Preview: Back in Sol Again

Back in Sol Again

(Coming 8/25/17)

In the far away reaches of space, where no-one can hear you scream, where no Solsian creature has ever braved, is one man. Alone. On a ship. With a few thousand others. Like, a massive ship. With lots of supplies. So, really, he’s not all that alone. But he is headed somewhere– maybe.

Dr. Simon Corben is back with his universe of absurdity. With him, as always, is Doctor/Matriarch Niala Martin; a Lioness as gritty as sand-paper and wittier than Twain. (Or so she’d like to think.) The pair find themselves again helming adventure as their ship, Homer, space-jumps through the unknown to scan Earth-like exoplanets in hopes of finding something. What? Anything, really, but it’s only a matter of time.

Before long, that anything attracts separatist Solsians desperate to prove backward ideals. Will those deadly ideals prove more powerful? Or will Simon, Niala, and the others thwart them with the Solsian virtues of justice, patience, and dumb luck? Find out here, August 25th, in Back In Sol Again!

From Chapter 1; Live and Learn… or Not

Presently Simon, like all infatuated creatures– for indeed both cause and effect appear pandemic to the known universe, if not always connected– was about to make a complete and utter ass of himself. How? By doing that most usual of all things; opening his mouth.

Admittedly, he did not compound the situation by speaking, and thus saved himself some hardship. But ultimately, he could not escape the fated stringhe’d sewn himself.

His mouth slacked; opened, as if an occupied bathroom’s unlatched door on a draft. Then, driven by absent mindedness and the draft, it eased the rest of the way open until almost fully ajar. There it remained, its embarrassing contents in full-view long enough to be noticed by the Lionness.

And ridiculed without mercy.

Poetry-Thing Thursday: Frail

Goodnight.
Dead light.
Out of sight.
Born in terrible fright.

Sleep,
to keep,
or to weep,
no matter its creep.

Undue,
life through.
the wrecking crew,
a heart forever blue.

Wheezy.
Pretext greasy.
It’s so cheesy
swingin’ in a treesy.

Protoplasm.
An orgasm.
For a chasm,
and they who has’m.

Throbbing.
Wet, sobbing.
Kneeling, head bobbing.
Swallowed it for swabbing.

Distaste.
A waste,
of true haste,
and milk-white waist.

Feel.
It’s real.
how to deal,
with iron and steel?

Legs,
locked, begs,
for the dregs
to fertilize her eggs.

Nail,
and rail,
hoisting the sail,
to follow smoke-trail,
where two become one, frail.

Short Story: Greed v. Need

As with the watering of the liberty tree with patriot blood, so too must there often at times be the tempering of hatred and power with revolution. The cycle is never to end. It is not meant to; not while human beings remain human beings. Perhaps one day, we will change. Then, so too will the cycle. Alas, that day may never come. More to the point, it isn’t here now. Most assuredly, it wasn’t here then. Many were though. Many more whom are not now. Those survivors’ stories are numerous, their differences few, though all that’s known for certain is what is seen in hindsight.

Like many things, it began with the collision of unstoppable forces and immovable objects. In this case, that was the unyielding need of many and the stubborn greed of few. Looking back through history, one may trace a similar lineage of anguish to such sources. Be they crusaders wielding blades for clergy; soldiers, guns for senatorial business interests; or any and everything between, an unbroken thread of Greed v. need is visible throughout history.

Where we were, and where we are now, are matters best explained thus: reality is finite. It is a tapestry of interwoven intricacies formed of human thought and action, the bonds and forces that concocted them, whether sentient or incidental.

In other words, existence was and is a complexity not easily broken down. Immense as it is, astounding as it is, it is complex. It can be quantified, but requires the information for billions of variables to do so. Rather than belabor further explanations, we achieve “reality is finite,” thus explaining where we are and where we’ve come from.

But how relevant is a finite reality? How is it related to Greed v. Need? How does it really explain the madness that’s taken place? What in the cacklingly hellish madness am I on about?

The truth, and only the truth. Greed v. Need was the pendulum. Again. A pivot; upon which our world teetered. The madness, so to speak, was beyond the edge. Beyond the edge, where we are now.

Take the unstoppable force of need, accelerated at the speed of desperation, and place the immovable object of greed in its way. What you end up with is not much left of either. Not much whole. Dust and debris, yes, but nothing intact.

How else could we have expected things to go? We had a country– an amorphous set of invisible, phantom barriers– filled with people starving, homeless, penniless. Then, with the kind of smug idiocy as the smart man whom believes he knows all, and thus makes a fool of himself when speaking wanton ignorance, we willingly gave power to those whom saw us as lazy, useless, and wasteful. In truth of course, it was the dullards whom believed that which eventually made us that way.

Irony is delicious that way.

So hatred, as there most certainly was hatred toward us, once more fueled lust for power. And that power grew, strangling what life remained in the people, us– who were downtrodden, dying, starving. In effect, we were kicked and beaten animals. It was only a matter of time before we turned on those doing the kicking and beating. And like animals cornered and frightened, we did strike back, eventually. Just as the hand that feeds and beats is as likely to be bit as the hand that beats alone, it felt our bite.

We were Need. They were Greed. Were we to find some other moniker for them, perhaps we’d term them the elite. Or, were we further back in history, we might name them the aristocracy. In no event however, would so foul a rose as they be less foul for our terminology. And Greed certainly was foul, if little else. Greed stole. Greed cheated. Greed abused. Greed did anything and everything it could to ensure its power was absolute, unchallenged.

Alas, for their sake, they saw not what the reality was. Greed was an entity of individuals, people, raving and slavering as beasts that frothed in thought of everything for themselves. They snatched power in bills and laws at a time. Stole homes, jobs, money. Cheated and abused trust, hope. In the end, Need had little recourse but to lash out; but to bite the hand that fed and beat.

When that day came, there was little Greed could do. Greed had taken all from Need that could be taken and trod upon them too long. Need had no dignity. No hope. Nothing to lose at striking back.

And when they did, the world burned. The global wars threatening to ravage the various phantom borders imploded. Need took what they could, turned greed against Greed. The result was a finite reality we cannot possibly explain in anyway unexplained before. For Greed v. Need is a cycle, and we are but humans ever-bound to repeat forgotten mistakes.

