Maisie: Birth of a Seer

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: House of Ghosts
What was meant to be a simple after-school outing becomes so much more.
Maisie Gardner develops a superpower, and is immediately thrust into a dangerous confrontation in which the odds are heavily against her.
Her actions solve her short-term problems, but they carry consequences down the line.

Submitted: May 06, 2017

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Submitted: May 06, 2017

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Maisie: Depart

The sun shone overhead, projecting rays of oppressive heat onto the busy, sprawling settlement known as Heffleton Point, the normally grey expanse of concrete glowing white under the sun’s radiance. Given that the city was an important industrial centre in the post-war struggle, its inhabitants worked diligently; the proud people of Heffleton carried themselves with purpose in whatever they were doing.

What was I doing, you ask?

I was stuck in school. To be more specific, I was in the library of Valbourne High, an affluent private school in the west end of the city. The library, much like the rest of the building, was a state-of-the-art facility; it was a vast area, long rows of bookshelves separated by aisles, so the place felt almost like a shopping centre. On each side, desks, tables and sofas were dotted around. The sun streamed in through the glass ceiling, bathing the library in natural light. 

I was situated in the corner, sitting at a desk, hunched over Economics for High Schoolers 2. A pile of other books lay on one end of the desk. Those were for later; I had a long list of things to get through today, very long indeed. I was feeling a huge amount of stress; exams were looming ever closer, and there was still so much to do! A nagging thought plagued me: What if I fail? Oh God, what would my parents think?

I slipped my glasses off for a moment, closing my eyes and leaning back. Then, I exhaled slowly, concentrating on the sound of my breathing. Now was not the time to panic. I assured myself: As long as I keep at it, I can make it through. With a pale hand, I brushed a strand of blonde hair out of my face, put my glasses back on and prepared to focus on the textbook-

“Hey, Maisie,” a sudden voice said from behind me.

I did not expect that. With a startled little jump in my chair, I turned angrily towards the voice; I was greeted with the sight of two of my friends, Danny and Zack.

They stood side by side, and from my perspective, the difference in appearance between the two boys was remarkable, even when they were in uniform. Danny looked laid back as ever- he was slouching, his hands secured in his pockets. I noted, with a hint of annoyance, that his shirt was untucked. A stupid little grin adorned his rosy face, and his bright green eyes were partially obscured by a mop of red hair.

Zack was beside him, donning a less tragic posture. Unlike his companion, Zack kept himself in order; his shirt was tucked in, black hair in a military-style haircut. His chocolate skin glistened in the sun, complementing his amber eyes. He dwarfed Danny by a good few inches. Together, they looked like Yin and Yang, foreign to each other in every sense.

The truth couldn’t be any more different. I was pretty sure these two were friends since birth- they went through elementary school together, inseparable. Somewhere along the way, I joined them. Ever since then, I acted as the much-needed voice of reason. With this bunch, being reasonable was hard sometimes.

What?” I snapped at Danny, the source of the voice, “Can’t you see I’m busy?” Zack cracked a small grin at this, and took a tiny step back, content to watch us.

Danny raised his arms in mock-surrender, maintaining the smile. “Jeez, Maisie, does it hurt that much to say hi back?” he said. “Ain’t I allowed to check in on a pal?”

“I appreciate your concern, but as you should know,” I gestured to the large pile of books on my desk with a frown, “I have work to do. As a matter of fact, so do you.” Crossing my arms, I continued. “Exam time is approaching, and if you-”

“It’s March, Maisie!” Danny shouted at me, incredulous. “Exams are in June!”

In a hushed tone, I quickly bit back at him. “In case you haven’t noticed, this is a library! Quiet down, productive people are trying to get things accomplished! Oh, and for your information, three months is no time at all,” I said, which earned a snort from Zack.

“Come on,” he spoke up for the first time, his deep voice contrasting with Danny’s comparatively lighter one. “Since the start of this month, you’ve been holed up in here for hours after school. You do know we’re juniors, right?” He shook his head. “You’re doing more than most seniors.”

Indignant, I raised my voice: “Just because I want to succeed-”

“Hush now, in case you haven’t noticed, this is a library,” Danny interrupted gleefully, parroting my lofty tone. He went back to his normal voice, “Look, we get your creepy addiction to work. If there’s one thing I know after years of friendship, it’s that you and your fucking homework planner have a bond like super glue.” Before I could retort, he pressed on. “But this is ridiculous! We haven’t had a proper talk in weeks, like, all three of us.”

