My incredible Cover Artist Gabriel Perez created a new cover for Mimi of the Nowhere. Check it out and definitely check out his work.
Want a free copy of the book? Sign up for our newsletter here and get one totally free.
Want a free copy of the book? Sign up for our newsletter here and get one totally free.
Alexa Turon, a young girl who works as the inspector in the docks has no idea Mimi is watching her. But the one person she can’t seem to stop thinking of, is Runner 17.
This chapter is Spoiler Free for Mimi of the Nowhere
Only 12 days left before Upon Stilted Cities is released on 7/17/18
Alexa Turon watched Runner 17 descend with the lift, sinking until he was out of sight. Her two-way mirror caught a flash of setting sun just before the dock bay door shut. The fluorescent lighting flickered across her face.
She ran out, picked up her dropped tablet, and then hurried back to her office.
There was a hotness in her. It surged up through her chest and settled in her throat. She sat down at her desk. Placing her hands on the ancient cracked keyboard, she felt the rough bumps against her fingers. She began typing up her report. Missing keys had already caused her fingers to callus. Slow work, many typos. Worse, the delete key was completely gone.
“Alexa Turon,” a high, obnoxious voice whined over the com line. It was Marty, her shadow, her boss. She still couldn’t remember his last name and when she called him by his first, it frustrated him. “You have a call from a man named Douglas Turon, who claims to be your father?”
Alexa groaned. “Great, here we go again.”
“Pardon?” asked her supervisor.
Alexa blinked, she hadn’t realized she had said it aloud. “Oh… um… put him through.”
Douglas Turon flashed on the view screen just above Alexa’s cluttered desk. He didn’t look much older than his daughter. The screen flickered for a moment and settled. At 193 years of age, his face was frozen in that of a man in his mid-30s. His chin-length blond hair, short pointed nose, and thin patchy beard made him look a brother, not a father. It was the alcoves.
“Alexa, how are you? Is everything all right? Your mother and I are worried about you, you know.”
She tried hard not to roll her eyes. Here she was, 23, and her parents were still calling her at work. Granted, she wasn’t legally an adult yet regarding voting and other privileges, but she would be in just two short years. Besides, so far as she knew, none of the other 23-year-olds had parents freak out if they didn’t hear from them for a few days. Even though the legal definition of an adult was 25, most parents still accepted that their children were adults at 18. An ancient habit.
“Oh, things are fine, how’s Mom?”
“Your mother is doing just fine. She landed another promotion in the library. She is going to be working almost directly with Senator Lightfoot on one of her artifact-cataloging projects. You know your mother, always the archivist and never much a people person. The prospect of spending days on end cataloging items from the last dig has got her so excited she can’t sleep. It’s all she talks about.”
“Oh, well that’s great news. Does that mean you could move to the Uppers?”
“You know Alexa, we just might. Your mother says that Senator Lightfoot has offered to sponsor us. I mean, Floor 39 is a wonderful level to live and all, but can you imagine the Turons making it to Floor 40? I mean, think of the benefits we would have as an Upper. Your mother and I have talked about having another child, and a move upward would make that possible. Speaking of which Alexa, I may have a job for you here in the IT department.”
Uh oh. Here it came. For the twelfth time since she took this job, her father was about to ask her to work for him, and then, of course, ask her to move back in with him and her mother. She knew the tired argument already. He would mention, again, some fantastic job opening (probably one that he made up just for her) and again, he would talk about the benefits of living at home as a young Upper Mid and saving to become a true Upper. Then he would talk about Alexa’s potential being wasted in the Runner Dock and how dangerous it was amongst all those criminals.
“Dad, I love you, but stop. I’m not interested.”
Her dad’s eyebrows shifted and one arched upward as if to say, whatever do you mean my sweet daughter.
“Dad, I don’t want to go through all this again. I’ve chosen to work down here, and I don’t want another lecture.”
“No buts, Dad. I know you’re worried about me, but my new apartment in the Upper Lowers is in a safe area and working in the docks is as safe as anywhere else. You know damn well that they keep the Runners on a short leash. I have a button on my data tablet that I can press if I feel any threat at all.”
“Alexa. It… it’s not just your safety. Your mother and I are worried about your future too. You have so much potential. You scored the highest of any Mid on the Standard Placement Test; you were the top of your class. Supreme Justice Smith even offered you a position, and yet you chose the Runner docks. Why? If you could just explain to us why you made your choice, we could support you. We want to understand why our little girl is throwing her life away.”
Alexa felt a rush of anger. “First of all, Dad, we both know why Justice Smith offered me a position. You’ve heard the rumors about all his pretty young assistants and the after-hours ‘work’ they do for him.”
“Oh Alexa, those are just rumors. None of the allegations made against the Justice were ever proven.”
“Professor Claven told me that the rumors were true and to stay the hell away from him. So that’s what I am doing. For the last time, Dad, I’m not throwing my life away.”
Her father rallied, not dissuaded.
