Serah of the Runners Chapter 2: A Shadow on Luna

The second chapter of my fourth novel, Serah of the Runners, is now live! You can now read A Shadow on Luna. This second chapter delves into some new characters that are going to significatly influence the fate of our heroes (and villains). But you spoilers still!!! If you have not read The Battle for Langeles you may want to do so first.

You can find my first three entries to the series here

Serah of the Runners is due out October 17th 2019! Preorder coming soon!

Chapter 2

 

A Shadow on Luna

 

“So that’s it?”

Kirka stood looking at her console. Her brown hair held streaks of gray and her short slender form shaped by the low gravity of Luna and a lifetime of food rations hovered just above her chair. Her sharp nose and hollow cheeks deepened the power of the gaze for her gray eyes.

“That’s it,” said Loni.

Loni was her opposite, short with darker skin and light hazel eyes. Everything about Loni, was round. Kirka had always wondered how, despite the lack of gravity of Luna, Loni had stayed so healthy and thick. Most Lunites were thin and wispy, but Loni, considered one of the most beautiful women of Luna, had her pick of all the men with her curvy feminine form.

The end was coming now, the image on the screen showed streaks of light, flaming arrows ready to end their world in fire. Most of the Lunites had no idea of their fate. But now, Kirka and Loni did. There were rumors, of course, hints that ROAM’s hostility had finally reached a critical point. Doomsday prophets preached from every corner that Kirka would let them. Of course, with such a small population, people didn’t pay them much mind, especially since the commons was only a twelve hundred meters long in the underground of Luna.

Kirka said, “Dammit, how could do they do this to us? After all we’ve done for them. They wouldn’t exist without all of our efforts. Centuries of work and neither of us have anything to show for it.

Loni said, “They’re jealous; they’ve always been jealous Commander.”

“I can’t believe I didn’t see this coming. I should have been suspicious when our delegation never arrived at their destination.”

“You don’t think it was an accident, do you?”

“I had my doubts, but now I see that all they wanted was our Solidonium.”

Loni said, “I don’t think most of ROAM knew what was happening and, well it’s not like we could skim that Asshole Ithica from here is it? He was probably planning this the whole time. Maybe only a few in his inner circle knew. Most of the Martians seemed open to long-standing trade, and I know at least a dozen people who were ready to migrate over there.”

Kirka shook her head. “We should have known when Ithaca won that election. All that talk of purity and now…”

Loni said, “I can’t believe there’s so much hate for telepaths there.”

To say that there was hatred for telepaths on ROAM might have been an understatement. When they had first learned that nearly a quarter of Luna 1 and Luna 2 were telepaths, and that the entire power structure of Luna surrounded telepathy, ROAM had stopped transmitting to Luna for two months. It seemed in that time that the key issue of the bi-annual elections on ROAM centered around what to do around Luna. Of course, it was Luna who needed ROAM more than ROAM needed Luna, especially now that all of Luna’s ships were filled with Solidsonium and more than halfway to ROAM. It was if the moment they had launched aid to their neighbors, the doors had closed. Those ships were supposed to be coming back filled with parts to upgrade and repair both Luna’s alcoves and food dispensers, something that all Luna desperately needed. But now that the ships were more than halfway, there was no turning back. Even if they reversed course, it would be 37 months for return with the remaining fuel and the pilots didn’t have enough supplies to survive that long.

Kirka said, “AI, How long till impact?”
“Commander, at their current velocity, the rockets will impact Luna 1 in 13 months, 5 days and 12 hours and Luna 2 thirty-four minutes later.”

Loni said, “Should would turn the ships around?”

Kirka thought long and hard, so long, that Loni repeated her question, but in direct mind to mind contact, as if Kirka hadn’t heard.

“I heard you. There’s no help for us. The ships would never make it back in time, and even if they did, they could only accommodate a few hundred, not even a third of our population. Plus, there are the pilots to think about isn’t there.”

Loni frowned, “What do you think they’ll do to Darsee and Collin when they get to ROAM?”

“Neither of them is telepathic, so they might be okay. It’s certainly better than dying of starvation, isn’t it? If the ships had an alcove, then maybe it would be worth turning them around.”

“And what if they decide to execute them or torture them?”

The lines on Kirka’s face deepened. “Even if we did call them back, Where would go?”

“There’s always earth.”

