Legends, Assholes, and the Link
The night passed relatively easily, however depressed the girls became. They found each other again at the kitchen bar, dining on left-overs. Little was said. The silence itself spoke volumes. Each sensed the other’s feelings, Hailey’s epiphany. Given their last conversation, neither felt much like addressing any elephants in the room. Exhaustion parted them wordlessly in the hall. The pair settled into their rooms for sleep, mystified by the notion that so much had transpired in a single day.
But the emotional roller-coaster had been real. When Hailey woke in the morning, confused, the large group’s sounds seeped in and sharply honed reality. It impaled her gut as she stepped from her room, hair wild and eyelids heavy. Distant sizzling greeted her with mingled, ambrosial scents. Valerie sat with a few others she’d yet to meet at the bar, Yaz and Bryce at their far end.
Yaz waved her over, offered her a seat, and introduced her to the woman between she and Bryce. Her dark features and olive skin seemed pristinely groomed. “Rachel Ramirez,” Yaz said casually. “Seer. She was gone most of yesterday.”
“Hi,” Hailey said sheepishly, mind still reeling.
Rachel was alert, wide-eyed, and vastly more pleasant than Valerie. “I heard Yaz brought you in. I was hoping to meet you before Val got too mystical.”
“I heard that.”
Rachel’s smile infected Hailey. “Good to know you can do that. Tense Seers tend to ruin the room’s mood. What with empathic projection and all.”
Hailey guessed her meaning. “I imagine that’s a downer. I’m sure we’re real fun at parties.” Rachel laughed. “I can’t like, I’m a little overwhelmed.”
“I’ll stick with you. Don’t worry. We’ll talk. I’ll meet up with you after Val’s training.”
“You won’t be helping?”
Yaz interjected, “Rachel’s a runner. She and Bryce patrol the city and feel out psychic energy. It’s how we found out about you. That, and Tyler’s vision.”
“Tyler? Is that–”
“The boy, yeah,” Rachel replied. “We’re protective, obviously, but he’s shy. Eventually, you’ll train with him. He’d be with you now, but he’s a pre-cog. His visions give him nightmares. We’ve been focusing on finding a therapy to help him block them out, but it’s slow-going.”
“How bad?” She asked, recalling her own visions.
Rachel grimaced. “I’m guessing you know their power. When we found Tyler, he was living on the street, catatonic. He was nearly feral. He still hasn’t fully recovered. And he won’t speak of his family. All we know is, he’s better now than he was. He’s put on weight, is no longer malnourished, and the nightmares are slightly less frequent, if nothing else.”
Hailey grimaced, feeling her heart impaled this time. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to be a downer.” Rachel shrugged. “How long’s he been here?”
“Six months or so, since we moved to Bacatta. We found him in the first few days.”
Yaz piped up again. “Moving was necessary. The Hunters were getting too close. We spent a month scouting before we found the bunker. We’d been staying in a warehouse with no fortifications, and too much ground to patrol. This is better: Single access point. Easily patrolled grounds. Obscured, remote location. And if need be, it can withstand a siege indefinitely.”
Rachel threw back a sip of coffee, “Near as we can tell, it was meant as a fallout-shelter during the cold-war. Then was forgotten about.”
Yaz nodded, “I dug up everything I could on the place, found out it’d belonged to a man who’d grown up an orphan, died during the seventies, and had no family. All records were paper, and in bad condition.” Hailey’s brow furrowed confusion. Yaz clarified. “It was forgotten about. We spent a couple weeks cleaning it up, then moved in.” Hailey nodded along. “Since then, Bacatta’s been our focus.”
“Why?” Hailey asked, thinking of it as the same, droll place she’d been born and raised.
Rachel explained. “We believe Bacatta’s a convergence point for psychic energy. We can’t be certain yet, but we suspect a Conduit is somewhere nearby.”
“A Conduit,” Rachel repeated.
“If reality follows legend,” Yaz explained. “A Conduit’s a sort of… being, of pure energy. What little is known says they’re responsible for the balance of energy that maintains reality’s stability.”
Hailey’s eyes glazed over. Yaz and Rachel laughed.
Ken swiveled from his stove, divvied food onto plates, and set them out. Elise suddenly appeared, as if present only for the food. She said little and sequestered herself in the bar’s corner beside the wall. Her eyes remained on her plate through-out the meal. She spoke only in “thank yous,” and “pleases.” Yaz and Rachel fell into a quiet conversation. Hailey was elsewhere; focused intensely on the desperation pulling her toward Elise. Rather than look to her for help though, Elise was clearly avoiding Hailey as much as was possible for two so near to one another.
