Gender: N/A Age: N/A Location: N/A
|Introduction: Not my story|
As if things weren’t bad enough
“Ron!” cried Jill, who was the first to see him enter the room. She ran to him and hugged him furiously, while Kim slipped off to find the rest of the family.
It had taken them only a few hours to get home, since they could now fly together, and in a direct route. Kim had worried about how the cat would get home, but Ron told her not to concern herself with Jessica. Sure enough, Jessica had been waiting for them when they’d arrived. This was Kim’s first sign that the cat was not normal.
By the time Ron disentangled himself from Jill, the rest of the family was present, and many hugs were shared. Everyone was relieved to see him. And Linda had a surprise for him.
“You’ve lost a little weight,” Ron said in fun.
“Tammy?” Linda called quietly. Tammy came over, carrying the baby, and put it in Ron’s arms.
“I know you probably wanted a boy…” Linda began. Ron just looked at her and smiled.
“I didn’t really care which it was, Linda, but she’s beautiful!” He stared down at his new daughter, Mary Christine Chaffey. Well, there could be some dispute, legally, over that last name, but no one here would argue the point.
Ron cuddled his daughter for several minutes, and no one objected, even though they wanted to know what had happened while he was gone. Kim tried to detach herself, not wanting to interfere, but Ron carried the baby directly to her, and she finally realized that she was, truly, a full-fledged part of the family now.
Finally, the baby started to fidget, and Ron handed it over to Tammy, who had imposed upon herself the job of helping Linda care for her. Ron could see the pain in Tammy’s eyes, and he knew what it was from. Telling her was the easiest way to get the message out.
“Don’t worry, Tams. I know how to find the girls, now.”
One little sentence, and the entire family nearly came unglued. There was a chorus of questions, and a lot of confusion. Ron noticed that the cougar, who had come into the room with them, was settled quietly in a corner. Ron tried to calm the group.
“Guys, guys! I can’t answer you all at once. And, I need to apologize, because I should have thought of this three weeks ago.” Now that he had everyone’s attention, he could continue. “Jess! Come here, please.” The big cat rose from its spot and padded over to her friend. “Kim, did you wonder how Jessica knew so precisely where I was?”
“I did find it a bit curious.”
“Well, I know this is going to be hard for all of you to swallow, but this cat doesn’t just remind me of our friend Jessica. She is our friend Jessica.” He was getting blank stares, so he figured he’d better press on. “She’s not reincarnated, or anything like that. She exists in the Spirit Realm, she keeps an eye on all of us. This,” he said, indicating the cat before him, “Is just her physical form here on Earth. I know, I know, this is all whacked, but that’s how it works.”
It took a while before anyone could speak, but Tammy finally asked, “How does that help us find Nikki and Dawn?”
“See, where Jessica really is, there are a lot of people observing the Earth. They’re called ‘Watchers’. And I’m willing to bet they know exactly where the girls are. We just have to get them to tell us.” Ron knew they weren’t really “people”, as such, but why confuse the issue?
“Well, how do we do that?” Sandra asked.
Ron turned to Jessica. “Jess? Can you ask them for me?” As he half-expected, she shook her head in the negative. “Okay.” To the rest of the family, he said, “Looks like I’m going back to the Spirit Realm. Remember when we tried to save Kumiko?” his voice almost didn’t crack when he said that, which was an improvement, the others thought. “I went into the Spirit Realm then. I need to go again, to find Dawn and Nikki.”
“What do you need us to do, Master?” Jill asked. Her question brought something to his mind.
“Cindy didn’t make it, did she?” It wasn’t really a question, and Jill shook her head “no.”
“Damn. Jill, I need you to set up a quiet space around here somewhere, where I won’t be disturbed.”
She nodded, and moved off to do as she had been told. Ron looked at Tammy, and gave her a smile. “We’ll find them.” Ron waited where he was, resting and looking around at the facility, while the rest of the family moved off. He took little note of Linda and Sandra talking quietly with Kim.
“So?” Linda prodded.
“So, what?” Kimberly replied, playing dumb.
“Come on, Kim! Don’t torment us!” Sandra insisted.
“He is a very wonderful man,” Kim said, “And, I am now a woman.”
Nothing else needed to be said. Linda gave her a warm hug, and Sandra gave her a kiss. “Welcome to the family,” she offered.