“Alexa, if you could explain why you chose the Runner docks when you could have chosen almost anywhere else in the city, then maybe your mother and I could be a bit more understanding.”
“It’s not any of your business, Dad. I’m done discussing it.”
Her father stared blankly at her, and Alexa felt a rush of guilt crest over her like a wave approaching the shore. She wanted to tell them, but she just couldn’t. They would never understand, and though they had been supportive of her alternative methods for dealing with her headaches… well, this was something else entirely.
She sighed. “I’m sorry, Dad. You have to trust me. I’m doing this because I feel it is the right thing to do. This is the right place for me to be. Can’t you just accept that?”
Her father frowned through the flickering glare of the view screen.
He sighed, “You are almost an adult now, Alexa, and of course we want you to do what you feel is right, but time so often has a way of revealing our mistakes.” He paused again. His head turned back away to acknowledge someone nearby. He nodded his head a few times and mouthed a few indistinct words before he turned his attention back to Alexa.
“I’m sorry Alexa, but the AI needs some routine maintenance, Joe Fisher told me it’s acting a bit strangely, so I have to go. But Alexa, I’ll make you a deal. Neither your mother nor I will mention anything else about your job if you promise to sit down and at least chat with Dr. Black in systems maintenance next week. He’s heard about you from one of your professors in scholar school and is interested in meeting with you.”
Alexa rolled her eyes. It was another deal. There would be more. Always more. She also knew that accepting the meeting would get them off her back for another week and would allow her to focus on… well… whatever it was she was supposed to be doing down in the docks. She wasn’t sure what it was yet, but she had some ideas.
“Alright Dad, I’ll meet with Dr. Black next Friday. How does that sound?”
A smile spread across her father’s face. She loved that smile. “Wonderful. Your mother will be so happy to hear it, and I just know that—”
“One thing, Dad. Don’t expect me to take the job. I will go to the meeting but please, no expectations, okay?”
“Of course, Alexa. Of course.” But his smile said otherwise. He expected her to take this other job, to get out of the Lowers and to move back in with them. She knew another argument was coming, probably even a yelling match this time. But for now, a temporary ceasefire.
“I have to get going; Joe Fisher needs me. Do me a favor and call your mother this evening, Alexa. I know she would be happy to hear from you. I love you.”
“Love you too, Dad.”
The screen went blank. She exhaled. She wished so much that she could tell them why she chose the docks, but she didn’t exactly know herself. She also knew that until she could give them some sort of concrete explanation, something that made sense to them, they would continue to pester her. She wished she was a better liar.
In truth, she didn’t much care for the job. The hours were long and mostly boring, the smell of the place was almost intolerable. And the Runners, despite her reassurances to her father, made her very nervous. Well, except for that Runner 17. He had made her feel something… different.
17’s beautiful dark skin. And his eyes, like gray-brown orbs, she couldn’t stop thinking about his eyes. Her mind’s eye wandered downward, recalling each muscle. His chest hairless, covered in scars. She wanted to run her hands across those scars and feel the muscle below. She wanted to run her hands further down his naked body and… She caught herself at the thought and put a stop to it. Those thoughts lead to trouble, and she was already worried she was in over her head, despite what she said to her parents.
Her mind wouldn’t shift. She began to type at the keyboard again but found it impossible to focus. Her supervisor, Marty, had warned her that 17 was entirely unpredictable. But maybe it wasn’t the bad kind of unpredictable. And his face… it was so familiar. Where had she seen it before?
17 had told her that his only crime was pissing off the wrong woman. But she wasn’t sure that she believed that. After all, Marty had told her that every Runner claimed to be innocent, that every single one of them would say that were framed or imprisoned for ridiculous reasons. Most of them, he had told her, were murderers or thieves or rapists. Most of them were the scum of the Lowers. Marty had told her that, even if a few of them were innocent, it didn’t matter, because most of them were guilty as hell. What were a few innocent lives if the scum was off the street; if the city was safer. She wasn’t sure just what to think about that. Safety seemed like a big price to pay if innocent people were having their lives destroyed.
But was there any truth to what 17 had told her?
She felt that warmth again. Alexa found herself wondering, what was 17’s real name? The thought had overtaken her so rapidly, that she hardly recognized she had it. By the time she began searching through her data tablet for the desired records, she had only just become conscious of what she was doing. It almost felt intuitive.
It was quick work to find 17’s listing. He was first on the list of active Runners. Of course he was. The list was in numerical order. She selected his profile and opened up the record. In it, she could see most of 17’s missions and their details. A few were marked with a restricted access symbol, a circle with a red x in the middle, but for the most part, she saw that he had been on hundreds, no thousands of missions. She wasn’t interested in most of the mission by mission details and scrolled downward, looking for what she desired. As Alexa reached the end of 17’s profile, she felt a wave of frustration. There was no name, but there was something else, something that almost took her breath away. At the very bottom of his profile, after the first mission was a ‘years active’ indicator. 17 had been active for one thousand, two hundred, and ninety-four years.
