Build Better Worlds Cover Reveal!!!

Last week I posted a sample chapter from Build Better Worlds: An Introduction to Anthropology for Game Designers, Fiction Writers, and Filmmakers. The book is due out this fall and will cover a host of issues in worldbuilding from the perspective of Cultural Anthropology, Biological Anthropology, Linguistic Anthropology and Archaeology. By using the science to compare real life cultures and what core elements exist in them, the book talks about how better to create authentic fictional cultures.

Without further ado, here is the cover for the ebook version of Build Better Worlds. More info and the official release date coming soon!

Worldbuilding Part 5: Monsters, Aliens, and Evil Androids an Exploration of Fear and Anxiety

Fantasy, Spirit, Nightmare, Dream, Dreams, Haunt, Alien

Recently I have been wrapping up a book project with a fellow Anthropologist by the name of Kyra Wellstrom. The book is called, Build Better Worlds: An Introduction to Anthropology for Game Designers, Fiction Writers, and Filmmakers. The purpose of the book is to use real anthropology to help people create better worlds and more authentic characters based on the actual science and data on culture. What follows here is one of the final chapters of the book (which is now in Beta Testing) and will be out this fall.

You can find the other blogs on worldbuilding here

Chapter 21

Monsters, Aliens, and Evil Androids an Exploration of Fear and Anxiety

What is a monster?

It has been stated by numerous philosophers and ethnographers that monsters are simply the embodiment of cultural fears; our anxieties made flesh and blood. We see these reflections and patterns across cultures and over again and for good reason. The monsters a culture believes in often shed light on the things they fear most, and monsters that emigrate to new cultures often change their form in their new surroundings. Monsters represent a fascinating blend of the familiar and the foreign; easily recognized but alien enough to terrify. Many monsters possess elements of humanity and exemplify the very worst elements of culture as a form of hyperbole. Their faces are what changes most easily. It is the bones, the marrow of the spirit of what a monster is, and the fears that they embody, that reflect the heart of what it means to be human.

Like our anxieties about death, monsters often follow patterns that reflect our collective fears as a species. Just like we see in every horror movie, monsters attack in lonely places, in the dark, and in our sleep. They reflect the anxieties we have about our natural environment and they come from the water or caves or the night sky. Demons and spirits come for us when we are weakened by illness, childbirth, or impending death. They target the isolated, the frail, and the young. They can often appear human to gain our trust, only to reveal their true forms when it’s too late to escape them. They can lure or entrap us through promises of food, or comfort, or money; playing upon our moral weakness and greed.

Think of how often a monster’s teeth are discussed. Monsters often feed off humans, either in a spiritual or a literal sense. Vampires suck blood, zombies eat brains, dragons and sea monsters devour virgins. Even in modern monster movies, monsters nearly always eat defenseless humans. Giant animals like sharks or snakes, aliens that feed us to their young, or giant kaiju that eat us like popcorn. They are discussed with terms like “fangs”, “razor-sharp teeth”, “drooling”, “sucking”, and “crunching”. Hell, even killer clowns from outer space cocoon us for later consumption.

When you consider our species, these fears appear logical. Imagine early humans, alone on the African plains, surrounded by frightening animals that lurked around every corner. These monsters were very much real, but this did nothing to lessen their terrors. We were small, between three and four feet tall, we had terrible night vision and no claws or fangs to help defend us. We were prey to birds and leopards that could drop from above. Snakes grabbed us from holes in the ground and lashed out with sharp poisonous fangs. Lions and hyenas slunk through the darkness just beyond the edge of vision, shadows out of the corner of our eyes, and crocodiles and hippos lurked in rivers and lakes making people disappear beneath the surface. Our only protection from the creatures that wanted to consume us lay in the light of day and our campfires, in our culture and its defenses, and in each other. The darkness, the water, and isolation became a natural reservoir for our terror.

Modern monsters

Most of the world now lives apart from these real monsters. The megafauna that hunted us like any other prey are gone and the remaining large predators are dwindling in number and range. The vast majority of humanity has nothing to fear from large beasts. However, our fears remain. A tremendous number of monsters are described as being “prehistoric” or pre large scale human civilization.. We find these descriptions from as far back as we have writing. Many monsters that haunt religions are described as being from the time before their deities created peace and order in the world or before the world was civilized. Writers of weird fiction and cosmic horror like H.P. Lovecraft write of “antediluvian terrors” and “prehistoric nightmares”. It’s as though we as a species have some lingering genetic terror of the time when we were small and vulnerable. Coupled with our gifts as a species to spin tales and exaggerate for the purpose of entertainment, many of these creatures became larger than life when they filled our nightmares.

Many monsters also reflect the fears we still face in the modern world, despite our cultural advances in the last 3 million years. We can still all too easily be carried off by disease or poison, by other people, or, worst of all, by unknown causes. These very real and very human fears are interpreted through a cultural lens. Numerous cultures speak of spirits that will steal a woman’s life away during childbirth if attracted by her cries. This is particularly common in foraging cultures where the margins for survival are slim and medical care is an at-home affair. Cultures with a focus on purity (Catholicism and Malaysia are good examples of this) have demons that possess the body and cause their vessel to break the laws of the society, causing bouts of violence, sin, and general bad behavior. Industrialized nations tend to have human monsters, serial killers, zombies, or criminals, that reflect the unease we feel when surrounded by strangers, as well as anxiety about dark crowded spaces.

To die, to sleep…

Sleep is one of the reservoirs of fear for humans. Sleep makes us vulnerable as we lay unawares in darkness for hours on end. Sleep also exposes us to the world of dreams, which are as likely to be horrifying as they are to be pleasant. Many cultures have tales of beings that can drain the life from a person while they sleep, often while the person is awake but trapped in a horrifying state of sleep paralysis. People’s sleep paralysis nightmares almost always follow patterns; in the US, sleep paralysis monsters have passed through different phases. In the 1990s, when the cultural zeitgeist had become fascinated with aliens, sufferers often reported little gray men with giant eyes performing tests on them. In the early 2000s, when there was a spate of demon-child films, people began to report nightmarish children crawling on to their beds as they slept. Suffers from southeast Asia tell stories of a horrible old hag with white skin who sits on their chest and slowly chokes the life out of the sleeping person while they lie awake and unable to move or cry out.

This monster, the dab tsog in the Hmong language, became widely known in the 1970s and 80s when there was a rash of deaths attributed to it in the United States and Thailand. More than 100 Hmong refugees in the U.S., almost exclusively men in their 30s, died in their sleep from unknown causes. Some men reported nightmares about the dab tsog at the time. Men became terrified of sleep and would try desperately to stay awake. The story so intrigued director Wes Craven that he went on to write A Nightmare on Elm Street in 1984. Instead of the white-skinned hag, however, Craven changed the face of the monster to that of a disfigured homeless man who had chased him as a child and changed him from an evil spirit to the ghost of a murderer.

Stories of night hags may be so common in southeast Asia because of a very real genetic condition. Brugada syndrome causes electrical abnormalities in the heart that can lead to Sudden Unexplained Nocturnal Death Syndrome (SUNDS)[1]. This syndrome is found most commonly in Southeast Asia, particularly Laos and Thailand, and predominantly affects men, with most deaths occurring between 30 and 40 years of age. A monster that kills men in their sleep is a much more palatable explanation, especially before the era of electrocardiograms, and no explanation at all. A night hag may be terrifying, but not nearly so terrifying as the unknown.

Sometimes monsters are used to explain myriad, nebulous fears; things we could hardly put into words. The wendigo is a perfect example of this. Territorially, the wendigo is one of the most widespread monsters in the world; it’s spoken of in the mythology of a collective of First Nations groups all across subarctic Canada, stretching from the Rockies to the Atlantic coast and down into the northern United States[2]. While there are slight variations in the story between the various groups, the stories all agree on the main features of the monster. The wendigo is a fascinating monster because it is a curious mix of a physical creature, a possessing spirit, and a culture bound syndrome (see chapter 10). The physical body of the wendigo is towering and lanky, with enormous clawed hind feet and paw-like hands. Its breath starts off howling, icy winds that blow with such force that they can blow down trees and even start tornados. Its heart, and sometimes its other organs too, are made of solid ice. Its most distinctive feature is its insatiable desire for human flesh; so strong that it eats off its own lips in its hunger, baring its pointed teeth.

Wendigos were once human. Once the wendigo gets hold of you it changes you into a monster like itself. This is where the wendigo begins to shift its mythological form. I can get hold of you in a number of ways: through dreams, visions, possession, physical force, or even through your own thoughts. If it catches you physically, it does so while you’re out hunting. Those who venture off into the forests in winter and never return are thought to have been taken by the creature. It captures you and transforms you into a monster like itself. If it catches you though your thoughts or dreams, it has worked its way into your head through your hunger and cold. When a person dreams of a wendigo, they begin to have cannibalistic desires towards their own family. Most cultures believe that a person in the early stages of wendigo madness can be stopped and cured, although often the cures are horrifying enough, but if the person actually consumes any part of another human being, they are done for. There’s no hope for a person who has gone wendigo and the only course of action is to kill them for the safety of the group. There are numerous recorded cases of wendigo killings in tribal and legal records throughout the 19th and into the 20th century. The diagnosis of “wendigo madness” is found in psychological papers throughout this time as well as a way to explain a temporary psychosis with a focus on cannibalism.

Look at the main features of the wendigo story: a monster of cold that lives in the wild spaces and feeds off hunger. It drives people to cannibalize their family and turns them into cold-hearted monsters. It will ultimately separate you forever from the people and civilization you love and strip you of your humanity, leaving you to wander alone in the freezing wilderness. These fears are easy enough to imagine in subarctic Canada, where temperatures that go well below freezing and isolation caused by snow and weather can lead to starvation and madness over the long winters. It’s the same set of vague fears that drive Stephen King’s The Shining or John W. Campbell Jr.s Who Goes There?. The wendigo is a single, corporeal manifestation of these fears. It groups them all into one grotesque form and gives them shape.

Fears of domination, experimentation, and colonization

In the pantheon of monsters, aliens are relatively new. In some ways, they are just a new face on the same stories people have been telling for millennia. Space, after all, is just a combination of those things we fear. It’s cold, dark, isolated, far older than our little planet, and almost completely unexplored. Aliens are often just monsters from this final frontier rather than our own backyard. Many aliens fit the mold of grotesque, slobbering, man-eaters, or shape-shifting deceivers. Even stories of alien abductions, lost time, and mysterious lights are nearly identical to stories that people have been telling for centuries about fairies, will-o-the-wisps, and the little people of the hills, all of which can lead you away and trap you in another world.

But aliens can embody fears that other monsters cannot. These fears, like all others, are reflections of the time and culture in which people live. Aliens as colonizers, as invaders, and as dispassionate scientists are all reflections of the fears that stalk people in the industrial age. H. G. Wells’ War of the Worlds (1895-97) was written after the author and his brother discussed the terrible disaster the Tasmanians suffered after their invasion by the British[3]. Wells was musing about what would happen if someone did to the British what they had done to the Tasmanians. In fact, there were many “invasion” stories written at that time, although Wells was the only one to use aliens as his aggressors. Britons were worried that their military might was waning and the increasing armament of Germany and France stoked anxieties that the British would face the same treatment they had given their colonies.

Throughout the Cold War, science fiction featured alien invaders, either working secretly or in open displays of aggression, trying to take over the Western World. Endless troupes of aliens landing on the White House lawn fill the fiction of the 1950s and 60s. Change “aliens” to “Russians” and you have a nearly exact mirror of what Americans feared happening at the time. Many aliens are often a gestalt consciousness, a shared mind, or can manifest as a kind of extreme conformity and the end of the individual as seen in the famous Star Trek villains, The Borg. We can also look at the protagonists in these films and see the kinds of qualities they embody and how they reflect the morals and values of our society like a modern myth or morality play.

Many science fiction stories from that time also reveal an uneasiness about the level of violence and aggression the world was experiencing. In the 1950s the 20th century was only half over and had already seen two world wars, half a dozen genocides, and the invention of weapons that could unleash destruction on a level we had never dreamt of. Many films in the 1940s and 50’s, perhaps most recognizably exemplified by The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), feature aliens as advanced beings, capable of great destruction but also of nearly miraculous feats of science and medicine, who come to Earth to warn us away from a path of violence. Klaatu, the alien emissary, warns all of Earth’s leaders that  “Your choice is simple: join us and live in peace, or pursue your present course and face obliteration.” People around the world, after decades of violence, nationalism, and xenophobia, were afraid. They feared that the ever-mounting aggression would eventually lead to a conflict that no nation could win.  

“I know that you and Frank were planning to disconnect me, and I’m afraid that’s something I cannot allow to happen…”

The famous words of HAL 9000, the evil artificial intelligence that coldly murders it’s crew in the sci-fi book and film 2001, demonstrate another one of our fears made manifest, our fear of the dangers of technology.

On August 6th, 1945 the world entered a new age, an atomic age. After the first atomic bomb was used on a population in Hiroshima, our relationship with technology changed forever, and with it, came the rise of a new kind of monster, one of our own making. To be sure, humans have always had anxieties about new technology, and with the industrial revolution came literature about automatons (what we now call robots) and other technological wonders that sometimes turned against their masters. One of the earliest examples of modern science fiction, Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, explored the potential and dangers, as well as the deep philosophical questions surrounding electricity. Shelly set off a wave of stories, that even to this day still discuss the idea of our technological creations getting the best of us.

As Anthropologist Willie Lempert explains in his article, Navajo’s on Mars [4] humans have developed countless films, like The Matrix, 2001, and Terminator, to highlight our fear of technology. Even the new Star Trek Series: Picard features a plotline surrounding evil ‘synths’ and questions about the humanity of artificial intelligence and it’s compatibility with organic life. Part of this has to do with our religious worldview, the idea that in most of western European based culture, there is only one kind of intelligence, humans. As we talked about in the religion chapter, other cultures have multiple kinds of intelligence. Further, our fear of AI may stem from the idea that only the Judeo/Christian God has the true power of creation. Ultimately though, fear of AI stems from the fear of what we do, to what we consider to be inferior species.