“Yeah, you’re even gone most lunchtimes now,” Zack took over, assuming an accusatory tone. Uh oh. “We’ve actually started worrying about your health, you know.” It was his turn to cross his arms. “Riddle me this, Maisie, when was the last time you ate?”

Caught off guard, the angry retort I had prepared died in my throat. I considered the question, and paled as I realised the answer.

“Last night,” I replied quietly. Zack facepalmed, muttering ‘For the love of God,’ to himself. Meanwhile, Danny abruptly pulled up a chair next to me and sat down.

“Look, pal, this is an intervention,” Danny said, his features hardening. “You’ve stuck yourself in a shitty whirlpool of workaholism, and it’s our job to get you out. Again.”

I was surprised at myself. In retrospect, I probably should have been eating more. Regardless, I didn’t concede the point. There was fight in me yet.

“Still, though, the work-”

“Can wait,” Zack interrupted. “If you really wanna keep going like this, you need to keep your strength up. If you don’t, you’ll collapse. Simple as that.”

Every feeble argument I had crumbled to dust. Damn you, Zack, and your way with words! I couldn’t disagree with him without looking stupid. No choice but to give in.

“Fine,” I complied, and they fist bumped. “Just let me put these away. I’ll meet you two at the gate.”

We parted ways for now. I went to my locker, stuffing the necessary books into my bag, and left for the school gate.

Maisie: Travel

“So,” I asked, “We’re all together again. What’s our itinerary?”

The three of us strode out of the school gates. As we left the formidable building behind us, the city enveloped us. The greys and reds of the various structures mingled with the colours of the citizens; yellow school buses, blue cop cars, and of course, the rainbow of different hues the people themselves wore. It was a sort of controlled chaos- thousands of people were living their lives before our eyes, busy with their own errands. However, as this was a relatively new part of town, it was laid out in an orderly manner, so the crowds of people moved in predicable patterns. We entered the throng, sticking close together.

“We’re getting food,” Danny responded. “You remember what that is, right?”

“Shut it,” I said, not without a smile. Once they reminded me about eating, I realised just how hungry I was. My stomach growled incessantly, as if it was also scolding me about my forgetfulness.

After little deliberation, we set a course for Mack’s, a fast food restaurant fifteen minutes from here. It wasn’t my go-to option, but this girl needed sustenance fast.

“So, did you hear what the Crusaders said last night?” Zack said, earning a scoff from Danny, who was smirking.

“Nah, I don’t waste my time looking out for that sad excuse of a gang. That’s your shtick!”

It took me a second to remember who they were talking about. Ah, yes, the Crusaders: the cockroaches of the criminal world. As far as I knew, they were among the oldest gangs in the city. Also, they had a reputation for being utterly pathetic.

“Not to be flippant, Zack, but for once, I have to agree with Danny. The last thing I remember them doing was robbing a pizzeria. That was last week.”

Our indifference failed to affect Zack. “Well, yeah, they’re been biding their time, obviously! Another video got put onto their site, too. Says they got new leadership.”

“Oh come on, who’d want to take over the Crusaders? Like, if you’re head honcho of the idiot gang, you’re just slightly less of an idiot,” Danny retorted.

“They said they’re gonna bomb the war memorial today.”

I froze for a moment. The war memorial, not far from here, was erected last year in honour of the victims of the war overseas. I had lost a brother in that war, and Zack had lost his mother. “That’s an outrageous claim, even for them,” I stated. “They wouldn’t dare. The whole town would rally against them, it’s suicidal!”

“Yeah, pal, look, this reeks of bullshit,” Danny said. “They gotta be insane to try. A lot of Crusaders guys lost people too, ya know? I don’t think this new leader’s exactly right in the head, he’ll probably be outta here by next week.”

“Alright,” Zack said, looking unconvinced. He didn’t seem keen on carrying the argument on, however.

A bit of walking later, I saw the entrance to Mack’s; it wasn’t easy to miss. It was quite a large facility, well-maintained and brightly lit. The building adhered to a red and lime green colour scheme, and this intense combination of colours made my eyes water. Who the hell made that brilliant design choice?

