The next days were a blur. Eventually, Hailey found herself in line with Valerie’s sentiments on hate. Part of her truly hated Miller and Rachel for the beatings, hated Valerie for allowing it. She trusted them though, almost inexplicably, and sensed it would pass.
At times, she found herself pushed so hard she left her body entirely. Life ceased. She retreated into the ether, watched herself fighting– losing, winning– from on-high. Half in The Link. Half out. More than once she thought herself dead, experiencing a very real hell. She only re-centered afterward, when autonomously eating, showering, or falling into bed devoid of energy and unable to think.
Like her, Elise was finding her place and pace, peace of mind. Training honed her focus, allowed her to surpass Yaz’s expectations. She was glad, but cared only to see her parents again. That could only happen through Yaz’s training, when she became the fighter Yaz expected. If she didn’t, seeing her parents only put them in harm’s way.
The two girls still hadn’t spoken, save in passing, when Elise found herself stepping into a shower after training. Behind her, Hailey entered the bathroom. Neither was sure what to do. Elise shut the stall door, twisted the shower on, and soaked her aching muscles. Hailey paused mid-step as she entered the bathroom, was compelled back to action when the water started.
She undressed and entered a shower-stall in silence. Fiddled knobs gave way to an undeniable tension beneath drumming water. Elise sensed it, knew Hailey had too. She sighed silently, its presence stabbing their chests, and immersed herself in water, hoping to find a sentiment to shatter the tension. Hailey graciously obliged.
“I know you don’t hate me, Elise.” Displaced water said Elise straightened to wash herself. “I don’t blame you for being angry. I just… don’t want to lose my best-friend to something beyond my control. If there’s something I can do, please, tell me.”
Elise was too tired for anger. Her limbs and mind were weighted by hot water. She had no energy to breathe, she couldn’t be angry. She didn’t hate Hailey anyway, but nothing could be done. The more she lied, said otherwise, the worse things would get.
But Yaz was right too; her anger affected more than her alone.
She said nothing, shut off the shower, and stepped out to towel. She redressed and stood before a sink to stare at herself in a mirror. Hailey’s shower shut off, more quietly than normal. She appeared behind Elise in a towel, hesitated, then began to dress. She was ready to leave when Elise spoke.
“I don’t hate you, Hailey.” She pivoted slowly to face Elise. “I know none of this is your fault. Lying won’t help. Even then, I won’t. I am angry at you. It’s not rational. It’s not fair. But I am. Being stuck here isn’t our choice, but you don’t have to fight for a place here. There are answers here for you. For me there’s just… a void I can’t fill.”
Hailey hesitated again, but repeated her question, “Is there something– anything, I can do?”
Elise shook her head. “No. I need time. You’re my friend and I love you. And I know, if things were reversed, you’d still be here. But there’s no magical cure. Just time.”
She piled her clothing under an arm, stepped past Hailey. The door to the bathroom shut. It echoed in waves that shook Hailey’s core. She willed away pain; she hadn’t lost Elise, not completely. She wasn’t sure either one had time, but she’d give her all she could. She’d never wanted a cure-all, just some affirmation, good or bad. She had it. Expecting more was ungrateful. Grieving was unfair, too; as a Seer, it affected more than she alone.
Hailey took the empty corridor to her room, feeling increasingly like the Omega Man. The bunker felt desolate. An immovable dread clouded over it, just out of sight– even for a Seer. Hailey sank into sleep, hoping morning would change things. It didn’t. The cloud took residence over the bunker, following Hailey through the next few days and spreading to others in the interrum.
She found herself more guarded than ever. Valerie and the other Seers sensed it too. They pushed Hailey further, harder, sensing her training would need to be complete, total. They forced her to concentrate, to fight, long after she should’ve collapsed. She allowed it, more driven than ever. Her endurance, already far beyond what it had been, increased ten-fold. The last, blurred days gave way to more of total blackness. The more she tried to comprehend them, the more incomplete they became.
The cloud finally burst as she was lying on her bed, utterly exhausted and battered from telekinetic combat training. To say her body hurt missed the extremity of the damage it had learned ot endure. Her mental fatigue left her in a perpetual trance, a breath from the Link.
A knock sounded, but the door opened anyway. Yaz appeared, “Training room. Now.”
She sat up, but Yaz was gone, the door open. Hailey fell to her feet, drug herself out, limbs trembling. She entered Yaz’s training room to find Miller and Rachel with she and Elise clustered at a corner. Hailey’s body quaked, shot pain through and along it.
She stepped up to the open cabinet and the group around it. Before she could speak, Miller forced a vest on her, pressed a comm in her ear. Beside her, Rachel mirrored the motion. Miller turned back to the cabinet, grabbed a weapon out, slapped a magazine on its upper section. He pinched back a bolt, and stuffed a comm in his ear to hustle past for the door. Rachel hurried after him.
