Energy and Matter: Part 13

13.

Paradigm Shift

Hailey handed her mother a glass of water across the kitchen bar. Elise still lie in the training room, catatonic. She’d collapsed there. Hailey offered to stay, but Yaz sent her away. Even now she cradled Elise, awaiting news of Rachel’s injuries. Both Miller and Valerie tended to Rachel in a vacant bedroom they’d converted for triage. The extent of the damage, and the length of time for her recovery, was anyone’s guess.

Personally, Hailey was more consumed by issues she could actually address. Fearing for Rachel was inevitable. Grieving for Elise equally so, but she could do nothing productive in either of those instances.

Her mother took the cup of water with a quiet, “thank you.” Hailey sought the best way to explain. Her mother sipped. Her father stared, utterly lost. Hailey sympathized. So much had happened so fast, it was hard not to be lost. Her training was the only thing keeping her on an even-keel. In light of that, she mustered her wits and courage.

“I know you have questions. But listen now. I want you to know why I disappeared. Anything I don’t cover, ask when I’m done, okay?”

Her parents eyed her. Their skepticism said there was nothing to make sense of the chaos they’d seen. The confusion they felt. Most of all, how Hailey had seemingly already processed it all.

She sighed, knowing the look. She’d received it the first time she’d been caught with a joint. It said “Explain yourself,” simultaneously admitting there was way to.

Still, she had to try. She cleared her throat. “It started with a book. A couple weeks ago.”

With that, Hailey began to explain everything that had happened. Her parents’ disbelief was obvious. It was understandable. Hailey saw the insanity in it too. Their daughter had disappeared without a trace for weeks. Then, suddenly showed up dressed like a soldier, toting a gun, and forcing them to uproot without explanation. It warranted some incredulity.

But the chaos should’ve have imparted the dire reality of things.

She hoped they were still in shock. After all, four people had just died in front of them. Two were people they knew well. Between Elise’s parents and the Hunters, enough blood had been spilled that the truth should’ve been obvious.

It wasn’t. While they hadn’t learned or felt what Hailey and Elise had, reconciling their lack of faith was difficult. Hailey had learned that somethings needed to be taken on faith. Apart from being truths difficult to understand, they were also less satisfying.

Hailey finished, bracing against the sink to await questions. Her father sank back in his seat, pressing his temples, as was usual when mentally taxed. Likewise, her mother’s shoulders sank.

“This is insane,” her father finally said.

“Alex.”

“No.” He slid from his stool, pacing the room. He whipped ’round across it. “Don’t you see what’s going on here? Our daughter’s been brain-wash–”

“I haven’t—”

“By this… cult! They’ve trained her to kill, and they’re–”

“Alex, stop!” She shouted, verging on tears.

“Dad. Seriously.” Hailey was both disgusted and disappointed. He was ready to argue, but she cut him off. “These people saved my life. If it weren’t for Yasmine and Bryce, Elise and I would’ve been killed– or worse! They were protecting me. Now they’re protecting you!”

“Protection? You think that’s what this is?” He scoffed. “The only people protecting you are your mother and I– how d’you know they didn’t send those people after you?”

“Why would they send people after me then kill them?” She asked with a harsh discordance.

The empathic projection hit his chest like a bolt of ice. It spread through his veins. Froze his blood. Staggered him. He swallowed hard, instantly terrified.

Hailey clenched her jaw, eyes seemingly afire. “You can’t protect me from them, Dad. I’m sorry that hurts your ego, but we have bigger problems. All of us. You cannot leave this place. Whether you make the best of it or not’s your choice. But you are. Not. Leaving.

His mouth wished to squirm in anger, but the ice wouldn’t allow it. Instead, her mother cut in, “Hailey, try to see this from our perspective.”

She sighed, hand to her forehead. “I have, Mom. But you have to accept there are things bigger than you going on. And I’m involved. Whether we like it or not.” She glanced between her parents, “This place… it isn’t so bad. And these are good people. Friends. They’re as much forced to be here as us. Their lives are in danger simply because they exist.”

“But why are we here?” Dad asked, trying for calm for fear of another ice-bolt. “We’re not… Seers, or whatever. Right?”

She took his calm as a peace offering, matched it. “No. You’re not. But you are the parents of a Seer. You’re valuable. A bargaining chip. If the Hunters had gotten to you before us, you’d have been used as bait to draw the rest of us in.”

“Why? What do they want?” Her mother asked, doing her best to mediate the situation.

