Wednesday, 02 Jun 2027
Jason and Tyler drove back from the junkyard with another flatbed full of old electronics, engine parts, and other gear. They were mostly stockpiling for whenever they could get the basement dug, but there were some things they could work on now. Today they were installing “light-tubes” around the building to channel natural sunlight (plentiful in the high desert) to various areas around the building, using specially coated ducts and fiber-optics. This would help keep their energy signature fairly low during day light hours anyway. Jason had given Tyler the task to figure out how to store that light for night use. Tyler seemed pleased that the task might require two of his many brain processors. After unloading the junk out back, Jason left Tyler to dig through the stuff for the parts he needed and went into the garden area. Denny was in there staring at the small sand garden with the fat little Buddha.
“Well. I wish I could say buying all this junk was saving us money, but every time we buy a used part, Tyler starts detailing a hundred new ones we’d need to use it.” Jason brushed the dust off his hands and approached.
“Taking a break, or not much going on this morning?”
“Both actually.” Denny blinked and rubbed her eyes, then tapped her ear. “Okay, mostly woolgathering but the earjack’s been quiet. Had anyone called, I’d’ve picked up.” She stood and brushed off. “What do you need?”
“I wanted to talk to you about a couple things. The first is that you apparently figured out how to tame your little monster. Do you think you’d be up to try it out? We’ve about finished what we can do up here, apart from some decorating and furnishing.”
“Sure.” In fact, Denny had been thinking along those lines. It’s kinda hard to miss the renovations when they’re happening all around you. Besides, it still stung that her initial attempt had been an utter fail and the subsequent appearance of the Xorn had been a wild card she hadn’t anticipated. Renovations were ongoing at her place too. Total suckarama. I’ll be lucky if the dust from it doesn’t kill whatever vacuum I manage to beg or borrow off Miriam. “When do you want to do this?”
“Whenever you want to. I thought we might start simply, and practice to see what level of control you have. There is an old outbuilding I’d eventually like to be the main entrance for the van. We could try digging inside there, see what your little guy could do. I don’t know if anyone saw it do any digging last time, but we know it can make a cave. I’d like to see how precise it can be.”
“Me, too. Okay, let’s do this.” Denny pulled the origami Xorn from her belt pouch and held it up, then waved for the main entrance. “Lead on.”
Leading her across the garden to the ’loading dock", they walked across the scrub and dirt to an old structure made mostly of corrugated aluminum with high windows about 15 feet off the ground (no glass of course). When Jason explored it earlier, the building was full of junk, most of which he cleared out. Inside now were a couple of pre-war gas pumps, a large oil drum, and a 1952 Chevy truck (no tires, or hood). The inside was approximately 30 feet by 50 feet, 25 feet high. Pigeons roosted in the beams above. The floor was a thin layer of gravel. Jason in front of the old truck, spit on his hands, and reached under the grill to the engine block, and heaving, lifted the front end of the truck into the air. He tugged on it and with a scream of rusted metal, pulled the thing out of the makeshift garage. Dropping it with a thud.
“So I was thinking a hole here at a fairly steep angle, then leveling off around 100 feet down. Tyler and I could build a trap door of sorts, to hide the entrance. The entrance to the tunnel would need to start almost at the edge of the building.”
Jason looked around. There was no sign of anyone. The out-building was mostly obscured by the main building and scrub bushes. He glanced up noticing a small plane heading towards the airport. He felt a momentary anxiety, but realized that it is was unlikely a pilot would notice anything so high up.
“Do you want to see if you can get it to dig a simple hole, like the entrance to a parking garage?”
“Here goes,” Denny said. She put the two pieces of the Xorn together on the dirt, held her hand over the origami, and staring hard she twisted the space surrounding it. The signature heat wave distortion and sparkles erupted immediately under her palm and Denny gave the Xorn some room. Concentrating fiercely, she could feel it as an object with three-dimensional weight in her mind. It was no different than observing and drawing something in her head. Everything that had mass had dimension and to draw it, you had to know it—feel it—from all sides. Denny kept her mind on all sides of it, as if she had to draw it, and then envisioned it eating its way into the ground, making the hole that Jason described.
