Energy and Matter: Part 6

6.

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?”

Missed part 5? Read it here!

Poetry-Thing Thursday: To Endure

In the streets the dead walk.
Around them, survivors scamper and scour.
Rats.
There are no dreams;
save death coming on swift wings,
rather than a long un-life.

Those alive wish they weren’t.
Wish they’d perished when it all set in–
or during the unrestful aftermath.
Now, somehow, they carry on.
Survival is more instinct than intention.

Rotting corpses shamble through shadows.
Their bowels drag. Leave trails.
Rot. Filth. Decay.
Groans fill darkness.

Gnarled and mottled feet,
tramp across a ruined civilization.
That which nature,
with her indifferent persistence,
intends to reclaim–
through her devouring,
swallowing more and more each day.
Forever.

But even through the despair,
the stink of hope is palpable.
but the dead find sustenance with it.
Seek those weakest to it.
Even still it remains;
a spark of life, infinity.

For among the mottled flesh,
the rotted bone,
there is an ever-present ticking clock.
An invisible pen,
which scrawls in time,
the tales of one species’ dwindling existence,
and of another’s wounded limping–
for even total war may be lost,
to attrition of a sterile species.

And to that,
it is said,
if there is one thing,
Humanity is known for,
it is its undeniable ability,
to endure.

Short Story: One Last Job

Tropical sun met azure blue and granulated beige along the island coast. It was one of the Caribbean islands, but he was no longer sure which. All that mattered was his presence there, beach-bumming beneath a frosty glass of something more fruity and liquored than an uptown gay bar on pride-day.

He’d been lost a week now, and figured civilization was due to rear its ugly head again. That was how vacations had always been, no matter where they were taken. Why would retirement be any different? A few days in a paradise, or a shit hole, depending on his mood at booking, then back to the grindstone of life, love, and the pursuit of flabbiness… or however that old adage went.

Americans, he’d never understood them. Being born one should’ve helped, but he was more a man of the world these days, without country, than anything specific really. Government work had a way of doing that. All the while, missing the irony.

He raised the drink to his lips and basked in the warm, tropical sun that gleamed across tanned limbs. He’d been sunburned the first few days he’d been on the island. It had since faded into the milieu of a tan, like so many bygone memories. Like them, he was glad to see it go. To take on the near-bronze of the islanders was to shed the moniker of main-lander and obscure himself all the more.

He’d never be an islander himself, but so few were these days. He didn’t mind. Didn’t have enough of the flexibility to his spine anymore anyhow. He’d just take on one of the million other adjectives expats like him got. What his would be, he wasn’t sure yet. It would come in time. That was just fine by him.

He settled back against the chaise lounge-chair, fruity drink resting on its arm. Left hand wrapped around it and cooled from slick condensation, it felt real, tangible. Not like the twenty years of government work, nor the bulk spent at a desk writing, re-writing, or redacting information in reports.

Sure, he’d taken in the sights, but mostly state-side and never long– and always during work hours. On those rare excursions, he’d do the job, do it well, then return for the paper-work. He’d only ever seen the world on his own time and dime. The other agents were on Uncle Sam’s. Not him. “The drag of a quiet life,” he’d always joked.

Now he had all the time in the world and all the dimes he’d ever need.

A shadow fell over his closed eyes. Some pompous bastard hoped to steal his sunlight. A near-silent rustle of polyester depressed his lungs in a sigh. There was only one type of creature around that had the gall to steal a man’s sun and don polyester rags on paradise’s beach; a US government worker. As far as he knew, he was the only one around. They’d found him for another, damned-fool reason.

“I’m retired. Go away.”

The shadow over his eyes remained in place, but he sensed its squirming. Great, a twitchy suit. They couldn’t even send a vet to bug me. He cleared his throat with an audible sternness, but the creature before him began to speak anyhow.

“Agent Frank Marshall?” A man’s voice asked.

“I said “go away.”

“Sir, I’m here to inform you your expertise is required state-side.”

Go. A. Way.

“Sir, I’ve been authorized to take you in, with force if necessary,” the kid said.

Marshall chewed on the corner of his mouth, pulled away his sunglasses and sat upright to view the kid in all his passive aggressive, be-ragged glory. “Listen when I say, boy, that you couldn’t if you tried. That being said, I’m comfortable where I am, and I’m not moving from this seat unless I have to piss. The resort staff will even bring me another drink if I wish.”

“Sir, I’m authorized to inform you that you have one more chance to comply before you are forced along.”

“Good luck, kid,” Marshall said, sinking back and slipping on his sunglasses to sip his drink.

The kid’s wrist flicked. Something bit Marshall’s neck. A moment later he was squinting against blurry eyes at a pink-feathered dart. The capsule in its center was an auto-injector, tip red from a lone drop of blood.

Probably one of Monty’s. Bastard.

He cast an upward look at the kid, “Damn.”

He went limp against the chair, fruity drink spilled off the arm of it. He woke to the obvious sounds of a dual-engine plane infecting his foggy head. He shook off the last of the drug, and blinked through semi-darkness to grasp his surroundings. The private jet took shape. It dissolved into bright light flooding his vision.

He blinked away water, rubbing a throbbing temple, “Could’a warned me first.”

The kid moved to sit before him. “Agent Marshall, I’m here to brief you.”

He rubbed his eyes “No shit.” He held a file-folder toward Marshall. “Just give me the cliff-notes, kid. I don’t care about your book report.”

The kid cleared his throat, clearly unhappy with his diminutive title. “You’re to enter the Royal Oakton Arms Hotel in Oakton, Ohio. There, you will retrieve a key for a fifth-floor room. Inside, you will find your equipment. You will then proceed to the roof to await the arrival of a certain, political figure, who will be taking residence in a hotel across the street. You must be ready to complete your mission as soon as your target arrives or–”

He rolled his eyes, “The agency will disavow, blah, blah, blah. Just give me the name, kid. This isn’t my first rodeo.”

