Serah of the Runners Chapter 3: Serah’s Search

The third chapter of my fourth novel, Serah of the Runners, is now live! You can now read A Shadow on Luna. This second chapter follows Serah who has some hard choices to make in the aftermath of the battle with both Saud and the Children of Gaia at the end of book 3.

You can find my first three entries to the series here

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

Chapter 3

 

Serah’s Search

 

Another building burned. Fire crews and emergency vehicles scrambled to reach the wild inferno. The city was in a state of panic. Designated day and night didn’t seem to matter much now as the sun blazed non-stop. Before, there was at least a dimming in the shield marking the difference between night and day, but like all else, everything had changed. The earth grew smaller and smaller with each passing hour. But the city moved at a snail’s pace towards some unknown destination.

From a distance, Serah watched the chaos from the second level of a building. Her flaming red hair hung down to the middle of her back, and she wore a recon EnViro suit, with her helmet off. She knew the Recycled were still out there, and she’d be damned if she was caught unawares, at least for now.

Exhausted from all of her efforts to keep the city from boiling over into a full-fledged panic, she had finally given up soothing. She was never very good at it anyway.

She wished all of the sisters were around, all of them soothing the city, but most were dead and the few that might be alive were missing and scattered. The Order of the Eye was shattered. Miranda had won.

At first, people were timid and shy about looting shops. For a few days, everyone had stayed indoors in fear that the EnViro shield might collapse and they would find themselves cast out into the vacuum of space. But now that it was clear that wasn’t going to happen, or at least if it did happen there was little they could do about it, people had taken to the streets, realizing that the old order of things had collapsed.

“Should we help?” Shannon walked up next to Serah. She too was wearing a suit. They were probably the only two Runners left alive.

Serah shook her head. “No, looks like the fire crews have it under control. It seems like the water pressure is back to normal.”

“I don’t understand. Why would someone set fire to that building?”

“Isn’t it obvious?”

Shannon didn’t say anything, so Serah continued.

“It’s a bank. Someone wants to reset the credit system. They think that the Uppers would only store their credit information in one place. It’s a foolish thought, but I guess I can’t fault them on it.”

“It is? But those records are stored somewhere, aren’t they?”

“You’d have to kill the AI. It keeps everything backed up in all of the city’s systems.”

“How do you know all that?”

Serah shrugged. “I used to be one of them.”

“One of who?”

“An Upper.”

“What?”

“It was a long time ago. Look, Vala’s around here somewhere, but she’s not responding.”

“Maybe she doesn’t want to be found?”

“Of course, she doesn’t. If I had been in the library when those things came in and survived, I’m not sure I would want to be found either.”

“How many survived, Serah?”

“Do you mean in the assault on the library?”

Shannon nodded.

“Well, we know that Alexa wasn’t part of that group because she had run off somewhere with Runner 17, though if they were outside the city like we think, well, they might as well be dead if they aren’t already. We know that Mimi wasn’t there…”

Serah stopped herself from saying more. She swallowed hard. Shannon was the last person who needed a reminder of the last moments they had seen Mimi.

The image of Mimi reaching out to them as the Recycled closed the massive door flooded Serah’s mind. She hadn’t been able to escape it, nearly every moment she had thought about Mimi, about how she had stabbed her to stop her from using the red veil, how Mimi had killed indiscriminately and then how the Recycled had taken her. All of it was her fault. She had told Mimi to do something, anything and then she had run Mimi through. In the end, it was her, who had let the creatures take her beyond the door. Now she was dead, or worse.

“Serah?”

Serah blinked.

“She’s not dead. I know it.”

Serah didn’t say anything. For the last three days, she and Shannon had argued over and over about it. She didn’t want to rehash the same old argument. She changed the subject.

“Well, as far as we know, only six sisters haven’t been accounted for, including Vala.”

What they had found in the library was disturbing. It was the kind of image she would dream about for the rest of her life. Even if she lived a thousand more years, she would see the leftover carnage of the library in her nightmares.

“Do you think we can find them all?”

“Well, Vala at least. She keeps searching for other sisters, but then she vanishes again. Every time I try to reach out to her and ask her where the hell she is, she disappears.”

“Why would she do that?”

Serah turned and looked right at Shannon and didn’t say a word. She skimmed Shannon; the girl didn’t really seem to understand the gravity of what happened in that library, even though she had seen the aftermath with her own eyes. Shannon was barely sixty and had spent more than half of that in an alcove; of course, she couldn’t comprehend the gravity of the situation.

“Shannon, if you had been in that library when the Recycled came… well, let’s just say you’d never be the same again.”

“So you think something’s wrong with Vala?” Her voice was soft and timid.

“I think she’s probably in shock. We have to find her before someone hurts her.”

“Who would hurt her?”

Serah bit her tongue. She and Shannon had trained together off and on for forty years. How did she never notice how naive she was before? But then, she only saw Shannon for a few hours a month when she was training her, and they had a specific focus. So, she supposed, now that Shannon was out and about, she was seeing another side of her.

“Looters, rogue security, there are tons of people who might hurt her. Under normal circumstances, Vala could take care of herself. She’s pretty formidable. Hell, Noatla assigned her to that crazy ass Senator for a reason. But I don’t think she’s right in the head. Every time I skim her, her mind’s a jumble, a series of horrific images from what went on in the library and all kinds of other strange images mixed in I can’t understand.”

“So how do we find her?”

“Around this time, for the last three days, she’s reached out looking for her sisters. I don’t know what it is about mid-afternoon, but for some reason, she’s trying then. If we can get her to give us a clue as to where she is, we can probably track her down.”

“Why this spot?”

“Well, I figure this is as close to the center of the city as we can get, and from a floor up we can see what’s going on in the street without getting hung up by a bunch of crazy looting assholes.”

“You don’t think they will try and come up here?”

Serah looked at her for a second.

“Oh, right, your skimming thing.”

“And?”

Shannon glanced down. “And I guess they would be afraid of two people in EnViro suits after the battle?”

Serah nodded.

For a while, they watched the fire crews put out the old banking building. It seemed as if the looters were giving a wide birth to the firefighters and focused instead on other buildings and shops along the block. Perhaps they weren’t completely mindless animals. Maybe they had specific goals and targets in mind? But that troubled Serah more. Was someone organizing this? Of all the riots she had ever seen, she had never seen them stop simply because emergency crews arrived.

There was a pulse of transmissions, a wave of connection. Serah recognized at once what it was.

“Vala?” She spoke it both out loud and also reached out. Each sister had a unique feel to their mind, the way that every person had a unique voice. It was definitely Vala.

Shannon said, “Is it Vala? Is she trying to connect to you?”

“Shhh.”

Serah waited for a response. There was only the hint of pressure on the forefront of her mind, only that sense of presence. It was as if her missing sister had forgotten how to speak, how to reach out properly. Serah wondered, and not for the first time if there might be head trauma or something worse. It certainly wasn’t impossible, given the state of the library.

“Vala?” She reached out again, this time putting a bit of extra will behind her transmission.

Vala seemed to vanish, seemed to disappear into the nothingness. A deep sense of frustration rose in Serah. She clenched her jaw. Some other minds tried to crash in nearby, but Serah, with centuries of training, silenced them and moved past them to search for her sister.