Beggars can’t be choosers, I thought, before our trio strode in through the automatic doors. Fortunately, the place wasn’t unbearable on the inside; the walls were still red and green, but paler. Several televisions were mounted on the walls, showing typical programmes like soccer games and talk shows. It was decently populated, but we were able to find a circular table off to the side. We claimed it as our own.

The aroma of fried food hit the three of us at once. We breathed it in for a moment, and I started to conjure a vivid image of the glorious, finger-licking goodness that awaited me… then I realised what I was doing. Dammit, this place was getting the better of me.

“Holy balls, that smells good,” Danny said dreamily. “Like…”

“Heaven?” Zack suggested after a second. “Greasy deliciousness?”

“Corporatism,” I supplied, still dazed. “Shameless, mouth-watering, greedy perfection… the greatest of all smells. Oh, there’s the menu,” I said, just noticing it on the wall opposite me. I pointed to it.

“Uh, well said, sister,” Danny said. I proceeded to absorb myself in the menu, trying to pick out the meal with the best value. As the list of options was no small thing, the number of calculations to do would keep me busy; so busy, in fact, that I didn’t notice what the others were doing. The distinct click of a phone camera woke me from my stupor.

I looked over to Danny, who was already thrusting the phone into my view. “Got you!” he cackled. The little dunce had taken a selfie. He was in the foreground, Zack leaning into frame with a smirk. I was a bit behind them, looking to the side, off in my own little world.

At the best of times, my features had been described as haughty. Here, it would have been funny how intimidating I looked if it weren’t me. I had high cheekbones, inherited from my mother. I also inherited her awful eyesight, which warranted my glasses- black plastic frames. In the photo, my wide, icy blue eyes were locked in an intense stare. My expression was stern, as if I were a strict teacher about to give a detention. The caption read: “we finally got her out”.

“Jesus, delete that, I look murderous!” I pleaded with Danny, who shook his head and held the phone away from me before I could reach for it.

“How about no? Let’s see… send to…”

“Sandy?” Zack cut in slyly.

Danny’s usually red face became somehow redder. I grinned- Sandy, or rather, Sandra, was a friend of mine who Danny had recently taken a liking to. “Okay,” Danny said a bit too loudly, “We all ready? Let’s order!” He stood up and joined the line. Feeling merciful, we followed suit. Soon, we were back at the table, waiting for our food to arrive.

The next few minutes were filled with cheerful banter; we were just three teenagers shooting the breeze, enjoying ourselves. The restaurant was buzzing with the voices of people much like us, people who were just happy to be there. It was an atmosphere that I could only describe as pleasant.

Right up until it wasn’t.

“Guys…” Zack breathed, gazing in terror at a point behind us. I looked where he was looking – the TV – and my eyes widened.

I processed the image, and before I could stop it, my consciousness slipped away from me.

Maisie: Awaken

There was no telling how it happened, but I found myself in an eldritch world where all that ruled was chaos. I seemed to be floating – no, whizzing – in the midst of a million other particles, just like me. Our itinerary? Why, we had none. This journey would last an eternity, no more and no less. I knew intrinsically that we were a ripple, a crease in this featureless expanse; as we journeyed, we created ripples of our own, adding to this primordial soup that grew and grew in every direction.

Yet at the same time, I saw(or sensed, rather, as neither light nor eyes were material here) that others of my kin were dying, winking out of existence. I mourned for them, as they were my brothers and sisters. Regardless, I dutifully travelled along my trajectory. I, like them, had my own information to carry; my experiences were only a flicker in this mess of particles, but together we would weave a majestic tapestry of data. In that way, the void was like a computer. We were the bits, or perhaps the bytes.

Yes. I was a byte.

Byte. Oh, what a word.

Byte. Yes, this was perfect. I was a byte. Byte, byte, byte.

A Byte.

Some different sensation spread through me… touch. I had a body, and it was touching something soft.

I remembered that I was a human, not some particle.

I remembered that I was Maisie Gardner, and I had agency more significant than moving through featureless space.

I remembered that I had eyes, and so I opened them. Light flooded my eyes and made them sting; my glasses were nowhere to be found. My limited vision told me that I was in a bed unknown to me. It felt clean and comfortable enough; that was all well and good, but one burning question found itself in my mind.

What in the name of God happened?