Instead of speaking it, the kid opened the file-folder to the first page. Paper-clipped to a dossier and itinerary was a photo of a political figure. A big one. One with few rivals, in fact. The guy had made a name for himself in the media as a windbag. He had a big head and less bright ideas than a dead-light bulb. The former was good for Marshall, easier target. The latter was bad for everyone, making the former more important.

Still, Marshall winced at the image, surveyed the kid for any deception mistake. He found none. The kid was more stone-faced than he’d have thought him possible. Something in the kid’s face said this outcome was obvious to all involved. Straight up through the chain of command the little pissant clung to, decisions and agreements had been made: this one needed to be dealt with.

Marshall cleared his throat, resigned to his do his duty. “Alright. Fine.”

“One last job until retirement, sir. The agency has agreed never to contact you again provided you complete this mission,” he stated officially, unblinking.

My ass.

“Why would they want to?” Marshall said. The kid looked as if about to speak. He put his hand out, “That was rhetorical, kid. No-one’s gonna’ wanna’ touch this with a thirty foot cattle-prod. But I expect compensation, and a one way ticket back to my island.”

The kid nodded. The briefing ended; Marshall’s last, if Uncle Sam kept his promise. Of course, that was never a certainty in this day and age. Come to think of it, that was the reason the problem existed at all. The reason he was ever needed. Uncle Sam and promises were never quite what they seemed.

When the plane finally landed, the taxi took him to Oakton. Evidently, boredom remained a constant despite most believing it had been eradicated. When he found himself standing in his room, bag of gear on the bed, he remembered his first time offing someone for good ol’ Uncle Sam. That guy’d been a windbag too. But all of ‘em were. Difference was, the agency didn’t like the anti-war and peace talk he was spewing. This one was just a pain in the ass for all involved.

Marshall sneaked his way to the roof. Although the more he thought of it, the less he felt he had to. Hell, he’d probably be a national hero this time tomorrow. He arrived top-side, unpacked his gear, checked the wind, the time, and adjusted his scope to wait.

A few, short hours later, he found himself once more on a beach with a fruity drink. This one was even more colorful than the last, and sweeter. He liked it. The rest of the world was still reeling, or perhaps rejoicing was the better word. But Marshall didn’t think about it once, he merely deflated into his chair, doing his best to become as liquid as his drink. Maybe he’d get up, sooner or later, take a piss in the ocean. Or maybe he’d drift off, dreaming about the few melon-popping sessions between ungodly bouts of paper-work. So long as he remained island-bound, he couldn’t have cared less.

Energy and Matter: Part 5

5.

In The Beginning

Neither girl was sure how long the ride lasted, but at some point the rain stopped. Though they’d both checked their phones at various points, they could only guess the time they’d left the alley, and thus that they’d been traveling over a half-hour. Yaz let them out as soon as the truck stopped, but it was as pointless to attempt discerning their whereabouts. They were in the woods near a cabin; anything more was too much to expect yet. Neither of them liked the idea much, but the alley attack was too fresh to want to be elsewhere.

They stood, waiting for Yaz’s instructions. The air was thick, the woods thicker; the sun only breach the canopy in small, rhombic rays. Sunlight scattered across mud and debris-strewn ground, disturbed only by the splat of Yaz’s boots on the ground. Soft tamps elsewhere marked the appearance of the driver, clad like a lumberjack in flannel and sporting an equally large beard.

If it weren’t for his grizzled, massive figure, the girls might’ve mistook him for a hipster. The rigid discipline in his walk, and the holstered pistol on his right hip, spoke of a genuine article though. The rifle slung over his back only confirmed it. If they hadn’t been present for their own escape, Hailey would’ve thought him hunting for his breakfast. Elise eyed her for guidance, and in turn, she eyed Yasmine.

Yaz presented him with a hand, “Bryce Miller. You can thank him for getting to you in time.”

The girls murmured “thank yous.” His dark eyes tensed to a squint, their corners wrinkled from a life harder than Hailey wanted to imagine. It had evidently left him suspicious of everyone and everything, too.

The squint settled on Hailey with skeptical appraisal. “New Seer, huh? Don’t seem like much.”

“They never do, Miller,” she reminded. Elise and Hailey exchanged a curious look.

Bryce cleared his throat, “Just keep ’em outta’ the way.”

“We’ll do our best,” Yaz replied. Her tone shifted sternly, “Relieve Anderson from perimeter patrol. Tell ‘im to keep his radio on. I might need you again.” Miller marched away with purpose. Yaz muttered, “Fuck if I’m gonna’ have someone below me telling me what to do.”

“Below you?” Hailey said.

Yasmine motioned them to the cabin, “I’m head of security.”

“Uh… what?” Elise said.

Yaz pushed her way into the cabin, “The residents put me in charge. Youth has its benefits. Imagination’s just one of them. With my training, it only makes sense.”

Elise wasn’t sure she agreed. Nothing seemed to be making sense. They rubbernecked their way into the cabin, questioned the girl’s sanity. The place was quaint, cozy even, but it was barely a trio of rooms, one open and split between a kitchen, dining room, and an arrangement of sofas before a fireplace– hardly a place to house “residents.”

Moreover, while the other two rooms weren’t discernible, Hailey guessed they weren’t more than a bedroom and bathroom. How Yaz expected them to be safe there was beyond her. Before she could say anything, Yaz stepped to a framed oil-painting on the wall. With a sideways tilt, the painting resonated with a click! A section of floor slid away in the center of the cabin’s main, adjoined room.

A platform elevator trundled up and into place, locking with another loud click. Yaz stepped onto it, motioned the girls along. They sank into darkness beneath the cabin, the light above shrinking as the floor slid back in place. A moment later, new light bled in from a break in the concrete at one side of the platform. It began at their feet, grew to full-height while the elevator sank into its housing and locked again.

