Energy and Matter: Part 14

14.
Even the Biggest Fish Have Scales

Hailey didn’t so much fall asleep as collapse into bed and shut off. Her energy was so drained even a full-night’s sleep proved not enough. The deepened mourning greeting her on awakening weighted her already lead-heart. It felt more coincidental to her restless, dead-sleep rather than causal. Though she still believed in coincidence, unlike the other Seers, the deception of things lately meant she wasn’t putting money on anything.

A knocked sounded. She fell from bed to her feet, dressed sluggishly in a shirt, still pants-less, and sequestered her lower-half behind the door. Valerie looked in at the angle, her face more severe than Hailey’d seen yet.

“Valerie?” She yawned. “Training isn’t for another hour.”

“You’re correct,” she replied with a sidelong glance. “May I come in?”

She shook off sleep, let her in, and stepped into day-old pants. Valerie closed the door with a maternal analysis– and similar disappointment. It was less cleanly than even Hailey would’ve liked, but given the previous night and Valerie’s demanding schedule, lapsing to such a state was inevitable.

Hailey sat on the bed to slip on socks and shoes, “Are we changing the training schedule?”

“No,” Valerie said, stepping before her.

She took a breath, clearly finding difficulty with what she intended to say. Hailey hesitated. Valerie never missed a beat, let alone struggled with thoughts. Her heart tripped over itself.

“Is something wrong? Is Rachel alright?”

“Rachel is fine. Injured and recovering, but fine,” Valerie said stiffly. She cleared her throat, “I am here about your parents. Specifically, what you intend to do about them.”

Hailey squinted slightly. “What d’you mean?”

Her face fixed up with a wizened gravity. “Hailey, you were told, when your training was complete, you’d be given an opportunity to leave.” Hailey’s expression remained unchanged. “However, we also discussed that your feelings might change. You are more than capable of defending yourself and others. You proved as much last night. And while there is much you might yet learn, it requires greater commitment. Namely, remaining here for the foreseeable future. Perhaps indefinitely.”

Hailey’s squint narrowed her eyes. “You’re saying I’m finished training?”

Valerie’s head gave a tilt, “In a manner of speaking.”

“You’re not speaking, Valerie. You’re being cryptic. And I daresay more uncertainly than usual.”

Valerie scowled for a moment, but her face fell back to indifference as she admitted the uncertainty within her. For someone so sure of themselves and their words, any hesitation was likely magnified to onlookers even more so than it felt.

“Perhaps you’re right. Your preliminary training is complete. But there is more you can do to hone your skills and control. Unfortunately, it is not without sacrifices. Nevertheless, the choice remains open, but the offer will not last forever.”

“So choose to live here or go home,” Hailey said plainly.

“More or less.” Valerie hesitated again, made doubly sure of her next words, “As I said you’ve proven yourself capable. Normally, you would begin my advanced training while taking on responsibilities; joining Yasmine’s security team, their patrols, scouting or supply runs.”

“But my choice means I’m allowed to leave before committing to that?”

“Indeed,” Valerie replied. “But it is a true commitment we require. We cannot have flights of indecisiveness risking this refuge. To join us, you must commit wholly to us, else outside loyalties endanger our safety.”

Hailey read the subtext in Valerie’s words, “You mean cut ties with my family.”

“If necessary, yes,” she said with a regretful nod. “As they must remain with us for now, it will appear less divisive than it might later. Whether here or not, you would be forced to consider them second to the group, whose safety takes precedence over theirs when necessary.”

Hailey looked to the floor. Valerie’s commitment could be summed up much more simply than Hailey wanted. She almost couldn’t bear thinking of it, but the people around her deserved better than cowering at her own thoughts– or for that matter, reality. Valerie was ultimately admitting she might have to sacrifice or parents for the others, whether through action or inaction.

Hailey spoke as if her thoughts had been spoken aloud. Valerie didn’t need them to be.

“How do I do that?” She looked up at her, seeking guidance, “How do I tell the people that have loved and protected me my whole life, that they’re to be repaid like that? Second to strangers?”

Valerie sighed, sank beside Hailey on the bed. She was suddenly candid, as if her stiff veneer had never existed, however present it remained otherwise. “I first learned I was a Seer while pregnant and married. The child never came to turn. Not after what happened. My husband and I had been rescued, much as you, by a group of strangers that knew more than we did. I decided shortly after, that I could not bring a child into the world I suddenly found myself in. My husband felt otherwise, but ultimately knew I was right.”

