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Chasing Phantoms
#1
Continued from Dreams of Fire

Awareness came to Jon for perhaps all of five seconds on the floor of the train. Long enough for the cold, dirty metallic floor to register its corrugated grit against his face. Long enough to wonder if he'd managed to do any good at all.

Long enough to see the bleak outline of a body bag.

“Sleep for now.”

Something pinched him. He was being rolled over onto a stretcher by a man in a hazardous material suit. It registered to Jon that he was helpless. He found he couldn't focus well enough to even sense the Great Spirit, and that it was incomprehensible for him to actually imagine wrestling it to his will at the moment. If he even still could.

One thing was certain. The situation was no longer under his control. But there was one thing he could do. Consciousness faded, and he stepped out of his body.

* * *

Faceless, formless, Jon found himself in that place with millions of glittering lights, a place with infinite space and none at all, that lay between the Spirit World and the waking world. But even before Jon came to any other sense of awareness in this place, he saw his spirit guide. The spectral white coyote materialized before him, waiting patiently. Or at least that's the way he perceived it; nothing had any shape or form here.

Okay. Here he could actually do something. He sought out one of the twinkling lights. It appeared before him, and like looking down into a snow globe he was able to see what was going on. Yes. A huge white wolf facing down a moose that had gotten itself surrounded by the rest of the pack.

Jon projected his “voice” into the ball. BEAR. IT IS JON LITTLE BIRD. I AM UNCONSCIOUS AND HELPLESS ON A TRAIN IN MOSCOW. CONTACT CAROLINE. SHE WILL BE ABLE TO FIND ME IN THE WAKING WORLD.


The dream winked out of existence. Next was finding Caroline. Unfortunately Jon failed to find her dream. That was odd. He'd expected her to still be asleep. Unfortunately, she'd be in for a surprise when she got a call from someone who sat on the Council of Native Americans, who happened to know Jon was in trouble. But she'd believe it, and she'd be able to trace his Wallet, or make some calls. And maybe get a hold of someone. Hopefully. It would hardly be the strangest thing Jon had asked her to do.

Jon stepped across the gap and into the Spirit World. There, quick as thought, he had his body, clothed as an Apache scout. He grimaced at the .38 lever action rifle in his left hand, and it disappeared. Then he remembered the situation he'd just left behind on a conscious level and felt his heart jump, and reached for the Great Spirit. The power flooded into him. For some reason that reassured him, even though in the next moment he reminded himself that his abilities here was simply a reflection of his thought, and all that he really knew of his condition in the waking world was that he was still able to project himself here. If even that was true. What if he was dead and was really a spirit here, now? His heart skipped another beat.

The glowing coyote leaped, bringing Jon's attention back to it. “I know you aren't really there,”
he said to the thing. “Either I made you, or someone else did to bring me here.”
No answer. Well, wasn't that silly, talking to an animal projection? He glanced around, putting other thoughts out of his mind. Marble columns and white polished marble steps. This was Washington. More specifically, the White House. Why had he come here? He turned around and found himself alone.

Jon sighed and shook his head. It was pointless to go back to his body if he was still out cold, and Bear would share what he learned when he could. Until then he was stuck waiting. Might as well see what he could learn while around the place.

With a thought, he found himself in the Oval Office. Quiet, empty, the place radiated elegant simplicity. Although America was no longer an empire, it was still a force to be reckoned with. And the man who occupied this office, though he had great power and influence, was still at the end of the day just another person hired to do a job. The strength of America was not in its leaders, but in its principles. In fact the personalities of its leaders were oftentimes its weakness.

Pens and papers flickered in and out of existence on the desk. Jon rifled through papers, reports and other various things. He had to be quick; often, he'd pick up a piece of paper and start reading, only to have it change while in his hand. Anything moved much in the waking world cast a poor reflection here. Jon frowned as something marked “Eyes Only” that mentioned something called SUBGRU and a debriefing on some operation vanished before he could make out more.

