The Earthseed Chronicles Free to read science fiction blogfic

8Oct/120

1-9: Introspection

Arcelia was surprised to find out that the jet did not have any personnel on board at all. Ragnar was flying it, and Anthea was filling the role of stewardess. Nothing was turning out to be what she expected, but in a good way. She looked out; the sun was slowly setting behind them, throwing shadows ahead on the landscape below. A few stars were beginning to be visible in the clear, darkening sky and city lights were starting to be lit. If she let herself go now, she could easily drift off into sleep.

Anthea was sitting in the alley opposite her, her eyes closed. She looked Zen as always, something she was sure she would never achieve. She always had something nagging at her, as if her mind could not stand being idle. Right now there were so many questions she wanted, no, needed answers to that she was at a loss to prioritize them. To make matters worse, a headache was slowly brewing, so she forced herself to switch to lighter subjects. An image of Anthea kissing her came to mind, but she quickly dismissed it, blaming it on the residual connection between them since she had let her into her mind.

She instinctively looked at Anthea again, and blushed furiously when she saw that she was already watching her. She quickly looked back out her window again, more unsure than ever what to feel or think about this.

“If you wish I can help you relax,” Anthea said softly.

Arcelia’s heart raced and stopped at the same time. Bad idea. Bad, bad BAD idea. “No thanks, I just have to sort this through, I’ll manage,” she said, her voice sounding just as weak as the conviction behind the words. She changed the subject.

“So can you tell me what my ability is? Being able to feel people’s dispositions?” She asked in an attempt to avoid the subject, turning back towards Anthea.

Anthea shook her head slowly. “I do not know. Usually we discover that together, slowly testing out the intricacies. It is vital, because you could hurt people without even knowing it. Some of our abilities are somewhat… unpredictable. What exactly did you feel?”

“I could feel the hostility coming from those people. It was diffuse at first, until I realized that the hotspots of hostility I felt matched actual people. From then on I could almost pinpoint where they were. Earlier I could even feel you, but it wasn’t as clear. I only knew it was you and in which general direction you were. ”

“That is surely useful. Once your ability is fully awoken it should become more precise and easier to use. You will probably also have secondary aspects of the ability that will surface.”

“Like what?”

“I cannot say, but it is always something related to your main ability. The only way to find out is by trial and error.”

“How does awakening someone’s abilities work?”

“Meditation, introspection and practice were the only ways to do it until we realized that I could speed the process along considerably with my own abilities. I can connect with you like we did earlier, and I can guide your thoughts to help you unlock most of the dormant aspects of your abilities. Some are hidden deeper and awaken on their own when presented with the right stimuli – unfortunately there is no way to know which stimuli.”

“So I’m a surprise package.”

Anthea smiled. “Yes, you could say that. We all were, and in some cases still are. We do not have a fixed number of abilities, and sometimes we discover new ones years after the others have been awakened, when the right stimuli are present.”

“What are your abilities?”

“My main ability you have experienced yourself: I can share my thoughts and feelings with people by touching them. Depending on where I touch them, it has a slightly different effect.”

No kidding. “Like when you held my hands to filter my thoughts?”

“Yes, exactly. I can also see your thoughts and feel what you feel, so over a connection like your hands I can guide and help you sort through them. Controlling motor functions is part of this too.”

“And do you have any secondary abilities?”

“Yes, I can also choose to plant ideas, thoughts and influence decision making. It works best when the subject is asleep, though.” Arcelia shuddered. Having someone “plant” ideas while she is asleep was not a comforting thought.

“I can see what you are thinking now without even reading your mind,” Anthea said, smiling even wider now. “Fortunately for you, while we with abilities are not entirely immune to my ability, you have a high resistance to it. You would most likely detect the tampering.”

“That’s reassuring,” Arcelia said, not entirely convinced.

“Landing in Lyon in 15 minutes,” Ragnar’s voice sounded over the speakers.

“You will get to meet part of the team,” Anthea said. “They will be happy to meet you, finding a new recruit is always quite an event.”

“Will there be cookies?”

Anthea laughed. “I’m sure we can find some for you.”

Arcelia watched the descent through her window. It was almost entirely dark now, and Lyon looked like a giant web made of stands of multi-coloured lights, pulsating and flowing in every direction. The touchdown was almost a kiss, much more enjoyable than the short trip in the helicopter. Ragnar opened the hatch and was the first to get out, obviously annoyed at something.

