The Miranda Contract
trip to the Grampians, far to the west of the state. Dan was used to being alone with his grandfather, but he wasn’t accustomed to the presence of other kids, especially the ones his grandfather had assembled.
    Bree was three years older than him, and at fifteen she seemed to have left childhood behind and looked at the world with knowing eyes. Dan thought maybe he was a little in love with her. The other two were older still. Halo was the eldest at sixteen and brimming with anger; while the quiet, wide-eyed Lily was somewhere in between. They’d never met before, although Dan knew that Lily was family in a way, being sort of cousins despite her being Chinese and him being Russian.
    “Is this a bomb shelter?” Halo asked, arms crossed as he stood at the top of the stairs leading down into the basement. Lily, Bree and Dan had wandered down with the old man but Halo hadn’t left the filtered sunlight coming in the windows from upstairs. Dan looked up and noticed the way the light formed around his head, casting his features into darkness but brightening the edges.
    “Of a sort, yes,” the old man said. “A shelter for bombs.”
    He coughed a little and waved away motes of dust. After a few more waves of his hands, the lights in the basement suddenly burst into life, flickering a little before burning at full intensity. Dan felt the wave of energy coming from his grandfather and it washed over him like a warm breeze, tingling his skin.
    “And then there was light,” Bree muttered as she dropped her bag to the floor. “Are you coming down or are you just going to hover up there?”
    Halo leaned against the door, keeping it open, but said nothing. He hadn’t spoken at all on the trip from Melbourne.
    “This isn’t my idea of a holiday either, you know?” Bree continued, although she didn’t look up at him, instead concentrating on the benches and cabinets set up in neat rows like a museum. “My guardians didn’t give me a choice.”
    “None had choice,” the man said. “This is no holiday. Each of you is here for training.”
    Dan sat on a high stool at a bench and leaned his head on folded arms. He watched Lily reach out to touch a glass cylinder containing a skeleton of some small, slender creature. All around them were remnants of strange collections. Lily’s fingers stopped before they touched the surface but Dan could see the glass frost suddenly, blossoming outward from where the girl’s fingers hesitated. Their eyes met and she quickly dropped her hands, thrusting them into her jeans, and turned away to look listlessly at more dust.
    “What kind of training?” Halo asked, stepping down two of the steps. Dan lifted his head and watched the Pakistani kid come closer. His head was shaven and he wore a tank top which accentuated the hardness of his toned body. Dan felt like a minnow next to Halo.
    “For our powers obviously,” Bree jumped in, suddenly surrounded by a mistral whirlwind of dust. She weaved her hand, index finger extended, around her body and the dust trailed after it. In the light of the basement it looked spectacular. With her captivated audience following the dust trail, Bree wiggled her finger a final time and the dust concentrated in on itself until it formed a dark solid ball, the size of a marble. She opened her palm under the dust ball and it dropped innocently into her hand.
    The man clapped his hands three times, clearly proud of the moment.
    “You are gods,” he said with a wide open smile. He pressed the hair back down on his head and nodded to himself. “You are the small gods, walking amongst us.”
    “We’re not gods,” Halo said. “We’re monsters.”
    The man took in a breath at the words, as if he recalled them from an earlier time. He looked up at Halo and his face was reflective of the boy’s pain. Dan turned away, resting his cheek on his arms which lay on the bench. He could see a console to his left, small red lights lit up in a row. There was a hum from

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