Guardian | Chapter Two

One advantage of the new apartment―two bathrooms. Kirsten teetered at the precipice of sleep while standing in the autoshower, smiling at the weak echo of Evan reciting lines from one of the Monwyn movies coming out of the drain. Her bedroom’s attached bath must’ve shared plumbing with the shower unit in the hallway bathroom. Gravity started to pull her over backward, but she grabbed the handrail to steady herself.

Ugh. Theodore could walk in on me and I’d barely notice. She yawned.

A plastisteel ring slid up and down the outer wall of the clear plastic tube, rotating as it sprayed her with warm water, rinsing the soapy morass away from her body. She leaned back, trying to sneak a few more seconds of sleep on her feet, closing her eyes as the fans in the base whirred to life. In seconds, her hair whipped around amid a tornado of hot air, standing straight up. After the dry cycle died down, she stepped out of the tube―and straight into Theodore.

His scraggly, permanent-wet hair hung in a curly mess down to the middle of his chest, matted to his prewar olive drab trenchcoat. A black tee shirt and greenish fatigue pants dripped water, though at least he’d masked the bullet wounds that took his life.

Kirsten drew in a breath to scream, mostly out of being snuck up on. Her arms flew to cover her chest and groin. “Dammit Theo!” She fumed, and balled her hands into fists at her sides. “You scared the shit out of me.”

He leaned to the side and eyed the floor. “Not quite.”

Grumbling, she stormed to the white box on the wall and pulled a set of plastic-wrapped underwear from the bottom slot. Warmth swam over her face, but she refused to give him the satisfaction of showing how mortified she felt at having a man (even a dead one) staring at her nakedness. “Something wrong, or are you back to your old self?”

Theodore chuckled and sauntered over to the mirror, examining his face. “Scarin’ ya was a little happy surprise… I just wanted ta check up. Knowin’ tis yer first day back.”

She gave him a sidelong glance, wondering what had possessed Theodore of all ghosts to afford her a modicum of privacy by not staring at her. After stepping into her panties, she pulled them up and the waistband auto-adjusted to her size. “I haven’t been this nervous since I was sixteen and Lieutenant Prost said ‘here’s a badge and an E-90, you’re active now; and oh yeah, we have a paranormal serial killer out there you need to stop.’”

Theodore laughed. He waited for her to wriggle into the snug-fitting sports bra before peering over. “Crazy bastards givin’ a laser to a teenaged girl. My sister barely let her kid have a cell phone at that age.”

Kirsten glanced at him before walking out into the bedroom. “Cell phone? Is that some kind of primitive implant that worked on human tissue?”

His laughter echoed behind her. “No, kid. It’s a… aww hell, Google it.”

“That sounds dirty.” She sighed at her uniform laid out on the bed. “I’m not googling anything when there’s a ghost around to watch.”

A meaty slap accompanied his hand meeting his face. “Ugh. Never mind. I keep forgetting how much the Internet has changed in 400 years.”

“The what?” She stepped into her clingy black pants before looking at him, and grabbed the top.

“Forget it.” He shook his head. “Look, we’re all grateful for your help with that abyssal. No tellin’ how many of us that thing would’a snacked on. The Kind appreciate your effort.”

She smiled. “You’re welcome, Theo.” A moment later, she’d added the rest of her gear. The duty belt hung around her hips, feeling heavier than she’d remembered it, as did her boots and arm-mounted computer. Kirsten examined herself and sighed. “Well, here I go.”

“Hey.” He tossed his hair over his shoulder with a quick nod. “We like you, but we don’t want you to join us… yet. Keep your head down.”

“I’ll try.” Confidence and nerves warred in her gut. “Thanks, Theo.”

De nada.” He vanished into a smear of luminescence, and the water he’d leaked all over the rug went with him.

She walked into the hall, where Evan waited, dressed except for shoes. His baggy blue Monwyn tee shirt concealed his lack of weight, as did his pants―though his big smile chased away her worries.

He ran into a hug. “You look badass, Mom.”

Kirsten squeezed him. He’s still so skinny. “Get your shoes on, we’re a little late.”

“Okay.” He zipped off to his room.

She headed to the kitchen and poked the food reassembler until it spat out a small apple-stuffed pastry and a decaf coffee. After a quick prayer seeking forgiveness for sinning against the sacred bean, she turned to present them to Evan as he entered. He’s too little for caffeine, but he likes the taste.

“Cool!” He grabbed the treat and stuffed it in his mouth.

They made it to the elevator before he coughed. “Ugh. Decaf?”

Kirsten laughed. “I don’t know whether to laugh or be horrified you can tell the difference from the first sip at nine.”