There wasn't much of use that he could find. His eyes rose as he saw an analysis of HR 6213, which was the Native American Medical Privacy Protection Act, something the Council of Native Americans had been trying to push through Congress. NAMPPA was a largely low-key measure that protected the medical information and health decisions of tribal members. Passage was important to Jon because, although it wasn't explicitly spelled out in the bill, passage meant tribes couldn't be forced to turn over those afflicted with the Sickness or even report that information, where Great Spirit alone who knew could, or would, target them. It also meant non-natives could come and get treated without anyone finding out. And, according to this report, Frederick Dawson wanted to know what impact a positive or negative stance would take on his reelection bid. According to this none of his opponents were likely to make it into a big issue if he supported it, and a veto might give the talking heads some easy fodder. A good find, and one that bade well for his cause.

“Jon.”


Jon turned his head, and found Bear, in human form. The great hulking man grinned across the room.

“You look good behind that desk.”


Jon smirked. “I don't like offices.”
He set the papers down. “I hope you bring news that I'm still alive. Something is keeping me from waking up.”


Bear nodded. “Caroline located you. You're in a hospital outside Moscow. They are going to let you go once they find you don't have The Sickness.”


Jon laughed. What irony, ending up helpless until the doctors determined he didn't have the symptoms that indicated the trait that allowed him to wield the power that caused him to fall unconscious to begin with!

Then the laugh died in his mouth. Only he'd be able to find out if he hadn't harmed himself in other ways. He'd lost control, that was what happened. And to do that with the awesome force that was the Great Spirit was to invite destruction. He should have known better.

“Thank you, Bear,”
he said. What a shame he could not simply have Bear or someone else spirit his body into this place, away from untrustworthy eyes. It seemed that if one could go into the Spirit World with his mind, it would be possible to just...poke a hole through from one place to the other. How much simpler things would be if he could step across the world as easily in the waking world as here! “Can you see if Caroline can get someone close to me that isn't CCD? I don't know who she'd call, but there must be someone in Moscow trustworthy.”


Bear nodded. “Of course.”
He paused. “Jon, you need to come back. It's the Sickness. Noah --”


Jon stared at his friend. He'd heard the crazy old man had gotten himself a council seat. “What has he done?”


Bear put up his hands. “It isn't like that. In fact he's been most helpful in teaching effective treatments. And he's keeping the council happy. But he's told me we need you.”
He shook his head. “The survivors...I've seen them do things.”


Of course. The problem was obvious. While Jon was bumping up against others who had the ability to wield the Great Spirit, at home the secret was boiling over and about to break wide open. And there wasn't anyone to teach them anything, the way Jon had managed to teach himself. And Noah would know what it took to keep them alive. It stopped when you learned control. Or you died. He'd thought he would have had more time before he had to confront the problem.

He nodded. “If I don't get out of Moscow soon, we'll get me out.”
He regarded the phantom papers as they popped in and out of existence on the desk.

He should have known better. Those two at the club, Nick Trano, Dane and Nimeda and all of the other people and situations he'd been running after...

What a fool I've been
. Jon had been chasing phantoms in Moscow, and a hospital bed was where it had gotten him. It was time to go regain the scent of the real prize.
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#2
The disorientation when she woke was tinged with memory. It flooded through her, then began to dry up like water absorbed into sand. She blinked, trying desperately to keep it all together, until the last droplet fled and she was empty. Calm replaced the panic of losing her identity. There was a translucency to her skin, like she wasn't fully real, and for a while she watched the light filter through her hand, content to do nothing more significant.

It took a while for consciousness to settle in, for her thoughts to begin whirring with a regular rhythm. It was like a faded, moth eaten tapestry with holes, but to her it was divine. The small little swells of consistency marked newness in an endless river of oblivion, and like the flow of water, her thoughts churned odd; tossed up like silt, drowning in distraction.

Little Bird, Little Bird. Jon Little Bird.

She had not seen Jon since her christening as Nimeda, not to talk to, but she had spied. It was an irresistible lure, one that took her to a few little lights in the winking abyss, but Jon's dreams were the only ones she recognised. He wasn't there tonight. It was tonight? She had little comprehension of time; it rushed both fast and slow, subject to whims beyond her knowledge. But there was something

Something

Something

Wrong.