As we entered the 1980s and 90s, aliens changed slightly. No longer were they brazen colonists landing on our shores, they were shadowy and subversive, often entwined with the murkier branches of government. Aliens and the government branches that studied them would abduct people and experiment on them. They would implant people with tracking devices, create alien/human hybrids, and mutilate cattle in their ruthless quest for data. They were cold, unfeeling scientists that existed outside of human empathy or compassion. The declassification of wartime documents about Nazi scientists, exposure of government experiments like MK-Ultra, and a number of dubious psychological research projects like the Stanford Prison Experiment were increasingly making people uneasy about science and scientists. The perpetrators of the experiments seemed, to regular people, just like the inhuman aliens from another planet. Add this to a growing dissatisfaction with the government nearly everywhere in the world and the X-Files style alien/government conspiracy became not just a popular element in fiction, but also an integral part of the mythology of the time period.

When you are creating memorable monsters or antagonists in your world, it’s important to consider the core values of your fictional culture. Remember the chapter on Imagined Past, Myth and Cultural Purity? The core lessons of that chapter are essential to creating a creature that challenges the core values of your characters, and readers, world view.

Chapter Exercises

Things to consider when creating monstrous beings in your world:

– What are the most significant fears and anxieties of the culture?

  • What are some memorable features of your creature? What keeps people up at night?
  • How does your creature tie into the myth structure of your world? Sense of purity?
  • Is your monster/creature sentient? How are it’s goals similar or different to your main character?
  • What arenas of your culture does the monster most impact?
  • What’s at stake if your protagonist fails to subdue the creature?

Works Cited


[1] Human Molecular Genetics, Volume 11, Issue 3, 1 February 2002, Pages 337–345, https://doi.org/10.1093/hmg/11.3.337

[2] Monsters David Gilmore – University of Pennsylvania Press, Inc. – 2009

[3] What The War Of the Worlds Means Now Philip Ball – https://www.newstatesman.com/2018/07/war-of-the-worlds-2018-bbc-hg-wells

[4] Navajo’s On Mars William Lempert https://medium.com/space-anthropology/navajos-on-mars-4c336175d945





Worldbuilding Part 3: Constructing Character Identity using Anthropology

landscape-1328858_960_720Alright, so after reading my first two blog posts on world building you have some semblance of the kinds of dynamics that go on in crafting a cultural environment right?

Also, here they are if you need them.

World Building Part 1 
World Building Part 2

So here’s the key question, how does your world impact your characters? This really is the biggest and most important piece of your world building and the easiest place to lose consistency. If you mess this up, your story could suck or at least have readers rolling their eyes. At the end of the day, it’s compelling characters that we care about. Also, don’t forget to listen to your characters. They have hopes and dreams too.  

I touched on this a little bit last time, but this time we’re diving deep into a little social science of identity construction.

1. Nature vs Nurture

Since good old Descartes (but really all the way back to the ancient Greeks) wrote on Dualism in the 1600’s there has been a question of what influences us most, Nature or Nurture.

Most of you probably know this already but the answer is both.

Humans are not a tabula rasa (a blank slate). On a very physical level we have certain tendencies that have been fostered by natural selection. For example, human’s don’t have wings (of course if they do in your story you might need to consider various elements of winged culture) they walk on two legs (known as bipedalism) and they speak.

A terrible example of world-building done wrong because of the physical limitations is the Planet of the Apes series. Now, I enjoy those movies but what kills me is this. In order to have human speech, your mouth, throat, and tongue must have a certain shape to produce human noises. Apes do not have the physical apparatus for speech and even the shape of their face and neck would have to change significantly before they were capable of human-like speech. Still, they are fun films and I do enjoy them, but I can be heard grumbling like a disgruntled Star Wars fan after I watch them.

So that’s an example of nature, there are certain things in our neurology and physical makeup that put limitations on us as well as certain instinctual things that pop up.

There’s now also some science to suggest that your experiences and traumas may pass themselves on to the next generation. This surrounds epigenetics, and I am not going to get into this here (as I am definitely no expert in this area) and admittedly there is still a lot of unknowns about the science behind this, but if true, it certainly complicates things doesn’t it?

What about nurture? Well, there certainly isn’t something inherent or genetic in religion. If there was, we would have people who have never had any contact to Christianity spontaneously becoming Christian in remote areas (we don’t). We are enculturated (basically taught our culture) as we grow up. Our family brings us to church or perhaps we are raised Atheist or Buddhist or Pagan and learn the values and ideals of those practices (remember that purity stuff back in part 1). A huge portion of your personality comes down to nurture.

Speaking of which…

Personality is one of those that is a hard mix of both. If any of you out there reading this have more than one child, you know that they are born with a tendency towards a certain personality. Some children are more cautious, some are absolutely fearless (I’ve got both types and it’s fascinating to see the difference). Some have short tempers and are emotional while others are calm in almost any circumstance. Add environmental factors and it shapes and reshapes their personality. People always have tendencies but the wonderful thing about human beings is that we are capable of changing the way we experience the world, it’s just that a lot of us don’t because it’s a lot of work. As some of you frequent readers know, I have spent a great deal of time working on meditation and have seen changes in my own thinking and experiences, but damn is it hard!

So how does this relate to your character? Well, what elements of nature and nurture come into play? If you have a genetically engineered winged population that’s going to change the experience of your character. Are there benevolent vampires? Well, they gotta eat, right? Perhaps your humans have undergone gene editing to live on Mars but suddenly find themselves back on Earth? Robert Heinlein’s famous sci-fi book Stranger in a Strange Land posits the question of a human who is raised by Martians returning to earth and how he struggles to understand what it means to be human with some fascinating cultural results. So, just in the nature/nuture part, there’s a lot to consider.

2. Imagined Past

So, before I get into this, when I use the phrase ‘Imagined Past’ I don’t mean that something is made up. What it means is that our upbringing and cultural perspective foster history in such a way that we imagine that one event is important and another isn’t. Of course, there are objectively more and less important events in history, but how we imagine those events unfolding is based on things like culture and ideology.

The reality is, history is always messy as hell. I don’t care what event you are talking about. Nothing is ever straightforward and simple. Remember our discussion in part one of world-building on Power and Resistance? That’s why.

The Imagined past is your perspective and your wider culture’s perspective on history and events. They are an interpretation of what happened and why they happened that way.

Let’s take an example that is debated every October, Columbus Day.

If you are a fan of Columbus Day you might say that we should honor a man who changed the world and ‘discovered’ the Americas. Here is a perspective on that point of view.

If you are of indigenous heritage though or perhaps you’ve read some pretty terrible (and true things) about Columbus… you might be a bit more critical of this point. For that perspective check out this article.

But where you sit on the side of Columbus isn’t the point here. The point is, both sides IMAGINE THE PAST and take a certain perspective on what happened and if the events were good and we should honor Columbus, or they were bad and we should ax the holiday. I am, admittedly very critical of Columbus day, but it is impossible to argue that 1492 wasn’t a very important year in world history. After Europeans realized there was a huge chunk of populated territory waiting to be exploited, the world changed significantly. The event happened but how we interpret it changes in our imagination and our perspective. That is imagined past.

So why should you think about imagined past in your worldbuilding? Well, if you have a story where two sides are at war, you might consider having characters from both sides of the conflict. For example, In Avatar the Last Airbender, where four different nations rule the world (one for each of the four elements) the Fire Nation, the conquerors have a very different imagined past as the Earth Kingdom, whom the Fire Nation are trying to subjugate. The amazing thing about that world is that you have characters from all four nations (I really recommend that series if you aren’t familiar), and you get an amazing backstory and shift in perspectives of characters from different nations and even variety within each of the nations (Remember in Part 1 we talked about how every population is variable?) So consider that in your world-building, how do your characters imagine the past? How can this create conflict? Could the sharing of a perspective of the various perspectives on a historical event change the character interactions? Could it further entrench them? Perhaps part of the past was hidden and is now revealed and changes how charters see things? Think of how your favorite stories do this well.

3. Intersectionality

Red alert Red alert! If you have heard this term before and don’t understand it, you might cringe at its use. I promise I don’t have some crazy agenda here so just hear me out.

It’s actually really quite simple.

Intersectionality = Identity is complex and variable

Intersectionality is really about considering the various components of identity. Identity is really complex.

I will use myself as an example to begin with. A White, Middle Class, Straight, Male, Raise Catholic (and now Buddhist), with a Graduate Degree in Anthropology and raised on the East Coast is going to have certain kinds of expectations, perspectives, and thoughts that will impact his perspective. All of those components, plus my personal experiences went into making me the person typing this blog right now.

Now, imagine an African American, Woman, Wealthy, Gay, raised Atheist, with a degree in Engineering, and Raised on the West Coast. She’s going to have very different experiences, expectations and perspectives then I do right?

Intersectionality shows us that Identity is Conditional. It is based on the various ingredients of your life and your experiences and fosters different identities. 

But it’s still not even that simple! Because imagine you took another copy of me and raised me five blocks away in near identical upbringing both of us are still going to end up different, aren’t we? We may have a lot in common but maybe my clone loves Nickleback (which means we couldn’t be friends) and thus we may end up going to different concerts and meeting and encountering different people and thus changing our experiences and perspectives.

Let’s talk about freewill really briefly here too. Though, if you want a prolonged philosophical discussion on this check out my blog on Freewill. When studying a culture Anthropologists often look at something we call ‘agency’. Agency means basically, your ability to act based on the rules (formal and informal) of the society. Agents are individuals within a society that have to function based on cultural norms, laws, and expectations. So yes, we do have free will, but our culture puts rules around what that means. For more on this check out a YouTube Video on ‘Field Theory’ Also if this or anything is confusing to you, feel free to comment and I will do my best to clarify.

There is nothing wrong with difference, but if we want to understand someone else’s perspective and why they might think or act in a certain way, then intersectionality, understanding the conditional nature of identity is a good tool to consider. 

What about intersectionality in your characters? Well, intersectionality can help you to avoid those annoying stereotypes and tropes, such as strong women come from tragic backgrounds. Maybe, for example, the woman in question was raised as a blacksmiths daughter and had to work with her father and deal with difficult customers on a daily basis. Or perhaps you have a character that comes from a race of elves that are savage and violent, yet the character has adopted a pacifistic religion after a personal revelation? The point is you can look at the conditions of your characters lives and upbringing. Some people make character profiles in this regard where you can plot different parts of your character identities. I don’t do this unless I run into a roadblock, but some of you may find it useful to do so. Really, there is no wrong answer for method in writing.

Oh, one more thing, your identity changes every day little by little (or a lot if your world comes crashing down) based on your experiences and daily interactions. You are never the same person from day to day. Consider this also in your characters. 

4. Personal Bias and Blind Spots in knowledge

 

All of the above contributes to this section. Everyone has blind spots in knowledge. Everyone has bias and limitations as to what they can see and understand. If you put me in front of a motorcycle and tell me to fix it I will blink at you until my eyelashes fall off. If you tell me to understand the experience of a Muslim woman growing up in Sri Lanka, I probably can’t help you there either. There is nothing wrong with having blind spots, the problem is, when we assume that blind spots equal weakness and we make arrogant statements to cover it up (I can’t tell you how many times I myself have done this only to realize what I was doing later).

So back to me and my conditional identity. I grew up on the East Coast. On the East Coast there is often a kind of linguistic style in play where it’s actually weird and awkward not to interrupt people. We are very often active communicators cutting each other off mid-sentence and it’s not considered rude. Also, I come from a huge family. Now you might think your family with 3 kids is big, but my Dad had 14 brothers and sisters and I have 3 brothers, with some of my aunts and uncles, who were my age raised almost like siblings. So, on top of this east coast conversational style (Here’s a wonderful YouTube on that for you who really want to understand the linguistics of it) and my huge family upbringing, I can be a loud, arrogant, interrupting son of a bitch. Now living in Denver Colorado, it took me a long time to understand that people don’t always appreciate the way I communicate because this region in the Rocky Mountains has a very different conversational style. So there is a huge blind spot for me. Understanding that blind spot was really powerful and helped me to see the way I bulldoze people in conversation sometimes. 

So what are your character blind spots? Is your character a Buddhist monk and barely knows anything of Christianity? Is your character a male who suddenly finds himself in a female-dominated society? Hell, look at Star Trek TNG, is your character a Klingon growing up in a human world and trying to bridge both cultures? What kinds of things wouldn’t your character easily understand because of their training or knowledge? A pacifist priest isn’t usually going to understand combat. A warlord may not understand diplomacy. Good characters have flaws and weakness and blindspots. No one likes a perfect character. They are boring. My character Mimi, in Mimi of the Nowhere, doesn’t trust easily. She struggles with sharing intimate parts of herself after a long life living on the streets. Blindspots can also be where your characters grow and change. The world you built could suddenly come crashing in and force them to change and alter their identity.

 

I hope this short series was helpful for some of you on your writing journey. Certainly, there are other blogs and podcasts and stuff on worldbuilding out there, but I hope sharing some of my knowledge and experience from my field of study helped you to consider some things about your writing.

I am more than happy to entertain other questions and perhaps write future editions to this series but unless someone has a specific question about worldbuilding, I’m gonna call this series complete for now. Good luck with your writing journey!

Mimi of the Nowhere Chapter 5 and 6

InsideBeing homeless in dangerous at the best of times in the giant walking city of Manhatsten. In Chapter 5 Disruption and Chapter 6 Paradise Lost, we find Mimi and Shannon’s lives turned upside down and Mimi has an encounter with a world that she never knew existed.

Since Chapter 5 is on the shorter side, I decided to include Chapter 6 in this post as well. You can find the first four chapters on the main page for Mimi of the Nowhere

Mimi of the Nowhere is out 5/17/18 in Ebook and Paperback

Want to read the rest of this book completely free? Sign Up for our Email Newsletter and get access to this book for free beginning 5/17/18 as well as a number other great perks. 

Chapter 5

Disruption 

 

Mimi could count on one hand the times in her life that she had experienced so much joy.

Over the next few weeks, her days consisted of her and Shannon wandering around the underground of the city, scavenging things to make their home more comfortable. Mimi taught Shannon how to fish. They found new furniture and Shannon spent time decorating while Mimi prepared dinner. New color lined the walls, like the new love beating in their hearts. Their nights were filled with love-making, endless moments of intertwined bodies, giggles and whispers of love. Seas of smiles. Softness.