Irony too, is a weakness of our species. For those of greatest need were inevitably those that struck back hardest and took the most back. Thus, as usual, they ensured that the cycle of Greed v. need would continue at least once more, someday. No doubt, in the end, they too will be overtaken, overthrown, deposed as the then-current incarnation of Greed. Only time may tell for certain, but Need becomes Greed after need is fulfilled and want appears. Those most sated are doubtless least in need and most wanting now.

As we remain human, so to is the cycle bound to repeat until some master of genetics or eugenics can finally put to rest the notion of humans as anything beyond wild animals with fantastic loincloths and unnecessary shoe addictions.

Only then could he or she, as father or mother of the post-human revolution, finally lay to rest the witless and sadistic species homosapiens. Only then, could they instead selectively breed and form a new species bearing all of Humanity’s assets and none of its detriments.

Then, and only then, might the cycles of old be forever broken and new ones formed. Formed, perhaps, from the influence of species long-lived alongside us in peace, and despite our best attempts to extort from them the same mistrust, anger, and outlashing as us from ourselves.

Future mother or father, might I suggest an animal to draw from? If so, I suggest the Cornish Hen.

Energy and Matter: Part 17 (Conclusion)

17.

What You Thought You Knew

The pickup rolled to a stop outside the ten-mile squared shipping yard. Twenty-foot high chain-link topped by razor-wire fenced the seemingly endless compound. Railroad tracks ran through it at one side, various entrances about it here and there. There was clearly more within the place than the Hunter warehouse. No doubt it made good cover given all the trucks, fork lifts, and other heavy-machinery moving about.

Leagues of stacked shipping containers, parking lots, and gravel or cracked asphalt separated the yard into sectors. The girls’ target was far ahead, at the compound’s rear. For the sake of stealth, the pair were dropped near a closed, side-fence. The spot was hidden from highway and access-road views by trees and dense foliage; from the interior compound and its warehouses by forty-foot tall stacks of shipping crates.

They would have to sneak in, walk the rest of the way. Darkness was on their side. Hailey’s Seer instincts were turned to eleven; they’d make it to the building at least, beyond that was anyone’s guess.

A foreign tension emanated from Yaz as she let the girls out. The fence-line was just ahead, past a bit of brush spackled with gravel. Hailey tested her radio, double-checked her P-90, then started for the fence. She knelt and turned to see Yaz’s hand grip Elise’s.

“Come back,” Yaz ordered. Elise nodded.

Hailey watched their lips lock, and suddenly recognized the foreign tension for what it was. The couple parted; Elise moved for Hailey’s side and knelt. The truck crunched gravel and dirt, pulled away with its headlights off. Elise produced a pair of bolt cutters, began snipping her way up the fence.

“How long’s that been going on?” Hailey whispered. Elise remained silent, focused. “Okay, then. Ignore me.”

Elise didn’t bother. She wasn’t about to be baited. Not now. She pried the fence apart, gestured Hailey through, and followed in a crouch. Patchy grass turned to gravel along row of shipping containers. They stealthed forward; distant semis hissed and reported near an idling locomotive that embraced the still night. Around it and elsewhere, a fleet of hundred-foot cranes groaned and whined, lifting cargo on or off trucks, train-cars, or crate-stacks. Flood-lit warehouses fell further into darkness nearer the yard’s rear where a lone warehouse sat, seemingly vacant.

Hailey and Elise knew better. However they’d done it, the Hunters had secured themselves a warehouse to hole up in; planned to use it to exact pain on any Seer or person in the way of them. Elise’s fury boiled. She was ready to turn the tides, take the fight to the Hunters. It was revenge more than anything. The last images of her dying mother fueled her. She was determined to show the Hunters something to fear.

Elise stealthed to the edge of the first break in the crates, stayed Hailey. The crates’ cover had hidden them from the various bodies and vehicles for over a quarter-mile. Now, they would be exposed for a short distance between it and the buildings ahead. It was a short time, but enough to blow the element of surprise if they were seen.

Elise waited, watching the empty lot before them. A few hundred yards past it, a crane was moving laterally forward, its operator just barely visible in the box far-above. She waited until she was certain no-one was coming, and started for a building’s far side a hundred-yards forward. Hailey followed on her heels. A line of concrete barriers meant to act as over-sized wheel-stops, nearly concealed themselves to the building. They vaulted up, onto a walkway, scampered along it.

They moved as shadows in a darkness deeper than a mere, absence of light. The rear-edge of the warehouse broke for another, flood-lit set of grounds between it and the next. A lone security guard smoked outside a door at it the building’s far-edge. He pulled his coat closed, huddled into it, and inhaled deep. Elise was about to risk it. They were wasting time. She made a start. Hailey’s hand stopped her.

The guard inhaled deep again, then flicked the lit cigarette away and blew out a smoke plume. He swiveled toward the pair, still hidden in cover, and followed through for the door. He disappeared into the building and Elise breathed. She stilled a shaking hand; that would’ve been a mistake. She was too driven, too impatient. She did her best to emulate Yaz’s expertise, and started forward again.

Hailey rushed after her for the next warehouse, slipped past its edge, and entered into its dark side for the next edge. They found themselves at it and peering into another, expansive parking lot, flood-lit by poles about its middle and sides. The building itself was darkened, empty. Beyond it in the distance, the darkness prevailed, but the pair were focused on another warehouse at its side, between it and a vast, flat darkness.

It was there. They could see it clearly now. Only moments and steps remained, separating them from their quarry. The Hunter warehouse was dim, still. Hailey sensed movement in the upper shadows. She closed her eyes, activated the Link, and spied snipers posted at the building’s roof-corners. Hailey tapped Elise’s shoulder, pointed to the nearest corner in the distance. Elise’s eyes homed in, squinted; small movements caught her attention.

“Sweeping the compound.”

“Your call,” Hailey said.

