Chapter One: Invisibility
My people live invisibly among
you, though each of us disappear within the multitudes of humanity in our own
ways. For some it is easy to fade into the crowd. We serve you in shops, or
better yet, in restaurants where people come and go frequently and government
surveillance of income is more difficult to track.
Some of us prefer to live off-grid, although it is becoming more challenging to remain unnoticed in a world dominated by documentation and records. We have often been mistaken for Gypsies or hippies, partly because of the colorful silks and velvets that we wear. These are always in blues and purples; colors that make the eye turn away in distant focus.
It is by these colors that we first recognise others of our kind when we cross paths. Few of us know each other well. We drift. We make friends, then move on. Like many people who pass through the lives of others, we are easily forgotten.
Many choose to slide into the past, to times when individuals were more easily overlooked. Yet the excitement of the present sits more naturally, even for a Time Shifter.
We can shift through time or across distance, but never both at once. It would make us easier to track, though we never thought that a time would come when anyone would think to track us.
We were wrong.
At first we thought it was the government. The military in particular is always looking for special abilities to exploit. But as more of us were taken, we wondered... Did someone wish us harm? How did they know of us? Discovering answers to these questions quickly became essential to our survival. We had little time to find them as our numbers began to thin too quickly... far too quickly...
September 2015, a Moroccan restaurant in Los Angeles
Akalya reached for a handful of Bastilla, her favorite delicacy among the fragrant Moroccan dishes that covered the table. The powdered sugar that covered the pastry stuck to her hands as she savoured the contrast between its sweetness and the spicy chicken filling within the succulent pie. Her companions, Jon and Alice, talked between themselves, enjoying the exotic atmosphere as they sat cross-legged on cushions at the low table. Dim candlelight reflected moving images, like dancing fairies across the rich fabrics that covered the cushions and the brightly patterned walls that surrounded them.
Jon and Alice were Memlekel, ordinary people. They wore jeans and casual shirts, yet reeked of office polyester with their plastered false smiles and short cropped hair styles. Jon wore his neatly trimmed in almost a military cut so that the sandy colour was hardly detectable except on the top where a generous wave belied the effect, while Alice’s soft brown curls fell just below her ears. They did not know about the Harekaiian people, or that their waitress as well as the chef were of Akalya’s kinship. Akalya had noted two others of her kind at a table by the opposite wall. Drifters probably, yet some instinct always drew them to places where others could be found.
Akalya did not know their names. She could not be sure if their paths had crossed before. The effect of the low lighting and the colors that they wore produced the desired result, even on their own kind. The eye focuses rich blues and purples at a distance. Reds and yellows would draw attention as they made the eye adjust so that things appeared nearer, allowing the cooler colors to dissolve into a haze of background. Even Alice’s soft pink top and Jon’s ivory shirt drew the eye away from the shorter wavelengths near the indigo end of the spectrum, as in Akalya’s long, dark blue/purple skirt and shawl, and her deep purple satin Gypsy blouse.
It served both as disguise and as an identifier to their own kind. It had never occurred to any of Akalya’s people that a day would come when some among the Memlekel would recognize the mark of the Harekai.
A fracas just inside the kitchen began to draw attention. Akalya had witnessed the capture of illegal aliens in restaurants in Los Angeles before. It was a regular feature in certain establishments. The shouts and kitchen doors flying open sounded very much like such a capture. The ethnic table cleaners would put up a nominal fuss, then allow themselves to go along with the inevitable. Usually they were Mexican. The border crossers kept their full pay checks in their pockets for such eventualities and would often return in time for their next shift. Still, the scuffle brought a little diversion to the onlookers. Akalya saw two men dragging a captive into the main dining room, only the captive was the chef, a Harekai, and the captors were not wearing uniforms.
She did not stop to think as the couple across the room were assaulted next by two more men that burst through the doors from the restaurant kitchen. Akalya did not even observe the protocol that usually kept her people safe; never shift where you might be observed. It was only a slight distance jump. A new customer had opened the door to the street and the shift to just outside at that moment would appear as if she had moved very quickly. Then she made another jump to just beyond view of the glass door and she was free to shift through time. By some fluke, the street was empty of onlookers... perhaps because it was a Sunday.
It was one of the oldest streets of Los Angeles and would not be so unpopulated often. Although she did not expect that any pursuer could follow her, Akalya shifted forward instead of back. Skipping a day would not bring any great consequence, except that her trail would grow cold in that time. Choosing a time in the darkest part of the morning just before dawn would make anyone who saw her suddenly appear believe that she had been there all along and had only just caught their eye. People easily believed whatever made most sense to them.
She walked then, thinking hard about what to do. Akalya had only a few friends among her own kind in the area. She must contact Gaye to warn her. After walking far enough to duck into an alley where a trash dumpster could hide her presence, she shifted forward a few hours more so that Gaye would be awake. Then she walked carefully out of the alleyway and lost herself amidst the crowd of busy people going to lunch from their respectable office jobs. She stepped onto a bus that was heading towards Manhattan Beach to put some distance behind where she had last been seen. If there were some way of tracking shifts, a little mundane travel would cool the trail.
Akalya got off the bus when it stopped in a familiar area just past El Segundo and entered a small diner that she knew had a back door. She watched the people around her carefully as she made her way to a public phone in a partially concealed hallway in the back.
