When I awoke it was to confusion and shouting. Pion was about to slap the shit out of Étta and I couldn’t let that happen.
“Pion!” I croaked. The stranger who had been like a big sister to me froze. My memories were all jumbled but she made me feel safe, even when her blue eyes burned with rage behind her practical glasses.
Taking the time to totter around a puddle of acrid sick on the floor, Étta made his was to perch on the side of my bed. “Tyme? How are you?”
Pion was not to be ignored, and the Blue, someone a little familiar in both my warring memories, was trying to keep her at bay. “Let me pass, you fucking oaf!”
Lucien Cad hadn’t changed much from his sleepy gaze and toned body. “Please wait a moment, miss.”
“No, you don’t understand! Temps was not someone you could just-”
“His name is Tyme. Use it.” Étta didn’t even bother turning to look behind him. His voice held all the power of his station as the Blue Clan Head. “He’s family, Pion.”
“And you are a gods damned fool if you think you can just break one of the Basic Laws!”
“It worked. You said I had a week to figure something out. I figured it out. He’s fine now. We’re fine now.”
I tried to sort through all the mess in my head, but there was something lighter about my chest and shoulders. I felt my spine trying to stand tall, despite my weariness. The light in the room seemed a little brighter and I could breathe a little easier.
For the first time in years, I didn’t want to lash out in fear or anger. I just was. Confused as hell and feeling like I had tumbled down a hill of spikes, but I was more whole. It felt good and warm, like the hand Étta placed over mine.
After a long moment where a hushed argument between Cad and Pion ended, he stepped aside to grab a bucket and mop. Walking up to my bed, Pion glared. “Éttienne, leave us. I need to look him over and you have a meeting to get to.”
Reluctantly, Étta stood. “I’ll be back soon.”
I nodded, and watched him leave before giving the Red my full attention.
It didn’t take long for Pion to look me over with an efficient manner born more from her smoldering anger than practice. I’m sure practice had something to do with it, sure, but I knew from Étta’s memories that she usually had a better bedside manner than what she gave me. There was no talking, except when she needed me to move. We quickly realized I was pretty handicapped when it came to getting my limbs to listen to my orders. If I did get something moving, I trembled with the effort of both the unaccustomed mental and physical exercise. She poked and prodded while I did my best not to flinch each time. Yeah, flinching so often was going to get wearing. After a long ten minutes, I was ready to fall back into a deep sleep. Étta had shown me how to wake up again and for that, I was eternally grateful. His Medic, on the other hand, was in a right snit. One of the last things she looked over was the Med Band, and as Pion did, she told me it was simply the part of the drug I was addicted to, nothing else; I was safe from the prior control it had induced. Mind control. It seemed impossible that my own sister would have done such a thing, but glimpses of her from Étta’s eyes showed me a different person. Someone colder, sharper, more clinical than that of my own understanding of her.
As Pion finally left off checking me over, she took the pillow out from behind me and let me relax, I reached out and laid a trembling hand on her arm. She paused, the fury in her gaze mellowed a little as she lifted an eyebrow. I swallowed and coughed a couple of times to clear my dry, unused voice-box. “Pion, please…”
She hesitated, then spoke. “‘Please’ what, Tyme?”
The fact that she was willing to use my first name was a good sign; or, at least I took it as such. I had never been the type to try and actually talk to anyone but my sister. According to Étta, that trust was misplaced, but I still felt that instinctive bond with Cherise. The fact that Pion was also a Red Card helped me swallow my pride and just try to talk with her. “Please don’t blame him,” I croaked out.