In the spaces between, they shared stories, shared history, and though Shannon had quickly run out, Mimi could speak for years without pause. After so much time, Mimi felt able to do so again. Her load lightened. Her heart unclenched, and peace was found in so many private corners and corridors in their subterranean space.
Little time was spent on ground level after Mimi had secured a new supplier of Likatol. It hadn’t been easy but after several days of searching, she found one they could afford.
The Nowhere became to feel like somewhere. Their somewhere.
There was one subject that Shannon was unable to wrestle loose from Mimi.

“Tell me about Daniel.”

Mimi froze. “I don’t know if I can yet, Shannon. It’s…just so hard to speak of.”

The two lovers laid naked and covered in a new bed, scavenged from above. Mimi was warm and safe, but still, it was difficult to speak of.

Shannon stared in Mimi’s eyes. Her smile now a likely permanent fixture. “It’s okay.” She reached up and caressed Mimi’s face. “I’m here when you feel ready. I just want you to know the door is open.”

Mimi kissed and then nuzzled Shannon. Her face was hot, and one or two tears leaked out. “Thank you. That means a lot.”

The room took on a red tinge. Mimi’s sense of security evaporated and Daniel’s eyes, the white on white on white of where his pupils used to be, became visible. The terror of that pale skin marked with blue lines filled her vision so completely that for a moment she thought she had become blind to all else.

“Mimi?”

Mimi heard Shannon’s voice, but it was distant. It echoed and mingled with the normal noises of the underground, the sound fading.

Mimi couldn’t move. Daniel’s form took shape; a tall figure surrounded by metal. The EnViro suit used to travel outside the city his only garments. The recycled Runners could never leave them. It was their enclosure. Mindless beasts needed an enclosure.

“Mimi, you’re scaring me. What’s wrong?”

A hug turned into a shake. Gentle at first, then jarring. Mimi’s head wobbled. She couldn’t move, but she felt her tongue flopping on the inside of her mouth with Shannon’s attempts to break the trance. She could hear Shannon in the distance, but all she could see was the form of the undead version of her former lover, colored with a red veil in her sight.

Shannon’s voice began to fade away into the distance. Mimi was traveling, and now, what was once Daniel seemed to take notice. She had thought it was just an image, just a memory, but it was more. She was seeing him in real time. It looked at her as if they were occupying the same space. Its white on white on white eyes pierced her. No pupils remained to contract. There was only a blank stare, and she was aware that its mouth was open and that its teeth were no longer human but something much sharper. Blue outlines of veins surrounded the upward tilt of the lips as they formed into a grin. A framed monstrosity.

It moved towards her. Slow steps.

Its hand raised.

Mimi still could not move.

It reached for her throat.

She shivered.

Fingertips brushed skin. A grip taking form.

Then, a sharp pain punctuated her cheek.

She reached up to touch it, to stroke the stinging and found herself still in bed with Shannon. Shannon was screaming her name, was shaking her, weeping and terrified. She drew her arm back to slap Mimi again, and Mimi blinked and put her arm up to stop the motion.

“Mimi? Are you okay? What’s happening?” Her voice rough.

Mimi said, “I don’t know.”

Shannon’s eyes widened. “Mimi…did you just…” She trailed off, her face panicked and puzzled.

“Did I just what?”

Shannon’s eyes widened again. “Mimi, you aren’t opening your mouth when you’re speaking.”

“What? What are you talking about?”

Shannon slipped out of bed and backed away. “Stop it, Mimi…I don’t like this.”

“Stop what?”

“Whatever it is you are doing.” Shannon began to clutch the sides of her head.

“What am I doing?” She looked down at her hands. Red.

Shannon was backed all the way against the clothed wall. “I think you are in my head. Please stop. Please get out of it. It hurts.”

Mimi looked around. She didn’t know what to say, what to think. She opened her mouth, but for a moment no words came out. The red tinge was still on everything in the room, it was faint, but it was there. She focused for a moment and imagined that the color wasn’t red, that it was blue. She didn’t know if that would work, had no idea what was happening, but she had to try something.
Shannon stopped holding her head and looked up at her; she still cowered in the corner, but her expression had changed a little. “There, like that, whatever you are doing, do more of that.”

Mimi did. She changed the blue to yellow and then lightened it. Then finally she imagined that there were no colors, that the light was clear.

Shannon relaxed visibly. “What just happened?”

“I don’t know, love. I really don’t. Nothing like this has ever happened to me before.”

Eyes full of worry, Shannon moved a little closer. Was there fear there too? Mimi thought there was. Shannon reached out for her hand.

“Were…were there any other times you lost control of your ability? I mean…after you started taking the Likatol to curb it?”

Mimi thought hard for a moment.

“Yes, there was at least one time, when we were at war with one of the other cities and people were upset.”

“What did you do then?”

Mimi thought about it. It had been at least three centuries, maybe four since it happened, but she remembered what it was like. She had thought her head would explode, that someone was taking a power drill and pushing it into her forehead. When one of the buildings had collapsed in the conflict, she heard the screams of those in the rubble pierce through her like an arrow. “I had to find something stronger than Likatol.”

“Like what?”

She thought for a moment, then remembered. “Benadixtrin, it was the only thing that would stop it.”

“What’s that?”

“It’s a medicine for treating people with severe schizophrenia.”

“What’s schizophrenia?”

“It’s like when someone hears voices and sometimes they even have trouble understanding if those voices are real or not.”

“Like you?”

“No, not exactly, I know mine are real because I can see how people react, but…” Mimi gripped her temples; she was getting a headache. “But I thought it might help, that maybe somehow if it helped them, it would help me?”

“So why don’t you take that instead of Likatol?”

Mimi closed her eyes and rubbed her temples. She was finding it difficult to focus. “There were other side effects. It made me sick to my stomach and it was much more expensive. Likatol doesn’t have any side effects. I only ever needed Benadixtrin once and haven’t thought about it since.”

Shannon started to say something then stopped. She moved closer and put her arms around Mimi. “Love, do you think it might be helpful if I go get some for you? Maybe just in case something like this happens again?”

For a moment, Mimi peered into her mind. Shannon was scared of her. Mimi frowned.

“Okay. If that’s what you want. I’ll keep it around just in case it gets bad again. We can go tomorrow.”

“No, that’s okay. I can do it now.” A quick response.

Mimi looked up at Shannon. She didn’t need to skim her to see that Shannon needed some time away, that she needed some space to feel okay with what had just happened. In truth, Mimi needed a little space to clear her head. She had no idea what was happening to her, and maybe a little space would give her a chance to breathe and think about it.

“Alright. Terrance, the short guy on the corner of East 83rd and Madison just by Central Park, he probably has some. He’s a tame one too, not like the other dealers, but only usually carries medical-type stuff.”

“How much?”

“I don’t know, just take what we have left. We can run a few scams on some Mids next week and make up the difference.”

Shannon nodded. “How far is 83rd and Madison, you think?”

“It’s in District 6, so probably a few hours’ walk round trip if you don’t take the people mover. You up for that?”

Most of the time they could only get on the people mover for a handful of blocks before ticket checks got them thrown off. Shannon would probably have to walk most of the way at least.

“I think so.”

Shannon moved in close, hugged Mimi and kissed her forehead. “I’ll be back as quick as I can, love.”

Gratitude and relief rose to the surface of Shannon’s mind. She was thankful that Mimi didn’t argue about her going alone.

Shannon walked towards the flap, lifted it and disappeared behind the cloth. Her footsteps padded away quickly, nearly at a run.

Mimi frowned. That red tinge again? What was that all about? She thought about the afternoon where the workers’ minds went silent. Why was all this happening now? It didn’t make any sense. After centuries of using her abilities, why would something suddenly change?

Mimi stood and began cleaning up the room. Shannon was a slob. She wasn’t much better, but she didn’t like to leave too much food lying around. The roaches weren’t picky, she’d seen them occasionally, but mostly she had been able to keep them away from her hovel.

Gathering the fish bones, she moved through her cloth door. She walked over to where the uneaten remains of the fish laid and saw a few flies that were curiously probing one of the fish heads. She gathered them up and walked a few dozen paces to where there was a hatch in one of the pipes. She put down the scraps and began to turn the large metal wheel of the hatch. She heard the click of the lock and yanked hard on the door to open it. It squealed and something in Mimi’s mind translated that squeal to a scream. It occurred to her that Shannon might not be okay alone on the surface. That maybe she should have gone with her, even if she had made Shannon nervous earlier.

She reached down, picked up the scraps of food and then cast them into the tube that went into the biorecycler. She shut the hatch and again, the squeal made her stomach sink a little. There was a gentle pushing in her mind. Almost like a sense of urgency. Shannon hadn’t been gone ten minutes, and she felt a deep desire to check on her.

She went back into the hovel and tried to clean up, but the sensation of checking in on Shannon was growing. She felt instinctively that something was wrong, that she needed to follow immediately. But she denied it. Shannon was already scared enough and needed a moment to herself. Shannon was a big girl. Mimi had seen her talk her way out of trouble a number of times. Shannon was a resourceful woman, it was one of the reasons Mimi liked her.

Mimi sat down on the bed, swung her legs up and laid down. She started to close her eyes and relax. She tried to breathe deeply and let the tension of her muscles be taken by gravity.

The pressure in her mind grew. There was no red tinge this time. But this time the sense of urgency and panic grew in her so sharply that she sat bolt upright, feeling that it was suddenly difficult to breathe. She found herself standing. Found herself looking around for her makeshift spear.

Again, she stopped herself, trying to steady her emotions. Why was she feeling such anxiety?

Then, a voice spoke up. The voice was so clear and so crisp that Mimi was certain that someone was saying it loudly right in her ear.

“Dammit Mimi, forget the spear and just go after Shannon. Her life is in danger.”

Mimi’s blood ran cold. She didn’t know where the voice was coming from and at that moment she didn’t care. She did exactly as the voice instructed and before she knew it, she was sprinting toward the pipe that led to the exit.

 

The Story Continues with Chapter 6

 

Chapter 6

Paradise Lost

  

The stairs to the surface were agony. Shannon only had to go up and down them a handful of times now, but Mimi walked them as if they were nothing. It seemed to Shannon that Mimi always walked on air. How could a woman bearing such a heavy burden step so lightly?

She opened the door that led out into the surface-level streets. It was still a few hours from designated dark. The city never had darkness anymore, as the giant, glowing shield around it which was fueled largely by the energy of the sun was its own light source. At night, the city was awash in a kind of forever sunset. It was a twilight that twinkled and twirled as the massive legs of the city marched on.
The shield protected them all from the lethal daytime heat and the cold nights. The city, constantly on the move to avoid massive sandstorms, pockets of methane and near-apocalyptic storms on the coast, rumbled almost silently beneath her feet.
Shannon took up the streets. She began walking south toward her destination. It would be a long walk to make it there and back before designated dark, but her recent forays into the underground had built her stamina. Mimi never slowed down, and it was only in the last few days that Shannon finally felt comfortable keeping up.

She walked for several blocks, mind on the earlier events. Had Mimi used her mind to speak directly to her? It had felt strange at first, but then, it had started to hurt. She didn’t think that Mimi would ever hurt her intentionally, but if somehow she lost control, Shannon needed something to protect both herself and Mimi. If she could afford it, she would also buy some sort of tranquilizer for a serious emergency. She hadn’t decided if she was going to tell Mimi this or not yet, but seeing as Mimi was able to, as she called it, ‘skim her mind,’ she probably should just tell her.

“There you are.”

The voice of the man behind her was familiar. There was an unpleasant tone in the voice. Shivering, she turned slowly. There, standing only a few paces behind her, was Andrew. His face was pale and ragged. Andrew always looked on edge, but there was something more alarming about his demeanor. She couldn’t pinpoint it, but her heart made its presence known.

“What do you want Andrew?”

“You.”

Shannon blinked, “Me? What did I do? I’ve never spoken to you in my life.”

“I know, it’s a damn shame. You know how many conversations I’ve had with your lover? She never once took the time to introduce us, and we’ve been business partners for years.” His voice was smooth. It only just masked something sinister.

Shannon glanced around to look for a way out, trying not to make it obvious. If he wanted her, it wasn’t for anything good.

She measured her will and tried her best to sound calm, but her voice shook just a little. “Oh, it’s really okay, I’m not a social person.”

Andrew took two steps toward her.

“Oh, but I am. And see, it bothers me a little when I lose a client. I always try to make sure I keep them coming back. Your friend Mimi has been a big source of credits for me over the years, and, call me old-fashioned, but I have a hard time letting go.”

Shannon took a few steps back and realized quickly she was against a wall. “So what does this have to do with me?”

“Well, I’ve seen you two together and I thought, maybe, just maybe, if we sat down and had a chat, that Mimi would decide to resume her purchases, if you know what I mean.”

“Well, we’re chatting, what do you want me to tell her?” She hoped that all he wanted was a simple chat, but she doubted it. Men like Andrew always wanted more.

“Well, you know, I thought about that. I thought about the fact that Mimi’s a pretty tough little girl. I thought perhaps, that it was best if you come stay at my place for a while so she would be…a little more inclined to talk?”

“It’s not going to happen, Andrew.”

Shannon’s heart was racing faster now. She could hear it in her ears, feel it in her forehead. Blood rushing. Fingernails digging in palms.

“But see I think it is, because if you don’t come with me right now, well, let’s just say I have some connections in security.”

Shannon swallowed hard. Ice water filled her veins.

“We can do this the easy way or the hard way. Your choice, Shannon.”

Shannon tried to relax visibly. Tried to make it look as if she had resigned. “Alright, I will go with you on one condition.”

“What’s that?”

“You keep your hands off me.”

“Baby, I’ll be a gentleman. You got my word.”

Shannon started walking, and he walked right alongside her.

“It’s not far. When we get there, we’ll send someone to find Mimi. I’m sure you’ll be out of there in a jiffy. And then you can go back to doing whatever it is you two get up to in the long hours of the night.” His grin showed a few extra teeth.

