What Do You Want From Me?
Hailey and Elise sat at the kitchen bar with Yaz, devouring plates of expertly crafted pierogi. Despite the meager lifestyle required, the resident’s palettes weren’t left wanting. Ken Anderson, one of Yaz’s security, was an bonafide chef. Before getting roped into things, (how the girls weren’t certain) he’d been a chef in Chicago at a five-star restaurant. Whatever had led him there, life in the bunker was better for it. He took his leave after cooking and strolled away with a smile.
The girls sank into silence to eat. Yaz was up a few minutes later, promising to return as soon as possible. The silence thickened. It broke long enough for the pair to finish their meal and make their way back to Hailey’s room. Elise sat before Hailey on the bed, quiet for a long while. When she finally worked up the courage to speak, the weight in her heart visibly weighted her breaths.
“What am I doing here, Hailey?”
She shrugged, “I figured being alone wasn’t–”
“No, why’m I here. In this place.”
“Same as me. Trying to stay safe.”
“Safe from what, Hailey?” She asked, high-voiced with despair. “What’s really going on here? I mean, Seers? Kids with weapons? Security teams? This is heavy shit. How can we know we’re safe among these people, let alone with them?”
“What’s our alternative?” Hailey asked seriously. Elise frowned. “You heard Yaz. We’re being hunted. You saw it yourself, those Hunters are hell-bent on getting to us. Are you forgetting this morning? Or my vision? We can’t–”
Elise was irate. “Hailey; step. back. Examine this.” Hailey stared, failing to see her point. Elise whispered, “We don’t know these people. Now they’re talking about training us like soldiers or something– and against our will.” Her voice strained itself in emphasis, “And you have no idea if that vision was real or just a dream!”
Hailey sighed, blowing frustration like a steam pipe’s release-valve. Depression crept into its place. Valerie’s remarks on inner-knowing returned: The dream-vision was different than dreams alone. It felt different. Even now, the feeling of knowing it wasn’t just a dream lingered in her gut, her heart, her mind. It was confirmed first by feeling rather than logic, as Valerie had said to expect.
But Elise couldn’t understand that. She hadn’t felt Hailey’s terror. She didn’t ache with distant, cracked bones, or whiplash, or the clutching of grotesque, foreign hands. Hailey had, did. Dreams were different. They came with mono-sound. A distance to signify a separation from reality. This vision was surround sound, V-R, full-sensory stimulation.
“It was real, Elise,” she said finally. “Whatever you believe it, I know it. It was real.”
Elise lowered her face into her hands. There was no denying the girls were at odds on the subject– not to mention everything else going on. As much as Hailey wanted to go home, to let Elise go home, she knew they couldn’t. Her gut confirmed it even more-so now than before. Whether or not Hailey would stay after training remained undecided, but her same inner-knowing was beginning to admit Valerie might prove right, in the end.
“We have to find some way to let our parents know,” Hailey said after a few, silent minutes. “We need to ask Yaz when she gets back.”
“And if they say no?”
Hailey grimaced. She wasn’t sure. The more she considered it, the less likely they’d be allowed to communicate with the outside. The bunker was obviously secret, well-guarded. And if what they’d said about the Hunters was true, for good reason. It wasn’t a comforting thought; it only served to further highlight their distance from normality.
Hailey laid back on the bed, eyes shut and mind swirling:
Seers. Hunters. Kids with swords and guns. Training. Hiding. That– this, was her world now. It seemed ludicrous, but reality often was. Fiction writers so aspired to pinpoint reality because only reality could be quite so outlandish and yet remain believable. It followed no plots. It held no logic but its own. And Unlike books or movies, it had no clear beginning or middle. Despite a guaranteed end, one could never know how or when it might manifest. Thus, reality was its own form of ludicriousness. Anyone that wished or claimed to understand or believe it wholly was admitting to a form of voluntary insanity.
It wasn’t until she heard Elise involuntarily sniffle that Haiey’s eyes opened again. She inched upright, sat against the wall, and eyed Elise. Slick wetness ran from beneath her glasses. It matted blue hair to one of her cheeks, and tainted the air with a putrescent grief.
Hailey’s heistated. “A-Are you okay?”
Elise gave a tearful shake of her head. Hailey’s heart ruptured. Of all people, Elise shouldn’t be here. This had stemmed from Hailey’s issues. Elise was just swept up in it. The thought of never seeing her family again, of them worrying for her, was overwhelming. Contrary to their usually reversed positions, Hailey was taking everything in stride. She’d been on the cusp of something far beyond her when everything began, making the transition easier. But Elise was so far from her natural element Hailey doubted she could ever empathize properly.