Kirka snorted. “You really want to go there, don’t you? That has to be the fifth time in the last six months you’ve suggested it. Have you seen any of the latest climate reports? Things are getting worse, not better. Besides, it’s not like anyone’s even alive down there.”

“Underground maybe?”

“It’s moot though isn’t it? It will take the ships twice as long to get back here as it will the rockets. We’re done. It’s over and no doubt the stabilizers will fail, and the moon will end any chance the earth might have had for recovery.”

For the centuries since the Lunar war split Luna into two discreet pieces, Kirka and the other survivors of that war had maintained the Lunar orbit above earth. Luna was on a slow decay and the power required to stabilize the orbit in full was far beyond their reach. They best they could do was delay the orbital decay and hope like hell, their best scientist, Loridian, could find a solution in the long term.

Loni said, “We should give them a choice.”

“The pilots?”

Loni nodded.

Kirka ran her hand through her hair and closed her eyes for a moment. Both pilots knew in advance that this was likely a one-way trip. Both had nothing to live for on Luna, and it was why they were both chosen. They were expecting to start a life on Mars. Still, that was a far cry different from going into what was now enemy territory with no way of defending yourself.

“That’s fair. They deserve to make the choice. AI?”

“Yes, Commander Kirka?”

“The next time we are in broadcast alignment for the shuttles, will you notify me so that I can send a message?”

“Yes, Commander.”

Loni jumped and floated to another consule. This one closer to Kirka.“When are you going to tell everyone?”

“Tell them what? That ROAM, the people that we spent so many months convincing everyone to help has betrayed us and sent rockets to destroy us?”

“Yeah, that thing.”

“I don’t know Loni. You know what it’s going to do to everyone? You know how tense things are already? Thousands of people suddenly told they are going to die? We might tear ourselves apart before those missiles reach us.”

“They have a right to know.”

“They do. But how much time in advance?”

Kirka wished she had the answers, but no matter how many years she served as commander, no matter how many times the council reappointed her, there was simply no easy answer here.

“I have to think about it Loni.”

“And the council?”

“This is a security issue. I am in sole command of security. All those five will do is to complicate the issue. Better to hold out for now.”

“They’ll stick you back in storage if you do that.”

Kirka shrugged. “Maybe. Maybe not. I am not interested in turning those rockets into another excuse for political theater. You know how Grayson and Sanders get.”

Loni nodded. “Well, don’t think too hard about it. You know that’s not going to help.”

“I need to get some rest. I’ve been on for 18 hours now. AI?”

“Yes, Commander?”

“Keep all information about the incoming projectiles classified until I deem otherwise, maximum security clearance.”

“Yes, commander.”

 

 

 

 

2.

 

Historians Note to the Text

 

Commander Raldaz Kirka had a long record of military service. Officially a military representative of the mid 21st century European Union, she lead the war on Luna for the Europeans and Americans against the Chinese and Russians. During the day of the great split, in which a fusion core ruptured and split the moon into Luna 1 and Luna 2, Commander Kirka was severely injured. She spent nearly a century inside an alcove. Upon revival, she was immediately commissioned to take control of both Luna 1 and Luna 2 which, were on the verge of total collapse from high crime rates, severe food shortages, and two warring gangs. At first, she was considered a poor leader, one of strict and apathetic persuasion, but, when after only a single year, Lunites found peace and stability, her talents were recognized, and she maintained command for centuries until the conflict with ROAM and the beginning of the Great Migration.

 

For more on Commander Raldaz Kirka, including her published works, biography and genealogical relations to Matron Angela, visit library 34n in section 9143.

 

Matron Mariposa Phillips 832.1.6 I.S.

 

 

3.

Three days. For three days and nights Kirka tossed and turned and paced and braced herself for what she needed to do. She needed to tell Luna general, needed to announce to all her people that the end was coming and that death was a certainty. She tried to discover a way out, a route toward liberation, but it seemed certain that there was no path forward. So far, she had only told Loridian, and had then spent nearly every free moment for two days grilling them on possible strategies for saving Luna. Loridian had no answers.

Now she stood on the deck of her command, one of the only spots that had an open view of the surface of Luna 2 and allowed for a view of the greater starfield, and of the earth. She gazed down at the planet. Loni had been right, even a descent into the wasteland on the surface would have given some hope to the people. Even that would have provided them with an opportunity to rally around something, to cradle it and give birth to a chance. But they were denied even that.

“Commander, my long range scopes are detecting something coming our direction.”