A footstep forward, and the world flickered. The new materialisation of landscape passed unnoticed; she was driven by something other than recognition of her surroundings, and she followed without concern for her safety. Fate would guide.

Flicker, flicker, flicker.

The room was hugely grand, and she twirled round as she emerged, staring at the ceiling and windows, the archaic furniture, the extravagance. If she was surprised to see the two people in the whole of the world whom she actually knew, it didn't pierce the wondrous awe of her expression as she examined her surroundings. Her wide grey gaze absorbed it all raptly.

"Do you live here?"


Edited by Thalia, Jun 4 2014, 09:12 AM.
"A river is water in its loveliest form; rivers have life and sound and movement and infinity of variation, rivers are veins of the earth through which the lifeblood returns to the heart."
Roderick Haig-Brown
[Image: nimedathalialethebanner.jpg]
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#3
Jon wheeled around in surprise at the sound of the voice, and in doing so clumsily knocked over a bust from its perch beside the desk. By impulse he stuck his hand out and imagined it cushioned by air, stopping its fall. What a silly thing to do, it wasn't like the thing could be destroyed in this place anyway.

"Nimeda, what--"
He glanced at Bear, who gave her a little, polite smile. Well, little for him Of course he wouldn't react oddly, he didn't know that she'd been on the train! Great Spirit, my wits are gone.
Yet, here she was, as she'd just been in the waking world, quiet and aloof...except in the waking world those things seemed to his casual observation to be erected as barriers to keep the outside world a safe distance away. Or maybe just keep Jon away. Why would she want to do that? It startled him that such a thing bothered him so.

"Nimeda, I was just on the train with you that broke down in the waking world...there was the young girl who fell, and the panic...I tried to stop it. You said you didn't know who I was. Don't you remember any of that?"


Why was she here? Had she dozed off? Was she also out cold and like Jon in a hospital somewhere? Was she hurt worse? She must have used the power of the Great Spirit -- that was that barrier that had no cause...

Wait. If she didn't remember any of that, and she didn't remember Jon then, then why..."Wait, you do remember me now?"


What, by the Great Spirit, was going on here? Jon sat down behind the desk and took a deep breath.
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#4

She flopped into a chair, took an extra second to admire the ceiling with her head dangled over the back-rest before she sat up with a focused gaze. A smile crinkled the edges of her eyes at Jon's extravagant surprise, a little perplexed at the reaction, but it was such a normal thing for her to float out of her contextual depth that the confusion didn't seem to bother her any. Like most things she took it in stride.

Bear's smile was in contrast a small, polite thing, but Nimeda beamed in return, despite that his reticence washed up a memory she did not particularly want to linger on . She tucked her legs up under her, noticing that Jon hadn't answered her question, though she forgot it soon enough anyway. A train? His words were a rambling rush, and the blankness of her expression showed no recognition, though she at least offered him her rapt attention. She remembered nothing before waking here but she did not want him to think she wasn't trying.

Of course, her willingness to please only went so far. A wide grin threatened the attempt at studiousness; she was, after all, rather pleased with the fact she had found him at all, and desperate to share the success. Shouldn't he be happier? She'd expected him to be happier. He seemed worried, though, or stressed. Why wasn't he happy? Curiosity brushed her expression, dampening a little of the excitement. Had she done something wrong? Something she couldn't remember? She glanced a brief question at Bear, but found no answers.

"I don't remember a train." She shrugged, only slightly apologetic for her deficiency. Afterwards she scrunched up her face in mock thought, lips pursed. A little laughter danced behind her eyes, but she was making a very good try at seriousness, and actually she did try to cast her thoughts out into the mire of memory. She'd watched Jon's dreams, some of them anyway, and it had only strengthened her familiarity with him. The sense of him stretched back further than that first meeting, a memory that fluttered many echoes. He'd become something permanent in her world, or had perhaps simply reinstated himself.