This was an alarming development but I told myself to assess my surroundings. Feeling around for my glasses, I found them on a bedside table. With clear eyesight, it was evident that I was in a hospital; curtains separated me from what I could only assume were other patients. The typical hospital-white features were bathed with a red glow, indicating that the sun was setting.

Setting? How long was I unconscious for? Being kept in the dark made me anxious – it was time to get some answers. I still had my school uniform on, so my phone was probably here too. Thankfully, I found it in my trouser pocket, and decided to ask the others what transpired. I navigated to the group chat between Danny, Zack and myself.

 

Magnesium: Can someone please tell me why I’m in a hospital

Danger420: omg maisie youre alive!

Danger420: youve been in a coma for 8 years

Danger420: youve missed so much maisie

Danger420: i married sandy and we have 5 kids

Danger420: zack owns a creepy occult antique store

Magnesium: Try that again without the obviously fictitious coma story. I am in a hospital and I will legitimately freak out

Danger420: oh my dear maisie, youre still in denial

Danger420: dont worry youll have plenty of time to make up the years you missed and build your life anew

Magnesium: I will make you crave death

Danger420: ugh ok fine

Danger420: apparently the 3 of us passed out when the war memorial get slashed and we got taken to hospital

Magnesium: That isn’t even close to a coherent statement

Danger420: im fuckin serious

Danger420: some shit went down

Danger420: the videos all over the web, some dude somehow straight up cut the thing in half, i just watched it

Magnesium: That’s utterly ludicrous, now I’m scared because not even you would make something like that up. Hold on for a second while I have a look at the video 

Danny was right. The video was plastered on every site imaginable, from forums to news sites; I clicked on one of the links and watched with trembling hands. It looked like a feed from a handheld camera, albeit a high-quality one. It was centred on the war memorial, a twenty-foot-tall obelisk of marble with names of the fallen engraved on it. At its base stood a man in a hoodie with his back to the camera; all of his body was obscured by clothing but his broad shoulders told me his gender.

The man raised his hand, and it seemed to be glowing – no, something was escaping his arm. A formless, textureless blob pooled around his raised hand, glowing orange(but the colour was muted enough to be conceivable as brown). It seemed content to hover there inertly, not resembling any material I knew of; it looked massless, like a cloud of energy that decided to rest.

He swung his arm downward, letting out a scream, and the cloud changed; it became narrow and long, very long, until it was like a whip of light. With a sudden burst of speed, it swung outwards in a diagonal path… and passed straight through the memorial.

No. It didn’t pass through. It cut through. The top fragment of the monument slid agonisingly slowly down its other half, friction losing the drawn-out battle against gravity… finally, it fell to the ground with a thud. The shakiness of the camera seemed to intensify ever so slightly, though perhaps that was just my own hands. The few bystanders cleared out of there quickly.

The image faded to black, and just when I thought it was over, white text appeared: “Let’s Get Dangerous – Crusaders.” As the video ended, I lay there seething. The monument that honoured my brother, among countless others, was now no more. Words and actions failed me. All I had was a desire for vengeance. For justice. A fog of anger seemed to consume my mind and rational thought seemed impossible right now.

Yet, there was room for something else: fear. Somehow, against all laws of common sense… a man cut through marble with a wave of his arm. Were there more like him? If the rage and indignation was a flame that enveloped me, this was a deep chill that snaked and spread through my system. I stewed in my musings, taking a moment to calm down until I could trust myself to interact with the world again.

That was when I noticed the buzz.

Like an insect trapped in my head, raring to escape. A peculiar force seemed to be bouncing off of the walls of my skull. Byte. That word again. It was in the dream, but the rest was hazy… something about space? I couldn’t remember. All that was clear was that one isolated word. I wanted to understand, to grasp the mystery, and so I almost felt myself reaching over to that vibrating energy. No… I did feel that. I was extending a metaphorical hand in my brain. I closed an imaginary fist around the energy, and tugged.

The room became ever so slightly tinted. With what colour, I didn’t know; it was like my glasses became a hue foreign to this universe. Yet as I removed them, the otherworldly tint persisted. As far as I could tell, there were no signs of alarm from any other inhabitants of the room; this odd phenomenon was my own to witness. Wonderful. As if my eyesight wasn’t terrible already.

Was this Byte? I had so little to go on. This strange tint, my loss of consciousness… there had to be more to this. Perhaps two heads were better than one. Back in the group chat, I was greeted by several messages to read as well as one more head than expected.