Hailey explained as best she could, “The power I have makes me immune to using it. Other people, normal people, can have the power too but it’s like a drug for them. They become addicted. Hollow. They’re mindless husks with no free-will. Seers aren’t like that. The Hunters want us alive. To study, experiment on. But they’ll kill us if we fight back hard enough. But they can’t do that if we’re in hiding. You were targeted to draw us out. Elise’s parents too.”

Her dad threw his head into a disbelieving shake but her mother remained passive. “So Elise is… not a Seer?” Hailey affirmed with a look. “And they want her because she knows you are?”

“Yes. They would’ve hoped going after Elise’s parents would draw us both out.”

“But now they’re…”

“Dead.” Hailey’s heart sank. She hesitated with a breath, then, “Look, the point is, you’re not safe anywhere else. You have to be here. For all of our sakes. If you’re caught, the Hunters will use you to get to me.” She looked explicitly to her father, “Even if you don’t believe this, you have to trust me. Being here is the right thing to do.”

“What about the police or–”

“There’s no guarantee they’ll be able to handle these people,” Hailey said sincerely. “Besides, if they even believed us, keeping a low profile is important unless more groups decide to come after us. The fewer people aware of Seers, the better. We can’t exactly follow the law. And I don’t even want to think about a witch hunt.”

Her mother and father exchanged a look. The former spoke. “So, what are we supposed to do? Just sit here? Honey, we have jobs, and bills, and–”

Hailey took a breath, they still weren’t getting it. “This is more important, Mom. This is life or death. Those things can be fixed later. You can’t fix being dead.”

The words echoed in Hailey’s head longer than she liked. Her body and mind were running on pure adrenaline. Her patience was waning. She’d been exhausted before Yaz had torn her from bed. Now, she’d passed the point where sleep might be possible, much less restful. The entire night had been a clusterfuck. Rachel was wounded. Elise’s parents were dead. Hers were in shock. And everything felt like her fault. She couldn’t handle it. Not if forced to coddle her parents too.

She pinched the corners of her eyes, “Just relax, okay? Too much has happened to figure everything out now. I’ll get you a room and we’ll talk tomorrow. I need to see Elise.”

With that she strolled away, unwilling to allow any further arguments. A definite paradigm shift had occurred. She suddenly understood parenthood better. The pseudo-parental figure she’d been forced to become required she watch her parents as if infants. In a way, they were. Overgrown children, more stubborn and combative than infants could ever dream of. Ultimately each child knew, their parents were the overlords. Parents too, knew children were their charges. The family “chain of command” put them at the top.

That chain was now broken, re-fused, Hailey at its apex. It didn’t take a brain surgeon to recognize how difficult the shift could make things. Hailey couldn’t help but think of Yaz, her seemingly effortless sway over her subordinates. The chain was reversed for her too. The difference was, the people below recognized her authority.

That must’ve been nice.

She found the training room door half-open, peered in. Elise sat against a wall, staring into unreality with wet eyes. Her face remained as empty as in the truck. Grief poured from her in an invisible geyser formed within that burst continuously. Its contents became tidal waves that drowned reality, stung Hailey’s heart. Needles stabbed her throat and extremities. Valerie was right; genuine grief ran deep, yet this went even deeper.

She entered the room as quietly as possible. Yaz knelt beside Elise, a hand on her shoulder. Hailey ambled over, lost for words or action. She’d never been good with grief. Never even experienced a distant relative’s death. Even as a Seer, proper sentiment was beyond her. Thus, she stood before Elise, head hung and hands wrung with guilt. She felt Elise’s pain, and beneath it, her own sympathy.

“I’m sorry… about your parents. Elise, I didn’t… I didn’t see the Hunters ‘til it was too late. Everything happened so fast.” Elise’s empty eyes rose to meet hers. A vague twitch in one’s corner forced Hailey’s head to hang again. “I know there’s nothing to say to… I just want you to know, I’m here. It probably doesn’t help, but…”

She trailed off. Her eyes wandered up again– caught Elise lunging. Time slowed. Her muscles engaged. They were too late. She was on the floor. Elise straddled her chest. Her newly strengthened hands clasped Hailey’s throat. They squeezed like hydraulic vises.

“I’ll kill you!” Elise screamed. Yaz was up, moving. “I’ll kill you, bitch!”

Yaz’s tiny figure pried Elise off in a yank. She locked Elise in a full-nelson. Hailey skittered away, coughing and writhing with renewed air.

Elise rasped in fury, deranged. “I’ll cut your fucking heart out. You bitch! You did this! It’s your fault! You–”

Yaz covered her mouth with a hand, threw her around. In a flash, she had Elise against a wall, forearm at her throat. Elise’s throat scratched for air. Her face was beet-read. Purple veins bulged around her neck and temples.

