Another photograph. The envelope for this one was taped to the door of the suite Bataav and I share on Astral V-5.

It’s a close-up, zoomed in again from the last photo. But this one is clear as crystal. It shows, in perfect, alarming detail…

There’s a date on the image, the kind automatically stamped on when the shot was taken. January 15, YC114. The day my mother died.

The evening, rather. The photo shows it was evening by the color of the waning daylight cast upon the deck. By the purple-blue hue of the sky, just visible in one corner. By the stray firefly, perhaps the first to come out for the night, hovering over the hanging flower basket in the background.

It was evening…because my mother was sitting on the deck at the back of my home on January 15, just like in this photo, to watch the fireflies come out. She had a blanket over her legs even though it was still summer and hot outside…she often had chills.

But I never imagined her face would look…like…that. An essay of terror.

Bataav took the photo away from me. His people found a thumb print on it, placed over my mother’s soundlessly screaming face. This is the sender’s calling card, his message to me.

Of course I know now who the sender must be but I was still sick when Bataav confirmed it. After months of searching databases, to have a record suddenly turn up for Darac Rin (and then quietly vanish some hours after the query was made) was deliberate; he’s playing games with me, telling us that soon he’ll be coming for me like he did for Mom…

Bataav has been very quiet and still, even more so than the way he was when Darac assaulted me at the holoreel convention. I slept for a while to calm my nerves and when I woke I thought he had gone, but he’d been sitting in the corner of our bedroom the entire time, watching over me. I didn’t notice him at all until he finally spoke and startled me nearly into my next incarnation.

All he said to me was, “It’s time to take the fight to him. I will train you.”