MysticMan: So I caught up on the messages and

Danger420: oh youre finally up

MysticMan: How dare they

MysticMan: That monument was for the fallen

MysticMan: For my fucking mom

MysticMan: I

MysticMan: Jesus

Danger420: yeah man it sucks

Danger420: i cant exactly put myself in you or maisies shoes but im pissed too

Danger420: anyway for what its worth, chin up pal

MysticMan: Much appreciated

Magnesium: I’m back. Hello, Zack

MysticMan: Hey

Magnesium: This is a horrible thing to happen, but I, for one, would rather concern myself with determining the circumstances that brought us here

Danger420: not cool you just interrupted a bro moment

MysticMan: No, she’s right

MysticMan: We need to figure out what the hell happened

Danger420: yeah alright

Danger420: first order of business

Danger420: how the hell did we get here

MysticMan: That’s an easy one

MysticMan: I talked to a doctor and he said we were brought here by car

Magnesium: I don’t recall seeing anyone we knew at Mack’s. That was awfully nice of them

MysticMan: Another girl passed out in the diner

MysticMan: She was with her dad who offered to bring us all since he was going there anyway

Magnesium: We’re not the only ones?

MysticMan: Oh man, not even close

MysticMan: A ton of people went at the same time we did

MysticMan: So many they had trouble finding space for us 4

Danger420: so im assuming we were pretty late to the party

Magnesium: Hence why none of us are together?

MysticMan: Pretty much

Maisie: Respond

“Excuse me, miss,” a high voice interrupted. Looking up from my phone, I saw a nurse standing at the foot of my bed. The Byte’s tint seemed to be denser around her; for a second, I struggled to figure her hair colour out. It turned out to be brown, curls escaping from under her cap. The smile on her face clashed with her tired and deflated body language.

“Are you feeling all right?” she asked.

“I am.” Physically, at least. The emotional storm I was immersed in was none of her concern. The Byte was clearly something beyond a medical phenomenon, so I found it pointless to mention. As there was no reason to remain here, I promptly stood up and set a course for wherever the exit was.

“We would like to perform some tests to ascertain your well-being,” she started, in my way.

“I can assure you, I am fine.” She frowned, concerned.

“Please, miss, this is standard protocol-”

“Aren’t you understaffed as it is?” I snapped, trying to control my temper. I had no time for this. There was work to do and friends to find. I was not getting stopped now.

The nurse looked like she wanted to argue, but under my stern glare she shrank further into herself and gave a dejected sigh. “As you wish.” She made way for me and I strode through the curtains into the centre of the hallway. A murmur of low voices was audible in every direction- were other people waking up now as well? Natural lighting gave way to overhead lamps as the sun was nowhere to be seen.

The Byte suddenly grew dense on one end of the hallway. Inspecting it, I found the spiral staircase leading down. A sign on the wall informed me that I was on the second floor. Well, that was convenient… was this the Byte’s purpose? To tell me where I needed to go? This seemed plausible until I considered that it had clouded around the nurse as well. There was something I was missing.

I started my descent, but a scream from below made me stop in my tracks. It was the first of many; yells of terror rebounded to me even though I was a floor above. Some sort of commotion was going on downstairs. The Byte was more opaque than ever before, acting nearly like fog now.

Footsteps were getting louder. I glanced down the stairs, and an Asian girl my age burst into view. She began a frenzied run up the stairs, but to my horror, a familiar-looking tendril slithered into view. Though she tried to avoid it, it met her abdomen.

The scream. My god, the scream. Her pain was so clear, so loud I could almost feel it myself. She thudded to the ground. A crimson puddle expanded out of her midsection, life force steadily escaping; she had been nearly split in two. I was trembling, and I had to grip onto the railing. Why? Why here?

It was unmistakable. The same man who toppled the memorial was now a flight of stairs below me. I was rooted in place as he calmly walked over the dying girl, paying no mind to her whimpers. He looked up at me, his face obscured with a ski mask. No. Not here. Not like this.

Before I could act, a tendril flew up at me, but this one was the colour of the Byte. I sidestepped just a bit too slowly, but it passed through me with no damage done. Moments later, an orange tendril sliced through the stairs at my feet where I was standing originally. Metal groaned as one end of the stairs was suddenly disconnected from the top.

