tagSci-Fi & FantasyUnity and Destiny Pt. 03

Unity and Destiny Pt. 03


Javier rearranged himself on Kat's couch and tried to focus on the course reading. But his mind kept returning to the cryptic message they'd gotten from Lukas.

Have you heard of a group called the Chosen? Possibly recruiting those with Changes?

What did it mean that he was asking them? Surely he'd know more than they did about—well, just about everything. Did he worry they were already working with whoever these people were? Surely he wouldn't have been so direct if he suspected that.

Javier shook his head and tried to find his place again, but he was too distracted. Kat clattering away at the keyboard in her underwear wasn't helping. Nor was the person at the other end of the couch.

It seemed that Grace and Kat were back together for real, after that trial period or whatever it was at the end of the summer. Javier was delighted for them, of course, but the little looks the two of them kept sharing—he sighed. He could retrieve his car and head back to Esther's house, but she wouldn't be there until after dinner tonight, and he found it depressing to spend time alone in the big empty house. Meanwhile, Kat's apartment was right near campus, and they were good company, even if he felt more awkward than ever around Grace.

Kat pushed back her chair. "Fuck, I have to pick up that reading on reserve." She shook her head and stood up, slinging her bag on her shoulder.

"Going out like that, then?" Grace asked mildly, and Kat laughed.

"You're right. I'm overdressed." Kat reached to undo her bra clasp, and Javier hurriedly looked down at his textbook.

"Kidding. Sorry, Javier, you're such a good sport." She disappeared into the bedroom and emerged shortly, properly dressed. "I'll be right back. Don't go too crazy."

Left alone with Grace, Javier felt ten times as awkward. He kept trying to reassure himself she wasn't Selena, and she couldn't know the kinds of thoughts that went through his head.

"She's like that because she trusts you," said Grace.

Javier didn't know what to say to that. Finally he looked up to meet her eyes. Always so kind and concerned.

"She told me what happened between you two. It's fine, Javier. You don't need to tiptoe around me."

Javier swallowed. That wasn't precisely the problem, though he supposed it was a piece of it. "Thanks, Grace. You sure it's not weird to have me around? I'm surprised you can just brush that aside."

Grace smiled slightly, shaking her head. "I didn't say I could just brush it aside. But that's my problem, not yours. You're the one who got us back together, after all. I like you, and even if I didn't, Kat does, and that's enough."

Javier flushed. There was something about her earnestness, so different from Kat's demeanor. It reminded him of Esther, of course. He didn't want to think about that, so he nodded and put on what he hoped was a relieved smile. Grace beamed, and he quickly looked back to his text.

A while later there was a knock on the door.

"Forgot your keys again?" Grace called, getting up to unlock it.

But it was Esther at the door. Javier blinked in surprise, but then he jumped up to give her a kiss.

"We thought you were Kat," Grace said.

"Oh, she'll be along in another few minutes," Esther said.

Grace laughed. "I don't think I'll ever get tired of that."

Esther sat down with Javier while Grace got an afternoon pot of coffee going. Javier scooted closer and put his arms around her, kissing her more eagerly than he'd really intended to. As though it made up for fantasizing about Grace all afternoon.

But Esther returned his kisses happily enough. "I know you wanted more time together," she whispered. "I wish I was better at balancing things."

Javier wished that, too. Esther had given up on math classes, as she learned faster on her own or from Raj and his colleague, Anatoly Kuznetsov. She was still taking advanced physics classes, but she'd decided to be a history major, and history wasn't particularly trivial for her. She was acing her classes as always, but being able to read fast and memorize only got her so far. Esther seemed even busier than last year. That was who she was, though. He smiled, and he hoped it was a convincing smile.

The door opened and Kat returned. "Whoa, keep it PG-rated, guys. I mean, at least until we catch up."

Esther looked embarrassed, as she usually did when Kat teased them. Grace rejoined them, looking skeptical when Kat motioned her to sit on her lap. But she gave in, as she usually did to Kat. And she leaned back and sighed when Kat rubbed her gently on the stomach, stopping just short of her breasts each time. Javier could feel himself getting an erection, so he cleared his throat.

"What do you all think about Lukas's mysterious group?"

Kat frowned. "The Chosen. Sounds like a bunch of religious nutjobs. Just what we need, right?"

