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