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Random Ramblings,  Story Excerpts

The Way of Attrition: Chapter Two

I read the entirety of Part One of my novel today. I’m hoping to read the rest of it tomorrow (all of Parts Two and Three). We’ll see. I got a late start from sleeping in today, and was so unusually sleepy this afternoon that I took a nap – something I almost never do.

I also forgot until this evening that it’s the first of the month and I’m supposed to post a short story or chapter today. I don’t have the time to divert from my novel, not if I hope to read it all this weekend, so I’m posting Chapter 2 of the Way of Attrition.

You can read Chapter 1 here, and I definitely recommend it prior to tackling Chapter 2. Last time I had issues getting all of the text into the blog (it was dropping sentences). I haven’t noticed that issue this time but if stuff appears to be missing, please let me know.

 

Chapter 2

I wake to warmth bathing my face, my chest, my arms. My eyelids are heavy with sleep. I open them to blurred vision, blink several times. It’s bright. Sunlight streams through open blinds that hang horizontally across a window in neat parallel lines. Slivers of the public garden beyond greet me.

I’m at home. This my bedroom.

A smile takes hold of me, easily rearranging my muscles in way I’m unaccustomed to after being so long among enemies. I look around, reacquainting myself with the simple neatness of my life outside the DOH. Every small part of it brings immeasurable comfort. A queen size bed bookended by uncluttered nightstands. A walk-in closet in the wall across from me. Several feet to its right, the bathroom door is swung halfway open to reveal the rich yellows and creamy browns of tile and bathtub. The rest of the ample master bedroom is blissfully unencumbered, leaving space to walk and breathe.

The clock reads 0823. The last thing I remember is sitting in the back of Davonte’s car. I must have passed out and slept through the rest of the day and night. I push away the thin brown sheet that covers me and slide out of bed, bare feet sinking into soft burgundy carpet. I’ve been stripped down to my boxers. The door to the hallway is open, tucked away in the far right corner of the room. Slipping through it, I walk with measured steps; the house is quiet, each room awash in sunlight. I smile. As always, Arelia’s prepared it for my return, opening all the blinds.

I catch a glimpse of myself in the guest bedroom mirror and pause to look closer. My face is unblemished, all signs of the fight gone. A doctor tended to me while I was unconscious, and, not for the first time, I am thankful the Lyril were survived by their scientific and medicinal discoveries.

In the kitchen I find a bowl of ripe fruit on the counter and a refrigerator stocked with enough savory snacks to keep me happy should I get hungry between meals. I love being home, where each household in the community takes turns preparing and supplying food. Perfectly scheduled, they never miss adding my home back into the daily deliveries.

Closer investigation reveals a vegetable laden omelet in the oven. This morning’s breakfast, likely provided at around 0730, unless the routes have changed. Kept hot by a specialized preservation plate, it smells and tastes divine. No preservatives, no unnecessary salt, lots of spice and flavor. It’s a wonder Americans survive at all with what they put in their bodies.

After eating, I hop in the shower, rinse off quickly, towel dry, and change into black slacks and a grey shirt. I leave the front door unlocked on my way out, taking the porch steps briskly. Aiming for the small hospital down the street, I look all around, surrounded by the everyday details of my people. Common place things I grew up with that don’t exist beyond the boundaries of a Shelter: the tiled solar panels that form our streets and sidewalks, the spiraling telepathic amplifying tower, the solid, weighty sense of safety.

A couple neighbors are out doing yard work. They smile and wave but don’t stop me for conversation. Word must have gotten out that things didn’t go as planned; I can imagine them not wanting to invite Davonte’s disapproval. The children do not share this concern; from the very young kids running and laughing, to the older ones practicing telekinesis by juggling without hands or timing how long they can make large objects, such as their thiri, float, I’m inundated with ‘Hi Eyan’s, both telepathic and verbal. I smile and wave back, hastening my steps as I get closer to the white house that serves as our hospital. It’s been repainted since last year and now boasts a light blue door and trim.