Elise watched the nearest sniper’s rifle oscillate along its bipod. She judged the distance between warehouses, counted the seconds between one side of his sweep and the other. Then, with a hand, she repeated the count. Her third finger went up; Hailey sprinted across the parking-lot. Her lugs burned with fury, terror. The dark-side of the warehouse, came into reach. She vaulted, dove.

She turned back to see Elise still waiting, counting. Seconds passed in nail-biting agony. Elise suddenly bolted, running like a creature possessed. She might’ve broken an Olympic record, Hailey couldn’t be sure. Like her, she vaulted and dove from light into the cover of darkness.

A single breath, and Elise was up, moving. The darkness pervaded even beyond the edge of warehouse’s rear. The shadows led them along the building’s broad-side, all but bridging the gap between they and the Hunter’s warehouse. Now, they could see the snipers unaided. They were perched like sentry guns atop the steel and concrete structure. The nearest one reached his visual arc, started back with an eerily autonomous motion.

Elise waited, counting. Then, in a breath, she bolted across the bright, open ground. Hailey watched, heart erratic. The sniper’s barrel swiveled. Elise crossed his blind-spot, beneath the building’s edge. Hailey swallowed adrenaline, suppressing a squeak. Elise’s P-90 rose at the corner. Her head gestured Hailey. She waited, counted. In a burst of sprinting madness she raced for Elise’s side. It was over fast. Not fast enough, Hailey felt, and they weren’t even inside yet.

She kept quiet, let Elise pass for the double doors. Inside, an oscillating camera pivoted between a view of both doors and the far end of the hall. Elise held up a finger, waited, then slipped in with Hailey pressed against her. They found themselves in a long, darkened corridor, doors spaced one side with the other wall empty.

“You’re up,” Elise whispered.

Hailey activated the Link: the layout was identical to Yaz’s blueprints. They’d entered from the rear, near a few offices usually reserved for company admins or foremen. A definite stir of energy took their place instead; cold, electronic. Here and there around the ground and upper floors were other signatures; some animate, others not.

“Server room,” Hailey whispered, timing her way right to bypass the camera. She hesitated at a door, “Someone’s inside.”

“Distract them.”

Hailey stepped inside, cut left along seven-foot high data servers glowing with various LEDs over a constant whir of fans and micro-machinery. Elise went right, complimenting her. Hailey emerged into view of a man at a computer terminal. He was suddenly on his feet, a weapon drawn.

“What’re you doing here? Who are you?” Hailey gave a crooked smile. He grit his teeth, “Drop your weapon. Hands behind your head.”

“You first,” Hailey retorted.

Elise struck. Her arms went ‘round his throat. Her wrists locked; muscles jolted sideways. His neck cracked! His body went limp. Elise let it collapse. Hailey was stunned. Elise ignored it, keying up his active computer to sift for intel.

“Watch the door!” Elise ordered in a hush.

Yaz had instructed her to search for any drives containing usage logs or large data repositories in hopes that any important information would be grouped together. Whether it be information on the Hunters’ internal organization, their leaders’ whereabouts, or something more, could only be ascertained once the caches were accessed. Unfortunately, not knowing where the intel was meant taking the drives at all was at the risk of finding nothing. Still, it was worth trying.

Elise located a few, specific drives with large caches, mentally noted them. The very real possibility of walking away with nothing was too much for her to bear. It would weigh her down, forge more room for mistakes. She blocked it out to locate the drives, rushed along the racks, began pulling them out here and there. The SSDs were small, enough that a few fit comfortably in a pocket. She grabbed the few she sought, returned to Hailey’s side.

They headed for the door, Hailey stopped short.

“What?”

Hailey’s eyes were closed, Link active, “Two guards just took a post out the back door.”

Elise’s heart ran hurtles. “Any other way out?”

Hailey eyed the place with an eagle-eye view, via the Link, “Through the front. But there’s people between here and there. A lot of ‘em.”

Elise knelt beside Hailey, “Yaz, we need you at the rear door. Sixty seconds.”

“No dice, kid,” Bryce radioed. “Gotta’ truck moving in. Troop carrier or something. Old style. Taking up position at the rear of the building. Can’t risk lighting the place up.”

Elise huffed, “Then be ready to move on the front entrance. Radio when you’re in position.”

“Copy.”

Hailey gave her a derisive look, “You can’t seriously think we’ll get out that way.”

Elise released the safety on her P-90. “We will. No arguments.”

Elise stepped out. Hailey sensed the same catastrophic dread she’d felt before. If her instincts were worth anything, this was how it would happen. She hurried after Elise, stopped her at the corner of the corridor.

“Wait. Just wait.”

“Are you crazy? We can’t sit here arguing!”

Hailey’s face hardened, “Elise, I know you’re angry with me, but this is the wrong way. We need to–”

Footsteps sounded from the mouth of the corner passage. Hailey saw two men approaching via the Link. They stopped just around the corner. Hailey put a finger to her lips, pointed at the corner, then flashed two fingers. The pair merely stood, either unaware of them or awaiting something specific. It only took a moment for Hailey to sense the latter. The troop carrier outside was empty. Bodies were now piling up around the doors behind her.

Hailey relayed the situation: somehow, they’d been discovered.

They readied their weapons. A quick pivot littered the two guards with rounds. An alarm screamed along the corridors. The doors burst open, something loud exploded, flashed like lightning. Masked Hunters filed in, firing. The pair dove for the corner, recovered, began sprinting for the front of the building. They passed from the corridor into the open storage floor.

Another flash of lightning. A deafening crack. A shock-wave. Elise stumbled mid-step, fell. Hailey tripped on her, fell too. She scrambled up. Her sight faded, in and out. Masked, black figures charged, encircled them, weapons rose. Someone ripped the P-90 from Hailey’s hands, forced her onto her stomach with a boot in her back. Elise’s gun was man-handled from her grip. She was forced down alongside Hailey.

Their vision returned to a section of Hunters that separated, allowing someone through. Elise and Hailey blinked away pain as faint footsteps returning. The figure before them mouthed a command, and the girls were forced to their knees, guns trained on them. The figure focused; a woman in fatigues, face slacked and scarred from age and war.

She clicked her tongue, “I am disappointed. All that power, and they send two children.”

“You’ll die for this, bitch,” Elise spit through her teeth.

