These Truths We Hold to Be Self-Evident
Elise stared at the closed door to Hailey’s room, more lost than spacey. She’d managed a few hits from a joint by blowing the smoke through a tube of fabric-softener sheets. It was the usual way of hiding smoke, and she always kept an ample supply of softener sheets in her pack. Though she doubted anyone would care– she’d seen ashtrays here and there with snuffed butts– avoiding confrontation was at the top of her priorities. At least for the moment.
So, she focused elsewhere; Hailey’d only been gone a few minutes, but it felt longer. She was anxious and paranoid before the high. Now she sensed the lack of reasoning for it. The bunker was safer than anywhere she knew of, outside perhaps Geosynchronus-orbit above the Bermuda Triangle. Unfortunately, that didn’t change how she felt.
Hailey had a place with the Seers. Elise didn’t. In school, Elise and Hailey were their own clique. They weren’t smart enough to be nerds. Not athletic enough for the jocks. They weren’t musicians or quite inebriated enough to be true burn-outs. Hailey had drifted, using her curiosity and aloofness as a form of extroversion. Elise on the other hand, only ever had Hailey, and groups she felt out of place in. To say nothing of how she’d feel about them now. She was utterly alone.
Her eyes fell to her pack with a longing sigh. So much had changed so fast. Too much. She rose for her pack and slipped outside for the room next door– her room. The door opened on an identical room, and to another heaving sigh. She set her pack at the foot of the bed, began sifting through it. Everything inside was school related. Only a few, minor things like a wallet represented the life she’d left behind. At least the open door behind her partially combated the loneliness.
In a flash, a hand laid on her shoulder. Her heart leapt ten stories. She whirled ’round, chest heaving, to see Yaz, recoiling.
“Jesus Christ!” She swallowed hard. “You scared the hell out of me.”
Yaz apologized. “Occupational hazard, I’m afraid.”
Elise took a few, quick breaths, then shoved her pack onto the floor. She sat at the foot of the bed still trying to shake off the last of her shock. Yaz gave a look, as if asking if she were welcome. Elise shrugged, motioned to shut the door. Yaz acquiesced, pulled the desk chair over, and sat nearby.
She watched Elise mindlessly sift her belongings. “She’ll be gone a while. You need anything?” Elise shook her head. “Well, don’t hesitate to ask. Everyone knows how you feel. And empathizes. You don’t want to be here, we know, but we’ll do our best to make it bearable. We all know what it’s like to be displaced. At the very least, I’m here, if you need me.”
Elise was silent. Her eyes fell to the bed beneath her pack. “I can’t help feeling like the odd one out. Everyone else here has something to do. Everyone has a place.”
“It’s the same for everyone, at first. Me too.”
“How’d you deal?”
She chewed her bottom lip with an uncharacteristic hesitation. It was out of place, especially to Elise. Something of the young girl beneath all the gore-covered armor shone through. Since they’d met, Yaz had been sure-footed. Confident. In charge. Elise saw now how deep that facade was required to go to keep her from losing it altogether.
“I made my own place. Eventually.”
“Learning to fight,” she said simply. “Not just to defend myself, but to fight. As a warrior. Then, I learned to think, like a General. Even when I was good, I knew I could be better. So I learned to be. I studied battle tactics. Stratagem. Everything down to schematics for known security systems. I read history books, practiced, simulated, and examined famous war-battles in PC games. When the time came for a major move– the others began looking to me for advice. Once they took me seriously, they saw my aptitude and put me in charge of security. Since then, I’ve worked to earn that trust by keeping everyone safe and bringing in Seers.”
“It must’ve been hard,” Elise said, wondering how she might react in Yaz’s place.
“It wasn’t easy. I can say that. But difficult is a matter of perception. Around here, there are more difficult things then deciding who’s walking where at what time of day.”
Elise stared off, hopeless. “Guess Hailey’ll know those too, soon.”
Yaz eyed her as she broke her stare. Their eyes met, and Yaz did her best to impart her courage. “You need something stronger than survival. You need confidence. You’re not the silent bench-warmer type. Not in matters you’re adept at. Here, the only thing you know is you’re a liability.” Elise agreed. “What you need’s something to ensure you aren’t. I can provide that, if you choose.”
Elise’s brow furrowed, “You mean training me?”
“As I have been, yes. No-one here is better qualified. Plus, we need all the security we can get.”