So entrenched in this world of dreams, her image only flickered before jumping to the desk, dispensing with the act of actually walking there. In fact where she actually appeared was sat cross-legged atop it, head tilted curiously to peer at him, a curtain of hair resting on her knees. Her recognition surpassed his physical features, she intrinsically understood something else, but she looked closely anyway. "Yes. I think I know you. Tricksy though you may be." There was something profound in the way she said it, if it slipped away the moment after, replaced by a bright grin.

"You found me then! The other me. And it seems like a... bad thing?" A truthful frown pressed her brow, then fell away. It wasn't like Nimeda to step delicately around a subject, but she did not enjoy being a disappointment in Jon's eyes. She supposed she never had. Instead her fingers fluttered through the paperwork on the desk, which rippled and shifted around her. The wrongness touched her again, the instinct that had brought her here in the first place. "Why are you here?" She meant the physical space - where were they? But then her perspective changed. "Why are you asleep? Why am I asleep?" He'd said they were on a train?
"A river is water in its loveliest form; rivers have life and sound and movement and infinity of variation, rivers are veins of the earth through which the lifeblood returns to the heart."
Roderick Haig-Brown
[Image: nimedathalialethebanner.jpg]
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#5
The thoughts in Jon's mind tried to spin nearly out of control as he tried to grasp ahold and define the incomprehensible, so he had might as well give up trying. She was the same person, definitely, but at the same time not. The other me, she'd just said. Perhaps it had been the situation on the train that had been responsible for her...waking self's...timidness...no, that wasn't right. Walled off from the world? Maybe? But what was she? Perched up on the desk all a sudden, light in her eyes as she regarded him, a wide smile that touched her cheekbones and that cute way her knees poked out amidst those expansive locks. More importantly, what game was she playing? What could Jon be to her?

Jon, you're doing it again.
It must just be the irritation -- okay, the hurt -- from her not recognizing him in the waking world. She remembered him here, that was nice. He'd missed her since their first encounter. Tricksy?
Well, he certainly did have his devices and maneuvers, but he wasn't aware it was so obvious to a casual observer. He'd have to watch that.

"It's not a bad thing that I found you in the waking world,"
he said, quickly, in answer to her apparent concern. She couldn't possibly do anything bad just by being found. "I guess I'd hoped you would remember me when you woke up."
It'd certainly have made the train situation a lot less stressful. And probably a lot easier to ask after her company for coffee, maybe. Where'd that thought come from?

Jon took another breath. His cheeks felt warm and probably had flushed a darker tone of red than was normal. Maybe you should just answer her questions, Jon.
Nimeda did know him, it seemed, and with it was that echoing sense of familiarity he sensed the first time he saw her. Bear's warning aside, it felt safe enough to let down his guard. And maybe it wouldn't hurt to impress her a bit with his cleverness.

"The Spirit World gives me access to places I can't normally go, and reflects secrets that are normally left to its keepers."
Jon said to her. It couldn't hurt for her to know Jon's little spy gimmick, she was utterly unable to make use of it. He picked up a random piece of paper and showed it to her without glancing at it. I can't take anything physical between the worlds --"
at least, he didn't know of any way to do so, maybe there was -- "But I can take secrets back with me."


At least, he could once he was able to wake. A knot of fear pulsed in his stomach. "I don't know why you're sleeping. I hope you're all right. I think you are. Bear can probably find out if you want to. There was a panic on the train -- we didn't have anything to do with causing it -- and I tried to stop it. I think I did. I wanted to protect you. But I passed out. So now I'm in a hospital bed."


Between those eyes and the knot in his belly, Jon found himself just wanting to keep talking. Maybe it'd make it go away?

"Nimeda, I'm worried for your well being for another reason. You did something on the train. It's a power that... I don't know if you know what you're capable of doing. As long as you know how to control it, it can't hurt you, but if you don't..."


The image of that young face, frozen lips and glazed eyes, as blonde hair spilled across the cold metal floor flashed in Jon's mind, and his tongue froze in his mouth as his heart skipped a beat.
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#6
Not a bad thing. A flicker of a smile caught the edges of her lips, perhaps a breath of relief too, though both faded with the revelation that she had not remembered him in the other world. Nimeda hadn't known for certain that she would, and though she was a creature whimsically hopeful, it didn't surprise her much. Still, he'd found her, which was something, even if the occasion had been disappointing for him. Jon's cheeks were flushed, and she peered curiously until he distracted her attention.

