Excerpt from SERAPHIM ASCENT

From Chapter Twenty-three: Good Morning, Nevada!

latency

Tejinder Wakeman had given up on the prospect of being a morning person, when his prime hours reeled through the night. Aiden must have known this as well…

Which was why Tejinder had found it weird to wake up that evening to a knock at the door downstairs. When the knocking stopped, he flopped over the sheets and attempted to fall back asleep.

Then the knocking started again. Louder. Tejinder groaned, tired and hungover, and threw a pillow over his head. This did not stop the knocking, which turned into a relentless pounding at his door. The hostile presence in itself left Tejinder wishing he could call the cops.

He realized that the only guy he could call now was the cops… kind of. But he also didn’t feel like dialing Aiden. If this just happened to be one of the food services he might have ordered in his sleep (in which case this wouldn’t be the first time), it would have been embarrassing.

“All right…” Tejinder yawned. He grabbed for his sunglasses by the nightstand and rolled out of bed. His bare feet weaved around the broken glass at the bottom of the stairs; remnants of a drunken tantrum earlier that morning. At this point he couldn’t differentiate the hammering pain from the door to the hangover, or both. “All right, cut it out! I’m unlocking the damn door. Just so you know, I have a shotgun.”

Someone stood at the door Tejinder just swung open.

“So do I.”

Rey’s voice.

Rational instincts told Tejinder that he should be more surprised. He only regarded Rey like she was a dull inconvenience.

Fingers combing through his bangs, Tejinder pressed his shoulder against the doorway. He didn’t open it all the way, as it was secured by a chain lock.

“Last I heard you got broke. Did somebody fix you?”

“Yes.” After an awkward silence, Rey added: “You realize you’re still in your underwear, yes?”

Tejinder opened his mouth, then snapped it back shut. That would definitely explain the chill he had in uncomfortable places. Particularly when wearing nothing but boxers.

Brows raised, Tejinder bobbed his head. “Must’ve slipped my mind. It was a little past my bedtime.”

“Tejinder,” Rey said flatly. “It’s eight at night.”

“And it’s a proven fact that my brain functions at its highest capacity at about… fifteen hours ago.” He slipped his head through the door enough to listen for his outer surroundings. “You came alone, right? Nobody else is supposed to know I’m here except—”

“David. I called him. He told me where you were, in his own way. He did this tapping over the nexus and it sounded like Morse…?” She trailed off. “You’re wondering why I came here.”

“It crossed my mind.”

“May I come in?”

At first, Tejinder considered slamming the door in her face. Then he did slam it shut.

The chain slid off, he reopened the door for Rey. He double-checked for any other unwanted guests before locking the door again. Better safe than sorry.

Rey took a gander around the bungalow. The living area wasn’t much, but provided the essentials for a cozy lifestyle. With his technical equipment crowding the entire dining area and a liquor cabinet nearby, Tejinder had all he could’ve asked for these last three months. Rey drew towards the other attractions. Like the chin-up bar, which she grabbed and began lifting her own weight, up and down. Tejinder listened to her doing this (causing more strain to the walls than he ever did) while she talked.

“I need to recruit some help,” she said.

Tejinder counted in his head how many pull-ups she could manage. So far she was making an impressive effort. “Guess you’re gonna have to get in line. What kind of help are you looking for?” Tejinder asked, deciding that now would be a decent time to start tracking down his clothes.

“My head’s been in a loop since we left Angeles. I don’t know why.” Amazing how she wasn’t out of breath, not even a little.

“Loop, right. That’s normal.” Tejinder snorted, snagging a pair of pants from the loveseat and clumsily pulled them on. “So you weren’t really stuck in La La Land but having a spiritual astral journey, is that it?”

“Perhaps. Though not as vague.” She dropped from the poll and landed on her feet. Her hands clapped together. “I still try to pick up the pieces, but the whole picture is clear.”

“Meaning…?”

“It’s strange. In the dream, I hear a rhyme though I never remember the words. I find myself in several places. One of them sticks out to me.” She paced: “I know where I’m at. I’m wading through the ash and rubble in what’s left of a city. There’s so much debris. A crash site. Helicopters that had been shot down during the withdrawal when the Battle-Brave was released. I’m about to keep walking when I see a bloody hand trying to climb out of one of them. It hurts so much. I’m in so much pain, I feel like my own body is about to fall apart. I go to the hand, take it. It’s a boy, trapped underneath. He’s about to burn alive. I go to take apart the helicopter. I rip the metal until I get to that boy, and I carry him in my arms. He’s crying for his father. He clings to me, screaming, ‘Where’s dad? Where is my dad? Where is he? I can’t see anything!’ The boy’s face is all bloody. Glass in his eyes. Though he’s weak and hurting, he starts hitting me. The fire from the helicopter almost takes us both. The sky looks red and poisoned. For a moment, I think to myself, ‘I am wicked. I deserve to die. But I want to do something good just this once.’” Rey stopped pacing. She faced him again, her voice hollow and distant the more she had circled around the room. “This is strange. But does any of it ring a bell to you, Tejinder?”