Quickly she thumbed the main menu button and returned to the screen to put in the search query.
“AI?” she asked.
“Yes Miss, how can I help you?” Alexa’s AI now sounded just like her third-grade teacher, Mrs. Feltcher. It hadn’t sounded like that before. Why the change? It occurred to her that she did have a lot of fond memories of Mrs. Feltcher. Had the AI analyzed her history and psychological profiles? It was a thought that she didn’t like, but her curiosity was getting the better of her, so she put it aside.
“AI, can you give me a complete list of current Runners in order of the longest active duty status to shortest?”
Almost instantaneously the list appeared on her data tablet screen, and just as she had suspected, 17 was at the very top. The next Runner down had only had an active duty status for 674 years. She gasped and then caught her breath before it ventured too far from her lips.
“AI, are these active duty stats correct?”
“Yes Miss, they are current as of this morning.”
“So that would mean that Runner 17 has almost double the years of active duty of any other Runner?”
“What does that mean?”
“I’m sorry Miss, but I am not fully sure I understand your query.”
“I guess… I mean… why is he still alive?”
“To quote Major John Daniels,” the AI’s voice switched to what was the imitation of a gruff old man’s voice that she assumed belonged to Major Daniels, “That bastard 17 is the toughest, luckiest son of a bitch on this whole worthless rock of a planet.”
The AI system was not without a sense of humor, and she almost burst out laughing. Before she could, however, one question burned. She could feel sweat beading on her brow, it had to be asked, or it might burst forth from her chest. There was that heat again. It was taking her.
“AI…” she paused for a moment, terrified of the answer. She didn’t know or wouldn’t learn for a while why she was so terrified of that question, but it caught in her throat, struggling its way upwards toward her lips.
“What was his initial crime? I mean, why was he sentenced to Running?”
“I am sorry Miss, but that information is restricted.”
“Restricted? To know someone’s crime? That seems odd. Aren’t those records supposed to be public knowledge?”
Alexa had studied both the current and ancient legal systems in scholar school and was certain that this information was supposed to be public record. It was one of the concessions that the first Senate had made when they had originally commissioned the Runnercore because so many people had been worried about transparency once they had abolished lawyers. In fact, after the sentencing of the first Runners, there were riots in the streets. It had not been lost on the people in the lower levels of the city that they would be the primary recruitment grounds for the Runnercore. They had known that those in the upper tiers of the city would rarely, if ever, become Runners.
One city, Sydney, had fallen to the mobs. No one had ever heard from Sydney again it had apparently vanished off the face of the earth.
But here was a man who lived those times. Only two years after migration began, this man had become a Runner. Not only had he been alive during the transition to migration, but it was also likely that he one of the first Runners if not the first Runner. Alexa felt a tinge of disappointment in herself. Here had been a great opportunity to learn about the ancient history of the city, of what life had been like in those early days from an actual living, breathing person. The only other person in the city who had been alive during the transition, from what she had read, was Major John Daniels, the head of security, and it was unlikely she would ever have a chance to ask him questions about ancient history.
“You are correct, Miss, all criminal records are supposed to be available to the public, but Runner 17 is a special case. His records had been marked off limits by an Architect.”
“An Architect? You mean one of the creators of the migration system?”
“I am sorry Miss, but that is also classified information.”
Something about all this was strange. Maybe her unknown task had something to do with Runner 17? She bit her lip.
“AI, can I have access to all the files on 17, including before migration?”
“I’m sorry Miss, but most of those files are restricted.”
She frowned, none of this made sense, why would anyone hide the files of one of the oldest Runners? There just really was no reason to restrict those files. Something in her flickered, that familiar feeling of knowing, but she dismissed it for now. This was neither the time nor the place; she would explore that feeling when she got home. She kept her breathing slow and steady to keep her from going under. Her head had begun to tingle, but it was subsiding.
“Just give me what you can, then.”
“I am transferring the files to your tablet now Miss. Is there anything else you need at this moment?”
“No thank you, AI, that will be all.”
At that same moment, on the other side of the city, an alert popped up on a data tablet indicating that someone was attempting to gain access to 17’s files. The eyes watching traced the source of the data inquiry and for a brief moment activated the camera on the tablet accessing the files. The tiny camera on the front of the data tablet snapped a picture and immediately an image of Alexa Turon’s face was captured and transmitted. Facial recognition software identified the face as Alexa Turon, and instantaneously every known file and record on Alexa Turon was accessed and reviewed.
The threat was considered.
For now, at least, there was no threat.
But he would watch this one closely, lest she put many lives at risk.
Alexa sat down at her desk, utterly unaware of the surveillance. She scrolled through some paperwork, the part of the job she hated most. She marked a few boxes on her tablet and signed her name below, indicating that the inspection of 17 was complete. She submitted the data through the city’s server and after less than a second, the central AI confirmed receiving the packet.
