acts of desolation (prequel)

Acts of Desolation
When the battlefield torn by mines is all the school or playground in which to grow,
how can the children be taught to know, to understand a lexicon of peace?
Bitter hatred permeates mother's milk and what there is of grain,
permeates the very rain, gathered in barrels since the wells ran red
with poisoned blood, since the holiest of sites became blackened
with pestilence and shame.
Rumors expand on who is to blame; not much else to go around..
I like to walk the dark empty streets.  Late at night, the city becomes its own.  The smells, the silence, the stark black and white, shadows and streetlamps, without the people the city can become comforting, peaceful.  But never for long.
It was a cold night, early in January.  It hadn't snowed much, but there were icy patches where puddles refroze after the hours of the traffic's warmth.  She was huddled in a threadbare shawl, moving at a pace some compromise between care for the ice and keeping blood from coagulating to avoid frostbite.  I don't like to get involved.  In the end you can only lose.
Sure enough, a large, somewhat threatening looking, guy appears, yelling after her.
I keep to myself against the reassuring bricks and steel, and watch the drama ensue.
But maybe I'm not as sheltered as I thought, since the next thing I know I am waking with a monumental headache in a far different place.  Bright lights, loud noises, sterilized activity, I am propped up against a wall in an overcrowded ER, a place where my disheveled, disoriented presence is sure to cause no alarm.
Then, I see her on a gurney.  She is deathly pale, still.  I am starting to wonder if this is all a dream, or some superdrug hallucination, but the sensory qualities are all too real, and distasteful.  I hate when that happens.  Now I'll have to deal with all this gross stupidity without the benefit of knowing what it's all about.
A nurse's aide comes over with a form for me to fill out about insurance and next of kin.  I motion, slur, get him to understand that I am concerned about the young woman on the gurney.  He probably thinks she's my sister or girlfriend, and tells me she's lost a lot of blood, but they will be transfusing as soon as the right blood type comes up from storage.  It may be touch and go, but she's in good hands.  He tells me a physician's assistant will be calling me shortly to examine my contusions and lacerations, and I should tell her what drugs I am on.
I see the guy from the street come in while we are talking.  Should I try to hide or get away?  Or is he just here because of her?  I was just an inconvenient by-passer, after all.  I can't get my legs to work under me anyway.  May as well just let it play out.
Sure enough, he sidles over to her, whispering something in her ear as the life drains out of her.  Like I say, I don't like to get involved.
I waited for my body to figure out how to cooperate, and got out of there.  Back home, I'm hammering this out on my antique manual typewriter.  There's no electricity here in the hole.  Thankfully, there is a working fireplace, and places to scavenge wood.
The city's got a million stories.  I like to squirrel them away in these recordings I keep typing and filing.  You can see them unfolding, refolding, just out there, everyday.  The hard part is not getting sucked in, becoming the story yourself.
There are some streets blissfully deserted in that magic time around dawn.  Catching a pattern here?  Living in the city, but not of it, or at least among the people.  There are millions of souls in this city.  I avoid them as much as I can.  Souls can be really icky, especially the ones who don't know they are dead.  A lot of the ones who do know they're dead can be just as bad.  Wandering around with no future can be frustrating.  Best to keep to myself, I say. 
I need to go out, to scavenge for my living.  Around dawn, it's light enough without being too light.  Anyone still out from the night before is too trashed to be much of a threat.  Anyone starting their day has too much on their mind to notice me.
But there she was, that girl, her ghost, from the ER, from the streets.  No doubt she wanted me to help her get some vengeance on her murderer.  I don't have the time for this.  I mean, there are far too many ghosts needing vengeance.  I have my own problems to work out.
"But what if he finds you?  What if you become a target?  Isn't it better to know your enemy?"
She had a point.
Still, I had more immediate considerations, like food.  I have traps for the rats in the hole, but you have to cook them for hours.  You never know where they've been.  To have any hope of edibility, that means stew.  That means vegetables, easily available outside of food stores and restaurants where they dump the not quite spoiled produce.  In fact, there's a vast array of nearly spoiled food to gather.  Then, in the doctors' office row there are pills aplenty not too far from their expiration dates.  Rich party quarters can yield vast treasures of marijuana roaches and dregs of high-end wines and liquors.  I am soon well stocked to bliss out through the approaching daylight hours, avoid the blaring sunlight and assorted psychic pain inherent in daily commerce.  But that damn bitch of a ghost won't leave me alone.  I am beginning to think whoever killed her might have had good reason.
"Perhaps," she insists, "but that doesn't make you any safer." 
By now, though, I have ingested the proper mix of pills to quiet all the voices.
Of course those dreams come again.  The ones where there are sirens and blood and nothing makes sense.
Then, I'm walking down the empty city streets, the ones that aren't filled with night life.  There's no one here with me.  No ghosts, no shadowy dream figures, no murderous demons, just me.  I am walking these empty streets as if I am going somewhere, pulled along by fate.  Then, again she appears.  Not a ghost or a waif or a corpse, but as some divine messenger in the guise of a common streetwalker.  Somehow I understand that she is both messenger and me.  We have a symbiotic link.  The important part is that an unspeakable evil has been unleashed into my city.  It is up to me, in this twin form, to defeat this evil, as only I have the power to see it for what it is.  And there it is, glaring at me.  But apparently our battle is meant for another day, for it disappears without comment.  No doubt it has more nefarious business to attend to.
I had some thinking, and typing, to do.  But first for some street theater to amuse and defuse me.  I must venture over to the night life side of the city streets.
It's the loud, insistent, deep rhythmic music that makes it possible for me to even be here.  I can move myself into the sound and keep my distance in the crowd.
"Share your body with me.  Let me in."  She was hovering all around me.  Not as sexy as it sounds.  She wants to take over my will and use my body for her own purposes.  Well, maybe that is sex for some, but not me.
"You know I can help you."  So enticing.  I can almost be persuaded, flooded by feeling of her concern, that she is so kindly offering me her soul.  I know the rules.  They can't get in without an invitation.  Here, in the cacophony of noise, light, movement, I have the distraction to avoid falling into her psychic trap.  Concentrate on someone else, someone I can in some sense relate to.  There.  That girl in the background, her costume just enough different from the rest.  She is palpably alone, and enthused with a fear and excitement at being part of the scene.
The ghost can see her, too.  All that charming vulnerability, just waiting.  This girl didn't have the experience I did.  The ghost desperately needed a body.  She had corporeal errands.  I, so far her only psychic link, was not cooperating.  If only she could manage an invitation from this lonely young woman who was looking for something new.  I would be off the hook, out of this mess that was none of my business to begin with.
Red and green spotlights were flashing across the stage.  The band was revving up into banshee shrieks over an accelerating, hard-driving beat.  Everyone was screaming, the dark, perspiration-dripping room closing in way too fast.  I wound my way out of there, back onto the minimally quieter, darker, emptier street.
It was raining, a cold January rain when it's not interested in snowing because that would feel pleasanter.  Had it been this wet all night?  I didn't remember.