To her relief, Gaye picked up the phone after just two rings.
“Gaye, I saw three people taken away last night. Wait, it was the night before. Have you seen anything suspicious?”
“Yes. Let’s be careful about names in case your phone is tapped. I’m on a public one. I sound paranoid, don’t I?”
“Well yes, but if you actually saw...”
“Is your house still up for sale?”
“Yes.” Gaye laughed a little as she admitted it. “I thought I would try selling it on Ebay, just for a laugh since no one was making an offer. Can you believe that some joker actually offered sixty-nine cents for it?”
Akalya began to relax a little for the first time since the interruption of her Moroccan meal. She even began to regret the loss of the rest of the Bastilla.
“Maybe I should make an offer for it. What would you say to...”
She had been about to say, “a fiver” as a joke, but the conversation was suddenly stopped by the sound of Gaye screaming and scuffling noises that suggested that she was being attacked.
This time Akalya was going to have to take a risk. She could not let all of her people disappear until she was the last one to be hunted down. There was no doubt in her mind that she would be as much a target as any of the others. She reached her consciousness through the telephone, grasping the familiarity of her friendship with Gaye and mentally followed her to wherever they might choose to take her. Once the attunement was established, she hung up the telephone. Whether they, whoever they were, would have the ability to sense or follow an attunement was impossible to know, but she had to try. She could not sentence herself to a life of running and fear any more than she could abandon Gaye to whatever fate awaited her at the hands of her captors.
Distance jumps felt different than time shifts. Akalya was sure that was part of the reason why only one could be accomplished at a time. It was an odd feeling, as if she were standing in the place of origin and then like a double exposed photograph, was also at the destination. This time, the destination was unknown so she could only initiate the shift, then wait and see. Akalya didn’t know what a Memlekel would see if one of them were to walk into the back hallway of the diner and observe her standing by the phone in mid-shift. She tried to look as if she were patiently waiting for someone to call back, hoping that she at least appeared corporeal, or not at all.
Her sense of time was nonexistent in the process of a distance shift, but she knew that the driving time to the beach was no more than half an hour from Gaye’s house. Akalya’s sense of direction told her that her friend was definitely moving west. The ocean would halt their progress eventually. Her visual impression of Gaye’s position was dark during the transport, but Akalya saw in her dim vision of Gaye’s perceptions that a hood was removed from her just before she was taken into a portacabin situated on the upper beach near The Strand. Akalya saw it all as if in the incorporeal images of a dream, yet she recognised the area and especially the Redondo Beach Harbour in the background.
Perhaps the kidnappers are amateurs, Akalya thought. They might not have been aware of her ability to attune to another of her kind, but a professional kidnapper would take the victim inside before removing the hood to keep them ignorant of their location, unless they were concerned about onlookers in a public place... or if they were setting a trap.
There was no time to consider the latter. Akalya shifted as she saw the captors leave the room where the captives had been shoved inside. She placed herself in an alcove behind the wall where the door opened. If they re-entered suddenly, she would have a moment to shift before they turned and saw her. There were eight Harekaiian standing before her. Four from the restaurant, Gaye and three others that Akalya did not know. They recognized her as Harekai immediately and said nothing, looking at her with haunted eyes. Why don’t they simply shift out? Akalya wondered.
“We can’t shift,” Gaye said quietly. “They’ve done something, I don’t know what.”
Akalya reached forward and took the hands of the Harekai closest to her. The others quickly joined hands as well so that they made a circle. All of them closed their eyes and tried to sink into the shifting consciousness.
Akalya, automatically attuned to everyone in the circle by the physical contact, then recognized that a barrier was preventing them from completing the shift. An intangible interference felt as if it were blocking the mind-shift that preceded the physical movement. She took the lead, attempting to shift herself and pull them with her. First she tried a distance jump, visualizing The Strand just above their location. With her eyes closed, she brought the image of a particular spot next to a lamp post to her mind and tried to feel herself there. The pull to shift was present, but her charges pulled her back like eight sets of efficient emergency brakes. Despite their willingness to follow, another force prevented them from reaching the level of vibration required. She tried again, but the result was the same. The attempt had a moment of anticipation quality like a broken starter motor on a car that whines just on the edge of turning over, yet never quite sparks. Her charges were dead weight, too anchored to take with her.
The door opened. People rushed in, perhaps three of them. Akalya had stepped back into her place of concealment and could not see around the door to be sure whether there were more, but those she could see immediately turned and saw her. They had clearly known of her presence. There was no choice. She would have to escape quickly and come back for the others another time. Hoping against her own doubts that the dampener effect was not a feature of the room rather than something inflicted on the individuals within, she let go of her charges both physically and mentally and shifted out. One of the Memlekel tried to physically grab her, but she faded to elsewhere as his hands reached around her. Even in the twilight world of mid-shift, Akalya felt relief that the shift had worked, albeit a little more slowly than usual.There had not been time to assess very much about her would-be captors. Though they wore no insignia, they had been dressed identically in black cargo trousers and T-shirts, so perhaps it was meant to be a uniform of sorts after all. The one who had reached for her had dark hair like her own, but wore dark sunglasses so that she had been unable to see his eyes. He had been a little taller than her and she had sensed... something. She wasn't sure what. She only knew that she was glad that she had shifted before he had been able to touch her.
[Continued in Time Shifters by Shanna Lauffey]