“This isn’t helping!” Yaz barked at nose-length.

Hailey drug herself toward the opposite wall, catching only bits of air. Elise kicked and struggled, a rabid animal chained to a post.

“What the fuck’re you thinking!?” She slammed Elise against the wall, stunned her, released her to a dazed heap. “Never use what I teach you on one of us. I don’t give a fuck if she just stabbed you in the gut. You. Don’t. Fight.” She shoved Elise’s torso back with a foot, fixed their eyes together. “I am God here. Almighty Zeus. My word is law! Violation means death. No matter how good of friends we are, this isn’t a fucking fight club. Act like a rabid dog, I put you down. Got it?”

Elise’s daze was wearing thin, but still thick enough that she could only half-nod in reply.

“Good.” Yaz stepped toward Hailey, who’d balled up across the room. “And you–” Hailey looked up, her coughs beginning to subside. “Are you injured?”

“I don’t… think so,” Hailey said, drawing sharp breaths.

“Then get lost, I don’t need you.”

Hailey rasped a breath, “I came to–”

Yaz’s eyes were fire again. “I don’t care if you came with a million fucking dollars. Get. Lost!

Hailey fought her way up, then staggered from the room. The door shut. Yasmine put a hand to her forehead that fell back to her side with a shoulder-slumping defeat. She stared forward, hand on her hip, trying to work out what the hell’d just happened– and whether or not she would have to put Elise down.

Elise’s voice crackled, wet and rasping. “It’s her fault, Yaz. None of this… It wouldn’t have happened if she’d stayed away. If she’d’ve kept her stupid mouth shut–”

Yaz snapped, “You’re wrong, Elise. You know that. Inside.”

“Hailey’s power started all of it.”

Yaz’s irritation seeped through, “And you know damned well the moment you learned it, you were as fucked as she was.”

“That’s not–”

“Shut up!” She about-faced, planted firm steps toward Elise with a stiff spine. “I swear to you, Elise, if you ever pull that kind of shit again on anyone here, I won’t hesitate. I don’t care who’s just died, or who’s at fault, you never use what I’ve taught you on one of us. Never. Am I clear?”

Elise nodded silently, eyes averted in shame. Yaz sighed and softened. She sank beside Elise to sit on the floor, her back against a wall. “I didn’t mean to hurt you, but…”

“It’s okay,” Elise moused, wincing. “I earned it.”

She held Elise’s hand in both of hers, eyed her with sympathy. “No, it isn’t. None of it is. It’s not okay we were too late. It’s not okay the Hunters got the drop. It’s not okay your parents are dead. It’s not okay we’re losing this war. None of this is okay.” Elise was about to speak. Yaz stayed her. “If anyone is to blame, Elise, it’s me. Not Hailey. She may be the only reason we’re alive. If she hadn’t sensed those Hunters, we might all be dead.”

“What’re you trying to say?”

Yaz looked at their hands, searching for proper words to explain her thoughts. She gave up, went with her gut, “Hailey is as much a victim as you are. More even. The Seers are just… products of Human evolution. Hunters force them into hiding simply for existing. In the meantime, they threaten them. Everyone they love. Everyone they care about. And if they have the chance, they use or kill them.

“You’re part of that. But Hailey, the others, they shoulder the greatest burden. Fearing for their lives simply by existing. Fearing for, and remaining the cause of, so many others’ suffering.

“But it doesn’t make it their fault, Elise. None of it. Being angry at Hailey isn’t going to help. In the end, it hurts more than you or her. If there’s anything I’ve learned here, it’s that you shouldn’t blame anyone for what happens. Instead, cherish them all the more because they could be gone in a heart-beat.”

Her words rang into silence with a soft breath.

Elise knew she was right, but found it difficult to put aside her own feelings. Blaming Hailey was a defense mechanism. A result of being so lost. Maybe it was rightful in some ways. Maybe it was completely and totally unfair and childish. Neither case changed her parents death. Then again, her wounds couldn’t heal overnight, if ever fully. At the very least, she knew Yaz was right, however unwilling she was to accept it yet.

She sank against Yaz’s shoulder, utterly dejected and defeated, body long exhausted by grief and pain. With a resignation to let things rest for the night, she nuzzled Yaz’s shoulder and tightened her fingers around Yaz’s hand.

Energy and Matter: Part 12

12.

Innocence Lost

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.

“Yaz?”

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!

“What’re you–”

“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.”

Too 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.

Missed Part 11? Read it here!

Energy and Matter: Part 11

11.

No More Games

It had been a few days since their last encounter that Hailey found Elise and a few others gathered in the kitchen. Yaz stood behind the bar, the group intensely focused on her. Hailey appeared within sight and Yaz motioned her over.