There wasn’t much to inspection. Between the AI, the engineers, the Recycled Runners, and the alcoves, most Runners were ready to go with only the most basic inspection. Her main job was to do all the paperwork, double check vitals and put up a red flag if something psychological was wrong, whatever that meant. Most Runners were at least to some degree unstable. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be Runners. All she was, was a cog in the wheel of the Runnercore, akin to a mechanical arm in the never-ending assembly line that kept the city functioning. Her parents were right about that, and she knew it. The job was a dead end.
She was told from the get-go that most of the time she wouldn’t even see Runners, and it would be an extremely rare occasion to see more than one at a time. In fact, the security advisor who had briefed her on her duties had told that she might only see a Runner once or twice a month. She had asked, what then were her duties in those slow times? She was told that she was to stay vigilant and to do her part. But in the month she had been there, she had encountered not only a dozen or so Runners but now even one of the oldest Runners.
Despite her long battle with boredom and the overwhelming pressure from her family, Alexa knew she was in the right place. The pieces of the puzzle were beginning to take shape, though the picture still wasn’t clear.
“Alert, Runner 494 deployment.”
Alexa grabbed her electronic tablet and searched for 494’s profile. She walked out of her office and toward the EnViro suit platform. 494 was emerging from the tunnels. He was, unlike 17, clothed from the waist down. Several tattoos of red lines of concentric circles painted around his nipples and cascaded outwards across his chest.
Alexa reviewed the profile as she walked. 494 had a warning label attached to his profile. “Convicted Serial Rapist” it stated. She shivered. There wasn’t any real danger to her since the dozen or so armed security guards would incapacitate 494 if he so much as breathed the wrong way, but she still disliked dealing with individuals like this. It was the thing she had dreaded most about the Runnercore.
Alexa approached with her clipboard, “Vitals are all looking good, 494, how are you feeling?” She tried to hide the quiver in her voice. She didn’t want this one to know that she was afraid, but it was too late.
494 turned and stared at Alexa, his face expressionless but his eyes hungry. He glanced up and down her body, “Fine.” It was a long, drawn-out word, and his lips spattered saliva just a little bit. He licked them to keep the moisture from becoming drool.
She felt his eyes consume her, and every part of her instinct told her to get away from this man. She felt that at any moment he would lunge for her. Her fingers drifted toward the emergency assistance button on her tablet, a button that would call every guard in the dock and potentially activate 494’s shock chip in the base of his neck if the AI felt he was too aggressive or out of line.
Her heart was racing. He kept staring at her. Now he was taking in every detail of her face, and she didn’t like it. She could tell by the way his eyebrows worked in concert with the slight changes in his eyes that he was considering something. Alexa hoped to the gods that he wasn’t considering what he should do to her. She decided to stay out of this one’s mind, it wouldn’t help any to skim him.
Even still, she felt exposed and even a little violated. She moved her feet a little closer together, narrowing the space between her legs. Her thumb moved to a hair’s breadth above the emergency button. One sudden movement and she would press it.
“Um… Your EnViro suit… It’s in station 12,” she said, forcing the words out.
She thought he was about to say something, but instead, 494 turned without further interaction and began walking toward the platform where his suit waited. She let out all of her breath, so hard in fact, that she worried he would turn and look back. But he didn’t.
Then she lost control of herself, and Alexa felt 494’s mind overwhelm her with images of violence, anger, and lust. She felt nauseous, dizzy, and had to stop herself from fainting. 494 was truly a terrible human being. She was glad to see him leaving.
Some of the Runners she had encountered so far had definitely deserved to be there but 494… he was exceptional. Sure, most of the Runners were slimy and could even be malicious at times, but 494’s mind was the very definition of insane. She hoped that the Barrens consumed him, that he disappeared in the winds forever.
Her mind returned to 17 as she watched 494 walked toward the lift that led out into the Barrens. What had 17 done to deserve his tenure? Were all Runners true criminals, or were some in the wrong place at the wrong time? She would have to do some more reading up on it. It’s not like she had much else to do while waiting for Runner deployments, and if her boss asked her, she could simply say she was learning about each Runner for her own protection. He would probably approve of that; it would probably fit into his narrow definition of “being vigilant.”
Chapter 2 of Upon Stilted Cities centers back on Mimi’s point of view. Wondering what Mimi’s been up to since the events at the end of her tale? Well here is a chance to find some of that.
You can also read the Prologue and Chapter 1 Here (No Spoilers there to worry about)
Upon Stilted Cities Part 1: The Winds of Change Is out 7/17/2018
“I think you should let her go.”
It was the third one this week, and Mimi was exhausted. She couldn’t remember a time she had been so tired, at least not since Shannon’s conversion into a reserve Runner. Four decades had passed since the terrible day, yet the intensity of those moments had never lost their edge.
She transmitted directly into the pimp’s mind, trying to frame it in a way that he would think. It had taken so much practice to learn to anticipate others’ thoughts. Doing so had turned out to be one of the keys to persuading people to act in a way you wanted them to.
