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.

Preorder Upon Stilted Cities: The Winds of Change Now!

Preorder for the digital edition of Upon Stilted Cities: The Winds of Change has begun on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Itunes. Find at your favorite store at the link. books2read.com/u/4EyRvA

 

Don’t forget to check out Book 1 in the series, Mimi of the Nowhere and Sample Chapters from Upon Stilted Cities here

USC Front Cover GraphicSynopsis: The Children of Gaia won’t stop until every last walking city is destroyed.

The city of Langeles is rubble, resources are dwindling, and storm systems are larger than ever before. The people of Manhasten are in great danger, and they don’t even know it yet.

Life in the city hasn’t changed much in the forty years since Mimi joined her telepathic sisters of The Order of the Eye, but the winds of change are blowing, and their enemy, the Children of Gaia wait in the shadows to turn the city to ash. At the center of it all is one man, a man as ancient as the city of Manhasten itself, a man designated Runner 17. A man who is more then he knows, and maybe the only one who can save the city and the rest of humanity.

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 5 and 6

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

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

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

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

Chapter 5

Disruption 

 

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

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

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

“Tell me about Daniel.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Mimi?”

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

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

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

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

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

It moved towards her. Slow steps.

Its hand raised.

Mimi still could not move.

It reached for her throat.

She shivered.

Fingertips brushed skin. A grip taking form.

Then, a sharp pain punctuated her cheek.

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

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

Mimi said, “I don’t know.”

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

“Did I just what?”

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

“What? What are you talking about?”

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

“Stop what?”

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

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

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

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

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

Shannon relaxed visibly. “What just happened?”

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

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

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

Mimi thought hard for a moment.

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

“What did you do then?”

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

“Like what?”

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

“What’s that?”

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

“What’s schizophrenia?”

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

“Like you?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How much?”

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

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

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

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

“I think so.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Story Continues with Chapter 6

 

Chapter 6

Paradise Lost

  

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

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

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

“There you are.”

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

“What do you want Andrew?”

“You.”

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

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

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

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

Andrew took two steps toward her.

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

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

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

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

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

“It’s not going to happen, Andrew.”

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

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

Shannon swallowed hard. Ice water filled her veins.

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

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

“What’s that?”

“You keep your hands off me.”

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

Shannon started walking, and he walked right alongside her.

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

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

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

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

“I was just thinking about something.”

“What?” His eyes narrowed.

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

“Come on, out with it.”

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

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

“What the hell are you doing, Lady?”

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

He was security.

She swallowed hard.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No, what the hell does that mean.”

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

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

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

“Reeves?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“A little something to enhance my strength.”

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

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

“I got a few friends in the docks.”

“In the Runnercore?”

He nodded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shannon’s face fell.
***

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

***

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mimi listened, and her agitation began to grow again.

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

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

“At this rate, a half dozen more.”

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

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

“How can you be sure of that?”

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

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

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

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

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

“But Shannon…I have to…”

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

“No. I can’t…”

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

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

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

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

“Wait a moment, Mimi, just listen.”

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

“Why should I?”

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

“Yes.”

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

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

“No, should I?”

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

Mimi said, “Votes?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Serah said, “What’s in District 13?”

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

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

“Are you like me? Can you skim?”

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

Mimi asked, “What’s at the library?”

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

“Why? What’s in it for you?”

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

Mimi nodded and followed.

Mimi of the Nowhere Ch. 4 An Ancient Past

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

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

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Container

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

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

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Chapter 4

An Ancient Past

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

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

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

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

Shannon frowned. “She sold herself?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Did she…end up a Runner?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mimi blinked. “It does?”

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

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

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

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

“Why are you crying, Mimi?”

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

*          *            *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Skim?”

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

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

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

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

“Huh? What do you mean?”

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

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

“No, I’m not going to. It’s fine.”

“Alright. So, the drugs?”

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

“So the Likatol helps?”

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

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

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

“How often do you have to take it?”

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

“What does that mean?”

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

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

“Going somewhere?” asked Mimi.

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

“No one.”

“No one? Not even Bobby or Angela?”

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

“I get it…don’t tell anyone, right?”

Mimi nodded. “Please.”

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

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

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

Mimi of the Nowhere: Chapter 2 Home Sweet Home

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

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

A brief synopsis of the book. Mimi Chapter 2

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

Mimi of the Nowhere launches on 5/17/18

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

Chapter 2

Home Sweet Home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why does it smell so terrible?”

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

“It leaks sometimes.”

“What, like, on you?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What do you need the maps for?”

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

“So why do you still have them up?”

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

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

“Flowers? You’re joking, right?”

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

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

Shannon shook her head.

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

“For flowers?”

“For flowers.”

“So, you’ve never picked any?”

“No, have you?”

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

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

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

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

Shannon frowned.

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

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

“You ever gut a fish before?”

“Gut?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Answer me, please, or I’m leaving.”

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

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

“Alright. What do you want to know?”

“Everything.”

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

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

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

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

“Excuse me?”

“What? You told me to be honest.”

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

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

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

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

“Let’s see, in April I’ll be 782.”

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

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

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

“What, just lying around?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Um… Tanya,” said Shannon.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Shannon… I…”

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

It was all that Shannon could utter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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