Energy and Matter: Part 9

9.

Not the World You Knew

Elise’s letter to her parents had been finished for hours. Yet she remained at her desk, reading and re-reading, until she wasn’t sure what words meant anymore. Sorrow welled bile in her gut, twisted her intestines into knots. Rage lathered her blood to a froth, only common sense and despair managed to temper it.

She knew she’d been harsh with Hailey. Illogical even. It didn’t matter. Everything was her fault, intentional or not. All Elise could do now was hope to contain herself, keep from causing undue problems. Primarily, that meant not speaking to Hailey again anytime soon. That reality made the knock on her door all the more aggravating. She stood up, yanked open the door, expecting to give Hailey a piece of her mind.

Instead, Yaz’s eyes were deranged by concern. “Everything okay?”

“Yeah, I just… thought you were–”

“Hailey?”

Elise deflated,“Please don’t say that name right now.”

She beckoned Yaz in, whom shut the door behind her. She leaned against it with a shoulder, turned to watch Elise sink behind the desk and fold up the letter. The air between them was tense, but its ire was aimed elsewhere.

“Sooner or later you’re gonna’ have to leave this room,” Yaz warned. “Do it enough, you’ll run into her. It’s a small place.”

“I know.”

“All I’m saying’s, you can’t be angry forever.”

“I know.” Elise turned in her seat, “How’d you deal with it?”

A definite apprehension preceded her. She cleared her throat carefully, “I… was angry. I took it out on other people. Most of my family was killed before Rachel reached me. My sister was…. she didn’t last long. After her training was finished, she left. We found her a few days later, dead from a heroin overdose.”

Elise grit her teeth, “I’m sorry.”

“You didn’t put the needle in her arm.”

“I just meant–”

“I know what you meant. But I don’t need sympathy. I need you to understand.”

Elise was somewhat taken aback, “Understand what?

“Your anger, however valid, effects more than you.” She glanced wide, encompassing the bunker’s entirety. “There are people here whose sensitivity to emotions is infinitely greater than ours. And even I can sense your anger from a ways off. Imagine how the others feel.”

She shook her head, exasperated, “So, w1at? Just shut off?”

“Of course not. That’s worse. For you and us.” A hint of desperation appeared beneath Yaz’s controlled exterior. “No, what I’m saying is, we all accept this isn’t what you want. We respect that. But your anger is unnecessary. And short-sighted. And ungrateful.”

Elise’s face was hit by a brick wall of confusion, “Huh? How?”

“Think of it like this.” Yaz settled against the desk beside her, eyes forward. “We rescue this girl from actual, real harm. Take her in. Keep her safe. Fed. Comfortable enough. The only thing we ask, is to accept that leaving isn’t possible. Not yet. And not because we want to keep her here, but because it’s not safe– for anyone to let her go yet. Meanwhile, she’s understandably angry, but despite a polite surface, resentful. Hateful, even.”

Elise hung her head, ashamed.

“How would you feel about her?”

Elise echoed earlier sentiments, certain now whom she meant. “Like she’s an asshole…”

Yaz’s tone firmed in correction. “Or, that she doesn’t understand greater things than her are at stake. And that, unintentional or not, she’s being supremely selfish.”

The room went quiet. It lasted long, thoughtful minutes. Yaz’s words, and Elise’s thoughts, ran their course. Elise’s shame went deeper than she wanted. Whether from the Seers’ around her, or her own internalized guilt, she felt far worse than unwittingly selfish. That she likely occupied the middle ground between her and Yaz’s estimations didn’t help matters. Negatively impacting others she bore no ill-will toward made her stomach.

“What do I do?” Elise asked finally. “And how?”

“We’ve already begun that. You just need more patience. In everything.” Elise gave her a curious look. “I’ve put together a training regiment. It won’t be easy, but I’ll be there. Every step.” Elise’s curiosity faded. Yaz rose, lightly patted her shoulder, “Come on. You’re a long way from being field-rated.”