He shrugged one shoulder. “It’s okay. You don’t want me to get sick, so I think the coffee gods will let it go.” He squinted up at her. “I trust this crime against coffee will not continue when I’m eleven.”

She ruffled his dense mop of mouse-brown hair. “Come on.”

The elevator opened at the roof-level parking deck, revealing a glimmering expanse of parked hovercars and air laced with the smell of metal. The Division 0 patrol craft stood out like a black smear on white curtains. Evan glanced up at her.

“Don’t be scared.”

Kirsten raised her left forearm and tapped the button on the wearable computer. The patrol craft responded by opening both gull-wing doors. “I don’t know if I’m scared so much as…” Okay. Time to grow up. Vacation over. I can’t just wrap myself around him 24/7 for the rest of his life. “Ugh. Work… I got used to being lazy.”

He hopped in the passenger seat, munching on his apple pastry.

She settled in the driver’s spot and stared at the controls. The car felt wrong; it took her a few seconds to realize the cause―no Dorian. Oh, no… did he… Her eyes watered at the thought he’d let go of his attachment to the mortal world since she’d found Sam. Granted, a couple of dates hardly a happy ever after made, but still… where was he?

Evan mumbled with a mouthful of sticky crumbs, gave up, and resorted to telepathy. Why are you crying?

“I’m not crying. I’m misty-eyed.” She wiped her cheek. “Wondering where Dorian Went.”

He slurped the fake coffee. “You haven’t gone near the car in a month. He probably got bored. I bet he’s at the station messing with Morelli.”

She laughed. “Yeah. He would’ve told me if he was going to leave.”

Kirsten brought the car online, grabbed the sticks, and pulled straight up into the air. After a quick turn, she pushed forward on the left stick and the vehicle lurched into motion, ascending into a hover lane. Seconds later, they joined a stream of other vehicles moving like blood in the virtual veins of the city. Evan finished the pastry and licked apple jam from his fingers. After, he sat up straight and ‘monitored’ other cars, on the lookout for anyone breaking a law.

After an uneventful ride to the Police Administrative Center, she deployed the wheels and pulled into the underground garage. Samir waved from the gatehouse. She returned it, despite his not being able to see her through the armored electronic ‘windows.’ As soon as she stopped in her designated space, Evan leapt out and sprinted past a row of similar patrol craft, his backpack flopping against him.

Kirsten hurried to shut down the car, and gave chase, catching up where he waited for her by the interior door. She walked him to the school wing near the Division 0 dormitory, gave him a quick hug, and went up two floors to her squad room. Most along the way greeted her with friendly smiles and nods, barring the usual people who darted off when they saw a mind blaster coming.

She’d long ago given up trying to explain that her rating wasn’t strong enough to blank someone’s head; of course, she got off relatively light. People feared Lieutenant-Commander Ashford for his ability to destroy memories and even any sense of personality within a brain. His pallor and bad hair didn’t do much to help his creepiness, but she felt bad for him.

The stark, hospital-white corridor leading to her squad room felt foreign, yet at the same time familiar. An eerie sense of being out of place came on, as though she wandered the halls of a school years after graduating. At any moment, she half-expected someone to pop out and ask her what she was doing here.

Dorian occupied the chair behind his old desk, feet up and looking as though he napped. Relief spread over her, but it flashed to a fit of poorly-suppressed giggles at the frazzled look on Officer Morelli’s face.

“Kay!” Nicole leapt from her chair and ran over, hugging her like a tween reunited with her best friend. “Wow that was a fast month. How are you doing?”

“Fine. You know how it is… first day―”

“Evan’s okay?”

Kirsten headed to her desk. “Oh, yeah… he’s doing great. Little thin still, but―”

“Something’s going on.” Nicole walked with her. “All Tac units are on FS.”

“Whoa.” Kirsten blinked. What the heck happened that they have everyone on flash standby? “Any idea what―”

“I decided not to try blonde.” Nicole pulled her NetMini out. “You want a berry latte?”

Kirsten slumped in her chair and propped her face up in her hands. “Yeah, sure. Feels like I’m going to need it.”

“Logan,” yelled Captain Eze. “Armor.”

Nicole rolled her eyes, careful to keep the gesture hidden from him.

“You better.” Kirsten smiled. “You might need to fly out of here any second.”

“Yeah, yeah…” Nicole headed for the lockers, grumbling.

Captain Eze lingered in the doorway to his office. Once Kirsten made eye contact, he beckoned her with a wave.

Well, at least I know I can’t be in trouble… I just got back. She pushed off the desk to stand, stretched, and walked over. “Morning, sir.”

“Welcome back, Wren.” He smiled on the way to his desk. “How are things?”

“A little somber at being out of vacation time, but I’m okay.”