“C’mere,” she said gently, beckoning her over with open arms.
Elise didn’t move. Hailey pulled her over by an arm and held her. Elise trembled with an internal quake. Something gave at its height, and she broke into quiet sobs. Hailey merely sat, allowing Elise’s grief to flow freely, stroking her hair with a sibling-comfort.
It was a long while before Elise’s grief had exhausted itself. By then, she lie against Hailey’s chest listening to her heart beat. A fugue state filled with a warmth that flowed into her from Hailey. It was too intense for ambient body heat. Too internal. It was as if she were intentionally projecting it to soothe her.
A passage on Seers played through Elise’s mind: Inherent sensitivity and control of emotions means Seers are capable of Empathic Projection: their manipulation of the Link may be augmented so that their emotions are projected to better control their enviornment…
The passage went on, positing pseudo-technical explanations regarding Seers, their energy, and its effects, but Elise’s mind had wandered by then. Now, Hailey seemed to be employing such an ability. As unconscious as it may have been for Hailey, there was no denying what Elise felt.
For Elise, the feelings were an unexpected comfort. Their existence itself was disconcerting, but their presence imparted a warmth and clarity she desperately needed. It was as if her own, usual aloofness were turned back to her, affirming that “everything would be alright.” She couldn’t be sure of that, but Hailey’s feelings assured her of it, calming her. In spite of an undeniable fear they manifested, Hailey’s feelings seemed to say; regardless of the future, Elise wasn’t alone.
It was enough to eventually compel her upright. She pulled herself into a sitting position, smearing eye liner with a hand as she wiped at the last of her tears. “Sorry.”
Hailey’s voice held a sort of soft finality, “Don’t be.”
Elise suppressed what was left of her grief with a sigh. “I know you don’t want to be here either. I just feel like the odd one out.”
Hailey’s brows pinched in perplexity. “How?”
“If you’re a Seer, you’re one of them.” Her head tilted at the door. “I’m not. I’m just… stuck here, more a drain than a help.”
“That’s not true. Without you, I’m alone too.”
Elise was about to speak, but a knock sounded. Hailey beckoned. Yaz appeared, lugging two backpacks, sword over her back and gun at her hip. She set the bags beside the desk, “I managed to get your stuff from your car.” She eyed Elise specifically, “All of it.”
The two girls sat up. Elise suddenly recalled the weed in her glove-box. Hailey eyed Yaz, her mind elsewhere. “Why wasn’t it easy?”
Yaz stretched, “Cops. They roped off the scene. I managed to get in and out undetected, but it was close. Point is, they know something happened. You’ll be reported missing soon, if you aren’t yet.”
“Did they… did they find the bodies?” Hailey asked, stomach churning. Yaz nodded. “Jesus. That won’t come back on us, will it?”
“Maybe,” Yaz admitted. “But we’ve got bigger problems. Once your parents find out you’re missing, it won’t be long before the Hunters move– either against them or us.”
“Them!?” Elise’s eyes bulged. “Why would they do that?”
“I’d do the same. To lure you out.” She eyed Hailey directly, “Your training needs to begin A-SAP.”
“And me?” Elise asked helplessly.
“We’ll get there.” She gestured Hailey to the door, “C’mon. Valerie wants to meet with you.”
“Uhm, okay.” She glanced at Elise, unwilling to leave her alone. “What about–”
“I’ll be fine,” Elise interrupted. “Go. Learn. I’ll see you later.”
Hailey hesitated, but Yaz left the room. Elise shoved her toward the edge of the bed. A moment later Hailey disappeared out the door with a pained breath. She hurried after Yaz, entered the training room to find Valerie behind a desk at the far wall and facing an interior section of room. Her attention was fixed on a notebook beneath her that she scrawled into with purpose.
“Leave us, Yasmine,” she said without looking.
Yaz half-bowed, left. Hailey wandered toward Valerie, stopped a few feet from the front of the desk. She stood in place for a few minutes, waiting patiently. Soon, the hypnotic scratching of Valerie’s pen echoed almost imperceptibly. It rang through the silence and awkward tension between them. She was just beginning to wonder if Valerie would acknowledge her when she slid back in her chair and stood. It gave Hailey a start.