LED bulbs in industrial grade light-cages glowed overhead, melding new-age tech with old-era cement to form a sturdy bunker. The entryway merged into a short corridor that angled left a short way ahead. Yaz led them around the corner, revealing that it doubled in width and height. A series of rooms were arranged along its sides, barred by heavy, steel doors; some ajar, others closed and with or without light splaying through their cracks.

Hailey and Elise followed Yaz, utterly astonished. They stopped at a room on the left, midway down the hall. She ushered them in. It was small, mostly bare, but contained as many essentials as possible; bed, dresser, end table, a desk and chair. The only other thing in the room, save a ceiling light, was a rug in the center of the cement floor, no doubt to combat the occasional bout of cold.

“You can decide which of you gets it. I’ll give the other the one next door. That way you’re close,” Yaz said casually.

“Rooms?” Elise asked. “How long do you plan on keeping us here?”

Yasmine’s face stiffened. “As long as it takes to train you. Until then, you’re walking targets.”

“Targets for what?” Hailey asked.

“We call them Hunters,” Yaz said, crossing her arms with authority. “We don’t know who they’re working for, or where they’re coming from, but we know they want Seers for experimentation.”

“What? Why?”

“Seer-abilities are valuable. Seers are even more valuable because they can withstand their connection to them. A normal person attempting to use the Link becomes addicted over time. We do what we can to keep the Hunters from capturing Seers because we can’t survive otherwise. We suspect they want to study Seers’ genetics to harness their abilities.”

Hailey recalled her visions. “Why would someone want the ability?”

Yaz looked her over, “Only an untrained Seer would feel that way.”

“What?”

“Think about it.” She let her arms fall to her sides, then made small, pointed gestures. “You have the ability to read minds. Properly trained, you can manipulate objects, remotely or locally. You can kill anyone, anywhere in the world, with a proper, singular thought. Among those things, there are often hidden talents– healing abilities, summoning power to create things fire, electricity. Do you have any idea what malicious hands could do with them? Can you even imagine what a government or a military would do to get hold of it? To know, and anticipate one’s enemies? To eliminate them without ever deploying a single soldier? A country would completely disarm its nuclear arsenal for just one Seer. They wouldn’t need nukes afterward.”

“Jesus,” Elise breathed.

Hailey stared. The walls were ready to close in. She didn’t want to be hunted, or experimented on, or to manifest fire, or hear thoughts. She wanted to smoke weed, fall in love, have sex, graduate high-school, go to college– she wanted a normal life. Yaz sensed her thoughts from the light being snuffed in her eyes.

“I understand you don’t want this. Who would? Fact is, if you leave here now, without being trained, you will die– or worse. I can’t allow that. You’re not a prisoner, but your activation means danger for more than you and your friend. Anyone you come in contact with might be used against you now. If the Hunters were to capture you, find what they’re looking for, they’d stop at nothing to root us out. I can’t allow that.”

Elise’s anger began to grow, “So we’ll be kept here against our will?”

Yaz sighed frustration, “What I’m saying is what I’ve said: As long as you’re alive, you’re in danger. Because I saved you, you’re also now a security risk. Your choice is simple, go along with what we request, receive our training, or get locked up until we end the fight or move.”

Hailey grit her teeth. She couldn’t argue but she wasn’t about to let such a crass ultimatum go unpunished.

Elise huffed, puzzling things out as she saw them. “And what about me? Why am I a risk?”

Yaz’s eyes lingered on Hailey’s before darting away, “You have valuable knowledge. The Hunters will take it from you. You’ll be tortured until they know of everything you know.”

“What if I just agree not to say anything?” Elise asked, thinking she might withstand torture.

Yaz’s face hardened into a death-mask. “This isn’t for show. It isn’t a threat. It is someone beating you ’til you talk. Pulling your teeth and fingernails out. Breaking down every. mental. barrier. you have, to retrieve everything from your mind. It is painful. It is thorough. And it is utterly unstoppable.”

Elise’s stomach rose into her throat as her heart sank. Hailey swallowed her own anger, but refused to let fear replace it. “Just tell me what to do to get out of here as fast as possible.”

Yaz seemed disappointed, but acquiesced. “Decide which one of you gets this room, then we’ll talk to Valerie.”

Elise and Hailey exchanged a look, and with a shrug, Hailey took the room, leaving Elise to the identical one beside it. Yaz kept her word, and quickly led the girls to the far-end of the corridor and a room on the right. Ahead, the corridor widened into a large room, divided by a bar-like counter at the edge of a kitchen. Between it and the entrance, the room was further divided in two sections; the right a reading area of couches, chairs, and filled bookshelves; the left, a large, twelve-person dining table presently empty.

Behind the bar, a pair of men shuffled about, the light too low to give any hint of their features. Yaz stole their attention back, and opened the door to a room whose interior was astonishing given its utterly unremarkable exterior. While outside it appeared to the same, ten-by-twelve space as the other rooms, inside it formed that room, then billowed out to half the size of a gymnasium where its rear-wall should be. School desks were scattered here and there before a white-board, and between it and a series of gym mats.

Hailey was immediately awash with an inexplicable power. A sudden belonging accompanied it, as if all her life she’d been searching for a place, and had at last found it. Her heart skipped a few beats. Her breath fluttered in her chest. She swept the room with a wide gaze that made it feel greater with each moment that passed. Though its dimensions remained unchanged, it took Hailey a moment to come to grips with the training room and see it for what it was.

A middle-aged, sinuous looking woman strolled past a young boy at a desk, and made her way over, greeting them with a firm, extended hand. Her dark eyes were alert, wily; her spine rigid. She looked down on Hailey as though a headmistress to a fresh, fearful pupil.