She was there, the girl from the club.  I don't know if she was following me.  Maybe the ghost had gotten to her.  I looked her straight in the eyes, and I was lost.  She was not the innocent I had expected.  It seemed that potent forces were collecting here, and I seem to be vibrating in the center of an impending storm.
Before I can gather up the necessary will to run off, she walks to where I am standing and takes my hand.
"Take me with you," she says simply, quietly.  "We have a lot to catch up on."
We make our way, through the rain and icy streets, to the hole.  I light a fire to dry us.  As it turns out, she has a flask of very fine brandy in her pocket, which makes the warming up process far easier.  In no time it seems like we were old friends.
"That's because we are," she tells me, laughing gently as if remembering a private joke.
"I'm sorry to have to tell you this.  But, if someone had to, I'm glad it could be me."  This does not sound encouraging.
"I know you're retired.  I now you've been taking memory suppressants to help you stay truly undercover.  I know why."  This is more encouraging, since so unlikely.  This must be another one of those dreams.  Soon the sirens and jumbled images will take over until I find myself suddenly awake, terrified, covered in sweat, with no idea why.
"I am sorry.  We have ourselves a situation.  We need you.  You are going to have to come in from the cold."
Suddenly I am very cold indeed.  Shivering uncontrollably, as tears take over my face, I still don't know why.
So, it turns out I am part of a highly trained secret corps of empaths, developed by the Genetic Weapons Initiative during Cold War III.  When the new Administration and Congress were voted in after the Worldwide Peace Convention, they dismantled GWI as repugnant to the conscience.  We were sold to a secret mercenary group for ad hoc assignments.
This is a lot to take in, and apparently the story gets weirder from there.  Calinda, my new best friend, is also my old best friend and my biological twin, though several years younger than I.  There was a mutiny against the mercenaries, a secret war between secret entities.
"Dorie, I know you wanted, needed so badly, to get away.  I know you just wanted a peaceful retreat."  She hugs me as she speaks, holding off some of my terror as the visual memories run scatter-shot through my inner view.  What could they possibly need from me?  I am nothing but broken, hiding in self-imposed ignorance.
"You sleep," she decides.  "I'll walk your dreams.  It will all make sense when you awaken."
I feel Calinda's safe presence guiding me into the dream, the denied memory.
When you grow up in a vat, created as an advanced biology experiment, any semblance of family takes on great significance.  Especially for empaths, who are forced into intimacy relentlessly, having the security of well-known, bonded, intimates can be crucial.
It was a small, efficient team:  Reag, our revolutionary leader, his wife, Romy, Arden, his bio-twin, and me, his oldest friend.  We had learned that the GWI labs were still in secret operation, churning out human weapons for the mercenary organization with which we were now at war.  We were all linked in, both for strategy and emotional support.
Arden and Romy were in the main lab building, setting the explosive charges in the embryo and accelerated growth vat rooms.  The kids in the vats, undergoing treatments to bring them to physical maturity in months rather than years, could feel our presence.  They were helpless.  There was no way we could save them and destroy GWI.  That would take resources far beyond anything in our power.
Reag and I were in the communications tower, standing look-out while scanning and overriding the data stream to keep our actions from being monitored.  Most of the lab's operation was automated, especially during the scientists' and technicians' downtime.
We weren't prepared for the silent screaming.  The vat kids knew why we were there.  Their energy, a massive panic surging outward, set off the explosives before Arden and Romy could escape.  Noise, light, pain, hundreds of young bodies ripped apart, still silently screaming.  Arden's and Romy's screams coming through even stronger, with poignant, tragic intimacy.  Reag and I managed to run, hide, get away.
I awake secured in Calinda's arms.  Gently rocking, gently humming a soothing tone, she quiets the panic in her empathic love.  Still, I am not ready for this.
"You're really not going to be ready for this, but it's imperative that you know."  I am not thrilled by this build up, but still in too much shock to resist more unwelcome information.
"Reag is out to kill all the GWI freaks.  He's been looking for you."
"All of us?  But there must be tens of thousands!  How can he think that's even possible?"
"He's not thinking.  He's insane."
Sitting between us, a thought so faint, in our closeness I could not tell if it were hers or mine:  "As are you."
Or was it Reag's?  Suddenly, I could feel his presence.  Not here, in the hole, but close.  The raw jumble of pain that was his mind sent tears streaming down my face.  Now, I knew why.
The ghost, I realized, was Nerice, another member of our crew.  Was she working for Reag?  No doubt he wanted to draw me out of hiding.
"You weren't meant to survive the ER either.  They had no idea you would disappear like that after all the drugs they forced into you."
"Good thing I got my tolerance up, then."
"Nerice was one of ours.  Reag got to her through some cronies he developed among the criminal class here."
He always was a persuasive leader.
"So, what do we do now?  Is there a plan?"
"More of a hopeful strategy.  We thought if we did a psychic intervention, calmed him enough, we might get him to see reason.  But we haven't got enough strength among us to get past his walls.  We thought, you've known him longer, deeper, have been through so much with him."
It hit me, what she is asking, demanding really.
"I can't.  Look at me.  There's not much left."
"That's why we have to restore you first."
I busy myself re-lighting the fire while she goes on.  There's a facility with appropriate resources for de-toxing, rebuilding, perhaps renewing, a fallen agent.  It's in the mountains, secluded, far from here.  She would arrange the transport.
"I see that you have secured this place from both conventional and psychic surveillance.  We'll be safer with you here.  I'll be back for you soon."  I feel her warm embrace as she departs.
Then, another, colder, one.  Nerice had followed us back here last night and kept her presence hidden while Calinda was updating me.
"I can help you," she implores.
She still wants in.
"I can protect you while you heal.  Then, there will be two of us to bolster each other in battle."
"No, I have to deal with Reag, myself."
"What about the real enemy, the mercs, the ones you've been hiding from?  What if Calinda doesn't return?"
It's getting dark.  I'm running low on firewood.  I heat up some stew and choke it down.  Best to be well fed before a battle.  Who knows when I'll have the chance to eat again.
I want to be out, walking off this nervous energy.  I try going through old martial arts exercises, but I am clumsy, out of practice, musculo-neural pathways degraded by drugs.  Calinda has been gone far too long.  The fire has died.  I am dark and cold, scared, undecided as to what to do.
Nerice was right.  The mercs are the real enemy.  With my memory back, I am more vulnerable to being found by their empath agents.  I can't stay shielded in the hole forever.  Maybe I should go to Reag -- better to be killed by a friend than the enemy.
"I can help you."  Nerice's predictable insistence. 
Why am I so afraid to let her in?  Maybe she can help.
I close my eyes and see the raw, raging sickness of Reag's mind.  Maybe I can help him.  If we could join together again, against the mercs ...
Nerice is dead.  No one will be looking for her.  Maybe she can help, if my will is strong enough to stay in control once we are joined.
She sees me wavering.
"I do have enough assorted pills to sleep through a very short future," I warn her.
I am so cold.  I set my body twirling, turning all that fear into warmth.
