The Traveling Story – Season 2 – Episode 5
I can’t believe it’s already season 2!!! I love this project so much and getting to work with a new group of authors on each story is SUCH an amazing experience! This time I was the last author in the line-up so I got to wrap up the story all nice and pretty. I hope you enjoy the ending!!!
THE TRAVELING STORY!
What is the Traveling Story?
5 Authors. 5 Days. 1 Story.
Each season of The Traveling Story will feature 5 well-known authors collaborating on one original, kick-ass story, with each author writing one of five episodes.
Follow the story as it’s revealed on each author’s blog over the course of a week!
How Does it Work?
There are only three rules for The Traveling Story:
1) No brainstorming, outlining, or discussion of plot ahead of time. The first author writes the first episode of ANY kind of story they want and the next author takes the story WHEREVER they want to go! The last author ends the story however they see fit!
2) An author cannot make changes to any previous episode. Each author has total creative control over their OWN episode only, but it has to continue where the last episode leaves off.
3) HAVE FUN! The Traveling Story is meant to be fun for the writers but especially for the readers!
Season 2 Authors:
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And be sure to scroll to the end to enter to win our awesome Traveling Story prize pack (featuring books from each of the 5 authors!)
So…I know you’re dying to read the end of this crazy story. So without further ado…
by Jessica Brody
My whole life people have been telling me what to do. What to wear. How to behave. Who to apprehend. And most of all, who to serve. But those days are over. From now on I serve myself. If there’s one thing my mother taught me in this job, it’s that you have to look out for yourself. Because no one else is going to do it for you.
By the time I open my eyes, they are already storming the gates.
The guards aren’t a problem. A few are killed by the rage I’ve sent to the aberrants’ minds—they’re the easiest to control being that they’re brains are already twisted and warped—and the rest of the guards are lassoed into my control. They charge us with weapons drawn and battle cries, only to about-face a moment later and switch sides.
It’s the fastest soldier recruitment strategy this country has ever seen.
The front gate falls quickly. The snipers on the roof ten stories up manage to get out a few shots—wounding two of my Commons in the process—but I focus my gaze on them and issue the silent mental command.
They leap from the roof to their deaths without a second thought.
Of course they do. There’s no second thought to this.
It’s only my thought. My will.
The power feels amazing. Feels right. This is where I belong. Where I’ve always belonged. I know it. Like the grass knows to grow. Like the stars know to twinkle.
This dawn was meant for me.
I send the troops forward, into the Headquarters building. I know there will be more guards to destroy and even more to turn. I am not worried. Why should I be? There is no one beyond these gates who can stop me now. No one who can compete with my ability.
I watch them all march forward, never stopping to question, never pausing to reflect.
But I don’t follow. At least not yet. There’s still one more step before my transformation is complete.
I rip off the black combat gear we all selected in order to blend in with the vanishing night. Underneath I’m wearing a hot pink plaid mini skirt that shows off my long legs, and a tight-fitting tank top. My black boots hit just below my knee caps. I pull my hair out of its tight, constricting bun and shake it free around my shoulders.
No more hiding for Francesca Hart. No more blending. No more being invisible.
Now the people will see me. They will know my face. They will know my name.
I’m about to march forward but I’m stopped by a hand on my shoulder. It spins me around and I barely have time to register his face before Logan’s lips are on mine. Before his arms are snaking around me, pulling me close. Before his strong musky scent overwhelms my nostrils and makes my legs feel more gelatinous than the vitamin-enhanced oatmeal goop they serve us for breakfast.
I let him kiss me. Not because it’s part of the plan—it most certainly isn’t—but because I want it. I’ve wanted it from the moment I saw him sprawled out on the floor of that train terminal.
And because it’s the most mind-numbing, toe-curling, stomach-dropping kiss I’ve ever experienced.
Not that there have been a lot of kisses in my lifetime. Being trained for intelligence work since the age of six certainly doesn’t lend itself to a very active social calendar.
Every atom that makes up my brain screams for me to stop this. Successful leaders don’t halt in the middle of hostile takeovers to make out. I doubted Napoleon Bonaparte or Ulysses S. Grant or even Tessa Jeffreys, who won the last Great War for us, ever stopped in the middle of an important battle to suck face with a cute boy.