“Valerie Henson,” she said, focused on Hailey. “You feel it. Good. That energy? You’ve power, child, but it is chaotic, unfocused.”

Hailey exchanged a deranged look with Elise and Yasmine, “Uh. Okay.”

Valerie’s face stiffened. “I may sound crazy now, but I assure you I am not. In time you will grow to understand my meanings better than you believe possible. Until then, you must check any attitude at the door. Skepticism is alright. Critical thinking is required, but I will not accept any disrespect.”

Hailey winced, “Sorry. I’m overwhelmed. This is all kind of…”

“Insane?” Valerie asked, softening only slightly. Hailey grimaced with a nod. “It is how we all feel in the beginning.”

“It goes away?”

Valerie shook her head. “No. It merely transforms. The feeling is an effect of having your reality turned upside down for a logic obfuscated by emotion. You cannot begin to understand your power until you accept that understanding must come first through inner-knowledge. Only then can your logic be receptive enough for an explanation to manifest.”

Hailey had to think over what she’d said before responding. Considering how riddle-like her speech was, it seemed understandable. “So… I need to learn to take certain things at face-value before understanding them deeper?”

“In so many words, yes.”

Hailey eyed the three women beside her, then heaved a sigh. Everything Yaz had said about staying and training rushed through her mind– along with everything she risked by leaving. To say she wasn’t angry would dismiss her feelings.

But Hailey had never been one hurt others, let alone through inaction. In a way, it was the only reason she was here now. It was why she’d tagged along with Elise, to ensure against inaction. Now, it seemed any action would’ve caused her to be a target, and that her tagging along had made it the lesser of evils.

Given the circumstances, everything thus far had been handled as best as it could be given the options and information available. No matter what now, neither she nor Elise could be safe outside the bunker. Hailey wondered if they were really safe in it, but let the thought go in favor of more pressing matters. Presently, least of all evils seemed to be staying until properly trained– both of them.

Hailey eyed Valerie. “If I accept your training, can I return home?”

One corner of an eye tightened and slacked, “Yes. In time, however, you may feel that this is where you belong.”

Despite the feeling the power had given her, she Hailey couldn’t see herself feeling that.

“No. I’m a Junior. I don’t even have a driver’s license. This isn’t where I belong. This is where I’m forced to stay to keep people safe.”

Valerie’s nostrils flared slightly, but a hint of compassion tainted the silence between them, though outwardly she remained unchanged. “Be that as it may, your feelings may be wholly changed after my training. But enough of this for now. You must relax before you can begin. Yasmine?”

For a moment, a young girl appeared in her eyes, but disappeared in a blink, “Yes?”

“Take our new guests to the kitchen and have Kenneth fix them a meal.” Yasmine bowed her head and started for the door. Valerie eye the girls in tandem, “All I ask of you both is to be respectful and try to relax. We have enough on our shoulders here that there is no need for more. We are friends, not enemies.”

With that, Valerie turned back to the young boy, and Elise immediately followed Yaz. Hailey hesitated to examine the curious belonging, but let it settle into the background. She started forward as a vise of anxiety constricted her chest. She swallowed hard, terrified by its sudden appearance, and hurried after the others, hoping to chase it away.

Missed part 4? Read it here!

Poetry-Thing Thursday: Our Rise

One day Mars
will be as inhabited
as the earth,
from upon which
we gaze up at the stars.

There we’ll look up,
into a new sky.
Imagine that.
What will we have seen,
when we say good-bye?

And when the universe itself,
fades to black,
what will all of our existence,
have measured to, having begun,
as but a dust-mote on a shelf.

Though it may be,
billions of years
perhaps billions more than that,
will we last?
Or succumb to our fears?

Perhaps we’ll have seen,
or at least dreamed,
of our greatness being sown,
and our species’ rise,
from the blue and green.

This marble unto which,
we once were born:
shall it have been forever our prison?
Or will the cage have we flown,
looking to the stars we adorn?

Short Story: Losers

Brad was a gas-station clerk; twenty, lean, and sickly-looking with circles so dark beneath his eyes he could make a raccoon blush. He’d spent his late teens in the gas-station by night, and the trend looked to continue through his twenties. To most, he was a loser. Sometimes he agreed. At least he was independent, self-sufficient, he’d say other times. It wasn’t much, but it was something.

A typical day saw him rise at noon. He went through his daily motions of coffee, showering, over the drone of scripted, daytime court shows. His dingy, one room apartment was on “the bad side” of town. Brad had learned since moving in, “bad-side” mostly meant, “unlike us” for those speaking of it, regardless of circumstances on either side. In his case, it meant poor.

Though there were a few of the truly undesirable around, the “government assist” housing surrounding his cut-rate apartment was simply filled with the “economically unfortunate.” Most called them disadvantaged, but Brad had always taken issue with this moniker, as if all those impoverished souls needed was to work a little harder and they too, could be Dukes and Dames of all they surveyed.

The truth, Brad knew, was much more difficult to accept: the “unfortunate” simply weren’t born into the wealthy elite or the middle classes above them, so they could never achieve what they’d supposedly been given a disadvantage at achieving. In other words, the “truth” was that the current social structure didn’t allow them to climb any higher without serious reformation. Brad had been born into middle-class living, but to escape the clutches of otherwise well-meaning parents, he took on the life of the impoverished. His own unwillingness to be anything else meant he’d all but cut ties with them after they’d tried to force him home for the sake of appearances. It might not have been much, he said, but it was his.

Like Brad, most of his neighbors ascribed to this method of thought. They were hard-working people that rose daily to slave for low-wages and no respect– and in the vain hope of one day lifting themselves from the muck.