“Yes, I know, you don’t have to remind me AI.”

“Commander, this object is different than the projectiles.”

She walked from the window and over to her center console.

“What? Describe it.”

“The object is massive and is approaching at a steady speed from the direction of earth.”

“From Earth?”

“Yes, Commander.”

“What is it?”

“At this time, that is unknown. However, it has adjusted course on several occasions since I began tracking it, which would indicate that it is a humanmade object.”

“How long have you been tracking it?”

“Twenty-three hours.”

“And why didn’t you say something about it before?”

“The parameters you set for detection of an object require that I verify whether it is a naturally occurring or a manmade if time permits.”

“Fine, How big is it?”

“Exact dimensions are difficult to calculate from this distance, but it appears to be more than fifty kilometers in width and fifteen kilometers in height. I cannot tell the other dimensions from this angle.”

“Too large for a ship then. AI whats the ETA of the object?” 

“Commander, at its current velocity, the object will reach Luna 2 in eighteen days, five hours and fifteen minutes.”

“I want you to alert me the moment you know more; anything at all do you understand?”

Kirka’s heart was pounding. She didn’t know why, but something about this object gave her a strange sense of hope. It wasn’t a natural object, so it could it be one of the long lost colonies from the asteroid belt? But that didn’t make any sense since it was coming from earth did it?

“Acknowledged commander.”

Kirka spun around in her chair and moved to her screen for a closer look. The object appeared to be some kind of oblong disc but in the scopes it was tiny.

“AI will you contact Loridian?”

“Captain, Luna 1 will not be in broadcast alignment for 2 more hours.”

“Fine, alert me when it’s time.”

Luna 1 no longer had any way of detecting long-range threats, not after the meteor shower had damaged their scopes a few decades back, so it was up to Kirka to be the eyes and ears of Luna general.

Kirka paced back and forth. Loni was late. She was always late for shift change, and Kirka was growing tired of that. Why had she promoted her in the first place? It’s not like she didn’t have others that she could have picked.

The object intrigued her. If it was making course corrections and coming from the planet, what did that mean?

“AI, what is the likelihood that this is a transport vehicle?”

“Probability is high.”

“Why’s that?”

“During the end of the 21st century, there was the development of technology that would be capable of moving thousands of humans into space at one time. There was also the development of the technology to move entire cities.”

“We know that failed. We know cities never walked and that it was just a pipe dream before the Lunar war made things on the surface worse.”

“Commander, there is no reason to assume it failed. Just because we lost contact with the surface does not necessitate failure.”

What if it was a ship or a transport? Would they be able to accommodate all the Lunites? Could it be Earthlings? They had watched the earth for centuries now and had been certain that if all the population wasn’t dead, that they were at best scattered or more likey underground. But their scopes weren’t that powerful, everything that allowed for long distance viewing and been destroyed in the Lunar War. They had only discovered that ROAM was still around out of sheer dumb luck when ROAM had sent a transmission exactly as their communication array was aligned with the planet a few decades earlier.

For now, though, they would watch and wait and see what the object was. Maybe just maybe, when she announced that ROAM had sent missiles to destroy them, she would have good news as well. After all, it wasn’t as if their situation could get worse than impending doom right?

Serah of the Runners Chapter 1: A Long Way Down

I am very happy to finally post the first chapter of my fourth novel, Serah of the Runners. The book picks up just where Upon Stilted Cities: The Battle for Langeles left off… which means there are huge huge spoilers for this chapter! If you have not read The Battle for Langeles you may want to do so first. You can find my first three entries to the series here

Serah of the Runners is due out October 17th 2019! Preorder coming soon!

Chapter 1

A Long Way Down

 

Frank walked back down the corridor toward his station. It was time to get back to work. With Saud destroyed, the last thing Manhatsten needed right now was a clogged recycling system. Work was good at times like this. There were still rumors of a few of those strange battles on the streets, but any sanitation worker knew the networks of tunnels just below the surface of the city, and so they avoided the conflict. Even when the city was in chaos, sanitation still had to do its job.

Jenny said, “So what do you think will happen now, Frank?”

“Don’t know. Never survived a war between cities before. I ain’t that old.”

Zelda said, “Can you believe how fast we’re moving since Saud blew up? I never knew the city could move like that.”

Then, the motion of the city shifted. Frank grabbed a guard rail and steadied himself. Both of the women did the same. The city was stopping. After several moments of silence, Frank let go of the rail and resumed his trek down the corridor.