"Ahh, so we're spying!"
She took the paper with a conspiratorial swipe and grin, and glanced at the writing even if the words wriggled and blurred away from understanding. Well, okay, maybe she wasn't trying very hard to actually read the secrets Jon sought, but she enjoyed the camaraderie and the trust he placed in her. Grey eyes peeked over the top of the paper, brows raised as though he'd passed her something scandalous. Then it wisped away from her grasp, dissolving to nothing as her hands fell back in her lap.

To protect me? What kind of panic had there been? She absorbed his words strangely solemnly given her usual playfulness. A young girl who fell. No memories broke the surface, but feeling roiled within, disconnected to context, and it robbed the light-heartedness from her countenance. Her gaze dropped, studying her bare feet, and her brows lowered. The barest hint of claustrophobic panic. No fear, but a sort of sadness. With nothing to hook the emotion to, her thoughts drifted. She did not like to think of Jon in a hospital bed. The frown deepened.

For the rest, a second passed before comprehension dawned. It rippled faintly over her expression, peripheral to what she considered more pressing concerns. "Oh. That."
She didn't explain any further, but she clearly understood at least something of what Jon meant, and apparently viewed it as unremarkable. Just another of the oddities that made up her existence here. "You don't have to worry about me. But I don't know about her."


"I hope I didn't hurt you."
She glanced at Bear quickly, like a child wary of a scolding, but the uncertainty didn't last. She offered a smile.
"A river is water in its loveliest form; rivers have life and sound and movement and infinity of variation, rivers are veins of the earth through which the lifeblood returns to the heart."
Roderick Haig-Brown
[Image: nimedathalialethebanner.jpg]
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#7
What by the Great Spirit could that possibly mean, to not worry about the Nimeda in the waking world as if her physical body was inconsequential? Was not the soul anchored to the body in the waking world? For a moment panic itched at the back of his mind and he wondered what might happen to him here if his body was attacked and mortally wounded. Jon assumed he'd come back into his waking body, or consciousness would wink out. But he didn't actually know. Would his spirit, severed from his body, remain here, forever trapped? It had never occurred to Jon to consider that. Come to think of it, was this place the afterlife?

Jon had almost missed what Nimeda had said next. “No, you didn't hurt me,”
he replied. “I hurt myself, actually. See, I can do those things too. That's how I know what you did. But I tried to do too much.”
Well now, that was smooth and uncharacteristic information to volunteer. To prevent himself from saying anything further as much as anything else, Jon grabbed the next piece of paper off the desk and placed it in his pocket without looking at it.

That simple gesture was sufficient to reorient his thoughts. She knows she can use the power of the Great Spirit, and she has sufficient control. At least here
. But Nimeda wasn't all that certain of her waking self having the ability to control her power. He put his hand into his pocket to retrieve the paper, but it was no longer there. He gave his pocket a glance, and mild surprise gave way to annoyance, which faded just as quickly. Such was the way of things in the Spirit World with little permanence.

Bear put up a hand as if to make a small wave (though little was small with that man) and vanished, an unusual exit for him to make. Maybe he needed to wake, or maybe he had just been feeling ignored by Jon since Nimeda had captured his attention. Apologies were likely in order on Jon's behalf.

Jon turned his gaze back to the desk. “I'm sure I will be fine,”
he said, leafing again through the shifting papers, pulling aside one that caught his eye. What would something from the National Institutes of Health be doing in an intelligence briefing? He began to scan the document. “There must be some way to integrate your memories. I would like to try and find you again when I wake up --”
His tongue froze. The words on the paper changed to an innocuous judicial appointment halfway through reading, but Jon had seen enough – “but I fear I won't be able to,”
he finished. “I have to leave Moscow right away. I am so, so sorry to have to leave you hanging like this. I hope I will see you again, friend.”