Strained memories played over her face. The sudden flash reminded her of Elise’s traumatized stare before she’d snapped, attacked. It was no wonder she had. She wasn’t even half Valerie’s age, already forced to contend with a thing that brought even the most experienced, stiff-faced Seer to the edges of strength.

Valerie’s stare broke. “We were together only months before agreeing to break it off. As you, I was given the choice to stay and fight, or leave. I had already sacrificed my child, my dreams to train as a Seer. For me, leaving meant those sacrifices were in vain. The only reason to leave was my husband.” She cleared emotion from her throat with a hard swallow. “I devoted my life to this purpose the day I was asked to remain among the group that saved my life. Ultimately, I stayed because it was what I felt best. Not just for me, but for those I owed my life to.”

Hailey watched her a moment, but her eyes fell thoughtfully to the floor.

Valerie’s voice softened. “Hailey, I cannot tell you what the right path is. And it would be disrespectful to deceive you into believing this is an easy choice. It will never will be easy to accept. Nor will its consequences. All I can say from experience, is recognize that your choice affects far more than you alone. As much as I fear to sway you, I must admit, we need you as we need anyone willing to help. However, you are young and yet to live life even meagerly.

“And while your parents may stay, and indeed become as great an asset as you, the distance between you will be irrefutable. It is the same distance that afflicts all Seers. We are of a different breed. One with much greater responsibility and effect. Time and again, the three of you will be forced to accept you are no longer their daughter. Rather, you are their protector, as you are to any here.”

Hailey’s eyes glistened with sadness, “And if I leave?”

Valerie surveyed the glint, “Then you are master of your fates, beyond the reach of those who need or help you.”

Valerie winced at the manipulative way of her own words. There was little to be done about it. Hard truths were infinitely less painful, less dangerous, than soothing lies.

“Whatever you choose, Hailey, know that you have been an excellent student. I could not be more proud of your progress. You have great power, child. I suspect, whether here or elsewhere, you will do great things with it. I only hope they may one day help bring an end to the fight that has forced us all here.” She rose from the bed, turning to face Hailey a final time before leaving, “Your training is complete– at least until a decision is made. Take your time, but do not forget; others’ actions may hinge on your response.”

With that, Valerie left. Hailey stared at the closed door. The conversation was an echo of crashing waves. Thoughts nipped and fled from Hailey’s feet on the shore. Like a tide, her decision felt as if merely an eventuality, long ago decided and only yet to pass. Speaking it required more courage than present, while confirming such a decision so quickly felt ill-advised, disrespectful. If nothing else, she’d take time to summon her voice.

As Hailey sat on her bed, Elise’s restless waves struggled for sleep beyond the wall. She’d done nothing but lie in bed since attacking Hailey. She cried, grieving as much for her parents as for herself. Then, Yasmine had led her inside to sleep. She stayed long enough to believe Elise slept, then left. Elise’s strength left with her. She spent the night bearing thoughts and fears that left her writhing. Fits of half-sleep passed. Periods of blame; blaming herself, blaming Hailey. Imagining ways she might have, should have, acted, reacted.

Reality was cold facts, no matter who was to blame; her parents were dead. Her family was gone. Bodies in a morgue no longer bore the same beating hearts. The ones that had graced such love upon her. Gone too, it felt, was Elise’s own heart. She wasn’t even sure it still beat until its rhythm stumbled at Yaz’s sudden appearance.

Elise’s eyes widened. Yaz winced, “I didn’t wake you, did I?” She gave an awkward shake against her pillow. “You mind if I sit?” She half-shrugged. “How are you?” Another shrug. “I can go, if you like.”

She started to stand but Elise grabbed her wrist, her voice weak, “Please. Don’t.”

She wondered what to say. “Rachel’s awake. A little loopy from medicine, but she’ll be okay.” Elise’s hand slid into hers. Yaz trembled, focused elsewhere. “I’m sorry about last night. I didn’t meant to hurt you.”

“I know.”

Yaz stroked Elise’s hand, only half-aware of it. “Ken’s making breakfast. I can bring it here. No-one’ll blame you for wanting to eat away from the crowd right now.”

Elise trembled this time, a bodily mirroring from the calloused smoothness of Yaz’s hand. She inched into a slump against the headboard, half-sitting, half laying. “I don’t… really want to be alone. I just don’t know if I can be around… everyone, yet.”