“Speak of the devil huh?” Frank scratched his head. “The city isn’t supposed to be able to move that fast, I don’t think. But, maybe someone in the Uppers figured something out.”

Zelda said, “I wonder why the hell they stopped in the middle of a storm warning.”

Jenny said, “Maybe the battle isn’t over?”

Frank said, “What do you mean? Everyone saw that blast from Saud. They’re just mopping up the few that got inside now.”

Zelda stopped in the middle of the hallway. “Frank.”

Frank turned. Jenny was several steps behind Zelda and also paused. “Yeah?”

“Frank… have you ever heard of a city blowing up like that before?”

Frank thought about it. He thought of all the stories and the vid screen films about battles with other cities. He thought about how they used those giant guns and how they took shots at each other’s shields. But now that Zelda had pointed it out, he couldn’t remember a city ever becoming a giant ball of light and disappearing all at once. He was sure he wouldn’t have believed it himself if he hadn’t seen the thing with his own eyes.

“No… No, I don’t think so.”

Zelda frowned. “Something’s wrong Frank. I can feel it in my gut. Why else would we stop in the middle of a storm warning? Ain’t never happened before as far as I know.”

They fell silent and resumed walking and entered central sanitation. The dank air was familiar and comforting to Frank. A lot of people complained about working in sanitation, but he loved it. Did he wish the pay was a little better? Sure, but the job was just fine. He didn’t mind getting dirty. It was a job worth doing, a job to feel useful; a job that if it didn’t get done, it would cost lives. A man couldn’t ask for a job more important than that. He was necessary, and that was satisfying.

They only needed to do a routine check. There was a full crew working already, but with the battle, Frank wanted to be sure there weren’t any other hidden problems. Michael, Andrea, and Scott were working hard. When they saw the trio, Frank asked, “How’s it going down here? Any surprises?”

Michael shook his head, and his long beard waggled back and forth below his chin. “Nah. Everything’s running like clockwork. Andrea had to climb up into one of the pipes and deal with a blockage, but other than that, nada.”

Frank glanced over Michael’s shoulder at Andrea, who looked surprisingly clean for climbing up inside a pipe.

“How’d you get out clean?”

Andrea’s dark eyes regarded Frank. He knew she hated his guts, but he couldn’t understand why. Might have been something to do with the fact that she had the sense of humor like an angry hedgehog. “I already went through decon.”

“Ah. You lose a toss or something?”

“No, I volunteered.” Her words were sharp and curt.

Frank nodded and looked around. “Jenny, will you head back and check on the bio recycler?”

Michael said, “I think Scott’s back there already.”

Frank said, “Yeah, doesn’t hurt to have two eyes on it, though, does it?”

Michael shrugged. “Sure thing, boss.”

For a little while, Michael and Frank caught up while Zelda and Jenny double-checked everything. There was tension between the two teams; there always was. Michael liked Frank okay, but he hated Zelda. Andrea hated Frank, and Jenny, after bawling her eyes out over Jose, had slept with Scott and the aftermath was less than ideal. He was hoping that sending Jenny back with Scott would force them to talk things out a little, but that was probably unrealistic.

When Frank was satisfied that everything was in order, he called Jenny and Zelda and bid farewell to the other team. The three of them would be back on the clock in another nine hours again, and so there was no point in lingering too long.

The trio walked up the corridor for several dozen meters in silence. Frank took the lead. He thought maybe Jenny would have something to say to Zelda about Scott and wanted to give them both a little room.

It was Jenny that broke the silence, “I’ve been thinking…”  

In the silence of Jenny’s pause, Zelda said, “You and Scott get things figured out?”

Jenny’s eyes were glassy but cleared for a moment as she looked up and over at Zelda. “What? No, nothing to do with that. Scott is… Never mind.”

Frank turned and, walking backward, said, “What then?”

Jenny said, “I was thinking about what we were talking about before, been thinking about it a lot. A city shouldn’t blow up like that. It’s not right.”

Frank said, “Why’s that?”

“We learned all about city combat in scholar school.”

“You went to scholar school?” asked Frank.