Then she was back again, this time strong and clear.

“Serah? Serah is that you?”

A smile bloomed on Serah’s lips, and so Shannon could hear what was going on, she spoke both through mind to mind contact and out loud.

“Yes, Vala, it’s me. Where you? We’ve been looking for you.”

“It’s dark, Serah. It’s so cold down here.”

“Okay Vala, but can you tell me where you are? We’re coming to get you, coming to bring you into a warm and safe place, alright?”

“Nowhere is safe from them.”

Serah could feel Vala’s tears, hear the desperation in her transmission.

“Shhhh. Vala, let us come find you. Let us help you.”

“Oh god, they tore her in half. Oh god…”

Serah turned to Shannon. “Shit, I’m losing her. She’s worse than I thought.”

Shannon frowned. “Maybe you should try a different tactic.”

“Like what?”

“What do you do when you want a sister’s attention?”

“You mean when everyone is called to assemble?”

“No… Mimi told me about some kind of saying you all have.”

Serah thought for a second… saying? What could have Mimi meant about a saying… unless.

“Vala?”

A sensation of weeping again.

“The Eyes Come Open.”

No response.

Serah pressed on.

“The Sleeper Wakes. The Wheel Turns. As Above…”

Vala said, “So Below.”

Serah smiled and turned to Shannon. “It’s working, Shannon you’re brilliant.”

Serah said, “As Within.”

Vala replied. “So Without.”

“The light passes and time squints allowing the faintest glimmer of wisdom.”

Vala replied, “But Fear is the little death, The one that brings an end to hope.”

Serah said, “Fearlessness is the key that unlocks all things.” But instead of going on, she said. “Vala, Vala are you there? Are you with me?”

“Yes, Serah.” Her thoughts were weak, but they were clear.

“Where are you?”

“District 6. Sub Level 4. Near…”

She disappeared. But it was enough. That area wasn’t huge, and with a few hours of searching, they would probably find her, especially if she was bleeding or left tracks behind. It was a wonder, though, all the way up in District 6. How had she made it so far in her state? Had someone or something helped her? For a strange moment, Serah thought of Noatla but then thought twice. Noatla was dead and gone, they had found her lifeless and cold outside the front of the Library, and they had taken her body and the others, even the parts, back to center of the reserve runners where Shannon had spent the last forty years of her life. They had cremated their remains; after all, no sister would ever want the slightest chance of becoming recycled.

It was no wonder she was having trouble reaching Vala: District 6 was the edge of Serah’s limit to reach out. If she hadn’t come to the center of the city, she may not have found her.

“What happened? What did she say?”

Serah turned to Shannon. “Come on, we’ve got a long walk ahead.”

 

 

 

  1.  

 

Several hours later, they found her. It hadn’t taken long to find a trail of blood. Serah was grateful it was just a few splotches here and there, but it was easy enough to follow.

There in the corner, just outside an old storage unit. Vala lay huddled in a corner, her head buried in her knees. She knew they needed to get her back to the reserve core and into an alcove immediately.

The smell of shit and piss swam in circles in the room. There were a few traces of leftover food, but mostly there wasn’t much around. Where Vala had found food, Serah couldn’t be sure, but she seemed to have enough awareness to feed herself, though she guessed that she was using the corners for the bathroom. Rats and roaches scurried around the edges of her vision. They were waiting, hoping for a meal, but Serah wasn’t going to let that happen. For a moment, she thought sensed a kind of disappointment in them, but that was crazy, no one could skim animals, it was one of the first things that Noatla had ever taught her.

Shannon walked over and found a panel for the lights. She switched it on, and as the brightness caught Vala’s form, Serah could see that her gray dress was stained with brown. It took Serah a moment to realize what it was: the blood of her fellow sisters, crusted and dried. Some of the stains were shedding flakes and collected around her crumpled form. Vala must have fled down here just after the slaughter began. 

Vala looked up and moaned. Her eyes were sunken, and the large bags beneath them made her look half-dead. Dirt and grime and a crust of dried, brown blood matted her hair and cheeks. She scrambled backward as far she could go, only inches, but still it made Serah’s heartache.

“Please don’t hurt me…” said Vala.

Serah moved toward her, but it was Shannon who got there first. She wrapped her arms around her.

Shannon said, “Shh, Vala. It’s okay now. Me and Serah are here. We’re going to take you to a safe place. It’s a place where we can protect you, and nothing can happen to you.”

Vala sniffled. “You don’t understand. She’s everywhere, everything. She’s going to make us all do our part.”

Serah frowned. Was Miranda still in the city or not? So far, nothing had happened since the creatures retreated behind the door, and Serah wasn’t entirely sure why. The city was in absolute chaos. Now would have been the best time to strike and destroy the city. It wouldn’t take much to crash into central security after so many of the SO’s had been killed or were recovering in Medical Alcoves. Things would only get better once the SO’s could retake the streets and establish order again. So why wasn’t Miranda acting?

“Vala?” Serah moved closer and got down on her knees just before the two women. She reached out and hugged her tight. “Listen to Shannon; everything is going to be alright now. You have to trust me on this one.” Serah paused a moment, and tried to skim Vala to see if it was okay to ask her questions. But the sad reality of it was that Vala was near total emotional collapse. It had only been three days since the library, and it was unlikely she had slept much.

“Vala, is she still using the red veil on you? Is she still pushing on you? Miranda I mean?”

Vala looked up at Serah for a moment. They were the eyes of a ghost. The eyes of someone who has seen something they can never unsee. Serah knew those eyes. They were perfect mirrors, the ghosts of the night when she had seen something so vile that it had broken her. Only Noatla had saved her from madness. Only her sisters had eased her anger.   

Vala shook her head. It was slight, but Serah could tell it was a monumental effort.

She pushed on Vala, mixing soothing with a lie. Serah was good at pushing lies; it was part of her specialty. This one was going to be hard to sell though. She wished she hadn’t asked about the red veil, but she suspected that Vala might be confused enough to buy it.

Serah transmitted. “Vala, she’s gone now, out of the city. We are so far away from her now she can’t possibly reach us. Do you know where we are now?”

Vala shook her head.

“Come on; I’ll show you.”

Shannon helped Vala stand. At first, she was reluctant to move, but Shannon had a way about her, something that people responded to under crisis. She supposed that was why Mimi had fallen in love with her so easily. Serah had to admit, after spending more time with Shannon, she was both attractive and kind, which was an unusual combination for a street kid.

Slowly, they lead Vala to the exit and out into the street.

Vala screamed and dove to the ground.

Serah and Shannon both had a similar reaction when they had first surfaced from the subway tunnels three days before. To see the change above, the EnViro shield was a lot to take in. 

In the sky, the Earth was still large. Looking up at that Earth for the first time gave you vertigo, it gave you the sensation that you would fall right back into it.

“What’s happening?” Vala was weeping on the ground, beside herself.

“We… we’ve left Earth. Something happened, no one really understands what it is, but there was an explosion, and then the whole city was falling… and then we weren’t. It’s okay Vala, it takes some getting used to, but stand up and you’ll see it’s okay. Besides we don’t have to go far.