Yaz sensed her meaning. “Grief is normal, Elise. Everyone here’s lost someone. We all know what it feels like.” She angled nearer to her on the bed. “Look, what I mean is, if you want me to stay here, just say so. I’m giving you time off from training. You deserve it anyhow.”

Elise brightened subtly, “Will you stay for breakfast?”

Yaz’s eyes caught light, twinkled with a sturdy nod. “Of course. I’ll stay all day if you want– after my security briefing, I mean. Then, I’m yours for the day.”

Elise did her best to will tears, but failed. She sniffled, “Sorry. Thank you.”

Yaz’s eyes fell to their hands. Elise leaned forward. Before she realized it, their lips pressed. It was clumsy. Stupid. She pulled away apologizing. Yaz said nothing, bewildered. She blinked hard, tongue skirting her lip.

“I’m sorry, I just…” Elise trailed off, face red and tears flowing.

She tried to pull her hand from Yaz but the grip tightened. “No.” Her chest fluttered. “Don’t. Just– Is this real or… ”

Elise was equally caught off-guard by her forwardness. “I… think so.”

Her usual confidence wavered “What I-I mean is… is this really what you want or– you know, comfort?”

Elise shrugged, eyes still averted. “I… want it. It started during our training. B-but, I understand if you’re don’t.”

Yaz was cautious, quiet. “Why now?”

Elise preened the bed-sheet, “I just need— you, now. I can’t hide it. Not after… not now.”

Again, Yaz hesitated, “Is it really me, Elise?” Silence. Yaz lifted her face with a pair of fingers met the tear-glazed eyes behind her glasses. Her voice softened, “Is it really me, or just anyone?”

Elise’s eyes didn’t stray. She knew the answer. “You.”

Yasmine leaned. Their lips met again. Elise’s wet face sank against Yaz. Their hearts raced. Heads spun with euphoric vertigo. She forced herself forward, over, straddled Elise atop the bed. Their hands tensed, pulled at one another in a passion fueled by fear, need, desire.

A sudden knock made them jump. Yaz choked on a quiet gasp. Elise’s chest heaved. Yaz sat back on the bed’s edge and called at the door. It opened on Ken, apron-clad over flannel and denim, and still dusted with pancake mix.

“Breakfast’s ready. You want some?”

Elise nodded silently. Yaz spoke aloud, “We’ll be there in a minute.”

Ken saw Elise’s tears, suppressed a regretful twitch, and nodded. He pulled the door closed, completely oblivious. Yaz wasn’t sure anyone should know. Not yet anyhow. The door shut, and she stood, pulling Elise up with her.

“C’mon. You need to keep your strength up. We’ll have the briefing afterward. That way, you’ll know what it’s like. And you won’t have to be alone Okay?”

“Okay,” she agreed, voice cracking.

Yaz slipped her arms around Elise. Their temples met. Warm breath invited Elise’s nearer on her neck. She basked in it, finally forcing away her tears, her strength renewed by Yasmine’s embrace.

Poetry-Thing Thursday: Blue

Cool clear and blue.
Skies of azure hue.
Seas and eyes too.

Soft and sapphic sapphire.
Great lakes and muddied ire.
Swampland turned, cleansed by fire.

Neon gleams of pure cyan.
Spinning skirts dance can-can.
Jeans of denim on a man.

Electric or metallic?
Plain matte or symbolic?
Sweet or salty to lick?

On black or red with white.
Added to darkness or light.
Too sad or it to fight?

A lone color,
that’s all it is.
But so much more,
when you think of it.
So simple,
yet elegant, grand.
Imagine how much,
value is added,
to woman or man,
adult or child,
when viewed as this color,
and its infinite variants.

Short Story: Sprawl-Blue

The sky was that special kind of blended deep-blue only found against the foreground of metro sprawls. The kind of blue where countless neon lights mix it with old-time incandescents, radiating their offspring for miles. While their multitudes fuck to make the paint, they bounce and rebound off the gloss-coats of high-end, self-driving cars.

And at a distance, it all forms that thing loosely termed “Humanity.” Progress. Civilization.

Most call it “sprawl-blue.” Not just ‘cause that’s what it is, but ‘cause it perfectly encapsulates life in a sprawl. It rolls off the tongue easier than sweat along a belly-dancer’s undulating navel. It even gives a bit of the taste of it. Copper, like blood. Hints of irreverent neons. No-one knowing could deny sprawl-blue’s as much a way of life as Junk or The Net.