“Yeah… but I dropped out. I was… I studied city mechanics. I wanted to be a shield engineer; you know, one of those people who jumps around on those harnesses checking the shield ribs for energy fluctuations? But well… there was an accident when we were up one day… and I couldn’t go back…”

Jenny leaned against the wall, grabbing for something to hold on to, as if the terrible thing was happening all over again. Frank had seen that look before in Jose’s eyes, how they grew like deep wells of pain overflowing with something dark and sticky, something he couldn’t ever really escape. He supposed maybe that’s why Jenny had liked Jose so much; she saw something familiar in him, a shared experience of horror and trauma.

Zelda changed the subject. “So, why shouldn’t a city blow up like that?”

The light came back into Jenny’s eyes. She blinked. She said, “Because cities are too big to blow up at once… unless…”

Frank said, “Unless what?”

“Unless they destroyed the core.”

“The core?”

“Yeah, you know, the power core that makes all cities function. Our professor told us it’s like a miniature sun. But, she also said that it was near impossible to destroy.”

“Why’s that?”

“Because the architects planned for just about everything. She said that another city could shoot at the core’s location for a year and they would never get to it. The whole core is encased in Solidsonium and a second internal EnViro shield. You’d have to destroy both things at the same time, and that’s supposed to be impossible from the outside.”

Zelda said, “So wait, what you’re telling us is that Manhatsten didn’t win the battle?”

Jenny said, “No… at least not by attacking from the outside.”

There was silence for a moment. Frank felt his gut clench.

He said, “Jenny, what could destroy a core?”

“Our professor said that only two things could destroy one. The first was a critical overload. But, you’d have to be an architect for that, only they know the codes and the exact sequence required to start the process. And we only have one architect left, and I don’t see him going over to Saud in the middle of a battle with no way back, do you?”

Frank and Zelda shook their head in unison.

Zelda said, “And the other one?”

Jenny said, “It’s also not possible.”

Zelda said, “Why not?”

“Because you would need an atomic weapon and you’d have to detonate it inside of the core past both the Solidsonium and the EnViro shield. But that can’t happen.”

Frank said, “No?”

“Well again, you’d need to have access, so you’d have to be a high ranking person inside the city in the first place. Second, no one has even seen an atomic weapon in a thousand years. We think maybe the architects purposely made sure they were gone and buried before the cities started walking. They didn’t want humans lobbing nukes at each other once the inevitable conflict started. They were trying to get the environment to heal, and a weapon like that would make things far worse.

Frank opened his mouth to speak, but it Zelda cut him off. “But what if someone found one?”

No one spoke for a moment. That tightness in Frank’s chest grew. Then he said, “You don’t think there’s one of those on Manhatsten do you? Like, if we did that to Saud, couldn’t they do it to us?”

Jenny said, “I don’t know. I mean, we are the good guys, aren’t we? Didn’t Saud attack us first?”

But no one ever had the chance to answer that question. The whole of the city shifted. It was as if some angry deity had picked the city up and lurched it hard sideways, shaking all the domed contents within like a snow globe. All three slammed against the wall, and Frank felt a blinding pain on the side of his head. Everything went black for a moment.

He scrambled around, his hands clawing for something to grasp. Frank grabbed the rail leading up the stairs. The whole of the city shook. With Saud gone, what the hell was happening? Was it the core? Was the same thing happening to them as it had in Saud? But that didn’t seem right. Saud had vanished almost instantly, and the fragments had scattered to the four winds.

Something was wrong with the city. The floor was tilting, and he felt the weight of gravity tugging at his back. He didn’t know how he knew, but the city was falling. Something had knocked them over or had destroyed the legs.

“Zelda!”

“Right here.” Frank looked back and saw the familiar outline of Zelda’s thin, birdlike form. She was clinging to the railing now too.
            “Is Jenny back there?”

“Here, Frank.”

Good, we gotta get out of here. I think the city is falling…”

Neither of the women contested this point. It was the only explanation. A massive jolt and suddenly, the floor shifts? The only thing that could do that was the city falling over.

The tug of gravity grew, an irresistible mistress. It took all of Franks effort to hold on. The stairway had disappeared below him. He was dangling; the pull on his large belly was immense.

Jenny screamed, but Frank couldn’t turn around. His entire focus was on holding the railing. He had no idea how much longer he could hold on. The angle grew deeper with every passing moment, and it was all he could do to keep from falling back into the long corridor that led to the heart of central sanitation. How far was he from the door that led inside? He didn’t want to find out.

“I got you,” said, Zelda. But again, Frank couldn’t look back.

“Zelda, you gotta get you and Jenny around me somehow. I…”

“You’re not gonna fall, Frank. We won’t let you.”

