Fire burned in her lungs. It echoed in her legs as she ran, uncaring of the branches whipping her face or tangling in her hair. She had to keep going. She had to get as far away as possible before it happened.
Pain seared up her spine, lancing white-hot behind her eyes as she muffled her cry. It couldn't be happening yet, she still needed time.
Time that she did not have.
Relief washed over her like cool water from a spring and she stumbled to her knees, "Thelonious."
"Somer, it's time." Cool, dry hands pushed her tangled hair away from her face and she leaned into them. Leaned into the comfort Thelonious offered even if he wasn't physically in front of her.
The damp leaves and roots below her faded suddenly to hard, cold metal floors and an unnatural light. Somer opened her eyes and met his, those dark brown eyes that she could lose herself forever in. They steadied her.
"I can't," she whispered.
"You can." Thelonious' hands tightened minutely as he continued, "You must."
"They'll be hunted, Thelonious, it would only be a matter of time."
"Not all," he reasoned, "and they'll be hunted if they're born or not. You and I both know how she is."
"Finrona," Somer spat out as another wave of pain traveled through her body. She reached up for comfort and Thelonious steadied her. Squeezing his hands, and concentrating on his calming words, Somer slinked back to her own body and away from Thelonious' home, to the darkened forest of the earth.
"We'll keep them hidden, Somer, as best we can."
"Stay with me?" She whispered.
"Okay… okay," Somer nodded and concentrated on breathing through the pain. She wasn't ready and she wasn't sure the new cluster she was birthing would be ready either, but there was no more time. No more time to run, no more time to hide.
"I'm here, Somer, I'm not leaving." Thelonious leaned his forehead against hers.
"Surely you have more important things to do."
"Not right now, I don't. Nothing is more important right now that ensuring this cluster is born and lives."
"But your people-"
"They have a few days before the vote, we have at least some time."
Another lance of pain shot up her spine and Somer cried out. Thelonious shifted to sit behind her and steadied her as the pains became more frequent. She gritted her teeth and tried to stay as quiet as she possibly could, but pain overrode her senses as it arched her back to the point that she felt it pop.
"I see them! Thelonious, I see them!"
A woman about her age, surrounded by the blue-white artificial light that she so often associated with Thelonious. Straight black hair framed a face that easily smiled, but the joy never reached her sad brown eyes. She'd seen this woman before, in the presence of Thelonious sometimes and others. Somer admired her quick wit. The sudden appearance of Somer in the middle of the hallway brought the woman to a full stop and those sad eyes lit up with confusion and curiosity. Somer smiled. Callie.
Another woman, also on the space city, wearing a worn dark blue coat and her honey-brown hair pulled into a singular braid over one shoulder. Her dark brown eyes shone with a kindness, but did not hide a steel lying underneath, fortunate for a healer. Somer was familiar with this woman as well, she was a frequent visitor of Thelonious, their families intertwined for years. She was strong, and would continue to be, in the face of adversity. The woman fisa looked up at Somer and their eyes met after a double take. Abby.
The third of the new cluster also lived on the Ark, Somer wondered how many lived up under Thelonious' guidance. This one was a man, dark brown eyes that seemed cold, but probing deeper, Somer saw the roiling emotions with each decision he made. His dark hair was smoothed back from his face, except for a stubborn curl as he looked over a flat device with a frown. Those guarded eyes widened in alarm at the sight of her, but he did not flinch. Marcus.
Golden sunlight streaming through a still lingering mist and vivid green greeted her with the next in the cluster. There were so many trees, so much green, and Somer looked around in wonder before she centered on the woman before her. This one she recognized. This was one of Heda's top generals. A flash of silver warned Somer of impending danger, but she did not flinch when the knife stopped inches from her neck, for she was not really there. It heartened Somer, to see such nerve and strength. The new cluster would need it in the coming days. The warrior before her narrowed her eyes suspiciously, but stood her ground. Indra.
More green, darker, wilder, and shadowed in the lavender-grey light of the pre-dawn surrounded Somer. Woods that she did not recognize, the breeze marked by a coolness that reminded her of home, and the slight tang of salt that did not. The whisper of leaves brushing against fabric alerted Somer to someone else's presence. She turned and the tip of a fire-hardened arrow greeted her followed quickly by the steady gaze of its wielder. The arrow did not drop from the line of sight, but a flicker of recognition passed across the woman's face in realization of what was happening. Somer smiled. Almi.