“Now we can begin.”

“What’s going on?” Hailey asked, eyeing the assembly.

“Something bad,” Rachel said beside her.

“This is gonna’ be a clusterfuck,” Miller added, elsewhere.

Unless we get ahead of it, yes,” Yaz affirmed.

Hailey was lost. She looked to Elise, and the pensive anger on her face. “Our parents.”

Hailey’s heart skipped a beat. “What about them?”

“Last night they met,” Rachel said. “I had a vision of it.”

“Rachel and I confirmed it later,” Miller added again.

She was confused, “I’m still lost. What’s it mean?”

Yaz replied succinctly, “In simplest terms, they’ve sought outside help to locate you. A private investigator. He is now under surveillance by Hunters.”

“What!?”

Rachel winced, “And they’re likely to take your parents hostage as bait.”

Hailey’s stomach rolled and tumbled. Bile made its acidic creep up the back of her throat. It stung her tonsils and sinuses. The world was ready to spin out of control. The only thing that kept her from collapsing was her now-minute emotional control. Valerie’s training had done that, at least.

She steadied herself on the bar, “Woah…” A deep breath saved her remaining nerves. “What do we do?”

Silence. Elise fumed. Hailey heard, and felt, air bursting through flared nostrils. For once though, it wasn’t directed at her. The group exchanged looks, then settled on Yasmine. She strengthened her stance, legs planted wide, and arms crossed at her chest.

“We’re going to turn the tide, use them as bait,” she said sternly.

“What?”

“It’s absolutely insane,” Elise growled. “They have no idea what’s going on.”

“Be that as it may,” Yaz said calmly. “It’s my call, and I’ve made it.”

“Wait. Wait,” Hailey said, waving a hand and stumbling over her words. “What the hell’re you talking about? Using our parents as bait? Why? How? Set a trap? How’s that fair? They know nothing. What makes you think the Hunters won’t just kill them?”

A small argument broke out. Elise jumped into a verbal dog-fight between Rachel and Miller, sided with the former. Hailey and Elise were on the same page, for once. They barked at both Miller and Ken, whom argued it might be the only way to learn anything.

Shut up!” Yaz snapped. The room was silent. “This is my call. I am in charge of security. Hailey. Elise. I understand your reservations, but this has to be done. Intel on the Hunters is scarce. Rachel was lucky to have spotted the pair running surveillance. We’ve already lost them.” Her eyes darted between the two girls, “Until I say otherwise, both of you are to step-up your training. I will inform Valerie immediately. Timing is crucial. You both need to be field-rated before the Hunters make their move. That could be any time in the next few days to the next few weeks.”

“Why rush field-rating them, Yaz?” Ken asked. “Putting them out there’s risking all of us if they’re not properly trained.”

Another argument was about to break out when Yaz’s eyes narrowed lethally. “I’ve already spoken to Valerie, Hailey’s progress is rapid. Miller; you and Rachel will go with her. Begin the last phase of her training. Elise is learning just as quickly. I will have her ready. If you doubt me, leave. I have no time for doubt or dissent.”

The group eyed one another, resolved to do as instructed.

Yaz watched them, “Good. Ken, pull Jenna in and take her with to run surveillance on the families. Find the Hunters. Keep them under observation. Lindsey and Jakob will be out to join you soon. Until the situation changes, patrols will double.”

A general affirmation gave way to a dismissal. Rachel and Miller headed straight for the training room with Hailey. Ken followed, broke off to head up and out of the bunker. Soon, only Elise and Yaz were left.

“Go to the training room. I’ll be in soon.”

Elise followed the others, passed them as they entered the Seers’ training room. She did her best to evade any backward glances. Hailey caught the resentment flowing past as the door shut on Elise. The trio took a place in the middle of the room. Yaz appeared, spoke to Valerie. Her hushed instructions were expected. Valerie listened quietly, then agreed to Yaz’s terms. A moment later, the tiny head of security was gone. Valerie strolled over.

“You’re to begin advanced training immediately,” she said, her confidence fierce. “It will not be easy. You will hate all three of us. You will have no energy to do so. Nor to continue training, but you will, because we will say to. When it is over, you will be a Seer with complete access to your power, a fully-realized potential. I will say this once, and once only; you are a promising student and will make a great Seer, but if you fear the immediate future, save us all the time and leave now.”

Hailey swallowed hard. This last phase of training would be extreme, as much a test of her will as instruction. She didn’t doubt Valerie’s sentiment, considering her penchant for honesty. She didn’t want to hate anyone, but Valerie’s eyes said it was unavoidable. Something in the others said they were about to destroy her– mentally and physically, break her down to rebuild her. If she’d been wearing a jumpsuit, she might’ve felt like Lee Majors.