Personally, Carly didn’t care for either of the last two. She was just a girl trying to make her way without being fucked for her money. In a sprawl, if you didn’t do it for yourself, you sure were getting fucked. Carly didn’t like getting fucked. She liked fucking. She liked to get her hands dirty. Slake her blood-thirst. Seel the adrenaline rush of gun and fist-fights. Most of all, she loved control. Being in control was better than cumming on X.

It started young: a taste of power from being the smartest street-rat in the pack. All the others looked up to her. Boys. Girls. It didn’t matter. Carly was Alpha-bitch. Queen. Empress and Matriarch. Everyone followed her. Those that didn’t, got far outta’ the way– or, on the wrong end of her pack.

She’d started with drugs. At eleven. Stumbled onto a deal gone bad and found a few kilos of grass, X, and Junk. Got her start with it. Made bank. At fourteen she was running guns like a bike-messenger to parcels. Literally. She and her people were decked out in street-rat clothes, looking as pathetic as possible. Were it not for Carly’s cunning, they’d have been that way. She earned herself street-cred, and eventually, control of territory.

It came with blood. Serious cost. Her first turf war left her limping every time it rained. It drew suspicion anytime she was around the “real-world” straights. That term alone always made her laugh enough to forget the limp. The real world was no different from the so-called “shadow world.” Both survived, and thrived, on power, control.

But both worlds had started to take their toll. On Carly. On people in general. Now, at twenty-two, Carly’d seen more than most people three times her age. Double that for straights. She still limped when it rained, was blind in one eye, and had the accompanying slash-scars across her face. Random hunks of meat were missing from her body. Others were fused shut, grotesquely mottled from burns, bullet-wounds, stabbings. Each was a prize of the Sprawl-blue coloring the background of every memory of every night of her life.

She stood center-stage in the middle of a storage warehouse. She was leaned forward, hands on a pallet of bags of cement. Various construction materials and pallets were laid out in seemingly random points about the floors. Elsewhere, were giant rolls of goods. Filled shelves. Everything there waiting to be shipped.

Carly’s people were formed around her, armed to the teeth. They awaited her order to throw themselves into the fray, if or when it came. They’d jump in front of bullets for her. It wasn’t for lack of survival instinct. Carly just had a way about her. A certain charisma. As a child, sheer arrogant confidence had backed it up. Since then, its spine had been reformed by bloodshed, survival. She was the only reason any of her people were alive today.

But Carly knew she wouldn’t live forever. Nor would her people. Or their ways. That’s what tonight was about; survival. Carrying on after the loss, insurance and assurance, that the world could survive no matter what happened to the “shadow people.”

The sprawl had been divided too long. The various gangs at war too long. They’d fought for territory for generations. The battles always ended with less people. Less land. More damage. Carly was no different. The only thing separating her from her enemies were the imaginary lines they’d collectively drawn– for survival’s sake.

Carly knew that. Her people knew that. Most of all, their enemies knew that.

She’d called a meeting, a summit of sorts; all of her gang, all of the other gangs. The collective armies of over a dozen warlords, mafioso, and G’s were en-route to sit down in their massiveness. Carly had managed it with exorbitant gifts. Neutral messengers. Peaceful letters. It was time for a sit down– a parley. Pow-wow. They needed co-existence, she said. If not for themselves, then for all the lost.

It had taken time, and doing, but eventually Carly’d convinced the gang-leaders to meet. It was time to end the wars, to unify the people against their true threats. The elites. Aristocrats. Politicians. Police. In effect, the so-called “Real-world establishment.”

“It is time,” she’d said. “To emerge from the shadows and retake the day.”

The first to reach the meetings were the Asian gangs– Yakuza, Triads, the like. Punctuality was their way. And scoping out the competition, laying in wait in the event of ambush, was the other gangs’ way. With the obvious recognition that no slaughter was about to take place, the Mexican gangs came next. They had to be macho, show they weren’t afraid. Then, the black-only gangs. The white-only gangs. The Italians. The Irish. So many that the warehouse was packed. Standing room only.

Carly’s heart swelled with tension and pride. So many opposing colors together. Even as the last gang-leaders led their people in, she couldn’t believe what she’d achieved. She smiled, lifted her arms wide in a V, and projected her voice.

“Thank you all for coming. You know why we’re here. To ensure the safety of our city. Our people. Our families. There’s only one way to ensure that happens. That is why I’ve brought us all here today.” She lowered her arms as something slid subtly from her sleeve and into her hand. Nobody noticed. Even her own people were oblivious.“We’ve all become a blight,” she said to suddenly confused looks. “We’re a plague. A cancer on this city. I aim to cut that cancer out!”