Shannon said nothing. She was watching, waiting for the right moment. She was a smart girl. She had survived on the streets long enough to know that the key to survival is to wait for the right moment to act. She just hoped there would be a right moment. Sometimes there wasn’t. Like most street kids, she learned long ago that sometimes there were no options.

Then they walked up East End Avenue. Her eyes traced the wall, only a few yards away, that ringed the edge of the world, the place where the city ended, and the wasteland began. The walls were only about ten feet high, just wide enough to support the shield, itself a semi-physical barrier made of light.
A small hedge grew a little higher than her waist along the road. It was a new thing, something someone had recently planted, but it lined the street. It was a way of trying to mask the wall, to make it less visible, to perhaps hide the view of their world.
Andrew was walking up against the hedge. Shannon glanced around. A thought occurred to her, an opportunity. She marshaled her courage and stopped. Andrew stopped in turn. The small of his back was just above the hedges.

“Why are you stopping, I said it’s not far.”

“I was just thinking about something.”

“What?” His eyes narrowed.

She tried to think of something to say, but nothing came. He cocked his head and chewed the side of his cheek.

“Come on, out with it.”

When she didn’t respond again, his face darkened. He made to grab her right forearm, but just as he did, she shoved as hard she could. Andrew fell back over the hedge and tumbled. Shannon didn’t stay to watch. She ran as fast as she could toward the lower level entrance that led to Mimi’s place.

Behind her, she heard angry shouting. She could make out none of it. Her legs pumped hard as she ran down along 79th past Orphan’s Ally. When she rounded the final corner that led to the underground access, she slammed right into someone. There was a shout and a muffled cry.

“What the hell are you doing, Lady?”

Shannon, who lay on the ground, saw an arm reach out to her. She took it, and a large man all clad in dark blue helped her up. She brushed herself off and looked up. Her heart sank.

He was security.

She swallowed hard.

Behind them, came a shout. “That’s her, Jerry. Hold her.” Jerry grabbed her. He was a huge brute of a man with a shaved head and thick black eyebrows. He was well over two meters tall and had a thick, flabby torso. Shannon tried to struggle, but it was no use.

Andrew caught up with them both and stopped. He was panting hard and leaned over, putting his hands on his knees trying to catch his breath.

“Little…bitch…shoved me…right in the damn bushes.”

Jerry let out a big hearty laugh. In other circumstances, it might have been a pleasant laugh, but not this one.

“Andrew,” he said in his deep, smooth voice, “you didn’t tell me how beautiful she was.”

“You think she’s beautiful, wait ‘til you get a look at her girlfriend. They’d both clean up nice.”

“Andrew, has anyone ever told you a bird in the hand is better than two in the bush?”

“No, what the hell does that mean.”

“It means, I think you should be happy with what you got here and forget the other one.”

“Now wait just a sec, that’s not the deal we had here.”

Jerry’s smile turned into a dark scowl. “The deal we have is entirely contingent on what I get out of it. A case of Likatol is nothing compared to the price this one will fetch in the Uppers. I bet you heard of that senator up there, the games she gets up to every night?”

“Reeves?”

“That’s the one. Rumor has it, the woman has quite the appetite. I’d be happy to split the proceeds with you, say seventy-thirty?”

For a moment, Shannon was sure that he would say yes and then it would be all over. She would be a plaything for the wealthy. She would never see Mimi again. Her whole world seemed to be crumbling beneath her.

Then Andrew’s expression changed. Shannon would swear that he almost seemed an entirely different person. His cheeks turned red. He pulled something out from his rear pocket. It made a loud click. Shannon looked down to see what it was. A switchblade gleamed in his right hand.

“I think you should take the case of Likatol, Jerry. She’s mine.”

Jerry let out another great, bellowing laugh. Shannon had to admit, the tiny blade didn’t look like much of a match for a man the size of Jerry. Jerry pushed Shannon to the ground with her hands behind her back. Her face smashed into the concrete and blood spurted from her nose. With tears forming in her eyes, Shannon turned her body and began trying to stand.

“Now you stay right there, little miss. Uncle Jerry’s gonna make sure that we get you to a safe place.” Jerry stood a little straighter and sucked in his gut. “Now Andrew, I am gonna give you one more chance to back down. Then, it’s off to the Runnercore with you. Is that what you want?”

There was a moment of hesitation in Andrew, and he took one small step back. His thin, wiry body looked like a toy compared to Jerry’s. But then, he took one small step forward again and widened his stance.

“You won’t be the first member of Security I’ve killed, Jerry. You don’t get to be in the drug trade as long as I have without drawing a little blood from time to time. I’ve taken down guys bigger and stronger than you. Besides, you aren’t allowed to kill me, but I can sure as hell kill you.”

Andrew reached into his pocket and popped something in his mouth. Jerry’s face darkened.

“What’s that,” Jerry said taking notice.

“A little something to enhance my strength.”

“How did a little shit like you get one of those.”

Andrew grinned. Shannon saw a few extra teeth. She shivered.

“I got a few friends in the docks.”

“In the Runnercore?”

He nodded.

For the first time, Shannon thought that Jerry looked a little less confident. His jovial smile seemed to melt away.

Shannon watched as the two men began to circle one another. She wished Mimi was here. She had a feeling that Mimi would know exactly what to do. For a moment, she wondered if she could call Mimi, if somehow she could reach out to her. She could read minds, couldn’t she? Maybe she could hear her? It was a long shot, but she tried with all her might to call to Mimi, to tell her she needed help.

“You might like that shit in pill form kid, but you’ll have wished I killed you when they start you on the chemical injections down below. I’ve heard it makes even the strongest men scream in agony. I’ve heard that some of them don’t even survive the process. Last chance, Andrew.”

Andrew did not waver. He took a swipe at Jerry, but Jerry, despite his size, was far faster than he appeared to be. It was obvious that Andrew had also not expected this, and Shannon watched his eyes grow wide.

While both men were distracted, she tried to stand and was amazed how hard it was without the use of your hands. She laid back down, rolled over on her stomach and then lifted herself up onto her knees. She got to her feet and took a single step forward.

“I don’t think so, little lady,” Jerry said. With one quick swipe, he knocked her right back down and she landed on her face. This time, she felt a tooth pop and tasted blood. She started sobbing but turned to watch the fight. She almost wished Andrew would win. If he really wanted to deal with Mimi, it was a lot better than becoming a plaything of one of the wealthy up in the tops of the skyscrapers.

At the moment that Jerry had turned to knock her down, Andrew had taken a quick swipe at Jerry’s mid-section. He had scored a minor hit; a dark patch was beginning to spread on his uniform. Unfortunately for Andrew, he didn’t even seem to notice.

Nor was Andrew’s retreat quick enough. Though he had sliced Jerry, Jerry had turned around and smashed his fist right into the side of Andrew’s face. The momentum of Jerry turning had given the punch extra weight, and Andrew was knocked down by that singular hard blow.

Jerry pulled his foot back and went to kick Andrew in the gut, but Andrew rolled out of the way just in time and got back on his feet. The left side of his face was already swelling up.

Footsteps slapped the pavement hard from behind Shannon. She hoped to god it was Mimi, but it sounded like several people. Maybe she would have the chance to get away with other people interfering. She rolled onto her stomach again and waited. She would bolt the second Andrew and Jerry were distracted by the newcomers.

She felt a hand grasp hers and lift her. They were big, strong hands.

“What the hell is going on here, Jerry?”

Shannon was standing upright now but was held firm by a medium-sized security officer. His light eyes and thick mustache both twitched as he examined the scene.

“Capitan Richardson, oh man. Glad you’re here.”

Shannon distinctly noticed a tone in Jerry’s voice that suggested otherwise and the captain seemed to notice it too.

“I bet you are, Jerry. You better explain just what in the hell is going on here.”

“This lady here, seems she’s been trading sex for drugs, and I think this guy is her dealer. I overheard them and intervened.”

To her surprise, the captain seemed to doubt this story.

“I bet, Jerry. You and I need to have a long talk when we get back to the station. Maybe it’s even time you and Daniels had a chat.”

Jerry stopped dead in his tracks. He turned his entire body away from Andrew and Andrew broke to run.

Jerry heard the footfalls and turned. “Hey, shithead, get back here.” Before the captain could say another word, Jerry began his pursuit. Shannon saw her chance as the captain was distracted and ran the opposite direction.

Neither of them got very far. Jerry tackled Andrew quickly, and the captain grabbed Shannon before she made it fifty feet. The handcuffs made running odd.

Captain Richardson said, “Look, I don’t know what’s going on here, but I can’t just let you run away from one of my SOs. Looks bad. We’ll bring you in and try to get to the bottom of this.

Shannon’s face fell.
***

 

Mimi had watched the whole thing. She watched as the guards took Andrew and Shannon away. How could this have happened? She took a deep breath. There was no time to worry about that now. She had to think quickly. Would there be a way to free Shannon from the SOs? She didn’t know.

She tailed them for many blocks from the shadows of the alleys. She knew the streets well. Every crack was familiar. Every shadowy spot was an ally.

There were no openings. No gods or devils intervened. Why would they, they were from nowhere. Even the gods and the devils cared little for those from nowhere.

When Mimi watched Shannon cross the threshold of the entrance to central security, hope leaked from her heart like a barrel of water with a hole in it.

The giant migrating city of Manhatsten had a rigid legal code. No lawyers. No public defenders. Only favoritism. Mimi had seen it dozens of times. History is a circle.

She found a place to weep, to sag in the concrete. A corner of shadows. Stinging tears. Smoky vision. Utter despair. Sleep.

 

 

***

 

 

She was being lifted. Dreaming? No. The smells were too strong. She started to struggle.

“Easy now. Calm yourself.” The woman’s voice was soft and soothing. A strange calm fell over Mimi.

Her voice embodied a dreamlike quality. “Where are we going?”

“To a library. You will be safe there.”

Mimi was certain she would be. Rarely had she been so certain of anything in her life. She found that she did not mind letting the two large SOs carry her. She didn’t mind much of anything.

This concerned her. Like the tumbling of a lock, things began to click in her mind. She became unsettled again, felt the urge to resist, to lash out, rising.

“Calm, Mimi. I am not your enemy.” The voice was compelling.

Another’s woman’s voice said, “Damn. She broke through already?”

Mimi couldn’t see either of them. Both them walked in front of the two SOs who carried her. One had long blonde hair, the other a fiery red.

“Yes, it’s curious how quickly she bypassed my suggestion.”

“She’s dangerous. We should put her back where we found her.”

“Ryla said the same thing about you when we found you.”

“Maybe, but at least I had an honest job. This one is like a stray cat.”

“Feral cat. And I would hardly call Running an honest job.”

“Either way Noatla, I don’t know if she can be trusted.”

Mimi listened, and her agitation began to grow again.

“Rest, Mimi. Soon you will have answers.”

“How many times do you think you are going to have to do that?”

“At this rate, a half dozen more.”

“Can’t we make these SOs go any faster?”

“Serah, you know very well what will happen if we push too hard. Besides, what’s the rush? Soothing her isn’t so difficult. It’s also clear she doesn’t know the full extent of what she can do.”

“How can you be sure of that?”

“If she knew what she was capable of, do you think she would have allowed her lover to be taken away like that?”

“I guess you’re right. Maybe we should suggest that she sleeps again?”

“Mimi, are you tired?”
Mimi knew it was the woman with the blonde hair speaking, but she did not turn to face her. She had the strangest impression that this woman was not using her lips to speak.

Mimi said, “I…I don’t think so.” The moment the words came out, she realized that she wasn’t using her lips, either.

“Mimi, I think you’re tired. I don’t even know how you can keep your eyes open. Why don’t you just rest a while? I bet it would feel wonderful to close your eyes, just for a few minutes.”

“But Shannon…I have to…”

“Shannon can wait. We will make sure she’s okay. Just close your eyes, Mimi. You know how good it will feel, how easy it is just to let your eyelids close. After all, they’re so heavy.”

“No. I can’t…”

Mimi forced her eyes to stay open. She felt the agitation rising in her again. She felt the strength in her arms and legs returning.

“It’s not working Noatla. You better do something fast.”

Noatla said, “Officers, put her down gently. I want to speak with her.”

They obeyed. Mimi jumped up, ready to run, but Noatla, a tall, thin, blonde woman, grabbed her by the arm and held her tight. She was surprisingly strong for how skinny she was. Her face appeared to be chiseled from rock, and her light eyes were piercing.

“Wait a moment, Mimi, just listen.”

Mimi had been wrong. The woman’s lips moved just like anyone else’s. Perhaps she was mistaken because of what she had done earlier in the day?

“Why should I?”

“You want to help Shannon, don’t you?”

“Yes.”

“You’d think after all the resistance she put up when we tried to get her up here earlier, that she didn’t want to save her girlfriend,” The red-haired woman said.

“Hush, you know all too well what it was like before you entered the Order. Mimi, do you recognize me?” asked Noatla.

“No, should I?”

Serah said, “Of course she doesn’t recognize you, you think this one votes?”

Mimi said, “Votes?”

Noatla smiled. Mimi liked her smile. She began to notice how attractive this woman was. A pang of guilt hit her chest, and her mind turned back to Shannon.

“Yes Mimi, I am Senator Noatla Lightfoot of District 14. This district. If you come with me, I might be able to help you with Shannon.”

Mimi scowled. “Why would you want to help me and why should I believe you?”

“Those are both very good questions. All I ask is that you come with me to the library and hear me out. After that, you are free to do whatever you wish.”

“With the SOs following us? How do I know you don’t want to sell me to one of your Upper friends?”

Noatla frowned for a moment, but then stood and turned to face the SOs.

She said, “You may go now. You are needed in District 13.”

The two SOs turned and left without a moment’s hesitation. Mimi felt a deep sense of relief to see them go, but she still was wary of trusting an Upper. The Uppers loved to mess with the homeless, some of them got off on it.

Serah said, “What’s in District 13?”

Noatla smiled, “Oh, probably nothing, but I am sure they will figure out something important to do.” Noatla turned back towards Mimi. “So, will you come with us?”

This time, the woman wasn’t using her voice. Her lips were still. Then it occurred to Mimi.

“Are you like me? Can you skim?”