Elise followed her to the training room. The next few hours passed in sweat and fatigue. Yaz stressed proper form and movement therein. Bench-weights were the simplest place to begin. Yaz spotted, only giving breaks between after several sets of high-reps. Yaz took over here and there, forcing her to spot and watch. Elise relished the shifted pace, and opportunities to breathe.

Treadmill running came with its own challenges. Maintaining proper form at full-tilt to simulate escaping Hunters wasn’t half as easy as it had sounded. Yaz urged her on; a single lapse in form might cause a twisted ankle, wounding or killing her or anyone else with her. She’d seen it happen once– and would say nothing else to the effect.

To Elise’s credit, she easily broke through her own physical barriers, managing to power on, when she should’ve long failed. Either from her own inner-drive, or Yaz’s expert instruction, she attained heights of physical endurance few beginners had known. Let alone herself. There was something to be said of Yaz’s presence and confidence. It topped no-one else’s, making her both an excellent teacher, and a hard-as-nails leader. Elise suspected it was the only way she’d retained control over men and women twice and more her age.

Their day of training ended after the bunker had descended into night-time dormancy. The main corridor was lit, and light peered from beneath various doors. Otherwise, the place was quiet, still. The two girls showered and headed for the kitchen bar. Elise took a seat while Yaz rummaged-up leftovers.

Over a sighing microwave, Elise finally glanced at Yaz, “So, how’d I do? Really, I mean. Don’t sugar-coat it.”

Yaz smiled. “I wouldn’t do that anyhow. And for a first day, you’re beyond where I was. Then again, I was younger, so that had something to do with it.”

Elise grimaced, “Is that good or bad?”

“Good,” Yaz chuckled.

The microwave spat a few beeps. Yaz removed their food and sat beside Elise to eat. Elise was careful to pass the time with anything other than the situation outside the bunker.

“So, who trained you?”

“Just about everyone. Myself included.”

“Everyone? How?”

Yaz chewed with one side of her mouth, spoke with the other. “Everyone’s skilled at something. They took shifts. I mostly learned strategy alone. I spent my nights on it, more as a useful hobby than anything. Eventually, I started arguing about our patrols and defenses. When the others finally got over themselves and started listening, they saw my logic. Soon they were deferring to me. Eventually, it was just easier to put me in charge.

Yaz sipped water, “The Seers taught me to trust my instincts, channel them into reactions. Bryce and the others taught me how to react. Self-defense and combat-tactics. Combined with my own training, I became the fighter I am.”
Elise recalled fleeing the alley. “Why the sword?”

“Its good in close-quarters, and it scares the hell outta’ people,” she said with a hint of amusement. “There’s nothing more intimidating than a tiny, pissed off girl with a couple feet of steel in her hand.” Elise managed a laughed. “The other side is, it’s really easy to win when your opponent underestimates you, and they tend to.”

Elise’s face fell to a sad realization, “So you’ve… probably killed a lot of people, huh?”

Yaz let the question to echo between them with a long drink of water. “Elise, we don’t live in the same world anymore. The one you’ve known your whole life. That’s part of the transition. It’s why it’s so difficult. You have to accept the world isn’t what you knew it to be. It’s filled with blood, and fear, and death. Whether you let it weigh you down or not depends on remembering a simple fact; when the time comes, they’ve made their choice.

“If you’re a guardian for friends or family, you’re their first and last line of defense. If someone intends to test that, ordered to or otherwise, they’ve accepted their lives may be forfeit. I, and the others I command, are the only thing standing between the Seers and fates worse than death at the Hunters’ hands. Each of us will fight to our last breaths and beyond to ensure against that.”

Elise’s stomach bubbled like a cauldron. Yaz was training her to be a weapon. Like her. If it came to it, she’d have to kill. Die even. All to protect those she cared about, as Yaz had sworn to do. Her appetite left her. For the sake of her ailing muscles, she forced the last of her food down, sensing she’d need it to properly recuperate. Yaz sensed her resignation, put a hand on hers for comfort.

