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EHUD: Prelude to Apocalypse

When John Donalson awakens from a decade-long coma, all he wants is a return to normal life.  But normal life is impossible after the outbreak of civil war.  America is polarized into two factions: those threatened by and those in support of a corps of telekinetic super-soldiers--the EHUDs--who escaped from a military lab and are on a vendetta against their creators.  John remains neutral amidst the partisan violence until a cascade of hidden memories reveals an unpleasant truth: John's coma was a cover for his own transformation into an EHUD.  

            Ashleigh's foot slipped on the first step of the stairs, propelling her forward.  The mug of coffee gripped in her hands fell free, trailing a parabola of scalding brown liquid in its wake.   As the hard-edged stairs rushed up at her, Ashleigh had a fleeting instant to regret wearing only socks as she ascended the smooth wooden steps, to be holding the mug instead of the handrail, to be in this predicament at all.  In an instant, her face would smash into the jutting overhang of the steps, followed soon after by the burning liquid falling on her like acid rain. 

            She reached out as she fell, the only action she had time for as she succumbed to gravity, stretching her had to the falling mug, willing it to stay up, willing it not to shatter and add further pain to this private calamity.  For an instant, the coffee seemed to freeze in midair, coalescing into quivering orbs like liquid planets, the mug orbiting nearby.  The instant grew longer, stretching for one second... two... three... far longer than was physically possible.

            It had to be a quirk of perception, Ashleigh told herself.  In her panicked state, her mind flooded in adrenaline, she perceived the situation at an accelerated state, slowing the events and giving her time to think.  That was why her drink refused to fall, why she refused to--she looked down, craning her neck, an action she knew took time, accelerated perception or not.  She floated in midair, one toe hooked beneath the overhanging lip of the bottom step, the rest of her held up as if by invisible hands.  She moved her own hands, passing them beneath herself, pushing against the wall, sending herself bobbing gently toward the balustrade overlooking the downstairs hallway.

            Seconds passed... four... five...ten...fifteen...and yet she remained.  It was a hallucination; had to be.  She shot her gaze back up to the spilled coffee--it remained motionless in midair.  Impossible.  Simply impossible.  Flexing her right foot, she disengaged from the bottom step, coming away fully from the hold of earth.  Now the spell had to break, now the elongated instant had to end and normalcy reassert itself.  And yet it did not.  She remained in the air, like the coffee, her hair floating in a close blond nimbus about her head.  An experimental paddle against the air propelled her forward a few inches, bringing her closer to the liquid spheres.  Impossible.  Simply impossible.

            By now, it was clear she was hallucinating.  Despite no prior history of mental illness, either personally or in her family, she knew that was what this was.  The alternative could not even be considered.  For a moment she was reassured; normalcy had reasserted itself.  Then a jag of panic, as intense as she had experienced when this phenomena began, ripped through her gut.  What if there was a gas leak?  She lived alone, wasn't close to the neighbors.  She would be left here, suffocating, waiting for help that would never come.

            In that moment of fearful realization, physics as she knew them switched back on, and the interrupted instant of impending pain resumed.  The stairs rushed back up at her, cracking against her skull.  The mug collapsed to the floor, shattering, spraying Ashleigh with shards of fractured ceramic.  An instant later the coffee hit, the rough spheres bursting and showering down on Ashleigh.  Though she braced for the sharp sting of the burning fluid, it had cooled in the instant between leaving the mug and hitting the floor, a testament to the impossible time it had remained midair.

            As soon as her fall-addled mind had found some semblance of equilibrium, she pushed back from the steps, staring horror stricken at the mess contained there.  Jagged fragments of glass littered the steps, coffee ran in thin rivulets down the stairs, through the balustrade, falling in heavy drops to the floor below.  It all looked so real, looked like what she would expect from tripping on the stairs.  Yet what she had seen... what she told herself was a hallucination but which she knew deep down was anything but, was impossible.  Simply impossible.

            It was tempting to call into work then, take a mental health day.  Yet if it there were a gas leak, no matter how remote the chance, it was a death sentence to stay home.  Nothing for it but to leave the house then, to push through with her regular routine and hope that was enough to purge the impossible from her mind.  Taking a firm hold on the handrail, Ashleigh once more mounted the stairs, edging around the shattered mug and the dripping liquid, making it upstairs without further incident.

            Ducking into her bathroom, she resumed her morning routine from the point after she had her first coffee of the day.  She showered, fixed her hair, refreshed the clear coat on her nails.  As she reached for her toothbrush, dangling from a ring beside the mirror, she paused.  In the instant of her fall, she had reached out towards the coffee, had willed it not to fall and, despite what she had told herself for the past several minutes, it had not.  Despite years of real-world experience, despite physics, it had not fallen.  At her command.

            Stepping back from the sink, Ashleigh took a wide stance, one arm extended out towards the toothbrush, and willed it to rise.  Her teeth ground as she clenched her jaw, her whole sore body ached all the more as she tensed.  Everything in her focused on the brush, on it lifting from the ring, floating free over the sink.  For a moment, nothing happened.  Then the brush seemed to jostle, quavering against the metal ring.  A faint sound--plastic against metal?--reached Ashleigh's ears, and then her better sense took over.  She dropped her hand, relaxed, took up the toothbrush in the normal fashion.  As she brushed her teeth, she vowed to seek help or at least to ignore everything that had happened so far today--everything she thought had happened.

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