The woman took a knee in front of Elise, “Young ladies should learn to hold their tongue.” She hit Elise’s face with an iron-fist, splitting her lip. “That was for my men.” She straightened, focused on Hailey, “Oh do we have plans for you, little one.”

“Go to hell,” Hailey hissed.

The woman laughed. “Us or them. The devil you know, or…” Hailey’s face went blank. “Come now, did you really think we were the only ones looking for you?” Hailey’s jaw clenched. A corner of her mouth twitched. The woman stepped back away again.

“What’re you on about?” Elise growled.

She laughed again, “You could never stop us all. And without us eliminating the competition, well, you’d only have more of us to fight.”

Hailey’s worst fears seemed confirmed, but Elise’s hate bubbled over. “You ordered my parents killed. For that, you will die.”

“Is that what you’re doing here?” She asked, back-stepping. “Seeking revenge? Are you prepared to die for it?”

Elise forced herself to her feet, “If I have to.”

The woman’s mouth curled vilely, her hand clutched a pistol at her side. “Prove it.”

In a flash, she drew, fired a single round into Elise’s gut. Blood spattered the floor. Flecks hit Hailey’s face. Elise clutched her navel, hands crimson. She fell to her face, bleeding out.

The woman sneered at her men, “Take the other and put her under. V will want to be here.”

Time slowed around Hailey. She wasn’t sure what was happening. Her body acted on impulse, instinct. She found herself forcing away the hands holding her in place. A burst of furious energy erupted. A shock-wave seemed to emit from her– did emit from her. Bodies were thrown through the air. They flew, smashed distant walls, windows, ceilings, rag-dolls. The lights went out, shattered by bodies and debris. The warehouse plunged into darkness. Hailey blinked, full-tilt charged. The woman was down before the bodies landed.

Hailey’s hands maneuvered her around, slammed her head against concrete. The woman’s dazed eyes filled with terror.

Hailey didn’t stop; the woman’s head hit concrete. Again. And again. Blood sopped. Brain oozed. Her body went limp, her skull a fleshy pulp of bone-dust and fluid. Hailey rebounded, pistol in hand. Her eyes shut, Link active. Bodies were falling about the room, lifeless, broken, or injured. Before they could react, a masked face met a bullet. Then another. The pistol barked incessantly, clicked empty.

Hailey whirled, found two men rising. Phantom hands lifted and slammed them at the ceiling, then the floor, like rag dolls. Elise’s weapon slid from one, crossed the floor to Hailey’s hand. She growled, spraying the last of the living men with ammunition. The P-90 went quiet, barrel smoking. She stood amid the roomful of carnage as the double-wide rolling door exploded inward.

Time resumed its normal pace. Bryce skidded to a stop behind her. Hailey lowered her gun. Yaz and Jenna piled out. Hailey snapped back to reality, helped lift Elise.

“SWAT incoming,” Jenna said, lifting Elise.

They piled into the truck’s rear. Yaz stabbed a needle into Elise’s arm, flooded her veins with something, then felt for a pulse. The truck jolted to and fro. Rubber burned to smoke as the truck whipped ‘round and rocketed for a road, any road. Hailey kept pressure on Elise’s wound, felt her grief welling. It was the same, pure grief Valerie had spoken of; fresher, more powerful. A geyser of energy poured from her, flooding the vehicle, submerging Elise’s body.

Yaz moved to inject Elise. Hailey shouted, “Stop!”

The others hesitated, Yaz fought, on-edge, “I am not letting her die.”

Hailey put her hands over Elise’s wound, “Neither am I.”

A sudden flash blinded Yaz. Jenna’s Link activated. The mere force knocked them back. Hailey began to glow. Currents of energy pulsed within her like arcs of lightning. Both in and out of the Link, Hailey’s currents pulsed golden, enveloping her. Her form dissolved, impossible to discern through the blinding light. A series of arcs formed between Elise’s wound and Hailey’s hands.

Light flowed from Hailey’s hands into Elise. She was suddenly conscious, delirious. She muttered nonsensically, writhed. Hailey slumped forward, only vaguely aware of willing herself to stay conscious, to continue manipulating the energy. Her mind and body were reacting on impulse, instinct. She felt energy surge around her, flood the truck. One hand extended upward, spraying energy as if springing a leak. Its flow suddenly reversed direction. The leak became a vacuum, sucked unseen energy into a golden stream that formed near her hand. It fueled the pulsing, surged and roiled within her, then flowed out and into Elise.

Hailey’s glow apexed in a second flash. The truck was blinded. When the women’s vision returned, it had died completely. Jenna and Yaz blinked, frozen; Elise’s wound was gone, her body stilled, as if sleeping peacefully. Hailey collapsed over her, unconscious.

18.

Hungry Again

Elise awoke with a start; she was in bed. Yaz jerked awake in a chair beside her. Elise’s hands roamed for the gut wound but found nothing. She moved to sit upright, Yaz forced her down.

“Easy,” she said softly. “We aren’t sure how complete the healing is.”

“Yaz? What the hell? I thought… Didn’t I–”

“Hailey,” Yaz said gently. Elise squinted. “You remember I told you some Seers have powers? Powers they don’t know about?” Elise nodded. “Hailey’s a healer. No-one knew until now.”

Elise looked around the room, still confused. “So, she could’ve saved my parents?”

Yaz winced, “She didn’t know she could do it until she saw you dying.” Elise’s face softened. Yaz held her hand, “Valerie told me that Seers like Hailey only discover their power when someone they deeply love is hurt. Hailey saved your life because she loves you, Elise. You can’t blame her for not saving your parents. When it mattered, she saved you.

Elise’s face sank to shame. Yaz wouldn’t allow it, she pulled her over, kissed and hugged her. Elise sank in to her.

Hailey awoke with a throbbing migraine to find Elise sitting at her bedside. From her disheveled clothes, she’d been there a few days. “Elise!? You’re alright?”

Elise eased upward, “Hey. Yeah. Thanks to you.”

Hailey rubbernecked her room, “What about the others? Is everyone else–”

“They’re fine. You’ve been out a few days now. Whatever you did drained you good.”