The obvious trap’s recognition appeared instantaneously across hundreds of faces. A single heart-beat separated it from the explosion. In a blink, the warehouse was in flames. Bits and bodies were thrown about. Blood and chunks strewn everywhere. Carly was blown clear through a metal wall. Her torso was lacerated, organs and bones pulverized by the explosives disguised as cement bags.

Her last breath made her arm go limp. The charred detonator rolled from a hand. Her eyes fixed up on the sky, that never-ending, ubiquitous, sprawl-blue.

Energy and Matter: Part 13

13.

Paradigm Shift

Hailey handed her mother a glass of water across the kitchen bar. Elise still lie in the training room, catatonic. She’d collapsed there. Hailey offered to stay, but Yaz sent her away. Even now she cradled Elise, awaiting news of Rachel’s injuries. Both Miller and Valerie tended to Rachel in a vacant bedroom they’d converted for triage. The extent of the damage, and the length of time for her recovery, was anyone’s guess.

Personally, Hailey was more consumed by issues she could actually address. Fearing for Rachel was inevitable. Grieving for Elise equally so, but she could do nothing productive in either of those instances.

Her mother took the cup of water with a quiet, “thank you.” Hailey sought the best way to explain. Her mother sipped. Her father stared, utterly lost. Hailey sympathized. So much had happened so fast, it was hard not to be lost. Her training was the only thing keeping her on an even-keel. In light of that, she mustered her wits and courage.

“I know you have questions. But listen now. I want you to know why I disappeared. Anything I don’t cover, ask when I’m done, okay?”

Her parents eyed her. Their skepticism said there was nothing to make sense of the chaos they’d seen. The confusion they felt. Most of all, how Hailey had seemingly already processed it all.

She sighed, knowing the look. She’d received it the first time she’d been caught with a joint. It said “Explain yourself,” simultaneously admitting there was way to.

Still, she had to try. She cleared her throat. “It started with a book. A couple weeks ago.”

With that, Hailey began to explain everything that had happened. Her parents’ disbelief was obvious. It was understandable. Hailey saw the insanity in it too. Their daughter had disappeared without a trace for weeks. Then, suddenly showed up dressed like a soldier, toting a gun, and forcing them to uproot without explanation. It warranted some incredulity.

But the chaos should’ve have imparted the dire reality of things.

She hoped they were still in shock. After all, four people had just died in front of them. Two were people they knew well. Between Elise’s parents and the Hunters, enough blood had been spilled that the truth should’ve been obvious.

It wasn’t. While they hadn’t learned or felt what Hailey and Elise had, reconciling their lack of faith was difficult. Hailey had learned that somethings needed to be taken on faith. Apart from being truths difficult to understand, they were also less satisfying.

Hailey finished, bracing against the sink to await questions. Her father sank back in his seat, pressing his temples, as was usual when mentally taxed. Likewise, her mother’s shoulders sank.

“This is insane,” her father finally said.

“Alex.”

“No.” He slid from his stool, pacing the room. He whipped ’round across it. “Don’t you see what’s going on here? Our daughter’s been brain-wash–”

“I haven’t—”

“By this… cult! They’ve trained her to kill, and they’re–”

“Alex, stop!” She shouted, verging on tears.

“Dad. Seriously.” Hailey was both disgusted and disappointed. He was ready to argue, but she cut him off. “These people saved my life. If it weren’t for Yasmine and Bryce, Elise and I would’ve been killed– or worse! They were protecting me. Now they’re protecting you!”

“Protection? You think that’s what this is?” He scoffed. “The only people protecting you are your mother and I– how d’you know they didn’t send those people after you?”

“Why would they send people after me then kill them?” She asked with a harsh discordance.

The empathic projection hit his chest like a bolt of ice. It spread through his veins. Froze his blood. Staggered him. He swallowed hard, instantly terrified.

Hailey clenched her jaw, eyes seemingly afire. “You can’t protect me from them, Dad. I’m sorry that hurts your ego, but we have bigger problems. All of us. You cannot leave this place. Whether you make the best of it or not’s your choice. But you are. Not. Leaving.

His mouth wished to squirm in anger, but the ice wouldn’t allow it. Instead, her mother cut in, “Hailey, try to see this from our perspective.”

She sighed, hand to her forehead. “I have, Mom. But you have to accept there are things bigger than you going on. And I’m involved. Whether we like it or not.” She glanced between her parents, “This place… it isn’t so bad. And these are good people. Friends. They’re as much forced to be here as us. Their lives are in danger simply because they exist.”