The winters were the hardest for Brad and “his” people– the ones most would lump in as losers, whom like him, walked a straight and narrow just trying to get by. Most were laborers, single or child-bearing households with one wage earner. Often enough, those laborers received pink-slips en-masse when the weather turned to cold and the jobs froze with the ground. The influx often came with media-overblown sicknesses that frightened people into inoculating themselves and their children.

In truth, the monetary cost was greater than the risk, but none knew that. Meanwhile, those few claimed by true sicknesses were fraught by their afflictions’ medical costs. Between little work, rising medical costs, and the ever-creeping monster of inflation, it was a wonder to Brad that more people hadn’t recognized the slump into Third-World others had been forced along.

Brad was one of the lucky losers. Despite his sickly looks, and his emaciated build, he ate well enough to remain otherwise healthy. In combination with his hearty genetics, that had gifted him a robust immune system, it seemed no disease could overcome him. Physiologically speaking, he was an impregnable fortress of loop-hole turrets, regimental archers, and countless swordsmen. Were it not for these facts, perhaps the night the world caught up with him he would have died. Even so, he nearly did anyhow.

He rose as usual, coffee, hygiene, court-room dramas, and all. He made himself as presentable as any man unaware of such a monumental event to come could. Like those unlucky folks outside Ford’s Theater, he was merely ready to bustle onward through life, but was instead hit with a dose of reality that would’ve killed those losers of smaller luck.

He arrived at work as the walk-ins did in that season; layered in thick clothing, and with all but his eyes covered by a scarf, hat, and gloves. The only out of place item on him were the gym-shoes for hours of standing to come when others might have worn boots in the cold.

He hunched forward, hunkered into his coat and slinking toward the counter, as much at home there as in his dingy apartment. The two were similarly cramped, ugly, though the former bore considerably more color from the aisles of flashy products. In other words, had he an alley to himself, the gas station would’ve been right up it.

Like the most frigid of midweek nights, things were slow, tedious. Work had started just as the day’s last shift-change urged departing workers in and working departees out. The nine-PM rush quelled itself by ten with only the occasional hooting of night-owls or stoned-teenagers buying necessities to break the monotony. Cash and food stamps changed hands, debit and credit cards were swiped or shoved in to droning beeps, but that was it. Nothing unforgettable. These were the same, unfortunate souls that had lapsed into the haze of life; where day and night, weekday and weekend, had little meaning or distinction.

Brad sympathized most with this sect of “his” people. The all-nighters, graveyard shifters, and nocturnal creatures that prowled, patrolled, or otherwise maintained the night. And it was one of that group, most prone to prowling, that stepped up to the counter.

Brad greeted the man habitually as he stepped up to the counter. He seemed out of place, as if he fit into none of the groups Brad saw nightly. He looked almost alien, with his long, emaciated figure, skinnier than even Brad’s. Signs of addiction were present in the gaunt of his face and the brown rot of his teeth. Brad guessed Meth: it wasn’t a stretch. Those few, nearby undesirables still present in society had chosen that particular poison as their cash-cow.

Nonetheless, Brad showed no disrespect toward the man, nor in response to his request for “a pack of smokes.”

Brad turned away mechanically, lifting cigarettes from the display. He turned back and found himself staring down the end of a snubnose .38. It took his mind but a moment to connect with the steel death staring him down across the counter.

Brad dropped the cigarettes, raised his hands, “Take wh-whatever you want, man.”

“Give m-me e-everything in the d-drawer!” He stammered back with a strung-out scream.

His fury made him look more alien than any creature Brad had seen. The shaking steel death in his hand looked too familiar. Brad’s mind was slowed by terror, but the gun waggled and reality went in double speed.

“All the cash!” The man shouted, the gun pivoting left and right in a narrow arc. “Everything! Bag it. No funny stuff.”

“R-right,” Brad said with a habitual pull of a plastic bag. “N-no funny stuff.”

He rang up a false charge, opened the drawer. Hundreds in cash and change from the last few hours flowed into the bag. Had he not been alone, Brad knew, that money would’ve been locked away in the safe, and out of his hands. But the manager was home, sick, with the flu. The money was to pile up ‘til morning, when the next shift’s manager was due to collect before he clocked out.

Shaky hands fumbled paper-bills to the floor. “S-s-sorry.”

“Get ‘em!” He shouted.

Brad dropped to his knees, trembling. He felt as if standing before the firing squad. Tears fell involuntarily from his eyes. The alien creature softened.

“Nothin’ p-person, man. T-times is hard. Gotta’ support family. Nothin’s gonna’ happen to you, so long’s you pick up all that money.”

“R-right.” He stashed the last of the money into the bag, readied to hand it over.

“Yur comin’ with me,” he said, gesturing sideways with the gun. “Gonna’ cross the parking lot ‘n then you good. Can’t have the c-cops called too soon.”

Brad didn’t like it. He felt his stomach lurch. He stepped around the register, hands up and bag dangling from a thumb. He was escorted at gun-point into the cold night. The laterally-arranged fuel-pumps were vacant, save a single car just out of sight. The .38 compelled him across the lot, to the curb of the main-road, then across to its far-side. A car skidded to a stop before them.

Sirens blared through the night.

“You damn fool!” The creature barked at him.

He dove into the car, and for a flashing instant, Brad saw a human being. It was afraid, hungry. Then, the revolver rose and popped! A single round struck Brad’s gut. The shooter and his getaway car were gone before Brad hit the ground. How, he wasn’t sure until later, but those sirens screamed for the gas-station with angry vengeance. Brad lie in the snow, bleeding and half-frozen. A car inched over, its head-lights adding white to his pained and darkening vision.

Anyone else should have died that night. Brad wasn’t anyone else. In fact, he was the only “one else” for a young, espresso-skinned woman that more than qualified as stunning. As one of his regulars, she was also an independent, people-loving “loser,” content (like he) in the goings of her life.