“This girl isn’t worth the trouble, look at her man, why would you waste time on someone who isn’t gonna last selling herself?”
The pimp appeared to consider. He had a young girl by the arm and was tugging her. It reminded Mimi of when the recycled Runners had tugged on her and Shannon. It was a moment that she had dreamt of so many times, had woken to in her empty bed, had sent her running down to the underground to where Shannon lay in stasis. There was always relief seeing Shannon in her alcove, even if she couldn’t speak with her but a few days a month.
Mimi skimmed. The girl, a small, frail thing with dark brown eyes and auburn hair, had come to him for a steady supply of drugs. Eventually unable to pay, as they so often were, the woman had turned to sex work. The pig reminded Mimi of that low-life Andrew, the one that had caused all the trouble and was the reason that Shannon had become a Runner in the first place. Old anger sparked. He was the reason that two of her sisters had fallen to the army of the Recycled.
A pallid, light-haired greasy thing with bone-thin limbs and a track marks up his arms like freckles, the pimp’s grip loosened on the girl’s arm for a moment as he stared at Mimi.
“I think you should mind your own damn business,” he said. Though, there was less conviction in his voice now.
Mimi frowned. She skimmed the pimp’s mind again and found that he was attracted to the girl, that he wanted possession of her. That would make the convincing harder. Though she had occasionally practiced with the red veil, the ability to mind control another human being, she wasn’t confident in her ability, and she didn’t much care for it. Besides, the Order frowned on its use, except in times of emergency. There were other routes.
She closed her eyes and pressed into the pimp’s mind once more. She made herself look crazed and unpredictable. Considering her tattered garments, it wasn’t a stretch. Sure, her sisters had offered her new clothes, but she always ripped them, always made them look worn and dirty. She was on the streets for a reason, and clean clothes made you stand out.
She spoke again, saying, “I think you should let her go or you might find yourself in a world of trouble.” As she said the words,, she made herself appear bigger, made him imagine that her shadow was longer, that he would regret tangling with her. She suggested that she would bite and scratch and scar him like a cornered cat. She pushed the images into his mind to mingle with his thoughts.
She opened her eyes again. The pimp was barely holding on to the young girl’s arms now, a thin thread of control and desire so fragile that a light wind would break it. Mimi stepped forward and she saw the pimp flinch. She projected the image of jagged teeth, dripping with blood, drool running down the corner of her mouth. The pimp stepped backward, letting go of the girl’s arm and tripping over a piece of trash behind him. He crawled, crab-like, backward away from Mimi, never taking his eyes off her.
“You can… you can have her, man. Just leave me the hell alone.” The pimp crawled to his feet, still a clumsy crustacean, stood, turned, and bolted. He risked one last glance backward before he rounded the corner out of the alley.
Mimi turned her attention to the girl. She was huddled in a corner, and Mimi realized she had cast her net a little too wide. It was the one thing she still struggled to control after so many years of training. She routinely targeted additional people with her suggestions. Noatla had suggested that this was because Mimi was so powerful, but Mimi just found it frustrating. The girl was weeping and shaking in terror as Mimi approached her.
Again, Mimi closed her eyes. This time she projected the sense that Mimi was an angel, a being that while sometimes terrible, was there only to assist her. Noatla had told her that idea of an angel was so deep in the psyche of the city, that it was a powerful tool to soothe people. Symbols were powerful persuaders; the more ancient the symbol, the more powerful. Noatla had suggested that all sisters of the Order of the Eye read up on ancient mythology and religions, as it would help with their abilities.
The girl noticeably relaxed and Mimi moved forward, reaching out a hand to help her up.
“It’s okay. I’m here to help.” Mimi kept her voice soft and calm.
The girl appeared to consider, and Mimi soothed with more encouragement. The girl blinked and then, hesitantly, she reached for Mimi’s hand.
“What’s your name?”
A stutter, words just above a whisper. “T-t-Tanya.”
Mimi smiled at the girl, but inside she was frowning. They had looked for Shannon’s lost ex-girlfriend Tanya for decades now, but she had appeared to have vanished. Even with Serah’s help, there had been no progress. It was as if she had never become a Runner in the first place. The strange thing was, others were vanishing from the streets too. All the sisters reported missing persons in the Mids and the Lowers, and they had even heard rumors of Security Officers missing. On her last visit, Shannon had insisted that it was somehow related to Tanya, but considering the distance in time, it didn’t seem very likely to Mimi.
“Well, Tanya, where do you live?” Mimi knew the answer already, but asking was part of the game.
Tanya shook her head. “N-n-nowhere. My parents… k-k-kicked me out of the house.” The girl’s frown was a kilometer long.
Mimi smiled. “Well Tanya, it just so happens that I’m also from Nowhere, so you’re in luck. There’s a place for people just like you.”
Mimi guided her through the alleys and down into the underground. The girl required constant soothing. She was cagey. It was probably the drugs. As they ventured through the old subway tunnels, she kept glancing back down the corridor. Anytime a light flickered, or one of the old steam lines sighed with age, the girl flinched.