Tentatively, Vala reached up and took hold of both Serah and Shannon’s hand. She stood, but as they walked, Serah noticed a limp. She looked down and saw that a large chunk of flesh missing from Vala’s right calf muscle. It was scabbing over, but it was oozing.

“My god, are you in pain?”

Shannon looked down and saw the same thing. She said, “Oh, Vala. We need to get you to alcove right away. Serah, we should carry her. She shouldn’t walk.”

 Together they lifted Vala, Serah under her arms and Shannon by her thighs. Shannon took care not to touch the wound.

 

 

 

 

3.

 

They entered the reserve Runnercore. Around the center of the room was the alcoves where Shannon had slept off and on for the last forty years, but now, with the Runnercore decimated, the AI virtually disappearing, and the city in total chaos, Shannon hadn’t needed to return to the alcove. She could walk about freely. So, they took Vala to the shower that Runners used to clean off after the alcove and stripped Vala naked. Together, Serah and Shannon washed her and gently cleaned the wound. Vala flinched a few times, but didn’t say much.

Serah was hesitant to put her in the alcove. Sometimes, after a significant trauma, the alcove would amplify the event; it would make you relive whatever was going on in a mixture of your conscious and subconscious mind. It wasn’t sleeping exactly, but something between dream and waking. So, Serah worried what being inside the alcove would do to Vala, who was already in a fragile state of mind. But there was little they could do. They had to help her heal or she would lose that leg, or worse.

After Vala was clean and dressed in the usual undergarments for the alcove, they placed her inside one.

“Here you are Vala,” said Shannon. “We’re going to let you heal inside this for a few days okay?”

Vala didn’t say anything. Her face was pale, and Serah was concerned she was about to lose consciousness. How much blood had she lost? But it didn’t matter. She sealed the alcove and activated it. It filled with the stem-cell fusion mix in just a few moments, and then they walked away.

“I don’t think she’s going to have a very good time in there.”

“Why not?”

“You know what it’s like in there, the half-sleep state. Imagine if you just had something terrible happen to you just like Vala has.”

Shannon said, “Oh gods, I didn’t think of that… but what can we do? She has to heal.”

“I don’t know, but I can skim and check in on her semi-often. She probably has to be in there for a day or so before we could let her out if we needed to. The wound probably wouldn’t be healed by then, but it would be safe enough to take her out if she needed a break. If we had other sisters around, we could take turns soothing her, but since it’s just me… I don’t know if there is much I can do.”

Shannon frowned. “Okay. So, what now? Find the others?”

“Yeah, I was hoping some of the others would come to find us. I just hope they all aren’t as bad as Vala.”

Shannon nodded.

Serah watched her think of Mimi again. She didn’t mean to skim Shannon, but she was worried about her. The love of her life was just taken through that door by the Recycled, and somehow Shannon was holding it together pretty well.

“Shannon… how are you holding up?”

Shannon leaned against one of the alcoves. “Fine. I… I’m worried about Mimi, but… I know we’re gonna get her back as soon as we get the remaining sisters together, right?”

Was that what she was thinking about all this time? That they were going to go on some rescue mission? Should she tell her the real reason they were looking for her sisters? Or should she lie to her? She considered for a moment, but it didn’t take long to make a decision.

“Yeah, once we get them together, we can go after Mimi.”

“Good, just like you guys rescued me all those years ago, right?”

Serah couldn’t help but recall Shandie and Leahara dying in that rescue, but she wasn’t about to point that out to Shannon, who was already struggling to stay afloat. The truth was, Serah wasn’t doing so well herself. They needed to find Fatima. She would have to take over the Order of the Eye. No one else could. The other four were too new, and after Fatima, Serah was the oldest member still alive, and there was no way she felt comfortable as Matron.

“Look, Shannon, I am going to head to a few places where I know the other sisters sometimes hung out when they weren’t running an errand for the Order. We are going to have to make this place a bit more comfortable, maybe use some of those old scavenging skills you learned living on the streets, huh? We need to get beds in here. Luckily, there is at least the bathroom, shower, and two food dispensers already. We just need to make it a bit more comfortable. Maybe you could head out and do that while I am searching for other leads?”

Shannon nodded, and Serah skimmed for a moment. Shannon was happy to have something to do. Serah would have to try and keep tabs on her throughout the day, which meant she couldn’t get too far out of range. But for now, they both had something to accomplish.

“Maybe it’s best if you kept your suit on?”

“Don’t worry, Serah. I might be a bit rusty, but I survived on the streets for a while before Mimi found me, and even without my suit I have that muscle augmentation and years of training with you, right?”

Serah nodded and watched Shannon go. She had to reassemble the Order of the Eye, even if it was just a few of them. If Miranda came back before they were ready, no one would be safe.

Serah turned and looked at Vala inside the alcove. Her eyes were open, and her face strained with whatever she was seeing. Serah reached in and soothed her the best she could and saw a Vala’s face relax. It would have to do for now. She hated leaving her, but there was nothing else to be done. Serah also needed sleep, but it would have to wait, at least for a little while more.

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?

Mimi of the Nowhere Audiobook is finishing production (Free Chapters)

It’s been a long time coming, but the audiobook of Mimi of the Nowhere has finally begun its post-production. I do not have an exact date right now for release but it should be no later than April 2019.

Of course, if you don’t want to wait for the audiobook, you can find it in paperback and ebook here

Here are links to the first two chapters of the audiobook.

Chapter 1

Chapter 2



Read Chapter 2 of Battle for Langeles

USC_BFL_ebookcover (1)

Want to learn the fate of Runner 17 after the events of The Winds of Change? Well, here you go. So, that being said, major major spoilers for Book 1 and 2 here. If you haven’t read the first two novels yet, you probably won’t understand what’s going on here.

Oh, and in case you missed it, here’s Chapter 1: The Queen of Saud

The Battle for Langeles is out October 17th!

 

 

 

 

Here it is! Warning Major Spoilers Ahead in This Chapter

 

Chapter 2

Dreams of a Runner

 

Submission. Like a toy truck pulling a horse trailer, there was no way forward. The wound, open again, gushed. His eyes betrayed him, opening and closing and opening again. He marked the number of breaths, acknowledging that there were only a few more left. The only smell, that of iron and blood.

He released his helmet. It made no difference now, the suit no longer filtered air, was no longer keeping him cool. The fever burned, white-hot pulses through his body. He wanted open air during his death.

A long shadow cast over him. It caught the heat of the air and mingled, swirling and changing. Death was here. It had come in person. Of course, it would. He blinked and tried to focus. It took everything he had. He was deaf to all things, blind to most, and felt the dedication to his idol of persistence wane.

He whispered, “Persist above all…” he laughed and coughed, devolving into a choking, rasping, white-hot pain in his gut. Half of a groan escaped his lips; the other half died in mingled pain.

But, he had to tell Daniels. It was the only thing he was holding on to.

Then a tapping, the shadow pressed a heel against him, jostling his body. He was limp, only able to stare up at the semi-shielded face of the foot’s owner.

A moment of audio pierced the silence, but just barely.

“Are you alive, alive, alive, alive?” The words echoed.

What the Runner said next was garbled liquid. He thought it might be a female voice, but he wasn’t sure. Maybe the bastards were right; maybe it was Gaia. Maybe Gaia was Death, the reaper of all things.