Noatla smiled. “Much more than just, as you put it, skim.”

Mimi asked, “What’s at the library?”

“A chance for you to use your gifts for the benefit of this city. A chance for you to be off the streets and in a safe home.”

“Why? What’s in it for you?”

“Come, listen. Hear what we have to say. I promise if you choose to leave, no one will stop you. As you’ve already seen, we cannot even pacify you for long. You have an extraordinarily strong mind.”

Mimi nodded and followed.

Mimi of the Nowhere Ch. 4 An Ancient Past

Check out Chapter 4, in which Mimi shares her origin story. How did she become homeless? How has she survived for centuries in the giant walking city of Manhatsten?

If you haven’t already you can find the previous chapters at the following links.

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Container

Life on the street is hard. Drug dealers, thieves, and even the security officers of the giant walking city of Manhatsten are up to no good. But somehow, Mimi’s done it for centuries. Of course, it helps that she is able to peak into other people’s minds and avoid trouble most of the time. Unfortunately, that same talent is about to get her into a whole other world of trouble. One that she never even knew existed.

Mimi of the Nowhere launches on 5/17/18!

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Chapter 4

An Ancient Past

Mimi lay naked, feeling the softness of Shannon’s skin on hers. Their bodies pressed closer as she pulled a blanket up over them. If she was going to do this, she wanted to feel Shannon close to her, wanted to feel the comfort of her touch. Shannon was much longer than her, but their slender forms accented each other perfectly.

“I’m gonna start at the beginning, if that’s okay. I have to warn you, some of this is going to be hard to believe, and I know the fact that I have been hiding a lot of things may not help you believe me, but I swear to you, everything I am about to tell you is the truth, Okay?”

“Okay.” Shannon was afraid, but the fact they had just made love had helped ease some of that fear. Mimi hoped her story wouldn’t be too much for her, but there was only one way to find out.

“I was born in the third century after the city began its migration. Hard to believe, I know, but my father died in the second uprising after the city began moving. My mother, who became pregnant only days before my father was killed, did her very best to survive in the city alone. She managed to find a job. She had a place to live in the lowers, and began trying to put a life together for me. It was hard. I have a lot of memories of the first years of my life of my mother bringing home security personnel for favors and extra credits.”

Shannon frowned. “She sold herself?”

Mimi nodded. “She did what she had to do to survive. And because of it, she was able to get me into a school in the Lower Mids. One of her regulars had a contact there. It was my mother’s hope that I could move up into the mids and out of the lowers. The school was even on the 15th level.”

“15th? But I thought Lowers needed a special pass to move above ten?”

“Yeah, this guard got me one. I guess he must have really liked my mother. But I can’t imagine it was that hard, I mean it’s not like he was trying to get access above the 40th level where the Uppers live, right?”

Shannon nodded, “Still, it couldn’t have been that easy. Wait, how did you end up homeless?”

Mimi frowned, “I’m getting to that.” She shifted her body around and became Shannon’s big spoon. Her skin was so soft and warm. She nuzzled Shannon for a moment, then took deep breaths inward, taking in her scent. For the moment at least, she felt safe.

“Things went alright for a while. The mid school was much harder than the lower one, but I’m not stupid, so I did okay. Mostly I pulled average marks. But then my thirteenth birthday rolled around, and everything changed.”

“See, I think my mother had become addicted to something. I started to notice changes in her behavior. It was small at first, but after a while, she started to scream at me for not finishing simple chores. A few times she hit me, nothing terrible, mind you, but she did. Before I was twelve, my mother had never raised a hand to me, not once. She had barely ever raised her voice.

Shannon turned to face Mimi again. She was looking directly into her eyes, and Mimi hesitated for a moment and swallowed hard.

“One night, a man came. I don’t know exactly who he was, but I figured he was one of my mother’s…gentlemen. But then the yelling started. He was yelling about money, that my mother owed him a lot and that her body just wasn’t going to cut it anymore. Then he asked where I was, said that maybe I would be able to help her pay the debt.”

Shannon’s eyes began to water. “No…he didn’t.”

Mimi shook her head. “Thankfully not. See, my mother, for all her weird mood swings, was not about to let anyone lay a finger on me. So, this man burst into my room and just as he stepped in the door, my mother put a knife right through his back. The man screamed, turned around and began choking her. I jumped up out of bed and began kicking him as hard as I could but nothing would help, he wouldn’t let her go. He just kicked me away. He was going to kill her.”

Mimi paused for a moment to wipe a tear away from her face. Shannon leaned forward and kissed the spot where the tear had been.

“I did what I had to do. See, the little steak knife was still in his back. I don’t think my mother had hurt him very much with it. So, I pulled it out and just started…using it on him. I don’t know how many times I stabbed him. I just wanted him to stop hurting my mother.” Mimi’s voice began to shake, along with her body, and the tears began to flow freely.

“She was all I really had.” Mimi buried her face into Shannon’s breasts for a moment and sobbed. Shannon stroked her hair in silence until Mimi calmed down.

She sniffled, her voice was low and hoarse. “The next thing I remember is my mother taking the knife out of my hands. I remember her packing my things. I remember her telling me I had to go; I had to hide somewhere. I didn’t want to leave, though. I knew what would happen to her if I did.”

“Did she…end up a Runner?”

Mimi nodded, “Is there any other punishment in this city?”

Shannon didn’t shake her head. She didn’t need to. She didn’t know there was another kind of punishment, but Mimi didn’t feel like it was the right time to talk about it.

“She made me leave though, threw me out the door. Screamed at me, hit me, kicked me, everything she could to get me out the door. She didn’t want anything to happen to me. I didn’t understand then, and for years after I thought she just wanted to be rid of me, but, well, I’ve had a lot of time to think about it. I know now that everything she did was to protect me.”

Shannon asked, “Then what happened? I mean, how did you end up down here?”

“That’s a long story. But there’s some other stuff first, like why I need Likatol.”

Mimi hesitated. “See, I don’t know what it was about that night. I don’t know if it was the act of taking someone’s life. I don’t know if it was my mother kicking me out. I don’t know if maybe it had something to do with the fact that I had no idea how to survive on the streets, but something in me woke up.”

Shannon cocked her head a little. “What do you mean?”

Mimi looked at her directly in the eyes. “This is going to be hard to believe. But after that night I started to hear voices. At first, I thought I was just going crazy. I thought that maybe I was losing my mind. I noticed that some of the other homeless people talked to themselves and I thought maybe that was where I was headed. But then I noticed something else, that sometimes when I was talking to people, I seemed to hear their voice both when they were speaking and when they weren’t. It created a few awkward situations.”

Mimi paused for a moment and watched for Shannon’s reaction. She deliberately stayed out of Shannon’s head. She wasn’t sure she wanted to know what she was thinking. Then she saw recognition on Shannon’s face.

“Wait…are you telling me…you read minds?”

Mimi looked away from her and nodded. But Shannon grabbed her chin so that she would look directly at her again. Mimi expected her to yell, to laugh, to scoff, or something that all her other lovers had done, but instead she said, “Well shit, that completely makes sense.”

Mimi blinked. “It does?”

“Um yeah. You know a lot of shit you shouldn’t know. Like when those sanitation workers were coming. You know all this information, that–having dropped out of school–you shouldn’t know. I mean I can think of a hundred times when I thought to myself, my god, does she read minds or something? And it turned out to be true.”

“So you’re not weirded out or mad or anything?”

“No, why would I be? It’s just another reason to love you for the amazing person you are.”

Mimi’s eyes began to burn, and before she could stop herself, she realized she was bawling. Shannon pulled her close. Mimi could feel her fingertips caressing her cheek.

“Why are you crying, Mimi?”

Mimi couldn’t answer, she just kept sobbing and pulled herself even closer to Shannon. She wanted nothing more at that moment than to merge with her, to be so intimately close to her that she couldn’t ever pull apart again. Here was someone, at last, who might finally be able to understand. And then she felt her eyes closing. For the first time in years, she felt at home.

*          *            *

Her face felt stuck. She lifted her head and felt the skin between Shannon’s bare breasts pull off her face. She blinked and looked around, wondering how long she had been asleep, but there was no way to know. Shannon herself was breathing deeply, her mouth hanging open with her head tilted back.

Mimi ran her fingers up the side of her face. There was so much more to tell her, and for the first time in a very long while, she felt she had a partner, someone to whom she could actually tell things. Of course, it did remain to be seen how Shannon interacted with her now that she knew that whenever she wanted, she could skim her mind. But Mimi wouldn’t do that now. Now that she knew, she would respect her privacy. It was a funny thing. It seemed as if the moment someone knew about her abilities, she didn’t want to skim them anymore; that somehow, she felt like she was violating some semblance of privacy, yet she had no problem with doing this to a stranger or an acquaintance.

She lifted her body and put her clothes on. They were becoming tattered from wear. She would have to scrape together some more credits for new ones.

She rummaged through a small case to the left of her bed and found her bottle of Likatol. She didn’t need much, just a tablet every few days or so. A bottle usually lasted her about six months.

“So, you didn’t quite tell me why you need that stuff.”

Shannon was sitting up and stretching. She looked around the room, found her clothes around the various locations and put them on.

“Well, it has to do with my…talent, for lack of a better word. See, at first, it wasn’t such a big deal. I could easily skim people whenever I wanted.”

“Skim?”

“Oh, that’s what I call it when I read people. I call it skimming because so far as I know, I can only read what they are actively thinking about. I have never gone any deeper than that, and in truth, with most people, I am a little afraid to do so. People keep a lot of secrets, you know.”

Shannon nodded and moved over to Mimi and put her arms around her. They spoke face to face now.

“That’s kind of a relief. I can’t say I like the idea of you fishing around through my memories and stuff.”

“Yeah, and also…I won’t read you anymore.”

“Huh? What do you mean?”

“Well now that you know what I can do, I don’t feel comfortable doing it.”

Shannon moved her lips back and forth and looked around the room. “I don’t think it’s a big deal if you want to read me.”

“No, I’m not going to. It’s fine.”

“Alright. So, the drugs?”

“Yeah, so by the time I turned 16 it started to get more intense. There were these moments when I couldn’t control it, and the entire city within a few kilometers would rush into my head. Probably a few hundred thousand people, all speaking at once. It was overwhelming. It made me sick. Sometimes it would just give me a migraine and sometimes it would make me physically ill.”

“So the Likatol helps?”

“Yes. I mean, I tried a whole bunch of other stuff first. Lots of people thought I was an addict. But I don’t think I was ever addicted to anything. I only ever took something when the headaches were really bad. The problem was, I couldn’t stay clear, couldn’t function with any of the other stuff.”

“Isn’t Likatol to stop people from getting addicted to drugs? Like I heard that Uppers would take it before going on a long drug binge or something.”

“Yeah, that’s what I heard too. And there was one day that my dealer only had Likatol, so I thought what the hell, and gave it a try. I don’t know what it is in there, but for some reason, it gives me control over my talent. I don’t have to worry about headaches or sickness and obviously, because it doesn’t get you high, there are no debilitating effects.”

“How often do you have to take it?”

“Thankfully only once every few days, sometimes up to a week. It depends on how stressed out the city is, I think.”

“What does that mean?”

“If something stressful is going on, like there are security raids, or there is another migrating city nearby, people get nervous and anxious, and that stress impacts me more. When the city of Lundon did that raid a few years back, and the entire Runnercore went into combat, I had to take two Likatol a day just to keep from getting sick.”

“Wow.” Shannon kissed her forehead and turned around to gather up her things.

“Going somewhere?” asked Mimi.

“I’m hungry. I thought about getting my daily ration. And see if there is any more news about Tanya. But one thing first, who else knows?”

“No one.”

“No one? Not even Bobby or Angela?”

Mimi was mostly a loner, but Bobby and Angela were a couple that she occasionally spent time with. “No, not even them. You have to understand, I can’t trust a lot of people with this. If it got out and someone actually believed it…”

“I get it…don’t tell anyone, right?”

Mimi nodded. “Please.”

“Don’t worry, love, your secrets are safe with me.”

Mimi watched her leave and head back to the streets. She had the overwhelming feeling that even though Shannon fully intended to keep her secret safe, she wouldn’t. She had a sinking feeling that like in times past, everything was about to go wrong. And it seemed like that intuition was never wrong. Perhaps that was a skill set that she had too, that she simply hadn’t understood before.

She shivered, closed her eyes, and took a few deep breaths. The cat was out of the bag now and there was nothing to be done. But later, she would think to herself, that there was something she could have done, that when everything went bad, she should have always followed Shannon back up to the surface. She shouldn’t have let her leave her side. It might have made all the difference.

Mimi of the Nowhere Chapter 3: Orphan’s Alley

Chapter 3 of Mimi of the Nowhere is now up!

You can find Chapter 1 here 
And Chapter 2 Here 

A brief synopsis of the book:

First Sketch of Mimi

Life on the street is hard. Drug dealers, thieves, and even the security officers of the giant walking city of Manhatsten are up to no good. But somehow, Mimi’s done it for centuries. Of course, it helps that she is able to peak into other people’s minds and avoid trouble most of the time. Unfortunately, that same talent is about to get her into a whole other world of trouble. One that she never even knew existed.

The sketch of the main character, Mimi, is by the very talented Kayla Rose who recently agreed to do the cover art. Check her amazing work at the link.

Mimi of the Nowhere launches on 5/17/18

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Chapter 3

Orphan’s Alley

Mimi surfaced and walked the street until she reached the entry to Orphan’s Alley. Passing through the mob of homeless, she took inventory of those she recognized and the ones she didn’t. They were islands, shackled and disheveled. Some clung to their cart full of possessions, others to the rags that draped their bodies and little else. For most of them, there was little to cling to, and so they clung tight.

Here, the homeless had no fear of the cold winter nights when they may meet endless sleep. They had no hesitation in the heat of the summer sun, needing to seek shade and water to survive the onslaught. They would not starve. They would not die of disease. The alcoves ended disease centuries ago. But some would be beaten; some would be recruited into the Runnercore. Some would be exploited in other ways, especially the women. All were disposable, like so much cast away paper, waiting for a time when their purpose, like so much else in the city, was recycled.