She rubbed her head, “I feel like I was out drinking… for a week.” Elise smiled. Hailey caught it. “Good to see that.”

The smile wavered, then faded. “Hailey, I’ve been a colossal bitch. You’re my friend. That means something to me. After what you did, I owe you. The least I can do is… say I’m sorry for how I’ve acted.”

Hailey inched upward, “I’m sorry too. Especially about your parents. I wish I could’ve done something to–”

“I’m alive, Hailey. That’s enough. It wasn’t your fault they were killed. It was a bad place. A bad time. I knew it before too, I just… couldn’t accept it.” She stood from her chair, “But I’ve got Yaz now. I wouldn’t if it weren’t for you. And I’ve got you. Besides, there’s bigger fish.”

Hailey gave her a knowing look, “The Hunters.”

“There’s a lot more than we realized,” she affirmed with a nod.

“Then she wasn’t lying.” Hailey said, managing to stand. She swayed, Elise caught her. “Thanks… It isn’t over yet, is it?”

“Jenna’s recovered a lot off the drives,” she said reassuringly.

“So, it wasn’t a wash?”

“No, but there’ll be time for that later. I was thinking breakfast now.”

Hailey managed a smile, felt her stomach rumble. She moved to the door, swayed again, Elise spotted her.

Whatever the woman had meant, and whatever was on the drives, only time would tell. The future was uncertain in many ways, but in a few that counted, it wasn’t. The bunker and its people were safe; for the moment, if nothing else. The fight wasn’t over, yet, and there were doubts it ever could be, Hailey sensed a lull. Enough of one, anyhow. If she was lucky, and trusting her instincts had taught her anything, the lull might allow them to better settle into their new lives.

She understood better now what Valerie had meant bout wanting to stay. Cautioning her against being stubborn was never contingent on if she’d earn it or not, nor even if she want it. Rather, it was to keep her mind open to the newfound loyalty that would arise within her. Most of all, Hailey wasn’t about to leave Elise, and Elise wouldn’t leave Yaz. For the foreseeable future, they’d be staying right where they were.

Regardless of what came, or when, Hailey would stand beside the others to meet it head on. Seer or not, she’d fight to her last breath to end the Hunters, whoever they were. Whether working with, or for, someone else made no difference. They’d find a way to end the conflict someday.

For now, breakfast sounded just fine to Hailey.

Poetry-Thing Thursday: The Outcast

Do you know,
what it’s like,
to go against the grain?
For every breath,
that you take,
to fight a current?
Or how it feels,
to think your life,
might all be in vain?

I have wandered,
for many days,
trapped in hate.
As many more,
have been spent,
in total despair.
For each of them,
the only spin,
a wheel of fate.

But I don’t believe,
in those,
mysterious things.
Only that,
which feels,
real in my hands.
Because I know,
from my heart,
Reality’s what freedom brings.

I couldn’t say,
just how many,
times I’ve screamed.
About as many,
as I’ve cried,
or clenched a fist.
Abuse of the heart,
is all that I knew,
or even dreamed.

But those days,
have long since passed,
with seeds un-sown.
And though I’ve grown,
will be forever known,
as The Outcast.

Short Story: The Exiled One

Anita Cooper had worked seven days a week for months, either tamping away at a calculator or drumming along a keyboard. They’d been longer days than most people’s; ten-to-twelve hours at least. The money was right though, if nothing else. She’d deduced over that time that telecommuting wasn’t all it was cracked up to be, costing as it did, a marriage and any hope for companionship.

Still she worked; day in, day out. Her lunch hour was the only break she took outside once-an-hour coffee refills. Those breaks were only physical anyhow. Mentally, she remained in the chair, staring at profits, losses, expenditures. A few times she tore herself from work to web-surf or pan-fry her brain with Net-TV, but it was as mentally stimulating as watching grass grow.

Her one-time friends had watched her descent with pity. In the beginning, they were sympathetic, believing the issue was an over-demanding employer that required more effort for telecommuting. In truth, Anita’s employers barely knew her name. As time passed, it was evident they cared only for output being on-par with her desk-bound colleagues. Her excess of their output only made them notice when it dropped.

Ellen Fritz was the last of Anita’s friends to stick around. She’d carried the title of “friend” since grade-school; through thick and thin, high and low. They’d managed to remain friends in spite of the years and their trials. Ellen was proud of that, in a way, being of a humble self-noble type often and easily mistaken for self-absorbed. Unfortunately, Ellen’s would-be nobility also lent itself to prying, even if rightfully.

The conversation that eventually ended that friendship, or wounded it enough to make it seem so, was had over wine. It was a rare nights when Anita contacted someone outside of work. She invited Ellen and a few other friends for wine and dinner. Only Ellen arrived. It definitely wasn’t a good sign to any onlookers. Anita didn’t notice, too caught-up in cooking.

The pair ate and joked over a bottle of Pinot Grigio and an expertly crafted Chicken Piccata. Ever an an excellent cook, Anita’s home overflowed with scents of freshly peeled garlic, minced lemon, and rich, spiced wine. Atop them, scentless candles added their warmth, dripped wax into their columnar holders. Anita and Ellen relaxed in their seats, full and warm.

The conversation turned from pleasant small-talk. In words alone at first, over another glass of wine. Then, with whole sentences, the talk became deeper, heavier. Ellen pulled at the shoulders of her silk blouse, resetting it over her breasts and leaning onto her elbows. She slid her interlocked fingers beneath her chin, and rested it atop them. Anita had seen it a million times, most recently, when told of the divorce. It was the physical manifestation of a mental preparedness; the posturing of one about to plunge into tumultuous waters.

“Nita,” Ellen said finally, her voice heavy as her head. “I’m worried about you.”

Anita played it off with a chuckle, “I am on cloud-nine! What could you worry about?”

Her brow furrowed. “Honey, you’re withdrawing. I just want to know; why? Is it ‘cause of Darryl, or something else.”

Anita’s wine-infused breaths stiffened. Her face went blank– the same type of posturing, but stubborn. “I’m fine, El. No-one else is worried about me.”

“No-one else is here, honey. How would you know?”