Blistering cold and bare trees surrounded her and the pounding in her chest filled her ears. She knew this place. She knew this place very well and worry carved out a hollow in her soul at the thought of one of her children here in the center of Azgeda. It was just as she remembered it in her trips as a runner. Lively was the last word used to describe the northern isolated clan, but the bustling market around her breathed a life into the monochromatic city. Bright colors of food, fabric, and shining metal assaulted her eyes, the smell of mulled wine and roasting meat filled her nose, and for a moment she forgot the brutality of the Ice Nation as a whole and saw the people underneath. Her next charge was at the heart of it all, sorting through piles of herbs and ingredients as another man stole an arm around his waist. Their eyes met through the haze of periodic fires and cooking fumes and they shared a smile. Toron.
The cold and slight flurry of snow melted seamlessly into a low simmering heat she'd never felt before. The sky above her held the dark blue and purple of those moments just before dawn with the eastern horizon slowly brightening as the rising sun dyed the clouds and sky in more vibrant colors. The wind reminded her of the air near a fire, hot and tight against her skin as it stirred the red-orange earth beneath her feet. A woman knelt as the sun crept over the horizon, the breeze tousling her long brown hair and the ends of her blue, red, and yellow shawl. Her arms stretched towards the sky, palms up in reverence and thanks as words fell from her mouth, intricate and almost melodical. Years of practice shone through as she prayed, even as she opened her eyes and saw Somer. The prayers didn't stop, but at the woman's slow nod, Somer smiled. Nix.
The heat and the pink of a new dawn vanished and Somer was back on the Ark, surrounded by cold metal, a hum of machines, and the blue-white light of the skaistegeda. This part of it was different from what she usually saw with Thelonious. The metal plates were darker, dirtier, more exposed power panels, ramshackle patches, and brightly colored wires. Carts of different parts crowded this large thoroughfare, but the various people walking through it dodged them expertly with the ease of habit. One man stood among them, wearing a dark blue coat similar to Abby, but stained with a dark fluid, frayed at the seams and cuffs, and patched with lighter fabric. In one hand he held a device similar to Marcus, and the other he directed others off in many directions. A leader in his own right, he paused when he saw her standing off to the side, but quickly finished his explanation to the person in front of him. Tilting his head to one side as he eyed her curiously, he waved. Somer couldn't help the light laugh that escaped her as she waved back. Jacopo.
She flitted between all of her new children one last time before all too soon she arrived back in her own body, hair slick with sweat and shivering in the cool morning air. "Protect them, Thelonious."
"I will," He helped her stand and pressed a kiss to her forehead. "Now run."
And she did.
She rested her forehead on the cool panel in front of her in Earth Monitoring, trying to sleep through the ongoing pain in her head, but definitely losing this battle. The migraine was going on day three now, with no apparent end in sight. One would think the Chief Medical Officer could handle a headache, or at least treat one, but nothing she did made it go away. So Abby tried her best to get through each day monitoring the kids, treating oxygen deprivation symptoms to the Ark citizens all the while lying to them about when the air would be fixed, and bothering Raven about the pod to Earth.
It still seemed like a dream, but it was a reality. Survivable, at least she thought so, others… not so much. Kane was still being an ass about everything dealing with the 100 sent down to Earth and other things on the Ark. At least she successfully deterred his suspicions of why she went to the section of the Ark where Raven was currently working on the century old pod with his fear of needles. (For once, Abby was glad they were friends growing up and therefore had a weird mix of knowledge about the head of security rattling around her brain even after they drifted apart, and then fell apart.)
She sighed and gingerly lifted her head, one of her hands coming to her temple and lightly rubbing. Abby really should be getting back to medical, be somewhere that Raven could get to without suspicion… or maybe she should just go down to the small section where the pod sat. It was quieter there than in the bustling med bay.
"Hey, darling," a slightly cool hand rubbed the back of her neck and Abby relaxed a bit. "How are you feeling?"
"Tired," Abby huffed a laugh, "but then, I'm always tired these days. What about you? Still got that headache?"
Callie nodded as she slid into Abby's view, "Yeah, you too?"
"Still hasn't gone away and nothing helps, not even sleep."
"Not that you even sleep lately," her best friend teased.
"I'll sleep when I'm dead, you know that, CeCe."
"That I do, Abs, that I do."
Both of them looked at each other for a long moment, and then burst into giggles. For a suspended second in time, they were children again, giggling in school, then they were teenagers, holding hushed conversations away from prying eyes and sitting just a little too close. But it was over too soon and the giggles died off as they shifted back into their present state of wearied adulthood and the impending death of 300 people looming over their heads if Raven's task didn't work.
