Hearts of Stone

by Emma Newman

by Emma Newman

St Alban’s, England, September 2005

Stories From The Great War?” Captain Flint picked up one of the books piled on the sofa, opened it to find the library label, and then flipped through the pages. What made you choose this?

Kerry turned to look at him. He stood in the middle of the living room, a stone giant who made everything else around him seem tiny and flimsy. His eyes glowed red from deep in the sockets, and from the slight tilt of his head she deduced that he was puzzled.

She nudged the fridge shut with her backside and shrugged. “It looked interesting.” She didn’t tell him that she’d spotted it at the library when she was hunting for another book to feed her schlock thriller habit and had grabbed it in the hope of finding some morsel in its pages with which to impress him.

Flint dropped the book down on the sofa and opened the French doors out onto the small patio. There was a stone bench by the fish pond that he preferred to sit on when the weather was good and it was a fine autumn day.

“It made me think about what the men must have felt like, when they went into battle,” she said, following him out with her drink.

Flint sat on the bench with a dull thud and rested his elbows on his knees, the closest he ever came to appearing relaxed. She sat on the grass next to him, her head level with his knees, and put her glass next to the pond. He stared down at the koi turning in their slow circles. “A lot of fear before each push, and a lot of boredom in between, I imagine.”

She wondered how much of that was based on his own experience of combat. She wanted to ask him what it was like, how he’d coped, whether he’d ever been scared. But she had to pick her moments with Flint, and she had the sense that this wasn’t the time. He usually visited every couple of weeks, work permitting, and it had only been six days since his last visit.

You had a psych evaluation a few days ago,” he began, and her stomach sank into the grass. I received the report.Kerry chewed her lip and pulled a lock of her curly black hair from her ponytail  to twist it around her fingers. She too looked down at the koi, nervous about what he was going to say. She hadn’t liked that evaluation. It was only because Flint had ordered it that she actually stuck it out.

“She was very impressed with you.”

Her head snapped up. “She was?”

“You’ve had a lot to adjust to. And as she points out in the report, there aren’t many eighteen-year-olds who have lived alone for several years and adapted so well considering the . . . challenges you have.”

Kerry plucked a strand of grass and tore it down the middle. She had tried, very hard, to play down all the negatives. She’d shut down any discussion of what had happened with her parents. She resented even being made to think about it and for days afterward had been left with a grim emotional hangover that only miles of running and a lot of trashy movies had been able to lift.

She looked up at Flint, whose glowing eyes were now focused on her. “Well, I had a lot of help, didn’t I? There are lots of people who’ve been through a lot worse and didn’t have you to look after them.”

“Kerry . . .”

“No, I’m serious. You gave me a safe place to live.” She waved a hand at the cottage. Yes, it was a mile away from the edge of St. Albans, which had to be one of the most boring towns in England, but it was safe and secluded, and when the briefest touch could turn any living thing to granite, that was a definite advantage. “You gave me an education, and personal trainers, and . . . and you never used me.”

He looked away from her then, up at the sky, leaning back and breaking the moment of connection. “I think you credit me too much,” he finally said. “I facilitated these things, using resources awarded to me by my position.”

“Yeah, but you could’ve done it differently. What I’m trying to say is . . .”

And then all words left her, replaced by a chaotic tumble of images, memories, snippets of days she’d worked so hard to put behind her. The first time she’d met Flint and how terrifying he was. The sight of her parents as the granite statues she’d made them into broke their bed under their weight. Waking in the cupboard beneath the stairs after her father had knocked her out, the surge of despair and physical pain in her chest when she realised that they’d used her to murder people and disguised it as art.

The breath in her lungs burned and she squeezed her eyes shut and grabbed handfuls of grass and forced herself to be where she was now. She listened to the birds and the buzzing bugs and felt the breeze in her hair and the sunlight on her face. She was safe. She was at home, and she was with Flint, and he had made sure nothing bad happened to her since the day they met. He’d only asked to see her ability once, just so he could understand. When the fox with its mangled leg was turned to stone and its suffering ended, she’d sobbed. He’d gathered her into his arms and held her. For the first time since her card had turned, she had felt safe.

“What I’m trying to say is thank you.”

Flint looked back down at her and then rested his stone hand on her head and smiled. Even though he was being as gentle as he was able to be, being made out of flint meant he was still heavy and sharp in places. She knew there would probably be a few severed locks when she  freed the chaotic mass of curls  from the ponytail. She didn’t care though.

So,” he said as he stood, in a tone that marked the end of that conversation and the beginning of a new, less emotional one. Now that you’ve had your exam results and I’ve seen the report, I want to know what you want to do next.”

“You know that. I want to join the Silver Helix.”

“It’s dangerous.”

“Well, so am I.”

“This isn’t something to be flippant about.”

“I’m not! I’ve thought about this. A lot.”

He slowly paced to the middle of the lawn, leaving crushed grass and imprints in his wake. “You’re bright . . . there are all sorts of opportunities in data analysis and—”

Continue reading at Tor.com



"Original Fiction from Tor.com"