The Last Smile in Sunder City (The Fetch Phillips Archives #1) - Luke Arnold Page 0,1

the darkness and highlighted a smooth, white screen. Particles of dust swirled above a hundred hushed kids who whispered to each other from their seats on the floor. I slid up to the back, leaned against the wall and waited for whatever was to come.

A girl squealed. Some boys laughed. Then a mousy man with white hair and large spectacles moved into the light.

“Settle down, please. The presentation is about to begin.”

I recognized his voice from the phone call.

“Yes, Mr Burbage,” the children sang out in unison. The Principal approached the projector and the spotlight cut hard lines into his face. Students stirred with excitement as he unboxed a reel of film and loaded it on to the sprocket. The speakers crackled and an over-articulated voice rang out.

“The Opus is proud to present…”

I choked on my breath mid-inhalation. The Opus were my old employers and we didn’t part company on the friendliest of terms. If this is what Burbage wanted me to see, then he must have known some of my story. I didn’t like that at all.

“… My Body and Me: Growing Up After the Coda.”

I started to fidget, pulling at a loose thread on my sleeve. The voice-over switched to a male announcer who spoke with that fake, friendly tone I associate with salesmen, con-artists and crooked cops.

“Hello, everyone! We’re here to talk about your body. Now, don’t get uncomfortable, your body is something truly special and it’s important that you know why.”

One of the kids groaned, hoping for a laugh but not finding it. I wasn’t the only one feeling nervous.

“Everyone’s body is different, and that’s fine. Being different means being special, and we are all special in our own unique way.”

Two cartoon children came up on the screen: a boy and a girl. They waved to the kids in the audience like they were old friends.

“You might have something on your body that your friends don’t have. Or maybe they have something you don’t. These differences can be confusing if you don’t understand where they came from.”

The little cartoon characters played along with the voice-over, shrugging in confusion as question marks appeared above their heads. Then they started to transform.

“Maybe your friend has pointy teeth.”

The girl character opened her mouth to reveal sharp fangs.

“Maybe you have stumps on the top of your back.”

The animated boy turned around to present two lumps, emerging from his shoulder blades.

“You could be covered in beautiful brown fur or have more eyes than your classmates. Do you have shiny skin? Great long legs? Maybe even a tail? Whatever you are, whoever you are, you are special. And you are like this for a reason.”

The image changed to a landscape: mountains, rivers and plains, all painted in the style of an innocent picture book. Even though the movie made a great effort to hide it, I knew damn well that this story wasn’t a happy one.

“Since the beginning of time, our world has gained its power from a natural energy that we call magic. Magic was part of almost every creature that walked the lands. Wizards could use it to perform spells. Dragons and Gryphons flew through the air. Elves stayed young and beautiful for centuries. Every creature was in tune with the spirit of the world and it made them different. Special. Magical.

“But six years ago, maybe before some of you were even born, there was an incident.”

The thread came loose on my sleeve as I pulled too hard. I wrapped it tight around my finger.

“One species was not connected to the magic of the planet: the Humans. They were envious of the power they saw around them, so they tried to change things.”

A familiar pain stabbed the left side of my chest, so I reached into my jacket for my medicine: a packet of Clayfield Heavies. Clayfields are a mass-produced version of a painkiller that people in these parts have used for centuries. Essentially, they’re pieces of bark from a recus tree, trimmed to the size of a toothpick. I slid one thin twig between my teeth and bit down as the film rolled on.

“To remedy their natural inferiority, the Humans made machines. They invented a wide variety of weapons, tools and strange devices, but it wasn’t enough. They knew their machines would never be as powerful as the magical creatures around them.

“Then, the Humans heard a legend that told of a sacred mountain where the magical river inside the planet rose up to meet the surface; a doorway that