I feel Calinda approaching, finally.  I open the door to meet her, but she pushes me, forcefully, back inside.
"I've been trying to avoid Reag.  He picked up my trail as I was on my way back with the robocar.  It's parked a few blocks from here.  I didn't want to get too close until I lost him.  Are you ready to go?"
We have mind-barrier techniques, but they take a lot of concentration which can only be kept up for a short while.  Now that Reag is aware of Calinda's presence, we will have to  keep our minds blank while hurrying to the robocar, until we get well out of this vicinity.  Nerice, of course, follows us, never giving up on her chance to get back into the game.  Her ghostly thoughts are too faint to be noticed unless she is actively working to communicate.
We are not fast enough.  Not far from our destination, Reag appears, stepping out of the shadow.
"If it isn't my oldest, dearest friend, and her younger version.  Take a good look at Dorie, Calinda.  I remember when she was just like you.  Of course, that was long before all that unpleasantness.  Now, where are we going?"
"Why don't we take him to the clinic?"  I ask Calinda.  "Couldn't they help him, too?"
"Because, Dorie," he answers for her, "you have to be willing to be helped." 
He leaves a few beats of ironic silence, then bursts out:  "Hey kids, I've got a crazy idea.  Why don't we go back to my place?  We could have quite a party, don't you think?"
"I don't think we want to do that, Reag."  Calinda was looking directly into his eyes, unwavering.  I wanted so to hug him, squeeze the demons from him.  Yet, I know too well, those demons are not so easily dislodged.
The night is icy.  Frost crystals form around our hair, our faces.  White clouds of condensation appear with each breath.  The street is empty of life, save for us.
"Maybe you're right.  The place is kind of a dump.  Alright!  Road trip!  Let's get to that car and it's climate control!  It's freezing out here!"  Saying this, he grabs each of us under the arm and around the back, half carrying us along, to the robocar and its promised warmth.  He doesn't seem in any hurry to kill us.
"Dorie, my dear, I don't want to kill you.  Well, maybe just a little, you know, to put you out of your misery.  But first, we have some catching up to do."
We are flying along the skylane enroute to the clinic, where the robocar had been preprogrammed to go.
"I've not been seeking you out to kill you, but to reenlist you."  Charming as ever.
"Calinda believes you are out to destroy the GWI freaks, including me."
"Of course!  We are abominations!  We need to be annihilated.  But the mercs are the real enemy.  We are merely a side issue.  There's plenty of destruction to go around.  First we save the world.  Then we commit race suicide."
He is dead serious.
"Why do you need me?  I've been long out of it."
"Whom else can I trust?"
"Any of the freak team."
"They think I'm insane."
"You are."
"As are you."  I feel the maniacal laughter rippling through him.
Reag knows that the robocar's program can be overridden by manual control.  We are still on course for the clinic.  Quite a way from the urban lanes, the sky is dark, desolate.  We are approaching the mountainous region of our destination.
I feel Calinda, seated next to me, hand in mine, encouraging peaceful imagery to calm me.  She ignores Reag's ravings, concentrating on my well-being.
"Did you know, we intended to get pregnant, after everything settled down, after we won, after the chemicals finally were worked out of our systems.  We would have the first natural born of us, start to become a real people.  You know, they gave us those chemicals, in the corps and then the mercs, to keep their precious genetics program pure, to keep us controlled, intellectual property."  He is remembering his plans with Romy, back when he believed in us, our rights, our cause, our people.
"But what are we good for, Dorie?  All we know is war."
Maybe I can get through to him.
"We have each other," I venture.
"And what good has that done us, you and me?  I tried, you know, even after you were gone, to be a good leader, to carry on."
The car is slowing, starting to descend.
"Here's your rehab, Dorie.  You can go get sane.  Or, you could come fight the mercs with me.  We can hit them in ways they'll never be expecting."
The car stops in front of the main clinic entrance.  The grounds are quiet, dark.  We know immediately, something is very wrong.  Apparently the mercs have already been expecting us.
As we feel their onslaught, Reag takes control of the car.  We are up, moving away, over the facility power plant.  Reag pulls an incendiary device from an inner pocket of his voluminous overcoat.  He ignites it, quickly opens the nearest door and launches it onto the power plant.  Door closed, up and away.  We hear explosions, see fireworks, as we speed into the night.
"Way to go, destroying our clinic, Reag," Calinda says bitterly.
The clinic had been a GWI facility that the mercs had no use for.  Their  treatment for a malfunctioning genetic weapon was a lethal injection and recycling of chemical components.  Our rebel crew had revived the facility recently, as Calinda had told me during our catching up.
"It's no good to you kids now that the mercs have come in.  I have no interest in seeing more of our resources in their hands.  What about you, Calinda?"
She shrugs her tacit agreement. 
"Well, hey, kids, that was quite a party after all.  Now we need to find somewhere to regroup and strategize."
# 6
" I could really use a sandwich and pots of coffee.  I know a great little all night diner not too far from here."
Leadership comes naturally to Reag.
The food and caffeine is bliss.  The diner is cozy, almost empty, soft music and soft lighting.
"We should get back, make sure the rest are ok."  Calinda worries.
"Our people know what to do, after all that's happened.  We have to think, what if the mercs have been watching us.  You took a big chance in your campaign to rescue her."  He indicates me with a sideways wink.  I feel the little glow of my image in his mind, the way he sees me.
"Me?"  Calinda retorts archly, "You were making it loud and clear that Dorie was your number one target, that we all must die for your sins!"
"Bicker, bicker."  He is wry, not angry.  "We have our own little armageddon to plan."
Strangely, I am home.  I am me, the essence of me.
The last of the other patrons have gone.  I don't feel the presence of the staff.  We three are on full alert.  We sense hostiles approaching.  They have no reason to capture prisoners.
Nerice is suddenly aflutter.
"He's here.  They sent him after me, back in the city.  Before I died.  I was dying.  Things got really crazy there.  I didn't remember.  He linked.  That's why I'm a ghost.  He kept part of me here as a tool.  I didn't know.  If you let me in, though, I can help you kill him.  Then we'll all be safe."
"Nerice, you know who he is.  Get to him.  Get him to let you in.  Then, report back to me."
This merc empath agent had pulled part of Nerice out of death to use her for the nefarious purposes of his superiors.  I am glad we could not do that to Romy and Arden.  She is not her true self, only a ghost, rapaciously in need, no warmth, no feeling.
The three of us link in for secrecy and strength.  This is what we were made for. 
Reag is, of course, armed.  He passes out explosive sticks which ignite by code pressed onto a small wired-in keyboard.  He tells us the code:  F-R-E-E.
There's also a disorienting spray, to muddy the trail if you get beyond view and block your mind for a bit.  I pocket these.  We are listening for our chance.
Nerice has persuaded her way into the merc freak, now feeding him false information, and sending his real information to me.  There are eight of them, young, well-trained, well-disciplined.  We laugh, remembering when we were like them.
We get out in front of them.  Reag has an automatic weapon, of course.  He mows down several.  
