Honor sat at the only other table in the joint. It didn’t look as if it had ever been cleaned. She started to unwrap the meal, but she found that she could not. Her hands shuddered as a palpable wave of anxiety passed through her. Her breath caught, and for a moment, she struggled for the next one.
Honor swung around to find the source. The anxiety was not her own.
The three men at the table. The black haired girl who hung back near the door with her eyes narrowed and fastened on Honor. Malak, behind the counter, watching with serious concerned eyes.
Honor lay her hands flat onto the surface of the sticky table in an effort to steady herself. The sensation was stronger now. Anxiety, and fear. Pleasure, and anticipation. Honor pushed herself up from the table, legs spread apart. The upended chair clattered as it hit the floor, but Honor did not hear it. Despite the effort, her stance still wavered. Her head felt as if it was being compressed by hot air. Perspiration beaded her face.
Someone was doing this to her.
Honor pushed back, with an audible grunt. No one had ever been able to enter into her consciousness this way. She had never known anyone who, like her, had this ability. Honor’s voice came out in a strange gasping croak. “You’re an amateur.” The one responsible had to be. This probing was being conducted with so little finesse that had Honor not been in such distress, she might have laughed. Whenever she had crept into someone’s mind, she left all parts of herself in the waking world, only sending faint as smoke tendrils out. No one had ever suspected that she was there.
The girl with the black hair? Malak? Honor couldn’t be sure. Nevertheless, there was a way to be.
Honor closed her eyes and forced herself to breathe deeply. She envisioned a black room with four doors, one on each wall. All of the doors were open wide, yellow light spilling out. Honor approached the first door. She saw, as if from a great distance, a crowd of people. Each individual was the size of a pinpoint. The pinpoints moved, some in straight lines, some in circles or wavy patterns, and some not at all. These were random consciousnesses. No danger. No concern. Honor closed the door and went to the next one.
The light spilling through this door was brighter and more concentrated than the others. This light generated heat. The source was a figure; looked like a man. His entire being lit up like a sun burst. She lifted her arm to shield her face and eyes. He seemed to be to be seeing her too, but she couldn’t decipher his features. He reached out to her, sparks dripping from his hand. He said something and without thinking, Honor stepped closer. He spoke again, his voice like a whisper floating up from an empty well. “Honor.” She backed away this time. He matched each of her steps in advance. She didn’t know him. Didn’t want to. She slammed the door closed.
She hit her mark at the third door. Just as she came to stand in the doorway, the light spilling out from the fourth door extinguished and it closed, on its own. The black haired girl stood behind the third door, in a pool of light not of her own making. Her eyes widened when she saw Honor. She tried to withdraw, but it was too late. Honor sent the tendrils of her mind forward, like leather whips lashing out. Now, Honor was the one probing. And she wasn’t gentle about it.
The girl struggled against Honor’s will, but Honor subdued her with the ropes of her mind. Honor pushed further, harder, hurting the girl. Honor heard the girl’s shrill scream echo from the real waking world, but she didn’t stop. Fear replaced the girl’s previous anxiety and this only fired Honor’s anger.
Alia. The girl was moaning. Honor couldn’t tell which consciousness this time.
To see what?
Alia closed her eyes, backed away, began scratching her face and neck and arms. She wanted out, but Honor wouldn’t let go. She pushed harder. She saw visions of Alia standing over scared cringing people, of her rummaging through their belongings. She saw Alia laughing as she watched a man sick and stumbling down a dark street. In the next flash this same man beset upon by a group thugs. More laughing, as together they liberated his wilted form of his belongings. Honor saw herself, Alia watching her from the street corner. Honing in on Honor’s cash as she paid for the meal, mentally counting off the pieces, thinking of the different ways she could take it…if necessary, by force.
Honor let Alia go, with a final push that sent them both rocking on their heels.
The room came back into focus, the florescent lights dim in comparison to the lights in her consciousness. She swung around, and locked eyes with Alia.
“You’re a thief. A low down thief. And you were going to try to rob me?”
“No. Not that.”