“Where the hell is he? He was supposed to be here before touchdown,” he said as he went down the stairs. Service trucks and personnel were hurrying around the jet servicing and refuelling it. They had landed a bit away from the main commercial lines in the private area, and apart from two other jets there wasn’t much going on. A worried frown crossed Anthea’s face as she looked out.

“Let’s stay in here for now,” Anthea whispered and ushered Arcelia back inside the jet. They looked out through a window.

“What’s going on?” Arcelia asked.

“Dale was supposed to be here to drive us back to our headquarters. He is very dependable; he would have gotten word to us that he could not get here in time. Something is up.”

Something tugged at Arcelia’s mind, but she could not determine what it was. Ragnar came back up the stairs, frowning.

“I could not raise him on his cell, and the others did not hear anything either, he left there about an hour ago. That's more than plenty time to get here – something is amiss.”

“We are quite vulnerable out here, what do you want to do?” Anthea asked.

“Terrance is on the way, he should get here to pick us up soon.”

Arcelia got that nagging feeling again, but this time she tried to hold on to it. There was something on the edge of her awareness, something familiar. Thinking back to how Anthea had helped her order her thoughts, she tried to focus. It kept evading her, but then she caught a faint glimpse of what it was. Once she knew what it was, zooming in was almost easy. She sensed a diffuse source of hostility directed towards them.

“I have something,” she said. Anthea and Ragnar looked at her questioningly. “It’s still far away, but I feel hostile thoughts directed towards us. They are moving, too – getting closer.”

“From which direction?” Ragnar asked briskly.

Arcelia concentrated. It was getting closer, so it was becoming easier to pinpoint. She pointed in the direction.

“That’s the private jets hangar. Dale must be there as well. Can you feel him too?”

Arcelia strained, but could not feel anything. “No, feeling things other than hostility is a lot harder.”

“Any idea how many there are?”

“No, they are too far away and too close together. I only feel one blob.”

“Continue trying. This is good training for your skills; you will not get many occasions where you can train them live like this without being in imminent danger.”

Arcelia wondered what Ragnar would consider imminent danger. “What are you going to do?” she asked.

Ragnar looked out towards the hangar. “Have they moved any closer?”

“No they haven’t, they seem to be stationary now.”

“I am going in,” he said. Arcelia expected Anthea to hold him back, but she only nodded once.

“Close the door behind me. If some of them should manage to get over here, it will slow them long enough for me to intervene if Terrance is not here by then,” he said and ran out nimbly. Arcelia watched as he ran towards the hangar in the distance. Anthea closed the access door.

“Aren’t you worried?”

“I have long given up worrying about him. Trying to change his mind is pointless. Besides, he is very good at what he does.”

“Wait, what are his abilities?”

“He was the first of us, and apparently Gaia saw fit to give him a full array of offensive abilities. He is very strong and fast, and he is a master at taking strategic decisions in the field. He can adapt to virtually any situation in microseconds. Also, it seems that he cannot be hurt by regular bullets or blades. He’s our enforcer.”

Arcelia looked out towards the hangar. So Ragnar was a one-man war machine. Now that she knew it, it fit him like a glove. The posture, the way he walked… She did as he told her and focused on what little she could feel. She sat down and brought every bit of her concentration to bear on the blurry blob of hostility she felt.

“Let me help you,” Anthea said and gently placed two of her fingers on each of her temples. She felt Anthea’s benevolent presence, and sensed her directing her mind on the speck of hostility. Methodically Anthea helped her focus what she sensed; first by concentrating her efforts only on that little area, then by freeing more of her capacity to concentrate taken up by thoughts she had forgotten about. She knew it was a stupid comparison, but it was almost like terminating applications on a computer to free up more resources. Anthea’s presence confirmed silently that it was actually very similar.

At first the blob proved to be elusive, but slowly she found that she was able to increase the detail step by step. Colours emerged, distinct textures that enabled her to dissociate individual persons – then all of a sudden the hostility flared up and one after another the spots faded until all were gone. Ragnar must have reached and disabled them. Not killed, Arcelia knew: a dim trace of hostility was left for each. Anthea’s presence seemed satisfied as she left her.