The entrance leads to a living room that’s been converted into a reception area where a doctor-in-training sits behind a mahogany desk. I do a double take when I recognize Yhuri. Davonte and her thyrafai Alyx were together for nearly fifteen years when they had Yhuri, surprising all the friends who thought they would choose not to raise emerals. I wonder when Yhuri decided to pursue medicine, wonder when she got old enough to. In keeping up with the old cliché, I can’t believe how grown up she is. What a change three or four years make. Beautiful dark skin, thick waves of curly hair, eyes that are not precisely black and not precisely green.

<Hello, Eyan,> she greets, seeming to twinkle with amusement.

<Yhuri. It’s lovely to see you. And congratulations! Medical internships are quite competitive.>

<Thank you.> Her smile shows she hasn’t lost her dimples. <You can go in. He’s in the first room. Doctor Marconi is with him now.>

Nodding, I follow her instructions. It’s a peculiar house, with a living room on one end, a kitchen on the other, and seven bedrooms and two bathrooms strung out between them. The door to the first room is open. Carson rests in a twin size bed, with Doctor Marconi bent over the computer panel that monitors her patient via two circular plates, one blue and perpendicular to Carson’s head, the other green and perpendicular to Carson’s feet. Infusers. Lyril technology.

Marconi straightens and sees me. <Ah. There you are. How are you feeling?>

<Perfectly well, thank you. Your handiwork?>

<Yes. Davonte brought you both straight to me.>

<How’s Carson?>

<Better. His condition was dire at first. He’s likely gifted, mindcraft wise. Allucinari is worse the stronger you are. I’m keeping him sedated until the drug leaves his system. It’s kinder this way.>

I’m surprised. <I thought you’d be able to give him the cure.>

<Cure is not quite the right term. It prevents someone from being susceptible to the drug in the future but doesn’t do anything to alleviate the symptoms of someone who is already infected.>

<So it won’t work on him at all?>

She hesitates. <I will give him the inoculation as soon as the drug clears his system and it will prevent him from being susceptible to further harm should he ever be dosed with allucinari again.>

Good. <Will there be any permanent damage?>

Another hesitation. <No.>

Walking the rest of the way inside, I come to stand beside Carson. His hair is a mess of floppy curls. I must not have noticed it wasn’t straight when I found him in that Chair. The dark circles are gone from beneath his eyes. He remains unshaven but now the hair is long enough to look like he’s growing a beard instead of seeming haggard or hung over. There’s still a furrowing of his eyebrows, a slight clenching around his eyes, that makes me wonder how peaceful his rest is. At least he’s not screaming.

<Thank you for taking care of him,> I express my gratitude earnestly and her eyes lighten.

<I’m glad to help.>

Marconi has Carson dressed in a pair of blue scrubs. <Did you keep his clothes?>

<Yes.> She unhooks a canvas bag from the side of the boxspring supporting Carson’s mattress and hands it to me. Inside I find Carson’s dark grey t-shirt and jeans, as well as a pair of Vans and black socks. They smell of sweat.

<Can I take these?>

<Of course.>

<When will the drug leave his system?>

<By nightfall. I’ll keep him for observation through tomorrow morning. Then he’s free to go.>

<Great.>

<Plenty of time for you to talk to Davonte,> she teases, smirking.

<Joy.>

Davonte doesn’t give me the chance to find her. She’s waiting in the reception area when I emerge with Doctor Marconi. No doubt Yhuri called her. Complexion so dark it could almost be called obsidian, arms so packed with muscle they could pass for legs on a compact man, and eyes the color of sunrise, she makes for an imposing sight. The room is turned miniature with her in it, a giant in a play house. Unlike her forays into the human world, she wears a light orange blouse that brings out her striking eyes, a welcome splash of color against her black pants.

<Walk with me,> she commands coolly, gesturing me outside.

I lead the way down the sidewalk, Davonte a grim figure beside me. If she didn’t have more than a foot on me this might feel less like getting chastised by an amari. We’ve passed my house before she speaks. <Explain.>

It doesn’t take long. The facts are simple. <I couldn’t leave him there,> I add at the end, when Davonte’s lack of response threatens to open a chasm below my feet.