As it was, all she felt was a duty to the people around her, and her parents. If she didn’t complete this, she could never protect them, let alone herself. She couldn’t allow that. Even the thought of it. Any purchase it took would become an unstable foundation under the weight of the future.

She screwed up her mouth, put on her best war-face. “I’m staying.”

“Miller, test the child.”

Valerie and Rachel suddenly backed off the gym mats. Hailey glanced sideways. A fist flew at her face. Before she knew it, she was on her hands and knees, spitting blood, her lip split. She rose to her knees. Miller threw a kick. Her instincts engaged. She rolled sideways. Miller hit air, lost balance. Hailey felt the same pull in her limbs she’d felt time and again; the Link.

She was on her feet, hand flat. A stiff chop hit Miller’s neck. He crumpled to the floor, out before he hit. Hailey rebounded in a low stance. Blood dripped from her lip. Adrenaline drugged her veins. Her pulse beat in the pressure points across her body. A shadow flitted at her right, forced her ‘round.

Rachel charged. An open palm went at Hailey’s chest. She leapt backward to dodge, failed. The force was immense. Hailey felt herself hit the cement wall across the room. She collapsed in a heap, winded, dizzy, utterly stunned.

Valerie was shouting, “Your opponent will not hesitate. Up!”

Hailey fell to her feet. Her whole body felt fractured. Rachel charged again. She closed the room’s distance in a breath. A moment later, fists pummeled her torso at full-strength with fury. Rachel reeled for a final kick. Hailey fell sideways, rolling. A grapple upended her, tossed her across the mats. She came to a rest near Miller’s unconscious body, staggered to her feet. Rachel was at her back, arm around Hailey’s throat, choking her.

She gasped, choked for air. Her nails clawed blood streaks into Rachel’s arm. The Seer completely blocked out the fresh wounds. Before Hailey knew it, her muscles engaged. She pivoted. Rachel flew over her, slammed her back on the mats. Hailey’s foot aimed for Rachel’s neck.

Stop!” Valerie shouted with a grating discordance.

The empathic projection doubled and tripled its resonance in the room’s poor acoustics. The force almost knocked Hailey off her feet. She staggered back, collapsed to a knee. Her body heaved, panting and throbbing from agonized bruises and minor gashes. How she was alive felt a mystery, but she sensed Valerie’s satisfaction. Somehow, Hailey’d once again surpassed her expectations.

Rachel climbed to her feet and offered Hailey a hand, “No hard feelings, okay?” Hailey swallowed blood and pulled herself up. She collapsed into Rachel, righted herself. “You okay?”

She nodded, regained her footing, and let Rachel kneel beside Miller to shake him awake. He suddenly sat upright and groaned.

“Good one, kid,” he said, rising to his feet.

The three stood before Valerie as she addressed Hailey, “You have excellent instincts, and your connection to the Link will ease the transition to fighting. You feel the pull, follow it. That is good. It will get you far. You will not survive on it alone however, so your training will now begin.”

In the room beside them, a similar scene played out; though Elise was much further advanced, Yaz found no reason to beat her so needlessly. Despite everyone knowing it was better to feel out Hailey’s instincts, Elise wasn’t a Seer. Apart from not having those instincts, she also might not heal quite so easily, at least emotionally.

Yaz had already taught her basic self-defense– the same any student would receive. Things would be tougher now, and more than that, they had to hurt. She’d produced a pair of wooden sticks shaped like swords and made of thick, bundled wood. Just about the only thing that didn’t hurt about them was holding them. They were ugly, heavy, and stung like hell when hit– Elise learned that the hard way.

The pair were running Yaz’s exercises, but the girl hadn’t broken a sweat. She was calm, calculated, testing as well as teaching. Elise was the antithesis. Her entire body was drenched. Clothing too. Her face and skin were red, blood raging from constant, snaps of the stick.

Yaz pressed her, forced her across the room in a flurry of crossed blades. Elise growled, forced her back. They danced in pursuit over sticks that tapped fast rhythms. Elise pirouetted. Yaz caught her, snapped her thigh. She fell to a knee. Yaz’s stick pressed at her throat, lifted her upward. Elise fumed, furious, both at her own failure and Yaz.

“You’re angry with me,” Yaz said, motioning Elise back into her starting stance.

She huffed through her nose, crossed her stick with Yaz’s, “Why shouldn’t I be?”

They started again. Elise fought with anger, her vigor unmatched. Yaz took each press and feint in stride. “Some things are still beyond you, Elise. Believe me when I say that.”