Pion scowled and blew out breath. She took my hand and settled on the edge of my bed, then murmured. “I can’t let him think it was okay, either. What Éttienne did was against so many well placed laws that I don’t think I can ever forgive him. Even with someone’s consent to connect mentally, it’s not allowable. There’s no telling what will happen, since some cases, where fools thought they were better than the Basic Laws, ended with people going crazy or turning into blank slates. There was even a case where the people who attempted a connection melded their personalities so thoroughly that they were mental twins.” She paused and patted my hand. “In your case, however you may see it, Éttienne forced his way into your mind. You did not have the ability to consent, nor fight him. The closest thing I can liken it to is rape. Mental rape, as invasive and terrifying, perhaps more so than physical rape.”
Oh, how little she knew.
I understood what she was trying to say, but she didn’t understand how Étta had actually stabilized me mentally. “Pion…”
“No, let me finish, Tyme. I need to make sure you understand. You had no choice. When was the last time you did something you wanted? How long have you been ruled by someone else’s decisions or even fear? Maybe in light of how you’ve lived in the past pushes Éttienne’s actions out of the shadows and seems good, but he had no right. You were an obsession of his for all these months, but I wonder how it will be when he has you in arm’s reach? Do you think he’ll get bored? Do you feel indebted to him so that you’ll stay? You’re young enough still that you can walk away from here and go to your roommate Thomas Frankie, who, I can promise you, will never ask anything from you but respect. With him you would never find yourself doing something you don’t want. I cannot promise the same for you if you stay in this house.”
“Pion,” I tried again, this time she nodded. “I know what you’re saying, but before I was being controlled by that damnable drug, I noticed Étta too. I wanted nothing more than to have him look at me with favor. It was that day that I also caught you staring,” I recalled the Medic that had averted her gaze to quickly and knew it to be the same young woman that was holding my hand. I took a breath and continued. “It was also that night that I tried to kill Frankie and lost. You say I have a right to choose?” I choked out a bitter laugh. “I gave no one reason to help me and yet….”
Pion squeezed my hand. Emotion started to build up as my throat tightened. I couldn’t recall the last time someone had simply held my hand. “And yet,” she continued for me, seeing that my voice had failed me finally, “now you have more people who would be willing to fight for you than you ever imagined? If it helps, we all saw something we couldn’t ignore, Tyme, and we did something about it. I can’t speak for everyone, but I saw abuse. Abuse of person, of power, and of trust. It’s in my instincts to help and mend. I’m glad that you now have a chance to build your future, and I won’t stand aside if I see you’re getting abused again. Understand?”
I nodded. I wanted to tell her about everything. Even without the echoes of Étta’s memories, Pion had such a quiet strength that called to me. She smiled and patted my hand once more before she got up.
“What is it?” I couldn’t help but ask.
“Oh, I was thinking I should send Francene in to give your hair a trim. It’s a bit… wild looking right now.”
I blinked. “Um, alright…?”
Pion grinned, her eyes dancing. “Good. I let you rest a bit then I’ll send her in. Sleep well, Tyme.”
“Thank you,” I mumbled as I was already dozing off.
I started awake at a hand touching my shoulder. My panicked gaze met Francene’s wide emerald gaze and we both froze. She let out a nervous laugh and removed her hand. As I pulled myself up into a sitting position, I saw that the Creator had brought supplies needed for a haircut with her. I was a bit relieved when she turned her back so I could get my bit of panic under control. I not used to this amount of touching and, as the ever helpful Étta memories supplied, Francene was a pretty touchy-feely girl. I also remembered her sneer as she led Étta away from the café so long ago. I wondered what she thought of BW’s now that she’d had exposure to three -former in Cad’s case- BW’s.
At the sound of her soft voice I leaned forward, elbows propped on my crossed legs, to listen. “I know that you might dislike me, Robins, but…”
“My name is Tyme,” I said, just as softly.
She nodded still not facing me as she shuffled her tools about. “Tyme, then, I know we didn’t start off right and it’s my fault, so,” she turned and met my eyes. “I wanted to say that I’m very sorry for how I treated you. I never imagined what it was like to be a BW and all that entailed. I can’t say that I want to be friends or anything, but maybe a truce? For Éttienne’s sake?”