She sighs heavily. <Shenti, Eyan. I know that. You should have waited. Told us the situation. We would have come up with a plan that didn’t reveal you.>

<There is no plan as good as having someone on the inside.>

<We could have taken a team in. With your knowledge of the facility and our invulnerability to the drug, it would have been an easy operation.>

<They would have killed him.>

<In one day? You know us. We’re not bureaucrats. We wouldn’t have talked it to death. You would have been here yesterday afternoon; we could have had yil out today.>

She’s not wrong. But I don’t feel I’m wrong either. <It was the only way I could be sure.>

<Having you in that position was more important than one person. It may be years before we find someone willing to take take your place as an informant. It’s only because of you that we acquired allucinari and were able to create the vaccine. What about their next weapon? How many people are going to suffer because you had to play hero and rescue yil on your own?>

<I know. Look,> I stop and we face each other. <I didn’t do it to fuck things up.>

She frowns at my human oath.

I’m not fond of it either but some things do slip in unwanted if they surround you long enough. <You didn’t hear him screaming. You weren’t there. You’ve never been there. You’ve spent your whole life among Chosen, only venturing out into their world in brief bursts. You don’t know what they’re like! They don’t care if we’re human too, they just care that we’re different. They’ll happily burn us alive if we let them.>

<They won’t stay that way. We have to give them time.>

<A lot of black people died before ‘equal’ rights and after, are still dying, still more likely to be assaulted with police brutality. It’s what they see when we’re out in their world, but they don’t see us at all. Imagine the targets we’d wear if they knew we were black Chosen.> And her a black Chosen woman. <I’m not letting that happen to us.>

Davonte doesn’t say anything.

I turn away from the road, heading toward the park between my cul-de-sac and the next. It’s not very big, just a square of grass, trees, and flowers, enclosed by a gravel path. On the other side of it is our Shelter’s only restaurant, a place prized for its tantalizing homemade pies.

Davonte raises an eyebrow at my ploy but doesn’t protest. <The situation is worse than you think. Your face is parading across their news. Carson’s too. They’ve got everyone looking for you – the DOH, the FBI, the police… There’s a hotline set up for civilians to call in with any information. You’re going to have to stay in Shelters for a while.>

She doesn’t have to say it explicitly. I’m off duty until the consequences of my actions blow over; the Chosen Intelligence Corps has no use for an operative that can’t leave our Shelters. <That’s fine.> It’s not, really, but I’ll get used to it.

<Their special is blueberry pie this week,> she comments after an uncomfortable stretch.

<I’ll send you home with one.>

She laughs, head tipped back. <A piece is fine. And a bottle of that family wine of yours.> My amari own a vineyard outside of Santa Barbara, supplying wine to Shelters around the world but saving their special vintages for friends and family.

<You got it.> I’m surprised at the rapid return of good will. Davonte has a quiet anger about her, somehow worse than being yelled at and rarely this restrained. I expected a complete upbraiding, a string of words so precise their meaning could not be doubted as she found fault with my stupidity and recklessness. Perhaps she cooled down while I was sleeping.

After pie and ice cream, Davonte takes me before the Council and officers of the Security Commission to report the information I’ve gathered since my last leave. They ask many questions and perform a standard, but no less disconcerting, telepathic merging to clarify points I can’t verbally explain to their satisfaction. The only comment on yesterday’s escapades carries more amusement than criticism when one of them says that at least I saved a man’s life and didn’t lose my head over some ill-timed remark about ‘freaks.’ This doesn’t surprise me; the only reason I was assigned this mission was because so few are willing to live longterm in enemy territory.

The Council dismisses me well past lunch. I stroll to Arelia’s and she sets aside her carbon dioxide reduction research for us to talk and laugh, to reacquaint ourselves in ways that take advantage of her emerals being in school. Our private interlude lasts a couple hours. Danni and Soffea are happy to see me in their breathless listen-to-everything-that-happened-while-you-were-gone way. I pick them up, swing them around, play telekinetic tag with them, then excuse myself. They’d be glad to have me enjoy dinner with them but I embrace the peaceof my house. I spend the time preparing and reading. At 1900 Doctor Marconi sends word that she’s going to wake Carson. I join her in the hospital a few minutes later.