“But why are we here?” Dad asked, trying for calm for fear of another ice-bolt. “We’re not… Seers, or whatever. Right?”

She took his calm as a peace offering, matched it. “No. You’re not. But you are the parents of a Seer. You’re valuable. A bargaining chip. If the Hunters had gotten to you before us, you’d have been used as bait to draw the rest of us in.”

“Why? What do they want?” Her mother asked, doing her best to mediate the situation.

Hailey explained as best she could, “The power I have makes me immune to using it. Other people, normal people, can have the power too but it’s like a drug for them. They become addicted. Hollow. They’re mindless husks with no free-will. Seers aren’t like that. The Hunters want us alive. To study, experiment on. But they’ll kill us if we fight back hard enough. But they can’t do that if we’re in hiding. You were targeted to draw us out. Elise’s parents too.”

Her dad threw his head into a disbelieving shake but her mother remained passive. “So Elise is… not a Seer?” Hailey affirmed with a look. “And they want her because she knows you are?”

“Yes. They would’ve hoped going after Elise’s parents would draw us both out.”

“But now they’re…”

“Dead.” Hailey’s heart sank. She hesitated with a breath, then, “Look, the point is, you’re not safe anywhere else. You have to be here. For all of our sakes. If you’re caught, the Hunters will use you to get to me.” She looked explicitly to her father, “Even if you don’t believe this, you have to trust me. Being here is the right thing to do.”

“What about the police or–”

“There’s no guarantee they’ll be able to handle these people,” Hailey said sincerely. “Besides, if they even believed us, keeping a low profile is important unless more groups decide to come after us. The fewer people aware of Seers, the better. We can’t exactly follow the law. And I don’t even want to think about a witch hunt.”

Her mother and father exchanged a look. The former spoke. “So, what are we supposed to do? Just sit here? Honey, we have jobs, and bills, and–”

Hailey took a breath, they still weren’t getting it. “This is more important, Mom. This is life or death. Those things can be fixed later. You can’t fix being dead.”

The words echoed in Hailey’s head longer than she liked. Her body and mind were running on pure adrenaline. Her patience was waning. She’d been exhausted before Yaz had torn her from bed. Now, she’d passed the point where sleep might be possible, much less restful. The entire night had been a clusterfuck. Rachel was wounded. Elise’s parents were dead. Hers were in shock. And everything felt like her fault. She couldn’t handle it. Not if forced to coddle her parents too.

She pinched the corners of her eyes, “Just relax, okay? Too much has happened to figure everything out now. I’ll get you a room and we’ll talk tomorrow. I need to see Elise.”

With that she strolled away, unwilling to allow any further arguments. A definite paradigm shift had occurred. She suddenly understood parenthood better. The pseudo-parental figure she’d been forced to become required she watch her parents as if infants. In a way, they were. Overgrown children, more stubborn and combative than infants could ever dream of. Ultimately each child knew, their parents were the overlords. Parents too, knew children were their charges. The family “chain of command” put them at the top.

That chain was now broken, re-fused, Hailey at its apex. It didn’t take a brain surgeon to recognize how difficult the shift could make things. Hailey couldn’t help but think of Yaz, her seemingly effortless sway over her subordinates. The chain was reversed for her too. The difference was, the people below recognized her authority.

That must’ve been nice.

She found the training room door half-open, peered in. Elise sat against a wall, staring into unreality with wet eyes. Her face remained as empty as in the truck. Grief poured from her in an invisible geyser formed within that burst continuously. Its contents became tidal waves that drowned reality, stung Hailey’s heart. Needles stabbed her throat and extremities. Valerie was right; genuine grief ran deep, yet this went even deeper.

She entered the room as quietly as possible. Yaz knelt beside Elise, a hand on her shoulder. Hailey ambled over, lost for words or action. She’d never been good with grief. Never even experienced a distant relative’s death. Even as a Seer, proper sentiment was beyond her. Thus, she stood before Elise, head hung and hands wrung with guilt. She felt Elise’s pain, and beneath it, her own sympathy.

“I’m sorry… about your parents. Elise, I didn’t… I didn’t see the Hunters ‘til it was too late. Everything happened so fast.” Elise’s empty eyes rose to meet hers. A vague twitch in one’s corner forced Hailey’s head to hang again. “I know there’s nothing to say to… I just want you to know, I’m here. It probably doesn’t help, but…”

She trailed off. Her eyes wandered up again– caught Elise lunging. Time slowed. Her muscles engaged. They were too late. She was on the floor. Elise straddled her chest. Her newly strengthened hands clasped Hailey’s throat. They squeezed like hydraulic vises.