Were she not so certain of that fact, she might never have been compelled to linger at the pump. She might never have been looking for an excuse to ask Brad out. She might never have wrestled with the decision, and thus witness the robbery, call the police, or watch Brad cross the road.

Had she refused to accept being a “loser,” she might have found herself in conflict with her feelings. Her nerves might then have gotten the best of her, and she might not have sat, waiting and arguing with herself. She might then have driven off, hopelessly romanticizing “what might’ve been.” Most of all, had she been anything else but herself, she would never have been quick enough to rush to Brad’s aid, or apply the life-saving pressure his wound required.

But she was herself, and she was there: she did apply the pressure, flag down the officers on scene, whom radioed EMT’s, then took her thorough description of the two men and their getaway vehicle. It wasn’t a half-hour after Brad was rushed to a nearby hospital that she was identifying the men. She waited two hours while she gave and signed statements, then made sure to locate and populate Brad’s otherwise-empty bedside.

What happened after he awoke is a matter of another tale, much too long to be told here. The conversation that took place immediately after he awoke was almost tedious in its way, but properly sets the tone for that lengthy tale, for those interested.

Brad awoke with a throbbing head. “Ugh. What happened?”

The woman was on her feet. She pressed him back to the bed, “Don’t try to sit up, you’ll pop your stitches.”

He hit a threshold of pain, then allowed her to ease him backward. Her espresso-skinned face, and jewel-bright eyes flitted through his mind, unseating a buried memory.

“You’re one of the regulars.”

She nodded. Her gentle hands and glowing smile forced a mental recall of the multitude of times they’d interacted. He’d seen her, felt a draw. He buried it, played it off as wishful thinking. Her smile glowed a little cooler now, but more from concern than anything.

Her hand withdrew but hesitated near his. She spoke almost breathlessly. “I s-saw everything, and… well, I wanted to stay here until someone else came, or until you w-woke up. I didn’t want you to feel alone after what happened.”

He gave an earnest smile, “Thank you. But… why?”

She chewed her bottom lip timidly, twiddled her nimble thumbs. “I was… um. I noticed they had no-one to call and … well, since I was there– and was sorta, gonna, maybe, ask you out– I figured I’d just s-stay… you know, as a f-friend. In c-case you n-needed someone… here, I mean.”

He blinked off a fog of morphine and pain. “You were gonna ask me out?”

Her big eyes glistened, “Y-yeah, I mean, i-if you wanted.”

He blushed, felt his cheeks reddened, and managed a laugh that made him wince. She looked as if about to lunge, fearing something more, but grimaced with a desperate laugh. Her gaze fell to her twiddling thumbs.

Brad watched her, found himself as equally stretched for words. “Wow.” His wishful thinking was rekindled into a blazing fire of hope, “I’m– and you’re so… I mean, why me? Why would someone so… be interested in me?”

She looked up with another timid, half-smile, having found her confidence again. “You’re cute, and I figured, since I see you everyday, we sort of have something in common. I-I really was only gonna ask for a-a date and then, well with everything now–” She sighed, “I understand if you don’t… want to, you know?”

He laughed again, shallower this time, then like her, found his confidence again. “From the sound of it, you saved my life. Least I can do is oblige such a… stunningly beautiful woman.”

Her eyes rose at him with a twinkle of hope. He let his hand rest atop hers, “I’m Brad, by the way.”

She giggled, shook it, “Sheila.”

One date: that was the agreement. And it was held to. Time and again, until long after they’d already become inseparable, they recalled that fateful meeting. No matter what anyone said about two such “losers,” they’d found perpetual joy in the fickleness of life– and in one another’s contentment of their place in it. Together, they took their own happiness and combined it, only to find more. What losers…

Energy and Matter: Part 4

4.

Told You So

“C’mon, c’mon,” Hailey muttered, cell-phone at her ear.

A pause gave way to Elise groaning, “Nuhgh. Hello?”

“Thank god.”

“Hailey?”

“Are you okay? Did you get home alright? Did anyone follow you?”

Elise yawned, checked her clock. “Hailey, it’s four-thirty in the morning. What’re you–”

“Did anyone follow you home? Did anything seem out of place?”

“What? No. Why?”

Hailey sighed relief, but her voice sharpened. “Don’t go to school alone. Pick me up first.”

Elise groaned again.“Is this about the psychic thing?”

“I’ll explain later. Just promise you’ll pick me up before school.”

Elise sighed, “Fine. I promise. Can I go back to sleep now?”

Hailey swallowed her fears, “Yes. Sorry. Just… please be here.”

“I will be.”

The line cut out. Hailey suddenly realized she’d been pacing. She set her phone on the end-table, sank to her bed beside it. There was no way she’d sleep again, but resting wouldn’t hurt. She laid back on her bed, eyes closed and mind racing. A thousand different scenarios of what could happen raced past. All of them were changed. Being there ensured no-one took Elise by surprise. If Hailey had her way, they wouldn’t take her at all.

By the time her alarm went off, Hailey was wired. She shot out of bed, showered, dressed and ate in record time. Moments later, the front door sounded and Elise slipped inside from the rain. Hailey’s parents had already left for work, relinquishing the house to girls that tended toward mischief. Today, Hailey wasn’t in the mood for it. All she wanted was to get Elise to school safely.

“So, what happened exactly?” Elise asked, having heard the story twice already. She was still confused as to the dire urgency of a 4 AM phone call.

“You were driving to school and got hit. Someone kidnapped you, then started hurting you.”

Elise shook her head. “That doesn’t make sense. It was probably just a–”

“It wasn’t just a dream, Elise! It was the same thing that happened at school.”

“Except it hasn’t happened,” Elise reminded.

Yet. Because you haven’t gotten there yet.

“Who knows if I will?”