She made a flourishing spin aimed for Yaz’s legs, “Don’t try to take the high-ground. I know you better than that.”

“You know only what you want to.” She blocked, unbalanced Elise to break her attack.

Elise growled again. “Then teach me, oh great one.”

“Don’t be a jack-ass,” Yaz said, stepping back to await the next advance. “If you could separate yourself from your emotions, you’d understand: I neither came to this decision lightly, nor saw any worthwhile alternative.”

Elise lowered her stick, stormed across the room for a towel and a bottle of water. She wiped at her neck and downed a gulp with a huff. “I doubt that.”

Yaz sat in place on the mat, stick across her lap to breathe, “If it weren’t for me, you wouldn’t be alive. Do not mistake stratagem for disregard.”

Elise whirled at Yaz, “What is strategic about using my family as a fucking hooked worm?”

Yaz closed her eyes, as if meditating. “We both know the only way to ensure your family’s safety is to keep the Hunters from reaching them. My teams are to intercept if they attempt to. Until then, keeping them in play means we might still retrieve intel. Anything even remotely telling of their structure and force must be secured. Otherwise, you will never return home.”

Elise turned back to the table her things rested on, braced herself against it. Her head hung. There was no denying Yaz’s logic, but anger was the only emotion she could manifest. Whether at herself or someone else didn’t matter. Had she not felt so impotent, so helpless, it might have been different. Unfortunately, things were so beyond her control she wasn’t sure which direction was forward anymore. All she knew was the feeling of being trapped in a bunker with a bunch of strangers training to kill people in her way.

Yaz appeared, laid a hand on her shoulder, “You can do this, Elise. I know it. You know it. Just keep training. Then, when the Hunters make their move, you’ll be there. But you can’t be if you’re not focused now.”

Elise let the words sink in. If nothing else, she needed to see things through. The alternative might be certain death. She had a duty to continue. If not to herself, then to her family– and in a way, to Yasmine. She slugged back more water and returned to training.

Missed part 10? Read it here!

Energy and Matter: Part 10

10.

Bonds Remote and Near

The girls’ first week in the bunker passed in variants of their first days. However unknowingly, their training progressed with similar rapidity. Before long, Elise was onto self-defense training. Her confidence grew, however shakily and more disheartened she felt from their hiding.

Meanwhile, Hailey’s training had surpassed even Valerie’s expectations. They’d progressed from mindfulness, empathic projection, and instinct honing, to Active Link Training. Activating the Link was already second nature. Often Hailey activated it just to reassure herself she could at whim. Her daily meditations, too, had eased her fears of the Link. She’d even begun speaking through it, as any Seer might. Valerie’s training sessions had gone from silent instruction and audible response, to full-on silence to anyone without an active Link.

More importantly, she’d begun remote viewing– taking in distant or foreign sites merely by focusing on their surroundings. As if a psuedo-picture-in-picture engaged, the Link-view of the training room dissolved into the hazy place she focused on. Presently, that was home. Specifically, the front of her house.

A police cruiser sat outside where she and Valerie stood, as if specters haunting the place. Cars crept past, passing through them as the air particles they were. The remote viewing merely connected them to it. The cushion of energy and matter was mental wifi. The Seers immersed themselves in it, and through its universal pervasiveness, projected them along it as sentient data along a net connection. That wifi was what Hailey’s author would’ve called Dark Matter, and what Valerie called psychokinetic, or PK, energy.

Whatever it was, an active Link might stretch out a mental hand along it. By reaching out and following it, she might go anywhere. Her mind was a vast, unending entity through it: Hailey closed her eyes, activated the Link, and reached out. Invisible fingers felt along tendrils of energy that connected all of reality. They permeated in and around the room. The city. The state. The planet. The universe. She pulled herself along, as though dangling off a precipice. Once reaching the top, a rightness in her gut apexed. Active images of the place she sought appeared.

Presently, Valerie’s golden form accompanied her outside her home. The police cruiser hardly affected the scene. Sorrow stung her chest. It wasn’t hers. She’d long been separating her emotions from others. Along with Link activation, such emotional control was second nature. It was her parents. A bitter-sweetness beneath marked her mother from her father’s sour anger.

“Is it a violation of the tenets to go in?” Hailey’s harmonious whispers asked.

Valerie’s head shook in silence. Hailey took a deep breath; the street flickered. She was inside and out, dissolving from one place to the next. Then, she was inside, the street now her living room. Her parents sat at the dining-room table, at the head of the adjoined room, their hands clutching one another.

One officer stood beside the other whom sat at the table. “Mrs. Ferguson, I’m sorry, there’s simply nothing more we can do.”