Yaz passed Elise a vest and a weapon, eyed Hailey, “You had weapons training?”
“A little. Not much. Why?”
Yaz shoved a gun into Hailey’s arms. “P-90.” She pointed to the barrel, then the trigger, “Point. Shoot. Aim that end at the bad guys.”
Elise stuffed an ear-piece in, tested it. Yaz affixed her sheathed sword, then snapped a leg-holster on, her pistol in it. She angled past them, then started off.
“Wait!” She begged, hustling after her. Elise kept pace with her. “What’s going on?”
They headed for the elevator, “Your parents.” They stopped to await its return.
“What about them?” Elise asked.
“The Hunters are moving. Jenna and Ken have confirmation. They intercepted radio traffic–” She forced them onto the elevator before it locked in place, immediately launched it upward. “They’re taking your families in. We’re not waiting. We’ll move to secure them, then deal with the Hunters.”
Elise’s eyes nearly exploded. “What!? What the hell d’you mean “secure” them?”
They arrived in the cabin, pushed through and out. Yaz led into the back of the pick up. The cap and gate closed as they settled against the wheel-wells. The truck spun and groaned, lurching through brush for the road.
She sat at the tiny, mobile command center, keying in info on a sat-map. As expected, they weren’t more than a few miles from Bacatta-proper. Technically, they were still in town, but far enough that Yaz’s fears were obvious. They might be just far enough not to make it in time.
“Yasmine!” Elise shouted.
“We’re bringing them in,” she growled, focused elsewhere. “It’s time. They need to know the truth. They won’t like it. They will resist. You need to show them you’re safe. That they won’t be if they don’t follow us.” She turned, eyed Hailey, “Make sure they understand the gravity of the situation.”
Hailey recalled her parents’ remote grief and nodded.
“I’ll make sure they come with us,” Elise said, less confident than she let on.
The ride was tense. Between her vest, gun, and comm, Hailey found it impossible to sit comfortably. A racing heart didn’t help. All that kept her from total panic was the emotional control she’d garnered from Valerie’s training. If any of that training was to pay off, it was now or never.
She wasn’t sure what would happen, but that seemed the point. Her actions weren’t to be second-guessed. They were meant to be reflexive, fluid. As much second nature as Link-activation or mindfulness. Hopefully, shit hitting the fan meant she’d dodge before realizing she needed to– metaphorically or otherwise.
Bacatta-proper appeared in a blur of headlights, and Yaz’s commands,“Hailey’s closer. They’re likely to go for the Seer’s family first.”
Hailey’s heart rose in her throat. Elise grimaced across the dark bed, “I’m sure they’re fine.”
She was silent, focused on retaining control of her emotions. Losing her wits helped no-one, her parents least of all. Losing control meant losing her power. That might be all that stood between her parents and certain death. She screwed up her face, breathed, mind on her heart. Beneath her, the truck rumbled and weaved. The city outside was in its night rhythms, subdued chaos of life and breath. Hailey sympathized.
An undeniable aura had appeared in her absence. For the first time, Hailey understood the world for what it was. It wasn’t a fixed entity. Rather, it was countless entities– organisms within organisms, pulsing, undulating, vibrating, moving as one. There was movement within movement, even in the most immobile things. Her power revealed the world for what it was; nested hives of activity, energy, the only differences between the iterations, volume, density.
She was suddenly humbled, and oddly at ease. An intense knowing overcame her; it would all turn out– not necessarily right, nor wrong, but some way. Despite the dread, the tension, the indifferent world, she was where she needed to be. Anywhere else would’ve been wrong– the wrong place, the wrong time.
She was ripped away from her thoughts by the truck skidding to a stop. Yaz was out, sword and gun drawn. Elise and Hailey piled out. The semi-darkness of suburbia outside Hailey’s home was familiar, but felt decidedly foreign. So much had happened the past weeks that Hailey longer recognized home. Indeed, her empathic power said it felt the same.
The group advanced to the front door, single-file, and lined up outside. Hailey centered herself in the line, ready to rush in, gun spraying. Yaz gave a silent three count. The screen door was thrown open. Miller kicked the inner-door off its hinges. They charged in, weapons shouldered. The rest followed. Shouts erupted. Miller and Yaz stopped short.
Hailey pushed toward the front. Her father’s face went white behind the dining table. Her mother gasped, ready to sprint forward as Yaz spoke.
“They’re not here,” she said, eyes wide.
Elise swallowed hard. “My parents!”
She bounded for the truck. Rachel and Yaz hurried after her.
Miller stood in place beside Hailey, “We need to move, kid.”
“What’s going on here?” Her father demanded, more confused than caustic.
He rushed over to hug her, but Hailey forced her back, “We need to go. Now!”