<I’ll need to talk with him in private but it should help if he wakes to a familiar face.>

<Not very familiar.>

The infusers change color as she brings him to consciousness, both turning silver. At first he blinks as if rousing from normal sleep. His eyes are on the greener side of hazel, on the more confused side of disoriented.

<You’re at the hospital in Headquarters,> I offer. <This is Doctor Marconi.>

His gaze pulls to mine. I read fear in it and nothing resembling recognition, remember the doctor’s hesitation surrounding my questions. Fucking allucinari. I push against the very edges of his mind, give him reassurance, my peaceful intent.

His entire body relaxes in recognition. <Eyan. Doctor Marconi,> he greets, telepathic voice musical and vibrant, like a song offered to a purple blue sky and golden red sunrise, like green leaves against morning glow, like the smell of fall’s first rain.

Marconi and I share a glance of surprise and delight.

<I had the most troubling dreams. Harsh and sad.>

I breathe out the sweet sorrow of the world crying, of stormy winds and dying flowers, petals faded but still exquisite in their darker tones of beauty.

<You’re a poet,> I murmur. He can convey smells, tastes, sounds, along with vivid imagery. It’s a rare, treasured gift. Teams of five to ten Chosen collaborate to accomplish what he can on his own.

He looks nonplussed at my open awe. <My parents said so, yes. I’m sorry, I wasn’t shielding well enough.> There’s a wall now. Carson’s mental touch is melodious but the artistry is gone. He’s making an effort to reign it in. Perhaps it’s what he should do, what a conscientious telepathic society teaches out of respect for others, but it leaves a hole behind, a little piece of loveliness called back in favor of the commonplace.

<Please give us a few minutes,> Marconi says to me.

I nod and step into the hallway, where I lean against the wall. They switch to a private link. If I close my eyes, breathe slowly, the feel of it reminds me of vibration, or maybe the lightest rainfall. I didn’t have to leave, telepaths never do, but it can feel awkward to stand about amidst a conversation that you can sense, hear the buzzing of, but not comprehend. I imagine myself in the center of a basketball court, stone still, while players run, dribble, and pass the ball around me. I almost pull my telamp from my pocket but I won’t be like all the humans who can’t wait unentertained.

Marconi calls me back in some time later. Carson’s standing at the foot of the bed, leaning back against it.

<Stay as long as you’d like,> she says to me.

Carson’s shoulders sag at these words.

<Can’t he leave tonight?> I find myself asking.

Marconi gives me a look I can only describe as incomprehension, as if she’s never seen me before and doesn’t know who I am.

<I’m feeling very well,> Carson rallies immediately. <I’ll return right away if…>

I examine him more closely when he trails off, not finishing the sentence. I don’t know him well enough to make anything of it. He seems both hopeful and resigned.

<You won’t be able to go home,> I tell him, thinking it best to be clear. <They’re looking for both of us.>

<Yeah, I figured that.> He looks awkward then, glancing first at me and then at his surroundings.

<Carson will be staying with me,> I announce for the benefit of both. <I promise to inform you should he take a bad turn.>

Carson’s clearly surprised, Doctor Marconi clearly unenthused.

<You’ve done more than enough already,> he assures me, privately. <I can’t inconvenience you more than I already have.>

<It’s not an inconvenience. It’s also not up for debate.> Returning to a shared telepathic link, I say, <I will take good care of him, Doctor. You have my word.>

<People are so stubborn,> she grumbles. <I should have gone into animal health.>

<Animals have claws and sharp teeth.>

<They also can’t talk back. Oh, very well,> she relents. <You can go with Eyan.>

He thanks her effusively, after which I’m left to my own devices, presumably so Marconi can impart additional information now that he’s not staying the night. He meets me in the hallway and I show him out. It’s dark except for the orange glow cast by streetlamps and motion activated guides that light up strips on either side of us as we walk down the sidewalk, our path always illuminated a few feet beyond our steps.