Skimming her mind, the girl could think of nothing but her next fix and some of the fresh trauma she was gifted at the hands of the pimp. Mimi would have to pay the sleaze bag another visit, as she discovered, through skimming, there were several more girls under the creep’s thumb. But, first things first, they had to get this girl in a safe spot and get her clean. The addicts were sometimes trouble, but most of the time with a little persuasion they did okay.
“Where are you taking me?” The girl’s voice was a little stronger now.
Mimi smiled and soothed images of safety and warmth, of hot meals and bathing. “A safe place for women who have been through what you have.”
The girl was willful, though, and Mimi wondered, not for the first time, if she had been a giant pain in the ass in her early days of the Order of the Eye. How many times had Noatla had to soothe her? It took so much effort and energy to soothe someone constantly. She was starting to feel skimmer’s fatigue, the mental fog that came on from constantly using her ability.
The last week had been a marathon session. Two dealers and a pimp, picking on innocent runaways. Why were there so many more of them lately? The whole city seemed on edge. Even Fatima had complained of fatigue, and she had never heard Fatima complain about anything. Something was happening in the city, she could feel the tension rising, but no one seemed to have any idea what was going on.
They rounded a corner. Metal pipes framed the passage and twisted in the direction of the door. They ran down either side of the opening, and as Mimi pulled the young girl toward the gray metal door, she could feel the girl hesitating. The girl’s mind spiked with fear, of locking doors and imprisonment.
Mimi turned and asked, “What’s wrong?”
“You meant the actual Nowhere?”
“Yes, what did you think I meant?”
The young girl shook her head. “It’s just I’ve heard things about this place. I mean, no one in Orphan’s Alley believes it’s real. They say it’s guarded by banshees or ghosts or something.”
Mimi laughed. “Well, it’s certainly well-guarded.”
“Jeanine, this girl I met in Orphan’s Alley, said that once someone goes in, they never come out again. That they hurt people in there.”
Mimi frowned. “Do you think I want to hurt you?”
Tanya appeared to think about it for a moment. “Well… if you did, why would you protect me from that pimp?”
Mimi nodded. “I was once like you. Without a home, without friends, wandering the streets. Me and a few others started this place to help protect the women who don’t have a home. We got tired of being afraid to go to sleep somewhere or of running into the SOs. It’s true that not a lot of people leave this place once they enter, but you will see why in just a moment. And I promise, you can leave anytime you want. Even now, if you wish.”
The girl appeared unsure, but she didn’t give any sign that she would run. She just stared at Mimi, almost as if she was trying to skim her, but not quite. The girl definitely didn’t have the gift.
Mimi moved quickly toward the door and knocked three times. The sound of knuckles on metal traveled down the corridor. It mingled with the sound of venting steam and dripping water.
After a moment a voice came. “Who is it?”
Mimi didn’t answer with her voice, she answered with her mind. It was the easiest way to gain access. The other way involved passwords, and Mimi could never remember the damn things.
Transmitting directly, Mimi said, “It’s me, Rosita, open up. I’ve got another one.”
The sound of a metal lock clicked and screeched an ancient protest. Mimi glanced at the young girl, and found terror just behind her eyes. The girl was wondering how she had gained access without a word. But, Mimi thought, at least she wouldn’t have to soothe her alone now. Rosita was an excellent soother; it was why she was assigned to work in the shelter. Mimi quickly warned Rosita of the danger of the young girl bolting, and Rosita pressed forward with a calming presence as she walked through the door and took the girl’s hand.
Rosita said, “Welcome to Nowhere.”
It helped that Rosita looked the part of a kind and nurturing mother. She had a small round face and button nose with dark hair in twin braids and soft brown eyes. Her round body and wide hips always made Mimi think of her own mother, and Rosita happily played the part of mother to all the women who came to Nowhere.
As they passed through the door, they came to a large, open space. The space, once primarily concrete and pipes, now had small square containers with plants and flowers growing, with UV lights dangling just above. Mimi had made sure to plant plenty of flowers in her section. It made it a lot easier to bring some to Shannon during their time together, and it made Shannon happy she wasn’t smuggling them all the time.
Several small shacks made from spare parts either smuggled or donated dotted the landscape. None of the shacks were much to look at, but they were a safe space. Each of the shacks had two sets of bunk beds and a little personal space for each of the four occupants.
In the center was a community kitchen and a bathing area. It had taken Mimi two years to find all the spare parts for that kitchen, and even Noatla had helped to smuggle a few parts so they could have an old-fashioned oven where they could cook fish from the underground and garden vegetables. They did have a food dispenser too, but if they used too many rations at once, it might bring notice to their little hideaway.
“And your name is?” asked Rosita.
“Tanya.” The girl’s stutter had disappeared. Her voice was strong and confident. Mimi reminded herself to sit down with Rosita again and try and learn some of her techniques.