Anita’s face showed the brick-wall of reality that hit her. That was all Anita recalled outside the knowledge of catty, baited quips and Ellen’s eventual departure– and her shaking head. Anita fumed, downing a bottle of wine alone, and leaving the rest to history.

Life took a turn that day, and every day after, she found herself alone, and uncertain of why. Apart from find herself forced to trek out for groceries, she’d entirely avoided leaving the house. Whether clear or not, she’d become agoraphobic. Everyone else knew it. The isolation afflicted her, even if she refused to admit to it or the cause.

Anita had always been fit, adhering to a workout regiment that kept her slimmer than most. Now in her mid-30s, the weight she’d put on was merely the most egregious sign of her self-exile. Apart from the aforementioned grocery trips, her life was entirely downsized, planned to avoid people entirely. Her days now consisted of waking, coffee, working with coffee, and showering before bed, at which point she’d sleep, only to rise and repeat.

Her worsening state had seemed only mildly different, allowing for terrible habits to take root. Some days she smoked cigarettes, or popped magic mushrooms from the private myco-troughs she’d once used to grow truffles, shitake, or portobello mushrooms for cooking.

Despite its recreational effects, Psilocybin was the only way she’d found to cope with the inevitable cluster headaches that now descended each night before bed. Somewhere in her, she knew, staring at computer screens sixteen-or more hours a day were to blame. Her life of work and nothing more had taken its toll; was taking its toll. Most times, she slept off the high…

Tonight was different.

Anita sat at her table, once more imbibing an expertly crafted meal. For one. She’d taken her daily dose of mushrooms before starting to cook, popping the caps and munching away as if a vegetable appetizer. Midway through cooking, the high set in. The five or so knitting-needles jammed through various parts of her skull and gray matter withdrew. She doubled down on the meds for sanity’s sake, finished cooking.

The second dose began to hit while the first peaked. Colorful swirls flowed from the lit candles like incense smoke-trails. They formed geometric shapes that zigged or zagged about the table, appearing and disappearing in and out of space-time randomly. The wine in Anita’s glass bubbled and frothed like a science experiment gone awry, but tasted better somehow. She drank it down and poured more, watching it form a waterfall along more of the floating, geometric shapes.

Her biggest shock was yet to come.

Anita began a conversation with herself, playing two sides of a dialogue between her and the Chicken Penne on her plate. Though it remained inanimate, the food thanked her for being so carefully prepared and wonderful tasting. She gobbled it down, the two quipping about its taste, until a polite “goodbye” preceded her taking the last bite. She threw down her frothing wine, and broke into a giggle-fit the likes of which few have seen. Through tearful blinks and table-slapping hysteria, she settled back in her chair, more relaxed and at-peace than in years. She swallowed her amusement, laid her head back, and closed her eyes.

She righted herself and nearly fled, screaming. Instead, reality’s icy-grip rooted her via now-rubber limbs.

Before her sat a much younger, slimmer version of herself. To say she wasn’t a looker would’ve been an insult, and a flat-out lie. The former-gymnast body was long, lanky, muscled in all the right places and tantalizing in all others. The one-time flicker of aroused satisfaction at viewing herself in the mirror returned. It coursed through her loins with the recollection of long-lost, acrobatic sex.

A shameful sniffle shattered the cooling silence. Her head fell, taking in her body; age-related change was one thing. This was another. She’d never expected to go through life being the bombshell-gymnast, but hard work had paid off then. She’d hoped it would continue to, but then, she wasn’t putting in hard work now. Not that kind. All her years suddenly felt squandered.

“It’s okay, you know?” Her younger self said. Anita’s eyes bulged with uncertainty, blinked away fatigue. They met their youthful counterpart’s. “Nobody’s perfect. Least of all us. We had it hard growing up. Not as hard as some, but not easy. Dad left. Mom withdrew. But we promised ourselves we’d never do that.”

Anita grit her teeth. Heart stung by her apparition’s words. Her mother had withdrawn. She’d become as much a recluse as Anita was now. It was the reason she’d been driven to take such good care of herself; she never wanted to turn out that way, sad, alone, stagnating. Her distant argument with Ellen came back, as foggy as ever, but depositing shame in her gut.

Her younger self laid her hands on the table, in a sort of heart-shape arrangement. Anita had always done the same thing when being forced to confront another’s guilt or shame. It was a sign that everything to be said was harsh truth, but that pain was alright given its context.

“You know why I’m here, what brought me– not just the ‘shrooms,” she said sympathetically. “We never knew how to deal with life. We were never taught that. Mom didn’t deal. Dad didn’t. How were we supposed to?” A tear slipped from Anita’s downcast eyes. “No one blames you. But you have to do something. You’re only a victim so long before you’re the cause. You’re about to pass that point. Things with Darryl were bad. Work was important. You’ve sorted those things out now, but you need to keep moving forward. We never really knew what was supposed to come next, I know. We still don’t. Kids, maybe, but Darryl wasn’t right for that anyhow. We need something though.”

Anita nodded slightly. Sorrow etched her folded mouth with sadness.

Her apparition aged with pained shadows, “You know what you need to do.”

Anita found herself standing from the table, her apparition beside her. It escorted her toward the bed room, laid her down, and helped her to settle for sleep.

“When you wake up, you’ll do it. Because you know you need to. You won’t want to. But you will. You have to. We don’t deserve this, let alone from ourselves.” The apparition began to fade, “Good luck, sweetheart. I’m always here.”

It reached out, touched her forehead with a pair of fingers. As if time jumped, Anita suddenly awoke to daylight streaming in from the windows. She found herself more refreshed than she’d expected. The coma-like sleep had rejuvenated her, left the night as fresh as if it were yet to cease. She stood before the bathroom mirror to rinse her face; age-lines and hard years had strained it, but something youthful beneath had been found anew.

Anita swallowed hard, screwed up her face. She dressed in cool, casual clothes, and walked to her door. Steel tethers pulled taught in her chest.

Good luck, sweetheart. I’m always here.

She breathed, and walked out the door.

Energy and Matter: Part 16

16.

