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.”
“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.”
“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.