her thoughts, and she staggered upright, stumbling toward the twisted door that now hung loosely off its hinges. She shoved her way through, searing her hands and hardly caring.

The lab was a riot of red lights and smoke, a screeching siren bisecting her thoughts. She looked back down at the note on her hand, straining to see it in the flashing darkness. 8869057-006. She scanned rows of files, desperately searching, getting closer. She yanked on the drawer, but it held fast, refusing to do more than rattle. She sobbed briefly as she heard yelling outside the building. She didn’t dare use another onion bomb; Grist would kill her. That only left one choice.

She pulled her sleeve up, grimacing at the crisscross lattice of scars. She grit her teeth, brandishing her augmented fingernails, and tore her own wrist open.


Marya’s mother had been the first to realize, but she had kept the secret close. The poor little gutter snipe wasn’t nearly old enough to defend herself, and underdeveloped powers were a hot commodity in the gritty downtown underworld, even if they were housed in tiny bodies. So she hid her.

The tiniest cuts had been matters of grave importance. Every edge in the apartment had been blunted. She didn’t keep so much as a sewing needle lying around. Marya hadn’t even realized herself what she was for years. Hidden away, how could she have known? When her mother had finally told her, she was too closely sheltered to understand the significance of it. So she had told her friend. Who had told her father. Who had killed Marya’s mother and kidnapped her.


Hot blood spilled over her white skin, hissing as it hit the floor. She pressed her arm against the lock on the drawer, watching impatiently as the metal frothed and boiled. She kicked in the front of the drawer and wrenched the rest out. Hundreds of boxes were nestled in neat stacks before her. She found three labeled 006 and stuffed them in her bag, staggering for the window. She ripped the laceration wider, pouring blood over the sill, then kicked out the metal frame and leapt as the first of the police came into the smoky room.


She didn’t bear the man any grudges. She had killed him, of course, but not as more than a matter of survival. That’s the way things were in the slums. Now, uptown…that was the veritable fairy land she sought. Her mother used to tell her bedtime stories about it, a place where the special people lived, where the snow was white and the air was sweet. A place where there was work, and pay, and food, for those lucky, talented ones. That was where she could go after she was triggered. If she could only stay free that long….


Cobb found her a few blocks away, treed like a cat on a second story window sill, police cruisers sliding up and down the midnight streets. He helped her down, the poor, light-headed little criminal, and then hoisted her onto his back and carried her. Weary, she whispered, “Thanks, Cobb. Soon I won’t have to do this anymore.”

He sighed. He hated when she talked about triggering. Something rattled in her bag and he asked, “What is it?”

“Dunno. A box.”

“It’s open.”


“It came loose. It’s open.”

What?” She kicked and he put her down. She ripped the bag open, breathing sharply through a tight throat. “No, no, no….” She lifted out a partially eroded box, its edge bloodstained and pockmarked. Something fell out of the hole, clattering to the pavement, and she choked on a sob and thought she might faint.

Cobb froze, staring. “What is that?”

She looked down at the thing on the pavement, a long, slim tube. “No,” she whispered, shocked beyond tears. “No way.”

He snatched it up, demanding, “How many are there?”

“Three boxes.”

He read the label on the bottom, just to be sure. 8869057-006b Deus Factorem. He sat, thunderstruck. “You-you just stole three boxes of Magic Pens.”

She stared at the box for just a moment and then tore her jacket off, commanding, “Open it!”

He shook his head. “I don’t know how it works!”

“You just inject it!”

“Marya, I-”

“Do it!” she screamed.

A door slammed and they both looked up, startled. Two uniforms were walking toward them, their faces obscured and inhuman.

Marya grabbed Cobb’s arm, pulling him closer, and he cried out. She looked down, seeing the fine red lines her fingernails had left in his bare arm. She stared. “Cobb!”

He gasped and stumbled, sinking backward. He dropped the vial, and she snatched it up, leaning over him. “Cobb!” His eyes went wide, his muscles contorted.

Marya felt a hand on her shoulder, authoritative and cold. “Miss? It’s after curfew. What are-”

She turned, slashing at his arm, and he jumped away as she crushed the glass in her fingers. She felt the glass bite into her skin and looked down again. Eyes on Cobb, she pressed the needle into her scarred arm, emptying the trigger into her toxic veins. She felt hands clamping on her shoulders and smiled mirthlessly.

The police didn’t matter now, nor Grist, nor anything in these hideous slums that had witnessed both her birth and her exaltation. She felt white hot divinity burning through her and whispered sadly to Cobb, “Anything to trigger.”


Jill Marcotte is a freelance writer and editor from Fairbanks Alaska.  She teaches writing to high school students throughout the state, and participates in writing groups locally and internationally.  She likes to explore many different genres of many different lengths, but her heart belongs to fantasy.


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