Note: to my knowledge, this is the very first short story I ever completed. EVER. I’ve had several attempts over the years, but this is the one I saw to completion.
Its based on one of the very first “Worlds” I made, too. Maybe I should post that here one of these days.
As with all short stories, it tends to be long. So if you’re just going to give me a TL/DR, then you’re in the wrong place. Its also a bit emo, so if you don’t like shit like that, too, then, well, this might not be your cup of tea.
I saw some things that need editing in it, but I refrained from doing so in order to present a story I made nearly a decade ago. Those who’ve read my other works might like to compare this, and give me a review ^_^
Its also untitled, by the way. Never found a good title for it.
D4: 26 May 2000, 8:10 p.m. (D1: 4 Aug 99, 10:06 p.m.)
Sunlight filtered through moth-eaten draperies, splashing the room with a tinge of yellow and brown. Outside, the sound of a city on the move wafted in: vehicles driving past, the occasional whistle of a traffic cop, the chorus of voices and other noise from the teeming mass of people on the way everywhere and nowhere.
Ashe sat within the dimly lit room. Eyes closed, he reached out with his consciousness to touch that symphony of life, trying to let its energies feed his Soul. “Immersion”, psions called it, the deliberate suppression of their defenses to let that vast input of Humanity in, to actually open one’s self to the riot of thoughts and emotions of a mass. Psions usually did not do this, as the cacophony of images and feelings will almost always overload one’s consciousness. Shielding from it was the first thing a psion develops, so they can still walk amongst the Normals and not get crippled by it. As it is, psions still invariably tend to isolate themselves from large clumps of humans in a Bernoulli’s Principle kind of way: the smaller the space, the greater the “pressure”. But occasionally, psions “immerse” themselves, a minor “drug” among the Gifted, who find a form of rush in the heady and potent mixture of massed signals. Now Ashe skims the line between load and overload, trying to stifle the grief from within that threatens to overwhelm him.
A wind flips the draperies, cold and strong with the promise of rain this early in summer. The weather is as trashed as my insides, Ashe thinks. At least something can be done for it. But what of the cold in my Heart?
The wind’s fingers picks up the scattered lightweight articles on the bed Ashe sat on. Letters and articles and photos. Some moved. Some flew in several directions. One tumbled on the sheets until it fell just so right in front of Ashe. Don’t look at it, he thinks, push it away. Instinct tells you to avoid pain; follow that instinct! Don’t look… but his eyes refused the order of his mind, and he sees: a girl, in her late teens, looking bright and beautiful in the pink, sleeveless dress she wore in the party after her Freshman-year Finals.
Ashe tried to stop the memories. These were good ones, but it was always these that brought the most pain. The times of happiness and hope, of bright mornings and warm evenings, the promise of a tomorrow that now will never be. Please, don’t make me remember…
Warm smiles and gentle laughter. The lilting tune of a voice that seems to sing with every word like an angel’s hymn. Hands held amidst green fields and sunset afternoons and starlit evenings. A touch, a presence, within the confines of a Soul that has long been seeking its other half, and found it. A sharing, a binding, that frees and fills the Soul with brightness and hope. Like everything was right with the world, and what was not could be brought to that rightness.
Ashe scattered the memories with a rough force of will, just as the psychokinetic effect he created threw the articles everywhichway from his person. He staggers to the window just as the rain began to fall in a slow drip-drop. Mild panic and concern rippled through pedestrians and motorists alike, silent prayers reaching for the heavens to let this be a light one. Manila’s drainage system is poorly maintained here in Downtown. Ashe lets the influx of emotions buffet him, just as he lets the rain fall on his face, mingling with the tears he tries vainly to stop from flowing.
She loved rain, especially the soft, gentle ones that showered the Academy in regular, climate-controlled intervals. It was raining that Monday, but they were not in the Academy, nowhere near Pacificon. Bright Pacificon, seemingly untouched by the events of the past decades, still the golden land which served as the symbol for the lost Golden Age of Mankind. They were here, in Mega Manila. It was the summer of his final year in the Academy, and Ashe earlier received an invite from his friends to visit the “old Homeland.” He didn’t want her to go with him, knowing what the Philippines had become in the aftermath of the Bright Tomorrow. It felt precognitive, but he didn’t recognize it then. She was insistent, wanting to see new places, having lived all her life sheltered in Pacificon. When he argued from a psion’s perspective, she reminded him of the axioms of precognition, how even the best of them only sees a possible future. Philosophy major, she nearly launched into a lecture on the malleability of Reality and the future of a Person. Besides, she said with that Soul-piercing, Heart-melting smile of hers, what harm could there be? Mega-Manila wasn’t all that bad, Makati and Malate still the safe places where the rich played and partied.