“Elise, I’m sorry,” she said sincerely. “But our lives are no longer our own. They belong to the people we love. The ones we’d die to protect. That’s the real truth of this life. You must accept it. My sister could not. It’s not easy, I know. I’ve been where you are. We all have. But I’m telling you, it does get easier.”

Elise felt tears welling in her eyes. “How?”

Yaz leaned over, quiet for sympathy’s sake. “By focusing elsewhere. By preparing yourself. So if or when that moment comes, you’re as ready as anyone can be. Because those you serve, deserve it.”

“And if I’m not ready?” Elise asked, her breath fluttering.

Yaz turned Elise’s face toward hers with a pair of gentle fingers. Their eyes met: Yaz’s sharp, determined, and confident, as Elise had come to expect of them; Elise’s pained, frightened, longing for something she wasn’t even aware of.

“I promise, Elise, you will be.”

Elise searched her for deception or uncertainty, found neither. Her head and eyes sank, tears glistening in their corners. She nodded, prompting them to roll down her cheeks. For better or worse, she believed Yaz. Despite a tainted, bygone innocence, a purity of spirit remained in her. She forever radiated an aura of devotion and loyalty. Even without Seers’ abilities, Elise was sure of it.

She breathed deep, steeling herself against fear. Whatever came of her ailing friendship with Hailey, at the least it had brought her Yaz. Without her, Elise would never survive what might come. Whether due to her training, or something more, Yaz’s companionship was fast becoming the thing she could rely on. Hopefully, it would be enough.

Elise and Yaz parted soon after for sleep. Morning training would come early, after Yaz’s daily patrol and security briefing. Until then, Elise needed to rest.

As she lie in bed, waiting to sleep, Elise couldn’t deny her growing dependence on Yaz. She was beginning to need her– as more than a student to a teacher, or one friend to another.

Missed part 8? Read it here!

Energy and Matter: Part 8

8.

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.”

“What?”

“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.

“Yeah?”

“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 athand.”

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.”

“Begin.

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.

Missed part 7? Read it here!

Energy and Matter: Part 7

7.

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.”

“How?”

“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?”

“Yeah?”

“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.

Missed Part 6? Read it here!

Energy and Matter: Part 6

6.

What Do You Want From Me?

Hailey and Elise sat at the kitchen bar with Yaz, devouring plates of expertly crafted pierogi. Despite the meager lifestyle required, the resident’s palettes weren’t left wanting. Ken Anderson, one of Yaz’s security, was an bonafide chef. Before getting roped into things, (how the girls weren’t certain) he’d been a chef in Chicago at a five-star restaurant. Whatever had led him there, life in the bunker was better for it. He took his leave after cooking and strolled away with a smile.

The girls sank into silence to eat. Yaz was up a few minutes later, promising to return as soon as possible. The silence thickened. It broke long enough for the pair to finish their meal and make their way back to Hailey’s room. Elise sat before Hailey on the bed, quiet for a long while. When she finally worked up the courage to speak, the weight in her heart visibly weighted her breaths.

“What am I doing here, Hailey?”

She shrugged, “I figured being alone wasn’t–”

“No, why’m I here. In this place.

“Same as me. Trying to stay safe.”

“Safe from what, Hailey?” She asked, high-voiced with despair. “What’s really going on here? I mean, Seers? Kids with weapons? Security teams? This is heavy shit. How can we know we’re safe among these people, let alone with them?”

“What’s our alternative?” Hailey asked seriously. Elise frowned. “You heard Yaz. We’re being hunted. You saw it yourself, those Hunters are hell-bent on getting to us. Are you forgetting this morning? Or my vision? We can’t–”

Elise was irate. “Hailey; step. back. Examine this.” Hailey stared, failing to see her point. Elise whispered, “We don’t know these people. Now they’re talking about training us like soldiers or something– and against our will.” Her voice strained itself in emphasis, “And you have no idea if that vision was real or just a dream!