But then again, none of them had the opportunity to suck face with Logan.
An explosion followed by rapid gun fire breaks me from my trance. I pull out of the kiss, feeling breathless and disoriented. I can tell from Logan’s unsettled expression that he feels the same.
I look toward the building to see one of the windows on the ninth floor has been blown out. Fire blooms from the gaping hole. A man leaps out, landing with a sickening crunch on the asphalt driveway below. I can’t tell if he is one of my own or not. But I know I can’t stay here any longer. I have to get inside. I have to assess the situation and alter the course of the commands if necessary.
“I have to go,” I tell him. “They need me.”
“No,” he grabs my arm and pulls me back to him. Back to his warmth. “Stay. Don’t leave me.”
“Logan.” I try to pull away again but he won’t let go. He wraps one hand around my waist while the other weaves into my hair. I feel a tug against my scalp and I realize that Logan is sniffing my hair. And now he’s rubbing the long lock against his cheek.
Okay, that’s getting a little creepy.
“Logan?” I ask, perplexed, trying to disentangle myself.
I focus all my attention on him and will him to let me go. But he only grabs on tighter. He lowers his mouth to me and actually begins licking my face.
“Logan!” I scream. “Let GO!”
But he doesn’t. He’s like an badly behaved dog. Pawing at me and lapping at my skin with his tongue. It takes me a moment to figure out what’s going on. The mind control. It’s having an adverse effect on him.
I sent out the signal for the aberrants and factions to respect me. To honor me. That’s how I initially roped them in. But because Logan already had romantic feelings for me, it just magnified them. To a very disturbing level.
I struggle against his clutches. Logan responds by tightening his arms around me. I know I’m not strong enough to break free. He’s a trained aberrant. I’m just a half-breed whose strengths are mostly cerebral.
I spot three guards running from the mayhem of the Headquarters. I narrow my gaze at them and rein them in with a single, definitive order.
They shift directions instantly, running to my aid. Two of them grab Logan by the arms, ripping him from me, while the other scoops up his legs.
Don’t hurt him, I tell them telepathically. Just detain him until I get back.
They nod, comprehending my directive as clearly as if I had spoken aloud, and carry Logan thrashing and crying like a baby, toward the guard shack near the busted front gate.
Later, I tell myself. I will deal with him later.
Another explosion rings out across the front lawn, blasting my ear drums. I watch a section of the stone façade crumble before my eyes. I sprint toward the building.
Inside is pure chaos. Since I haven’t been there to turn the interior guards, my people have been forced to fight them head on. And they’re losing. Bullet-ridden bodies are sprawled all over the entry way.
I scan each face, feeling slightly relieved when I noticed that Rabbit is not among them. Then I felt nauseous for so easily disregarding the dead. These people died because I’m a lightweight romantic. Because I couldn’t resist a stupid kiss from a stupid boy.
I push forward, sending out a blanketing mental command as I go.
Stand down. Stand down. Don’t shoot.
The gun fire starts to cease from both sides, before eventually coming to a complete halt. I hurry up the ten flights of stairs and down a long corridor, recognizing it from all the blueprints I studied in the past few months as the hallway that leads to the President’s private offices.
I’m almost there. One more mind to bend to my will. One more mental hostage to take and this country will be mine.
I burst through the door. Three guards stand in front of a large mahogany desk with a leather chair that’s turned away from me, toward a picture window.
There once was a time when this country was obsessed with shapes. The Pentagon. The Oval Office. But ever since the fall of Washington, someone was smart enough to put an end to that tradition. Which is why this room—the President’s primary work chamber—is simply referred to as “First Command Center.”
I have every intention of changing it as soon as it’s mine.
I take another step inside. The guards don’t attack. They can’t. They are still under orders to stand down. But they look perplexed. Unsure of what to do next.
Leave, I tell him.
They scatter in three different directions like scared mice.
I hone in on the desk. On the head of dark brown hair that is just visible above the top of the chair.
Soon to be Monsieur Ex-President.
Turn around, I order him. I want to look him in the eye when I transmit the command for him to kill himself. I want him to understand that he failed. Failed to reunite this country after a Great War and the creation of a mutated species that tore us apart.
I want to see the shame in his eyes.
But the chair does not move.