They had stayed indoors two of the four days of their stay and she wanted out that first instance the rain would abate. She had been to the South, where Ashe’s family still lived, saw the great lake of Laguna still glistening in the sun, felt still-fresh breezes caress her nape, play with her hair. But she insisted they go to Manila, grabbing Ashe and their jackets and asking him to show her around the places of his childhood. She wanted so badly to see the city where the dreams of the Bright Tomorrow were first born, and finally floundered under the weight of Mankind’s own humanity. He brought her to gleaming Makati, its towering crystal-glass buildings seemingly defiant – or is it apathetic? – to the general condition of the times. She could only see the wondrous structures and glitz of Manila’s corporate heart, marveling at the dominating, crystal-woven edifice of the Makati Eyrie of the old Phoenix Group of Companies with childlike awe. But Ashe could see the differences. Several buildings and other structures seemed to be touched with a general sense of decay, slow but sure. Here and there Ashe would espy the effects of barely-controlled air pollution, a patina of corrosion here and there, especially on the iron railings along the streets. The tall statue of Ninoy Aquino on the intersection of Ayala Avenue and Paseo de Roxas again showed the toll the environment took on such works. Ashe knew Makati prided itself at being barely touched by the end of the Bright Tomorrow, but he could see that the place was giving ground steadily. The people were different, too. The great and noble race that had been PGC’s primary engine for the Bright Tomorrow now seemed to rush with an intensity to be somewhere, everywhere, anywhere. None of the warm meetings and greetings that once characterized life in the Philippines, no one even stopping that least bit on a bench to enjoy the morning. It felt like a world trying to stay one step ahead of something that cannot be seen, only felt.
But Ashe saw it that rainy Monday.
A morning spent in Makati segued into a lazy afternoon in gilded Malate with its cafes and galleries, old homes and decades-old trees. They were staying in a famous coffee shop, enjoying a good cup of cappuccino as the rainclouds began to disperse and the soft rays of a late afternoon sun began to peek. There were only a few patrons at the café, regulars who decided to enjoy the weather outside their climate-controlled homes. A family caught his eye, especially a child of four playing with his Lego, turning the café into a playground, much to the amusement of everyone in the place. Ashe remembered sweeping aside her forelocks, wanting to see that bright smile and starlit eyes as she watched the child in play. She had mentioned, half-dreamily, how nice it would be to have such kids, so full of hope and wonder, before turning that smile and those eyes to him. All that, and the sunlight filtering through leaves, the fresh feeling of the rain-washed atmosphere and streets, made him excuse himself to the flower shop on the other side of the road. As he basked in the scent of flowers, damp greenery, and moist air, he felt a rise in her happiness. Sneaking a glance to the café as the proprietor gave him the dozen blue roses, he could see her talking animatedly to the child, being shown the various configurations the Lego robot could achieve. She loved children so much, especially bright ones like that kid. With a smile and a slight shaking of his head, Ashe began to walk back to the café with closed eyes, immersing himself in the joy he could feel from those inside. Especially from her whose happiness and life shone brightly like the sun now spreading its arms over the city.
Until the sound of motorbikes and gunfire shattered that happiness.
To this day, he blames himself for it. Not just being a psion, Ashe was training in the Academy for employment with the UN’s strategic group, training to be a Mentat, an analyst. He should have noticed the government-issue Toyota Land Cruiser beside the Benz with their single-digit numbers, took note of thebarong-clad men and women in sunglasses at a strategically-placed table in the far end of the café and on the other side of the street. He should have picked another place, somewhere far from anyone who had the very real possibility of becoming a lightning rod for all things unsavory. And he should have Seen, precognitively, or through his empathy felt the emotions from the biker gang that zoomed to the café and the other shop, taking down the bodyguards with a combination of gunfire and wild psionics. An explosion forced him to the ground as a psi-effect came into being behind him. Guns answered each other in the café. Lying on the gray ferrocrete, his senses ringing from the shock of the blast, Ashe could only watch helplessly as the gangers went to their table. Under the cover of automatic gunfire and a psi-shield, one large man took the child with the Lego robot… and her. He screamed her name as she screamed his, and then were drowned out by the engine of a large black van that stopped near the café. Ashe tried to stop them with psychokinesis and a mental attack, but he felt himself hit suddenly by a combination of 9mm bullets and neural overload. He heard her scream his name again in horror as the psi effects died stillborn in his mind and he hit the ferrocrete. He could still hear her voice and tears as his vision slowly but surely faded into black, the black of the van speeding away, and the roses turning from blue to red.