Nerice gets her wish, and dies in battle.
We throw back our explosives.  Those not dead or dying are in hiding.  We spray the disorienting chemical to keep them from following.   Then, we double back to the car.
One bright lad had us covered.  He made directly for the car, and met us there.  Sad for him, we overpowered and took him along. 
"They won't hesitate to kill you or negotiate to save me," he boldly lets us know.
"We know," we tell him.
When we can, we recruit them.  That's who rebels are.  They were caught up in the system, until they learned there were alternatives.
"So why do I even need your freedom?  I get what my contract entitles me to.  I get everything I need.  Of course the job is dangerous.  I am a soldier."
They always say that.  And they mean it.
We have a shielded place for this purpose.  They can't get out.  Others can't get in.  They don't understand, for awhile, why we don't torture them.  When they get it, they are on their way to being free, like it or not.
We are in a pine forest.  I love the smell of pine, and snow, woodfires in clean outdoor air.
Of course, we have to keep the kid inside the shield; but it is an airy space.  We want them to learn to feel free.  After that, the mercs can't tempt them.
"What's your name, soldier?"  Calinda's gentleness often undermines resolve built up against force.
"They were into colors that cycle."  Reag laughs.  Where our names originate is a mystery.  They are given to us at indoctrination, once we are decanted from the vats.
At some point in the process, they always ask:  "Okay, I get it that you think we should be free.  But what is this destroy the mercs to save the world campaign?"
They still don't get that they have anything in common with freeborn humans.  Their assignments to infiltrate, influence the thoughts of citizens, report on those whose thoughts are in opposition to the client's agenda, they don't get that they are serving evil.  People obsessed by power who elevate themselves above common humanity are no fit masters to serve.
Yet Reag still believes we are abominations who need to be destroyed once the evil mercs have been defeated.  Well, he is insane.
As am I? 
It is so good to be home.  Predictably, Gray wanted to go back to recruit among his merc enslaved friends.  We were able to convince him of the folly of taking on those dangers.  He agreed to join us, to help in whatever ways he could.  We are back now, at the rebel compound, a well-shielded community.  We have a network of underground tunnels, under greenhouses, workshops, labs, powered by a multi-source energy generation system.  We are pretty well self-contained, governed by principles of self-preservation, teamwork, and devotion to our common cause.  Not that we all work together smoothly or without conflict, but our genuine respect, affection and goodwill go a long way.  Most of us have already been through the thick and the thin of it together, with strong knowledge of each of our strengths and weaknesses, strong bonding.  This is where I belong.  I can feel that I am finally ready to be part of us again.
I have been dreaming about bridges, especially crossing a long, carefully constructed stone bridge while a storm rages all around me.  The sea leaps up as if to capture me, but I never waver from my journey across, where I see my friends in the distance, on the other side.
Reag has toned down his anti-freak rhetoric, in favor of saving his ravings for the hated mercs.  Still, people are concerned, even wary, to have him around; but we do respect and appreciate his abilities and vision against our common enemy.
We have decided that it would be best to recruit away as many freaks as we can from the merc forces.  We need to bring them down in stages, as they are far too well armed to fall to a frontal assault.  We need to do our best to whittle down their resources, and make sure they don't get the opportunity to rebuild.  We have our people out among the civilians, tracking merc activities, spreading information about them to alert and concern the freeborn, to build up sentiment on our side.  Of course, this all has to be taken on surreptitiously with care.  We can't let the mercs know what we are doing, where we are, what resources we have and are developing.  It would be so helpful if we could plant spies to report back on the strategies at their top command.  Most of those we recruit know very little, just what has been directly related to their specific assignments.  Of course, any spy would be easily revealed to empath guards.  This protects us, as well.
Gray is brighter, more ambitious, more fervent, than most of the recruits.  The mercs must have noticed his qualities, as well.  "My younger bio-twin was groomed for the Central Command Guard, the most elite of the corps.  They are directly responsible for guarding the members of the Central Command, so only the best and brightest will do.  I know there's got to be a way to get him to work for us.  I know I could recruit him.  I know how his mind works.  I would just need to get to him with no other empaths in range."
I convince him that this would not be workable on many levels.  If his bio-twin were recruited, he could not spy for us on the Command because his fellows would know he had turned.  More importantly, it would be far too great a risk to allow Gray.  "You know too much.  You know who we are, where we are, our plans against the mercs.  It would be far too dangerous for you to get so close to their soldiers now that you have turned on them."
He listens to me.  Gray is quite impressed by Reag and me, by who we are to him historically, by what we have been through, by how we are now.
"The attack on the GWI lab, that's a key piece of propaganda they use against the rebels.  They tell us you callously murdered hundreds of our people, your people, just to make some political point.  We learn that your rebellion is pure evil.  But now I know.  What that did to you, how deeply you suffered, because you know that we freaks are human, brothers and sisters.  It's the mercs that think of us as slaves, property, expendable to their bottom line.  That's why, it's so important, to let the mercs' slaves know the evil they are serving."
"I understand.  You feel great responsibility for your peers.  That quality is important in a team leader.  You can help us so much, right here, working with the new recruits.  You can help them to integrate more easily into their new lives."
He is thrilled with the idea of being a mentor for the recruits, a position of importance and responsibility.  Briefly, I am reminded of Nerice, seeing a whiff of her as if remembering a sad joke.
"Oh yes, the ghost that defeated my team."  He has heard the whole story.  "You people, we, look at what we can do.  The mercs have no idea."
I am filled with joy for the amazing people we have, are, are becoming.  It is important to take time for joy.  That is why we are having a celebration.  We may not have luxury items to pass around, but we can sing, dance, beat out rhythm on makeshift drums, share funny stories or sentimental ones, enjoy ourselves together, those of us who are here. 
Quite a few are out on assignment, picking up the information that can be found, spreading the information that can be given.  Those who are not currently at the compound will certainly be celebrating on other occasions.  We like to have that shared enjoyment on any occasion we can.  Right now rumors are rife that the mercs are sadly encumbered by our activities.  They are losing troops to the extent that it is affecting their bottom line.  We hear they are planning a special board meeting of the Central Command and their cronies to address this.  The rumor is that it will take place at Carnival, so the high level mercs can enjoy their own partying after their strategy session.
We all need downtime, to kick out the jams.  I have been through too many zones too  quickly, making it on the fumes of fast-pacing circumstance.  Finally, I am letting all that wound up energy unwind.  I am finally free, here with my people, of the fear and misunderstanding, of the never being part, among strangers.  Letting go, dancing, the music, simple percussion and voice,  carrying me into a meditative peace.  I am immersed in pleasure, in the fluid movement of my body, the fluid intermovement of beautiful bodies, beautiful mutual emotion, inter-connected in mind and music.  Deeply exhaling, inhaling, lifeforce in chemical embrace with air.
Gray has the new recruits quite as at home as I feel.