Carson looks all around, taking this in.

<They’re solar panels,> I explain. <We use all sustainable energy. After sunset, sensors respond to traffic. Similar ones light up the street when a car comes.>

Carson grins. <That’s awesome!> In his excitement, his restraint slips, delivering delight as a multicolored bouquet of balloons set loose on a windy day. He examines the street as if a car might materialize to please him.

<I’ll give you a tour tomorrow,> I offer, smiling at his wonder. He can’t see how pleasant the Shelter is but his attitude more than compensates.

<Sounds like a plan. So… Only Chosen live here?>

<That’s right. We can be ourselves without worry that someone is watching.>

<How did you…uh…get control of the whole neighborhood?>

<Well, the Security Commission knew it’d be the perfect place as soon as they saw the development plans. It’s isolated from the rest of the city, and the city itself is already isolated. We’re in a set of twenty interconnected cul-de-sacs – they all branch off of one road, and that one road is only accessible through a single turn off of Exposition Way. Opposite that is the coast, and on either side we’ve got woods. There’s a Resonance Deflector setup on the Exposition Way turn, and boosters around the perimeter.>

<My dad told me about those!> I’m struck by the smoothness of his mental touch, the emotion conveyed as if by twittering birds and laughing brook. <They push non-telepaths away; they see the turn is there but mentally overlook it, forgetting it immediately.>

<Exactly. Normally their eyes slip over it like it’s not there.>

<What about satellites? Wouldn’t Google have found it when making Google Maps, or the government at some point?>

<We use Satellite Reimaging Devices. This whole area just looks like trees and beach. Our Shelters are all small because they’re easier to hide. If you look this one up, it’s private property owned by a nonexistent woman whose primary residence is in Jamaica.>

Carson’s distracted by the automated lighting that accompanies the progress of a car, his attention drawn to the end of the street as soon as it’s illuminated.

<Look!> he exclaims, pointing with enthusiasm that makes me grin. He watches the car approach, slow, and turn into the driveway across from us. It’s not until the street flicks to black that he continues walking.

<They would be orange on Lyril,> I lament, <the solar panels, that is. Prettier than black, but we’ve adopted a lot from humans.>

<Is it the Security Commission that actually owns all the houses and land?>

<Most homes are owned by individual Chosen, the Council owns the rest. They bought the construction company, hiring Chosen in place of the human workers so we could modify building plans without suspicion. An alvitas was added beneath each home, for example. Shielding for the entire Shelter too. Minor, of course, or it would cause visual distortion and undermine the Resonance Deflector. Once construction was complete, Chosen moved here, buying houses from the Council.>

<Alvitas? Bomb shelters…?> He asks uncertainly.

<Yes. In case we’re attacked.>

We’ve walked the length of the street. I precede him inside my house. <Meals are delivered three times a day. Everyone takes turns cooking and contributes fifteen percent of their salary to the public fund, which covers food, among other things. Dinner’s already come and gone but there’s plenty in the refrigerator if you want something.>

From the kitchen I lead him through the living room and down the hallway. <My bedroom’s at the end. You can stay in the bedroom on the right. There’s a bathroom across from it. There should be everything you need but let me know if I missed something. The clothes you were wearing are washed and on your bed. No extras, mine won’t fit, but if you know your sizes we can have someone buy you some stuff tomorrow. We could go to the market in the San Francisco Shelter but your options would be limited – we don’t really make clothes, for whatever reason.> I pause. <I suppose we don’t really have to, humans have it more than covered and it’s much easier to blend in if we wear the same styles they do.>

Carson is watching me, expression serious and inscrutable.

<What?>

He shakes his head. <Thank you, Eyan.> These words hit me unfiltered and this time I know he’s done it on purpose, that even his use of the two words over the more casual ‘thanks’ was deliberate. I’m at the top of a mountain, gazing up into a star struck sky.

<You could make a living doing that,> I point out.