Then the face in the shadow illuminated. A hallucination probably, but a strange one. It was the young girl, the inspector from the docks… Jade. No, not Jade, not this time. Her name was something else this time around.

“Hang on. Help was on the way.” The voice was different.

He blinked, and the face of the young girl was gone, replaced with another female Runner. Her face was weather-worn and aged. He didn’t recognize her but wondered how he could confuse Alexa and this woman.

Another shadow approached. And another. And another. Many stood above him now. They circled like conspirators in the night that held their daggers, ready to plunge him into his ultimate end. Then they were angels greeting him into the gates of heaven or demons into the gates of hell. Runner 17 couldn’t be sure, and it took so much effort to make a decision now, a decision that ultimately wasn’t important. With all of his effort, his eyes closed; they stayed closed for a long time.

 

 

His eyes are opening to a thick dark fog. It is a hot evening, and he glances at his alarm clock. It is 4 a.m. He looks at the calendar and recognizes the date: October 17th. The date seems somehow familiar, but he can’t trace it. He rolls up into a sitting position and tries to clear the sleep out of his eyes. It will not leave. He stands up and glances around the room. In the corner, in a makeshift bed, sleeps his son Joseph. He can tell his son is sleeping; his breathing is heavy, and there is no movement.

The only sound around is the rustling of leaves in the wind.

A moment of lucidity strikes him. Had it all been a dream? A nightmare? Had all that running around in that heavy suit in the middle of barren wasteland been a mere construct of his mind? Had he dreamt of a life so many centuries long in just a few hours?

Out of instinct, he reaches down towards his chest where the puncture wound in the dream had been. Relief. Already the images and sounds of the dream are fading.

Joseph is turning over; he is still sleeping, the blankets tangled between his legs. He is attempting to kick them off him but fails. Joseph never did like being covered. His breathing deepens.

The wind’s song is interrupted.

Thud, Thud.

It is a far-off noise, but a potent one. Something urgent, some knowledge of what that noise is stirring in him.

Thud.

There again, something internal is screaming at him, begging him to remember the information from the vault in his mind. He is peering out the window of a shabby old house. He is looking for the source of the noise. There is nothing but empty silence, a silence filled with potential terror and fright. He doesn’t hear any animal noises, and something about that is bothering him. Awareness trickles in. Then like a dam bursting, the flood. All the knowledge of the origin of the noise is consuming him.

Thud, Thud… Thud, Thud, Thud.

It is a whole series of noises, the sound of the air compressing and releasing from somewhere high up, from somewhere above the atmosphere. But the noises are still far off. He knows that for certain; if those noises are up close, you can hear the sound of metal and glass and concrete blasting into a billion pieces.

He knows what he must do. He needs to get Joseph to the underground shelter. A sense of purpose fills him, makes him whole again, despite the loss of his wife. They must get to shelter. It was what she would have wanted.

The shelter is only a few blocks away, but he knows that a few blocks might as well be a thousand miles when the High Altitude Drones (or the H.A.D.) rain death down on your city. For a brief moment, he is wondering how the people of China feel when the American H.A.D.s are demolishing their city. Do they feel the same sense of paralyzing fear, the same utter terror as the thudding and the sound of small explosions creep ever closer? Do they look to the sky and when they see a bird, do they feel a wave of terror? It must be so, for pain raining from the sky invokes a universal agony.

“Joseph, the H.A.D., we have to go now.” He tries to keep his voice steady, but like his body, it was shaking.

He is waking his son violently. Louder now, “Wake up. Wake up. We have to get out of here.”

Joseph’s eyes are opening to the sound of his panicking father’s voice, and then he hears the thuds. Every kid in the world knows this noise now, they hear recordings of it, see footage on the internet, and it is the stuff of every child’s nightmares. It is the subject of all great 6-year-olds’ crayoned masterpieces. Joseph is only 6, but he has the comprehension of a battle-hardened veteran and the same post-traumatic stress. Childhood and play are a thing long in the past, to a time before climate refugees, before world war, before the billions of tiny mistakes that were coalescing into one source of ultimate destruction of every human being on the planet.

He jumps up. “Dad, where are we going?” His voice is ragged and tired. The child-like whine is still audible. “The shelter is several blocks away.”

“It’s okay Joseph, as long as we move quickly, we’ll be okay. The drones are still far off.”

Joseph doesn’t argue, but he sees his father’s terror frozen on his face. Joseph has already lost his mother to the H.A.D., and instinctively his father knows that Joseph thinks he may lose his dad as well.

“It will be alright Joey, let’s go, the shelters are shielded, they’ll keep us safe.”

The shelters aren’t really shielded, but they are hundreds of feet below the ground, where the space drones cannot reach. Once you enter the shelters, already a dozen meters below the surface, you climb into one of a series of elevators that take you a hundred meters lower. Once you exit the elevator, you walk or run for nearly a kilometer before coming to the shelter entrance. The shelters are a few hundred meters in size and have several dozen rooms. Each shelter can accommodate a few thousand people for as long as a month. Every city has a few shelters, but the need for them is gradually decreasing as the populations across the planet fall under the weight of the H.A.D. and the endless wave of natural disasters.

Thud, Smash, Thud, Smash, Slam, Crash.

A cacophony of noise takes hold of the father and his son. The noises are intermixed with screams, shouts, and hard slaps of sneakers on concrete.

Joseph’s eyes widen with fear, and his father picks him up, grabs only a picture of his mother and runs out the door. He is holding the boy close and silently vows that nothing will make him let his child go. He will not lose Joey, too.

He has come so far since he quit his stockbroker position, and Joseph has changed his life in the blink of an eye. When he learned that Jade was pregnant, he was angry at first, but once he saw the ultrasound, he wept healing tears. This child was his medicine; he was what is saving his soul from monstrous greed and the pain of his mistakes. He is grateful for the change, but now he is in danger of losing everything.

Others are running toward the shelter. The sound of their footfalls are masked by the onslaught of thudding and the sound of breaking steel and glass as the devastation migrates across the city.

Some have children, some have companions, but so many are alone now. Loss is a trend. Humanity is crumbling under the weight of the Third World War. A billion are dead already.

The H.A.D. hits the building behind them and to the left. An energy pulse flattens a building, and the force of the explosion knocks everyone within a few hundred meters to the ground; they are scrambling to stand. Dogs on ice. Fresh scrapes and bruises mark their body and blood is trickling down 17’s left cheek.

17 is in his EnViro suit again. He picks himself up off the hard cement and then lifts Joseph and continues running for the shelter. Joseph doesn’t seem to notice the change in his father’s attire. Terror is with him. A fresh streak of urine is making its way down the front of the boy’s pants and the front of 17’s EnViro suit. They are twins in this way, variations on a theme. Divided only by time.

They run hard, and they make it to the entrance to the shelter. The metal door swings open and the pair enters one of the elevators. The door closes. There is safety for a single breath. At that moment, the thud echoes directly overhead, even through the metal and earth. Time freezes and 17 knows exactly what is happening. He is staring long and hard at little Joey. He wants to tell the boy so much; he wants to trade places with him. 17 knows how this will end. He will wake up several days from now in the hospital, but Joseph will not wake. He will live a little longer in a coma, but one night he will simply fade.