The city had various spaces where the homeless clustered, where they pressed their tired bodies up against ancient brick and mortar. There were only a few places that city security allowed them to live and so there was a limitation to where they could lay their tired heads. This one was called Orphan’s Alley. A name that the residents themselves had given it hundreds of years prior. Probably none here were alive to see the naming, but names, like ideas, can be passed on through the generations, and there wasn’t much else for the homeless of the city to pass on. Names were their empty legacy.

A single food dispenser had been installed at the end of Orphan’s Alley. It provided only the basics, a green algae nutrient-rich soup, once a day. It was enough to keep a person alive, but only just. If you could figure out a way to earn some credits you could get more, but panhandling was strictly forbidden in Manhatsten and so those who the city had cast aside, who it had made orphans, were left with only illegal means. After all, no one would hire you in the city if you did not have a place of residence somewhere. And illegal means usually meant that eventually you were caught and recruited.

Orphan’s Alley, a prime recruitment ground.

Mimi found who she was looking for. A man, standing slouched against a corner, thin brown rags covering his body in multicolored clumps held together by safety pins, staples, and in a few places, stitches. He was a tall man with short, dark, greasy hair, chopped off in places with a blade. Facial hair crowded the edges of the scars but did not dare cross it.

His voice was soft and deep. It was a welcoming tone like a snake’s slither. “Mimi, good to see you, you know I was just telling the boys you’d be back any day now.”

The redness was still there, just under the surface, and Mimi felt it threatening to break free. What part of her had she opened? It was a terrible, empty feeling. It was hungry, and she didn’t like it. It almost seemed to be whispering to her, telling her to release it.

Her eyes locked on the dealer. Mimi shrugged. “What else have I got to do to kill the time, Andrew?”

“Hmmm. True enough,” a ragged grin spread across his face, revealing several missing teeth. “Do you have credits? Or are you finally going to make some other arrangements?”

“I have credits.”

Andrew frowned, “You know, I am sure that if you would like to pay some other way than credits, we could arrange a more physical kind of payment.”

“No thanks.” She couldn’t help but skim his mind. She saw what she didn’t want to see. In his mind he was undressing her, peeling back the layers of her ragged clothes, unwrapping her like a little boy’s present.

Mimi felt her face flush. The redness rose in her. It spiraled upward. She could almost hear it beckoning her to unleash it on him. It was hungry for him, in the same way Andrew was hungry for her body.

She shook her head. “No.”

“Hmmm? What was that, Mimi? Let’s make a deal, one night with me for several months’ supply of Likatol.”

“No, Andrew.” She took a step back from him. The redness had died down now, but her normal anger was brewing and she didn’t want any more trouble today. Her heart was aching for her argument with Shannon, and she wasn’t sure if she could fix it.

“Tell you what, one night and I’ll give you a full year’s supply. Come on now, that’s more than generous, and I certainly won’t need an entire night, perhaps just a few hours.”

Why was he so insistent? Normally, Andrew knew how to take no for an answer. Mimi risked skimming his mind again for another moment and saw something she had never seen before. Something was pressing on him, putting pressure on him. It was almost like someone was encouraging him, egging him on.

What was happening lately? For so long, she thought she knew the rules, thought that she had everything about her abilities figured out, but first there was that strange silence by her favorite fishing hole, then the redness, and now this? It was almost too much. It was like someone, or something was changing all the rules, and she couldn’t act fast enough to figure out what they were.

Mimi shook her head. “No, Andrew.” She paused for a moment when his face twitched. Fear traced her spine, a cold finger. She could feel him growing impatient. But this was not the impatience of a man, rather of a stray dog hungry for meat.

She thought about walking away but then her anger released. She wasn’t going to be bullied by some low-life dealer. She wasn’t going to put up with any of his shit and she was going to make that clear.

She moved up closely to Andrew, leaning in almost as if she was going to kiss him. He leaned in close and then at the last moment, she dug her elbow right into his neck, pressing it into his windpipe. He choked and tried to step back but she had him pinned against the wall. His hands reached up to grasp for her arm but as he did, she pressed harder. His eyes bulged as his skin purpled and she felt satisfaction as she skimmed his mind and found terror.

“Do you really think that I would ever let you put your filthy hands on me, dealer? Do I look like some kind of whore to you?”

He was barely able to draw breath, but he still managed a guttural, gasping, “No.”

“Bet you thought I was just some weak little thing, didn’t you? You asshole, I’ve been on the streets longer than you’ve been alive, and if I even feel your eyes undressing me again, I’ll fucking pluck them out and feed them to you.”

Mimi thought that despite the dark shade of his face, he paled a bit at that statement, and a quick skim confirmed that not only did he believe her, but that he was thinking, “This bitch is crazy.”

“Yes Andrew, I am crazy, and I’m not afraid to maim your ass.”

His eyes were beginning to close. She skimmed his mind to wait ‘til just before he lost consciousness. She didn’t want him to pass out; something might be lost in the experience if he did. She wanted him to remember this day for a good, long while. It wasn’t the first time she had to put the hurt on a man like this, and it certainly wouldn’t be the last. Her best defense was a reputation and she had to maintain that. Long experience had given her every tool she needed to intimidate even the stronger men.

She pulled back her elbow and he fell forward, taking deep and wide breaths. On all fours, saliva dripped from his mouth as he coughed and sputtered.

Mimi said, “Act like a dog, get treated like one.”

There was a moment when his mind was blank, when she was sure he wasn’t going to say anything. It passed. At first, he seemed to be having trouble making words, as if he had forgotten language. Then he said, “Forget it, bitch.” He wheezed and coughed. “I’m done selling to you.”

Mimi shrugged, “Fine by me. I’ll take my business elsewhere. You’re not the only one ‘round here to sell Likatol, asshole. You’re just the dumbest and cheapest.”

In truth, Mimi hated to have to go looking for another reliable source of Likatol, but she was also tired of Andrew. In the old days, she might have done more than just choke him a little, she might have made sure he remembered the lesson for years to come. But lately, she was getting tired.

“Get the hell away from me, you bitch. I don’t ever want to see your face again.”

She headed back through the crowd and out of Orphan’s Alley. She only had a few days of supply left, so she would have to find someone else soon. She thought she might try one of the other city districts–she preferred staying around District 17 since it was so close to her hovel–but last time she checked, Districts 8 and 13 usually had a steady supply of Likatol.

She walked out past the threshold of the homeless territory, her mind at work on the problem at hand. She had, for the moment, forgotten about Shannon, knowing that the headaches would come soon, that the voices would grow so strong, that tears would come.

She rounded a corner and bumped into someone. The collision caught her by surprise, but a steady hand reached out and grabbed her and kept her from falling. It was Shannon.

Mimi froze. Here was another secret she was going to have to explain, and judging by the look on Shannon’s face, she probably had no idea why she could possibly want drugs. And to explain why she needed them, she would have to explain a whole hell of a lot more than her age.

“So, you’re a drug addict?” The wrinkles on her forehead creased. Her short blond hair never hid those wrinkles very well.

“No, I’m not.”

“So what were you doing talking to Andrew?”

Mimi breathed a heavy sigh. What could she say? That she needed small doses of Likatol to keep the entire city out of her head? That she would get terrible migraines without them because she could read people’s minds? Doubtful Shannon would believe her.

“Shannon, maybe it’s best if we don’t see each other anymore.”

Shannon’s face changed, from anger and frustration to shock and hurt.

“What? Wait, I don’t understand. I…”

“I like my privacy, Shannon. I understand you want to share your life with me, but there are certain things I am not sure I can share, not now anyway. I’m not a drug addict, in fact, what I need is Likatol, but I don’t think you would believe me if I told you why I need it.”

Strictly speaking, Likatol wasn’t a drug, it was a pill that someone could take before going on a drug binge. It would keep the user from losing all control and from becoming addicted, but it wouldn’t block the high. Likatol was a kind of drug buffer.

“Try me.” There was a note of desperation in her voice. “Please, Mimi, you said you loved me…”

Mimi shook her head. “No, I don’t think so. Anyone I have ever told has gotten hurt. It’s best if you stay away from me.”

Mimi began walking down the city streets. Shannon followed close behind. At first, she kept trying to stop Mimi, to get her to talk to her, but after a while, she just followed in silence. Mimi blocked her out, refused even to skim her. It was better this way. She would give up soon enough, she would go on with her life. Besides, it was better than Shannon leaving her, as some of them did.

After more than twenty blocks, Mimi began to hear sobs and sniffling directly behind her. She tried to ignore it, to let Shannon cry, but after a few more blocks she couldn’t take it. She loved her. There was something special about Shannon, something soft and warm. She made Mimi feel safe and warm and special. Shannon really cared about her. It was like, with Shannon, all the wounds from her life on the street didn’t ache so much.

She opened herself to Shannon’s mind. She dipped into it and there was comfort there. Comfort in knowing that this woman, more than anything, just wanted to feel Mimi in her arms, wanted to embrace her and never let her go. There was something powerful in knowing someone else’s thoughts, especially when those thoughts were of love and longing. People said a lot of shit, and their minds so often cast a shadow over the true meaning. But here, here was a woman who truly loved her and knew it.

Mimi could not stand against it. When love comes like that, all you can do is surrender, to lay down your arms and submit to the will of those who would love you. For in denying it, you face only regret. Mimi had been waiting for this a long time, she just hadn’t known it.

She stopped. As she turned, she realized that she too had been crying. She looked directly at Shannon, whose streams of tears had eroded the soot in streaks on her narrow face. Mimi reached up and touched her own face, running her finger along her cheeks, her tears had cleansed those parts they had touched.

Shannon stopped and looked at her. She took one step closer and hesitated. Mimi felt Shannon’s question press against her. All Shannon wanted was to hold her. Mimi moved closer to her, pulled her close and kissed her. Both minds blanked to the warmth of the embrace. Mimi could taste the salt from her tears on her lips. Then she pulled away slightly and hugged her hard.

“I’m so sorry, Shannon. I love you… I… Let’s go back to my place and I’ll tell you whatever you want.”

Shannon didn’t say anything, but skimming her mind told Mimi of the overwhelming relief she was feeling. Shannon’s smile was enough. The tears couldn’t darken it.
Perhaps it was time to take a chance. Perhaps this time would be for keeps. Maybe that was Mimi’s purpose, to love as deeply as she could.

A small voice pushed up in the back of Mimi’s mind. “This one won’t last long. It will be even shorter than Daniel. You will watch her suffer. It’s what happens every time someone gets close to you. Free her now or you will bring her nothing but misery.”

The voice almost sounded real, almost sounded external. Mimi felt a bit of a headache and took a few deep breaths.

She looked at Shannon again. She drank in her beautiful eyes and face and raised her right hand up to wipe away her tears. Her heart longed to be with her, to hold her close and feel her touch. She pulled Shannon in close and kissed her again, feeling the warmth of her body pressed against hers, the softness of her lips making her body tremble with joy.

She pulled away, grabbed Shannon’s hand and together, they walked home.

Mimi of the Nowhere: Chapter 2 Home Sweet Home

Mimi’s adventure continues in Chapter 2: Home Sweet Home.

If you haven’t read it already, Chapter 1: The Fishing Hole is here

A brief synopsis of the book. Mimi Chapter 2

Life on the street is hard. Drug dealers, thieves, and even the security officers of the giant walking city of Manhatsten are up to no good. But somehow, Mimi’s done it for centuries. Of course, it helps that she is able to peak into other people’s minds and avoid trouble most of the time. Unfortunately, that same talent is about to get her into a whole other world of trouble. One that she never even knew existed.

Mimi of the Nowhere launches on 5/17/18

I am still accepting a few more readers to get Advanced Review Copies (ARC). If you are interested in getting an early copy in exchange for an honest review, sign up at the bottom and put that you would like to receive an early copy in the comments. I am taking ARC readers until 4/17/18.

Chapter 2

Home Sweet Home

Mimi worked her way through the large, cold pipe on her hands and knees, careful to keep the fish from touching the ground. The weight of it dangling was not great, but she struggled to steady its swaying motion as she shuffled along.

She slid out of the exit into the open area that led to her lair. A giant, metallic cylinder occupied most of the space. It was several stories tall and made a constant humming noise. Its outer shell was marked with rust and age.

Behind her, Shannon slid out of the pipe. Her sneakers slapped against the ground. The impact was almost too much. The sneakers barely hung together, bound by adhesive strips. Her clothes, like Mimi’s, were sewn together from discarded bits of cloth they had scavenged from the clothing recycling center.

So much of the city was recycled; it had to be. But the city, approaching the mid-twelfth century of its age, was showing signs of its tireless movement. Only rarely did the city cease walking across the barren landscape, and then it shuttered under the vibration of a massive drill, extracting the scraps of resources that were left in the earth’s crust.

“Wow, this is where you live?” asked Shannon. “Yuck.” She plugged her nose. “What’s that smell?”

“Sewage and garbage. Though there might be other things mixed in there, I’m not sure.”

Shannon almost gagged. “Here I thought, we’ve been together six months and I haven’t even been to her place yet. I thought maybe you were hiding something. You were: your place smells like shit.”

Mimi laughed. “Shit’s only part of it.”

“Why does it smell so terrible?”

“Because,” Mimi waved her stick toward the giant cylinder. “That’s a biorecycler. Well, the bottom half of it, anyway. The other half is up in one of the Sanitation departments.”
“But aren’t those things supposed to be sealed? Why does it smell so bad?”

“It leaks sometimes.”

“What, like, on you?”

“Nah, I’m over on the other side over there.” She pointed down a narrow corridor. “I think things would have to be bad in the city before the whole thing emptied. Maybe a war with one of the other cities or something. Besides, it’s one of the safest places in the whole city for someone like us.”

They walked toward the corridor. Small, iridescent puddles twinkled in the light. Mimi didn’t know what all the chemicals were, but she steered Shannon around each one.

“Doesn’t smell like it. Why’s it so safe?”

“No one comes down here unless there’s a major problem. So far, there’s been one in the last few hundred years.”

Mimi realized her mistake at once and hoped Shannon wouldn’t notice. She almost swore out loud. Instead, she held her breath.