Hailey sighed, blowing frustration like a steam pipe’s release-valve. Depression crept into its place. Valerie’s remarks on inner-knowing returned: The dream-vision was different than dreams alone. It felt different. Even now, the feeling of knowing it wasn’t just a dream lingered in her gut, her heart, her mind. It was confirmed first by feeling rather than logic, as Valerie had said to expect.

But Elise couldn’t understand that. She hadn’t felt Hailey’s terror. She didn’t ache with distant, cracked bones, or whiplash, or the clutching of grotesque, foreign hands. Hailey had, did. Dreams were different. They came with mono-sound. A distance to signify a separation from reality. This vision was surround sound, V-R, full-sensory stimulation.

“It was real, Elise,” she said finally. “Whatever you believe it, I know it. It was real.”

Elise lowered her face into her hands. There was no denying the girls were at odds on the subject– not to mention everything else going on. As much as Hailey wanted to go home, to let Elise go home, she knew they couldn’t. Her gut confirmed it even more-so now than before. Whether or not Hailey would stay after training remained undecided, but her same inner-knowing was beginning to admit Valerie might prove right, in the end.

“We have to find some way to let our parents know,” Hailey said after a few, silent minutes. “We need to ask Yaz when she gets back.”

“And if they say no?”

Hailey grimaced. She wasn’t sure. The more she considered it, the less likely they’d be allowed to communicate with the outside. The bunker was obviously secret, well-guarded. And if what they’d said about the Hunters was true, for good reason. It wasn’t a comforting thought; it only served to further highlight their distance from normality.

Hailey laid back on the bed, eyes shut and mind swirling:

Seers. Hunters. Kids with swords and guns. Training. Hiding. That– this, was her world now. It seemed ludicrous, but reality often was. Fiction writers so aspired to pinpoint reality because only reality could be quite so outlandish and yet remain believable. It followed no plots. It held no logic but its own. And Unlike books or movies, it had no clear beginning or middle. Despite a guaranteed end, one could never know how or when it might manifest. Thus, reality was its own form of ludicriousness. Anyone that wished or claimed to understand or believe it wholly was admitting to a form of voluntary insanity.

It wasn’t until she heard Elise involuntarily sniffle that Haiey’s eyes opened again. She inched upright, sat against the wall, and eyed Elise. Slick wetness ran from beneath her glasses. It matted blue hair to one of her cheeks, and tainted the air with a putrescent grief.

Hailey’s heistated. “A-Are you okay?”

Elise gave a tearful shake of her head. Hailey’s heart ruptured. Of all people, Elise shouldn’t be here. This had stemmed from Hailey’s issues. Elise was just swept up in it. The thought of never seeing her family again, of them worrying for her, was overwhelming. Contrary to their usually reversed positions, Hailey was taking everything in stride. She’d been on the cusp of something far beyond her when everything began, making the transition easier. But Elise was so far from her natural element Hailey doubted she could ever empathize properly.

“C’mere,” she said gently, beckoning her over with open arms.

Elise didn’t move. Hailey pulled her over by an arm and held her. Elise trembled with an internal quake. Something gave at its height, and she broke into quiet sobs. Hailey merely sat, allowing Elise’s grief to flow freely, stroking her hair with a sibling-comfort.

It was a long while before Elise’s grief had exhausted itself. By then, she lie against Hailey’s chest listening to her heart beat. A fugue state filled with a warmth that flowed into her from Hailey. It was too intense for ambient body heat. Too internal. It was as if she were intentionally projecting it to soothe her.

A passage on Seers played through Elise’s mind: Inherent sensitivity and control of emotions means Seers are capable of Empathic Projection: their manipulation of the Link may be augmented so that their emotions are projected to better control their enviornment…

The passage went on, positing pseudo-technical explanations regarding Seers, their energy, and its effects, but Elise’s mind had wandered by then. Now, Hailey seemed to be employing such an ability. As unconscious as it may have been for Hailey, there was no denying what Elise felt.