“Sandy, it was… unbelievable. Nothing in my life has ever felt like that!”
“Two psionics together… I imagine that is special.”
“Especially when there’s love involved,” Linda mused.
The room did not take long to prepare. Jill had turned her celebrity arrogance into authoritative competence, and she was always listened to by the residents of the shelter. Ron was led to a comfortable, if slightly damaged, chair in a secluded section of the shelter.
“Is there anything else you will need, Master?”
“Not right now, Jill, but I’ll need something to drink when I come out of it, and there should always be someone here with me, just in case something unexpected happens.”
“What should we do,” Tammy inquired, “if the unexpected happens?”
“If I knew that,” Ron answered with a chuckle, “then it wouldn’t be unexpected!” He lay back in the chair and closed his eyes. He let the outside world drift away from his consciousness, and he focused his mind. Turning his energy back in upon itself, once again he found himself in the Plane of the Watchers.
“Hello, Master.” He had expected to be greeted by Jessica. After all, that was who always greeted him here. He was not ready to be greeted by someone else.
“Megan! What are you- No, never mind, I know what you’re doing here. You look very nice.” Ron embraced her, and held onto her for some minutes. Unlike last time, he realized that minutes here were bare seconds in real life, and so he took the time to enjoy the sensation.
Finally, she released him, and he backed away. “I need to see one of the Watchers, Megan.”
“Yes, Master. Jessica told us as much. I will take you to them.”
“Us?” Ron inquired.
“Cindy is here, as well. All of your family will wait for you here, until it is time for your passing.”
“But… you didn’t make a conscious decision to be with me, I forced you to. So, you’re stuck with that for the rest of eternity?”
“No, Master. When I passed, my mind was freed from your control. I was shown my life before you, and after you, and was given a choice. I chose to remain.”
Ron was completely speechless with that pronouncement. He didn’t know what to say, and so he said nothing, but hugged her again. When he let go, he had only one doubt left. “And Cindy?”
“Master, her life before you was so horrid as to be something you’d rather not know. Though her time with you was short, it was the most pleasant period of her life. She, also, has chosen to remain with you.”
Ron was moved beyond words. He would deal with these emotions at a later time, when he could afford it. “Thank you for telling me, Megan. You can call me Ron, now, if you’d like.”
“You were, are, and always will be my Master. And, sir, the Watchers are waiting for you. We should get going.”
The small committee of Watchers met Ron at the seashore. He had come to understand that everything in this Realm was some kind of metaphor or analog to what it was used for. He didn’t waste much time considering why Earth was represented by a vast sea of swirling and roiling currents.
The lead Watcher stood from his place in the sand to greet the duo. He then returned to his spot, and motioned them to sit as well. Ron sat slowly, as the man looked remarkably familiar to him, but he couldn’t place the face or voice. The man, seeing this, cleared the matter up for him.
“I am Sarcerion. I am also a child of Calliope. The family resemblance is what has you confused.”
“You were… removed from Guardian Hall?”
“Not exactly. I chose not to take an active part in what was going on around me. I am not a fan of battle, and so I do what I can for the Earth Realm.”
Ron took that at face value, and sat down on the warm sand. The five Watchers observed him for some time before anyone spoke. The one woman in their group was the first to speak.
“What can we do for you, Master Chaffey?”
“Excuse me? Master?”
Sarcerion explained, “It is a title given to all of the Earth Realm who hold a position of import.”
“Ah. Well, I thought Jess would have explained this to you. My sisters have been kidnapped by the enemy forces, and I would like to get them back.”
“An understandable feeling,” another said, “But how can we be of help? We cannot enter the Earth Realm.”
“No, but you can tell me where they are, can’t you?”
“Ahhh,” said a fourth. “You seek from us information.”
“When you need something, you go to the best.”
“Flattery will not aid you in this endeavor, Master Chaffey,” Sarcerion said with a smile. “However, in this matter, we can be of help. We have been given direction to be as helpful to you as possible. You are highly regarded in the Spirit Realm, especially among the Guardians. Also, you have gained the respect of certain Centurions, and that is not an easy task. Let us consult, and see if we can locate the information you seek. Please wait here. We shall return as quickly as possible.”
