alex's archive
About Me
Image by @pepperjackets.

My name’s Alex Whalen and I play a lot of tabletop roleplaying games. I’m also a writer, so I end up going overboard on backstory to the point of writing actual stories. Now I’m sticking them here.


Total Word Count: 214,804
Total Stories: 47
Shortest Story: 537 words
Longest Story: 19,173 words
Average: 4,570 words


Changing of the Guard 5 MINUTE READ

Two cheers went up as Najma entered her room. Ahmad sat at her small desk and Mohsen sprawled across her bed, both wearing wide smiles. Mohsen had a bottle of sparkling juice. As she closed the door behind her he shook it and popped the cork. Najma ducked. It put a dent in the dry wall where her head had been.

“Mohsen!” she hissed. “I will skin you!”

“Sorry, sorry!” Mohsen said, but he was laughing as foam poured over his hands. “We just wanted to celebrate!”

“The security staff on level thirty-six were indiscreet,” Ahmad explained. “Shahab heard as he geared up for his mission and he texted us. Congratulations on assuming command of Epsilon-7!”

Mohsen laughed and fumbled for cups. Ahmad held his hand up in a mock salute. Najma said nothing. She sat on the end of her bed and began to unlace her boots. Mohsen’s grin faded and Ahmad’s teeth clicked together as he swallowed whatever he had been about to follow up with and watched her.

“Did your leader die?” Mohsen asked, exhibiting his usual degree of tact. Najma slipped her small foot out of her left boot and started on the other.

“No,” she said. “He lives.”

Mohsen looked to Ahmad in confusion. He studied their sister. Her carefully applied eye makeup had become dark smudges. Her hijab flapped where she had, at some point, lost a pin. Her clothes were disheveled and blood licked up from the ends of her sleeves.

Hamshira, what has happened?” Ahmad asked.

Najma laced her fingers together between her knees and studied the pattern they made. She listened to Mohsen set the cups aside and get off the bed. He made himself busy looking for the cork to close his bottle. Ahmad took his place. A gentle touch to the back of her neck encouraged her to lean her head forward and let him unwind her hijab.

“Do you remember…” she began as he worked, but trailed off. She cleared her throat. “Have you been made to watch the ones they keep here, the ones who look like people?”

Mohsen muttered something vicious under his breath in Dari. Ahmad squeezed her shoulder.

“There is one who cries black sludge,” he said. “We watch it sometimes on rotation with the trainees.”

“And another, who can multiply,” Mohsen added. He stood up with the cork and worked it back into the neck of the bottle. “An unrepentant criminal.”

Najma’s hair fell forward around her face, lank from sweat, as she nodded. She paused a moment before she asked, “Do you think they are human?”

“No! Ya Rab!” Mohsen spat.

“I don't,” Ahmad said as he folded her scarf and set it aside. “But I suppose your team does, if you are asking at all.”

“Why do you suppose that?” Najma asked. Ahmad snorted.

“Were we not kneeling side-by-side in Shemiran when the Ambassador from House Afseneh was ‘accommodated’?” he asked. “You know better than to doubt after infiltrating ORIA. The only reason you would ask is if others posed the question in a way you could not ignore.”

“A man died today because they would not see their equipment harmed,” Najma whispered. “A D-Class, but still. They acted only when the chance to save him had passed. The creature crushed his skull and they screamed at me when I neutralized it.”

La hawla wala quwata illa billah,” Mohsen mumbled, not putting much feeling into the short prayer for the dead. “So someone died, and because you were the only one to act rationally, you were put in charge of these people?”

Najma produced a thin smile and spread her hands in a mockery of their earlier excitement. “Congratulations to me.”

“I know we wished you more than a coffee run,” Ahmad said, “but I don’t think we wished you this.”

“Agent Wazir should be doing this,” she whispered as she let her head sink into her hands. “Or Yusufzai. Any of the people who trained us. Not me.”

“None of them are here. You are who they have,” Ahmad said, reaching out to rub her back, “and apparently best-suited.”

Najma laughed. “I will lead people many years older than me, knowing they will not actually follow. I breathe in their resentment everywhere I go. My job now amounts to holding a gun on all of them and praying they will do the work we need to do.”

“This place…” Ahmad murmured. “I hear too much talk of care, respect… accommodation. I hung on the stories we were told in Iran of agents risking their lives to keep the world safe. Now…”

“Our heroes are weak,” Mohsen said. He scrubbed his hands over his buzzed head. “They’ve gotten too close to the monsters they’re guarding. Were we really trained so we could come here and— what? Save their souls?”

“I’m not on a mission to save their souls,” Najma said, “but if I can, I would save their lives.”

They sat in silence for a moment, studying the Foundation insignia present on almost everything around them, including their own clothes.

“Do you ever wish,” Mohsen asked, in a small voice, “that things had been different? That we had grown up… outside?”

“Sometimes,” Ahmad said. At the looks he got from the others he added, “What? If you want conviction and scripture, wait for Shahab to return. As for me, I do think about what it would’ve been like to be a layabout college philosopher in Iran, holding court at cafés and riding mopeds. But this is where we are now. This is what we were trained for.”

“We have to see this through,” Najma concluded. “I have to see this through. God, give me strength.”


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