Turn around, I try again. But still nothing. Is he dead? Was he killed in the battle?
Impossible. I can hear his heavy breathing.
It’s only slightly more labored than my own.
I take a step toward him, feeling the burn build up behind my eyes as I stare into him, sent all my mental energy through him.
“Turn around!” I yell, this time aloud, for added effect.
There is no response.
Then comes a familiar voice. But it doesn’t belong to the President. It belongs to someone much closer to home.
“I think she’s ready, don’t you?”
It’s Rabbit. He steps out of the shadows in the back corner of the room. I didn’t even notice him there.
The chair finally swivels. But not because I demanded it, because the person sitting in it finally decided to act.
My mouth falls open and a small squeaking sound emerges as I see the pair of bright green eyes staring back at me. Of course I recognize them. I lived with them for the past eighteen years.
“Mom?” The word barely escapes my rapidly closing throat.
“Hello, Chess,” she says in a cool, collected voice. As though it’s totally no big deal that she’s sitting in the middle of the First Command Center. In the President’s damn chair!
“What are you doing here?” I ask, glancing between her and Rabbit, who is now by her side. “Where is the President?”
We timed this ambush at the exact moment he was scheduled for his morning briefing.
“The President only makes appearances for press conferences. He’s inconsequential. A mere pawn. We had to have a friendly face to make the American people feel safe.”
“You mean…you…” But I can’t finish the question.
“Me and a few other key military officials. We run the government. But we stay behind the scenes.” She turns to Rabbit, a strange look of affection in her eyes. “Get the transmitter ready.”
He nods obediently and hurries to a table behind the desk where a strange-looking device is set up. It looks like an old-school typewriter that’s been given a sci-fi makeover.
“Wait,” I stammer. “Rabbit is…working with you?”
He glances up. “You really didn’t think I’d side with the abs did you? C’mon.”
I don’t know what to think anymore.
“Rabbit has been keeping an eye on you, helping you develop your talent. Preparing you for today. In order for our plan to work, we needed to instill in you delusions of grandeur. You had to think you were coming here to personally overthrow the government. So Rabbit’s been sending you subliminal messages for the past few months. Subtly putting ideas into your head.”
Glad you could join us, your majesty.
I look to Rabbit and shoot daggers from my eyeballs. “You…you…manipulated me?”
He smirks. “Hello pot. I’m kettle. You’re looking mighty black today.”
I sneer in response.
“He did what he had to do to,” my mom interjects. “And looking around this place, I’d say he did a superb job.”
Rabbit beams. “Thanks, baby.”
“I’m sorry. But isn’t he your…Or didn’t you sleep with his dad? Or…something?”
My mom shakes her head. “Don’t be silly. That was a cover story. To earn your trust. Rabbit is a Common. Like me. I recruited him three years ago.” She tilts her head back and parts her mouth. Rabbit approaches her from behind her and lays a messy wet kiss on her lips. With tongue.
I turn my head to the side and throw up this morning’s oatmeal.
“There’s the voms!” Rabbit slaps his thigh. “Finally!”
If I didn’t know any better I would say he’s actually excited about my regurgitation.
And apparently I didn’t know any better.
I close my eyes and gather my strength. The anger is making it hard to concentrate, but I manage to take hold of my ability and send it barreling in the direction of Rabbit’s face.
Jump out the window, I urge him. Do it!
But Rabbit doesn’t move. Perplexed, I looked to my mom. She seems to understand my frustration.
“Oh, sweetie,” she says, “Rabbit and I are immune to your ability.”
“W-w-what?” I blubber. “How?”
“When I started injecting you with the drug that would eventually develop into your unique skill to bend wills, I also started injecting us with a counter processor. An antidote if you will.” She rises from her seat and beckons me over to the small table with the device. “Come here, my dear. We have one last task for you to complete.”
I want to rebel. I want to tell her to eff off but I just can’t do it. Her hold over me is too strong.
She is my mother, after all.
“This is a macro transmitter,” she explains, securing two large suction cups to either side of my forehead. Then she attaches a wire to each one that feeds the strange machine. “It will send your telepathic energy through the airwaves, transmitting the signal via cell phone towers, wifi routers, and other wireless devices. Basically, it takes your ability and makes it global.”