"I should get to Medical, Callie," Abby sighed. "Would you stay and watch over the kids?"
Callie's hand, the palm lightly calloused and cool to the touch, landed on her own and squeezed gently. "Of course, Abby. I'll alert you if anything changes."
With a last look at Clarke's darkened tile, Abby left Earth Monitoring and swept down the hallway towards Medical. She winced slightly whenever a particularly bright light hit her eyes, sending a lance of pain down her neck and shoulders. Why did the original builders of this space station feel the need for so many bright lights that flared unnecessarily? Still, she pushed on and parted the plastic curtain to see an anxious looking Raven shifting her weight from foot to foot while Jackson eyed the mechanic over his shoulder.
"Jackson, could you give us a moment, please?" She raised her eyebrows at the other doctor and he nodded. Before he fully left Medical, he shot a curious glance behind him at the two of them, and then they were alone.
"Why are you here?" Abby asked Raven, keeping her voice down in case anyone else came in unexpectedly.
"I messed up, Abby. I couldn't get the part."
She felt her stomach drop and suddenly she felt cold, colder than she'd ever felt on the Ark in her life. She breathed in and the air smelled sweet, cold, and slightly acrid like when a wire shorted out, but this was pleasant and comforting. She felt at home at the same time out of place.
White powder lined the beaten earthen path as she walked towards a bustling market. The sweet, earthy scent of herbs caught her senses and she looked down to see a large woven basket made out of branches, saplings, and brightly colored wires interspersed for decoration in her hands filled to the brim with different herbs that were familiar… and yet unknown.
The brisk smell of snow on dark, rich earth was cut by a spicy sweet scent that perked her interest. The heady smell wandered down the path from the open pavilion surrounded by random bonfires, booths of varying wares, and the robust laughter of gathering crowds.
It was home and yet… alien.
"Abby?" Raven's gentle hand on her shoulder startled Abby and she was back on the Ark. it felt more claustrophobic than she'd ever experienced.
"You couldn't get the part?" Abby pushed the weird feeling from her thoughts and focused on the task at hand.
Abby knew what she had to do, but the strange experience from before made her hesitate. Time was not on her side and the impending deaths of three hundred people loomed over her head if this didn't work. She needed guidance.
She needed Vera.
Making her way through the Ark, Abby found Vera Kane tending to the Eden Tree. Their eyes met and for a second, Vera appeared younger and a small Marcus stood next to her as they watered the tiny remnant of Earth. As quickly as the vision came, it disappeared.
"Abby, honey," Vera's smile and welcoming hug warmed her instantly. "What brings you down here?"
"I… I'd like to talk to you."
"Walk with me," Vera curled an arm around Abby's shoulders and drew her away from the common area. They walked in silence for a bit before Vera squeezed her shoulder, "Migraine still bothering you?"
"Yes…" Abby looked up at the older woman in surprise. She'd never told Vera about the migraine.
"Mine was like that too, when it finally ended after a few days I sobbed in relief."
Abby stopped short, her jaw dropping. "Y-you?" She finally managed to squeak out. "You too?"
Vera's hands were warm against her cheeks and her smile comforting, "Yes."
"The headache, the strange sensations of things you've never felt before?"
"Yes and so much more. Oh Abby, my dear, your world is about to expand beyond what you've ever dreamed. It's unsettling, I know, but soon you'll be experiencing thoughts, emotions, and memories that are not your own and yet are at the same time."
"I don't know," Vera shrugged as she dropped her hands. "You'll find out soon, I know that."
Abby nodded, trying to process all that Vera's told her. "Vera," she finally looked up, "what are we?"
"Sensates, or homo sensorium, are beings capable of connecting with others on a level not known to human beings. Each sensate is born to a cluster at the same time, usually clusters are those born on the same day years before. Clusters are able to visit and share with each other from the moment they are reborn as sensates. Sensates from different clusters, like us, have to make physical eye contact to later visit each other. We've existed for thousands of years on Earth before the fall and now on the Ark," Vera answered and dropped her voice low before finishing her sentence, "and Earth."
"You mean…?" Abby matched her volume out of secrecy and also because she could scarcely breathe let alone speak any louder.
"Earth is survivable? Yes."
"Is there proof? Proof I can show the Council?"