"Do you think we should just tell him we don't know?" Esther said.

Everyone looked at Javier. He sighed. "Probably. The thing that makes me nervous is Lukas implying he doesn't know about this group. How could they be running below his radar?"

No one answered that right away. But eventually Esther spoke up.

"I wonder if they have something to do with Marianne and the other dreaming people. There was something almost spiritual to the feel of their gathering in the canyon. And I've been starting to suspect there are more people in dreams like that group."

"What?" Javier blurted.

Esther looked embarrassed. "I haven't been looking for them. It's just a vague feeling I get sometimes when I'm in otherspace, as though there are already some connections among other people with Changes. I haven't investigated closely because I still don't understand the way the dreaming and visions worked for the group we know about."

Javier was about to reply when Esther suddenly stiffened and closed her eyes. He knew what that meant, and his pulse raced. What had she sensed?

"Esther—are you all right?"

Grace hadn't seen Esther using her skills this way before. Javier shook his head and put his finger to his lips. Grace nodded, lips pressed nervously together.

A minute later Esther opened her eyes and exhaled.

"It's that same man," she said. "The one snooping around on the road below the Sierra camp. I don't know what to do about him. I pushed him away again."

Javier quickly explained to Kat and Grace. The mystery man had Changes, which made it easier for Esther to distract him. It was the third time in a week she'd had to do that. She didn't know who he was, but he seemed to be an unremarkable man in his forties.

"Could he be part of the Chosen?" Kat asked nervously. "Looking for recruits?"

Of course no one knew. And Esther refused to try anything more aggressive than a nudge to his concentration. Javier knew they'd soon have to deal with him some other way.

"Could you make his car break down or something?" Grace asked.

Esther sighed. "Maybe if I was right nearby, and I had a lot of time to figure it out. I've started practicing, but even for things nearby it's exhausting and I rarely can do anything. I don't understand the rules properly, or I'm just not smart or strong enough."

"I'm sure it's just practice," said Javier. "And you're obviously smart enough, Esther."

"Abuela was a genius," she said softly. "Every day I'm realizing that more."

* * *

Javier persuaded Esther to quit work early on Friday, and by the afternoon they were on their way to the Sierras. Javier had a vague plan for confronting the mystery man, but they needed to talk it over with the others.

He was nervous for more than one reason: it was the first time they'd be seeing Nicola and Mark since the school term began. And they'd left things decidedly unsettled when it came to Nicola. He realized that he and Esther hadn't really talked about it since. It was an old, unhelpful pattern, but he couldn't convince himself to bring it up now.

Both Nicola and Mark were waiting for them when they arrived, and they seemed happy enough, though Nicola had a nervous look as well. She was wearing the work overalls that Javier secretly thought made her five times as sexy.

"Hey," Nicola said after they'd hugged. "Glad to see you. So what are we going to do about this creep?"

They'd e-mailed her about the situation, and Javier could tell from the false cheeriness how unsettled Nicola was.

Javier explained his idea. It was Grace's idea, really: disable the guy's car to see how persistent he was. If he came back anyway, they would figure out a way to confront him.

Dinner was subdued. Of the four of them, only Mark seemed comfortable. Javier wondered if Nicola had talked with him about what she'd been doing, or wanted to do, with Javier and Esther. If she had, Mark had gotten past it or simply put it out of his mind. Javier wished he could be like that.

"I miss Selena," said Esther after some minutes of silence.

Nicola nodded agreement. "Have you heard from her?"

"Just an email," said Javier. "She's busy at work again. Still working on her meditations. It sounded like she was getting frustrated, so maybe she'll decide to come out again soon on retreat."

Nicola sighed. "I didn't expect to miss her. And she's not the only one getting frustrated. I've been practicing that trick with the crystal, and I've managed a few similar things, but nothing very impressive. What I'd really like to do is be able to affect electronics or something, but it's easier said that done. I did manage to get pissed off and fry the backup hard drive, though maybe it was a coincidence. Power's always flaky here."

Javier laughed, impressed. "I guess I should get a replacement. And maybe we can make a shopping trip to get some more expendable electronics."

Nicola smiled at him, and Javier's heart raced. He immediately felt foolish.

