The Institute (Falling Ash Chronicles #1)

Falling Ash

Kira Farnsworth

 

Contents

Kira Farnsworth

Prologue

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

 

 

 

Credits for Cover Art:

Created by reXraXon

Full size here:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/rexraxon/8753976015/in/photostream/

Credits:

1. Smoke brush by Graham Jeffery at
http://qbrushes.net/21-smoke-brush-set/

2. Smoke brush by PerpetualStudios at
http://perpetualstudios.deviantart.com/art/Smoke-Brushes-Six-142198355

3. Smoke brush by Falln-Brushes at
http://falln-brushes.deviantart.com/art/Smoke-Brushes-Set-2-29341959

 

Prologue

I slammed into the ground. Hard.

My skull bounced on the concrete, sending stars dancing in front of my eyes. For a moment all I could do was stare at the ceiling above me, watching as the chains swung and clanged as they slowly settled. They had broken my fall, if only barely. It was the only reason I was still alive, except now I knew I was going to bleed out here on the concrete floor.

I felt stunned, even though I had been expecting it. I waited for the world to stop spinning, trying to focus on the metal ceiling far above me. The more I focused the more the pain set in. It was searing, all encompassing. How many ribs had I cracked? Three? Four? I knew at least one was piercing my lung, making it impossible to breathe. My leg was bent at an odd angle, though the pain there seemed insignificant compared to everywhere else.

I should never have left home.

I flinched at the voice in my head. I could feel her there, battling to come out. I didn’t have time to deal with her. I was here for a reason, to find her killer. But it was already too late. She was there, in my mind. Fear, pain, fury…. regret. It all mixed and mingled, threatening to overwhelm me.

I spotted him, standing far above me. He was leaning over the metal railing, staring down at my broken body. I knew he was one of them, a Rogue. He was shrouded in shadows, hiding his identity from me. The Rogues were skilled in masking their presence, which served to make it even harder to identify them. I groaned, choking and coughing.

I needed to know more, anything that could help me find the identity of her killer. But to do so meant I had to let her in. I released my tenuous hold. Her thoughts, her memories, preyed on my mind. Names, images, snapshots of her life. I saw her as a child, a bright-eyed blond with pigtails, giggling with glee as her daddy tossed her in the air. I saw her first kiss; witnessed her first heartbreak. I saw her parents wave a tearful goodbye as she drove away to college in her beat up, second-hand Subaru. I saw her rushing from class to class, trying to cram as much as she could into her already too-tight schedule.

I saw her meet him. He was the one. I watched them run into each other; the first time was at a coffee shop, the second in a classroom. He asked her out, she accepted. She was attracted and repelled, aware of the powers that made him dangerous to her. That didn’t stop her from going to the warehouse that night when he asked her to.

Mama warned me. She told me about the Rogues. I didn’t listen. Why didn’t I listen?

I felt her pain, her confusion, and battled it back. I needed to focus, get as many details as I could before my time was up. His boyish face, with the easygoing dimpled smile and chocolate brown eyes. His tightly-wound curly brown hair that made him look a little bit like an elf. I imprinted his face to my memory. He looked so young, so innocent. He seemed far from the type of person who could kill his girlfriend. What had changed?

I trusted him. I loved him. Why did he tell me to come?

Her aching question broke through my barriers, tearing at my heart. I pushed back, trying to shove her emotions back into the box where they belonged. I needed a name. Who was he? I started to cough. Blood filled my mouth; my body was starting to shut down. I struggled to draw in a breath through lungs that were no longer holding air. There was the ominous sound of the death rattle in my chest, the precursor to death.

I was fading, fast. Too fast. My vision blurred, blocking out the warehouse around me.  I was out of time. I had seconds before Canda would die, expelling me from her memories.

Black spots danced in front of my eyes, bringing with it the too-familiar terror of death. I cried out in frustration. I was so close, so close. All I needed was a name. I felt myself spiraling, pulling out as Canda breathed her last. The last thing I heard was a single syllable:

Tim.

Chapter 1

I sucked in a gasp. My eyes popped open, staring up at the tiled ceiling above me. I was lying on a metal slab, a fact I was none too happy about. The memory of her pain was gone, a bone-aching weariness taking its place. I focused on my breathing, the steadying in and out. Inhale, my chest rose. Exhale, it fell. No more death rattle, no more impediments; just sweet, life giving air. It smelled only slightly of formaldehyde. I tried to speak, but my vocal cords were still tied up. Finally I released a desperate croak.