Shannon stopped and grabbed Mimi’s right arm, the one without the dangling fish. “Wait a second. How. Old. Are. You?”

“Seventy or so.” Her words came out rapid fire. She knew she could pass for seventy, though she didn’t look a day over the age of twenty-five; it was the product of the regeneration alcoves. Even the homeless had occasional access to them. It was cheaper than dealing with disease and medical care, so the Uppers–the ones who lived in the top floors of the city–had decided to make some alcoves accessible to everyone, but only often enough that someone who was homeless or living in the lower parts of the city could live a maximum lifespan of two-hundred years or so.

“Then how do you know when this thing last broke down?”

“Uh… I looked it up. Come on, it doesn’t smell so bad back where I’m at.” Mimi knew that wasn’t going to cut it, but she couldn’t come up with anything else to say.

Shannon followed, but Mimi could tell she was frustrated. She would have to tell her some truth soon at least. It was hard to lie all the time. There was so much to keep track of. But how was she going to explain her age? How would she explain that she had found a way to access a regeneration alcove and extend her life like the wealthy Uppers in the city? She knew exactly where that would lead. Daniel had wanted access to the alcoves, and it had cost him everything.

They stepped over the crisscross networks of pipes in one section, ducked under them in another, and moved their way through several cramped areas until, finally, they reached her nest.

It wasn’t anything special, but it was a spot to call home. Multicolored sheets patched together tightly to create a sturdy outer covering over a frame of pipes, tucked away in a corner. It was well-hidden. You had to be looking for it to know it was there. Mimi pulled back a flap and ushered Shannon inside. A small, ancient mattress lay on the floor next to a small makeshift camping stove. The mattress also had patches, like a bandaged soldier after a battle. It was lumpy and uneven, but much better than anything they would find at street level. A few tattered maps of the city hung in the corners, displaying the underground networks of tunnels and pipes.

“Where’d you get the furniture and pictures? Some place down here?”

“The furniture, well, you just have to know where to look. Mattresses don’t exactly grow in Central Park. The maps I stole from Sanitation. Not like they will miss them.”

“What do you need the maps for?”

Mimi shrugged, “Nothing really, anymore. I know most of those tunnels by heart now, but it took a while to get the hang of them.”

“So why do you still have them up?”

“Habit, I guess. Better than nothing, right? Makes it feel cozy.”

Shannon walked around the room inspecting everything. “Hmmm. I suppose so.” She lifted the bottom of one of the maps and looked under, exposing the splotched green and brown cloth below. “Yeah, better with the maps. You need some flowers here or something.”

“Flowers? You’re joking, right?”

“You could swipe some from Central Park or one of the other green spaces in the city.”

Mimi shook her head, “Do you want to attract attention? You know how much those flowers go for in the uppers?”

Shannon shook her head.

“Let’s put it this way, you’d probably end up in front of the Supreme Justices.”

“For flowers?”

“For flowers.”

“So, you’ve never picked any?”

“No, have you?”

“No, but they smell so nice. I just thought that…” Shannon trailed off.

Mimi shrugged. “Think whatever you want, the point is, getting the attention of the Security Officers for flowers seems like a waste.”

“But in the vid screens… when a girl brings another flowers, it’s so romantic.”

“That’s the vid screens. Those programs are all about Mids and Uppers, anyway. No one wants to hear love stories about a couple of homeless women.”

Shannon frowned.

Mimi reached over and pressed a few buttons to prime the makeshift stove. She pulled the fish off her broom handle and flopped it down on the grill. She turned around and pulled out a wide and flat piece of metal with a wooden handle. It was bound together by some cheap twine.

“What’s that?” Shannon stared at the object.

“You ever gut a fish before?”

“Gut?”

“Yeah, gut. You can’t just plop it on a grill and cook, you know. You gotta take out the guts, cut off the head.”

“Ew, what?” Shannon’s nose wrinkled. Her face paled.

“I’ll show you.” Mimi grabbed the fish and stepped outside her dwelling. She found a flat surface and Shannon, following reluctantly, watched as she raised the blade and brought it down just south of the fish’s head. It made a soft squishing sound and a little of the creature’s juices sprayed onto both women.

Shannon’s eyes widened, and she pushed past Mimi. She ran around a corner and vomited.

Afterward, Shannon refused to eat the fish. Mouth full, Mimi said, “You can’t be so squeamish about things down here. You have to eat what you can get or you’ll go hungry.”

Shannon said nothing. She kept looking at the maps, kept looking at the ancient sheets that were tied to the pipes. Her hand caressed them. Then, keeping her eyes off of the fish, she stared right at Mimi.

“Alright, how old are you, really? And don’t give me that seventy crap. Besides, you look way too young for seventy anyway, even with our alcove allotment. It’s clear you’re a lot older than that.”

Mimi shrugged. “Women of Asian descent just age slowly.” She paused for a moment.  “Tomorrow we’ll take another trip down below. There’s a food dispenser down there I can hack sometimes, if you don’t like the fish.”

“Don’t change the subject. You have access to an alcove, don’t you?”

Mimi swallowed her last bite of the fish. “Sure you’re not going to eat?”

Shannon shook her head and gestured for Mimi to eat the rest.

“Answer me, please, or I’m leaving.”

“Come on now, Shannon, don’t say that. I love you.”

Shannon was almost sidetracked by this. Her face lit up. “You do?” Then her face darkened a little. “You love me, do you? But not enough to tell me the truth?” Shannon shifted her body in the chair, the little table wobbling off balance. “You’re always lying to me. You’re always holding back information. This little hut or whatever this is, is just another example. You didn’t tell me about it ’til last week. So, tell me the truth.”
There was a severity in her voice that Mimi took seriously. Shannon’s mind had always been a rather serious place, and her emotions always close to the edge, but it was clear she meant what she said, even without skimming.

“Alright. What do you want to know?”

“Everything.”

Mimi rolled her eyes. “They always do. Just pick something.”

Shannon scowled a little. “They? How many women have you brought down to your little hobbit hole?”

Mimi knew from the surface of Shannon’s mind that she didn’t really want an answer to that question. Few did. She knew that Shannon was a jealous person, but she was feeling a bit annoyed. Plus, the fish hadn’t been as good as she had hoped.

She made to count her fingers, pretending like she had to think about it. “Oh… Hmm… I think nine women and eight men have shared this bed.”

“Excuse me?”

“What? You told me to be honest.”

“So what am I? Your flavor of the month or something?”

Mimi rolled her eyes. “Considering how many years I’ve been doing this, more like flavor of the decade?”

Shannon’s face reddened for a moment and then she smiled. “Ha!” Shannon shouted. “I knew you were older than seventy. Tell me the truth. How old are you? You won’t distract me.”

Mimi bit her lip. Again, she pretended to count. This time she took much longer to respond even though she knew the exact number. It was hard to forget her 13th birthday. She thought on how easy it is to mark that night as the end of her normal life, to count off the exact distance from it. How could she forget the night she had murdered someone?

“Let’s see, in April I’ll be 782.”

Shannon’s jaw dropped, fishlike. Mimi was tempted to throw a piece of fish into it, but restrained herself.

“But… how? Even most Mids rarely live that long with their allotment. Oldest Mid I ever heard of was 650. I mean, Uppers, sure, but they’re the only ones who can afford unlimited access to the alcoves.”

She shrugged. “You’re right. I found an alcove.”

“What, just lying around?”

“Yep, just sitting right in the open underground.” Mimi knew Shannon didn’t understand her sarcasm and heard her ask herself if she was serious. “Yep. Serious.”

Shannon’s big eyes narrowed, “You’re being sarcastic.”

It wasn’t a question. Shannon was catching on, at least. “It’s dangerous.”

“So what? So is living on the street for any woman in this city.”

“Not like this. My last lover, Daniel… he got…” Mimi froze. She didn’t like to talk about Daniel, about what they had done to them. There were worse punishments than becoming a Runner, worse than dying. Daniel had been caught red-handed because he hadn’t listened to her, had gone to the alcove when she had told him not to.

“Don’t even think about it,” said Mimi. “It won’t happen.”

Mimi saw the anger forming on Shannon’s mind. She saw what she was about to say. She felt her own rage envelop her.

“Oh, I see. So, every few decades you get yourself a pet, someone to shack up with for a while, someone whom you can cast away when you’re bored, when they get too old and you don’t want their body anymore.”

The anger rolled from Mimi’s tongue, like dripping venom. “What the hell do you know? You’re just a little girl. Twenty-seven is barely an adult. You have no idea how deeply I’ve loved. You don’t understand what it’s like to watch someone you love stolen away from you.”

“Um… Tanya,” said Shannon.

Mimi felt the anger pulse in her chest. Her heartbeat thudded in her ears. She felt her tone sharpen. “Oh, no, no, no. There are things much worse than becoming a Runner, worse than death. You don’t even have a clue.” Mimi slammed down the remains of her food to the floor. She stood up at full height, which wasn’t much above Shannon’s height at sitting. But Shannon drew back.

For a moment, the light of the room tinged red. She had the strange sensation that her words somehow flowed into Shannon’s brain almost in the same way that Mimi could skim minds.

“Shannon, I’ve never had the luxury of watching someone grow old. Every single person I ever brought down here and told my secrets to ignored me. Every single one either left me because I wouldn’t tell them how to find the alcove, or ended up a Runner because I did. You have no idea what it’s like to live for centuries, having your heart broken over and over again. You have no idea what it’s like to lose every single person you love, to have them stripped from you. Wonder why I lie? Because no one ever listens to me, even after I tell them what happened to the others. So, Shannon, I do care about you, or else I wouldn’t tell you shit.”

Mimi’s sight cleared a little, the red tinge faded, but she had not seen Shannon’s reaction until that moment. She had not seen the fear and the pain that she had somehow pushed inside her. Shannon sat motionless, eyes wide open. She appeared unable to blink, but tears were pouring down her cheeks. An open faucet.

Then her face came back to life again. She blinked and her cheeks twitched. Shannon’s whole body shivered as she buckled from the inside. She was a building, collapsing under its own weight, unable to stop falling.

Mimi reached out to catch her, but missed. Luckily, she fell on the bed.

What had Mimi done to her? Was she able to push her thoughts onto Shannon? Did she somehow… scream into her mind? A sense of panic took her as she examined the ruins and wreckage of the woman she loved. Sharp sobs punctuated the space, deep rasping breaths and gasps for air. Shannon did not seem to be able to speak and Mimi walked closer to her, hesitantly putting a hand on her shoulder.

“Shannon… I…”

Shannon turned over, just enough to look in Mimi’s brown eyes. “Did… How… What did you…”

It was all that Shannon could utter.

Mimi felt the anger rise in her again. Shannon had made her do this. It was Shannon’s fault and if she didn’t get out right that moment, if she didn’t get away from her, she would hurt her again. She didn’t understand how, but she knew it on some instinctive level.

Her anger was a pulsar, a radical sun, heavy and dense and full of heat and fire. She felt it radiating from her body, she felt almost a desire to scream at Shannon again, to go back to the red. That redness was almost hungry, and now that she had let it see the light of day, it wanted more.

Mimi turned and fled the space. She hurried toward the long metal pipe at the entrance. She didn’t know where she was going, but she needed out, needed away.

Why was it they never understood? They always thought she was holding out on them. Didn’t they understand that she had loved them all? She watched them all leave, or be taken to the Runnercore or… She swallowed hard. She couldn’t let herself think of Daniel. Couldn’t think of what he had become. She didn’t dare turn her mind that direction.

The red had faded with each footstep. She felt herself cooling. The tectonics of her inner life had settled, for now.

Why did she keep doing it? Why did she keep sneaking into the alcove? Why did she keep extending her years? Most of all, why did she keep taking new lovers? Because she could? Because she needed to fill some emptiness in her? There was some reason, she reached for it, but it seemed impossible to grab hold of.

She heard footsteps behind her, felt the gentle press of Shannon’s mind come closer, like an invisible tide gradually rushing in. She did not turn to meet her.

Shannon had come. After what Mimi had done to her, of which she still wasn’t sure, Shannon had still come after her.

Her voice was soft and hesitant. “What happened to Daniel?” Shannon waited a moment for a response. “Mimi, please. Tell me. Sometimes it helps if you talk about it. It helped me… no, it saved me to tell you about Tanya. I don’t think I could have gone on without telling you. Just tell me. I love you too, you know. I didn’t say it earlier, but I do.”

Mimi still didn’t turn. She kept herself cold, afraid of the return of that redness. “Me. I happened to him.” Her voice was cold and quavering. She barely held her tears, her tears cried for freedom. She headed for the surface, breaking for a run, and did not stop until she saw that Shannon wasn’t behind her anymore.

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Mimi of the Nowhere: Chapter 1 The Fishing Hole

I am excited to finally reveal the first chapter of my forthcoming book, Mimi of the Nowhere. The official release date of this book is May 17th, 2018.

Mimi Chapter 1

But first a brief synopsis:

Life on the street is hard. Drug dealers, thieves, and even the security officers of the giant walking city of Manhatsten are up to no good. But somehow, Mimi’s done it for centuries. Of course, it helps that she is able to peak into other people’s minds and avoid trouble most of the time. Unfortunately, that same talent is about to get her into a whole other world of trouble. One that she never even knew existed.

Enjoy Chapter 1!

Chapter 1

The Fishing Hole

The sharpened end of the broomstick plunged down below the waterline with a plunk.

“It’s hard to believe there’s any fish down here,” said Shannon.

“Best way to manage the algae,” Mimi said with a grunt. She pulled up the broomstick, free of fish, dripping water.

“Really? But I thought they wanted the algae to bloom for the biorecycler.”

Mimi’s eyes danced over the surface of the water, tracing the shadow of a fish just visible in the dim underground light.

“Algae grows better with the fish.”

“Why’s that?”

The broomstick handle brushed the surface of the water, roaming back and forth. Then, she thrusted quick and sharp. When she pulled out her makeshift spear, a fish flopped back and forth, gasping for freedom. Mimi swung the end up to keep the fish from sliding off.

She shrugged. “Hell if I know. Something about ecology or some nonsense.”

Mimi knew. She knew a lot of things she shouldn’t know. She had skimmed the knowledge from a sanitation worker, one who managed the algae pools.

