New Excerpt from Strange Reflections

Hello all,

This is an excerpt from the horror novel I am currently working on titled “Strange Reflections.” This passage is from Chapter 5: The Rescue Party.

If you are interested in this story you can read the first 3 chapters here.

Special thanks to my friend and fellow author Sarah Rosmond for the new image.

Enjoy!


Excerpt from Chapter 5

There was laughter echoing down the maze of mirrors, a slow rumbling movement of a malignant will. There was no source, but it filled her, penetrated her, and she felt a compulsion to stare at the nearest mirror.

Amanda turned and gazed long at the scar that ran up her face. As she looked at her reflection, the glass turned back time. Her wounds unknit and exposed flesh opened. She reached up to touch her face and felt the shock of the same pain she had felt on the day when the explosion had rocked her convoy. She pulled her hand away and looked down in the reflection and saw that there was blood. Then, shocked at the sight she lifted her same hand to her face and saw no blood. Looking again into the mirror she saw the wound gaping, bits of skin hanging from her mangled face. Her leg in the mirror was a shattered wreck. The moment her eyes touched the reflection of her leg, she felt the pain of her wound surge and grow till she crumbled to the floor.

It was the pain that broke her gaze. Later, she would realize it was the pain that protected her, had saved her from the madness of that moment.
But Armin was still staring. He was a statue, raptured by the seduction of his reflection. His body tensed. His fingers were flexing and clenching in rhythmic movement.

Armin’s jaw worked. “No.”

Amanda said, “Armin, what do you see? What is it?”
He stared into the reflective surface; his eyes fixed his mind focused. Amanda could see sweat gathering on his forehead in the dim light.
She thought about what she had seen and wondered if Armin saw that very same thing.

“No it’s not true.” His voice was barely a mask for his rage.

“Armin?” Her voice quivered. Gooseflesh took possession of every pore of her skin.

“Armin.” She stood, moved forward and rested her hand on his shoulder.

But Armin did something he had never done before, something that Amanda had never thought him capable of. Armin, the joker, as he was always known in the squad, had never seemed to have a hateful bone in his body. Armin, the person who was the life of the party, always quick with a joke or a sarcastic reply, did not even turn his head as he raised his left arm and punched Amanda hard in the face.

The blow was so violent and so forceful that Amanda couldn’t understand how he was able to gain the leverage he needed to knock her back. She stumbled and fell, a shot of pain crawling up her leg for her ancient wound, like tiny spiders nibbling on her nerves.

“Armin? Why?”

Armin screamed. He drew his pistol and fired, his finger worked and moved and gushed out lead into glass. The sound of the air changed quality as the ringing took possession of her ears. The mirror cracked and shattered and bits of glass fell to the ground and tinkled with an almost lyrical quality despite her muted ears. Armin fired till he was empty and then threw his sidearm at what remained.

Some of the scraps hung in malformed triangles and Armin screamed again, pounding his fists on the glass to knock out every tiny piece. Blood leaked on his forearms and gathered on the tips of the triangles. Some carried the stain with them as they fell to the ground.

Even as the last pieces fell to the floor, Armin did not stop. Instead, he began his work on the next mirror, and Amanda watched as the glass cut down deep to tendon and bone, though he seemed not to notice.

She had to do something. She forced her body up, her leg crying in agony as she did. She mustered all her strength and charged him. She felt the collision in every nerve, and as they both fell to the floor, bodies mingled from the impact. He moaned like an angry beast.

Armin’s blood flowed freely, and as Amanda lay on top of him, it seeped and stained into her skin and garments.

“Armin. Stop. You have to stop.” She shook him.

His eyes were glassy, and he craned his neck to try and gaze into yet another mirror. But Amanda, realizing that it was the pain that had broken her hypnosis grabbed one of his forearms where the glass had cut deep and squeezed as hard as she could. Armin yelped and looked at her, eyes full of rage.

“Armin snap out of it. Don’t look at the mirrors.”

But his neck stretched and reached for a glimpse like an addict craving a fix.

With her free hand, she smacked his face. It was barely a slap, but it was all she could muster.

He fixed his eyes on her again, the rage focused. He reached up and grabbed her by the throat for a few moments her held tight, and she could feel the blackness swarming behind her eyes. Just before she lost consciousness something softened in his eyes. He let go.

“Amanda?” His voice was rough and muted by the ringing in her ears.

“Armin…” She coughed and sputtered but forced her words through the mucus built up by his stranglehold. “Don’t… look… at… the… mirrors.”

He nodded and stared at her for a moment. “How did you get blood all over you?”

She returned his gaze. “Armin… look at your hands…”

He did. For the rest of her days, she would never forget the look of horror and revulsion on his face.

Strange Reflections a new serial on Patreon

 

Strange Reflections Cover

I just launched a new serial story on my Patreon page.  For those of you who don’t know already, some of my stories are either exclusive to Patreon or early access for Patreon Subscribers.

My new serial, titled Strange Reflections, departs a bit from science fiction and delves into a world of horror and mystery.

A short blurb:

A reoccurring nightmare, a library full of occult books, and a strange underground passage, for Amanda it’s only the beginning.

Check out my Patreon Page where you can find this story and one other from the world of the Chronicles of the Great Migration! 

Mimi of the Nowhere Cover Reveal

Today I am happy to present the official cover of my very first novel Mimi of the Nowhere. This book is the very first chapter in the Chronicles of the Great Migration. A series about life, death, and war in a Giant Walking Cities in a post-climate change era. Mimi of the Nowhere begins with the story of a Homeless woman living in the Giant Walking City of Manhasten, which was once, long ago the island of Manhattan.

A 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 peek 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 cover was created by the very talented Kayla Rose. You can find more of her work at her Instagram page here

Don’t forget you can read the first 6 chapters of the book free at the page for Mimi of the Nowhere

 

Front Cover

 

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

 

 

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

Want Exclusive Access to News and Stories?

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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 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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