Reag and Calinda are out doing debriefing of the newest recruits coming in. We have people in the field who have learned the art and craft of pulling lone soldiers away from merc command without getting caught. Pretty much the only ones of us here are those who take care of the infrastructure keeping the compound going, recruits still too new to send out on assignment, and Gray and me. We're all glad for the tension-breaking shared revelry. We have been feeling something big building. Best to be relaxed and limber going into unknown dangers. We are dancing, making music, feeling close, free, unafraid. So, in that sense we are ready.
It was all pieced together later.  Janna and Kore were scoping out the Carnival city scene, working the crowds of locals and tourists for information that could give us leads on the upcoming Central Command meeting, spreading information about the mercs and their methods.  Most civilians are not really aware of the mercs and their "crowd control" operations.  We let them know, what to watch for, what dangers they could face, through local rumor mills with our mind insertion techniques.  Janna and Kore are experienced agents.  Still, they were found out by merc freak advance guard, working the crowd from their end to assure their masters' safety, comfort, control.  Our well-trained agents were able to send out a relay alarm as they realized that they were captured.  Full text was likely:  "We will crack under interrogation.  Get yourselves somewhere we don't know about!"  We at the compound, in midst of mind-wide-open revelry, felt the alarm as hard-edged panic warning:  "Move!  Get out!  Attack imminent!"
Gray and I take charge of getting everyone into the tunnels, as quickly a they can move, carrying what equipment can be salvaged easily.  The tunnel system is fairly vast and complex to get us hidden, out of range, leaving as much uncertainty as possible of where and when we might emerge, in case of attack.  There are stashes of essentials:  food, water, blankets, first-aid supplies, light sticks, to pick up along the way. 
We are scrambling through the tunnels, the others moving quickly ahead of us, quietly, efficiently, in the low light of our led torches.  I do not feel any fear.  My mind is clear, alert, hyper-aware.  Gray holds my hand as we move, keeping together in pace and reassuring presence.  We are soldiers, born and bred.  We are rebels by choice, engaged in just another little adventure, all in a day's work.  We  have this covered.
The explosions are loud, jarring, sad testimony that what we had built as our home has been destroyed.  We will build again.  Right now, we move, keep ourselves safe to regroup and fight that destructive force intent on taking our lives, minds, free will.  If we don't exist to serve them, they need us gone.  To be truly free, we must defeat them.
I feel the shocks and after-shocks of the bombardment above.  Rock and soil dislodge, obscuring vision, stinging bits of sand, coughing as they impinge on our airways, sliding forward on moving ground.  I fall against Gray as we are knocked down by more percussive rippling, hit by rubble, finding ourselves blocked by debris as we attempt to arise and move on.  I notice blood and internal screaming.  Gray is injured.  We are cut off from the rest, who continue their scrambling exit through the tunnels, ahead of us, ahead of the falling tunnel-way in which we are now trapped.  We know we only need to wait, stay hidden.  Our comrades will return for us, dig us out, once it is safe to do so.
Gray is bleeding dangerously.  I have cuts and bruises, but he is seriously wounded, hit by something heavy and sharp.  I can see that he must have internal injuries as well.  Still, I must keep him from bleeding out.  I fashion a tourniquet from my belt-sash, get us both into reasonably comfortable positioning.  He is supine, head in my lap where I sit on smoothed over tunnel floor.  We have blankets around us.  I am encouraging him to drink sips of water, to stay hydrated.
"It's no good.  I'm dying," he informs me, somewhat wryly.
What can I say?  It is self-evident.
"Better you keep the supplies for yourself.  You don't know how long it will be."
I open fully to him, showing him my compassion, my love and admiration.  He is quietly in reverie, relaxing into the inevitable.
Then, he is excited, suddenly enthused.  "This will work.  Dorie, you have to hold on to my spirit, keep me a ghost, like Nerice.  I will be able to infiltrate the Central Command Guard and give us the intel we need on the CC's plans.  Do it.  Make this stupid dying thing worthwhile.  You know, rebels have to use whatever means we can to survive."
I see the wisdom in what he demands.  I have never done this, but I can certainly make the effort.  I go into that place where his soul is between life and death.  I whisper the trance ritual into his ear, special sound reverberation techniques from our corps training.  I feel his soul/body connection dissolving.  His body is at peace.  The working part of him, tethered to me by a psychic thread, is ready and waiting for his next assignment.
The smell of death.  Certainly, not one of my favorites, but it's true:  you can get used to anything.  Eventually I start to doze.  There is nothing to be done.
Somewhere, out there, our people are moving, re-organizing, figuring out what to do next.  They will know we are missing.  Our rescue will be on their to do list.  It won't be hard for them to figure out where we are.  My mission is to stay alive and silent, until I feel them getting close.  Then, we make short-range contact and they get us out.
It takes forever.  It takes very little time at all.  I feel Calinda with relief and gratitude.  Her team has us out in quick order.  We carry Gray's corpse with us.  There will be farewell rituals for others as well, once more pressing matters are handled.
We are not widely scattered, in makeshift camps secluded in mountain valley woods.  Not easily noticed, in position to be alert to intruders, we can take a breath and plan.
The word is that Kore was able to escape in the confusion surrounding Janna's death by torture.  The mercs' soldiers were able, obviously, to get the compound's location quickly before she succumbed, but probably not much else.  The disorganization she projected in loud agonized vocal and psychic screaming cut short their interrogation.  Kore somehow accessed the discipline to race out, mind tightly shut, into the crowd outside the holding room.  He and Janna had only been taken a short distance by the soldiers, to a secured room in the Imperial Hotel, which the soldiers had commandeered when they arrived in the Carnival city for their use while putting in place their pre-Carnival security operations.
They let him go, or he got away.  We aren't sure yet.  It is believed that he is hiding in a secured squat used by our agents as a sanctuary from the barrage of psychic impressions on the streets.
"A place much like your vacation hole," Calinda laughs to lighten our grimness.  That's Calinda, always moving to ease the uncomfortable, while never flinching from harsh truths.
"We need more intel, what the mercs are planning, just how much they know about our operations.  Yet, after all this ...  They must be on high alert, watching for us."
I tell her Gray's plan, to infiltrate the Central Command Guard as a ghostly whisper in his bio-twin's ear, and mine -- the one to unobtrusively suggest, the other to pass on intel from the inner sanctum.
But, how to get in there?  As a flimsy ghost, he needs very close contact to even find his bio-twin.  He is linked to me.  I would need to get close enough to the Central Command Guard for Gray to make the connection.  Yet, they are on alert, watching for us.  I would be captured, possibly killed, certainly have my knowledge compromised, before I could even get close enough to do any good.  Not to mention, if I am killed so is Gray, his one psychic link destroyed.  A conundrum, perhaps a mental labyrinth.  There must be a way.
Leave it to Reag, the consummate tactician, to take up the task.
"Dorie, my dear, it seems to me that if we must put you in the lion's den without them sussing your true identity, we need to send you in, as it were, deaf, dumb and blind.  I seem to remember a schizophrenic bag lady of my acquaintance not too long ago.  She walked the grimy streets in undetected elegance.  Well, except for her old, dear friends who knew exactly whom to look for.  And, believe me, it was not without great difficulty that you were found out, even with our advantages.  Some random crazy in a crowd will be easily overlooked by the arrogant Command crew."