The man cocked his head, and I was confused as he was. Well, Byte, I said to myself, I don’t know what you are, and I don’t know how you work. All I care about right now is that you can save my life.

Maisie: Scheme

I scurried back into the ward I had awoken in. A Byte-coloured flash burst out of the ground to the right of me, but I was nowhere near its flight path. The subsequent orange tendril cut soundlessly through the floor. What to do? I listened for the masked murderer. His heavy footsteps were a maddening, unhurried metronome in stark contrast to my erratic heartbeat.

Still, though, he was getting louder. Time was running out. The growing footsteps were like a clock ticking towards my end. Oh, God, what now? I was stuck. My hurried run into the ward didn’t go unnoticed by the inhabitants.  A few curious faces erupted from several curtains. “What’s going on?” one asked.

I tried desperately to form a sentence, a word, anything at all. Control yourself, Maisie, for crying out loud. I resigned myself to shakily pointing at the gash in the floor. The man was nearly upstairs by now. They gazed bemusedly at the ravine in the floor that spanned from my position to the stairs entrance. He’s nearly here, and they have no idea! “The man in the n-news, he… ” I started, but the confused looks turned pale and sets of eyes focused behind me. The killer had arrived. I noted grimly that only a handful of metres separated us.

I turned just in time to see another flash of Byte speed towards me. Here we go again. I ducked and the two whips of energy, Byte and orange, flew overhead. Screams rang out and I heard several thuds - probably bodies crashing to the floor. Damn. He was killing more. I couldn’t stop to grieve, though. I needed to buy time.

Our dance continued. The background noise thinned as the people in the ward ran away. He pressed on slowly but surely, forcing me to keep backing up. He couldn’t hit me, though, much to my glee. It became apparent that he wasn’t very dexterous with his power, wielding it less like a deadly tendril and more like a sledgehammer. The Byte prepared me for every strike. The sucker missed me by inches every time.

I just had no way of fighting back. Power or not, he was half a foot taller and looked strong enough to crush me. The seconds passed and we gradually forged a path down the ward. Just him and me. He pressed harder. I ducked and dodged like I never had in my life, his tendril slashing the room apart but never even grazing me. My body ached. My lungs worked overtime.

My foot hooked on something and I fell backwards. I collided painfully with the hard floor. The rhythm was gone now. I was tired and outmatched. He loomed above me, at ease now, Byte staining his shape. I closed my eyes, breathing shallowly. I prayed that Danny and Zack were overhead, not corpses like I would be. Please, God, at least they should make it out! My heart pounded so forcefully I could hear it, ticking down my last moments.

Nothing.

My heart still raced. I still felt the cold, hard floor. My eyelids gave way and the damned murderer was standing there. His power hovered above me like a chandelier that I feared would crash down at any moment. I gained control of my breathing, relishing the air that was circulating around my system.

“Impressive,” he spoke for the first time, his tone measured and voice a low rumble. “Most people died, some ran. Some fought from a distance. You alone faced me in such proximity.”

I blinked. From a distance. I didn’t hear a single gunshot. I reasoned that besides throwing things, fighting from a distance here wasn’t humanly possible. Then I remembered that I just fought an orange whip that could cut through anything; I realised with a jolt that the bounds of logic and physics were no longer relevant. There were definitely more people like me, like him. That was the only explanation.

He was looking right at me, composed. In spite of my efforts, I couldn’t discern the colour of his eyes. The Byte enveloped him so strongly that he was practically a silhouette. 

I stared back at him. He made no movements. Time passed. It seemed that he wanted a response from me, but I had nothing to say to him. I was trembling but I was angry, Lord, I was angry, and it felt good to deny him this small thing.

He cocked his head to the side. “You don’t speak easily, do you? A trait well suited to battle. You show promise, young woman.” What was he talking about? Was that a compliment? Did a mass murderer just compliment me? It was a good call to refuse to talk, because I had no idea how I would answer that.

“It would be unwise to let such promise go to waste,” he continued. Promise? Waste? I didn’t know where this was going but I hoped it would carry on. Every tick of the clock ebbed away at my odds of survival. How long until he stopped talking? Where the hell were the police? Someone must have called at this point. Please.

“Hmm… yes. Your abilities would be useful. You would do well in the Crusaders, girl.” I froze, digesting the statement to make sure I wasn’t going crazy. In the face of this absurdity, there was nothing to do but laugh. And so I did.