“Alright,” I nodded. “as long as I can call you Francene, because using your last name would be weird.”
She smiled, relaxing, and I saw her teasing nature brighten her eyes. “That’s fine.” Francene studied me a bit, much like Pion had not too long ago. “So, do you know what you’d like to do to your hair?”
I shrugged. “I never gave it much thought.”
“Do you mind if I…?” Francene motioned vaguely in my direction.
I shook my head with a rueful smile. “It’d be hard to cut my hair from over there, hm?”
She laughed nervously, and moved in closer to study my hair. She ran her fingers through it and let it fall a few times, thinking. I could tell that Francene was still jittery, but she paused and openly stared at the area of black bangs at my right temple. “Did anyone tell you there’s blue in your hair now?”
“I’ll take that as a ‘no’. It looks like Éttienne gave you a bit of himself. It’s the same shade as his hair.”
I couldn’t see myself so I shrugged off that information until I could see it later. “Any ideas?” I asked.
Francene turned around to fetch a large bit of cloth. “Yes, as a matter of fact. Do you trust me?”
As she drew the cloth around my shoulders and made sure it covered most of the bed as well, I chewed that question over until I came up with the only answer she needed. “Yes. For Étta’s sake.”
That made her pause and I felt happy as the tense air around the two of us diffused. Francene went to work as I sat as still as I could. I caught myself flinching a bit, but she was patient and gave me space when I needed it. At some point a petite Grey Card dropped off a tray of food from Jerome. We were missing lunch it seemed.
The Creator paused long enough to ask if I was hungry, and I was fine, so we put off the food till later. It didn’t seem like it took her that long, but an hour must have passed us by in our companionable silence. At long last Francene put down her scissors and pulled out a mini vacuum to collect my hair; before sweeping the cloth off of me and the bed. She leaned forward and flicked a few stray hairs back into place before she bent to grab a small mirror. “Here.”
I took what was offered and looked at what she had done. The first thing I saw was the bright bit of blue in the midst of my black hair. That was going to take some getting used to for sure. Otherwise she’d left my hair longer towards the front and very short in the back. I was quiet for so long that I guess Francene took it as a bad sign.
“You hate it.”
I shook my head and handed the mirror back to her with smile. “I told you I never gave my hair much thought, but this is really great. Thank you.”
She was about to respond when the door to the small room was pushed open by the Grey Card again. She scowled at us and sneered. “I really wish you had taken the time to eat your fucking lunch.”
Francene stepped between me and the Grey. “Jeffie! What’s going on?”
I leaned around Francene to get a better look at Jeffie, as she wasn’t in many of Étta’s memories, in time to see her pull a gun on the Yellow Card. What the flying fuck?
“Don’t be stupid, Martinez. I gave you a chance to keep your life, but you’ve missed it by a mile.”
Francene shook her head in confusion. “I don’t understand. Why am I going to die?”
I tried to concentrate on the gun, hoping to get it from Jeffie’s hand. I knew Francene was not a fighter but maybe she could get help from someone else… in a house of Civilians. Aksa! Who was I kidding? The best fighter we had here was Cad and I had no idea how much he was training anymore. However, now that the door was open I noticed the house was too quiet. My mental fingers had the strength of a new born baby, and when I tried to pull the gun out of Jeffie’s grip, I don’t think she even noticed my stained effort.
Jeffie rolled her eyes. “I’m not going to waste time explaining since you know how this is going to end. So you can either surrender gracefully or I can set fire to this whole place and the rest of the ‘family’ you have here will die because of you. Your choice. You have ten seconds to make it.”
Shit! If only I was in any sort of shape to fight. Where was Aksa when you needed him? He could get Frankie and then-
“Fine!” Francene spit out. “Where are you taking me? And why?”