Jason jumped back a bit despite himself as the strange tripod unfolded into existence and seemed to eye him suspiciously. He looked around for a club in case he needed to defend the two of them, but like her dragon and cat, the thing seemed intent to listen to her and wait.
“I think you might need to tell it what to do.” Jason urged.
“Dig.” Denny murmured. Then, conscience-stricken, she added, “Please.” She gave it a little mental push, like a mother urging a reluctant toddler forward.
Jason watched in amazement as the creature sort of shimmered then sank into the earth which turned to a sort of muddy consistency around it. The muck began to flow into its gaping mouth, and disappear. Soon it was in a hole that would do as a small swimming pool.
“Try to get it to level out a bit, we want the van to be able to drive down there.”
Denny nodded to show she’d understood but didn’t dare break her concentration to reply. Holding the image of guiding the Xorn in her head, Denny gave it a little push forward, imagining the creature’s vertical movement leveling out by degrees on the diagonal. If she was lucky, a ramp would be clearing out behind it. For a split second she thought about soil stability and other factors she’d learned in class but tightened her focus on the Xorn. It obviously took care of that naturally, otherwise it would routinely get trapped as the tunnels it made collapsed. She let it do what it did naturally and kept it on a tight leash to keep it from wandering. It was hard work for being unfamiliar and it wasn’t made easier by Denny’s memories of the way her escaped creatures had resisted her commands. Once burned, twice shy or so the saying went. Not wanting a repeat of that disaster, Denny maintained her control over the Xorn until the ramp was finished and sent it horizontal to start carving out the first chamber of Jason’s new basement. Things went a little smoother after that and it took less time than she’d anticipated.
The Xorn worked fast. It seemed to get that it was building us a tunnel and in no time, they had a steep but walkable, and more important drivable tunnel into the bedrock, and towards the base. Jason had chosen this site, in part because it fit the part: A car or truck pulling into the building should not arouse suspicion and also because its distance from the base meant by taking a relatively meandering course, it could descend to the required depth and approach the base. They needed to do some soundings. Luckily Tyler had rigged up a depth gauge that gave them approximate depth underground and with the help of the Xorn’s amazing abilities, they dug a tunnel all the way under the base. At a depth of 100 feet, the bedrock above provided ample strength to hold up the facilities. They began to carve out the large space that would serve as garage and help them plot out the rest of the base’s layout. Jason was impressed that with a little prodding from Denny the creature was able to create near vertical walls fifty feet high, and yet it knew to include structural braces where needed. It would take a couple of days to hollow out the whole facility, but they decided to focus on the tunnels in and out. They widened the one leading to the outbuilding, and dug another one that led to the storm sewer running past the site and dumping out at the Arroyo. This would provide a nice alternative entrance. After several hours of measuring and Denny carefully explaining to her creature what she wanted, the vast set of caverns was roughed out. It looked much like a construction site, except for the lack of debris. Jason wondered just where that debris might go. Was it to the same place the bullets fired at Cassie went? Or where he got all his mass when he transformed into the Brute. That thought made him a little nervous, so he set it aside.
“I think we’ve done more than I imagined possible today. Denny, you are a miracle worker!” He smiled “You too, little guy!” He smiled to the strange creature eyeing him impassively.
Denny looked at the Xorn a little fatuously, pleased herself that she’d managed to maintain control over it without causing any accidents or harm. Did the Xorn look a little smug? Maybe even a little satisfied having dug so much? Not for the first time Denny wondered if it ate the rock it mined or if it got shunted to whatever dimension it she’d summoned it from. And she was beginning to think that she was summoning her creatures from another dimension. The little clues from her dreams and the observable little flashes of starry dark that accompanied her summons convinced her of it.
So, where is all this rock and dirt going?