“Come, Tanya, let me show you around your new home, that is, if you’d like to stay here.”
“And what if I don’t want to stay?” There was a sudden and surprising sharpness in the girl’s tone. But Mimi recognized it, it was the tone of someone who had suffered in the place they had once called home. It was a hesitation to trust. Mimi had probably used that same tone when she was asked to join the Order of the Eye.
“You may leave at any time.”
The girl looked around for a moment. “Aren’t you afraid I might tell someone where you are if I leave?”
“No.” Rosita smiled, but a current of power flowed from that single-syllable word.
The truth of it was, the Order protected this place now. If the girl left, they would transmit a number of confusing directions into her mind as they escorted her back to the surface. They would also take a very long route out. Both things served to confuse, and of course, even if she did make it back, or someone showed up who wasn’t welcome, there were always at least two sisters present onsite. Not to mention Serah and Shannon were only a kilometer away, and both of them were capable in their EnViro suits.
“Come, Tanya; I’ll give you the tour. Mimi has other things to attend to.” Rosita took Tanya by the hand, and they walked toward the shacks.
Mimi was puzzled, so far as she knew, she had nowhere else to be. Then she felt her. Mimi turned and saw Noatla entering the door, ducking to keep from hitting her head. She shut it behind her.
Mimi met her Matron with a warm smile. Noatla returned it with a hug. She always felt tiny in Noatla’s arms, like mother and child.
“How are you, Mimi?” Noatla indicated Rosita escorting the young woman. “I see you found another one?”
“Yes, third this week.”
Noatla frowned. “You are resting your mind enough?”
“Probably not, but I will take a day.”
Noatla nodded. “Good. Do so. Three times, you say? That worries me. Things have been very tense in the Senate. Everyone, even Senator Swanson, who is normally a symbol of patience and compassion, is on edge. It’s as if someone is agitating the entire city.”
Noatla frowned. “No, I don’t think it could be. Not even she could influence an entire city like this. Besides, we never did find any evidence of her presence.”
Mimi said, “Yes, but nor did we ever find the missing Recycled Runners. And what about the disappearances lately?”
“There is no evidence that all these things are connected… still… I have put all our sisters on alert. We are still scouting for new members. We still need one more to be at full strength again.”
“I don’t ever like to think of them as replacements, especially considering the way that Shandie gave her life in service to the order–”
“You mean, to protect me.” There was still guilt there. Leahara and Shandie had died at the hands of the Recycled. It was a sacrifice that Mimi would never forget.
Noatla smiled. “You would have done the same for them if your position was reversed.”
Mimi knew that to be true now. She would give her life for any of her sisters, but back then, when it had happened, she wasn’t so sure. In a strange way, their deaths and that guilt had solidified her place in the order, had made her a part of the family.
“In any case, Vala is investigating one candidate, though she doesn’t look promising.”
Noatla didn’t reply at first. She opened her mouth to say something and then closed it.
Mimi knew exactly who, they had debated her for months. “Reevas? You’ve got to be joking right? I thought we weren’t sure if she had the talent, anyway?”
Noatla sighed. “There’s something there with her, I feel it. I just don’t know what it is. And I did say it didn’t look promising. But that’s part of why I am here. There is another candidate.”
“Yes, a young girl, naive and inexperienced, but has the talent and is quite powerful.”
“Where did you find her?”
“She was a recent student of mine in the scholar school. I have been keeping an eye on her.”
“So why do you need me to investigate her, then?”
“Well, there are two reasons. One, her attitude reminds me of yours.”
“Meaning she’s stubborn as hell?”
Noatla had a smirk on her face but didn’t comment. “And two, she has, for some reason, and despite being offered a number of excellent job options, chosen to work in the docks.”
“As in the Runner Docks? Why in the world would any woman choose to work there?”
Noatla smiled again; her thin lips cracked slightly to reveal her perfect teeth. “Well, why would any woman choose to be homeless?”
It was Mimi’s turn to smile. She shrugged. “Fair point.”
“I want you to try and find out why she has chosen the docks and of course, your opinion as to whether or not she would make a good sister.”
Mimi shrugged. “Okay, when?”
“She’s on the clock, so I thought maybe you could take a look now.”
“Alright, but… why the rush?”
Noatla bit her lip. “Because I think something is happening. I am not willing to say that it is Miranda, but there are too many strange things going on to ignore. We need to have the order at full strength just in case, and my intuition suspects that this girl may be exactly what we need.”
“Alright, I’ll take a look.”
Mimi started walking to the door, but Noatla grabbed her hand and stopped her. “Remember Mimi, if you see anything strange in the docks again…”
But Noatla didn’t need to say anything else. Neither of them needed to skim to know what the other was thinking.
The girl definitely had the talent. Skimming her, Mimi noticed that she thought of it constantly. Like Mimi had so long ago, the girl assumed she was alone in her abilities. She was a thin, blond thing, and Mimi immediately spotted her in the docks. She watched her for hours, masking herself from sight the way that her sisters had taught her. The young girl had barely moved from her little concrete island office.