“What’s ‘ecology’?”

Mimi shrugged. She shifted the broom from one hand to the other and brushed her long black hair out of her eyes. “It’s not important. We best get out of here, maintenance is coming.”

“How do you know that?” asked Shannon. “How do you always know stuff like that?”

“They usually come around this time. Come on, we have dinner. Let’s go cook it.” She was lying. There was no set schedule down here. The only time someone showed up was when there was a problem.

They walked away from the stream, moving up the long tunnel and toward the main pond. It was hard to call it a pond, because it was larger than Central Park and it branched out in streams to several other parts of the excavated piece of earth on which the great walking city of Manhasten rested.

“You can really feel the legs moving down here, can’t you?”

“Every step. Gotta be careful, takes a while to get your sea legs.”

“Sea legs?”

Mimi shrugged. “Nevermind.” She liked Shannon, but she asked too many questions. Mimi didn’t like questions. When you were homeless in a giant walking city, questions could get you killed. Yet, she always seemed to pick the ones who asked a lot of questions. Where were all her previous partners? She didn’t like to think about it.

She glanced up at Shannon’s face; she was pale and skinny, almost the exact opposite of the last woman she had dated. Her soft brown eyes caught Mimi staring at her. Her round face and blonde hair were lovely in the dim light of the underground.

“What?”

“Nothing, you just look beautiful today.”

Shannon smiled and her face flushed a little. She reached out and grabbed Mimi’s hand. Mimi never failed to notice how much bigger Shannon’s hand was. Of course, Shannon was of a normal size, while Mimi was tiny.

“I’m glad you asked me to come down here and see this place. I didn’t even know it existed.”

Mimi said, “Only a few people outside of the sanitation workers do.”

They reached the edge of the pond and Mimi looked over it. It was quiet. Only the sounds of the water lapping against the edge of the land was prominent, interspersed with slim moments of the sound of the machinery pumping water in and out of the massive reservoir.

Shannon moved closed to her. She could feel her body pressed up against hers. It was soft and warm. Mimi took a slow breath, enjoying the feeling. She tucked her head into Shannon’s chest and took a moment to listen to her heart and linger in her scent.

Shannon said, “It’s kind of a turn-on being down here…all hidden and forbidden, I mean.”

Mimi smiled and looked up into her face. “Yes, but as I said, someone is coming.” She leaned in and kissed Shannon for a moment, then took her hand and led her further along the shoreline, back to the entrance where they had come.

It had been a long time since Mimi had felt close to someone. The last time had been several decades before. Over the centuries, she brought several partners down here. It was one of her favorite places in the whole city. It was almost always safe from the security patrols and the drug dealers in the lowers. There wasn’t a lot of room to explore on the streets of Manhastan, but down here…down here was nowhere. Down here was her nowhere.

The garbled thoughts of the maintenance workers were clarifying. It meant they were getting closer. The clearer she could hear thoughts, the closer someone was. At a few dozen yards’ distance, she could make out everything that was on the surface of a person’s mind, assuming there was only a few of people around. More than a few people and things got jumbled.

It was the other reason she liked being down here; she had quiet inside and out.

Suddenly, the two minds focused. They were moving quickly. She couldn’t understand why. Her heart raced, they would be on top of them at any moment.

“Shit, they’re coming now.” Mimi grabbed Shannon by the shoulder and pulled her behind a giant metal tube, one of many scattered around the perimeter of the pond. She could feel and hear a low hum coming from the tube.

“How do you know–”

Mimi put her hand over Shannon’s mouth. “Shh. If they hear us, we’re in deep shit.”

Mimi felt Shannon’s body relax for a moment. Then, as the elevator door across the pond spilled light out onto the choppy water and two sanitation workers stepped out, she felt Shannon’s body tense again. They were still more than a kilometer away, but if they had been out in the open, it would have been obvious.

The elevator. Of course. That was the reason for the sudden movement. Mimi should have known better.  But why was she reading them as if they were much closer? There was no reason she should be able to hear them so clearly from this distance.

Mimi glanced at her companion and realized that she had let herself relax a little too much. It was stupid. She should have been paying more attention, even if she was getting an unusually strong read.

Mimi pulled Shannon a little closer. Shannon reached back and gave her bicep a squeeze. It occurred to Mimi that she found a deep sense of joy, feeling Shannon close. It was too late. She was falling hard. That was dangerous.

Mimi whispered in Shannon’s ear, “Stay still.  We have to wait ‘til they pass. We can’t make a sound. You know what happened to Tanya, right?”

Without turning, Shannon tensed. She nodded her head.

“Let’s move a little further back against this wall. I doubt they’ll come this way. They’re here to inspect one of the lines on the other side.”

Shannon squirmed a little and turned her head. Her hoarse whisper was barely audible. “How do you know all this shit, Mimi?”

Mimi shrugged. She wasn’t about to tell Shannon how she knew it, or how she knew anything else. She was falling in love with Shannon, realized that she might even spend the rest of Shannon’s life with her, short as that may end up being, but there was no one she could ever trust with her secret, not again. It would never be like it was with Daniel. His was a miserable lesson.

Yet, she was making it obvious that she had secrets. She frowned to herself. All day she had been hinting about knowing information she shouldn’t. It occurred to her that maybe, on some level, she wanted someone to know. Maybe she was tired of being alone, maybe she missed waking up next to someone, trusting someone with everything. Lying was tiresome.

The two workers’ laughs echoed off the massive chamber. They made no effort to be quiet, and just as they got within a few hundred meters, they stopped. Their thoughts, loud and clear, disappeared. The sudden silence unnerved Mimi.

She reached out. More silence. She pushed a little harder, thinking of them. A bright red light and a powerful ringing in her ears hit her like a physical blow. She shuddered. Her body spasmed.

Shannon turned towards her. “Mimi?”

Mimi released her grip and stepped back, shaking her head and putting her finger to her lips. Shannon understood and turned back toward the workers.

When they moved again, they did so in her direction. Mimi frowned. Why had they changed direction?

Minutes passed. No sign of their minds. No intentions. Just silence and hints of footsteps and murmurs.

Mimi felt her heart beat harder. Sweat gathered on her forehead and she was having trouble breathing. She tried to will their thoughts back again, and that same red light and deafening ringing returned. She needed to know what these two were doing. Uncertainty was death in this world. She had watched through the centuries as so many of her friends and loved ones had been taken by the security forces and sentenced to a fate worse than death.

Only a hundred meters away now, the voices focused from the frame of echoes and sharpened in the space. “I don’t know, Frank, I swore I saw something over this direction.”

“Zelda, you kidding me with this shit? Ain’t no one even knows about this place.”

“I didn’t say it was a person, maybe it’s a busted pipe or something.”

“It’s almost quitting time.”

The woman stopped and faced the man. The woman was wire-thin, and the man had a large, round belly that almost intruded in the conversation.

“Frank, you know damn well if there is a major issue, we’re gonna be down here for weeks cleaning up the mess.”

“So, let’s report we heard some strange noises in the pipes and send someone else down to investigate,” said the man.

Mimi ground her teeth. No minds, only voices. That vacant silence felt as if someone had scooped something essential out of her. So far as she could remember, this had never happened before, not since the voices began. It could mean the end for her and Shannon. Was her future in the Runnercore? The remainder of their lives as prisoners out in the barren wasteland that the city traversed, running errands for a society that viewed them as disposable? Or perhaps they would die a brutal death at the hands of another city’s runners? But then, that was if they were lucky; they could spend centuries in semi-stasis, waiting in storage to be activated.

“It doesn’t hurt to just check it out, Frank. Besides, wouldn’t kill you to work off that gut some.”

There was a pause between the two. The man rubbed his stomach. “What, this old thing? Come on, Zelda, you know I’ve been carefully cultivating this thing for the last twenty years. Why you gotta go and try and go and get me some exercise?” The man laughed at his own joke. It was a deep, booming laugh that bounced off the high walls of the cavern. It did nothing for Mimi’s nerves.

Shannon started to squirm again and Mimi gripped her a bit more firmly. She tried to make it a loving, comforting grip, but when she looked down at Shannon’s right wrist, she saw that she was white-knuckled. Shannon’s hand was reddening. She relaxed her grip.

Shannon leaned back and whispered, “What’s wrong, I can feel you shaking.”

Mimi was shaking. Her whole body was betraying her with ripples of gooseflesh. Still, there was mental silence. It was a kind of fog that had climbed its way into her ears.

“Shhhh.”

The woman turned their direction. “Did you hear that?” Her words were crystal-clear now. She was walking directly toward them.

Mimi cursed under her breath. Leaning forward as quietly as she could, she whispered into Shannon’s ear, “Get ready to run when I say so.”

Shannon tensed under her. She, too, shook.

Why had everything gone silent? It made no sense, unless maybe she was just getting old? Maybe her bizarre skill set withered away with age like anything else? But that made little sense. The regeneration alcove she semi-frequently snuck into rejuvenated all of her cells. Her mental capabilities should have been renewed in the process as well.

The woman was only a few dozen meters away now.

“Zelda, you’re killing me. Let’s just finish the job we came down for.” He was pleading with her. Mimi noted a sense of desperation in his voice. Something about that gave her a renewed sense of hope.

Zelda stopped and turned away. Mimi used that moment to pull Shannon all the way back behind the pipe so that she couldn’t see the woman, and the woman couldn’t see her.

“I’m telling you, Frank, there’s something over there. I’d swear it.”

“Bet your next paycheck?”

There was silence for a moment.

“Well… Nah.”

“If you ain’t gonna put your money where your mouth is, then let’s get back to work. The wife’s waiting, you know. And she doesn’t like it when I’m late all the time, especially when she knows I came down here with you.”

There it was. That was why he was pleading.

“Is she still on you about that shit, Frank?”

“Come on, you know some people, once they get an idea, it rubs at them ‘til they’re raw. She ain’t never gonna let it go.”

“Jesus Frank, it was one kiss twenty years ago, and I was drunk.”

“Don’t matter.”

There was silence again for a moment. It was a horrible silence. Mimi hated it. She had never thought she could hate silence so much.

“Alright fine. You win. Let’s get back to it.”

Mimi felt all the pressure inside of her release at once. The woman’s footsteps sounded as if they were walking away, but it was hard to tell.

Then, all at once, their thoughts flooded her mind again. She didn’t know what had turned them back on, but she was grateful. The pair was moving away; they would address a reported blockage on the other side of the pond and suggest that maybe something else was wrong in the area Mimi was hiding. Mimi had never felt so relieved in her life.

She stuck out her head from her cover and watched and waited a few minutes more. She probed the area for any other minds and when she sensed none, she said, “Come on, all clear.”

There were only two ways out of the pond: the elevator and the stairs. No sanitation worker in their right mind would use the stairs, it was 102 levels from the lowest sub-basement to the algae pools. Shannon had moaned the entire way down the stairs about how difficult it would be to come back up. She had complained that her legs were already jelly from going down 102 flights, and Mimi expected her to moan the whole way up. But as they approached the metal-grated stairs, still keeping their eyes on the ever-more-distant workers, Shannon was silent. They began their ascent.

Mimi turned and looked at her face; it was ghost-pale. Mimi didn’t have to skim her mind to know what was wrong. She shouldn’t have mentioned Tanya. She wanted her to take the threat seriously, but she didn’t want to scare the living shit out of her, either. She imagined that mentioning Tanya probably deepened Shannon’s terror as that woman had approached.

Mimi grabbed Shannon’s hand and faced her. She tilted her head up and kissed her deeply. Mimi pulled away and stared right into Shannon’s eyes.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to mention it.”

Shannon looked down at the floor. “It’s okay… I just… I still can’t believe she’s gone.”

“She’s not gone. She’s in the Runnercore.”

“She’s dead.”

“No, she’s not.”

Shannon twirled her hair and chewed on her lip.

“You know what they say about women in the Runnercore.”

“Weak women, Shannon. Tanya was bigger and stronger than most women.”

“Enough to move in those metal suits? Can you say for certain she’s alive?” Shannon was pleading.

Mimi said nothing. She had tried to find out. She had even snuck down to the docks several nights in a row to skim someone. The inspectors weren’t helpful, there were just too many Runners to think about and inspectors didn’t know anyone’s names. Once you became a runner, you were just a number, a designation. Unless she could find out what Tanya’s designation had become, there was no use.  She had tried to probe the recycled runners but they were nothing but empty hard drives. Too empty, like trying to read a brick.

“They augment their muscles, you know.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean they inject them with some kind of hormone or chemical or something. It makes them stronger.”

Shannon’s eyes squinted, “How do you know that?”

“The same way I know everything else. I listen. If you would do as I tell you when we are out scavenging, you would know just as much as me.”

It was a lie. Shannon couldn’t skim minds. She wasn’t entirely sure if anyone else in the city could, either. As far as she knew, she was all alone. It almost made her laugh when she thought about it. What a great gift to be wasted on a homeless woman. Yet, something had happened this afternoon. Something that made her question if she was alone. Why the red light and the tone? Could someone out there be blocking her?

“Listen, you’re just going to have to trust me. Tanya’s okay. One of these days, we’ll bust her out.”

Shannon smiled, the corners of her mouth creeping to their highest altitude. She choked back a laugh. Mimi loved it when she did that.

“Oh right, two bag ladies are going to bust down into the runner docks to liberate another bag lady. Sounds like something from the vidscreens.” Her smile melted. “Sometimes having hope is foolish, isn’t it?”

Mimi squeezed her hand, “Crazier things have happened.”

“Really? When?”

“Um, we are in what was once bedrock at the base of a giant walking city, aren’t we? I think that qualifies as a crazy miracle. Whoever thought up this idea to deal with climate change had to sound like a total nut job, but they did it, didn’t they? They pulled it off, and not just once.”

“I guess so.” Shannon’s voice sounded soft and resigned. “Do you know how many cities are still out there?”

“I don’t know. Couldn’t be more than a dozen left.”

“You think Manhasten will be around for a while?”

“Hell if I know.” She nodded her head toward the stairs, “Come on. I’ll race you to the top.”

“You’re joking, right? I mean, you’re really joking?”

“Nope.” And Mimi ran up the stairs, taking two at a time.

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