Gracie had a dream once, a beautiful glittering dream for the future.
Post mental illness.
Every single man woman and child, getting out of bed every morning, believing that they have value, no more or less than any other.
But Gracie didn’t get the post trauma world she imagined for everyone.
Instead she got the Post Apocalypse.
But you know, lemons…lemonade.
It wasn’t the first time Gracie made the best of a bad situation. Gracie never knew her biological parents. From the time she was a little until she was a teenager, Gracie moved from foster home to foster home. She was always polite, always courteous. She knew that grownups hated it when children cried, so she never did. Gracie could certainly be described as a precocious youth, always telling the other ones what to do. But there were incidents, never with Gracie herself but with the other kids. She was never implicated in any case but when one kid ends up with his eyes gouged out, or several animal graves are found…the system has no choice but to respond by relocating the children. And even though no blame could be reasonably assigned to little Gracie, the reports always mentioned the blank stare that accompanied her bright smile.
Then, a week before Gracie’s thirteenth birthday, a man named Samuel showed up at the teen residential facility to tell the young girl that she now had a permanent home.
Samuel was a former research scientist for the FBI, whose background in behavioral health assisted in the monitoring and capturing of potential mass and serial murderers. He retired early to focus on behavioral health programs for children and teens. Samuel was researching the incidents that happened in the five separate homes Gracie lived in and he took an interest in the girl.
At thirteen Gracie was diminutive in stature but powerful in presence. She had a beautiful smile and a cadence that was way too adult for a teenage girl. When Samuel first met Gracie she smiled big but oh yes indeed, as several reports had mentioned, there was something there… or maybe, not there. Was this simply Samuel projecting a potential theory based on his knowledge of the initial trauma that precipitated Gracie entering the foster system? Perhaps, but one way or another Samuel saw enormous potential in the young woman and he was certain he could shape her into someone who would make the world a better place. So he pulled some strings and got adoption papers signed in record time. Gracie never missed an opportunity to express her gratitude, ever the pleaser she may have gone a bit too far out of her way. This only confirmed what Samuel suspected; Gracie wasn’t like other girls.
The first conversation Samuel had with Gracie regarding neurological diversity came when he found her removing the claws from the household cat.
“Hi Pumpkin, what’cha ya doing?” Sam asked, beaming at the wisp of a girl who held a passed out cat in her lap and a pair of bloody tweezers in her hand.
She looked up at Samuel blankly and asked, “Are you going to send me away?”
Samuel came over and kneeled next to his adopted daughter.
“Is that why you had other kids do things like this for you? You were afraid of getting sent away?”
“Are you?” Gracie asked again.
“No. I love you.” Samuel replied.
“Yes. That’s why I had the other kids fix things. People get mad when you do what needs to be done, when problems get fixed in the most obvious way. That boy liked to spy on the other kids, watch them doing things that are private and now he can’t do that anymore. Those animals had fleas and many of the other kids had allergies…I just wanted everyone to be happy.” Gracie let out a puff of air, it felt good to talk to someone about this. She didn’t mind keeping it a secret but she wanted someone to understand. Could Samuel be that someone?
“Gracie,” Samuel started, “I know why you think those solutions were obvious but do you know why people got upset? It’s because someone might have been able to help that boy learn why what he was doing was harmful. Now, he’ll never see again, he’ll never have a second chance. Do you believe in second chances?”
Gracie thought for a moment and then said, “I would like to continue living with you, and I know people care about their pets. So yes, I do believe in second chances.”
Samuel looked to the cat and gestured toward it before saying, “So you learned that much, which is good. I take it you are removing Layla’s claws because she scratched me yesterday when I was giving her, her medicine.”
“Yes, exactly!” the teenager replied. “But…I think I gave her too much of the medicine in order to sedate her for the procedure. I didn’t want to hurt her, I know you wouldn’t like that. I just wanted to take her claws out so she couldn’t scratch you anymore.”
Gracie’s adoptive father sighed and then smiled before saying, “Layla’s a very old cat, which is why she isn’t breathing anymore.”
“It just happened, right now. Do you want me to try to resuscitate her?” Gracie looked at Samuel with an expression that was almost pleading.