<On Lyril, but not here.>

<You might be surprised.>

His gaze flits past me. <Do you ever wish they hadn’t left?>

I know what he means. Do I ever wish our amari hadn’t left Lyril and come back to Earth. <Yes.>

<Me too. But I understand why they did. When the Lyril disappeared they left a vast empty world, full of memory and loneliness. Every building, every plant, a reminder of what was lost. Earth is full of people, our people, and they wanted to belong.>

<They’re not our people. We might be the same species but we’re not the same. The Lyril changed us.>

<By what they taught us. We can teach these people too.>

<Our ancestors were also changed by the Awakening.>

<But that didn’t make them into different people anymore than handing someone a paintbrush makes them an artist. We can teach these people too,> he repeats.

Him too? What is it about human cruelty that people don’t see or don’t want to comprehend? The Lyril saw it; that’s why they decided against public disclosure. The violence of humanity appalled them. They were an ancient race, having overcome the need to inflict harm on one another after a single war. One violent conflict was all it took for them to realize it wasn’t worth it, to sit down and talk. They made great philosophical, mental, and medicinal advances and when they discovered Earth, discovered a sentient species living on it, they wanted to share their knowledge. They visited in secret, watching and learning.

After a hundred years of observation they started revealing themselves to specific people. People who were themselves different and therefore unafraid of other’s differences. Or people who were, by Earth standards, terminally ill. They offered these Chosen few a new home, a new world, full of ideas and possibility. The humans who accepted were taken to Lyril and thrived there. Until…

The disappearance wasn’t gradual. It didn’t happen over several weeks or even over several hours. It happened in one second. One moment they were there, the next they vanished, like snow against fire. No, not even like that. Not like something perishes in battle against a visible enemy. Like falling into a void without the warning of tripping on loose gravel. Every Lyril gone, every human untouched.

We’re still trying to solve the mystery. Well, not all of us. Not those of us who left, but the ones who stayed behind to investigate. The scientists and detectives. It’s been 50 years, though. Most think the answer unattainable, the captive of a universe too vast and wondrous, too full of riddles to be tamed or fully understood.

Another mystery is that of what happened to the Chosen who ventured outward in search of the ancient Lyril explorers. Like the ones who found Earth, these Lyril cast out into the cosmos centuries ago in ships powered as much by hope as technology, never to return but maybe still out there and unharmed by the calamity that devoured their kin. We’re in touch with the Chosen on Lyril but the seekers have not been heard from in years. The telepathic hubs they deployed on their travels are functioning, but they don’t answer. Just like the Lyril who went before them.

<Do you have eggs?>

Carson’s question is so out place among my thoughts that it takes effort to process and answer it. <Yes, a dozen.>

<Excellent. I’m starving and could go for eggs.>

<Omelet? Scrambled? Over easy?>

<Mind if I make them myself? I love cooking.>

<Knock yourself out.> He’s ‘starving.’ What an American statement. Then again, ‘Knock yourself out’ is hardly Lyril.

He opens cupboards and drawers to find what he needs, an activity I watch, prevented from showing him where things are by how apparent it is from his jumping into this that he doesn’t mind the search. With his back to me I notice a black disk at the base of his neck. Mostly obscured by his red curls, it’s visible mainly because of the parts that stand stark against his pale skin. It would have been removed by the DOH so it must be a medical device from Marconi, perhaps a monitor.

Carson bustles about the kitchen with great energy. The clang of him extracting a frying pan from the cabinet, of cracked eggs and jingling spice jars, provides an unfamiliar backdrop to the weighty, sinking sensation I am surprised to identify as melancholy. I expected, perhaps unrealistically, for him to agree with me. For him to see humans the way I do, as a threat, as predators who only accept civility after their prey have endured years of senseless suffering and oppression.

He believes we should teach them. But only some will want to learn. The rest will take forcing, endless repetition of a cycle that was tired and old long before gay people asked to marry one another. I keep assuming fellow Chosen will understand, that anyone with the capacity for critical thought will share my opinion, but few do. Not even this man who I rescued from their clutches, who lost his thiri to their cruelty.

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