In slow motion, the pressure from the energy blast pushes the elevator down. 17 can hear the cables snapping, the sharp metallic clicking of each one giving way; he hears the metal above bending to the will of the H.A.D. He feels his body descending faster from the force of the blast. He is reaching, grasping ever so slowly out to Joseph, grabbing his son and pulling him close. This time he will change it, this time it will be different, this time the little boy will live, and the father will die. But it is futile. It is a memory. Unchangeable.

17 rages. He is screaming at the top of his lungs in his EnViro Suit, but no one hears him, not even Joseph. His screams cannot penetrate the protective insulation of the helmet. The world tinges red, red like his rage, red like a garment, red like a veil.

His suit is a prison, a curse, a crucifixion, like the lashes felt by his African ancestors in an age of slavery. But his bondage is eternal; he cannot die. Only the unending persists. This is his punishment for participating in the greed that brought the world to its knees.

Tears of red stream down the dark skin of his cheeks.

He must break the cycle. One day soon, he will give his life to try and do so. He must do his part.

 

 

3.

17 woke in a medical alcove. The fluid drained. If he had been able to, he would scream, but still, the stem-cell-based fluid was in his lungs, and he choked and coughed. It had been a long time since his semi-dream state returned him to that part of his history. Perhaps it was the bodies outside Langeles that reminded him of his own terrible loss.

The doctor pressed a button that lifted the alcove to a 45-degree angle. His lab coat was a novelty these days. Doctors were all but extinct with the Alcove, but a few still studied the medical sciences. The doctor had a well-manicured beard of brown and red and large, owl-like eyes.

“So you return to the land of the living, do you? Daniels is right; you are unkillable.”

17 grunted. He found the words distasteful. His long life felt like a curse. What was his purpose? Why the hell was he still alive after all this time? He had changed his life, given up the ways of greed and lust. He had donated most of his many millions to the Climate Refugee Alliance, and his reward? His reward was losing both his wife and son. What purpose could he possibly have now? The 1300-year-old wound was open again for the first time in centuries. It throbbed with every beat of his heart.

He pushed it all back down. All of it was for another day, another time, he couldn’t dwell on the pain; dwelling on the pain is how he had ended up a Runner in the first place. His choices in the first days of migration were born in grief. Addiction consumed him in those days, and he had hurt so many who stood between him and his private narcotic oblivion.

17 glanced around the room. The other alcoves were empty. It was a good sign he wasn’t too late to do something. He thought of Langeles, of that crazy female runner, of her mention of the trap and the Children of Gaia, and suddenly he had one burning need.

“I have to speak with Daniels immediately.”

“Runner 17, do you know how rare it is for anyone to survive with a ruptured EnViro suit out in the Barrens in the middle of the day? Not to mention your open wound and significant blood loss? Do you know how many toxins are flowing through your blood right now? It’s going to take days in the alcove to restore your body properly. You cannot get out of this alcove.”

“Then why did you revive me?”

“To monitor your brainwave activity and nerve responses. They were functionating in a way I have never seen before, not even with you. Something is going on with that chip in the base of your skull, and I was concerned that I would not be able to bring you back to full consciousness. But you will be returning to the alcove shortly now that I see you are your usual difficult self.”

“Dammit Doc, none of that matters. I need to see Daniels, now. The entire city is in danger. If I can’t get out, bring him down here.”

The doctor sighed. “Daniels is very busy, what with Saud so close and those Langeles ruins.”

“This is about that, it’s important. I need to see him right now.”

“I will bring someone down from security to relay your message.”

“NO!,” 17 shouted. It caused the doctor to jump. “I’ll only speak with Daniels.”

The memory of the female Runner screwing up and slipping info about the spies hidden in the city was fresh in his mind. Daniels was the only one he could trust. He didn’t like the grumpy prick, but there was no way in hell the cranky bastard would ever betray the city. In that fleeting moment, it occurred to him, that despite everything else, he and Daniels had that much in common. Perhaps Daniels had his own curse, his own debt to pay. The AI had told him he too had a lifelong assignment.

“Very well, I’ll request Daniels’ presence, but I have to say I doubt he would come down here. He doesn’t like you very much, you know.”

17 laughed a little, “What, you don’t think I know that? You think I’m stupid? Daniels doesn’t like anyone. Just get him down here, tell him the safety of the city depends on the information I have, and it’s for his ears only.”

The doctor, standing tall over 17’s medical-grade alcove, eyed him carefully. 17 could tell that he was trying to gauge the seriousness of his request, trying to determine if 17 was playing a game. 17 locked eyes with the man and did not break his gaze. Then he saw the doctor’s face relax, it was only slight, but it was enough. After only a few more moments of hesitation, he went to the other room to send the transmission up to security.

17 shivered, why had the memory resurfaced now? He had always tried to keep himself from thinking about that awful night with his son, but every once in a while, it crept up on him. The H.A.D. had wiped out an entire section of the city that night, and only a few hundred had survived. It was an echo of the American bombing of Dresden during the Second World War, a repeat of history. There were no nukes used during the Third World War, at least not on Earth, but except for radiation damage, the H.A.D. were just as terrible.

Jade, his loving wife, had met him when he was in the midst of his wild nightly orgies. He had purchased an alcove with his extensive wealth and used it to lure women up to his large apartment. Their courtship was long, and despite her disgust at the way he had treated women, she befriended him. For months they spoke as friends, all the while eyeing one another, feeling their closeness grow. Then, one night, they found themselves in each other’s arms. 17 had vowed to love her then, and when they found out soon after that she was pregnant, he decided to give up everything and retire from his life to spend his days raising Joseph and trying to put right what he had helped make wrong.

Then the Third World War began. The Larger cities had prepared. Some even had anti-H.A.D. shielding. The island of Manhatten was already elevated and employed an early form of the EnViro shield to protect it from the massive floods that had taken over most of the coast. 17 had left Manhatten, though he never did sell his apartment, for the suburbs. Time and again he had told himself if he had only stayed in the city with Jade and Joseph, they may have all made it to Migration and 17 may have never become a Runner. But they had chosen to head west, toward one of the smaller towns in upstate New York. They wanted a fresh start. If only he had been able to bring Joseph or Jade to an alcove, but the military had confiscated all of them for use for their soldiers, and only military hospitals had access.

His injuries from that night were absolute. He didn’t know what the doctors had done to him to keep him alive, but the elevator incident was the first time he had survived death. Since then, he had survived countless close shaves, always managing to survive where others didn’t. But why? It wasn’t just that he was lucky, he seemed to be able to survive wounds most others wouldn’t.

He reached for the back of his neck and touched the chip for a moment. The AI was in there, and he wished, not for the first time, that he could query it outside of the suit. In truth, the AI was his only consistent companion for the long centuries.

Something in his memory flashed for a moment; the face of Dr. Solidsworth, the crazy old architect. He was in the hospital in Manhattan when he recovered from the H.A.D. attack. Why was his face standing out all of a sudden? Dozens of doctors had seen him during that time. There was something about a form, about permission, about an experiment. Something about the fact that 17 wasn’t going to make it. They had done something to him, what was it?

 

4.