The five rose, and walked swiftly into the sea. They disappeared rapidly, and Ron and Megan were left alone to wait.
“I was troubled when you left home, Master. I worried for you.”
“I was worried for me, too, Megan. But things are a little better now.”
“Yes, we know. She is very special to you, isn’t she?”
“You’ve been watching me since you got here, haven’t you?”
“Yes, Master. And I will continue to do so, unless you would rather I didn’t.”
“I don’t mind, Megan. But, when Kim and I made love… it’s never been like that before. I can’t even begin to describe how that felt to me. The emotions and thoughts and movements… it all swirled together.”
“And you love her.”
“Then I am happy for you, Master. I knew that I would never hold that place in your heart, but I always wished that someone would.”
“How come you never spoke this way when you were on Earth?”
“On Earth, I was fully under your control, Master. Your programming did not permit me to speak my wants and wishes. Here, I am not under your control. I have merely chosen to remain as your servant.”
“Oh. Megan, I’m sorry. When I chose you at CAMP, well… my intention was merely physical. I chose you because…”
“Because, Master, I was a bitch. And you felt I needed taming.”
“Well… there was also the fact that you’re a total fox.”
Megan blushed. “Master, I do not regret the time I have spent with you. My life before you was far worse than anything you did to me. Even that day when we were first together… when you…”
“Yeah, I still remember that day. You sure did wriggle around a lot, stuck in mid-air.”
Again she blushed. “I hated you that day. I am sorry for that, Master.”
“Don’t worry about it. It’s not important.”
“Cindy wanted to be here, but she needed to keep an eye on something or other, I’m not sure what.”
“I would have liked to see her. Tell her that I miss her, please?”
“She knows, Master. We all know how you feel about us. You have not hidden those feelings from us. We all love you, you do know that?”
“Yes, Megan, I-“ Ron was interrupted as the five emerged from the sea again. They did not retake their seats. Ron wondered why the illusion did not carry over to them being sopping wet after walking out of an ocean, but dismissed it as irrelevant.
“We have located your family.”
“That didn’t take long.”
“Actually, it took us three days. Time in there,” he indicated the ocean, “Moves at a different rate even from the other portions of the Spirit Realm. Anyway, I will show you, mentally, where you must go now.”
A map was burned into Ron’s memory. He would not forget this location. Useful images were also passed along, showing Nikki and Dawn, held confined, but in good condition; not unduly mistreated, but merely imprisoned.
After the images, Sarcerion said, “You should know that there is another person there that you are familiar with. After consultation, we decided it would be best not to tell you who it is. But, we will tell you, this person’s presence there is not a trick or a trap. This person is genuine, and you can believe what they are going to tell you.”
“O…kay… Thank you very much for the information.”
“You are welcome, Master Chaffey. If we are needed in the future, we stand ready to assist. However, you should know that frivolous requests cannot be fulfilled. We are very busy.”
“I understand that. I don’t anticipate needing your help again soon. But I appreciate knowing that you are here if I need you. Again, thank you. I will be going now.”
“Good luck to you.”
Megan walked with him back to his point of arrival, and she gave him a warm good-bye kiss. “I wish you could stay longer, Master. We will be together again, someday.”
“I love you, Megan.”
“I know, sir. And I will always love you. Go now, and rescue your sisters. They need you now more than I do.”
Ron waded into the ocean, and soon he was returned to his own body. The family was gathered, and waiting, but they were calm as Ron took a large drink of the juice by his chair. This sort of trip always took a bit out of him.
“Okay,” he started, after letting the juice trickle down his throat. “I know where they are. It’s not heavily defended. I think Kim and I can handle this alone.”
“Are you sure, Ron?” Linda said. “We don’t want to lose two more people.”
“You won’t. The Watchers showed me what we need to know. We can get them out of there. We’ll rest here tonight, and leave in the morning. It should be about a two day trip, out and back.” To help ease some feelings he knew the family had, he added, “And, by the way, Megan and Cindy said hi.” Not strictly speaking the truth, it was close enough, and had the desired results. A few small smiles broke out in the knowledge that, though they were no longer present, they were still okay.
They departed early in the morning, flying northwest away from the sun. It was a long trip, and it took them several, thankfully uneventful, hours to get there. They landed a mile away from the place the girls were being held, and paused to get their bearings, to make sure no one was watching, and to rest a bit.