Hailey felt his genuine regret. Dad’s anger and grief smothered it. “What do you mean there’s nothing more? You haven’t done anything.”

“Sir, I understand you’re angry, but in cases like this, there’s usually something to go on. We’ve found nothing outside the initial scene.”

“My daughter just disappeared into thin air, is that it?” Her father blurted.

“Mr. Ferguson, I’m telling you there’s nothing more the BPD can do. We have APBs and Amber alerts out for both your daughter and Elise Brennan, but there’s nothing more our investigators can do. They’ve combed the available evidence, but aside from a few eyewitness reports, there’s nothing else to track your daughter’s movements.”

Hailey’s mother choked back tears, “She’s still alive.”

The officer winced, “I sincerely hope you’re right, Ma’am. Unfortunately, the BPD cannot devote any further resources to this case. I’m sorry.”

Hailey’s father rose from his chair. “Get the hell out of my house.”

The first cop eyed the second, then shook his head, “I’m sorry.”

They filed out. Her father’s eyes bored holes into their heads the whole way. He stepped to the front, bay window, and watched the cruiser pull away. Hailey’s mother suddenly appeared beside him, gripping his left arm with both of hers.

“She’s alive, Alex,” she said, tearfully. “I know it. She’s alive and she’s safe.”

Hailey choked out a sob. The dream-like Link shattered and fell away. Valerie found herself once more sitting before Hailey in the training room. She remained silent, allowing Hailey time to recompose herself. She did so only after a gentle reassurance.

“Grief is a difficult emotion, Hailey,” she said quietly. “It is the deepest-rooted. Rare in its true form. There are many levels between sadness and true grief, but you’ve yet to truly experience the latter… Until now. Seeing them thus, and not reacting, would be more dangerous than you realize. This is normal.

“Rather than let it control you, use it to hone your focus. Know, that one day, you will feel their love again. They, in turn, will feel yours. They will know their suffering was not in vain. When they understand what’s happened, their love will allow them to accept it. For now, know it is there. Know, that when you are ready, you will lighten their hearts with your return.”

Hailey wiped her eyes and took a deep breath. She gathered all her grief into her breath and exhaled it. She closed her eyes and reactivated the Link. Valerie followed suit.

Were you not so adept, you would not have been capable of that, Valerie said without prompt.

I know that should be comforting, but it’s not.

It is what it is. How you take it is your choice. Rejoice that you have one– and that there are those who love you.

Hailey cleared the grief from her throat. “I know. But I’d rather not revisit them yet.”

“Then we will focus elsewhere. Another place your memory is strong.

Hailey relaxed, mind once more stretching out. This time, it grasped along the mental paths for Bacatta High-School. Before long, they stood in the Commons, unchanged since their disappearance save a few new posters, including one of the girls’ disappearance.

“Good to know some things never change,” Hailey said sarcastically.

“What would you rather they do? Seek you where you should not be found? Perhaps rally behind your faces for mischief?”

Hailey shook her head. “No. You’re right. Life goes on within and without you, right?”

Valerie cracked a smile. “A wise sentiment indeed.” She waited to see if Hailey would speak, then continued. “Tell me of this place. Why return here?”

Hailey wasn’t sure. She searched the faces, found the same melange of emotions she’d come to expect; excitement. Lust. Happiness. Depression. Indifference. A half-dozen others that comprised the average teenager during an average day of average life.

“I don’t know. Maybe ‘cause I feel out of place, and this is sort of where everyone does.”

“An astute observation,” Valerie said.“Do you wish to return here some day?”

Hailey had to think about it. Valerie allowed it. Whether she wanted to return to school seemed to hinge on whether it, and her life before, could be separated. Everyone there was out of place, but that gave them a place to be. She would be even more so now. Before, she’d just been another angsty teen, however eclectic or eccentric. Now, she was literally a breed apart from normal humans. Though she’d always technically been, it mattered now.

“I’m not sure,” she finally admitted. “I’d like to return to my life some day, but…”

“But is this truly your life anymore,” Valerie finished. “It is a question we all must ask ourselves when reflecting on what is left behind. Trust in me when I say that there is not a Seer whom knows the truth and has not asked the same question.”

Hailey’s projection eyed Valerie’s. “Is there an answer?”

She frowned, “Not a satisfactory one, so far as I know.”

“I can do this. The remote viewing. Can we move on?”

Valerie nodded. The Commons dissolved back to the training room and Valerie before her. They sat in silence for a moment, allowing Hailey’s inexplicable desperation to abate. When it did, Valerie re-focused her attention.