For Elise, the feelings were an unexpected comfort. Their existence itself was disconcerting, but their presence imparted a warmth and clarity she desperately needed. It was as if her own, usual aloofness were turned back to her, affirming that “everything would be alright.” She couldn’t be sure of that, but Hailey’s feelings assured her of it, calming her. In spite of an undeniable fear they manifested, Hailey’s feelings seemed to say; regardless of the future, Elise wasn’t alone.

It was enough to eventually compel her upright. She pulled herself into a sitting position, smearing eye liner with a hand as she wiped at the last of her tears. “Sorry.”

Hailey’s voice held a sort of soft finality, “Don’t be.”

Elise suppressed what was left of her grief with a sigh. “I know you don’t want to be here either. I just feel like the odd one out.”

Hailey’s brows pinched in perplexity. “How?”

“If you’re a Seer, you’re one of them.” Her head tilted at the door. “I’m not. I’m just… stuck here, more a drain than a help.”

“That’s not true. Without you, I’m alone too.”

Elise was about to speak, but a knock sounded. Hailey beckoned. Yaz appeared, lugging two backpacks, sword over her back and gun at her hip. She set the bags beside the desk, “I managed to get your stuff from your car.” She eyed Elise specifically, “All of it.”

The two girls sat up. Elise suddenly recalled the weed in her glove-box. Hailey eyed Yaz, her mind elsewhere. “Why wasn’t it easy?”

Yaz stretched, “Cops. They roped off the scene. I managed to get in and out undetected, but it was close. Point is, they know something happened. You’ll be reported missing soon, if you aren’t yet.”

“Did they… did they find the bodies?” Hailey asked, stomach churning. Yaz nodded. “Jesus. That won’t come back on us, will it?”

“Maybe,” Yaz admitted. “But we’ve got bigger problems. Once your parents find out you’re missing, it won’t be long before the Hunters move– either against them or us.”

“Them!?” Elise’s eyes bulged. “Why would they do that?”

“I’d do the same. To lure you out.” She eyed Hailey directly, “Your training needs to begin A-SAP.”

“And me?” Elise asked helplessly.

“We’ll get there.” She gestured Hailey to the door, “C’mon. Valerie wants to meet with you.”

“Uhm, okay.” She glanced at Elise, unwilling to leave her alone. “What about–”

“I’ll be fine,” Elise interrupted. “Go. Learn. I’ll see you later.”

Hailey hesitated, but Yaz left the room. Elise shoved her toward the edge of the bed. A moment later Hailey disappeared out the door with a pained breath. She hurried after Yaz, entered the training room to find Valerie behind a desk at the far wall and facing an interior section of room. Her attention was fixed on a notebook beneath her that she scrawled into with purpose.

“Leave us, Yasmine,” she said without looking.

Yaz half-bowed, left. Hailey wandered toward Valerie, stopped a few feet from the front of the desk. She stood in place for a few minutes, waiting patiently. Soon, the hypnotic scratching of Valerie’s pen echoed almost imperceptibly. It rang through the silence and awkward tension between them. She was just beginning to wonder if Valerie would acknowledge her when she slid back in her chair and stood. It gave Hailey a start.

Valerie stepped around the desk, hand dragging along it, and stopped before Hailey. She half-sat atop it, arms bracing her at her sides. She crossed them and began sizing Hailey up. There was more display than purpose behind the movements. Valerie could’ve examined her just as easily from the chair.

“There,” Valerie thought. “Your instincts are good. You wonder why I might rise in such a way. Obviously my eyes are no more impeded from one side of the desk than the other. So why the displacement then?”

Hailey expected the question to be rhetorical. Valerie’s eyes awaited an answer. She cleared her throat, “Uhm, I don’t know. To make a statement… or something?”