Valerie stepped around the desk, hand dragging along it, and stopped before Hailey. She half-sat atop it, arms bracing her at her sides. She crossed them and began sizing Hailey up. There was more display than purpose behind the movements. Valerie could’ve examined her just as easily from the chair.
“There,” Valerie thought. “Your instincts are good. You wonder why I might rise in such a way. Obviously my eyes are no more impeded from one side of the desk than the other. So why the displacement then?”
Hailey expected the question to be rhetorical. Valerie’s eyes awaited an answer. She cleared her throat, “Uhm, I don’t know. To make a statement… or something?”
“Close enough,” she said, in her headmistress-way. “The actual answer is to show rather than tell. I, and others like us, have trained ourselves to sense others’ emotions. By relying on our instincts and intuition first, we are guided toward otherwise obscured truths through doors pure logic might otherwise close. It is in this way that we know our world and those whom inhabit.”
“But why? Isn’t that dangerous? To rely on gut-feelings rather than logic?”
“Truth does not require logic, only existence. The unconscious mind governs all human action. Thus, the human world is built and driven by it. It is also the foremost human connection to the Link. Through it, we may follow feelings and instincts to learn the truths they surround.”
“The Link” rang in her ears. It was the same phrase found time and again during her research; the connection that facilitated Seers’ powers. It meant nothing to her otherwise. It was fiction until now. Hearing someone so obviously knowledgeable and confident, refer to it so factually, made her discount any doubts of its existence.
“So it’s real? The Link?”
“Indeed. It is the thing in which all Seers must be trained. The source of our power.”
Hailey winced, “Can it be turned off, or removed?”
Valerie’s face darkened. Her voice turned grave. The room went cold. It seemed to Hailey she could almost see her breath.
“There is only one way we know of, outside death; the fracturing of a Seer’s mind.” Hailey listened, unchanged, but lost at her meaning. Valerie’s orbits caught only shadow. “When overwhelmed by powerful forces, a mind may fracture, splitting apart. A thing once whole becomes shattered. Fragmented. Memories break. Reality and its connections fade. The body only remains alive through sheer autonomy. Will no longer exists. Nor do dreams. Emotions. Speech is all but impossible. When it comes, it is incomprehensible, never lasting more than a few disconnected words or ideas.
“Among these things, when it is a Seer’s mind, their energy becomes fragmented. Their power disintegrates. They are all but dead, despite physiological fitness. Even in the best cases, only glimpses of the person they were shine through. A twinkle in the eye. A remnant of twitching facial muscle. Insubstantial given what is lost.”
“So the Link can’t be severed then,” Hailey surmised, unsure of how to feel about the alternative.
Valerie lightened, the headmistress returned to her place amid the well-lit room. “There is no known reversal of the condition, nor is there any other method to it. The Link is as much you as the undeniable connection to a greater thing. Once activated, a Seer cannot become deactivated. As for losing the Link, death is the preferable alternative.”
Hailey agreed with wide eyes, realizing she’d been considering whether or not brain-death was the better alternative to her current situation. Valerie recognized as much, but rather than outright address it, she allowed Hailey’s mind to work its way there alone. She understood the lesson, suddenly eager to have anything else occupying her mind.
“So, you’re going to train me?” Valerie gave a slight nod. “How?”
She straightened upright, “We will begin with mindfulness training. You will be taught to quell your emotions. To sense your environment. And when to trust your instincts alone. Then, you will be instructed on more adept-level mental techniques; the inner-sight, remote viewing, and inner-communication. If you continue to show proficiency in it, you may also receive training to control your precognition. The sight is powerful, and each Seer has some connection to it, but not all have control, nor can they. We will know by then the extent of yours.”
Hailey nodded, mentally preparing for what was to come. Valerie straightened from the desk and bridged the gap between them with a single step. She re-examined Hailey, this time more analytically, possessing a singular purpose.
“Finally, if you show the proper grasp, both Yasmine and Rachel will train you in self-defense. The choice to pursue such lessons outside my requirements is yours. I recommend it. But some of us are not fighters, and it is best not to attempt to be, lest we endanger others. When your training is complete, I will inform you, but you will know regardless. Then you may choose to leave.”
Hailey’s eyes gleamed at the thought, but Valerie’s were too stern for it to gain much purchase. There was no denying there was a road ahead. Undoubtedly, it would be long, but most certainly it would be difficult. More than anything, it needed to traversed with the utmost caution.
Hailey breathed deep and slow, in anticipation of the long path forward. “Okay. Where do we start?”