“So not funny. Get me off the freakin’ autopsy table.” I heard a chuckle followed by the sound of a chair scraping against linoleum. Padding footsteps came near before a face appeared, almond eyes crinkling down at me.

Erik Cho, the lead Scientist at the Institute, was also the schemer and mad scientist directly responsible for my current predicament. He grinned as he grasped my elbow, easing me into a sitting position. I noted gratefully that he’d had the frame of mind to draw on my protective gloves, though the normally elbow-length fabric was bunched around my wrists just beneath my jacket sleeves.

“Come on, Ells, you’d make a gorgeous corpse,” he teased. It didn’t mask the underlying note of concern in his voice. I sighed, knowing that meant he would be sending a full report to Meredith. That inevitably lead to hours of poking and prodding to make sure I was in tip-top shape.

“Keep your scalpel to yourself,” I sniped as I knocked my legs over the edge of the table, moving away from his supportive grip. The sooner I recovered the quicker I could get away, distance myself from what I saw. But I moved too quickly, sending the world spinning around me. I sucked in a deep breath, closing my eyes as I waited for the dizziness to stop. Erik replaced his hand on my elbow, holding me steady.

“Take your time, Ells. I’ve got all day,” he assured me. I released my white knuckled grip, my eyes sliding over to the other table, the one where Canda’s body was laid out. Erik had laid a white sheet over her, protecting her modesty, but I could see the surgical cut that marred her skin, going from collarbone to collarbone. I knew if the sheet were gone it would go all the way down her torso. The vibrant person I knew from her memories was gone, leaving the cold, dead shell.

Feeling nauseated, I looked away. This was the worst part of stepping into someone’s memories, especially the recently deceased. You saw people that under normal circumstances you might have connected with, might have liked, only now they were dead and gone.

“I just need a second,” I told him. I could all but see Erik’s analytical mind whirring, cataloging my every movement, every grimace, to be filed later. He was fascinated by all of this. I’d seen it in his mind. He saw me as nothing more than a specimen to be studied.

I was one of a group called Specials, people with powers. I saw history; those moments in time that left a lasting imprint. Inanimate objects were easy. They weren’t entangled with messy emotions that were central to most living beings. It was the animate objects that became a muddled mess. The stronger the impression, the harder it was for me to pull out.

It’s why I relied so heavily on the protection of my gloves. It provided a thin barrier between me and an accidental brush of skin that could send me spiraling into their memories.

“Do I need to call a medic?” Erik asked. I grimaced, shaking my head.

“No. I’m good. Help me down.” I gratefully accepted his support as I slipped from the table. My knees wobbled, threatening to knock together, before stabilizing. I released his arm, skirting around the other two tables that dominated the room and went through the glass doors into the connecting room.

There was a large, grey lounge chair settled in the center of the second room. That’s where I was
supposed
to have woken up. Death memories took a lot out of me. They were the only memories that laid me out flat. The more violent their final moments were, the harder it was for me to pull out. I was trapped inside their experiences until the moment they died. After that there was nothing. I couldn’t see past their death to what happened after. I had to rely on inanimate objects from the scene to paint me a more complete picture.

I sank into the chair, leaning my head back against the headrest. The room looked like a typical doctor’s exam room, with a desk built into the wall housing a single computer and cabinets that held medical supplies. Looking at it you would never guess that just beyond the separating doors was the morgue.

Erik set to work around me. Within seconds he had draped a heated blanket over me and shoved a juice box into my hand. Ever prepared, I thought, my lips quirking in amusement as I took a sip. He went to the door and snapped closed the blinds, blocking the view of the morgue, before he went over to his computer desk, seating himself on the backless wheeled stool.

Erik grabbed a pen and clipboard and kicked back, spinning around as he careened towards me. He came to a halt at my hip, crossing his ankle over his knee and balanced his notepad on the table he created. He tapped the edge with his pen, looking at me expectantly.

“Are you ready to tell me what you got off the vic?” he asked. My reprieve was over. I cleared my mind, focusing on what I’d drawn from her.

“She goes….. went…. to a local college. I’m not sure which one. The campus was huge, lots of grass and trees. The buildings looked old,” I reported, a recitation of facts. Erik scribbled frantically into his notepad, glancing up every now and then to gauge my expression. “Her name was Canda….” I continued.