The Policer snorted. “I don’t care about you, Martinez, you’ve just got bad luck. I’m here for the kid. So you either drag him out of here and come with me and my friends; or, I take him anyway, shoot you and your gang, and burn the place to ashes. If you still plan to surrender, grab the kid and let’s get gone.” Francene opened her mouth to say something and Jeffie scowled. “Speak again and I will shoot you in that pretty face of yours. Lord knows I’ve been wanting an excuse to.”
Francene turned to face me and I met her devastated gaze. “Tyme…”
I tried to smile for her. We were walking into an unknown hell and she was going to be leading me in. “It’s alright. I don’t understand either.” I held a shaking hand out to her and she took it in a firm grasp. “I’m sorry,” I said as she helped me get to my feet.
She slipped under my arm and held me up when my legs refused to follow orders. “Don’t be. I’m not.”
Jeffie ignored our slow progress and pulled out her com. “Coon here, I’ve got the sands, and a sunflower for our Jay. My gang will be on the cherry branches shortly. The bonfire didn’t light.” Finished with that, Jeffie looked up and rolled her eyes. “I can’t believe we have to go through so much trouble for someone that looks like he’s about fall over from a slight breeze. Now get going, or that bonfire may catch yet.”
I hobbled out of the room with Francene’s help for the first time since I had woken up. I knew the house from Étta’s thoughts, but not like it was then. Men and women, all with gray hair and dressed in black, patrolled the hall. They stood in doorways and were eerily silent for their numbers. I felt Francene falter when a gruff man turned to look at her. I was shocked to see the family resemblance in such circumstances, he must have been her brother or cousin. He raised an eyebrow at her then turned away. That did not bode well.
As Jeffie escorted us to the front door she motioned at the Policers near her. They nodded and passed the signal on. Outside it was already dark, and the streetlights were all off, blanketing the number of black cars lining the street in near perfect darkness. A couple more Gray Cards met us as we reached the curb. Jeffie signaled to them as well. They pulled Francene and I apart with such force that I fell to the ground. Stunned as I was from my jarring impact with the rough sidewalk, I could only watch in a daze as Francene fought to reach me. They knocked her upside the head and threw her into the side of a van before binding her hands behind her back. She tried yelling, but they gagged her with a cloth tied about her head so tight it pulled her lips back into her cheeks. She glowered as one of the Policers kicked her into the back of the now open van. I tried to rise and help her but my trembling arm refused to hold my weight. Jeffie wandered over, exasperated, she signed at the Grays handling Francene and they flushed. Rolling her eyes she motioned at me and they nodded.
Aksa, this was not my best day, I couldn’t even fight with my mind as they approached my prone form. One of the Grays, a nondescript man, kicked me onto my front and bound my arms behind me, hands to elbows. I arched trying to ease the strain on my shoulders when the other Policer took my last freedom away as she slipped tied a blindfold over my eyes. I tried to shout, only to have a gag join the blindfold. I choked on the fabric invading my mouth and a panic attack rose up from my gut and set my nerves on a queasy searing fire. I started breathing too quickly, gasping and panting, willing my lungs to fill. I was about to pass out from not being able to breathe when my head bounced on something and blackness swallowed me whole.
I woke, laying on my side, with a headache and blood pooled in my mouth. The rumble of the vehicle I was in brought my memories crashing back. I was still blindfolded and the panic was lurching up again when something warm nudged me in the back. I wiggled a hand and a foot pressed gently into my fingers. I held on like the little toes were a lifeline and focused on getting myself back under control. Francene was still with me which meant they had tossed me in the van as well. She was not a fighter, but she was handling our kidnapping better than I was and I had been trained to look these situations in the face and laugh. If I wasn’t blindfolded, I wouldn’t be panicking, and also able to use my Skill. That meant that the person expecting us knew what I should be capable of. That wouldn’t be too hard to figure out in general, but something was still off. I gnawed on the gag as I tried to keep thinking clearly. The Policers obviously had inside help with Jeffie, but she had been sent to the house by Mavic. That meant it was entirely possible that he was the one behind all this. However, these measures seemed a little extreme for a single Policer to be able to command. A cold sweat covered me as I mulled over the possibility of Mavic’s involvement. I knew that BW’s didn’t retain memories of who they were when they died, so he couldn’t remember what he had done to me, but I remembered all too clearly and that was enough. Then there was the question as to why they had waited for me to wake up before making a move. Was it the timing of the meeting? Or was my consciousness key in this plot? If it was, I didn’t know if waking up was such a good thing.