He brought his hands together in front of his chest, steepling his fingers. “If there is anything you need to talk about, I am here. We’ve had three different clairvoyants study that bracelet. None were able to determine how he influenced your mind.”

For the second time that morning, warmth flooded her face, though this time the reddening of her cheeks came from anger. “Bastard. I… don’t know. The only explanation that makes any sense doesn’t make any sense.”

He chuckled. “Ahh yes. Magic. They’ve developed a theory that he somehow managed to embed a latent psionic effect in that bracelet.”

She rubbed her right wrist, mercifully free of the gold ouroboros. “It was a demon, sir. A minor abyssal that he somehow infused to the trinket. I think it’s something like the way a poltergeist isn’t a ‘real’ ghost. They don’t have true awareness, more like random energy. The whole time, I felt like there was an entity following me, but I couldn’t find it. The damn thing was hanging on my arm.”

“Demon.” He rubbed a finger back and forth over his upper lip. “They’ll like that about as much as they like the M word.”

“I didn’t believe it either… but how else do you explain funny marks on the ground opening a hole to the afterlife?” She raised her arms to the sides and let them drop.

His eyebrows rose, creasing his shiny dark brown forehead. “Above my pay grade. Though with any luck it shall not be a future worry. You are certain he is dealt with?”

She shivered. “I don’t think it’s possible to get any more dead than he is.”

“Very good. Doctor Loring’s report was favorable. I am glad to hear you are coping well.”

“Yes, sir. A lucky call interrupted and stopped things from going too far…” Kirsten sank into the chair facing the desk. “I can’t believe it made me forget Evan. That’s worse than anything he almost did to my body.”

He bowed his head for a second. “I’m sure your protective feelings toward him helped you break the control.”

“He’s still too thin.” Kirsten glanced at her knees. “I’m feeding him well, maybe a little too much.”

“You did examine his P-APT report, didn’t you?”

She grimaced. “Actually… uhh… I was afraid to look at it. He’s said some things that make me wonder if he’s a precog.”

Eze nodded. “He is, but nothing strong enough to get the attention of the Council. Grade 1.” A boy who could see only flashes of imminent harm to himself or those he truly loved wouldn’t be of any use to the military or government. Kirsten exhaled a sigh of relief. “He tested at a surprising rating in accelerated healing.” He paused. “He must’ve been using it constantly.”

Kirsten glared. “I should’ve killed that bastard.”

“Last I heard, you effectively did. Been catatonic since. Don’t worry about it, Wren. That was as justified a use of force as one can ask for. The man attacked you.”

“I know, sir. Thank you.”

“You know Evan’s particular skill set puts a high drain on the body’s resources.”

Using it constantly… Her eyes shot wide. “Son of a bitch… If he couldn’t regenerate himself…”

Captain Eze gave her a stern look, though he retained a hint of a smile. “Kirsten, don’t trouble yourself with what-ifs. We can’t know if his accelerated healing abilities saved his life or merely made it tolerable. The important thing is that he is safe now, with you.”

“Is inflicting a normally fatal wound on someone with that ability who survives because of it still chargeable as murder?” Her fingers dug into the armrests.

“That is a debate for more learned people than I.” He shook his head. “Don’t waste thought on it.”

Kirsten pictured the man who’d locked Evan in a room and beat him: unshaven, unwashed, drunk, laying on the floor with a nosebleed bad enough to cause a pool of blood under his head. That, in turn, brought a brief pang of a headache. The aftershock from such a powerful mind blast had haunted her for days.

“Are you all right?” asked Captain Eze.

“Yes, sir. Just another bad memory on the pile.” She let off a sad chuckle.

A klaxon sounded in the ready room. Nicole and Morelli, both in armor, ran out.

She swiveled from the window to glance at Eze. “What’s going on?”

He frowned at his terminal, reading for a few seconds. “A hot mess. Looks like we’re going, too. All hands.”

Dread weighed on her gut. “W-what happened?”

Captain Eze rose from his chair. That he looked more exasperated than worried lessened her fear some. “A political mess more than anything. An unknown number of psionic individuals have taken hostages, but that’s not the worst part.”

“Oh, no.” She stood. “Kids? I’ll grab armor.”

“We don’t believe so. The victims are members of a sect run by that wingnut Reverend Harris.”

Kirsten scowled. “That piece of shit calling for all psionics to be rounded up and burned?”

“The very same.” He flicked his terminal off and walked to a private armor cabinet in the office. “I’m half tempted to think this is a stunt. The psionic individuals may already be dead.”

She paused at the door. “Is that why they want me there?”

“It’s not just you.” Captain Eze swiped his terminal locked and started for the door. “They want everyone.”

Chapter One

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