“Impressive. Towards the end you were able to sense their hostility even as they were unconscious.”

“Thanks to you.”

“I merely guided you, the potential is already there. Gaia is definitely getting a lot better at this, you are learning a lot faster than any of your predecessors,” she said. Arcelia half expected to see at least a little jealousy, but there was none. She felt lightheaded from sharing her presence again, she felt so utterly safe, and it was as if she had known Anthea her whole life. It was quite intoxicating – and she knew that anything that could have this kind of effect was also quite dangerous. She had to be very careful not to become dependent on it, or to make more of it than it really was.

There was a polite knock on the door, and after a brief look through the window Anthea went to open it.

“I heard you need a ride?” she heard an unlikely deep rumbling voice say.

Anthea smiled broadly. “That we do” she said, and waved for Arcelia to come with her.

He was the biggest man Arcelia had ever seen. Had he been a little larger, you could have painted him green and passed him off as the real Hulk. He smiled at her with such a genuine smile that you just knew there could be no evil in him.

“Hello, Arcelia, I’m Terrance,” he said simply in his booming voice. He had an accent that could have been german, but it was difficult to say.

“Hello,” she said, unable to take her eyes off him. Through his tight fitting T-shirt she could see each and every muscle of his upper body. His torso sported larger breasts than both of hers combined, but the weird thing was that he managed to look natural despite all that. She had seen body builder competitions on TV, and it was always too much for her taste. He did not have much less muscle than a body builder, but somehow he looked as if he had been born with them.

“Where’s Ragnar?” he asked.

Anthea pointed. “Over there, by the hangar. I fear that all the action is over, however.”

“Oh, good. I wasn’t in any mood for a fight anyway.”

“Meditating?” Anthea asked. Terrance nodded.

Try as she might, Arcelia could not picture Terrance meditating - it just did not compute. They got into the snow white minivan that he had come in, and drove over to the hangar. As they approached, Ragnar stepped into view from behind a luggage car and waved them over.

“Can I keep one this time?” he asked as Anthea got out. She just rolled her eyes in reply. They both knew there was no need discussing it.

Arcelia looked around; as far as she could see they were dressed in the same military garb than the ones that had attacked them in Anthea’s mansion.

“Are these the same guys?” she asked.

“No way to say for sure, but they do dress the same.”

“Where’s Dale?” Anthea asked.

“He’s inside. They banged him up a bit – but nothing serious.”

Anthea ran off instantly to check on him. Ragnar seemed to have worked up a bit of sweat, but he did not look as if he had just dispatched eight bulky mercenary / military types.

“Any resistance worth noting?” Terrance asked casually.

Ragnar shrugged. “Amateurs.”

Terrance smiled and nodded towards the neatly stacked unconscious men. “Which one do you want to take home?”

“That one,” he said, pointing at one man a ways to the right of the main stack. “He has got some kind of insignia that the others do not, that has to mean something.” Terrance smiled at that and calmly went to pick the man up as if he weighed nothing, and put him in the back of the van. Then he began to meticulously tie him up.

“What do they want?”

“Your guess is as good as mine. However, too much of this is happening around you to be a coincidence. We have had run-ins with all sorts of people in the past, but nothing as organized and well informed as these guys. They responded to our movements a little too tightly for comfort.”

“You think they’re after Arcelia?” Terrance asked as he closed the van, leaving a neatly packed and gagged mercenary inside.

“It's possible, maybe our friend here will be able to shed some light on it.”

“We should get going,” Anthea called from further away in the hangar. There was a man walking slowly by her side, limping a bit. She could not see him too well yet, but what got her worried was that she could feel the hostility from the mercenaries flare up again slowly.

“They’re waking up,” Arcelia said quickly.

“You get to drive up front with me,” Terrance said and beckoned her over to the van. Arcelia instinctively looked at Ragnar for approval. “Oh, don’t worry. He’s got nothing to say in my car – my world, my rules,” Terrance said and laughed. Ragnar grimaced and nodded.

The drive through Lyon was anticlimactic at best. Everyone was brooding over current events, and at night every city looks the same. Except the really wild ones like Las Vegas or Dubai, maybe. Lyon however looked pretty much as bleak as any city she had known from the car’s perspective. Also, the mercenary in the back had woken and he was mixing fear and anger in a most disconcerting way for her newfound ability’s eyes.