Then, something happened. Mimi watched as a Runner emerged from one of the many tubes that led from cold storage to the main docks. The young blond walked out of her concrete office, tablet in hand, and did her inspection.
Mimi crouched and listened to their interaction for a moment.
The girl said, “Runner… 17? Wow, that’s the lowest number I’ve seen so far.”
The Runner replied, “Ain’t no lower number now.”
Mimi stood up straight and looked carefully. Did the girl just say Runner 17? Mimi and practically everyone else in the city had heard of 17. According to the rumors, he had, by himself, disabled Mex’s EnViro shield when it had once attacked Manhasten. He was said to have been in more battles than any other Runner, that he was invincible in combat, or at least unkillable. Serah had said he was very attractive and spoke of one time when they had spent an afternoon in the Barrens together. But, as she looked at the man with dark skin and the long black braid, she didn’t think he was anything to write home about. Of course, the young blond was certainly taken with him. She could barely collect her thoughts. It almost made Mimi laugh.
A cold chill took Mimi, summoning gooseflesh. She had the sudden sensation that something was behind her, watching her. For a moment she felt frozen, unable to move. Then she pushed against that feeling and knew, with absolute certainty, that something or someone was behind her. She pivoted, raising her mental and physical defenses, ready to use all of her skills to strike.
And there it was. Only a dozen yards away. One of the creatures who had taken her sisters’ lives. The blue lines running up its pale face, those blank, white on white eyes pointed in Mimi’s direction. How had it snuck up on her in that EnViro suit? It cocked its head for a moment and then turned and walked toward the main entrance. Then, before it exited, it stopped and turned back toward Mimi. It waited. Mimi started to walk forward toward it. Still, it waited. Was it waiting for her?
Some Recycled Runners were still employed in the docks, but Noatla had proposed and passed a bill that put tighter restrictions on them. They had to be announced by the AI and monitored now wherever they went, and it required special permission for them to leave the docks or the subterranean areas.
But after the incident forty years ago, there were still dozens of them missing. None of the Order had ever found any trace and the one place they could have gone underground was completely inaccessible to everyone, even Noatla.
Was this one of those missing ones? It was heading up to the main level out of the docks; it wasn’t supposed to be able to do that. She had heard no announcement by the AI, and it seemed to be watching her. No, not watching, beckoning her to follow. It said nothing, but there was a definite calling to her.
Mimi felt anger bloom inside of her. Was this one of the ones that had murdered Leahara and Shandie, and had nearly killed Serah?
She began walking toward it quickly, and as she did, it turned and began walking up the steps of the docks and out toward the streets through what was once Grand Central Station. Mimi felt her heart beating faster, felt her desire to catch up to it and destroy it grow. She tried to reach out to it, to shatter its blank mind as they had done to so many of the creatures on that terrible day, but nothing happened. It simply kept walking.
A part of her was telling her to stop, to reach out to her other sisters, not to approach the thing alone. A part of her was screaming at her that it was a trap. But she felt the deep hunger to catch up to it, to find the others like it and end them all. It was a kind of madness in her. Her footfalls grew closer together.
Then a voice boomed over the intercom. “Alexa? Alexa, please return to your office immediately. You know the policy about speaking with Runners.”
It froze Mimi in her tracks. She blinked and looked around. When she looked back toward the exit, the Recycled Runner was gone.
What had she been doing? She should know better than to chase after one of those things. She and all of her sisters had pledged never to try to take them on again without at least six other sisters present.
Something horrible occurred to her then. For the last forty years, she had learned to persuade people into doing things they wouldn’t normally do. The key had always been to find something that the person wanted, some desire, no matter how deep, and suggest that it would come true if they went along with whatever she wanted. Had someone just done that to her? Had they used her desire for vengeance against the creatures to goad her, to push her into following it? And if so, to what purpose?
As I am editing the last few chapters of Upon Stilted Cities, I am also recording the audiobook version of Mimi of the Nowhere. Personally, I listen to a ton of Audiobooks so I know very well how nice it is to have them on that long commute driving. Here is the first chapter.
Also for the next two weeks, the Ebook version of Mimi of the Nowhere is only 99 cents! Check it out if you haven’t already.
It’s been an amazing week! This week Mimi of the Nowhere launched.
You can still get a free ebook copy at this link
But if you are Itching for a Paperback They are now available on Amazon
An Audiobook version is coming soon!
Here is a video of the moment of unboxing!
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.
The cover was created by the very talented Kayla Rose. You can find more of her work at her Instagram page here
Being 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 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 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.
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.”
“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.”
She thought for a moment, then remembered. “Benadixtrin, it was the only thing that would stop it.”
“It’s a medicine for treating people with severe schizophrenia.”
“It’s like when someone hears voices and sometimes they even have trouble understanding if those voices are real or not.”
“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.”
“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 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?”
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.”
“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?”
“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?”
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?”
“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.