Hailey paced through her kitchen, hands rubbing her sore and tired eyes. She sank into a lean against a counter. Elise watched, more empathetic than anything, but Hailey’s dream was outlandish; something like that couldn’t happen, let alone to her. The fact that one vision had come true didn’t mean another would. Even now, there was no way of knowing if Hailey had made parts up.

She believed the mind-reading, but precognition? The last vision could’ve been a fluke, or the dream-vision just a dream. The only thing that really mattered was its obvious affect on Hailey. She was on-edge. Real or not, believing it had worked her up. Then again, if she was right, there was real danger. Elise couldn’t help feeling she deserved the benefit of doubt, for now at least.

“I get you’re worried. And I’m grateful you care and all. But what’re the chances it’ll still happen now that we know about it? I mean, you’ve directly interfered. Doesn’t that guarantee some change? And even then, does anything guarantee it will?”

Hailey’s arms fell to her sides, “I don’t know. I-I mean, I have no idea how any of this is supposed to work. I just… can’t let you go to school alone.”

“Then come with me. It is the reason I came over,” Elise said simply.

Hailey despaired. Elise’s tone was too naive, too innocent. She hadn’t felt the crack of bone, or the jolting whiplash of the car accident. She hadn’t heard the twist of steel and the shattering of glass, or felt hands grappling her limbs. Hailey had. She wasn’t sure she’d ever forget it. The memory made her finger hurt and upturned her stomach.

Elise sought confirmation of their ride together. Hailey breathed to calm her frustration: Elise clearly wasn’t getting the depth of things.

“I just don’t want to have to say I told you so, Elise,” she said finally. “This can’t be one of those situations.”

“Okay. If something happens, we’ll deal. Deal?” Hailey half-nodded. Elise eyed her phone, “We better go, we’re gonna’ be late.”

Hailey did her best to still her queasy stomach as she grabbed up her pack and led the way to Elise’s civic. Her head swiveled, searched their surroundings for anyone or anything out of place. To her dismay, the neighborhood was dull as ever– as if nary a blade of grass was out of place. Everything was all perfectly normal, save Hailey. She didn’t like it. It was the too-quiet silence before catastrophe.

She slipped into the car and locked the doors. Elise ignored it. They buckle up, then eased form the driveway and along Bacatta’s suburban streets. Morning traffic from students and workers grew to a near traffic jam along the main streets toward BHS.

“Don’t go down Armistice,” Hailey instructed.

“What? That’s the fastest way to Orwell.”

“Just don’t. You were hit on Armistice. Go around Elm. Cut through the alleys.”

Elise’s eyes rolled stiffly. “This is getting ridiculous.”

Hailey wanted to snap, but Elise turned onto Elm’s asphalt and kept her fury at bay. Granted, she was right, it didn’t make Hailey wrong. Elm was a long, snaking road that cut a downward slope through a portion of isolated elevation. The civic rolled down through the ran, following the water along its sloping curves and stopping at a cross-street. The water continued on ahead, leveling out in an alley and rolling into its storm-water grates.

Elise gave Hailey a final look, sighed and followed the water. They entered the alleyway behind a set of strip-mall-like groupings sitting back to back. Hailey could see Orwell a quarter-mile ahead, at the alley’s end; the city’s main road and the same one the high-school was on. More and more, she wondered what had changed. Would someone still attempt to kidnap Elise? Or herself? Wouldn’t they have wanted fewer witnesses? And if Hailey was the eventual target, wouldn’t they attempt it doubly if–

The car rocked over a loud blast. Hailey’s nerves shed their sheathes. She was instantly shaking. Elise skidded to a stop in the middle of the alley, threw off her belt and rushed out. Hailey scrambled after her, mind still racing, and stomach rising. Elise fell to a crouch by the rear-left tire. Hailey stumbled over, terrified, found her beside it, coat in the light drizzle and knee wet from the alley.

“God damn it, Hailey,” she shouted. “Do you have any idea what this is gonna’ cost to get fixed!? This is all ‘cause of you’re paranoid b-s.”

Hailey deflated, however relieved she found herself. “I’m sorry, Elise. I didn’t mean–”

“Save it!”

Elise huffed, leaned into the car to turn off the engine, and unlocked the trunk. She fished through it, tossed out a jack, a steel bar, and a dug for a spare tire.

Hailey hunched against the rain, “What’re you doing?”

Irritation bleed through her sarcasm as if a freshly opened vein. “Changing the tire, genius. What’s it look like?” She hesitated, dried her glasses, “Was this in your vision? Blowing a tire on the way to school?”

“No,” Hailey admitted quietly, eyeing the alleway’s ends as cars zoomed past.

A delivery van pulled up to the rear of a building far ahead. A pair of men stepped out in jumpsuits and ballcaps, and lingered near the van’s rear. Fear stabbed at Hailey’s chest, but dissipated when they began carrying boxes into the back of a building.

Hailey crouched beside Elise, watched her crank the jack, “Can I do anything to help?”

“No,” she snapped, panting. She apologized, “I don’t know what to make of all this. Yesterday, my biggest worry was–”

Ceramic brakes squeaked a few paces away, cut her off. Both girls stopped to see an identical delivery van now parked before them. Hailey stood up first. Another pair of men climbed out. Deja vu made Hailey’s head swim.

One of the men was older, grayer, and clad in a baseball cap he affixed as he climbed down, “Gotta’ flat, huh?”

Elise eased up beside Hailey, steel bar in-hand and hidden behind her back. As much as she’d doubted Hailey, she wasn’t about to risk it. The two men angled toward them and the girls inched closer together.

“You alright?”

Hailey spoke, “Yeah. Nothing we can’t handle. Thanks though.”

The younger man glanced sideways with a smile. Time slowed. Hailey watched his head turn, something in his ear caught light; fleshy and brown, but too pastel-like to match his skin. It looked like an ear-piece from a spy shows. It was hard to see, but undoubtedly smooth plastic, not skin. She managed a quick swivel; the men who’d been moving boxes were now headed over.