“There is something I haven’t told you yet,” Ron said as they sat on a fallen log.
“The Watchers said there was someone else here that I knew, but they wouldn’t tell me who it was. They only assured me that this person, whoever it is, isn’t a trick or a trap. So, we’ll have to do a little extra looking around after we rescue the girls.”
“Where you lead, I will follow.”
“Now you sound like Megan,” he said, half-playfully. “Are you ready?”
“As ready as I’m ever going to be, I suppose.”
“Okay, let’s get going, then.”
They crept the last mile. It took them over an hour to reach the small house where the girls were being held. From the outside, it looked normal enough, but Ron was sure it would be fairly heavily secured. They could see no one watching out of the windows for them, and no one on the porch. Then Ron spotted a door down to the basement on the side of the house. He pointed.
“Most likely, they’d be keeping them in the basement for security. If we go in those doors, maybe we can avoid some trouble.” What he left unspoken was that this was most likely to be the most heavily defended door, but he really didn’t care at this point.
The pair waited until night fell, and then they ran, in a crouch, across the yard to the hatch-style doors that led to the basement. They paused, and each tried to sense if there was someone on the other side of the door. Slowly, they increased their psionic output, until they were certain there was no one within twenty feet of the door. Nor was the door locked. This made Ron horribly suspicious: this was far too easy.
Nevertheless, the pair pressed on. Even if it were a trap, they could hardly turn back this close to the objective. Ron opened the door slowly, hoping like hell it didn’t squeak. It didn’t. They slipped in and closed the door behind them, locking it so that no one could sneak up behind them.
Ron led the way down a short hallway that then branched into two directions. He looked both ways, and saw no one, but he saw that the one hallway turned again. He led them down the shorter hallway first.
The door to each of these rooms was open, and empty. This worried Ron. Could they have moved the girls? Perhaps they had somehow found out he was coming? But that wasn’t possible, was it? No one but he had known just where he was going today.
Quickly, they moved into the second hallway. The doors here were closed, and locked. This was more promising. Kim picked the lock on each door, careful to keep her psionic energies focused. The first doorway swung open silently, to reveal someone… that Ron didn’t know.
“Who the hell are you?” he whispered hoarsely, as Kim kept guard.
“Jack Tiner. I used to live in Dallas.”
“Why are you here?”
“Well, quite frankly, they captured me, and wanted some computer codes. I gave the codes to them, and then they threw me in here.”
Ron’s mouth set in a frown. A traitor. But he couldn’t kill the man just for saving his own neck. “Fine. You will wait at this door, and you will leave with us.” The man nodded, and then Ron thought to add something else. “You betray us, and I will kill you before I fight them, understood?” The man nodded vigorously.
Ron and Kim moved on to the second door, where Kim repeated her lock picking skills. This door squeaked slightly, and they all froze, but no one came to inquire on it. The door went the rest of the way silently.
“Ron!” Nikki half-whispered in astonishment.
“Anybody like a ride home?” Ron asked.
Nikki rushed to him and gave him a big hug. Dawn remained on her cot. Finally, she said, “So, I suppose you are now going to whisk us away back to your headquarters. Shit. What makes you any better than them?”
“Stuff it, Dawn,” Ron responded. He was in no mood, and had no time, to deal with her just now. He was behaving as a soldier, and had no energy to spare on her ramblings. “Kim, keep guard here. I’m going to take a look around the corner.”
Kim nodded, and Ron moved quietly off to the corner. When he looked around it, he saw three guards in front of one room. Now, who could possibly be in that room to warrant three guards? The answer came pretty quickly: there had to be a psionic in that room. And that meant the guards would be heavily focused on what was inside the room, rather than anyone approaching it. He proved this by stepping into the middle of the hallway. He wasn’t directly in their line of sight, but anyone who was wary of intruders would have been more alert.
Kim heard the sizzle of psionic energy, and knew that the blast must have been rather impressive. She wondered why it was necessary, but didn’t dare move from her post without being called.
The guards died without ever knowing what killed them. Ron moved down to the door they’d been guarding, to find that it was not just locked, but triple-locked, with one of them being a fairly complex combination lock. He blasted through all three of them with a single focused burst of energy. Not as fancy as Kim’s work, it did the trick. The door swung open with a loud groan. Obviously, it hadn’t been used much.