At this point I expect Calinda to break in with my defense.  Instead, she turns to me, grasping my shoulder while penetrating with her beautiful loving gaze into my eyes, my mind. 
"You know he's right, Dorie.  We realize how hard, dangerous, this will be for you.  We need to make this work.  It's our best shot at survival.  We all know what's at stake, why we are fighting this horrid, interminable war.  Win or die."
I know Reag's views are somewhat different; more like win, then die.  But it's Gray's death I am remembering.  This is his shot.  This is what I promised, his dying wish.  How can I offer any less?  We must strategize, get this right, make a foolproof plan, and execute it.  It is not "win or die."  There is no option but to win.
"I'm going to make this happen," I affirm to the ghost flitting about in a corner of my mind.
"No, we will," he assures me.
"Lev, it's Gray, let me in!  I was captured!  I have vital information!  Hurry!  I'm fading!  There's not much of me left..."  Gray knows his lines.  I have none.
Through a combination of post-hypnotic suggestion and Gray's real time promptings, I will know what to do when it is time.  Meanwhile, I am to be given a series of memory suppressants and mind-altering, disorienting substances.  By the time I'm left off in Carnival city, there won't be much of me left, if any.
I will be sent by well-stocked robocar  to the squat where Kore is suspected of hiding.  This is the tricky part of the plan, since we are not sure that the mercs are ignorant of the place.  But I will need a secured hide-out from the street noise if there is to be any chance of keeping me from attention grabbing public freak-outs in my to be debilitated state.  This is why I am being sent with supplies.  We don't want me on the street any more than necessary to get Gray to his bio-twin, Lev.  We need to avoid the chance of me being picked up in a general street sweep against derelicts and possible trouble makers by the local authorities, or being recognized somehow as a freak by any of ours or theirs, which would blow my cover.  We are pretty confident that if the mercs did know about Kore's hide-out we would have seen evidence of that by now.  Even if they are watching the place and did discover me there, though, the probability would be that I would just appear to be some crazy street person seeking shelter.  It's a small risk that we have to take.
If Kore is there, Gray will give me the trigger for an encoded message in a nonsense song to let him know to escape in the robocar.  In any case, my post-hypnotic orders will get me and the supplies into the squat, after which the car will take itself, on its own orders, far away and I will forget entirely its and my former existence.
Gray has his story mapped out to convince Lev of our dire condition, and the folly of letting Central Command know there's a ghost in their lair.  Once safely linked in, he will tell Lev that the hit on the compound killed our leaders and most of the technical crew.  Gray, barely alive, was able to escape in the confusion as his captors realized they were on their own.  Now the rebels are only the motley group and individual survivors who were away from the compound on assignment.  They are lost without their planning elite to give them their orders.  Of course, it would not be wise to let Central Command know this intel came from a quickly fading ghost.  They might well torture Lev in pursuit of more information that he does not possess.  No, much better to tell them that he picked this up from panicked empaths in the Carnival crowd during his security sweeps.  There must be no more than a very few disorganized rebel agents here, probably trapped after the capture of their cohorts not so long ago.  Once Gray is assured of Lev's cooperation, he can fade out as if his ghostly presence is no more, leaving any questions Lev might have formed without focus to form around.  Then, Gray can listen to the Central Command's plans and concerns through Lev's unknowingly compromised consciousness, and pass on the intel through me to Calinda.
"Calinda will link in with you, but she will maintain silence and be physically in a different location, out of range of the patrolling merc force.  She will relay the messages you pick up from Gray, without involving your conscious participation."  Reag emphasizes our security concerns as we are weaving out this plan, looking for holes to pick in the fabric, making sure we are all in sync.  I am to be an idiot-conduit.  Rather, I am not to be at all.  The consciousness previously known as Dorie will be back in her ignorant bliss of non-existence.  This time, though, there's more than my life riding on the outcome.   In fact, my life, my sanity, are not even concerns.  There's plenty of chance that I will not be coming back from this mission, whatever the overall success or failure, even if I physically survive.
We know the Central Command will be meeting at the Imperial Hotel, where they have been putting their security in place.  The hotel is well placed in the center of the city's arts and entertainment complex, the heart of the Carnival celebrations.  There will be plenty of crowd cover as I wander about, giving Gray the opportunity to discover Lev's location.  The Guard will have several occasions to circulate among the crowd before and during the festivities.
Once I get Gray to his bio-twin, any damned thing can happen to me, as long as I stay alive to be a conduit for his intel.  This mission is what matters, my people, my cause.  That's who I am, not some trivial identity, so flimsy it can be erased with drugs.
We have decided to go in on the first night of Carnival.  The robocar can enter the seedy, public service abandoned part of the city where I will be landing under cover of darkness.  All the mercs' attention will be focused on the center of the crowds and entertainment.  Their Central Command, ensconced in their secured hotel, will be feeling safe and ready to enjoy the early ceremonies and festivities, relaxing before their substantive meetings later in the week.  This gives us just a couple of days to prepare.  We are keeping this operation quiet; only the very few of us directly involved need to know.  We have been making our plans in a secluded, secured location.  Tonight I say my good-byes to these few friends, comrades, family.  Tomorrow I, essentially, will be gone, with no assurance of return.  As if there is any real assurance for any of us, day to day.  It's not like I haven't been down this road before, and that by my own volition.  Best that I concentrate my thinking on my will to success.  Now, no more thinking, concentrate on enjoying this evening with loving companions while that option exists.
A robocar, stocked with everything we have thought to need, will soon be landing in a cleared space within our conspiratory camp.  Tomorrow I will be tied down and injected with mind-killing drugs.  I will be left with pre-programmed suggestions, my orders, waiting to be triggered by a ghost at the appropriate times.  The next day, crazy and haunted, I will go to Carnival.
I'm here, in the hole, alone, or almost.  There was a demon here when I came in, but he didn't like my singing.  And there's the ghost.  He tells me my singing is fine, but too loud.  Sing more softly.  He can hear me just fine, if I sing, yes, softly, singing.  Whirling and twirling around, here, in the hole, where I'm safe from the streets.  I can hear loud noises, explosions, from the distance.  Bright lights, flashing colors, twinkly shapes appeared and receded while I was outside.  Outside the hole, in the dark with too much noise and light, no.  Better here, safely, in the quiet almost dark candlelight, whirling and twirling, singing, softly.  This ghost is okay.  Not angry, not mean.  He can stay here, in the hole, with me safe, warm.  Way too warm.  Hot, humid night and I'm wearing all these clothes.  Unlayer!  Unlayering.  There is a story about nights being cold.  The ghost says it doesn't matter, just keep some clothing on for protection; don't sweat the sweat.  Yes, the fiber gives my running water a place to soak into.  He tells me to drink bottled water, from the pack on the floor.  What comes out must go in, for perfect balance.  I have a good haul on the floor.  Packaged food, water, pills and liquor too!  And look!  A lovely patchwork skirt to twirl in.  A right proper party I've got me, eh Ghostie?  Got ourself a party good as any out on the street.  Drinking brandy from the bottle and twirling.  More heat and sweat, but I'm relaxed into it, feeling so fine.