When, one-by-one, the group began to disperse, Elise followed. She slipped away before Hailey could speak to her. Yaz went with, leaving only Rachel and Ken with Hailey. Clattering plates and running water accompanied Hailey as she finished breakfast.
She wandered down the hall afterward, unsure of her aims. Valerie appeared, as near to materializing in the corridor as a creature of flesh and blood might. “I want you in the training room in ten minutes. Prepare yourself, but no dawdling. I have other matters to attend to later today.”
Hailey merely nodded. There was no doubt any longer that the boy, Tyler, was the more important thing. Mostly, she wasn’t about to piss off her mentor. They’d be spending most of their time together. The last thing they needed between them was a feud.
Hailey stepped to her door, stopped with a hand on the knob, then swiveled for Elise’s room. She knocked.
“It’s me.” Silence. “Can I come in?”
Hailey felt rather than heard Elise’s sigh. “Yeah, alright.”
She stepped in, shut the door behind her. Elise sat at her desk, a notebook open on fresh ink. Hailey needn’t bother prying. The air around Elise said the letter was for her parents. She found herself aligned with Elise’s silent hope that it might soon find them.
She cleared her throat, “Um… are you alright?”
This time, she both heard and felt the sigh. Elise dropped her pen, threw herself back in her chair. “What d’you want me to say, Hailey? Yes? You want me to lie? Say everything’s fine?”
“No. I want the truth. I’m worried about you.”
She spit air through her lips, “If you were, you wouldn’t have drug me into this.”
“Drug!?” Hailey said, eyes wide, jaw slacked. “Elise, I was drug into this. And in case you’ve forgotten, I only brought you with ‘cause I was scared for you.”
“Yeah. Sure. Okay. And you freaking out has nothing to do with it.”
Hailey blinked hard, hoping she’d misheard Elise. It seemed she’d heard her right though. Somehow, now everything was about her.
“Elise, I was freaking out.” Her voice rose a half-octave, “Freaking out for you. You don’t know what it was like. That vision. You didn’t feel your best-friend’s car get t-boned. Her whiplash. You didn’t hear the glass shattering around her. Or the metal twisting. You didn’t feel hands grabbing at her. Her getting knocked out and tied to a chair. Beaten. Broken. I felt it. I felt it as you. And yeah, I freaked. Because I care about you. ‘Cause I love you. And ’cause I didn’t want anything to happen.”
Elise’s eyes averted with contempt. Hailey’s head shook in utter disbelief.
“Whatever. If you wanna’ pretend I had any control over any of this, fine. I’m not going to stop you. But I will not sit here and pretend I did any of this selfishly. I did it for you.”
Elise didn’t budge. Hailey threw open the door and stormed out, slamming it behind her.
“Asshole.” Elise muttered, uncertain which of them she meant.
It took Hailey most of the morning to fully calm herself. The inability to focus only angered Valerie, which in turn, irritated Hailey. Only after sitting in meditation, alone, hoping to for some measure of inner-peace did the last bits of contention dissolve completely. Rather than focus on her relief, she let her mind wander until Valerie once more took a place before her.
“It took you long enough,” she said blithely. “But what is past is past. We may now focus on the matter at–hand.”
For the next hour, they sat in meditation for what Valerie termed, Environmental Sensory Training. Over time, she projected a myriad of feelings to be separated from her own, identified, and reflected back. Hailey found most of it more easy than she expected. Sussing out Valerie’s emotions from her own was simple. Reflecting them proved more difficult. She was confused as to its necessity, but Valerie offered no explanations yet. Outside technical help, she gave only her expectations.
Reflection was difficult for one, sole reason; it required intense concentration to separate emotions from their resulting, physical feelings. Given everything with Elise, manifesting much outside complacence or despair was difficult. She suspected too, Valerie had purposely begun with this training to combat the conflict arising between them.
By the end of the ES lessons, Hailey felt more confident. If little else, she knew how to activate the Link. The next lesson Valerie called, “instinct honing.” She deactivated the Link and instructed Hailey to do the same. They stood a few feet apart in the room’s center. Valerie produced a bandanna and blind-folded Hailey.
“You must learn to trust your instincts.”
“How’s being blind supposed to help, again?” Hailey asked, sarcastically.
She stepped back around Hailey, “Only after learning to trust your instincts can you properly protect yourself or others. Understanding them will allow you to overcome people or environments that seek to deceive you.”
“Can’t I just use the Link for that?” Hailey asked.