The sound wasn’t like any other I had ever made. This wasn’t a laugh for a friend, it was a laugh for an enemy I bitterly hated. The high notes thankfully carried none of my distress but all of my scorn, ringing out into the silent ward. I smirked. What was the expression – fake it till you make it?

“Who are you again?” My first words to him. “All I see here is a mass murderer who declared war on my city!” Part of me wanted to humour him, to keep stalling, but there was no point. After this long, it didn’t look like the police were coming. I couldn’t fight him. I was too weak, too scared. A desperate plan started to form.

“Presently, I don’t have much incentive to join your cause, wouldn’t you agree?” The murderer tilted his head slightly, then gave a low laugh of his own. “Presently, young woman, I don’t have much incentive to give you anything! Nothing stops me from ending your life here and carrying on.” Well. This was a minor setback. I was now very aware of his deadly tendril hovering above me. I wiped the sweat off my brow.

“Oh, but you spared me for a reason, didn’t you? You’re interested in my power,” I insisted. “You said it yourself. My power can stand against yours. You can’t ignore something like that, can you?” I delegated my anxiety and my rage to the backburner. My smile widened ever so slightly.

“That begs the question, girl… what is your power?”

…Excellent question. What was the Byte, really? I racked my brain for answers. To my great surprise, the information came to me freely, less like a drawn conclusion and more like a latent memory.

“I can see danger before it happens,” I told him. “Your attacks missed because, well, I knew they were coming before you thought of them.” I’d be a fool to give him the exact truth. I could see death, not danger. Not any kind of death, either – my death. Or, rather, deaths.

My power was reaching out to every timeline branching from this one, up to two minutes into the future. If another Maisie died in another timeline, the Byte would visually represent it to me. That’s what the Byte was – a heat map of every one of my hypothetical casualties. The murderer was so obscured by my power because he was a massive threat to my life, and the Byte was the colour of death.

“Imagine the possibilities,” I said. “With me, the chance of being ambushed drops to zero.” This was improvisation on my part, but I realised that it was true. It became apparent to me that I had a very useful power, and it must have dawned on him too by now. He straightened up a little.

“You have made a compelling case, young woman. The value of an ability like yours is unquestionable, and so, there is one thing left to question. What do you desire in return?” This was it. I had him. There was no way to go now but forward, forward on this dangerous road. I took the plunge.

“Your disgusting massacre ends right now. We walk out of this hospital and you don’t kill any more innocents.” I mustered all of the confidence I could to say that. And now it was out there. My life for the lives of many.

“…Interesting. Well, I find these terms agreeable.”

Maisie: Defect

His tendril backed away. Slowly, shakily, I collected myself off of the floor. He eyed me warily. “You first.” Understandable. He still didn’t trust me. I headed towards the stairs, but I didn’t hear footsteps. When I turned back around, he was opening one of the curtains, tendril ready to strike.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” I asked. The tendril descended, and a gargle echoed through the ward. “Insurance,” he said simply. “Any of these people could have seen your face. You need to keep your identity hidden.” I had outstretched my hand in fury, but I retracted it dejectedly when his words sank in. He was right. There was no other way. 

He moved from bed to bed along the walls. In most cases, he performed a single neat cut with his tendril and continued to the next bed, but occasionally I could hear signs of a struggle and then a scream of agony. Meanwhile, I remained rooted to the spot, frozen. Just watching. I couldn’t run, because he would take that as a breach of his agreement and murder everyone. As much as I repeated to myself that this was necessary, that it was the best course of action…

I was letting this happen.

He was finished. “Let’s go,” he said. I led the way back down the ward. Deep gashes in the floor, walls and ceiling served as a testament to our fight, alongside the blood that seeped out from under every curtain to the centre. People I couldn’t save, no matter how hard I tried. Tears threatened to flood out of my eyes, but I held them back. I couldn’t be weak.

We were at the stairs now. The spiral staircase was broken off from the top, but thankfully, it didn’t collapse. A little creak was all that was heard as we made our way down; otherwise, the silence was only broken by our footsteps. A few minutes ago, I correlated this sound with my impending death, and now I was a part of it. Adding to it. I felt dirty, like a traitor. The thought of the people upstairs was the only thing that kept me going to the bottom. I was on the last step now, looking for a way to jump over the puddle of blood…

Wait.

There should be a body here!