 

A gruff voice echoed just outside of the hallway. Daniels and the Doctor entered.

“What the hell happened to him?” Daniels asked.

“He was hanging on to the edge of life. Parts of his EnViro suit had melted and fused with his flesh. There was no way to remove the suit without repairing the tissue damage first. Once again, and as I say all too often, Runner 17 is lucky to be alive.”

Daniel’s expression didn’t change, but his gaze drifted to 17. The alcove was filling with its healing solution. 17 would be under in a few minutes, unless they paused the procedure.

“I hear you are refusing to talk to anyone but me. What the hell do you want?”

17 was direct and blunt, “Ask everyone else to leave. We can’t trust anyone here.”

Daniels considered. What could 17 have to say to him that would require privacy? He recalled Patton’s corpse and the attempt on his life. Perhaps 17 wasn’t full of shit; maybe he had another piece of the puzzle.

Without turning his head, without breaking his gaze with 17, Daniels said. “You heard him. Get out.”

The Doctor didn’t argue and left the room quickly, latching a few cupboards on his way out. The door shut behind him with an audible click, indicating the lock was secure.

“AI, secure privacy in this space.”

“This room is now secure.”

“Now what the hell do you want?” Daniels hoped he had something to contribute. Otherwise, he might be tempted to shock his ass for a good long minute.

17’s voice was a bit hoarse. “It’s about a group that calls themselves the Children of Gaia. They are the ones responsible for Langeles, and they are probably planning an attack now.”

Daniels ground his jaw. “Where did this information come from?” Daniels found himself a chair and rested his tired body. He’d been on the clock for 29 straight hours. If he didn’t get some rest soon, he’d start making mistakes. A few hours in an alcove would probably do the trick, the body revitalized nearly twice as fast inside one.

17 told Daniels everything about his outing. He started with the piles of bodies in the ruins of Langeles. He told Daniels of the encounter with ‘Akif of the Rih and how he apparently was on some kind of hit list. He detailed his encounter with the Runner from the Children of Gaia, the bits and pieces he remembered from their adventure on that storm sail and about her claim that the ruins of Langeles were nothing more than a trap. Daniels kept his expression flat the entire time.

“You’re not lying to me, are you, Runner?” Daniels demanded.

“What possible motivation do I have to lie?”

“Spite, bitterness, a general dislike for me and the city, the usual shit.”

“If that were the case, I wouldn’t tell you shit; I would let it all burn. But Daniels… the children in the ruins,” 17 swallowed hard, and his voice shook. Daniels could see the anguish in the man’s face. “I can’t let that happen to the children in this city. I’ve… it’s… Fuck, they are monsters, Daniels. All those people, just… all those people.”

Daniels unclenched his jaw, and for the first time, he saw something almost… human, about 17.

“Listen… I…”

17’s voice lost all weakness. Rage replaced it. “Let me back out there. Let me track them down. I can do it. I can put a stop to this insanity. Arm me and let me out there. With a combat suit, I promise I will kill that bitch and every other member of those cultists.”

The anger was wild in 17, and Daniels felt a hint of nervousness. He had seen 17 in combat a few times, he was fierce and powerful, but he wasn’t sure he had ever seen his eyes flare with white-hot rage before. Daniels saw a deep passion in him and recognized that passion in himself. He was certain at that moment that 17 had lost something or someone, that the ruins had reminded him of. 17 wanted vengeance, he was sure of it.

“We both know you need to heal before we can even consider something like that. Besides, sending you out blind into the Barrens is no way to stop these assholes. I… have… some information as well…”

Daniels looked into 17’s eyes for a moment. He searched for a reason to trust 17. His guts told him that this was a man he could trust, but his years in security and dealing with the Runnercore and 17, in particular, suggested that he revoke that trust. 17 deserved the truth, he deserved to know what was happening. If his information proved correct, 17 might have just saved the entire city from a terrible trap. The real question, of course, was convincing the Senate. For that, they needed more information, and for that, he needed 17. He might even have the Runner testify to the Senate.

Only two Runners had ever testified before the Senate in the past, and they didn’t believe either. The Senate knew that many Runners were their enemies, and some of them held personal vendettas against either themselves or the government that had sentenced them to a life in a Runnercore. But if there was a trap, if there was a serious danger to the city, and Daniels was convinced there was, then they needed some other evidence.

Daniels stood, went to the control panel for the alcove and paused 17’s submersion. Then he sat back down.

“There have been some unusual events around here as well,” said Daniels.

Daniels told 17 of the murder and the strange ritualistic paraphernalia surrounding the body. He told him of his testimony to the Senate and the heightened state of security. He mentioned that Senator Lightfoot had some knowledge of the Children of Gaia in history and so they did appear to be a real organization.

When Daniels finished, neither of them spoke for a long few minutes.

“You see, Daniels, the Children of Gaia are already here. They’re setting the trap. We have to stop them.”

“We need more intel, the Senate won’t buy any of this based on the word of a Runner, and you know that.”

“Then let me go get some.”

“Not yet. Other things are happening. We just received a request for a vid screen meeting with Saud. It’s only a few hours away. After that meeting, I’ll know a lot more.”

“There’s something else. I forgot to mention it before, but somehow it seems important too. The AI in my suit, it’s… well, it’s sentient,” said 17.

Daniels shot a glance upward and stared deep into the lines and scars of 17’s face. “Something strange is happening with the city AI as well. None of the engineers have been able to figure out what’s going on.”

“It’s alive, that’s what’s going on.”

“It’s a machine; it can’t be alive. I’m sure it’s the Children of Gaia. They are messing with our computers.”

Daniels ground his jaw again. This wasn’t some science fiction novel about machines; this was the real world. In the real world, AI could have intelligence to a great degree, but being self-aware is something else entirely; centuries of experiments had suggested that self-awareness was not possible in machines.

“My AI saved my life, it helped me to combat that female Runner. Why in the world would the Children of Gaia want that?”

“Maybe they want you to go back to the city. Maybe they want you to convince us there is some trap. Maybe they have something else in mind.”

“You don’t spend much time out there, so you don’t know what it’s like. As much as that damn AI irritates the shit out of me, I respect it. It has saved me countless times. I don’t think this is something the Children of Gaia would want or expect. In so many ways, they are against technology. Their only desire to use it is to find ways to destroy us. Creating a fully aware Artificial Intelligence doesn’t seem in their best interest.”

“You’re assuming that the AI has become truly aware and it’s not some trick.”

“I don’t know how you fake something like true awareness. Do you?”

Daniels was silent. He thought back on his recent interactions with the AI. The only thing he knew for sure is that he didn’t trust the damn thing now. He had hated it before, but now there was a tinge of… what? Was it fear? No, it was just a damn machine. It couldn’t hurt anyone, but he knew that was a lie. The AI controlled an enormous portion of the city systems. Sure, people could do a lot manually, but that was assuming there were enough human beings trained in every single little task, and Daniel’s wasn’t sure that was the case anymore.

Daniels stood and walked to the control panel.

“I have some people monitoring everything the AI does. For now, we should only be concerned with the Children of Gaia. Look… I’ll come back and let you know what happens with the Senate. For now, get some rest and heal up. I have a feeling we’ll need you soon.”