What Ron saw inside the room made him draw back.
“You- You can’t be here!” he nearly shouted.
“Ron?” she said, unsure of what she was seeing. When she’d first come here, they’d played many games with her mind, and, though they’d quit that after a month or two, she was still wary of anything she saw that was out of the ordinary.
“No! You cannot be here! You’re leading them!”
Michelle rose from her cot, stiffly and slowly. “When she captured me, she rummaged through my head. I wasn’t good enough to stop her. She gathered information about you, and CAMP. And then she changed her appearance to look like me. I’ve been stuck down here ever since then.”
“Oh, shit, Michelle. I’m sorry. I didn’t-“
“You couldn’t have known. Let’s get the hell out of here, though. Wait, if you’re not here for me, then-“
“They kidnapped Nikki and Dawn.”
“Oh, shit. Are they all right?”
“Yeah, we’ve already got them unlocked. Come on, we’ve got to go before someone knows we’re here.”
“They probably already know that, Ron.”
“Could be, but is there a benefit to hanging around?”
She agreed there wasn’t, and then followed him down the hallway. As they moved around the corner, Michelle and Kim got their first look at each other. It was an immediately competitive atmosphere. Each one instinctively knew what the other’s presence meant. Ron hadn’t caught on to anything yet, mainly because his concern was getting the hell out of Dodge at this point.
“Kim, bring up the rear. Nikki, Dawn, get moving!” Without even thinking about it, he gave them a mental push to make sure they cooperated. Jack fell into line without being bidden, and they all quickly made for the basement door.
They made it outside and into the woods without the slightest hint of trouble. The longer they went without encountering difficulty, the more Ron worried. They stopped about three hundred yards into the woods, to take a quick breather. He turned to Jack.
“You’re out of here. I don’t trust you any further than I can throw you. I’m sure as hell not carrying you along with us. You’re on your own.”
“I understand that. You want to wipe my mind of where you are?”
“Wouldn’t do any good. Just get moving. Go that way,” Ron pointed. “It appears to be safe, and it should eventually lead you to a city. We will go… in some other direction.”
He waited until Tiner was out of sight, and even outside a low psionic scan, then they moved off in a direction at a right angle to Tiner’s. They walked for two hours, both because they didn’t want to use any unnecessary psionic power so close to the house, and because Ron was a bit worn from the stress of the previous day.
They reached a small meadow, and that’s where Ron stopped. “We’ll camp here for the night, and then we’ll fly home in the morning.”
“I don’t see a fucking airport around here anywhere,” Dawn said acidly.
“We don’t need one,” Ron replied coldly, “Now go to sleep.”
Whether it was because he was tired, or perhaps because he didn’t want to deal with it, Ron’s brain never registered the looks that were passing between Michelle and Kim. They each slept beside Ron, on opposite sides, and no more than five feet away from him. Deep in his subconscious, Ron knew there was a problem, but he thought it would keep.
The morning turned out to be a very rude awakening. Ron bolted awake to the sense that there were others nearby. He saw that Kim and Michelle were both awake, too. So it wasn’t a dream.
He pulled the five of them into a defensive posture, his sisters in the center, protected by the three psionics. Ron debated whether to use his energy to search for the enemy, or to remain silent, in the hopes that the enemy did not know where they were, and wouldn’t find out.
His debate didn’t last long, as the trees on the edge of the small clearing they were in were blasted away by mental fire, and a team of eight Russian psionics poured into the opening they had made.
Death Squad, Ron thought. His shields went to maximum. He couldn’t sustain this level for very long, but there was almost nothing that would get through it.
The eight Russians blasted away at the shield, which became visible as their energies impacted it. Kim and Michelle used their combined strength to take down one of the Russians. But the strain was more than Ron could take. These were not merely psionics: they were among the best of the Russian team. All of them were level 14, by CAMP standards, or higher. Death Squads were few in number, Ron knew, but wherever they went, they killed with impunity. Not here, and not now! Ron raged.
Ron quickly switched to offense, firing off a blinding blast of light, to disorient the attackers. He quickly moved his team to the far side, hiding behind trees not so much for protection as to confuse their location. He lanced a mental blast at the lead Russian, and he fell, his body twisting in the pain induced by overloaded synapses.