Awakening to the feeling of psionic energy filling his damaged body, and the soft padding of a car seat. Sounds of an engine in high gear, sirens blaring. Flailing. Pain arced up his spine as Ashe tried to create an effect to counter the invasion. Shouts of orders to keep him still, I’m trying to heal him here. Men and women in barongs with commlink headsets on their ears pinning his arms and legs. He could dimly hear the crying of a child, and the equal tears of relief from a mother. An angry voice asking who and what the hell were those gangers and how is the kid. Ashe suddenly feels something welling up his throat, and he lets it out, blood and something else falling freely from his mouth. He’s feedbacking, the other psion yells, damned Jesuit-trained defences. Stinging sensation of a medpatch being slapped on the right side of his neck, the cornucopia of chemicals spreading like cold fire over his body. Then, Darkness. And Silence.
He awoke to the antiseptic smell, peach walls, and general sense of dreariness (from the interns?) of the Philippine General Hospital. His first sensations were the beep of a medical monitor, the feeling of the IV fluid flowing into his veins, and a bone-white ceiling with an overabundance of florescent lighting. There was also the wrenching pain as he rose suddenly to a sitting position, his questions stillborn as agony arced through his synapses. The nurse on duty, and his sister, he noted, both soothingly chided him for his actions. As the nurse called the doctor, and his parents filed anxiously in, his sister was busy asking him the usual questions while he tried to remember his questions over the pain. And as the doctor droned on about he being a lucky man after taking six 9mm teflon-coated slugs and a major mental attack, Ashe suddenly remembered his question. Where is she, he asked his parents, standing on one side of the bed. But they acted like they didn’t hear, speaking on and on about how he should take it easy, regain his strength, how close it was to the opening of classes in the Academy and he needed to be up and about by that time. Where is she, he insisted, taking his sister’s arm. She only bit her lips and lowered her head. He felt tears on his arm, and could hear the choked sobs above the din of all those sounds and voices.
Ashe would learn the rest later, the doctor’s orders of no excitement superseded by the fears of an angry psion that were still fresh on everyone’s minds in the hospital. Even then, his room was lined with vibranite crystals attuned to absorbing and redirecting psi energy. Ashe could feel their distinctive vibrations, the pulse of harmonics as they reacted so subtly to his thoughts, as much as their attunement would allow. She and Ashe had the dumb luck to have been with the President’s favorite son and his family that afternoon. The child was the President’s favorite grandchild. The gunners, it was theorized, were hired people by an extremist group way down South to capture the Presidential Son and use him as a bargaining chip for an independence bid. Despite the loss of half their number, the Presidential Security Group personnel were able to keep the gunners from harming or taking the Son. Why a biker gang, his Mentat training asked. Cannon fodder, distractions, it answered back. His father told him that, with all the chaos down South, the nation’s various security forces were expecting something… more rational, professional. Not a dozen wild youths with submachineguns and wild psionic effects. Wrong, dad, Ashe corrected, they were distractions. It was professional. Ashe saw the trained ones as they quickly acted and took the child, saw them inside the van. In the incredibly inhuman gestalt of the Mentat, Ashe asked his parents in a toneless voice where she is. Three days, dad. Where is she? Ashe had seen the wall clock with its date. He knew that it shouldn’t take too long to search for missing persons in a post-psionic world, even in a place like Mega Manila with a high background count of various energies that screw up psi. He was told that she had saved the President’s grandson with a wild move that hit an abductor’s groin and thus allowed the child to jump immediately out of the then-moving van’s still-open door. His human mind told him that that should put the Chief Executive indebted to her so the least he could do was look for her. But his Mentat mind thrived on Reality, on how situations are in the real world after the end of the Bright Tomorrow. He thought all this as he was watching the newsclip of her parents with the President, all live from Malacañang Palace as he gave his profuse thanks for their daughter’s bravery. Everyone knew what would come next, but Ashe had locked the monitor’s controls with his PK. He wanted to hear this, masochistically. The cameras paned in with a vulture’s grace as it moved to get a better view of the meal. Her father wore the mask appropriate for an ambassador taking in bad news, all prim and proper and grateful at the same time. But her mother was crying. And she wasn’t there. She wasn’t here. Three days.