Time resumed. Her body reacted on instinct.

She kneed the younger man’s groin. Fist-jabbed the other’s throat. Elise’s eyes bulged. She spun round, drug Elise down. Gunshots rang through the alley. The van’s windshield splintered. The girls dove for the Civic’s rear-bumper. The elder man gasped on the ground beside them. The other cradled his manhood with one hand, fished for his waist with the other.

He groaned, struggled, “Little… bitch.”

Hailey ripped the breaker-bar from Elise’s hand. Chrome flashed. Hailey’s black-bar smashed downward. The man’s temple caved inward with fleshy wetness. His body was instantly limp. Blood splattered upward, kept at-bay by the rain that gathered strength. The elder man choked for air, terropr and fury in his eyes. He struggled to fall forward, clutched at waistband. Elise’s body worked. Her leg pumped. Muffled screams sounded beneath a loose jaw. Gunfire echoed nearer by. Distant feet sprinted over dirty concrete, countering it.

Hailey peered over the trunk. A bullet shattered the window, whizzed past. She shrank with a squeak. Elise’s eyes were fixed on the man clutching his broken jaw. Her body was frozen again, but her mind seemed to be working.

A second round of gunshots sounded, quieter and higher than the others. A sudden scream prompted them to peer through the broken window. A hooded figure was charging the last jumpsuited man. He clutched his arm on the ground beside his dead comrade. Thin steel flashed, and arterial blood joined the rain in a fountain. The figure didn’t hesitate, didn’t miss a beat. Its blood-soaked Katana drew back, its body focused its sprint on the girls.

Elise bolted. Hailey was a half-second behind. They reached the alley’s end. Elise continued onward, gripped by terror and flight. She knew of no other path but forward, through traffic. Horns blared. Brakes squealed. Still they ran. Hailey glanced back, the figure still after them. It hurled itself into the air, cleared a car and half the road, came down to land with a roll, and was up and running again as unaffected as before.

Hailey’s terror mounted, fueling her forward. Elise’s break-neck pace was almost impossible to keep up with, but she managed to keep close. They got far enough along the sidewalk that they were about to leave the figure behind when another van skidded to a stop across the road. Bodies piled out. Elise diverted back into the road. Automatic weapons-fire echoed behind them. Each round was a stab of adrenaline and dose of fear. The sounds were silenced by the same, singular, high-pitch as before.

Hailey caught up at last, pointed them down another alley. They disappeared from sight, wheezing and panting, stumbling and nearly falling mid-run. Hailey chose a door at random, and burst into the darkened backroom of an empty shop. They shut the door and hid, huddled in a nearby corner with their hearts racing and breath ragged.

Before they could think to speak, the door burst open. The hooded figure appeared, cast in black silhouette. Its pistol rose on the corner where they huddled, the deadly blade gleaming like a bloody beacon at its side. Adrenaline surged through Hailey. The pistol sank to the figure’s side. Before she knew what was happening, she found herself charging. The figure side-stepped. Hailey missed her tackle, dove for a wall and fell to the floor instead.

The figure holstered its pistol beneath its cloak and stepped toward Hailey. It shook off its hood, revealing a cascade of golden-flax hair and brown feline eyes. Hailey rolled to the side, stared up at the face of a girl no older than herself. From a distance, she might have looked much younger. Her skin was fairer than Hailey expected, and she was petite, short.

Her eyes surveyed Hailey with a hardened disappointment, “Seers are usually smarter. And better trained. But just finding out will do that.”

She offered Hailey a hand. Hailey remained still, frozen in place. Her eyes darted between the girl and Elise behind her. “Wh-who are you?”

“Yasmine Roma. Most people call me Yaz,” she said stiffly, eyeing her own hand.

Hailey hesitated, then took it. The girl pulled her up; young, but immensely strong.

“Does that mean … you’re a Seer?” Hailey asked.

“No,” she deadpanned.

Elise slowly inched to her feet. She stepped over as if the floor might give way at any second.

Hailey watched her, “Why are you here?”

“Isn’t it obvious?” She asked with a rising brow. Hailey squinted in reply. “I was sent to retrieve you and your friend before… well, they got here. I was almost too late. You got lucky. Sorry.” Distant sirens bled in from outside. Yasmine’s ears perked up. She swept the pair with her eyes, “We need to go. I cut down what was here, but others will be looking for you.”

“Why?” Elise finally asked.

Yasmine’s gaze danced between them, “Because she is a Seer, and you know too much.”

“How do you know?”

Her eyes fell to Hailey explicitly, “It doesn’t matter right now. What does is that you come with me. Otherwise, you’ll be hunted down for experimentation and dissection.” They eyed her with equal measures incredulity and horror. She ignored both. “Now or never. Or would you rather I leave you here for them?”

“We’ll go,” they chorused together.

“Good.” She headed outside, pressed a finger at her ear, “Off Jackson. Behind the bar.”

Hailey and Elise followed, however apprehensively. In the distance, emergency lights flashed red and blue, or red and white across buildings and roads. A large pick-up with a bed-cap roared down the alley from the far-side spraying water in puddles. Yasmine directed them to its tailgate, dropped it and raised the cap’s blacked out rear-window. A load of electronics and other gear was fitted inside at the bed’s front. The small windows were covered but accessible and holes had been cut in the inner-liner to blow air from conduits channeled from the cab for climate control.

Yaz climbed in and offered Hailey her hand again. She hesitated, “How do I know we can trust you?”

“I’ll give you a good reason when I think of one.”

The remark was oddly reassuring. Enough that Hailey climbed in and help Elise up after her. Yaz pulled the tailgate up with a length of rope, used another to shut the cap window. The truck began to roll forward as Hailey found herself wondering what the hell she was getting into.

Missed Part 3? Find it here!