Sense from the Senseless

Hailey and Ken returned to the bunker, pulling Yaz and others into a meeting. They planned their next moves: Jenna and Rachel would hack the phone with Valerie tending to the latter periodically. Before long, they’d know what they had. If anything, they’d move against it. Yaz pulled the city patrols, fearing retribution and reassigning Hailey and Ken to perimeter patrols. The meeting adjourned with Hailey and Ken relieving a top-side patrol.

Yaz returned to Elise’s room, the obvious air of tension had congregated outside it but utterly dissolved when she stepped inside. Neither was sure of things yet, but Elise needed someone. Close. Without Hailey, Yaz was the only option– more than that that, she was only one Elise wanted as an option.

Yaz relayed everything, settling into place against the head-board. Elise sat beside her, bouts of grief still manifested, quieter now but present. Yaz allowed it. Rather than risk worsening things, she remained present and little else. It was enough for Elise.

Hailey, on the other hand, was lost. She’d yet to speak to her parents. She’d made her decision, but now didn’t feel the proper time to bring it up. Ken ensured they ate, but they’d taken each meal in their room, alone. She hadn’t seen either leave, even to use the bathroom. However preoccupied she’d been, the situation was despairing.

The only thing that kept her from total, mental collapse was the mindless crackling of foliage beneath her feet. Beside her, Ken helped strengthen her connection to reality but their unchanging patrol-line kept her mind wandering. Their route comprised one-half the bunker’s square perimeter, the patrols timed to coincide so no pair met the other, thereby allowing for total surveillance of the area.

Unfortunately, that also meant a boring, lock-step rhythm with no room for deviation. She was a walking sentry-gun, roving for targets. That neither she nor Ken had much to say only emphasized the autonomy.

Hailey finally felt ready to burst. She needed to say something, anything. The air was awkward, tense. She felt herself speak, almost completely unaware of the words conveyed.

“There was just… so much blood.”

Ken winced. “Is that why you’ve been so quiet?”

“Huh?” It took her a moment to comprehend the words ringing in her head. Even longer to recognize they were hers. “Oh, um. No. I just–”

“Hailey, you’re in shock. Traumatized. You killed two people.”

“I didn’t–”

“Yes. You did.” He stopped mid-step. His face hardened, mixing sympathy with reality, “Hailey, your actions directly caused two people’s deaths. Accept that.”

“I…” she trailed off, hung her head.

Ken put a hand on her shoulder, spoke as an equal, “I was there too. We all were. I was a decade older and it was still difficult to reconcile. But remember, we’re fighting for your existence. This isn’t just about you, or me, or those dead bodies. It’s about a group trying to capture people to experiment on and torture them. Your people.”

Bile frothed in her stomach like a bubbling cauldron, “Yeah.”

Ken’s hand fell to his side, “Given the choice, not one of us would want this for the other– let for alone a teenager. But you’re stronger than you realize.”

She shrugged, “My power’s not that–”

“Not your power, Hailey, you,” he corrected. “You are stronger. Not just because of your power, but because you know how to make hard decisions. You know how to be a protector for your sake as well as others.” She winced, uncertain she agreed. He began walking again. She followed. “Hailey, look at the bigger picture. You’re young, and while it’s still difficult for you, but your instincts told you to do what you did. Because of it, we may finally have information on the Hunters. That information could be the key to letting you go home. To letting all of us go home.”

She kept pace with him, “Is it really possible, Ken? The things we’ve seen. The things we’ve done. Can we really ever go back?”

He frowned, hesitated. Then, with a sigh, he nodded, “No. You’re right. We can’t go back. But we can go forward. We can move on, given the chance. Together or alone. Now, because of your actions, we may be able to do that some day.”

She was silent, thinking. Then, she risked dampening his ardor with honesty, “Do you really believe that, Ken?” He eyed her. “Do you really believe people will stop hunting Seers?”

His face and heart sank. It was an obvious question. One, Hailey had to admit, was unlikely to have been overlooked. His silence said it all. Hailey sensed, both with empathic sensitivity and common logic, the reality of things:

Seers were powerful beyond measure. So powerful they’d needed to invent whole new categories of power just to attempt poorly explaining how powerful they were. That kind of power didn’t come lightly. It wouldn’t be taken lightly either. Ever. If anyone outside the Seers themselves knew of them, others would too. Given enough time, groups like the Hunters would seek to harness or control them, their power. More than likely, for their own ends and without mercy.

Seers weren’t simply an oddity. They were a force. One, by their very nature, capable of toppling entire civilizations if properly positioned or motivated. A single Seer, acting as an advisor to a military or nation, might single-handedly turn war-tides. There could be no greater asset, no more dangerous weapon. Both Ken and Hailey knew that. So did everyone else in the bunker.

The longer the silence continued, the more Hailey was forced to accept that there might never be a true end to the conflict. So long as Seers were sought, superior as they were from Humans at large, someone would hunt them. If the Hunters were any indication, nothing would keep them from that.

The rest of their patrol turned quiet. The awkwardness was gone, the tension with it; both were replaced by a dismal dread whose background noise increased ten-fold. Ken took it in stride, less perturbed. Hailey couldn’t sense anything beyond his focus on the task at-hand. She tried following his example to remain level, occupying herself with the patrol by using her empathic sensitivity to extend their range of affect.

The shift ended back at the cabin. She and Ken returned to trade out with Jakob and Joel, a pair of middle-aged men Hailey’d had met but yet to interact with. They met at the cabin door as Lindsey and Bryce stepped out. The groups greeted each other in passing but the elevator sank for the bunker. Hailey and Ken parted along the hallway, the former ultimately headed to shower.

Yaz checked her watch; the distant elevator locked into its housing on schedule. Shift-change was always on the dot. Her people were good. Everyone needed them to be. Moreover, they respected her authority, her judgment. The only complication she’d had since taking charge were during engagements. Hunters were always wild-cards. Their actions decided things then, no matter her planning nor training.

She sighed a small bit of tension, looked to Elise between her legs. She lay on her side, head against Yaz’s chest, half-asleep from the entranced, beating heart in her ear. Yaz stroked her hair absently, blue-blonde soft beneath her fingers. Wont of lust within was tempered with deeper thoughts that granted it too little of purchase.