“Yeah well, you always warned me this gut was gonna get me killed, and it looks like you’re right. I can’t hold on much longer, especially since it’s almost a straight drop now.”

Frank knew if the city was falling, it didn’t matter. They could all die now, or they would die later when the shield failed, or a storm came, or in a hundred other terrible ways. But the survival instinct in Frank made him hold, made him grip tight. If nothing else, he wanted to see his wife one last time before he died and he couldn’t do that if he let go.

Frank felt his fingers slipping.

“Dammit, ladies. You gotta get around me or get to the other railing or something. You don’t want to be underneath me if I fall.”

Jenny wept. Frank was glad to hear it, it meant she was still there, still alive, still holding on tight.

Zelda said, “No, Frank. I’ve been at this too long with you. If you go down, we go down together.”

Jenny’s sobs increased, and through mumbles and tears, she said, “I don’t want to die.”

Frank tried to adjust his grip, but he lost one of his hands off the railing. Later, he would wonder how the hell he managed to swing his arm back up and grab hold again, but for now, as his whole body reached back up, he felt a sense of comfort in reestablishing his grip.

“Frank, don’t you dare let go. Your wife would never let me hear the end of it.”

“Yeah, yeah. I’m doing my best, but please Zelda, get you and Jenny across or around me. I can’t do this much longer.”

The city dipped forward, and now they were hanging vertically down the stairwell.

Zelda said, “Shit. Well…” she shifted her grip, and now Frank could see both Zelda and Jenny fighting to hold on.

Tears streaked down the side of Jenny’s face. At that moment, he was glad they were both petite women. It made it easier for them to hold on longer. He, however, wasn’t going to be able to do it.

Zelda said, “Well, you don’t have to worry about knocking us down now do you?”

Frank said, “Guess not. Guess we gotta play the game like in school, huh? Who can hold on the longest?”

Zelda said, “Ha, you’re screwed then Frank, I always won that game.”

Even at that moment, Frank couldn’t help but crack a smile. Here they were dangling down what had to be several dozen stories of corridor, and he couldn’t help but grin. He guessed that even if he didn’t die today, he would probably die grinning and laughing.

His arms trembled from the strain. The metal of the square railing dug into his fingers, leaving deep grooves bright with pain.

“Zelda.”

She looked up at him, a grave expression on her face.

“Zelda, you’re the best friend a man could ask for, you know that?”

“Don’t let go Frank.” Her voice shook. “Please don’t.”

“I don’t wanna, but let me say this. It’s been an honor working with you all these years, Zelda.” The noise of cities tremors echoed up and down the corridor and Frank had to raise his voice.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better friend at work. And you, Jenny, I wish I had the chance to get to know ya a little better.” He readjusted his grip, but he could feel his fingers slipping. His right hand was numb, and his left a blazing fire. “It’s been great working with both of you. I only wish I could see Jose’s dopey face one last time.”

“Hold on Frank; we’ll figure a way out of this. We always do.”

But Frank’s fingers couldn’t do it anymore. His arms had never felt strain quite like that. No matter how hard he wanted to hang on, he couldn’t. There would be no grabbing hold again this time.

“Goodbye Zelda. Hang on as long as you can. Tell my wife I love her, alright?”

He let go.

He started to fall. There was a sense of freedom in it. He thought for a moment that maybe if everyone had just learned to let go like he just did, that maybe, just maybe the world would be a little happier.

He looked down and watched as the corridor stretched out before him. It seemed to take an age to fall. Time stretched like the entire lifetime of the universe was available to him now to think about all the things he loved about his life and all the things he regretted. First, his fondest memories flooded him. He thought of the lifetime of laughter and friends and family. Then he thought of Jose. He thought about how he had felt so helpless when he the SO’s arresting him. He thought about the last uprising and how so many people he knew were sentenced to the Runnercore or were killed, all because of the greed in the city. He wished he had been more outspoken, or that he had done something to change their fates. Frank wished that he had taken a stand and right there, he promised himself that if somehow he survived the fall, he would stand and be true. It was too late now though wasn’t it? The ground was rushing up toward him, and in a few seconds, his life would be over.

But then all motion stopped. For a moment, Frank thought he had hit the other end of the corridor, but looking around, he realized that he was hovering, mid-air. Nervous about his strange circumstances, Frank looked around for something to hold on to, but there was only the concrete wall. His stomach flipped, as it did in childhood when his father tossed him into the air. Then, he dropped to the floor, the actual floor. For Frank, the sweet comfort of stability on the ground married with the pain of his short fall.