“I will next instruct you in manipulating your environment.”

“Meaning?”

“You will learn to control objects via telekinesis.”

“Telekinesis? I thought that was just a myth.

Valerie rose and motioned for Hailey to follow. They stepped to the room’s center, as before, the Link no longer active. Valerie produced the small stress-ball they’d come to use for various trainings. She presented it to Hailey, palm flat beneath it, and closed her eyes. The ball rose, unaided.

“Woah.”

It zoomed away, followed a wide arc, soared through long loops. As fast as it left, it returned, settling gently into a hover over Valerie’s hand. She opened her eyes, ball still hovering.

“In time, you will have this control. For now, we will keep things simple.” The ball came to a rest in her hand. “Activate the Link as normal.” Hailey did, settling her mind where the Link was most stable. “Now, reach out through your empathic connection. Feel the ball as you would my presence. It is not living, but inanimate. It does not exude energy, but rather occupies a space in it– a mass of matter.”

Hailey understood her meaning; living things had an aura, a sort of halo of magnetic repulsion around them. The nearer you were, physically, the stronger the field. This field allowed a Seer to feel out others from objects, and distinguish them through the Link. Once discerned, it was there the empathic projections could be read from, directed to. Ordinary objects merely existed. There was no aura. No faint trace of energy. Only minute repulsion generated by subatomic bonds.

The easiest way Hailey had found to explain it was that living things were chaotic, warm. Their energy and matter constantly shifted, rearranged, altered by the infinitely smaller organisms and bonds forming them. Regular matter was different. Cold. It was a tight-knit amalgamation of specific atomic and subatomic bonds, that ostensibly, never changed.

Hailey felt for the cold object now resting in Valerie’s hand. Not being as adept as Valerie made her like a blind child groping for a goal. Thankfully it was only mentally. Otherwise would have been significantly more uncomfortable.

Valerie sensed that she’d located the ball. “Now, as you would pull yourself toward a remote destination, you must pull the object toward you. Meanwhile, maintain its vertical position by keeping the tether from slacking.”

The instructions were clear enough, but the ball slid forward and immediately hit the floor. Hailey lost control. It rolled away. Valerie levitated it back.

“Again.”

Hailey grasped the ball. It slid off Valerie’s hand, hung in place. Then, like Wily E. Coyote, it plummeted to floor. Her confidence went with it.

“Sense the fields of the ball and your PK meeting. Repelling. Steady them. It is subtle. Again.”

The ball hung a full-second longer than before. It fell again. Hailey’s frustration rippled through the Link.

“Relax,” Valerie snapped. “You cannot control an object without first controlling yourself. Do not regress. Again.”

Hailey wanted to snap back. It would only be answered with greater fury. Instead, she took a deep breath, let her emotions run their course and fizzle out. She re-focused, grasping the ball. A moment later, it hovered between them. Hailey’s concentration had become so fixed she almost didn’t hear Valerie’s praise.

“Very good. Now across the room and back.”

Hailey felt the ball levitate, as if a series of pistons thrust endlessly at one another to keep the ball in place or move it along. She let herself grasp the resting rhythm. Then, as if manipulating select pairs of pistons, began rocking the ball forward. In reality, the ball neither rocked nor rolled, and instead began to drifting forward. She pulled back, the imaginary pistons shifting. The ball drifted back. It sank back into a hover between them and Valerie smiled.

“We will hone this technique now. Do as I instruct without question and as quickly as possible.” Valerie began to issue commands. For a half-hour the ball zoomed back and forth, up and down, sketching a variety of two, then three-dimensional shapes. All the while, Hailey kept her focus attuned, refining her broad control so that finer control could come easier. By the time she’d finished training for the day, her confidence had all but returned.

She was headed to the bathroom when she ran straight into Elise. Her eyes had been focused on a tablet of paper. Elise had meant to silently escape the bathroom, freshly showered after training with Yaz. The two smacked into each other, almost simultaneously falling to their asses. They rose together, apologizing. Elise recognized it was Hailey, hesitated.

“Sorry,” Hailey said again.

“Yeah, me too,” Elise replied, less sincere than before.

She began to step past. Hailey stopped her, “Hey.” Elise eyed her. “Everything okay?”

Elise chewed her lip, “No, Hailey. It isn’t. I’m coping, but I can’t pretend like I’m not affected. If you want an honest answer, that’s it. If you want me to lie, don’t bother asking.”

Hailey winced. Elise took her chance and escaped. She headed back to her room. Hailey’s heart sank. On top of everything, she’d as much as lost her best friend simply by trying to save her. She deflated with a sigh and pushed through the bathroom door, her heart sinking into her stomach.