“Close enough,” she said, in her headmistress-way. “The actual answer is to show rather than tell. I, and others like us, have trained ourselves to sense others’ emotions. By relying on our instincts and intuition first, we are guided toward otherwise obscured truths through doors pure logic might otherwise close. It is in this way that we know our world and those whom inhabit.”

“But why? Isn’t that dangerous? To rely on gut-feelings rather than logic?”

“Truth does not require logic, only existence. The unconscious mind governs all human action. Thus, the human world is built and driven by it. It is also the foremost human connection to the Link. Through it, we may follow feelings and instincts to learn the truths they surround.”

“The Link” rang in her ears. It was the same phrase found time and again during her research; the connection that facilitated Seers’ powers. It meant nothing to her otherwise. It was fiction until now. Hearing someone so obviously knowledgeable and confident, refer to it so factually, made her discount any doubts of its existence.

“So it’s real? The Link?”

“Indeed. It is the thing in which all Seers must be trained. The source of our power.”

Hailey winced, “Can it be turned off, or removed?”

Valerie’s face darkened. Her voice turned grave. The room went cold. It seemed to Hailey she could almost see her breath.

“There is only one way we know of, outside death; the fracturing of a Seer’s mind.” Hailey listened, unchanged, but lost at her meaning. Valerie’s orbits caught only shadow. “When overwhelmed by powerful forces, a mind may fracture, splitting apart. A thing once whole becomes shattered. Fragmented. Memories break. Reality and its connections fade. The body only remains alive through sheer autonomy. Will no longer exists. Nor do dreams. Emotions. Speech is all but impossible. When it comes, it is incomprehensible, never lasting more than a few disconnected words or ideas.

“Among these things, when it is a Seer’s mind, their energy becomes fragmented. Their power disintegrates. They are all but dead, despite physiological fitness. Even in the best cases, only glimpses of the person they were shine through. A twinkle in the eye. A remnant of twitching facial muscle. Insubstantial given what is lost.”

“So the Link can’t be severed then,” Hailey surmised, unsure of how to feel about the alternative.

Valerie lightened, the headmistress returned to her place amid the well-lit room. “There is no known reversal of the condition, nor is there any other method to it. The Link is as much you as the undeniable connection to a greater thing. Once activated, a Seer cannot become deactivated. As for losing the Link, death is the preferable alternative.”

Hailey agreed with wide eyes, realizing she’d been considering whether or not brain-death was the better alternative to her current situation. Valerie recognized as much, but rather than outright address it, she allowed Hailey’s mind to work its way there alone. She understood the lesson, suddenly eager to have anything else occupying her mind.

“So, you’re going to train me?” Valerie gave a slight nod. “How?”

She straightened upright, “We will begin with mindfulness training. You will be taught to quell your emotions. To sense your environment. And when to trust your instincts alone. Then, you will be instructed on more adept-level mental techniques; the inner-sight, remote viewing, and inner-communication. If you continue to show proficiency in it, you may also receive training to control your precognition. The sight is powerful, and each Seer has some connection to it, but not all have control, nor can they. We will know by then the extent of yours.”

Hailey nodded, mentally preparing for what was to come. Valerie straightened from the desk and bridged the gap between them with a single step. She re-examined Hailey, this time more analytically, possessing a singular purpose.

“Finally, if you show the proper grasp, both Yasmine and Rachel will train you in self-defense. The choice to pursue such lessons outside my requirements is yours. I recommend it. But some of us are not fighters, and it is best not to attempt to be, lest we endanger others. When your training is complete, I will inform you, but you will know regardless. Then you may choose to leave.”

Hailey’s eyes gleamed at the thought, but Valerie’s were too stern for it to gain much purchase. There was no denying there was a road ahead. Undoubtedly, it would be long, but most certainly it would be difficult. More than anything, it needed to traversed with the utmost caution.

Hailey breathed deep and slow, in anticipation of the long path forward. “Okay. Where do we start?”

Missed part 5? Read it here!