This was where he killed the Asian girl. She collapsed right here, and yet there was no sign of her. There was no blood trail suggesting she crawled away, either. “Why have you stopped?” the murd- no, my associate, asked from behind me. I indicated to the puddle. “Does it seem like something is missing to you?” I said, glancing at him. The Byte’s death images no longer obscured him, and I could see that his eyes were a dark brown, narrowed in thought.

“Odd,” he said after a moment. “This will have to be mentioned to our leader. For now, it would be wise to bring you to headquarters.” I nodded, and after assessing the best route, hopped over most of the puddle, jogging across the rest. I looked back at him again. He scoffed and walked straight through it, blood splattering under his uncaring feet. Now we were on the first floor. We made our way into the little hallway through a door to what apparently was the lobby.

My blood chilled. I found myself beholding my associate’s handiwork. Everywhere I looked, the clinical white of the hospital was marred with dark red. Corpses were strewn all over the floor; rarely whole ones, though. Owing to my associate’s power, dismemberment was common. Heads, limbs, and torsos lay scattered across the place. My eyes welled up and I narrowly avoided retching. I thanked the heavens that the bodies were still fresh, and that the iron smell of blood was the worst odour I had to endure.

I wished I could look up towards the ceiling where it was cleanest, but in order to avoid stepping on the bodies, I had to keep my gaze down. As such, my journey to the exit doors was excruciating. There could have been another bloodbath like this two floors up if I hadn’t stopped it, I told myself every time I came across a body. My breath hitched when I saw a torso dressed in my school jumper, but upon closer inspection, it was no one I knew. If my friends were alive, it would be the silver lining in this disaster.

I reached the glass doors and looked up. For a second, I thought my associate somehow made it out before me, but just outside the door there was another man in a ski mask and hoodie. The death images crowded around him no more than normal. It was now apparent that he had a machine gun of some kind in his hands. He regarded me quizzically, raising his gun, but then his eyes fixed at a point behind me and he lowered it, his expression still confused.

The doors opened. A rush of cold night air hit me, stinging my face. “You’re real early, boss,” said the gunman. He was shorter than me, and his voice was somewhat high and wheezy. “I have struck a bargain,” my associate replied. “This young woman has offered her cooperation. In return, she demanded that this operation be cut short.”

“And you agreed to that, boss?” the gunman questioned, giving me a once-over. “Not to knock your decision, but she’s one girl. A fine-lookin’ one, sure,” my eyebrows shot up my forehead at this, “but that’s all she is.” Before I can conjure a response, my associate chuckled. “Do not be so quick to presume. This woman is very valuable.”

“Her family rollin’ in dough or somethin’?” the gunman pressed. “No, you fool,” my associate spat. “No more guesses until we’re back at headquarters. We’ll see if you can figure it out before then.” He paused for a second. “Standard procedure. Blindfold her and bind her hands, and bring her back to HQ. Also, get a crew to dispose the bodies on the second floor as soon as possible. Leave the first floor untouched.” The gunman looked puzzled for a moment, but nodded and walked away, beckoning me to follow.

I did just that. My associate kept a steady pace behind me, but there was no chance of me making a break for it now. The gunman barked orders into a phone: “Slasher team here. Yeah, we’re done already. Look, I need a cleanup crew pronto. Orders from the Slash himself. He needs ya to get rid of all the bodies on floor two. That’s all.” Slasher. I assumed that was my associate’s callsign.

We reached a black van with tinted windows. Slasher got into the driver seat, while the gunman reached into the back and obtained the necessary equipment for my detainment. He put the blindfold on me and my world went dark. “Hope ya like long car rides,” he told me as he bound my hands with rope. I was officially in Crusader custody now. I was directed to a seat directly behind Slasher.

I heard the gunman get in beside me. The van revved up, and we were now in transit.

What a laughable situation. These barbarians, these murderers had recruited me after spitting upon the sacrifices of my people, of my brother. The guilt festered now. I was a coward, no doubt about it. At the same time, I thought of Danny and Zack, potentially two of many I saved. I assured myself that I did the right thing, the necessary thing.

Besides, there was still hope. I was heading for the base of operations. I was valuable; I could gain trust and influence. I could make the Crusaders implode, kill them from the inside. My spirits rose at that thought, and I made this my mission.

My stay will not be permanent. In fact, it’ll be as temporary as I can make it.


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