“Gah, how do you turn this off?” She asked after trying in vain to stop using her ability.

“It did not stop again on its own?” Anthea asked, visibly surprised.

“No, it didn’t – and our guest’s mood swings are driving me crazy,” she said, closing her eyes. It only made things worse. She thought she could almost hear what the man was thinking as the man’s fear spiked, temporarily drowning his hostility.

“That means your ability has already partially awoken. It is quite unusual for it to happen so fast, but it seems you are meant to be unique in many ways,” Anthea said cryptically.

“Once awoken, your abilities will not have an off switch anymore. You will have to learn to filter through them or consciously lessen their effect,” Terrance interjected. That was not what she wanted to hear, but it explained a lot more than Anthea’s statement.

“How do you filter this?” She asked,wondering how she could filter something as strong as what she was feeling.

She felt Anthea reaching from behind her, her hands closing on each side of her head. Knowing what would come, she let herself sink deep into Anthea’s presence. I think that is close enough, she gently but firmly chided her and pushed her back a little bit. Still, in that brief instant, she had been able to take measure of the love she had for Ragnar as well as the others with abilities. She saw all 8 of them as family. She felt a bit ashamed at having sprung this little trap on her, but she needed every confirmation she could get that these people were what they were advertising. Anthea did not let her linger on these thoughts however, and brought her to focus on her ability.

“What you need to do is to symbolically compartmentalize your ability. Your brain likes categorizing things; it helps to keep track of everything as well as to find it faster when you need it again. Imagine a filing cabinet for example, or a chest, or whatever else you feel comfortable with. You will have to do this with each of your abilities as you discover them.”

Arcelia imagined her brain being a server with lots of memory slots. The picture came to her naturally, so she zoomed in on a cluster of memory slots that she coloured sky blue and creatively labelled “Abilities”. It was right next to a cluster of memories that she labelled “Childhood”, and she was going to label them all right then hadn’t Anthea put her back on track.

“Very good, I see your computer background made you a natural for this methodology. “

“If only tidying up was as easy in real life.”

Anthea’s presence was amused as this instinctively brought up images of her apartment, which had often been a total mess. Arcelia felt herself blush furiously.

“You have no reason to be ashamed; I have not always been a tidy person either.”

“Somehow that is very hard to believe.”

“Try to take hold of everything encompassing your ability, and put it into one of those memory slots you have chosen. You have to feel that it really fits in there for it to work.”

Arcelia tried to visualize the edges of her ability, but it was becoming too conceptual for her. She was losing track of where the boundaries between reality and her thoughts were, wondering suddenly how she was supposed to make the difference. Then she understood that while Anthea was helping her, she was also bringing her own concepts along, her own visualization and categorization of thoughts.

"I think I need to do this on my own." She gently told her in her thoughts.

Anthea's presence agreed and slowly receded from her thoughts, and she had to fight off a feeling of panic at suddenly being all alone within herself. Realizing how ludicrous that sounded, she managed a virtual giggle and visualized the memory slots again. She had a theme going here, one she was comfortable with – but simply having some memory slots floating in the void was not going to cut it. She would have to put it all together now, or it would not make any sense.

As fast as she could, she began to categorize everything methodically by adding more high-tech components. She slowly added to the server mainframe, from memory slots holding actual memories to hardware add-ons representing things she could do. To represent her ability she chose a shiny water cooled rendering station, with cabling big enough to draw the power such an appliance would require. She had initially put it in a memory slot, but that was hardly fitting.

When she was finished, everything had a meaningful place and was neatly filed. It was a work of art. Her ability was humming nicely next to the server core; the rack of memory slots was filled with everything from her childhood memories to a special slot for everything she knew about the team. She even had a hidden drive holding the few secrets she kept. She floated further out to behold the complete new visual representation she had built of her mind.

She had expected the whole to be one formless heap of electronic junk, but as the construct shrank she saw that there was order there – order she had not consciously shaped. When she was far enough to see the whole construct, she gaped open-mouthed. It was… a mecha? She had unconsciously transformed her mind into a robot? Somehow that was incredibly awesome and frightening at the same time.

She called out to Anthea's presence, and as she felt her beside her she felt her surprise.

