Sarah Elkins© 2018
All Rights Reserved
Chapter 1: Oh, Well Shit
Traffic from the shift change at Fort Hood was clogging up the perpetually construction-riddled highway that ran through the town of Killeen, Texas near the base. Neila sat in her Camaro, inching along behind a short army convoy on the highway not far from the military base. To distract herself from worry she had said or done the wrong thing at lunch with friends she let her attention hover around the military vehicles ahead of her to play a bit of a game of trying to identify what they were. One armored personnel carrier, three Humvees, and a water truck. There was a small red car with a primer-colored hood in front of the convoy. She pushed her Third Eye higher to see over the traffic jam. A wrecker was in the process of moving a car that had stalled in the one open lane. She snapped her attention back to her car when she smelled the sweet humid odor the radiator gave off when it was beginning to overheat.
“Crap, crap, crap, crap.” Neila hurried to turn on the heater and roll down the windows. She didn’t bother to reach over for the passenger side nob; instead, she used her telekinesis because it was faster.
It was a warm day, and the heater would make the interior of the car almost unbearable inside of ten minutes. The needle on the engine’s temperature gauge began to fall back down to read in the middle. She really didn’t want to take her hoodie off but would have to once the car got hotter.
Three motorcycles sped by on the narrow shoulder while Neila stared at the temperature gauge on the car. “Please cool off. We’ll be moving again soon. Great, shit, I’m talking to my car. Maybe I should cut the engine off?”
There was a loud noise, like a car wreck ahead of the traffic jam but louder. Neila thrust her Third Eye up to see what happened. Smoke rose from the remnants of the car that had been between the army convoy and the stalled car. The motorcycles that had passed were facing against traffic, and the riders were armed with assault rifles. She pushed her Third Eye closer to get a better look, AR-15s with M203 grenade launchers attached.
Thanks, Dad, for teaching me about high-powered weapons. Neila was thrust back to herself when the Humvee ahead backed over the front of her car. Without thinking, she slipped out the driver’s side window next to the concrete barrier before the military vehicle flattened the cab of her car. The other trucks in the convoy were scrambling to move, but the six-foot-high barriers on either side made escape all but impossible.
Neila was glad she wasn’t a big person as she raced forward, running down the thin gap between the convoy on her right and barrier to her left. She heard the familiar sound of shots from assault rifles and the loud unfamiliar sound of the slugs impacting with the armored personnel carrier ahead of the Humvees.
A series of loud bangs echoed down the road as if someone was breaking wood against metal, beating the side of the APC with mechanized baseball bats. She stopped next to the APC as she let her Third Eye trail up so she could see the motorcyclist who was firing at the window of the APC. Then she extended her “sphere of influence” toward him and wrenched the gun from his grip.
“What the fuck?” the man in the black motorcycle helmet shouted as his weapon abandoned him to tumble toward the hillside past the concrete barrier.
The driver’s side door to the APC opened. “Get in!”
Neila climbed up the side step of the truck and slipped in the door, which the driver shut behind her just as one of the motorcyclists began firing where she had just been. The driver and his passenger were the only other people in the APC.
“Please tell me you have backup coming,” Neila said quickly.
“Traffic’s backed up. They’re going to send in a helo, but the closest place to land is a mile up the road.”
“Do you have any guns?” she asked.
“No, just moving the trucks on a civi highway, no arms authorized this mission,” the driver replied. “Suppressive fire would save our asses—shit.”
“Oh, well, shit,” Neila echoed.
Neila wasn’t his boss, wasn’t even a soldier, but knew from spending time with her family who weren’t exactly “normal” that life-or-death situations required confidence and force. Her default was to take charge. Her family always joked that she sounded like a “little drill sergeant.” It had annoyed her, but she needed that experience now to survive.
That little drill sergeant found she couldn’t see outside the APC with her Third Eye. She went up to the scarred front window to get a better look at the cyclist who was firing at the truck.
More bullets slammed into the side of the vehicle. The windshield cracked a little more, and she ducked reflexively.
“I’m gonna try something. Don’t freak out,” she shouted to the two men in the truck as she tried extending her sphere of influence toward the biker who was still shooting. It was more difficult than normal, but she was able to wrench the gun away from her hands and slide it under the burning car ahead of them.
“You did that? How the fuck did you do that?” the soldier in the passenger seat of the APC barked. “What the fuck are you?”
The driver was on the radio. “We need that helo. Two hostiles engaging. Non-com casualties. Requesting permission to engage hostiles.”