“I know the victim’s name,” he said brusquely. I grimaced. Of course. Erik didn’t want to get personally attached, and that meant to anyone. He always kept himself at a careful distance, especially from the Specials. He saw us as nothing more than test studies.

“Right. Sorry,” I said past the lump in my throat. My eyes slid to stare blindly at the spot where I knew Canda lay, even though I couldn’t see her now. Erik glanced up, cued by my tone. He sighed, setting aside his pen.

“I know it’s hard for you, Ells. We’ll find the guy who did this,” he assured me.

“I know,” I said bleakly, redirecting my eyes toward the ceiling. The bright florescent bulbs burned my eyes, causing tears to build up at the corners. At least that’s what I told myself.

“We’ve already identified her. The family knows. All you need to worry about is who killed her,” he said gently. He’d known me long enough to see past my thinly built façade. He was one of the few people who’d ever seen me in a weak moment.

“Good. Thank you,” I said. I carefully reined in my emotions, struggling to regain the serenity that would allow me to finish my report without completely breaking down. “She was killed in a warehouse down by the pier. I smelled fish,” I said.

“That would make sense. She was dumped a few miles away from a major marina. Do you have any way of identifying which warehouse?” he asked, picking up his pen and resuming his scribbling.

“No.”

“And the perp? What did you get on him?” he asked.

“Nothing. It had to be a Rogue. I could only see shadows.” I grit my teeth, feeling my fists clench and release. I wanted to bring them down, bring them all down, for what they’d done to my parents, to Canda; to all their victims. I quickly blocked the memories that surfaced. I would have time enough later to deal with them.

“Hm. I was afraid of that. Anything else that might help?” Erik asked.

“She had a boyfriend. A Special. She was supposed to meet him there that night.” Erik perked up at this, raising his head to eye me.

“Affiliation?” he asked. In other words, friend or foe: Rogue or ally. I shrugged.

“I’m not sure. I don’t think she knew,” I admitted.

“That’s suspect. What about a name?”

“Tim. I think he went to her school.” I described him, watching as Erik carefully drew each of the details as I told them. Within minutes Tim’s face was staring out at me from the page. Once he was finished Erik resumed his questioning, shooting one after the other until he was satisfied I’d told him everything I could.

“That’ll do for tonight,” Erik said, at last slapping his notebook closed. “Meredith’s assigned Scorpion to the case. You’ll need to brief them first thing tomorrow,” he said.

“Can do, boss,” I said, offering him a mocking salute. The Scorpions were one of five teams here at the Institute, comprised of the eldest students who were cleared to go on missions. Each group was headed by a Normal and Special pair. The head of the Scorpion team was Jeremy White, a Special with the power of invisibility, and Traci Ackerman, the Head of Stealth and Strategy.

“Your reaction today has me a bit worried. When was the last time you had a complete physical?” Erik asked, rolling back over to his computer. He wiggled his mouse until the screen popped back up.

“Um, a while,” I said sheepishly, barely resisting a groan. I’d been putting it off for two months. I was hoping they wouldn’t notice I’d been decidedly lacking in my participation in that area.

“That’s what I thought,” Erik said, turning to peer at me over his glasses. “I want you to meet with Martin and Tammy and make sure everything is okay. Are you up for a trip down to the labs?”

“Do I have to?” I asked.

“Yep,” Erik said. No mercy there.

“Fine. But you owe me. It was your stiff,” I joked. My heart ached a little at the reference, but I was careful not to let it show on my face. The last thing I wanted was for Erik to tack on a psych evaluation.

“Always.” Erik pressed a button on the receiver at his elbow. A garbled voice came from the other end. Erik responded shortly before releasing the button and spinning around to face me. “You’re set. They’re expecting you upstairs. Do you need me to have them come get you?” he asked.

“And have Tammy labeling me as an invalid?” I questioned with a snort. Erik chuckled. I stood, relieved when my legs supported me without trembling. Erik tore off the top sheet of his clipboard, keeping the carbon copy for himself, and handed it to me.

“Take this to Tammy. She’ll be waiting for you.”

“You’re all heart.” I clumsily folded the paper and stuck it into my jacket pocket before I turned away and headed towards the door.

“And Ells,” Erik called out.

“Yeah?” I asked, turning with one hand propped on the frame.

“Call me if you need anything,” he instructed. I swallowed the lump that rose in my throat, offering a brief nod before I was out the door, closing it firmly behind me.

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