Elise stirred, rolling on her back to look up at her, upside down. “You don’t have to stay any longer if you don’t want,” Elise offered. “I’m sure you’ve got things to do.”

Yaz half-smiled, “I’m happy here.”

She stretched, groaned, and pushed herself up to rub her eyes. “You sure?”

Yaz crossed her legs, sat level with Elise, “I am.”

“What are we going to do?” She yawned.

“You mean tonight?” Elise shook her head. “Then about us… Is there something we should do?”

“I don’t know. I’ve never been with anyone before. Let alone… like this.” She eyed the room.

“We’ll see how things go.”

Yaz began to pull her over, but a knock forced them apart. Yaz sighed derisively, stood and strolled to the door. Valerie’s face appeared outside it, more stern than usual. The cause was obvious; she’d sense the girls’ intimacy, was unhappy about it. Thankfully, she focused on other business.

“You’re needed. We have something.”

“Get the others. I’ll meet you in the training room in five minutes.”

Valerie acknowledged her with a nod, but remained in place. A silent accusation was made. Yaz didn’t need a psychic to decipher it. Instead, her back stiffened, her face hardened. She was pulling rank and the both knew it. She shut the door on Valerie and turned away for her gear on Elise’s desk. She secured her sword, snapped her leg-holster in place.

“You should be there for this,” Yaz said, tossing Elise her vest and gun.

Elise stood beside her, dressed, and clipped her P-90 to a vest strap. She zipped her vest and followed Yaz to the training room. Most of her security team were already assembled. Only Valerie and Hailey had yet to arrive. They entered shortly, as Yaz took her place around the desk Rachel and Jenna were working at. Various, small tools and tech gear were strewn about between a pair of laptops linked via USB and ethernet cords. Between them, the phone was jacked into various other ports.

Yaz waited for Valerie and Hailey, then leaned in between the two Seers. “What’ve you got?”

Rachel’s drug-addled eyes bounced between Jenna and Yaz. Her morphine dose was in full-effect, her voice sluggish. “First, we cracked the phone’s basic locks. Sifted through various code-words, and phrases, and passwords we picked up in the past.”

“None of it worked,” Jenna said, speaking faster. “But we instituted a recovery protocol, effectively rewriting its user settings.”

“That didn’t wipe it?” Yaz said.

“It did,” Rachel replied.

“But,” Jenna added. “We ran data recovery to retrieve what was lost. Mostly junk data. Thumbnail files. Website cookies. Etcetera. We sifted the data until we hit on this–” She keyed up a file-browser and a list of files with randomized titles of letters, numbers, and symbols. “System logs. We decompressed and decrypted their contents. We got this.”

The group crammed behind Yasmine to view Jenna’s laptop. On-screen, a second file-browser opened with a list of files, each one appended with dates and times. A series of numbers, dashes, and degree marks appeared.

“GPS coordinates,” Yaz knew.

“Right,” Jenna keyed up a command prompt, then typed a string of commands. “First, we eliminated anything unique– visited only once. Then, cross-referenced what was left with known places– business, restaurants, supermarkets; the kind of place someone goes often, and ended up with this.”

The list shrank to two entries. Judging by their frequency, either one could’ve been their mark.

“We checked the sat-maps,” Jenna said, pulling up a satellite image of Bacatta. “Here. The second entry. First is a residence, probably something they’ve rented out for appearances. But this matters.”

Rachel picked up from there, “The second address is a warehouse that’s supposed to be abandoned. It’s big. And according to the blueprints, there’s a network of maintenance tunnels beneath it that could be easily added to. If the Hunters are set up anywhere, it’s there.”

“Do you have the schematics?”

Yasmine’s strategic mind ramped into overdrive as Jenna pulled them up and explained, “It’s simple; Bi-level. Open storage floor. A pair of corridors or so. And some offices. Main operations would be on the lower floor and upper would be where they’re running their front from. Probably minimal guards; snipers on the roof, hidden perimeter patrols, the usual.”

“Nothing a small group couldn’t get past,” Yaz agreed.

“You need a Seer,” Valerie said firmly. “To anticipate anything if fighting breaks out. An active Link would help to avoid it altogether.”

“We’d need an extraction team off-site,” Yaz thought aloud.

“I’ll go,” Hailey said. The group’s eyes focused at her with uncertainty. She thought of what Ken had said. “Like it or not, I caused this. I’m not letting another Seer risk their life on intel I brought in.”

They glanced between Hailey and Valerie. She gave a small nod. Yaz agreed, “Alright, but you aren’t going alone.”

“I’ll go too,” Elise said suddenly.

Incredible doubt crossed the faces of all present, Yaz included. Hailey was against it, “No.”

“They killed my parents. These bastards need to pay,” Elise snapped..

Yaz was uneasy, but kept herself restrained, “Be that as it may, this isn’t to be taken lightly.”

“I don’t want her going,” Hailey argued, recalling Elise’s all-too-recent attempt to strangle her.

“It’s not your decision,” Elise spat.

“It’s not yours either.”

“Blow it out your–”

Enough!” Yaz barked. “It’s my call. If Elise thinks she can pull it off, I’ll allow it. But I’m warning you– both of you– this is a stealth op. You get in, look for any intel and get out. I won’t hesitate to confine either of you to your quarters if you can’t stop this petty bullshit. Got it?”

The girls suppressed their ire with shamed, averted looks.

“Getting in and out undetected is key. The best way is through the rear, personnel door. If– and I stress if you can get in, scout the interior, and search for any way into the maintenance tunnels, but do not enter them. We can’t risking going in to pull you out if something goes wrong.”

Yaz outlined their parameters, then their entrance and exit. She finished with reassignments for Jenna and Bryce; to tag along, waiting off-site with her for extract once the pair had finished– or to provide reinforcements, if necessary. The group dispersed to ready for the operation.

By the time they piled into the truck, Hailey already regretted volunteering. Once her feet hit dirt, her instincts and training would kick in… she hoped. Until then, the wait was clawing at her mind, incising her gut. Somehow, she sensed, no matter what they found, something was about to go horribly wrong.