Daniels didn’t give 17 the chance to respond. He simply pressed the button to close the medical alcove, and 17’s body submerged in the fluid.

First Chapter of Book 3 Battle for Langeles

Final_wip4I am very happy to share the very first chapter from Book 3 of the Chronicles of the Great Migration. Upon Stilted Cities: The Battle for Langeles picks up right where The Winds of Change left off. There are some minor spoilers in here but nothing major. Still, I would recommend having read the first two books of the series before you dive in.

The Battle for Langeles is out October 17th!

Here it is! Minor Spoilers Ahead!

Chapter 1

The Queen of Saud

 

Dust swirled with each impact. The impressions of twelve massive feet left lingering reminders of a migration, at least until a sandstorm refreshed the path. Microtremors webbed outward along the route. Long ago, cities left cracks and unstable earth in their wake. Many of the great caves below the surface had collapsed under the weight of the cities. But now, after twelve hundred years, most of the Earth’s soil was compressed. The hardpan spread deep into the Earth, a virus of time and pressure.

The giant hulking ark–more mountain than moving city–hesitated in its movement, and the shimmer of the angry sun reflected off the surface of the EnViro shield that protected it. The shield’s ripple of energy cast brief reflections of blinding light, like the surface of a lake in the summer sun.

The legs of the city of Saud slowed their pace. Often, stopping was a long process. From a distance, it was hypnotic. The precisely calculated trajectory of the legs moved in a kind of rhythmic orgy of twelve mingling lovers. Minutes passed. The legs slowed until they moved like molasses. A changing of tides. Then, it became difficult to tell if they were moving at all. They were. At last, the city groaned like a dying giant as the bedrock upon the legs froze with one stabilizing halt. The final foot struck the earth with one last puff of dust.

Two cities stood in opposition. A clear day marked the event. To the west, Manhatsten. To the east, Saud. Nestled between them lay the ruins of the once great Langeles, the victim of the Children of Gaia. Only thirty-four kilometers marked the space between the great moving mountains.

 

2.

 

A holographic map projected from the center of the table. It displayed the two cities and outlines of the larger portions of fallen Langeles. Red dots marked the surface of the map, indicating known enemy positions.  Around the edge of the table, many fingers clenched with knuckles white. All eyes were watchful now that Saud had halted migration.

“You are sure, Saud, that this is the best defensive position?” The Queen asked the city AI.

“Yes, Your Majesty. The city of Manhatsten must reposition 6 kilometers to the northeast before it has the most optimal conditions for an attack.”

Queen Sa’dah Karim nodded slowly. She reached up, pushing her hair behind her ears, and adjusted her silver hijab. Half-moon crescents shimmered on her head covering and reflected in her gray-green eyes. Her face was hard with sharp angles, and a thin scar ran from her left ear to her left cheek. She was short but wide, her width all muscle.

“Saud, how many Runners has Manhatsten deployed?” The queen’s voice was deep and commanding.

“Your Majesty, based on both long-range sensors and reports by your Rih, I estimate that the city has deployed 53 Runners. According to past patterns, it is likely that Manhatsten will deploy several dozen more in the next few hours.”

“So this map is up to date?”

“Yes, Your Majesty,” replied the AI

Sa’dah turned her face up toward her council. “So, you see, it appears that as I had suggested yesterday morning, Manhatsten will attempt to claim Langeles for themselves.”

“Have you contacted their Senate?” asked Abdul Aziz.

Aziz was her most trusted advisor; he was one of the few amongst the city’s Uppers that supported her during the coup, once briefly Rih himself, he was a decent warrior. After a failed experiment with democracy, some of the elite in Saud had wanted a return to traditional Bedouin values, they had thought that the old conservative ways were necessary for stability, but Sa’dah had come to power, and with the support of the Rih, she was able to hold it. It was only because the queen had been first amongst the Rih, considered the greatest warrior, undefeated in all challenges.

“No Aziz, I have not yet contacted the leaders of Manhatsten, I prefer to watch my opponents for some time before I act. In patience comes wisdom.”

“And yet while you wait, Your Majesty, Manhatsten’s Runners are gathering intelligence and data that would allow them to have the upper hand,” said Councilman Rabah Nejem.

Other monarchs may not have appreciated Nejem’s tone or comment, but Sa’dah believed in advisors that were much more than just yes-men. She wanted men and women who would argue with all her actions, challenge her leadership and call her decisions into question. Nejem was one such council member. Nejem, like her, was well-known among the Rih. Both had proven excellent warriors, but it was Sa’dah who had turned out to be the better leader and thus became the leader of the Rih and the new monarch of Saud.

“There is a time to act, Nejem. You know as well as I do that we must wait for the conditions to be correct. We should not display the same arrogance of those in Manhatsten. The storms could turn and descend on this place at any moment.”

“But Sa’dah, why are you waiting so long to see if Manhatsten contacts us first? Nejem is right, the longer we wait, the more intelligence Manhatsten will have on the situation,” said Fatima.

Fatima was the only female member of her council. She was a tall, thin woman who controlled the majority of commerce in the city. Most of the Uppers had lost their power in the coup. Fatima had survived because she had provided financial support to Sa’dah and the Rih during their rebellion. She dressed in a full burka, as the Upper women of the city sometimes did. Only her brown eyes were visible.

“Saud.” Sa’dah called the city’s AI, “Please display the satellite image taken at noon of April 3rd.” The AI pulled an image, and Sa’dah continued. “We were lucky enough to have one of our three remaining satellites over that region during the fall of Langeles.”

The fuzzy image showed Langeles, still intact, but stationary. The billowing cloud of smoke issuing from its underbelly suggested that it had deployed its drill. On several sides of the city were small, barely recognizable dots. Sa’dah zoomed in closer on the dots for the rest of her council members to see.

“Are those Duggers outside of Langeles?” asked Walif Saab.

Sa’dah didn’t respond, “Saud, display the image from 12:20 p.m. of that same day.”

The dots had moved closer to Langeles in this image; it was clear now they were surrounding the city in a semi-circle. There was one large, gaping hole in the semi-circle, and as Sa’dah zoomed in on the empty region, something specific, something that looked like combat filled the empty space. It looked like Runners engaged in hand-to-hand combat, but even zoomed in, the images were tiny and indistinct.

“Saud, skip ahead to 2:30 p.m.”

The image was of Langeles, now lying broken on the earth. Part of the city was tipped up towards the sky, like a Frisbee lying awkwardly against a sand castle on a beach. Smoke billowed towards the satellite, obscuring some of the view. Several of the dots that Walif had thought were Duggers were moving further away from the city, some lay stationary with the tiniest hint of a wisp of smoke.

“Saud, will you please tell the council how far Manhatsten is from Langeles at this particular time?”

“Your Majesty, Council members, at the moment that this image was taken, Manhatsten was approximately 200 kilometers away from Langeles.”

“So, what are you suggesting, Sa’dah? That Manhatsten destroyed Langeles?” asked Nejem.

“Saud. Tell the council what you had told me when I asked this question.”

“Of course, Your Majesty. Council members, please consider the following image taken during the attack.”

The satellite image revealed a massive sandstorm between Manhatsten and Langeles. The dark blot between the cities was confirmation for the council that it would have been nearly impossible for Manhatsten to launch a coordinated attack from that distance with the massive amounts of interference in communications.