"I have never seen anything like it. What is it?”

“I wish I knew. I gave it this shape unconsciously.”

Anthea studied the construct from all sides. “You knew what you were doing however, it all fits together perfectly. Its balance is optimal; it looks as if it could actually walk out of here.”

She did not have anything to say to that, so she simply studied the mech herself. She had trouble coming to grips with the fact that this was actually a virtual, graphical representation of her own mind. It could not be complete, since there were obviously parts of her mind that were unreachable by her conscious self – but still, it felt like quite an achievement.

Only days ago, she would have laughed at the idea. Now however, seeing her ability running smoothly in its case, its effects effectively contained within, she knew there were tangible real world applications.

“Yes, and seeing what you did here I get the feeling we have just been scratching the surface so far”, Anthea added.

“You don’t have similar representations of your minds in the group?”

“No, nothing even comes close to the complexity of what you built. Most did not feel the need. Ragnar has a garage to house his arsenal with a map table in the centre for laying out his strategies. He never needed anything beyond that.”

“What do you have?”

She felt Anthea’s embarrassment clearly, and it took her a moment to answer.

“A magical shroud.”

Arcelia nearly laughed, but managed to control herself. Somehow reducing Anthea’s mind to a simple shroud, even a magical one, was hilarious. How could she represent her mind with something as simple?

“Would you show it to me?”

“Come.”

She let Anthea guide her, and as her own mind receded she could already see a bright source of light in the distance. As they got closer, she saw that the light was bursting with colours, pulsating and undulating in a completely disconcerting way. As they approached the centre, she finally saw the shroud – and had to revise her earlier thoughts. What she was seeing was every bit as complex as Anthea herself, possibly even more complex.

The colours emanated from the shroud itself, which was in perpetual movement; twisting, flowing, folding. It was ethereal and interchangeably liquid or cloth. Looking at it was mesmerizing, and could easily be turned into a trap to lure people with.

“I have never seen anything as beautiful.”

“It chose me, I think. Over time I added to it, but the core has always been there.”

“How do you control your abilities then? I don’t see any way to access them.”

“I thought it would be obvious. I do not have to – it is a magical shroud after all. I just ask for an ability, and it is there.”

This time Arcelia had to laugh. “I would have trouble trusting something that works without me knowing how it works.”

“Oh, I did have some communication problems at first, but I worked those out.“

“I will have to work out some things as well, I think.”

Anthea gave her a wink as she took her hands off her head, and she felt the last bits of her mind swiftly recede into nothingness. She focused back on the van as well. Earlier when she was building her mecha, she had used so much concentration that the real world had been almost entirely blotted out, but otherwise her surroundings were always present so it was merely a matter of what to focus on. These introspections were not at all separate from reality as she had thought earlier, they were extensions of it. Her conscious mind was merely multitasking.

Multitasking like a champ, too – according to her wristwatch, not more than ten minutes could have passed. She looked up; Terrance was looking at her questioningly. She grinned.

“Ah, I assume you found a way to filter your ability?”

“She did a lot more than just that,” Anthea said. “She built a full interpretation of her mind and shaped the whole thing into a robot.”

“A mecha,” Arcelia added quickly.

Terrance’s eyebrows went up further than she had expected them to go, and even Ragnar gave an appreciative whistle. She did not know exactly in which way what she had done was impressive, but it already made her feel a little less out of place. She had never been someone special, yet to these amazing people she already was something special. It felt good, it felt right somehow.

Ragnar leaned forward. “Is it weaponizeable?” he asked.

“Let me check,” she said and had a look at the mech again. Since the grand design had come from her unconscious, who knew what manner of capabilities she had built into it… She studied the usual places: the chest, arms and back. There was nothing obvious there, but she had a gut feeling. That was all the confirmation she needed.

“Looks like there might be some options open.”

Ragnar grinned back at her. That was exactly the kind of thing he reveled in. Terrance however, was frowning.

“Why did you need to check?”

“My subconscious has the blueprints; I just built the thing without knowing what I was building.”

“That’s interesting.”

“Quite,” Anthea added.

Terrance laughed. “Says the lady with the shroud!”

“We girls like to be mysterious,” Anthea replied with a smirk.

“And we like you just the way you are,” Terrance answered with a smirk as well.

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