Honor didn’t hear. Another sensation. She was familiar with this one, and it scared her, because it felt so good, but the outcome would, as always, be regrettable. She had no power to stop the shifting when her anger turned into a tight ball in her gut. The energy inside the ball built until it exploded outward. Then Honor felt as if she were melting, such a sweet and dangerous climax.
When Honor opened her eyes, she was near the entrance. Her breaths came in ragged heaves, not quickly enough to refill her lungs. Her knees pressed into Alia’s back, her hands twisted in the black tangle of Alia’s hair. Honor pulled until she heard something shatter.
Malak extended his arm and prepared to drop the second glass but he didn’t have to.
Honor’s looked up, her attention drawn to the glittering mess.
“Is this really what you want to do?” Malak set the glass down and stepped from behind the counter. He held his hands out as if to prove that he was without weapons and that his intentions were good.
Alia’s back arched as she strained against Honor’s unyielding grip. She coughed and wretched. Honor glanced down, remembering Lulu, and a wave of regret washed over her. She let go. Alia’s face flew forward smashing against the faded and filthy tile floor.
Honor heard scuffling and hissing in the periphery, but her mind was too thick with the fog of shifting to decipher what it was.
Malak helped Alia up from the floor. “This is not what you think,” he said to Honor.
Honor stood, her breathing still somewhat shallow. “You don’t know what I think.”
The hissing sound grew into a high-pitched keen that filled her head and radiated in her empty belly. Suddenly she felt nauseated. She knew that sound.
Honor suddenly remembered the table of men she could see but could in no other way sense. They had all turned around in their seats and they were watching her. Their mouths were hinged open like snakes. Their eyes were blue globes in their heads. Cameras. They called in a tone so high and piercing that only dogs and the Authority receptors could hear. And Honor. Now she understood why she had not been able sense them. They were not men at all but security drones; spies sent into all communities to root out dissention and to find and report Believers, and people like Honor.
She had shifted in public, calling attention to this thing that was either a gift or a curse.
Honor turned back to Malak. He whispered urgently into Alia’s ear. He came to stand near Honor, pulling Alia along with him.
“We will have to be quick. The Authorities will be here soon and when they arrive, you cannot be here.” He looked up into Honor’s face and she backed away but he caught her arm with his other hand. “Do not run. I am trying to help you.”
Alia nodded, rubbing her throat and neck. “Yes, we’re both trying to help you.” Her voice was hoarse. Honor could hear something else now. It was the howl of sirens. The Authorities were even faster here in Sinistral City.
“Alia will take you through the underground to safety. She will get you away from the Authorities for now, because after what you just did they will want you. They won’t stop until they get you.”
Honor shook her arm loose of Malak’s grip and backed away. She had to think of a way to get out of this place. “She’d cut my throat first, if she could. I wouldn’t go with her.” The sirens were louder now. The keening drones left their table and took up sentinel duty along the front of the diner blocking the storefront windows and the door and the hallway that led to the bathrooms. When Honor saw this, she backed away from them too.
“No,” said Alia. “I wouldn’t have hurt you. I was testing you.”
“She will explain later.” Malak stepped forward again, this time so close that Honor could see the golden pattern of his irises. He was no longer looking up at her. He seemed to have grown and now his face was level with hers. “You have got to let us help you get out of here, while there is still a chance.”
Somehow, Honor believed him. Besides, she could see no other way. Honor decided to take her chances with this girl rather than a squad of determined Authority.
Alia tugged on Honor’s arm and they both followed Malak behind the counter and through the kitchen to the back door. Malak unbolted the locks and threw the door open for Honor and Alia to pass though.
“Remember where I told you to go,” Malak told Alia.
Alia nodded. “I will take her to the Gardens using the back roads and the underground.”
“The entire way.”
Alia nodded again.
“Go in safety,” he said looking at Honor.
“Don’t worry. I will get her there.” Alia still had a grip on Honor’s arm and she pulled hard as she raced forward. Honor followed.
They headed down the crumbling back alley. Just as they were about to turn left down another alley, Honor heard Malak call out to her. She stopped and turned.
“Your name. What is it?”
She called back. “I am Honor!”
He beamed and bowed from the waist as if in tribute to her and said, “Finally, she has come.” Opening his arms in front of him, as if proffering all that he had, Malak said, “Go find Truth.”