Denny hoped it wasn’t materializing over someone’s head in another dimension and falling on them like the proverbial ton of bricks. But short of following the creatures back to their home dimensions, how would she know? Denny filed that thought away for another day and dragged herself back to the present. She gently turned the Xorn back into its paper representation, wondering again if the physical version of it went back ‘home’ to dig to its heart’s content. She blinked, tired from the activity, and gave Jason a weary smile.
“Gotta earn my keep around here somehow, right? Um … You’re not gonna drag me off and try to make me swill beer again, are you?” She eyed Jason askance, not really looking forward to a repeat of the other night. She really didn’t like beer.
Jason watched the little monster disappear. And picked up the big lamp they brought down with them into the garage. Tyler was packing up the small generator to wheel back to the base. Jason and he would begin work on the elevator shafts and staircase tomorrow. The Xorn did an admirable job digging out the column that would serve as the space, but they’d need to actually build the elevator shaft out of concrete, maybe building the staircase at the same time. As they approached the faint light of the approaching dusk outside, Jason turned to Denny and spoke.
“That was really great what you were able to do.” He then looked away a little awkwardly. “I’ve been meaning to ask you something, and if you don’t feel like answering, that is fine.” He saw her motion for him to go on. “It’s about your mother… she seems to know something about powers. I know she is a professional geomancer, but three months ago I would have said that she was a fancy high paid interior decorator. Now I am wondering if she is something more, and if she has done this for years. Can you tell me anything?”
“Um… Not exactly.” Denny hated hedging but with her mother’s injunction fresh in her memory, she couldn’t give Jason an immediate straight answer. “She doesn’t like to talk about what she can do. That much I do know. But …well, if you extended an offer to her as a professional geomancer, asking as Power Analysis—not The Vanguard, something she doesn’t want to be associated with—you might be able to ask her then. Of course, I can’t guarantee she’ll answer or even respond to the initial offer. But as a way to maybe satisfy your curiosity while throwing legitimate and explainable work her way … it seems doable.”
Man, oh man, I really hate being stuck in the middle. Hard on that thought, Denny’s internal critic stirred and snorted. Then why put yourself there? You didn’t have to volunteer your mom for work, you know. Denny sighed and scrubbed her face, then grimaced as she felt the grit on her hands. Gonna need to clean up.
Jason listened to the non-answer Denny provided. She must have a reason for her hesitation. In the short time since Jason started Power Analysis there was the ongoing question of what constituted a power. If it was something like Feng Shui, or astrology, subtle and opaque to testing, then there wasn’t much point to worrying about it. But if those practices were, in some people, real and testable power, then that meant that this new spike in Powers was just that, a spike, and not something entirely novel.
“Do you think she’d consent to talk to Miriam? I’d be interested to know ‘what color’ she shows up as,” he added as an aside.
See? You really should learn when to shut the hell up, Den. This, Denny thought acidly, was the slippery slope. First her mother and now Miriam. Getting involved and mixed up and … everything. Even so, she couldn’t help but imagine arranging a meeting between her mother and Miriam as parent and landlord. But why would they even cross paths? The usual reason. You’re in trouble and need a parent to bail you out. That left a bad taste in her mouth. She was eighteen, for Pete’s sake. She should be able to take care of herself without running home over every little freakin’ thing. Yeah, right. Tell that to your apartment wall.
“How important is this meeting, anyway? Does it have to be right now?” Maybe if she had more of a handle on Jason’s agenda, she could better juggle responsibilities and obligations.
“We are swimming in the dark seas right now. I don’t know if there is a parallel world, if there are two or more ‘kinds’ of Powers, if this is new or old. I’d like to know as much as I could. I don’t want to push anyone to the breaking point, or alienate anyone who could be a potential ally. The Wiccan your mother turned us on to admits to having no ‘real’ powers. That was useful information. At least, some of those who claimed to be magic, were, as most of us suspected, not magical. It is quite possible that our powers manifest in ways that make sense given who we are. I posited a dark side and light side to the human psyche when studying criminal psychology. You were already a creative artist. Deirdre a singer, before her attack. Perhaps the others powers have similar explanations. But, if powers like these existed long before we showed up, that means something. Perhaps only that our powers were not so much moulded by our psyches but something else. So… urgent? No. But pressing, yes. You don’t need to have them meet, I’d just like to know some answers, wouldn’t you?”