“Mr. Ferguson, if you do not follow your daughter this instant, I will have to subdue you and drag you along. We do not have time for a reunion.”
He looked open-mouthed between Miller and Hailey. She pulled at her mother, half-dragging her down the stairs. Miller waited a beat, ready to move. Her father swallowed, followed. Miller ran vanguard. Yaz and Elise were in, ready to go. Hailey rushed her parents into the truck bed.
Miller climbed in, radioing, “We’re in. Go.”
“Honey, what’s going on?” Hailey’s father asked.
Miller glanced between the girl and her parents, “Make it quick, kid. We’re not done yet.”
“Who are these people? Where have you been? Why are you carrying guns? What the hell is going on here?”
“Dad, calm down,” Hailey said sternly. He looked ready to protest, then thought better of it. “Something happened. To me. I can’t explain now, but just listen, trust me.”
“Trust what?” Her mother asked through tears.
“Some very bad people are trying to find me and Elise. In order to try to get to us, they were going to use you.”
“What the hell’s that supposed to mean?” Her father asked.
Miller cut in, “It means, Mr. Ferguson, that if you don’t do exactly as we tell you, you may not survive the night.”
“Is that a threat?”
“No. Dad–” Hailey growled frustration. “Just do what we tell you, and you’ll be alright, okay? Please?” He wasn’t satisfied. She looked him dead in the eyes, “Trust me.”
Her father sighed, clearly angry, but too shaken to fight. The truck skidded to another stop and Miller threw down the tail-gate.
“Stay with them,” Hailey ordered, clambering out. Miller knelt outside the tail-gate, weapon ready.
Hailey rushed the door with the others. Elise led the charge. She’d lived there her whole life, yet it had never seemed more foreign. Her tension and fear were palpable, even without ESP. They breached, Rachel in Miller’s place. A moment later, they mounted the stairs, weapons sweeping. Elise’s mother stood from the couch in the living room, hands up and instantly in terror. It took her a moment to recognize Elise before her face drained its color.
She choked on sobs, rushed to hug Elise. Her father appeared with a bat, froze, spied Elise, and dropped it to sprint toward her. They smothered her tearfully.
Yaz radioed, “We’ve got ‘em. Anything yet?”
“Nothing,” Miller radioed, scanning the darkness. “Still quiet.”
Elise’s parents asked the same questions, demanded the same explanations, equally quelled by relief. All the same, they couldn’t stay. Yaz rounded them up. Elise maneuvered her parents outside, the group in a line with Hailey at the rear.
Horror sprinted along her spine. It hit her brain, unfurled along a dropping gut. She spun, ready to retch: Two figures appeared at the house’s far-side. Guns rose. Hailey barely felt herself yell. Time slowed. Muzzle flashes were flickers of lightning. Ammunition whizzed in trails. Miller pivoted, aimed. Hailey reacted, dropped to a knee. Her P90 rose. Trailing fire divided their line.
Time resumed. Elise’s father fell. Blood curdling shrieks revealed the fresh holes in his torso. Rachel screamed, landed on the sidewalk. Her arm and side flowed with crimson as she fought shock to aim. Yaz threw Elise down, pistol out. More gunfire crackled. Rachel and Elise’s screams were joined by another, cut dead a second later. Hailey’s body reacted. Her training kicked in. Her gun was spitting hellfire, popping in rhythm with Miller’s. The Hunters went down.
It was too late. Hailey turned, saw Elise scurry from beneath Yaz. She scrambled toward her mother, screaming, reaching toward her father. Her voice was muddled by saliva, mucus. Tears made screams incoherent. Their cause wasn’t. Elise’s hands bathed in red, applied pressure to her mother’s chest.
“Knew you were alive,” her mother said. “S-soldiering on.”
“No. No. No.”
Sirens blared in the distance. Her mother’s jaw clenched. An earth-splitting gasp rattled her. She relaxed; limp. Dead.
Hailey’s father dove out. He and Miller grabbed Rachel up, rushed her to the bed. Yaz grabbed Elise. She resisted. Hailey grabbed too, rubbernecking.
Yaz screamed. “They’re dead. You’re not.” Sirens wailed. “You can’t fight the Hunters from a cell. Get. Up. Now!”
She jerked Elise up with immense strength, shoved her toward the truck. Hailey pulled her along, shoved her in, then sprinted back to the bed. Yaz piled in beside Elise, her cries silent, her face empty. Miller burned rubber as cruiser-lights appeared in the rear-view. He took the first turn he could, then another, driving a zig-zag toward the bunker at break-neck speed.
Yaz examined Elise for holes, found none. If she hadn’t been breathing, Yaz might’ve mistaken her for dead. She felt the fresh pain still stabbing at Elise’s heart. Words failed her. She did the only thing she could think to, held Elise’s hand in her own.