Francene bounced her foot in my hand and retreated as the van slowed and the engine cut. The sudden silence was broken by my gasps. We waited as the door slid open and we were dragged out into the cold night air. I hadn’t noticed in the overwhelming panic before, but now the cold roughness of the concrete cut into my bare feet, giving me something to focus on other than my complete lack of power.
“Everything go accordingly?” asked Jeffie. She was somewhere to my left, but too far to pinpoint.
“Aye, Coon. We also had a successful exchange about the Peacock. Everything seems to be on a smooth course,” called a young man.
Francene tried to say something around the gag.
Someone walked closer and I heard a snort. “Francene, sister, this is nothing personal, but you’ve gotten in the way of the Govs’ interests. Be happy that you helped aid in the retrieval of a criminal and saved your family from harm in more ways than one tonight.”
The Creator growled.
Jeffie cut in. “As sweet as I find reunions, we need to get moving. We have a job to do and I need to send a dispatch to collect cherries.”
“No need,” a terrible, gut-churningly familiar voice called out. Mavic was there and my world started crumbling. My breathing hitched and my muscles turned to water. I knew I was falling, but the ground never greeted me. A rough hand gripped my upper arm and held me up. Mavic spoke in my ear. “Don’t you pass out on the best part, you son of a bitch.” To everyone he ordered. “the cherries have been harvested and are waiting in the nest. Coon, take care to toss the sunflowers out on the way along the wall.” He paused, I could hear the sneer in his tone. “It is a shame that you had to get involved in this, Francene. You were a pleasant part of living with the Tech Master. Nevertheless, we can’t let you leave here, so make peace with yourself and prepare.”
“Jay?” Jeffie, now closer asked. “Just a shoot and toss?”
“Yes, now let’s go and get this night over with.” He pulled me stumbling along behind him. The good thing about the panic thrumming along my nerves and the adrenaline pumping into my blood was that there was a hint of hope.
My skin crawled but my Skill was doing some crawling of it’s own. There were only a handful of times that I had been able to use my Skill without seeing and as always, it rode on the back of desperate panic. I started seeing flashes of my surroundings, as my invisible hands spread and covered the area. I felt a door and the stairs leading up as well as the four people joining us. I could only assume the thin woman between two men was Francene. If I survived the night, I was going to have the worst headache, but I had to work with my panic to get there. I wasn’t quite hyperventilating again, so I ignored my body and focused all my attention inward and out with my Skill. Mavic dragged me up a narrow stairwell. I sensed it went down a ways, but we had a different destination. Up and up, we kept going. I stumbled many times, only to have Mavic jerk me upright again and pull me onward as Jeffie, who was behind me, would shove me along. My shins protested and the bruises I expected to have would be colorful indeed. We reached the top of the stairs and passed through a door onto a narrow walkway. Both sides dropped off into the night, on one side there was nothing but trees. I could skim the tops with my Skill, and I knew we were on the wall that enclosed Amelle. There were no trees like that in the capital outside of parks and I doubted they would have brought us to a park, especially if they meant to kill Francene or myself.
At that point I knew Francene would die if she was left in the hands of the Policers. They were making no secret of it and I wanted to avoid the loss of her life if I could. I didn’t know what was beyond the wall, but the unknown seemed like the much lesser of the two evils. Mavic slowed as Jeffie lagged behind to fetch Francene from the other two Policers. I was glad he wanted to see the deed done because I didn’t have the strength to do much at a distance.