“There’s three,” Neila corrected. “I saw three of them. One red helmet, two black helmets. Two men, one woman. AR-15s with grenade launchers attached.”
“Correction. Three hostiles engaging convoy,” the driver continued into the radio.
“You, girl. How the fuck did you do that?” the soldier in the passenger seat barked again. He wasn’t in follow-the-confident-person’s-orders mode like the driver had been.
“You mean you can’t?” Neila replied and looked back out the window. She assumed he couldn’t. Most people weren’t psychic. Playing dumb about it always seemed like the thing to do.
Neila managed to pull the brake lines off one of the bikes just as the female biker ran to it. The biker stared at the bike for a moment as it tipped over onto its side seemingly of its own accord. The woman in the red helmet looked up and locked eyes with Neila in the APC. Police lights twinkled over a mile down the highway. Neila couldn’t see where the other two bikers had gone due to the APC’s damaged windows.
“What the fuck, lady!”
Oh, now it was lady, such an upgrade. At least, it wasn’t girl anymore. She had been knighted.
“Requesting permission to engage hostiles. We are being assisted by a civilian,” the driver continued into the radio. So he had noticed her using her powers and wasn’t fazed by it. Maybe he was psychic or knew someone who was.
“Do not engage. Helo en route, coming in hot. Sit tight.”
Neila looked around at the angular interior of the APC. Rows of seats lined the sides of the truck. She couldn’t see any weapons inside. “How much does this weigh?”
“Six tons,” the soldier at the radio replied automatically.
Could she move six tons? She’d never tried because that was a lot of fucking weight.
“You need to drive forward, over the burning car.” She pointed ahead of them.
“Over the car?”
“Your buddies in the hummer in back already smashed my car. You can drive this beast over a fucking Kia. Get us out of here!”
The driver gunned the gas and plowed into the burning car, knocking Neila off her feet. She fell backward and hit her head hard on the metal floor of the APC.
Shouting. Muffled gunfire. The sound of a hail slamming into the side of a metal barn in a thunderstorm. The heavy thumping of a giant drum.
It was a nightmare. Normal for her. She was used to nightmares. Nightmares were her speed.
The rhythmic thumping of her heart set the time and her eyes raced under their lids.
She needed to wake up. Her left ankle felt broken.
Most of her nightmares had some sort of pain. Frequent pain. Familiar pain. Broken ribs she never broke. Burned skin she never burned. Arthritic joints she never wore out. Aches, burns, breaks, cracks, all old acquaintances she barely minded much anymore. Acquaintances she could let take her away. She wondered what would happen if she did that. Where would the pain take her? Would she die? Would something else happen? She waited a moment longer to wake up, curious. Why did this one feel different?
Her left arm joined her ankle in the invisible fire.
The dream, like others before was both a nightmare and yet somehow not. Just something that was happening that she knew she could wake up from when she’d had enough of it. Often she was taller in her dreams, not herself, someone from the past, someone long dead. She half-believed they were glimpses into a past life. A few times, she had seen her face in past dreams, angular, sharp, and masculine with shorter black hair and facial hair that matched.
This dream was different, because she and her dream self shared a body. Her left arm and leg had split in half, growing a second arm and leg from her shoulder and hip joints. Her head was half herself—pale, blonde, small—half her dream self—angular, dark hair, long in the jaw—two halves pulling away from one another with grotesquely stretched skin as she silently screamed. She sat in the middle of a round room with stained walls as fire erupted above her and covered the ceiling, a raging storm attempting to devour everything in its path. Neila tried to push away from the oncoming fire, but her right side was too short. Her body was a twisted tangle of limbs—some long, some not—all burning with searing hot pain as bones split from one another.
In the dream, she couldn’t reach out and push herself to safety with her mind. She was unable to remote view, to see things away from her body with her Third Eye. Everything was cut off and close to her. That part of the nightmare was other people’s reality.
In this nightmare, she wasn’t psychic, she was powerless, and that terrified her more than being torn in half while burned alive.
Her heart continued to beat out of sequence as the fire grew and enveloped her. The pain in her left side grew, like ants gnawing down to the bone as the heat seared her tangled malformed flesh. What would happen if she let the pain take her? Would she burn up? Would she be torn in half?
“No!” she called out in her dream. Her voice was not her own. It sounded familiar but alien. What if she had called out in her sleep? What if she really sounded like that outside the dream?
She remembered the attack on the convoy.
She couldn’t wake up.