Denny zipped the Xorn back into her belt pouch and looked at Jason.
“Dark side. Light side. Our powers taking on similarities to our innate talents. The existence of powers throughout history, rare and scattered, and now suddenly coming out all over? Look, Jason. I’m not dumb. I read science fiction. I have imagination. I can string thoughts together. I get it. But I’m not the one you have to convince.” She sighed and looked away again. “Just because I grok the sci-fi, paranormal, and Lovecraft elements of this scenario, it doesn’t follow that everyone else does. Normally, that sort of thing just freaks people out and quite frankly, I’m the freak in the room because it doesn’t. Instead, I’m trying to figure a way to make it all work and yes, a good deal of that requires figuring out the nuts and bolts of who, what, where, when, why, and how. But as little as I know, I think I can safely say that just wanting the answers isn’t justification enough to start digging for them and making people uncomfortable. And I can tell you now, my mom isn’t comfortable with all this.”
Denny stopped on the ramp.
“Just cuz the President’s on our side doesn’t mean everyone is. The Angel is still out there. The news is cropping up with people showing powers more and more. Like that terrorist bomber dude. People are scared. The world has changed and they don’t like the fact that pulling the covers over their heads and going la-la-la isn’t going to change it back. Digging for answers will only remind them of it and they’ll either hate you for it or crawl out from under the covers and deal. You got a way to make sure the reaction’s always the second and not the first?”
She stopped short when she realized how obnoxious she sounded.
“Sorry. That was beyond rude. I’ve just had a lot on my mind and no one to talk to about it, you know? Not that it’s any excuse, but … well, yeah. Like I said. Rude. Sorry.”
Jason straightened out a bit. Given the ugliness of the weekend’s encounter with the two little girls, he should have been more circumspect about Denny’s relationship with her parents. Still, she was hard to figure out though, sometimes she seemed genuinely afraid of her mother, other times, just a normal teenager. And other times, she ran off at the mouth coming up with all sort of ideas without the slightest provocation.
“Listen Denny. I don’t want to jam a wedge between you and your parents. If this isn’t something you can talk to them about, then I won’t ask again. I got the impression at your apartment the other day that you were open with her about the Powers, and she knew something more than we. But, I’ve seen how much smaller things could cause trouble. I am not going to stop looking though. I don’t know what is going on, and I am afraid. Afraid of what’s out there, and afraid of what’s in here.” He points to his chest. “I don’t have the luxury of waiting for people to get comfortable with the idea of Powers.” He dusts off his hands again, and looks to her. “That said. I won’t ask anything of your mother without your consent. But if you do find anything out, I’d appreciate it if you’d let us know. I think we,” he gestures to the base as though referring to the whole team, “deserve to know… don’t you?”
“I do. And I will. I just need more time. Mom’s not dumb either. I’m sure I can get her to come around on this.” Denny shook her head even as she nodded. “I’d always thought she had more on the ball than she was willing to tell me. I just don’t know why. Maybe now, she’ll see a reason to let me know. We’ll figure it out. I just need more time. We both do. And something else,” she added, hugging him right there in front of God and everybody. She whispered into his shirt. “I know you’ve got the short end of the stick and you’re trying to hold it all together. The Brute’s scary but I know you can do it.” She looked up and wrinkled her nose at him with a grin. “I’d say it’s worth having to swill a few beers now and then, right?”
Jason held the small girl to his chest and returned her hug. I sure hope so, he thought to himself. “I wish I got to enjoy those beers, I just get the after effects.” He laughed. Then looking at the time on his phone on the workbench. Wow, how did it get so late? Turning to Denny. “Do you want to shower here? Or should I give you a lift home?”