The ghost is impatient.  He wants me to go out to the big party uptown, to see the Carnival.  Can't you see we have a better party  here?  We don't have to share.  No demons, no annoying people with all their chaos here.  He is not dissuaded.  He wants the lights and noise, cacophony, or at least the people parading through the streets to watch.  I am warm and liquid.  Watching pretty lights, pretty costumes, parading, maybe, could be, a pretty party favor.  I blow out the candle,  adjusting my eyes to the darkness of these back streets.  I take my bottle along, twirling through the street in my pretty party skirt.  Warm, humid night full of noise and lights, so dreamlike.
"One more drunken reveler," the ghost whispers.  I have arrived, surrounded by lights, by crowds dancing and prancing to lively beating bands.  Swirling, twirling colors and light and movement, a dream made real, created by mass imagination.  I feel free in this crowd.  Nobody's stopping to question to be involved in anything but the grand, sinuous movement.  Even the ghost is caught up in the spell.  He is caught up in another space, another mind, only so slightly attached to me at all.  I am free, sinuously dancing, enmeshed in the beautiful crowd, the beautiful light, all fantasy, all play, no drama.  Entranced in the music, palpably joining form and shadow, so high, floating, in a beautiful sea.
The ghost remembers me, whispering:  "Go back to the hole; be safe."  I am caught up in the floating sea.  I feel fine here.  The hole will wait, a safe refuge to be in the fullness, if that dawning ever comes. 
"Hey, space lady, got a name?" I am being addressed, casually.  I seem to be moving back toward consciousness after a celebratory passing out.
"No memory.  No me," is my, to me, cleverly ironic reply to her.  Everything is hazy, out of phase.  I appear to be sitting in a kind of semi-circle around a blazing trash can.  For light?  It's much too warm a morning to need a campfire.
"Well, hey, Nomi.  This here's Charlie; and they call me Little Red.  That disreputable mess passed out next to you calls herself Thistle.  Couldn't tell you why; and it can be hard to get out in certain head states, if you know what I mean.  That was might fine brandy you brought to the table.  Welcome to hang, if you like.  Less you have impending business or waylaid kin to attend to."
I have no reason to leave, or reason at all.  "I'll hang for a bit.  I'm not at all sure where I am anyway.  Maybe once the cobwebs clear ..."  What?  Little Red doesn't seem to care.  She passes me a home-rolled cigarette she's had a few tokes on. 
"My special blend," she proudly informs me.
The haze intensifies, with added color and sparkle.  "I haven't got any plans." I tell us.  "I'm here at Carnival to party."
Little Red is satisfied I am a kindred spirit.  I pass the cigarette to Charlie, a somewhat burly gentle looking taciturn guy.  We all seem to silently agree to enjoy our unplanned day.
Little Red is indeed little, yet tough-looking, all long frizzy red hair, gap-toothed grin, and a variety of visible scars, with a warmly welcoming stand-offish manner.  I feel welcomed, companioned, with no strings or expectations.  The morning is warm, heavily humid.  There are small groups here and there, but the street is abandoned compared to last night's gala.  I'm still not sure where I am, who I am, what if anything I have meant to do, but it doesn't matter.  I am here.  I am me.  I will do what comes naturally, or whatever.  Hot, hazy, humid, no fit atmosphere for thinking or doing much at all.  Just going along with the dream.
Thistle is stirring.  Long brown arms and legs, a tousle of dark hair, a flash of dark eyes over a wide yawn, then an impish grin.  There is talk of food and cleaning up.  Apparently, the city provides way stations with public showers.
My mind fuzzily seeks access to knowledge of a hidey-hole complete with food and drugs, but I am distracted.  Embracing strong arms, a wet whispering kiss on my cheek, accompanied by a warm contralto:  "Hey, Nomi.  I'm Thistle.  Good morning."  Then, out she pirouettes ahead of us as we move, packlike, toward the showers.
The Carnival city planners are no dummies, or perhaps they learned from experience.  There's no need for smelly, hungry hordes of would-be partiers to dampen the scene.  Enroute to the showers are complimentary booths giving out coffee and pastries along with literature from their various sponsors, colorful streetmaps highlighting attractions, and schedules of entertainment events.  I get caught up in this and that, and lose track of my new friends. 
Despite the food, I am feeling light-headed, disconnected, so tired almost somnambulant.  It must be the heat.  It occurs to me to find shelter.  I conceptualize the hole, and realize that's where I am heading.  I just need to sleep for a bit, until hopefully cooler evening hours.
I escape into the hole.  It has been waiting for me, or so it seems.  Escape into restless sleep of dreaming in a dark and quiet refuge.  Dreams dark, but not quiet.  Or am I dreaming?
I awaken to the darkness of the hole.  It is quiet, but not quiet enough.  Someone else is here.
"What do you want?  What are you doing here?" I cry out.
"You looked to be needing help.  I followed you.  Let me help you."  Thistle moves to me out of the darkness.  She sits beside me, cradling, crooning, soothing. 
"Nightmares in the day?  Tell me.  I know some things about unwanted dreams."
"I'm not certain they are dreams.  There are words and moving images, ideas, actions.  They seem to be impressions from some apocalyptic meeting, not surreal dream imagery.  It seems more like a warning of what may occur, if right action isn't taken.  But what am I to do with such a warning, if that's what it is?  It could just be me dreaming in paranoid fantasy induced by recreational drugs.  I don't know what to tell you."  I try to explain, though I don't know why I trust her.
"I know a technique that might help," she whispers, clearly concerned.  "Let me walk your dream.  I can help to make it clearer for you.  We can figure out this warning, what it wants you to know."
She seems so certain, in charge, like a wise care-giver.
"Sure.  What do I have to do?"
"Just dream, and don't resist me.  Let go.  Let it all flow together, my presence and the imagery."  She kisses my forehead, softly croons soothing, hypnotic phrases.  We meet in the dream.
We are in a fancy hotel conference room, complete with conferees.  There's a group on a raised platform, clearly in charge, in crisp, tailored uniforms.  They are addressing others, in business suits, sitting at a semi-circular table slightly below their podium.  A majestically erect member of the uniforms is speaking.
"We have made adjustments in the formula.  Those science guys assure us the new crop will be much more subservient.  We won't need to be concerned about future rebellions."  I see from his inner panorama a large white laboratory filled with vats containing children in liquid solution.
"We'll be able to build up our troops in a few years well beyond the numbers we had before."
A business-type in the audience asks:  "What about the ones we've got who haven't had the rebel bred out of them?"
The leader responds evenly:  "Eventually we'll retire most of them.  The ones that prove their worth can be kept as team leaders."