Valerie circled Hailey, explaining, “Though we rely on the Link, it is not our only asset. Nor should it be. It should, as all things, remain merely a tool to aid us. But not every tool is useful in every situation. You would not hammer a screw. Yet both hammer and screw are useful in various situations.”
Hailey gave a slight nod. “Okay. Following. Still not seeing the destination.”
Valerie stopped before her again. “Quiet your mind, as you would in meditation, but do not activate the Link. Instead, use your senses to tell you where I am.”
“You’re in front of me. I can hear you.”
“Quiet child,” she said.
Hailey rolled her eyes behind the blindfold. She did as instructed, shutting off the active parts of her mind as in meditation. Rather than activate the Link though, she did her best to feel the room. The air was cool, still. As she’d done during her last lesson, she breathed and entered her contented trance. It deepened the silence buffering the world from Hailey’s examination of it. Soon only the slightest shifting, air currents and faintest sounds were noticeable.
Valerie’s harmonic whispering echoed in and out of itself in Hailey’s mind.“Now separate your feelings from those around you; your instincts from them. Recognize instinct for its compelling truth, the “gut feeling.”
Hailey took a deep breath, eyes closed. She visualized herself manually sorting through the various feelings, projected from within and without or wafting in, as if on invisible currents. She picked hers from the melange; strongest, physically nearest and emanating from within rather than infecting from without.
Valerie sensed her compliance. “Very good. Now, emotion from instinct.”
Easier said than done, Hailey knew. She did her best anyway.
Presently, her emotions were a knotted fishing-line, fine and utter chaos. Separating them out seemed impossible. If she could’ve, she’d have just cut the line and started anew. Unfortunately, emotions weren’t quite so disposable.
Sifting them proved more mentally straining than expected. Each emotion came with its own associated, physical manifestation. A tremble of a hand here. Twitch of an eyebrow there. With them too, were their undeniable effects. Terror stabbed her gut. Despairing put her heart in a vise. Repulsion upturned her stomach. Joy righted it again. Other emotions came and went. Anger stole breath. Cerebral-awe preceded chest-fluttering admiration. Even groin-warming hope trickled into the edges of consciousness.
One-by-one, she stripped them away, mentally setting them aside to reveal what remained. That, she sensed, was instinct. Firmly entrenched in the gut and waiting to spread out to what needed it most; be it legs for fleeing, or fists for fighting.
“Very good, child,” Valerie whispered. “I am somewhere in this room, but you cannot hear me. I am a leaf on the wind. A shadow in darkness. Yet one you may still sense. Turn to me.”
Hailey hesitated. She knew it was better to be certain and slow, than quick and wrong. She felt her gut pull from the side. With a turn, she faced the left wall.
“Excellent.” Valerie went silent. Hailey’s gut pulled again, remained in place. “Faster now.” She about-faced. Another silence. Then, “Again!”
The pair repeated the process until Hailey was anticipating Valerie’s commands. Before she spoke, Hailey was turned. They kept the rhythm moving until Valerie was satisfied. She stood before her again, speaking normally.
“Now, we will repeat this exercise,” she said, producing a soft, stress-ball from a pocket. “This time, you will not await a command. You will sense my movements. When I stop, you will toss the ball and I will catch it. I will then move and throw it. You will attempt to catch it. All of this in silence. Do you understand?”
Hailey nodded, eyes closed behind the blind-fold. “Throw the ball. Catch the ball.”
The first few throws, Hailey was off– but more from poor throwing than lack of sensation. The same went for catching. She stumbled into a natural rhythm, allowing her instincts to guide her. She went with them, pulled from side-to-side, her hands and arms extending to catch or throw. Before long, Valerie was once more standing before her, untying the blind-fold.
Hailey blinked hard against the bright lights, rubbed eyes. Valerie pocketed the blindfold.
“I am truly impressed, Hailey, but do not let it go to your head. I could not ask for a better start to your training, but I expect you to practice your meditation each day. As well, your emotional control, reflection, and projection. You may want to ask your friend, Elise, to aid you. I suspect it would do you both well.”
Hailey winced, “I’ll do what I can.”
Valerie gave a small bow, “That is all I ask. You may go. We will continue tomorrow.”
Hailey left the training room, more tired than she’d realized. The smells of more food being cooked wafted from the kitchen. She headed toward Elise’s room, but hesitated. Waves of hostility emitted from inside with a tension that pulled at Hailey’s guts. Rather than spread outward to encompass the bunker, they seemed to flow straight into her. It was obvious they were directed at her.
Hailey heaved a sigh and turned toward the kitchen, alone, resigned to let sleeping dogs lie… for now.