“Oi! Sunflowers, stop squirming! You’ll be free of us soon enough!” Jeffie grunted, as she threw Francene against the railing overlooking the rest of Sinclair. Before she could steady her gun on the Creator, I slammed into Francene with my Skill and sent her over the edge. There was confusion as the Policers watched her tumble away. They tried to grab her, Jeffie’s gun forgotten. I stayed with Francene as long as I could, my awareness following her into the trees, trying to slow her fall. Aksa, I hoped she could grab onto one of those branches and live. One of us had to get through this night alive. I knew it was impossible that I would ever see her again, even if she did survive out there, because I would probably be trapped in Amelle even in my second life.
Any control that I had on my telekinesis was shot out of the sky when someone slammed a needle into my neck and the familiar sensory numbing drug attacked my body once again. I spiraled into the quicksand darkness of my mind and was lost as my sister’s voice followed me down into Hell.
I woke again, this time I was on a couch and the gag was gone. I tried to move and nothing happened. I had one day of control before it was all taken away again. I wanted to scream out my frustration and fury. My body, Temps, simply swallowed. Useless piece of-
“Now, Mavic, as fun as your code speak is, it’s no longer required,” Cherise said. “I’m here for the BW, and I’ll be taking my leave once the Govs have secured the labs I’ll be working in. They really are pleased with your assistance, and I’ll be sure to inform them of your continued faithful service.”
Mavic scoffed. “I didn’t do anything for the Govs and you know that, Robins. I wanted to make sure Master Jrovin was safe from the danger that is your brother. The fact that it aids your experiments, or the Govs infiltration of the BW’s… I don’t care about that. Tell them what you will, I’m just happy to know the Master Tech is out of danger.”
Cherise laughed. “It’s so grand that you don’t remember. My pet, did you ever wonder what it was that made my brother kill you in the first place?”
“When I Restarted… you told me his temper had finally snapped and I was in the way-”
“Hardly. He was well within reason to defend himself from you and you were such a successful test subject when it came to Siren that I had to keep the possibility of further experiments open.”
I could hear her serene smile. The one that she had worn when she mended my wounds and listened to my fears. I shriveled up inside to have proof right in front of me that Cherise was not who I wanted her to be.
Mavic was not following the conversation very well. “Why would he have reason to kill me and what the fuck is ‘Siren’?”
“Siren is the name of the drug we’ve been developing that can be used to control a person’s mind. In fact, as a BW, you were quite familiar with it and I must say you hardly resisted it. Do you like to be told what to do, Mavic? Don’t want to think for yourself? On orders you were supposed to follow through with hurting a fellow BW. It was lucky that your drug-addled brain took interest in Temps Robins, but you took it a little farther than we were expecting and you ended up doing a lot more to him than a simple beating, if you know what I mean. When he killed you, there was nothing we could do to save you. However, by doing what you did, you gave me such an invaluable subject. He was young, impressionable, damaged and, best of all, my brother. I had such easy access,” Cherise let out a wistful sigh and I was numb with horror. “I hardly had to work to get him under my control. A bit of abuse, mixed with distrust and a dash of paranoia. He’s so fucked up it’s fascinating.”
There was a long pause where, like me, I’m sure Mavic was trying to digest what he had just heard. Finally he spoke, his voice faint. “I…? You, you made me do what? And again-! He’s here again and it’s because you used me!”
“It wasn’t all me, Mavic,” Cherise said. “I said hurt, and you raped. Perhaps you should think on that, hm?” I heard some movement and then the click of Cherise’s heels approached the couch I was on. “I’ll be taking him now and getting on my way. Do keep anyone that comes looking busy, alright? I have a lot of damage to repair on this subject and no time to coddle you.” The blindfold was ripped from my eyes, and thank Aksa I could at least still see. “Temps, follow me.”
Without hesitation, Temps did, while I screamed as my nightmares were all turning into reality.