“I’ll kill you!” Elise screamed. Yaz was up, moving. “I’ll kill you, bitch!”

Yaz’s tiny figure pried Elise off in a yank. She locked Elise in a full-nelson. Hailey skittered away, coughing and writhing with renewed air.

Elise rasped in fury, deranged. “I’ll cut your fucking heart out. You bitch! You did this! It’s your fault! You–”

Yaz covered her mouth with a hand, threw her around. In a flash, she had Elise against a wall, forearm at her throat. Elise’s throat scratched for air. Her face was beet-read. Purple veins bulged around her neck and temples.

“This isn’t helping!” Yaz barked at nose-length.

Hailey drug herself toward the opposite wall, catching only bits of air. Elise kicked and struggled, a rabid animal chained to a post.

“What the fuck’re you thinking!?” She slammed Elise against the wall, stunned her, released her to a dazed heap. “Never use what I teach you on one of us. I don’t give a fuck if she just stabbed you in the gut. You. Don’t. Fight.” She shoved Elise’s torso back with a foot, fixed their eyes together. “I am God here. Almighty Zeus. My word is law! Violation means death. No matter how good of friends we are, this isn’t a fucking fight club. Act like a rabid dog, I put you down. Got it?”

Elise’s daze was wearing thin, but still thick enough that she could only half-nod in reply.

“Good.” Yaz stepped toward Hailey, who’d balled up across the room. “And you–” Hailey looked up, her coughs beginning to subside. “Are you injured?”

“I don’t… think so,” Hailey said, drawing sharp breaths.

“Then get lost, I don’t need you.”

Hailey rasped a breath, “I came to–”

Yaz’s eyes were fire again. “I don’t care if you came with a million fucking dollars. Get. Lost!

Hailey fought her way up, then staggered from the room. The door shut. Yasmine put a hand to her forehead that fell back to her side with a shoulder-slumping defeat. She stared forward, hand on her hip, trying to work out what the hell’d just happened– and whether or not she would have to put Elise down.

Elise’s voice crackled, wet and rasping. “It’s her fault, Yaz. None of this… It wouldn’t have happened if she’d stayed away. If she’d’ve kept her stupid mouth shut–”

Yaz snapped, “You’re wrong, Elise. You know that. Inside.”

“Hailey’s power started all of it.”

Yaz’s irritation seeped through, “And you know damned well the moment you learned it, you were as fucked as she was.”

“That’s not–”

“Shut up!” She about-faced, planted firm steps toward Elise with a stiff spine. “I swear to you, Elise, if you ever pull that kind of shit again on anyone here, I won’t hesitate. I don’t care who’s just died, or who’s at fault, you never use what I’ve taught you on one of us. Never. Am I clear?”

Elise nodded silently, eyes averted in shame. Yaz sighed and softened. She sank beside Elise to sit on the floor, her back against a wall. “I didn’t mean to hurt you, but…”

“It’s okay,” Elise moused, wincing. “I earned it.”

She held Elise’s hand in both of hers, eyed her with sympathy. “No, it isn’t. None of it is. It’s not okay we were too late. It’s not okay the Hunters got the drop. It’s not okay your parents are dead. It’s not okay we’re losing this war. None of this is okay.” Elise was about to speak. Yaz stayed her. “If anyone is to blame, Elise, it’s me. Not Hailey. She may be the only reason we’re alive. If she hadn’t sensed those Hunters, we might all be dead.”

“What’re you trying to say?”

Yaz looked at their hands, searching for proper words to explain her thoughts. She gave up, went with her gut, “Hailey is as much a victim as you are. More even. The Seers are just… products of Human evolution. Hunters force them into hiding simply for existing. In the meantime, they threaten them. Everyone they love. Everyone they care about. And if they have the chance, they use or kill them.

“You’re part of that. But Hailey, the others, they shoulder the greatest burden. Fearing for their lives simply by existing. Fearing for, and remaining the cause of, so many others’ suffering.

“But it doesn’t make it their fault, Elise. None of it. Being angry at Hailey isn’t going to help. In the end, it hurts more than you or her. If there’s anything I’ve learned here, it’s that you shouldn’t blame anyone for what happens. Instead, cherish them all the more because they could be gone in a heart-beat.”