His mouth hung open, but could force no words out. He could only make out the hazy contours of Rey’s shape. He moved closer; she stepped back.

“Yeah,” Tejinder said. “To a T, as a matter of fact. But how…?”

Of course. Rey’s memory, the one that she had shared with him. It made sense now that she could remember the Washington Monument when it was still standing. If a man could live three hundred years, why not a woman?

“I know none of this makes sense. So I’m asking for your help.”

Tejinder seized up. “What makes you think that I can do anything?”

“Because, Tejinder. You’re like me — you have nothing else to lose.”

“That’s presumptuous of you. I have a lot of things I want to live for!” Tejinder shuffled, his head rolling around the bungalow, for instance. It wasn’t much, but he was alive.

“You mean your fancy birdcage? When was the last time you’ve left it?”

Tejinder snorted. “Don’t get me wrong, I can a real party animal! The thought that I’ve been deprived of the company of drug addicts and boozers breaks my heart!”

“You’re also still drunk,” Rey retorted. The smell and Tejinder’s mannerisms must have tipped her off.

“Three cheers for our detective here! Watch out, Concomly, we’ve got a challenger here!”

“Aiden isn’t here.”

Tejinder grunted, walked over to the liquor cabinet, and then stumbled over the coffee table. He yelped, then flipped the coffee table and its contents over the hardwood floor.

Rey stood there in perfect calm. He couldn’t see it; all he could do was imagine that smug look she must have scrubbed all over… whatever her face looked like. With every inch of him he wanted to turn to her, grab the freak by the hair and throw her out the door she came in from.

A tiny voice of intuition pleaded against it. As it turned out, he would be dead if it hadn’t been for her. In some sick way, it was like he owed it to her.

“You know,” Tejinder said, “there’s an idiom that saving a life is better than building a seven-story establishment. That’s also a load of crap. So is everything else that’s ever come out of your mouth, which I think is my point.” Tejinder shuffled from the couch. He reached up for the liquor cabinet, selected the round bottle of gin and tonic, and poured himself two glasses.

When he offered the other one to Rey, she asked: “What does this idiom have to do with anything?” She pushed the glass away. “And I don’t drink.”

More for him! Tejinder tipped back, drinking out of a glass in one hand while holding the second in his other. “Anyway, it’s some kind of pep talk that my father used to tell me when I was little. Did you know I was supposed to take his place as Chancellor of the New Order? Then… well, you know what happened to Ashwater. And the questions regarding my mental and physical health. I tried to keep myself in shape for my image — no drugs or alcohol for Wakeman, no siree! Wakemans don’t drink or commit scandals under the influence of any kind. We’re model overseers! Now here I am, talking with a crazy person while double-fisting two gin and tonics… and I’m not even sorry! Because why the hell wouldn’t I drink with people like you in my life, dicking me around for favors?” Tejinder downed the liquor in one, and bit back the pain with an obnoxious laugh. “I have no friends, my family thinks I’m a terrorist, and I’ve been forced to play Tremond’s proverbial bitch. So yeah, I’m living it up here in my e-lec-tric bung-a-low. Leave me be to my luxurious new life! Move along! Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.”

Rey was sitting next to him by the time he had finished the second gin and tonic. He dropped both glasses out of surprise. His senses spun so far out that he couldn’t recall how long she had been sitting beside him.

It was like she just teleported there.

This is why I don’t drink, Tejinder thought.

Rey set the coffee table upright, retrieved the fallen glasses, and placed them on top. She turned back to Tejinder, and it was funny. How she kept her distance, while at the same time it was like she sat closer than anyone had ever been to him.

“Who knows if that person who dragged you out of that helicopter was me? Perhaps all these things I remember aren’t mine. But I have nightmares, and you’re in them. I want to know what you make of this.”

Tejinder didn’t know why he was taken aback when she asked for his opinion, and he was almost too hungover to give an answer. He almost wanted to stop the presses, if only his prudence hadn’t taken a last-minute tropical vacation.

It decided to come back: “I think you know a lot more than you’re letting on.”

“I think so as well, Tejinder.”