The Russians were firing back blindly, their eyes still not clear of the flash-blindness caused by Ron’s trick. He raised his shields quickly as an errant blast strayed near him. It missed wide.
Michelle, angry with the Russians for her captivity, blasted all her energy at the nearest soldier, severing his head clean from his body. The count was down to four, as Kim had also scored, but now the Russian’s were learning: they used their televiewing to see, instead of their eyes. Their return fire was much more accurate. Michelle ducked behind a tree, just narrowly escaping a return volley from two Russians.
Ron focused his thoughts, and immediately four hundred glowing butterflies appeared in front of the enemy. Because these were “real”, having physical appearance, this interfered with televiewing as well as normal vision. Kim took the opportunity to charge her nearest opponent, a mere ten feet away. A flip and a scissors-strike, and her foe was lying dead on the ground, his neck snapped cleanly. She retreated back to cover before anyone could catch her, but the mental fire was right on her heels.
Ron was running out of tricks. He could take on one of these Russians, easily. Two with some difficulty. But three were just beyond him. And neither of the ladies could stand up to them one-on-one. He let the butterflies fade, and he zapped another of them, watching him fall to the ground.
It was that momentarily lapse in concentration, while he was watching his vanquished foe, that caused him the greatest harm. A bolt of energy sliced into him from one of the two remaining soldiers. His shields kicked in almost automatically, but the force of the blast was enough to throw him backward.
Ron hit a large oak tree with a great deal of force. He heard the snapping and popping of breaking bone. He knew they were his, but he couldn’t feel any of it. He marveled at the warm sensation flowing over his body. Then he felt a very hard surface connect with his left temple. After that, his unconscious form felt nothing at all, as it slid to the ground.
Kim saw the attack, and the result. A battle cry welled up from her inner being and escaped out her mouth as her body flew toward the offending person. He was still winded from using so much power to take down Ron, and he was hardly ready for a berserker charge from this female. Her shields were at maximum, and her mental energy crackled around her like lightning. She lunged at him, and her hands, and her energy, clasped around his throat. The momentum of her charge brought her in a swinging circle all the way around her opponent. She was immensely startled when his head actually tore free from his body. She released him, using her kinetics to flip her back to her feet, and ignored the dead body as it fell to the ground.
There were now two very pissed off women facing one remaining Russian soldier. He had seen the look of rage in his girlfriend’s eyes often enough to know when leaving was the better part of valor. He bolted straight upward, leaving the scene as fast as he could. Both of them considered following him, but for only as long as it took to remember that Ron was lying in a heap over by a tree.
They rushed over to him, to find Nikki already kneeling over him. Dawn was sitting off by another tree, resolutely not paying any attention to her brother.
“Nikki, is he…” Kim couldn’t bring herself to finish the question.
“He’s still breathing. But he’s hurt bad. His arm’s at the wrong angle, and I don’t know what else might be damaged. Can’t you… fix him?”
Kim shook her head, and then looked to Michelle. “Can you?”
“No. I never got good at healing others.”
“We’ve got to get him back home!”
“We will, Nikki, we will. Can you fly, Michelle?”
“Barely. There’s no way I could carry anyone with me.”
“Damn. And I can’t carry three people on my own that distance.”
“I’m not ‘flying’ anywhere with you people,” Dawn interjected from her tree.
“You’ll do what you’re told, remember?” Kim said, rather forcefully. Michelle looked at her in utter astonishment. “But in this case, she’s right. We’re going to have to walk. We can carry Ron between us.”
“It’s several hundred miles back to Ron’s house, if that’s where we’re going.”
“Eventually. But, if I recall my map correctly, there was a PPA unit not too far from here. It’ll probably take us several days of walking to get there, though.”
“Why go there? Why not call them here?” Michelle challenged.
“You want more Russians after us? If they knew there was an unprotected unit, carrying the PPA commander… Christ, they’d be on us like you wouldn’t believe!”
“But the PPA would be all over us, too, wouldn’t they?” Michelle responded.
“Not fast enough. How long do you think it would take a hundred soldiers to take us out? Twenty seconds, and the battle’s over!”
“Alright, Alright. Which way?”
Kim oriented herself, as she had been taught to do in the ShadowDragon. Then she pointed. “That way.”