Elise visibly thought about it. Yasmine allowed it, watching her mind work in her downcast eyes. There was a certain sense to the idea. If the others looked to Yaz for guidance and security, there was no reason she shouldn’t. As skilled as she was, learning from her was as good as learning from any master infinitely her senior. Above all else though, she agreed with Yasmine’s assessment; she was a liability and felt like it.
When it came to being out of her element, confidence was her last trait. Elsewhere, an argument might be made for, but until mathematics, drugs, or music were relevant, she’d remain a burden. The only way she saw to ease her mind seemed to be training, as Hailey was.
The crucial difference was Elise’s complete lack of ingrained talent. She met Yaz’s eyes again, as if to ask about it. The silent answer was already poised on her brow and stilled lips; what she lacked could be made up for in practice. If Yaz was the expert she appeared to be, training Elise would be as natural as training herself– ingrained talents or no. In any event, it would give her focus, allow her to keep at-bay the fears and concerns cropping up.
She nodded with a blink and met Yaz’s eyes, “Alright. Teach me to fight.”
Yaz rose to full-height, her commanding presence taking over. “Then there’s no reason to waste time. We’ll begin now.”
Elise followed her from the room toward the Seers’ training room. They entered another, identical room beside it. The concrete walls made it impossible to hear anything between the two, but somehow, Elise sensed Hailey’s presence in the other training room. Yaz focused her attention on weight-training equipment. Gym-mats lined the floors of all but a small, outer perimeter where training dummies lined one side, lockers another, and chairs a third. The room was like something from an old martial arts film, complete with punching-bags and various training implements.
They stopped at a weight bench. Yaz directed Elise to sit on its edge. “We’ll gauge your abilities to better facilitate training. I’ll show you proper form and technique along the way, but take it easy. If you need a break, say so. Now, lie back and show me what you can do.”
Next door, Hailey sat cross-legged on a mat in the room’s center. A similar evaluation was progressing despite the varied context. Hailey’s eyes were closed. The room outlined in the tell-tale white of the active-Link. Valerie sat a short distance away; an ethereal figure of golden light whose essence undulated and swirled, obscuring its features. Her voice rushed in with a series of harmonies above and below it. The whispers were much like the thoughts of the students’ had been, save the words were intended only for her.
“You have great power, Hailey,” Valerie relayed inside her mind. “In time you may harness that power. But you must first recognize the care and mindfulness required to wield it. To ensure we do not violate another’s essence, we have established and agreed to three tenets to be upheld.”
“Tenets?” Hailey asked aloud, uncertain of how to speak via the Link.
“Our “Code of Honor,” if you please. The Three Tenets are these: Firstly, you must never violate another’s mind nor privacy. Either by reading them, remote viewing them, communicating with them without their continued or prior permission, or by using the Link to harm them via physiological manipulation.”
“What’s physiological manipulation? And why can’t I do it?”
Valerie inflected an indomitable gravity to the air. Her words turned discordant, grating Hailey’s mind and commanding they be taken seriously. “In this context, it means to use one’s power to harm another’s mind. Specifically, via shutting down autonomic functions such as the heart-beat or breathing. Though the first tenet may be flexible, it should only be when all other avenues are exhausted and death otherwise imminent.”
“So I can’t use it to defend myself?” She asked, wondering what the point of training was, then.
“You misunderstand. Once you have learned to control your power, you will know of many more ways of handling aggressors. You will also find then, that it is not difficult to overcome most situations without such drastic action.”
“Okay. So. Don’t kill anyone with heart-attacks or force-chokes,” she half-joked. Valerie’s ethereal head tilted with disapproval. Hailey winced.
Valerie pushed forward, “As well, it is unfair for such power to be used to willfully violate another’s privacy.” Hailey wondered at the depravity necessary to, but Valerie continued. “The Second Tenet is to never reveal your abilities to those not circumstantially bound to, or with prior awareness of, Seers as a whole. We must never speak of our existence without good reason. Even here. Knowledge of Seers should be guarded, for the sake of others, as well as ourselves.”
Hailey knew first-hand what she meant– and how bad it felt to drag someone into the fight unintentionally. She couldn’t imagine doing it voluntarily. Her heart sank. She exhaled a sigh, mind on Elise in the next room. Her energy was barely visible through the dense light-wall, still beside Yaz’s somewhere nearby.