Her words rang into silence with a soft breath.

Elise knew she was right, but found it difficult to put aside her own feelings. Blaming Hailey was a defense mechanism. A result of being so lost. Maybe it was rightful in some ways. Maybe it was completely and totally unfair and childish. Neither case changed her parents death. Then again, her wounds couldn’t heal overnight, if ever fully. At the very least, she knew Yaz was right, however unwilling she was to accept it yet.

She sank against Yaz’s shoulder, utterly dejected and defeated, body long exhausted by grief and pain. With a resignation to let things rest for the night, she nuzzled Yaz’s shoulder and tightened her fingers around Yaz’s hand.

Happy 2nd Birthday to the Logbook!

Incoming transmission from the Wordsmith of Sol, please stand-by:

So, here we are. Two years later. Wow. That’s a long time. In my case, it was quite a bit of hair ago too! To all the strands pulled and lost, I salute ye.

BUT! This is a celebration, right!? Right. And more than that, it’s my annual extra-special-thank-you, my readers. Thank you for making my job worthwhile. And most of all, possible. That’s the most important part, you make it possible. I’ll keep things light and short, but your support means the world.

So… Now to fess up: It’s been a tough year. Externally and internally. The internals are the toughest things of all. So, of course, it’s taken me a bit longer to do somethings I promised to. Namely, the Novella collection.

As said, it will be free. It is also, as a result of my making it free, and the aforementioned toughness, not out yet. I promised it a year ago, so I want to apologize for its absence. Rest assured, it is coming. I have a cover in the works to be revealed soon, so keep an eye out!

I also want to announce The Logbook Archives Vol. 2 will release soon! (Actual date TBA) More than that, my next book’s on its way. Free-Fall  follows an amnesiac fighting to cope with his wholly synthetic world. More information can be found on Book Excerpts which I will update soon.

But wait there’s more!

This year I’ve done a lot of writing. A lot. Like… a lot. Mostly, Novellas. Which are, frankly, exhausting. I intend to keep up with my schedule, but I may have to choose between Novellas and books in the future. Should that occur, the latter will take precedent, but I will make it known well in advance, and it would only be a hiatus from Novellas.

Part of that is the result of the aforementioned toughness. Simply, it’s difficult to keep producing work when you’re experiencing hardship– financial, physical, or emotional. I have all three. There I said it.

That said, to help insure my resolve, please consider Funding me on Patreon, buying my books, or spreading the word through twitter and facebook.

I understand things are tough all over. Monetary support isn’t always an option. If you find yourself limited in that way, please merely spread the word. I love my work. I love all of you. Most of all, I’d love continuing my work without, you know, eating out of garbage cans. (The smell kills my appetite)

On that rather jaunty note, here’s a few things I’m currently working on:

Logbook Archives Vol.2
New Logo
“Free-Fall”
Custom domain name
Advertising (to spread reach new readers)
And obviously, more stories and poems!

Now that that’s outta’ the way, we return to your regularly scheduled programming.

Thank you again for 2 great years, and here’s to many more!

SMN

Transmission ends.

Poetry-Thing Thursday: A New World Emerges

I close my eyes,
for a moment in time,
and a world emerges.

Each time it is different:
inflamed and roiling,
or peaceful, serene.

But each time it changes,
as do I with it,
and I do my best to help you see it.

Perhaps I’m not too great at it.
Perhaps I’m best of all,
but all that matters is you see it.

War-torn. Burning.
Ashes. Embers.
Static-gray sky.

Or verdant, gleaming.
Fields of silent life,
that flits on by.

No matter the place,
I see it true,
and show it to you.

Remaining unique,
is hard in this age,
but I find I must try,

whether for me or you,
I can’t quite be sure,
but it is no less real nor tangible.

So again I close my eyes,
to view a world anew,
hoping, even fighting,
to convey its fruits to you.

Bonus Poem: The Choice

I sense change on the air.
There is a scent,
metallic like blood,
but bland like untilled soil.
And with it,
the faint hint of fertile ground beneath.

But strongest of all,
I fear,
are the tastes,
of death and grief,
between here and there.

Humanity must rise,
raze corruption from reality,
seek change anew.
Not because it should.
Nor even for sake of proof.
But because it must,
or else perish.

Sirens and screams,
can birth wonder and dreams,
as easily as they might,
turn greatness
to nightmares that fleam.

But to do either,
Humanity must decide:
Fight and revive?
Or commit suicide?

The choice is ours.