Jon didn't even wait for her reply before he stepped out of the Spirit World and into his body. Knowing the cowardice of his flight from Nimeda cut him even deeper than the regret at leaving.
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#8
Jon gave his newfound awareness a fond welcome. The dim sounds of whirring beeps and clicks of a functional hospital room sank in. He reached out reflexively, even before he opened his eyes, probing for the power of the Great Spirit. It was there, thankfully, but he couldn't manage to hold onto it. It was like trying to pull a boulder with a spiderweb. He opened his eyes. An attendant with short brown hair and thick spectacles was on the other side of the room in white scrubs and a respiratory mask over her mouth and nose. She was looking at a screen. An armed guard in CCD uniform was at the door, also wearing a mask, and also with a very nasty looking black rifle. An inside guard, then. Jon had attracted some attention, it seemed. Jon had about eighteen different contraptions hooked up to him. He was a tangle of wires and tubes.

“How long have I been out?”
he called out to the attendant. He hoped it hadn't been long.

The woman gave no hint of surprise that Jon was awake. “About three hours,” she replied without looking up. “You were kept sedated until we could confirm you were healthy and there was no underlying cause of your loss of consciousness.”

Three hours. Not bad. Also with luck not long enough to attract enough attention for someone important to make a case to hold him. “In that case, I'd like to sign myself out of here...”
He eyed the guard. Would they try and hold him here now? “Please bring me my clothes. I assure you I am not a danger in my suit.”
A total lie, of course, on several levels. But he looked down at his flimsy hospital gown. Those things hadn't changed much in the past fifty years. Certainly not enough to warrant him wearing it out of here. If he had to make a break for it, best he be properly attired.

The attendant just shrugged and pointed at a closet. “I'll get you unhooked. Your personal items are in there.”

Well, then. That was easy. Why the guard, then? Best not to even ask.


Fifteen minutes later, Jon was unhooked and dressed. He'd gotten his Wallet back, and had already placed a call to Caroline letting her know he was in the clear and in need of an immediate plane ticket. “The first flight out of Moscow,”
he told her. “I mean the first flight. I don't care if it's on a mail carrier.”


Getting back to the United States had become even more urgent than Jon had thought. Time was running out for his people, and he had to get moving. The passage of the Native American Medical Privacy Protection Act had to get passed immediately whatever the cost, but that was only the start. Jon could hear his grandfather now. You must never get distracted by chasing phantoms, lest the demon get a strike in.

“The first flight,”
he repeated, striding out of the doors of the Guardian a free man.

This time though, he'd skip the train and take a cab.
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#9
[[Blast from the past! Welcome back!]]

Relief painted a brilliant smile. She was glad she hadn't hurt him, not least because she doubted Bear's reaction would have been kind, but mostly because she would have felt guilty. It didn't surprise her to learn that Jon possessed similiar powers. Had he told her that before? Or perhaps she had always known. It was dangerous to gather in too much, she knew that, but Jon had always been the teacher between the two of them so she didn't feel it necessary to voice the warning.

He was distracted. She watched him try to catch the papers, abandoning her own efforts at the spying work. She didn't know what they were looking for anyway. The concern still emanated from him as he fumbled about, the letters blinking in and out of his grasp. It was comical, but she bit her tongue from laughing; she doubted he would appreciate it. Why was he even doing it to the long way? He only had to really need it. If the desire was strong enough, the Dream would bring him to what he wanted.

But apparently he found what he was looking for; before she'd even finished processing his words, he'd popped out of existence.

Nimeda yawned, stretched, and flopped back on the paper-strewn desk. Her arms hung out to the sides. She stared at the ceiling, thinking and humming lightly under her breath. The memories weren't important, at least not to her, and neither was she particularly phased at his sudden departure. It was normality here - she hadn't even notice Bear leave. Aeons might fluttered passed before she saw Jon again. It didn't seem to matter - these things always revolved, and it would come to pass again.

Moments later Thalia woke abruptly, back in the interview room.
"A river is water in its loveliest form; rivers have life and sound and movement and infinity of variation, rivers are veins of the earth through which the lifeblood returns to the heart."
Roderick Haig-Brown
[Image: nimedathalialethebanner.jpg]
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