He lay on his back, checking himself. His ass and his pride were bruised, but he had barely fallen a meter. What the hell had happened? Shouldn’t they all be crushed under the weight of the collapsed city? 

He heard footsteps and saw that both women were running toward him.

“Frank, you asshole.” Zelda’s voice shook, and there were tears down her cheeks. And then Zelda’s arms were around him, and then Jenny’s, and the three of them cried together. They were alive. The city was alive. They didn’t know what happened, but somehow everything was okay, at least for now.

 

2.

 

Dear Reader,

The lesson that Frank learned in those few moments when he expected death would stick

with him through the coming days, and the coming battles. For difficult times were ahead, and Frank would lose many of those he loved and cared about before it was all over.

When great change comes, it tears things asunder, it uproots the old and leaves us gasping and injured and exposed. In those times, we are raw nerves, bare roots, open flesh. But if we are willing, we can get up again. We have the chance to go forward into the world and take what we have learned and lost with us. Then, we may bandage our wounds and look often at our scars so that we do not make the same mistakes again.

See Frank now; see him for what he is. He is an ordinary man in extraordinary times. But in so many ways, it is the ordinary we need. Hope lay in the courage and the strength and the will to move forward in the ordinary so that we can give birth to the new.”

Matron Mariposa Phillips 833.12.13 I.S.

 

 

 

  1.  

 

They surfaced. Something was wrong with the light. Frank looked around. One of the buildings was leaning into another. Luckily, it was one of the shorter ones. People were scrambling out the front door before it collapsed, but most looked like they were okay. There were fresh cracks in the street, some as wide as a person. Everyone was outside. Many of those on the concrete and earth stood dazed and confused, statues frozen mid-moment like in the ancient city of Pompei. They were puzzled slices of life.

There were several fires, and a few people were doing their best to put them out. The old automated fire systems were working, but barely. Frank swore. They would have to go back and check the water pressure to ensure that there wasn’t a clog. If too much smoke filled the city…

Then, some of the gazes cast upward. People pointed up toward the EnViro shield. A conspiracy of whispers and hushed voices bathed the city in rapturous awe. They grew to mumbles and mutters in a slow drone. Someone screamed. Frank looked over and saw a woman fall to the ground. She hugged the earth as if it were her child, and she was saying goodbye to for the final time.

“Frank.” Even Zelda whispered. “Frank, what the hell is that?”

Frank traced the end of her finger skyward. His mouth opened to say something but then closed again. He felt vertigo and the sensation of the ground falling out from under him. He grabbed for Zelda and Jenny.

Jenny, clinging to him said, “That’s… that’s…”

Frank grabbed his chest. That terrible tightness was back, but this time, it shot down his arm. He fell to his knees, barely feeling the impact of bone on concrete as the shock rippled upward.

“Frank?”

Zelda was on him in a moment. “Frank, what is it?”

“I think… I think I’m having a heart attack.”

Jenny moaned. It was a loud and long wail. “That’s…”

Zelda helped lay Frank down gently. “We gotta get you to an alcove Frank. There’s an emergency one a few blocks away.”

Frank just nodded and laid on his back. The pain was less now, but there was a fog settling in over his mind. He stared up at the sky, drinking in the new and terrible view.

Jenny shouted. “Oh Gods. That’s earth. It’s earth. It’s earth. Why is earth in the sky?”

Jenny, too, fell to her knees and wept.

Frank watched the earth. He watched as it started to grow smaller in the sky. They were moving away from it now. To where, was anyone’s guess.

Upon Stilted Cities Chapter 2: A Return To Nowhere

***Warning Major Spoilers Ahead. If you have not read Mimi of the Nowhere you should do so before reading this chapter. ***

You can also purchase Mimi of the Nowhere on Amazon  or on other online stores like Barnes and Noble and Itunes

Chapter 2 A Return to Nowhere

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

 

 

 

Chapter 2

A Return to Nowhere

 

“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.”

“Miranda?”

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.”

“Shandie’s replacement?”

“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.”

“Who?”

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.”

“Oh?”

“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?

Mimi felt the coldness return, but this time there was no Recycled Runner. The coldness was from within. It was the terrifying idea that someone might be laying a trap for her and her sisters.