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.

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