“Okay, you go first.”
Ron found himself standing on a hill. The hill was a chalky white color, with sparse grass growing up through depressions in the rock…
Was it rock?
Ron knelt down to look at the ground more closely. He picked at a loose section. It came free. He turned it over, and found a human skull staring back at him.
The jaw of the skull fell open.
Ron threw the skull, and tumbled backwards. He rolled over the edge of the hill, and began tumbling downward. He hit his head, and the world went back to black.
It was a long walk, and they stopped only seldom. No one spoke for the first hours, until they paused for lunch. Lunch turned out to be whatever they could collect from the path they had walked. Being winter, very few edible plants were around. They managed to gather a few small items. It would have to do until they could either find better food, or some kind of civilization.
Once again, they began to walk. Kim took the lead, with Michelle walking behind her. They levitated Ron between them. Nikki walked slightly off to one side, so that she could keep her eyes on her brother. Dawn walked aimlessly behind them all, not giving a damn whether they got where they were going or not. How did I end up surrounded by these goddamned psionics!
Ron came to slowly. He didn’t know you could pass out in a dream. He knew this was a dream, or some version of one. He knew this because, first off, he had no Ability here, and second, that fall should have killed him. Since he wasn’t seeing any Guardians or Judges nearby, he assumed he was not dead.
So, I’m dreaming. How deep is this dream? What is the last thing I remember?
That line of questioning brought a fierce, fiery stab of pain to his head. It hurt so bad that he dropped to his knees and closed his eyes. The pain only subsided when he consciously decided to stop thinking about before. He would worry about before, later.
He rose from his position, his head clearing slowly of the blinding pain. He was standing with his back to the… hill… and he saw before him a valley, bathed in the red glow of a setting sun. Or was it rising? How to tell when you have no orientation for time or space?
Now what do I do?
It appeared as if, down in the crux of a river below him, was a large house. It seemed to be somehow lit up, as if there were rays of sunshine that played upon it, and it alone.
Well, slick, it’s your dream. Might as well get walking. He thought, as he went along, how much easier flying would be. But he’d already tried to levitate himself, and it just didn’t work. He was normal again, here.
A little late.
He walked slowly and steadily, not wanting to tire himself, if that were possible in a place like this. Hey, if knocking yourself out in a dream is possible, anything is. He walked endlessly, and it almost appeared as if he wasn’t going anywhere. He looked down at his path, and it appeared as if it were actually moving backward, or as if it was growing before his eyes. He noted, for the first time, that the scenery around him wasn’t moving past as it should. He was on a damned treadmill!
He leaped sideways, into the brush. He rolled down an embankment, and ended up laying against something soft. He rolled to see what it was, and found dead human eyes staring back at him. Once again he screamed, and the blackness engulfed him.
Michelle managed to catch a small rabbit before dinnertime rolled around, and Kim managed a small fire, to warm them, and to cook the food. The fire was a danger, but they had to do it. Neither of the normals had any winter clothing, and the clothing that the Russians had been wearing was simply too big to be of any use.
Dawn sat close to the rest of the group only because that’s where the fire was. Nikki sat next to her brother, lying on the ground still unconscious. Kim and Michelle had spoken very few words to each other all day. But without any activity, their minds went into work, and their emotions came to the fore.
“He used to be mine, you know,” Michelle said quietly.
“Yes. I have heard many things about you,” Kim replied.
“Perhaps he will be mine again.”
“He loves me.”
“He told you that?” Kim nodded. “Well.”
Their conversation stopped at that point, and the group settled back into silence for the night. They had at least two more days to walk. It was obvious that it would not be pleasant.
Ron awakened after another fear-induced nap, but was awake enough not to open his eyes right away. He could still feel the soft… body… resting next to him. He rolled away, and stood up before opening his eyes, slowly and carefully.
What the hell is this place? Am I the only living person here?
>>What if you are?>But do you want answers?>But if this is just a dream, how come you know it’s a dream?>If you don’t know, how can I tell you?>But isn’t that what got us into this in the first place?>What makes you so sure it means anything? It’s just a dream, remember? Or have you changed your mind?>Don’t you know that nightmares never end? You only hit the pause button when you wake up, and sooner or later, you revisit it. If you run from this nightmare, it will be waiting for next time.
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