“And what message am I sending out?” I ask, afraid of the answer.
She looks at me as though she’s surprised I even need to ask. “To exterminate the aberrant, of course. There’s no way we’ll be able to defeat them unless we get the entire population on our side. There’s just too many of them. They’ve burrowed themselves into our community like flea-ridden rats. But with your help, we’ll finally be able to eradicate them once and for all.”
A heavy wetness settles into my stomach. That’s what this has all been about. Everything in my life has been one giant sham leading up to this point. Leading up to mass murder.
“That’s genocide.” My voice is quiet, barely a whisper.
But my mom apparently hears me because she makes a tsk sound with her tongue. “It’s only genocide if they’re people. The aberrants aren’t people. They’re monsters.”
I think about Logan outside being held hostage in the guard shack. I think about the way he attacked me. The way he licked my face and yanked my hair and wrapped his arms around me, refusing to let go.
That’s certainly one way to look at him.
“Okay,” I say with a sigh. “I’ll do it.”
My mom beams, giving a quick nod to Rabbit. A job well done. A soldier well raised. “I knew I could count on you,” Mom says.
Rabbit flips a switch and the device hums to life.
I can feel the faint vibration of the suction cups against my skin, ready to slurp the thoughts out of my brain and broadcast them to the world.
“Remember,” Mom says, “be specific. Remind the Commons how the aberrant can be recognized, the symptoms to look for. And send them suggestions on how they can be killed. Drowning, electrocution, gun shots to the head, these are all foolproof methods.”
I nod, closing my eyes. I gather up all my mental energy, scraping the back of my brain for everything that’s left. I use it all. I collect it into mass at the front of my subconscious, being as specific as I can.
And then with a loud exhale, I send it out into the universe.
I hold my breath and wait, wondering how long it will take before the chaos breaks out again.
It doesn’t take long.
The horde barges into the First Command Center less than a minute later. My mom and Rabbit both startle upon seeing them. Mom looks to me, panic in her green eyes. “Stop them!” she shouts.
I turn away and I know she understands.
She’s a smart woman. She always has been.
The men and women attack. Aberrant soldiers, Common guards, Faction civilians. All battling together for a single cause.
Mom and Rabbit manage to fight off a few of them, but they keep coming. They flood in from the street, they punch and stab and wound until it’s over. Until there’s nothing left of either of them.
I turn my head away. I can’t watch. It’s my own mother.
And yet, it shouldn’t bother me. She never saw me as a daughter. She only saw me as another pawn.
But I’m more than a pawn. I’m the mother-effing queen.
With the transmitters still attached to my forehead, I call off the attack. Then I send out a second message. Not one of war, or hate, or prejudice. But one of love. One of acceptance. One of collaboration.
Once again, I think about Logan. But this time, I think about his lips on mine. The way he pulled me tightly to him. The way he made my body feel alive, like it was being lit up from within.
A human being.
That’s the other way to look at him.
The aberrant may be unstable, they may be dangerous, but they’re still one of us. They still share our DNA, our history, and hopefully our future. Someday we’ll find a cure for their instability. I’m sure of it.
Until then, we’ll just have to find a way not to kill each other.
And this is a perfectly good start.
I remove the cups from my forehead but not before sending out one final request.
The transmission moves fast. The guards from the front lawn arrive a moment later, dragging a half-conscious Logan behind them.
“Please release him,” I ask politely.
They do. He falls to his knees, weak and exhausted and confused. I run to him and crouch down before him, lifting his chin with my hand. “Logan? Can you hear me? Are you hurt?”
“You’re pretty,” he mumbles, echoing his drug-induced comment from our first train ride together. Or maybe it wasn’t as drug-induced as I thought.
I laugh. “So are you.”
“Are you going to kiss me now?” he asks, his mouth curving into a droopy half smile.
I roll onto my knees, bringing my lips inches from his. “That’s the plan.”
He nods approvingly. “I like that plan.”
“Good, because it’s all I got left.”
Follow the Story as it Travels:
Episode 1 – October 14 – Claudia Gray
Episode 2 – October 15 – Ann Aguirre
Episode 3 – October 16 – Victoria Scott
Episode 4 – October 17 – Morgan Matson
Episode 5 – October 18 – Jessica Brody
And now here’s the giveaway!
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