Valerie sensed the bend her thoughts had taken. “And thus you see the peril faced by those whom know.” Hailey nodded. “The final tenet can be seen as an extension of the preceding two; never abuse your abilities as a Seer for personal or material gain. It is amoral to cheat others via the Link. We carry great power, Hailey. That power requires vigilance. Our darker urges are vastly more dangerous because of it, but so too is our capacity for goodness. These rules are held to not because we are superior to others, but because they humble us, rely on us, to otherwise protect them from ourselves. In time, you too will better understand why these feelings drive and guide us.”
“I’ll do my best to uphold them,” Hailey promised, thoughts lingering on Elise.
“Then we shall begin with mindfulness.”
For the next few hours, Hailey and Valerie sat before one another amid the active-Link’s white-light. It reminded her of the old movies where a teacher imparts their wisdom to a student through guided meditation. Much of it was meditation, Valerie assured her. Through it mindfulness could be found: She would learn to control her thoughts and feelings. Through that, her actions and reactions. It would be slow-going at first. Eventually, she’d hold enough sway that mindfulness would become second nature, autonomous.
This, Valerie explained, was crucial to harnessing the Link. Without mindfulness, simple matters such as the Link’s continuous activation, were unattainable. Lack of it was also the sole reason Hailey remained mute through it. Maintaining the Link, and using it to speak, required a level of concentration yet beyond her. Until activating and maintaining the Link was as automatic as breathing, anything beyond remained impossible.
Thus, their time was spent mostly in theory and instruction. Hailey said little more than she had to, the afternoon an otherwise endless call and response of instruction and practice; Valerie, the former; Hailey, the latter. When she was finally released for the night, she made her way to the bathrooms down the hall. The bunkers’ layout had allowed for only one, excessively large bathroom to be retrofitted into two, smaller ones. Thick, steel walls divided them. Their interiors were further sectioned by toilet and shower stalls, and a row sinks.
She entered to find a shower already running, Elise’s clothing piled inside a sink nearby. Hailey called over the running water, “Elise?”
“How are you?” She asked, stripping down and feeling as if back in gym-class’, dread included.
“Alright… I guess.”
Hailey stepped into a shower, fiddled with the knobs, and immersed herself in the warm wetness. Her legs turned to rubber, almost buckled from exhaustion. Her stomach instantly growled. She kept her mind off it, “Were you and Yaz training?”
“Yeah. Starting to, anyhow,” she replied, sounding more confident than before.
Some of the weight rose from Hailey’s chest. Hailey soaped herself with a bar from a holder in the wall. “Are you sure that’s what you want?”
“What d’you mean?”
“You were against being here earlier. What made you change your mind?”
Elise was quiet. She let the water drum against her, head down and eyes closed in search of an answer. It was true she didn’t want to feel like dead-weight, but that didn’t feel enough of an explanation for herself. All the same, she settled on it for Hailey.
Hailey was dismissive, “You’re not dead-weight, Elise. I’d be lost without you here.”
Elise went quiet again, longer this time. Her shower shut off and she stepped out to dry herself. Hailey rinsed herself a last time, twisted the shower off, and stepped out nude and dripping. She wrapped herself in a towel while Elise dressed, slowly.
“You’re not going to say anything. Are you?”
Elise rolled a shirt down her torso. “There’s nothing to say, Hailey. Even if you don’t feel it. Even if I can’t explain it. I do feel alone. Maybe that’ll change with time, but I just wanna’ go home. I know I can’t yet, and I understand why. But it doesn’t make it easier– especially with no purpose.”
Hailey eyed her skeptically, “What makes you think it’s any different for me?”
Elise breathed deep to speak, hesitated, then exhaled. “It just is. Just like how you know the vision wasn’t a dream. I know I don’t belong here.”
“Neither of us do,” Hailey countered, unconvinced.
Elise finished dressing. “You’re my friend, but you do have a place here, whether or not you accept it. I don’t hold it against you, I’m just telling you how it is.” Hailey looked about to argue. “And trying to say otherwise is discounting my feelings.”
Hailey’s face sank. Elise grabbed her old clothing and towel, and left. The door shut with an echo it resounded through the empty room with metallic reverb. Hailey’s heart was stung by it. For better or worse, Elise was right. But if Hailey’s instincts were half as good as Valerie insisted, it was for worse.
Already, she could feel a chasm separating them. It no doubt widened with each event and word that put them further in and out of their respective places.
Hailey’s head fell, her eyes mournful. Her shoulders slumped. She started forward, knowing the path ahead would be grievous, rough.