And the camera took every opportunity to record how compassionate the President was with his expression of condolences and wishes that they could have done more to find her, but the group had gone to Mindanao, into the War Zone. Sorry, I am so sorry. Proper facial expressions, voice intonation. The handshakes and the hug to her mother, the promises of if we can’t save her then at least we’ll avenge her. Good coaches, Ashe’s Mentat mind thought. No wonder the man won. He finished with a statement about eradicating the insurgency once and for all in the South, all tough and righteous anger.
It wasn’t the first time Ashe thanked his Jesuit mentors for the inner control they instilled in the psions they trained. Otherwise, he might have given PGH another mark in its history equal to the Crater of ’52, when an Omnipsi went nova after a bout with depression. And in the window off to his left, Ashe could see that the storm raged, nature finally deciding to laugh at Mega Manila’s antiquated weather-control protocols.
The rain was raging now, filling the drainage paths and esteros with tons of water laced with weak acids. He knew that as an afterthought, his Mentat gestalt analyzing with the speed equal to any computer the small telltales of the chemicals. All the more he looked up to the gray-black clouds, let the droplets cascade on eyes that has not stopped crying for years now. She was gone, forever out of his reach. He remembered the defeated look in her parents eyes when they came to his room in the PGH, how even the trackers they hired couldn’t find her, how static-filled the War Zone had become and thus rendered psi searching useless. He remembered how prim and proper they all were a week later in Pacificon, during the wake and funeral services. A funeral with a hollow coffin. No body to intern to the ground. Even as the silver casket was lowered, Ashe knew it would remain as it was when first dug: a hollow in the soil.
Three years and he still felt that hollow, the yawning chasm within his Soul that her loss left. Would that there was a body to be buried, a past that could end with a dot. But their lives ended that rainy Monday afternoon with ellipses. There was no proof of an end, even after three years. Even as his Mentat mind told him the facts told nothing but, his Heart wanted proof. He wanted to hold her again, even if it was for the last time and it was a lifeless body in his arms. Damn Descartes and Kant: Man is an embodied spirit. And thus we look for proof, for the touch and sight and scent and sound and taste that will prove to us that, yes, this is it. The senses may lie, but at least it is something that can be verified. It felt so hard to believe in something that was essentially an abstraction, despite his Training, his upbringing. It was like his Heart, his Soul, were left in the border between life and death; he could neither live again, nor could he die finally, fully, totally. He couldn’t sing his final dirge and lie in the flames, in the end to rise from it for a new chance at life. No. Ashe didn’t feel like his totem, the Phoenix. Rather he felt like a revenant, an undead, neither with the living or the afterlife.
He had pushed himself to the utmost of his abilities, even to disregarding the psionic pain of trying to breach the horrendous rift in the astral plane of war-torn Mindanao. Yet all for naught. Even he couldn’t find her, his Gift useless in trying to save her or at least find her.
Ashe’s crying subsides into sobs, as the rain continued to pour strongly, the streets filling a bit already. He looked up to the sound of National Defense floaters surveying the coming flood. Damn you for your shortness of reach, he silently cursed them. All the technology of the Bright Tomorrow, but none of the capability, none of the scruples. Damn you all.
Ashe was still cursing them as he slowly crept back into the room, not even bothering to close the window. He looked again at the photos and articles that littered the room. Ashe picked up the photo of her and him together, hand in each other’s, sitting on a bench in a quadrangle lit softly by the lights in the trees scattered all around. It was after the Student Council meeting at the end of the school year, and they were both tired. They had talked of the future, how much hope there still was. He was an incoming Junior then, already a Realist. But she had changed him, made him see in a different light the reality in which he moved. He had believed, there in the soft, climate-controlled breezes of Pacificon, its clear night skies where one can still look up and gaze at the stars. In the warmth of her hand and her Soul driving the cold of night away, the light in her eyes stronger than the dark that threatened to overwhelm them. He had believed.
And as Ashe crumples to the floor, the photo held tightly to his chest, he could only think of the Reality that had shattered his belief. And that, perhaps, is the most painful hurting of all.
Manila. 26 May 2000, 1015 p.m.