122 1 0

    Forsephore slumped in her usual spot against the wall in the wide plaza outside the massive glowing dome of the Hub. Bursts of radiance flashed into the endless void of the night sky above, each bolt of lightning stirring a familiar longing that ached through every fiber of her being.
    She brushed aside disheveled hair and stretched a translucent arm toward the nearest Echoes as they passed. "Relay a thought for me" she croaked. "An insight perhaps? Just an inkling? Please."
    No one turned her way. She'd grown accustomed to being ignored. Why should today be different?
    Other Echoes strode to and fro, each hurrying on personal errands, far too important or busy to pay attention to a beggar Fade. Several marched with heads held high, their skin and eyes alight from the summons of the Alphas who kept order within the Hub. A few dark forms brought unrequested petitions to present before the assembly. Some limped or shambled toward the door, weary from the exertion but determined to have their voices heard.
    Dim bodies littered the marble steps and walkways of the plaza, too emaciated to muster the strength to join the assembly within the dome. Coughing and gasping filled the air with plague-like dread. Some of the Echoes looked shrunken and starved, their blackened skin pulled taut across skeletal frames. Others seemed wispy like stretched cotton in sunlight, barely visible against the marble's sheen. These Withers and Fades found support against low stone walls, historic monuments and the polished stairs beneath the sparkling Hub.
    Forsephore kept her gaze fixed on the bustle near the dome's entrance. She spotted some new faces among the enlightened, and wondered which possibilities they represented. Every Echo bore a unique purpose or vision, a glimpse of what could be. Great debates took place within the Hub as different ideals battled for political dominance. The stronger and healthier an individual Echo appeared, the more likely their possibility would come to pass.
    In days gone by, unfamiliar Echoes coalesced out of shimmering light of inspiration outside the Hub, the embodiements of the Prime's fresh ideas or dreams. But Forsephore hadn't seen a new face in quite some time. Her mind stayed active by tracking the Echoes coming and going, then guessing at which held the greatest sway.
    Anything was better than loooking over the broken and sickly masses in the plaza. Anything to avoid noticing the grim patterns carved into the stone walls and walkways.
    She splayed her fingers and watched the flashes from the Hub pass through her hand like mist. More light shone through than last month, and fear pricked her heart. Judging by the Fades around the plaza, she ranked in the third caste--visible and audible to the others, yet forgotten beyond recognition.
    The power surges from the Hub triggered a realization, and her pleading died in her mouth, replaced by rising panic deep within.
Even if someone carried my petition to the Alphas, I can't remember what I'd ask them to say.
    An emptiness took hold, and a whispering voice she'd heard every morning and night for years rasped in her soul once more. "It's never going to happen. Let go and rest. Accept what She has become." Waves of nausea washed over Forsephore's quivering form, and without thinking she looked down at the ground beside her.
    The blank weeping eyes of a dead Wither etched into the stone stared back. The outline of its bony hand seemed to reach from within. Her fingertips rested in the grooves of its palm. More dead Echoes stood behind the Wither, a deep sea of bodies carved into the two dimensional surface.
    With a soft cry, Forsephore shrank away, sliding across the intricate ridges in the stone. Don't look at the patterns. Don't give in to the whispers. Hold on to Hope.
    The Hub flared again, its electric light sparkling in the tears that blurred Forsephore's vision.

* * *

    A chill gust of smog mixed with hot dog stand played through Hope's curls as she scurried across the downtown street, a cardboard cup in each hand and a portfolio slung over her shoulder. She checked her watch with a sigh and shoved against the glass doors of Gander-Mackenroe and Associates. Coffee splashed through one white lid and scalded Hope's hand, but she ignored the pain.
    The wait for the elevator took five minutes Hope didn't have, and she tapped her foot the entire ride up. Once the doors opened on the fifth floor, she dashed down the hall then slipped inside the glass door marked "William Morton, Attorney at Law."
    "Second time this month, Miss McKenzie," a deep voice scolded from the inner office. Decked out in a custom-tailored suit worth more than one of Hope's paychecks, William Morton's ponderous frame filled the high-backed leather chair behind his mahogany desk. Florescent light glimmered off his bald pate while he scanned the case notes in his thick hand.
    "Sorry, Mister Morton," she gushed as she approached his desk and proffered his triple shot soy latte in a tall cup. "You wouldn't believe the line at J-Street Java. And they got your order wrong the first time, so I had them remake--"
    "Try getting there earlier next time." His eyes never left the pages. "You're behind on the accounts update. I need that by the end of the day, in addition to last week's case file review."
    Hope flopped into the chair at her cluttered desk and signed into her computer. "I'm on top of it," she declared, then closed her eyes and shook her head.
I'm anything but.

EchoesRead this story for FREE!