“So what caused Langeles to fall, then?” asked Aziz.

“The AI and I have consulted a great deal on this matter. I am concerned that we may be dealing with the Children of Gaia.”

“Impossible,” Nejem scoffed. “The Children of Gaia are not capable of such a large-scale attack. The city’s defense alone would have been more than a match for a handful of those wretched heathens. I think the important question is why Manhatsten was so close to Langeles? How often are cities in that close of a proximity?”

Sa’dah said, “Based on the position of the storm, our AI doesn’t think Manhatsten even knew Langeles was there. But, there is more, Nejem. There is a radioactive signature that suggests that several atomic weapons were detonated.”

“But no one has seen or used nukes in a thousand years,” said Walif.

“And that, that is why we have not yet made contact. Though it seems much more likely that it was, in fact, the Children of Gaia, if there is even the slightest chance that Manhatsten has nuclear weapons, we must be patient. I have dispatched a dozen Rih. They will bring back as much intelligence and information as possible, without arousing Manhatsten’s suspicions. ‘Akif and his team were already briefed on this intelligence and are prepared to fight the Children of Gaia, if necessary.”

“When, then, should we make contact?” asked Fatima.

“I am waiting on one final report from ‘Akif. Then we will make our move. Do any of you have any additional input or insights into this information?”

The four council members looked at one another. The fall of a city was such a rare event that there was no simple formula for proper conduct. When Mex had fallen, Saud had been in the middle of the Haj, across the Atlantic, and had only heard of its fate through a rare trade deal with Lundon.

“It is clear that your rule is one of wisdom, Your Majesty. I apologize for my earlier comments,” said Nejem.

“Nejem, my brother, your comments are always welcome here, whether I like them or not. If I had not wanted your strong will on this council, I would not have appointed you to this seat. You always served me faithfully when I led the Rih, as you do now.”

“Your Majesty,” said Aziz. “Have you considered the possibility that Langeles is a trap? That perhaps the Children of Gaia are out there waiting with a plan to destroy both Manhatsten and Saud? That they have nukes and are more than capable of crippling both of us?”

Sa’dah was silent. She reached up and traced the edge of her scar. A gift from one of the Children of Gaia in their attempt to destroy Saud decades earlier.

In truth, she had not considered that. It was true that in the past, the Children of Gaia had displayed a great deal of treachery, they were notorious for using cowardly techniques to attack and ambush their enemies, and there was nothing less honorable and more cowardly than using nuclear weapons. Even during the third world war, nukes had been avoided for fear of total environmental collapse.

Sa’dah said, “Aziz, what would I do without you? This thought had not occurred to me. It is vital that the city remain alert.”

“Your Majesty, I suggest we put the entirety of the Rih on standby,” said Nejem.

“I agree, Nejem, please see to that. Oh, and the moment that ‘Akif has returned, please have him report in. I wish to speak with him about what he saw out there. Not a word of any of this to anyone outside this council chamber. We have found spies of the Children of Gaia in Saud before, and we should remain cautious in case this is a trap.”

“Your Majesty,” Aziz began, “I feel strongly that we should contact Manhatsten immediately, that we should share with them our satellite images and other information. We do not know what kind of information Manhatsten has on the Children of Gaia; perhaps they uncovered something we’ve missed.”

“And if it is Manhatsten’s treachery that destroyed Langeles?” asked Fatima.

“The satellite evidence and Manhatsten’s behavior seems to indicate that they are just as cautious as we are,” replied Aziz.

“They are deploying their Runners in large numbers; doesn’t that suggest preparation for battle?” asked Nejem.

The queen traced her scar for a moment. She felt its sharp ridges, and the memory of the smell of the air seeping in through her cracked helmet where the blade had entered awoke in her nostrils. She remembered the taste of blood and the rage that kept her alive that day.

All watched her.
“While it is true that Manhatsten could be in preparation for battle, I am sure that our Rih and our defenses could easily handle a straightforward attack. It is this trap that Aziz speaks of that concerns me. If Manhatsten falls and we survive, other cities may see us as a threat. You are all aware that several other city-nations would still like to see Saud wiped off the face of the Earth. While it would be possible for the Rih and Saud to hold off against any one city, if several cities decided that we were a threat it is unlikely that we would survive. We must consider the long-term implications of these events, and not just what problem sits before us.”

“Your Majesty, I know the resource cost is high, but might I suggest deploying several Duggers at key points surrounding Langeles? We can use them as communication beacons and track any movement within the city as well as monitor Manhatsten,” said Nejem.

“An excellent suggestion, Nejem. Walif, will you see it done?”

“Of course, Your Majesty, I live to serve.”

“Council members. I agree with Aziz. After I speak with ‘Akif, I will contact Manhatsten. If all goes well, I may consider sending a small delegation to their city to discuss the situation at hand. It is my hope that we can negotiate over the salvage and that we can prepare ourselves in the event of an attack from the Children of Gaia. Do I have any volunteers for such a delegation?”

Abdul Aziz was the first to stand and volunteer. Soon after, Raba Nejem and Fatima Norba stood.

“Excellent. Our meeting is adjourned.”

The council members rose from their seats and left the room. Their long robes dragged against the floor in hissing echoes, fluttering through the room as if a thousand butterflies were flapping their wings at once.

Sa’dah turned and glanced out the window across the landscape. There looming in the distance was Manhatsten, a mountain on legs looming over Langeles. She wondered if her Rih could stand against them. After all, Manhatsten was home to the fabled Runner 17, who, it was rumored, had single-handedly entered Mex and somehow managed to deactivate their EnViro shield. ‘Akif had orders if he encountered that man. She would sleep better at night knowing he was out of the picture. Perhaps, if she weren’t queen, she would seek him out herself.

She frowned. Was 17 the problem, though? Or did Manhatsten have a weapon for deactivating shields? Perhaps Nejem was correct; perhaps it was Manhatsten that destroyed Langeles. They would have to be careful, but it was Sa’dah’s experience that sometimes reaching out to someone you perceive as a rival can yield great benefits. It has been so with Fatima; without her, the Senate would not have fallen.

“AI, would you please gather all the records on Saud’s previous communications with Manhatsten. And if possible, construct a profile of any members of their Senate that we can confirm are still in power?”

“Of course, Your Majesty, I will assemble that information for your vidscreen immediately.”

Sa’dah would spend the remainder of the time studying her opponents, trying to understand their wants and desires but ultimately trying to find a way to compromise over the salvage. There was no reason that the two cities could not share. Perhaps a show of goodwill in a compromise would change the relationship that Saud had with other cities. Her predecessors would have never agreed to any concessions. They had spent a thousand years damaging trade relations and negotiation with other cities. She would not repeat their mistakes. They were, as Fatima would put it, under new management.

It occurred to her that a mutual agreement on the salvage was unlikely, but perhaps with the threat of the Children of Gaia, they could at least prevent all-out war. Sa’dah was a warrior at heart. If it were a choice between the City of Saud and the City of Manhatsten, she would do everything in her power to assure that it was Saud that was still standing at the end of the conflict. In the end, it was her city that must survive, at all costs.

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.