Vera's eyes darkened slightly and she slowly shook her head, "No proof unless they are also sensate, Abby, I'm sorry. They would not take it as evidence and that would be even if they knew we existed."
"Sensates… sensates hide?"
"Out of safety, out of fear," Vera quickly checked the deserted hallway they were standing in. "We… have been hunted before, for decades even, and so kept our existence a secret from humans. The less they know, the more of us stay alive."
"More secrets," Abby sighed. "I… thank you, Vera, I have to go, but I want to know more."
"You know where to find me and I can show you a trick."
"We call it visiting, I'll show you."
"Okay… okay, thank you, Vera, this helps a lot."
Marcus' mother scooped her up into a tight hug for a brief moment, "You're welcome and stay safe. Tell no one of this outside of your cluster or other sensates."
"I won't, I promise."
With one last hug from Vera, Abby turned around and walked as swiftly as she could without raising suspicion to medical. This new information changed everything and she had to move fast in order for her and Raven's plan to work.
It was time to make a deal with Nygel and get the hell out of here to Earth.
The plan didn't quite work out the way Abby was expecting it to, but she hoped it would turn out for the best. As the ties cut into her wrists painfully, she hoped Raven would make it. She hoped that she didn't send another kid down to die, but Vera's words earlier… that Earth was survivable, had been survivable beat a tattoo in her brain even as Kane berated her.
It had to work, the plan had to work.
If not, then three hundred and twenty people would be sacrificed to give the Ark more time.
'More time to bicker and decide who lives, who dies,' Abby thought as they all but dragged her to the prison block. Passing a junction in the hallway, Abby looked up and saw a strange man, grizzled cheeked and long greying hair braided back from his face. His eyes were lined with a dark substance and his face smudged with dirt. Their eyes met and for an instant she was back in that bustling market before she was jostled along and her bearings on the Ark returned.
Could that man be one of her cluster?
Abby coughed, her whole body shaking with the effort as her lungs scrambled for more air than was available. She shivered, wishing she had her coat, and leaned back against the bedpost. No word so far on Raven, not that anyone was willing to share with her that is.
"I should have known you were going to get into trouble."
Abby started at Vera's sudden appearance next to her, though instinctively she knew the woman wasn't actually there. She wilted slightly under Vera's steady gaze, "You know me, Vera."
"Always stubborn," Vera chuckled. "How are you feeling?"
"The migraine is gone, I think I cried myself to sleep last night," Abby answered as Vera sat down next to her on the bunk.
"You must know… your life will start to get strange. I can help guide you, but some things you will have to work out on your own."
"I understand, Vera."
Vera's hand warmed her cold cheek. Abby sighed and leaned into the comfort, even if Vera wasn't actually next to her.
"So this visiting you spoke of earlier, what is it?"
Vera smiled and looked around the prison cell at Clarke's lingering drawings before she answered. "Visiting was a term one of my cluster came up with to describe the times we went to one another. Within your cluster, you can access memories, thoughts, feelings, and even knowledge. As you become more comfortable with each other, you can even 'step in' to assist in times of trouble. That's more of sharing than visiting though."
"Can all sensates do this?"
"No, you and I are not able to share knowledge. Only within your cluster can you share while visiting, but we can visit and we can experience physical sensations of the other."
"Once eye contact is made."
"And there's no other way to identify sensates?" Abby asked, her current predicament forgotten as her curiosity piqued.
"I don't know," Vera shrugged. "I suppose there could have been other ways, ways that were lost when the radiation spread across the Earth and all the stations cared about were surviving. For now, though, eye contact is the only way we have of detecting other sensates."
"Hm…" If she weren't in prison, and the Ark weren't failing, Abby almost would have jumped at the chance to look deeper into this. "How do you visit?"
"It's not something you force," Vera stood and extended her hand to Abby. Abby took it and suddenly she stood by the Eden tree, the common area deserted at this time and they were the only two in the room. "Visiting is something you let happen. It's instinctive between your cluster and you. It will start to happen more."
Abby reached out and lightly trailed her hands along the bark of the Eden tree, feeling the rough texture, "I can actually feel it."
"Because I can."
"When I visit you… is it in my head?"
"Yes, and I look like I'm talking to no one," Vera smiled. "The same occurs to you when one of us visits."
"How do I let the visits happen?"
"Open your mind… and let go."
With one last smile from Vera, Abby gasped and sat up on her bunk in the prison cell. Her head swam with the new knowledge Vera shared, but she felt more alive than she had previously. She only wondered who else was in her cluster.