After they cleared dinner, there was an awkward pause. Esther had identified the motel where the intruder was staying, and they planned to make their car-sabotaging run in the middle of the night. Nicola broke the silence eventually.

"Do you guys want to come hang out in our cabin? We miss your company."

Javier gripped Esther's hand and they followed the other pair into the small bunk cabin. Their own cabin would more easily fit the four of them, but Mark had never really been comfortable there. The site of Abuela's murder.

When they got in, Mark seemed ready to jump onto his bunk, but Nicola pulled him to sit next to her on the lower bed. Javier and Esther settled in Esther's old bunk, across from them.

Nicola put her arm around Mark's broad shoulders. "Mark, remember what we talked about? Do you want to try it now, if Esther's willing?"

Mark blinked, and then nodded, looking uncomfortable.

"I tried to explain what it was like when you shared senses with me," said Nicola, looking at Esther. "But it's difficult. And it occurs to that we both learned from each other in the process. Maybe it would be similar for you and Mark. Only if you and Javier are all right with it, of course."

Javier swallowed. Was that all Nicola had talked about with Mark? But when she put it that way, it would be obnoxious to veto it.

Esther was looking at him, so he nodded and kissed her on the cheek. She stood up and moved to sit on the other side of Mark, but Nicola quickly got up and took Esther's spot next to Javier. She leaned against him, warm and smelling lightly of sawdust. Javier shuddered when she put her arm around him.

Mark was doing that slow breathing that Javier had seen him do before when he was nervous. Esther leaned against him, wrapping her arms around his broad torso. She looked tiny against him. But then, she probably looked tiny with Javier as well. So much strength in such a small body. Javier wanted to gather her up in his arms and make love to her. He was having more trouble with this situation than he expected, but it was a bit late to object.

Nicola seemed to sense some of his discomfort. She leaned her head on his shoulder and held him tighter. It was nice, but she wasn't Esther. Still, he found himself stroking her brown hair.

Esther closed her eyes. "Mark, go ahead and stretch out your senses in whatever way you want. Just tell me if you want me to stop."

Javier watched Esther take on that special stillness she had when she opened her eyes to the otherspace. After a few seconds Mark inhaled sharply, his hands clenching nervously. He looked at Esther with an open wonder, then cautiously brushed at her hair with his hand. But then he grunted in surprise and leaned away from her.

Esther opened her eyes again. "All right, Mark?"

He nodded, trying to find the words. Finally he shook his head.

"It's OK if you found that arousing," said Nicola. "We talked about this, didn't we? It's complicated, but that doesn't mean it's something you should be ashamed of."

"It was beautiful," said Esther. "You have such a subtle intuition about everything, Mark. Thank you for sharing it with me. If you'd like to try again, I think I can keep a bit more distance, so it doesn't have such a strong effect on you."

Mark smiled slightly, and then he nodded. They both closed their eyes, and Esther wrapped her arms around him again.

This time it went on for several minutes. Javier became more and more conscious of the signs of Esther's arousal. And Nicola was gripping him even tighter, almost uncomfortably so. He had the sudden realization that she was likely as strong as he was. Maybe stronger. He wondered what it would be like to have a lover like that. Absently his hand moved down her hair to stroke her neck, and Nicola made a soft noise. Almost a purr. Javier found himself getting a serious erection.

But then Esther and Mark opened their eyes together, and Esther slid away from him. Nervously Javier dropped his hand back to his side, and Nicola sat up a little straighter.

"Thank you, Esther," Mark said. He looked vaguely dazed. But when he turned to Nicola, it couldn't be more obvious what he wanted. She smiled and stood up, and the two women exchanged places again. Before she sat, Nicola was already pulling her sweater over her head, and Mark reached for the snap on her pants.

Javier realized Esther was pulling him gently, to stand up. Did she want to squeeze on the bed with the other two? His mind tried to encompass that idea. But no, she was pulling him towards the door.

With some disappointment he followed her back to their own cabin. When they got there, Esther answered his unasked question.

"Mark was really confused," she said. "They need their time alone. I don't think Nicola talked through things with him as much as she implied."

She flopped on the bed, and Javier lay next to her. Truth be told he was pretty damned confused himself. What did Esther want, anyway? For that matter, what did he want? He'd been seriously fantasizing about Nicola, but then again he'd been doing that about Grace for a couple weeks, and she was totally out of bounds. It didn't mean he really wanted to fuck either of them. Did it?