I see the mass cremation after the bodies have been harvested for saleable parts.  The human ash, too, has its industrial customers.  These mercenaries are proud of their efficient use of resources, leading to ever-expanding profit.
"Meanwhile, we keep our eye on them, and encourage them to keep their eyes on each other.  We seem to have kept the most manipulable or loyal.  I guess we can thank the rebels, now that they're no longer a threat, for weeding out the trouble-makers.  We've learned through our experience, and know how to make our future enterprise so much better as a result."
They are congratulating themselves for some successful explosive battle, for destroying those who defied them.
"Right now we are working pretty much at capacity.  Soon, though, we will be able to take on new clients.  There are plenty of local despots, industrial and political, who are favorably disposed to our services in controlling their subject populations."
They are practically salivating, thinking about lock-step civilian workers, watched for any deviation, controlled by constant surveillance and fear.
Another of the uniforms speaks:  "We are completing our prototype rehabilitation camp for any of those, soldier or civilian, that prove difficult to control."
I see there is no rehabilitation involved, but rather derisively contemplated sadistic experiments, torture techniques and data on the line between lethal and barely holding on.
"We can also use the camps for excess unskilled laborers, the undocumented, any source of potential unrest."  Murmuring approval and self-congratulation ensues. 
I get a flash from the obvious leader of the uniforms as he tells his business associates what they want to hear.  He sees himself raising a jewel-encrusted goblet of sweet liquid fire in toast to his private God, shouting as in salute:  "Today the world.  Tomorrow the solar system!"
I jolt awake.  I know this is not some drug-induced nightmare.  Somewhere, not too distant in time or space, this is real.
Thistle is shaken.  "We must stop them!" she cries out.
I feel her become overcome by calm.  "I have an idea of where to start," she says, smiling briefly, without mirth.
"Nomi."  My newly acquired name in her voice takes on layers of meaning.  "I don't know what to tell you."
I don't know what she is not telling me.  Is this about her plan to defeat the dream demons?
"Tell me what you like.  I probably won't remember.  I don't remember who I am, or how I got here."
"They were trying to protect you.  But what were they thinking?  That you would stay so stoned on all these drugs they left you here that you wouldn't think to leave?  That the disconnected dreams would fade before you could make anything of them?  Has my interference now put you at greater risk?  You know too little and too much for safety."  These thoughts come to me not from Thistle's lips, but directly mind to mind.  My response is open questioning without content.  I don't know what to ask, but would like to know who I am, what I need protection from.  How can I protect myself with so much confusion?
She lays it all out:  the Genetic Weapons Initiative, the mercs, the rebellion.  "I was of the last batch decanted before GWI was scrapped.  When the mercs came to take over, I knew this would become a very bad scene.  A few days later, I saw my chance and took off -- a thistle in the wind.  Since then, I've been on my own among the undocumented street folk, on a vast many streets, in a vast many places.  I've learned to keep my mind shielded while tuning in on those around me, to keep from being found out.  I've learned what I've had to to survive and stay free."
"You left on your own?  Why didn't any of the others go with you?" it occurs to me to wonder.
"I don't know.  I guess they didn't see their chance."
It seems like a lot to take in; but it all makes sense.  She tells it so simply, moving me through the memories.  So these mercs, the dream demons, are our common enemy. 
"I know how to broadcast, or narrowcast, with pinpoint accuracy, " she assures me.  "We have a perfect opportunity here, at Carnival.  Tourists and street folk from everywhere are here, soon to return home with their news.  I can get the ugly truth about the mercs' plans for civilians and undocumenteds out into the world-wide rumor mill, by getting it up and running here."
"But won't they be alerted, the mercs, to what you are doing?  Won't they be able to retaliate or do damage control?"
"Not if we do this right.  I need to coordinate with your people, get a great barrage going against the mercs all at once.  They'll be too busy to be very effective.  Especially, we have to get word out to the merc slave freaks just how precarious their position is under their current masters."
She has made me aware of the others linked in to my mind.  Apparently I am an agent of the rebels.  Now I get to be a coordinating switchboard for this all out assault, hidden safely in the hole while Thistle goes out to spread our rumors.
Rebel teams have been deployed to take out the new lab facility and prison, built but not yet occupied.  All out broadcasts are being sent and relayed of graphic representation of the mercs' plans to make the most of their slaves' bodies and minds.  A great many of the mercs' freak corps are now openly rebelling, eager to join our cause.
Of course, the mercs are now aware that the demise of the rebel forces was not as advertised.  Lev is immediately suspect.  Gray had been maintaining the false memory that had kept him from being found out until now.  Now, he reemerges in Lev's consciousness, warning of what kind of trouble awaits and the necessity to hide.  Orders have gone out for Lev to be arrested and tortured to find out what he really knows.   Unlike most of the merc freaks, the Central Command Guard are not easily swayed against their masters.  They are specifically chosen and trained for loyalty and ambition.  They have every reason to believe they will continue to act as the mercs' elite guard, as long as their loyalty is assured.  
It is the last night of Carnival.  The streets are overwhelmed with drug-fueled, frenzied crowds of merry-makers who now know the mercs to be their enemy.  If Lev can disappear into the crowd, we may be able to bring him in to safety.
I find that I am already running in the direction of that crowd.  Our plan has been implemented to the point where my safety is no longer a real concern.  I will do what I can for my people, or die trying.
I broadcast as strongly as I can into the crowd the images of what the mercs intend for them, and their location in the Imperial Hotel.  There is a mad surge of angry mob.  The Guard is much too busy now with immediate concerns to have time to track down Lev.  I find him, following the thread from me to Gray, and whisk him away to the safety of the hole.
The rest, of course, is history.
Our struggle is becoming immortalized in mainstream discussions of what history will find salient in the late 21st Century, Common Era, along with advancing space mining and explorations and our developing global/local system of self-governance.  We have opened eyes to a greater need for vigilance in securing our common goals of liberty.
The mercs are defeated.  Those who survived are rounded up and put into rehabilitation camps much different from those they had envisioned for their prisoners.  Torture and acts of cruelty against prisoners are strictly prohibited.  Heavy physical labor and psychiatric rehabilitation techniques, including mind-altering drugs and public confessions, are now their just reward.  They are secured for the rest of their lives in maximum confinement, without possibility of escape.
The rebels are honored as heroes everywhere.  We are given full citizenship as quickly as the workings of bureaucracy can manage it.   Even Reag, proudly, admits we are far from abominations.  Having at last arrived on the other side, welcomed into our diverse human family, we are proud to be part of these exciting times.  We are discovering uses for our hard won strengths in the greater human community.  Still, most of us find we prefer to settle in low-density population areas, where the incidence of psychic impressions is easier to manage.
Several of us are building a kind of mini-compound out here in a fairly secluded mountainous area.  We are very happy to be free, living a relatively quiet life.  We even forgive Calinda and Reag for being insufferably proud expectant parents.  Little Freedom, as we are already calling her, will be the first freeborn of our people.  We can't wait to tell her her story. 
(c) 2007 Laurie Corzett/libramoon