"I guess we haven't talked through things as much as we think either," said Javier weakly.

Esther gave a nervous laugh. "No. I wasn't really expecting Nicola to suggest that. I don't know what I was expecting. Thank you for being flexible. It wasn't the same as with Nicola. I like Mark, but—oh, I don't know what I'm trying to say. But I learned a lot about how he sees the world. I think it could be really useful, given enough time to sort through it all."

"Useful to you? Don't you have much keener senses than Mark anyway?"

"It's not that simple," said Esther. "He knows things about living creatures that I don't grasp yet. Maybe I'll never understand bodies the way he does, but surely I can learn something. And I know it would help me teach."

Javier nodded, and shivered slightly. Esther hadn't seemed to notice how cold it was in the cabin. The nights would be below freezing already up here. He got up to start the wood stove.

When he came back to bed, Esther was finishing pulling off her panties. She spread her legs, and Javier smiled. He always liked starting this way. She was already damp, her nectar sweet on his tongue. Thinking of his earlier excitement, Javier pushed aside the pang of jealousy. Esther was here with him, and she was shivering with arousal. That was a rare enough treat since school began. He wasn't going to waste the chance.

* * *

Esther touched Javier gently and he blinked awake, rolling over to her. She kissed him, tasting herself on his lips. He was a totally unselfish lover. Too much so, really. She wished he would be readier to take his own pleasure, and not always so worried about her.

"Time?" he whispered, and she nodded. They got up and dressed quickly, joining the other two in the dining cabin.

All of them smelled of sex, but Nicola was the one she had trouble ignoring. Esther still had the faint otherspace vision she kept all the time, her new version of the Watch. And suddenly she realized she might be able to do something about this.

She watched the familiar bundles of chaos that represented herself and Nicola within otherspace. And carefully she pulled apart a few strands connecting them. It was surprisingly difficult to do, and she wondered if she was making a mistake. But when she withdrew her vision, Nicola didn't seem aware she'd done anything. And Esther found it a bit easier to keep herself focused. She would have to think about what she'd just done. It should be more widely applicable than as a cheat to keep her desires under control.

During the hour or so it took to get to the motel, she practiced dampening the sounds of Javier's car. The mysterious snooping man had some sensitivity, and though they'd be parking at a distance, she didn't want to tip him off.

Javier and Nicola were the ones who knew enough about cars to be useful, and they'd spent a while that afternoon arguing about which approach would be sneakiest. It would all be a lot easier if Esther could manage the sabotage from a distance, but her test attempts on Javier's car hadn't been fruitful. In the end, Nicola and Javier had selected something involving the fuel pump, which they agreed could be done in a way that wouldn't seem suspicious.

When they parked on the street, Javier and Nicola moved quietly towards the motel with their tools, while Esther and Mark waited behind the corner of a building. Esther could sense the mystery man, asleep in his room. Nonetheless she was doing her best to hide all four of them from his senses.

Nicola slid silently under the car and began to work, with Javier crouching nervously and handing her the tools as she signaled. Esther found she was terribly nervous, and something was bothering her about the situation.

All of a sudden she saw it, but it was too late. She yanked hard on both Nicola and Javier's attention, but before they could stand up, the invisible woman was pointing a gun at Nicola.

The woman was perhaps in her sixties, though Esther knew now how deceiving that could be. She moved with an easy grace, and everything in Esther was screaming alarm.

Mark gasped, and Esther desperately pulled him back with her senses, grabbing his arm as well. Mark glared at her, muscles taut, and for a moment she thought he would try again. She already felt sick to her stomach for treating him this way, but the woman terrified her. And Mark couldn't outrun a gun.

After a tense few seconds, Mark seemed to understood, and he nodded unhappily. The mystery man had woken, and he quietly came out to join the woman. He had a gun as well, and he trained it on Javier. Had she signaled him somehow?

"Nicola, is it?" she heard the woman say softly. "But I don't know the other one. He is not one of the Chosen."

The Chosen. Esther's heart thudded. She'd been foolish to assume that she and Abuela were the only ones capable of hiding themselves from the senses of others. This woman was better than Abuela at it. She might be even better than Esther, and that shook her to the core. Even now she could barely sense the woman.

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