“It’s okay Pumpkin. Like I said, she was an old cat. She didn’t have much longer.”
Gracie was surprised by this response, “You aren’t upset?”
Samuel smiled and looked his child in the eye, “To be honest, a little. I’ll miss my cat. I understand you were trying to help. But we need to talk about why you thought that was a good idea. Gracie, Pumpkin…you are a very special kind of person…”
And that’s when Gracie learned about what she was.
It was nothing to be ashamed of but it did make her different and always would. The most important part of being a person, according to Samuel, is that they contribute something helpful to society. And that’s what Gracie wanted to do more than anything, she wanted to make the world a better place.
Gracie began to follow in her father’s footsteps, pursuing an education in behavioral sciences. But she also expanded her field of vision to include economics, biology, and chemistry. She was an exceptionally gifted student and terrifically engaged in her community. She volunteered at homeless shelters, wrote letters to her congressmen, and worked tirelessly to spread a message of hope for the future. Anyone who knew Gracie knew that she was going places and she was hell-bent and bringing the rest of us with her.
Then came the day everything got turned upside down.
Gracie was working in a lab as an intern in a graduate program, she was observing oxytocin receptors react to stimuli in a primate’s brain when her phone buzzed. Around her, she heard a cacophony of phones buzzing and beeping. Irritated, Gracie thumbed the screen on her phone, cursing herself for even having it on during her observations. In this day and age, it seemed no one could be parted with their phone, not even her.
The screen lit up and Gracie saw an image she simply didn’t understand.
It appeared to be some actor she vaguely recognized riding a mythical horse creature across a field of cannabis plants. And there was a pink Star Wars guy for some reason, the whole thing was almost too stupid to tolerate.
Martin, a lab tech whom Gracie was friendly with approached her with his phone out. “Hey Grace! Is this not the BEST thing ever?! Goddamn this meme is going to break the freaking internet!”
Gracie responded with a sweet titter, “Oh my yes, it certainly is very, very funny. Though I need to get back to jotting down these observations, so if you don’t mind–”
“Grace, your um eyes are doing something kinda interesting right now” he interrupted.
Before Gracie could figure out what the lab tech was talking about all of the lights went out and the phone in her hand burst into sparks. The embers of her smart phone did not die out however, instead they coalesced into a swirling liquid like mass which then shot straight toward Gracie. The energy hit her like a bucket of water but instead of splashing off, she absorbed it like a sponge. Knowledge appeared inside her mind, a great calling rung in her ears. Destroy…build…destroy.
Gracie always was special, and that which made her special gave her the ability to ignore this call. After all, she had been ignoring similar impulses for most of her life. Ignoring the desire to maim the simple lifeforms before her was one thing, but ignoring this new found power was another.
“What the fuck, what the fuck, what…WHAT THE FUCK–” was all Martin the lab tech could say.
“Martin, m’dear, there’s no call for that kind of language, everything is going to be okay. But you should stick with me. I know this is strange but things are happening and I can keep you safe, I need you to get every–”
“What the fuck? What..no..no. I don’t…the power, oh my god what is going on with your EYES?!”
Gracie sighed. It was apparent that Martin needed a guiding hand, in fact the whole staff seemed to be in a great deal of distress. How terrible they must all feel right now. She reached out with her power and gently touched the mind of Martin and the rest of the lab staff. She could feel them straining against her and as gently as she could, she pushed their consciousness aside and replaced it with her own. As she did, she could sense her abilities growing. All around her were machines, presumably dead, that she and only she could manipulate. She could change their form and function completely and the more human minds she tapped into, the more she could do. It was an incredible sensation but with it also came an alarming realization. The others like her, the ones she felt compelled to destroy, there was no way they would be as retrained as she was. She reached out with the energy collected from the lab staff and found no less than four others in her areas.
One of which…was at the home of her father, Samuel.
“No…” Gracie whispered, there was no one there capable of responding. Each and every mind she had touched expired, the bodies be held up by the technomancing energies. She released them and they fell to the floor, dead. But there was no time to worry about them at the moment, using the abundance of tech and human bandwidth Gracie created a vessel capable of traveling at tremendous speed. She didn’t have time to think very hard about the form and instead focused on function and the result was a four foot rod with a flared end that produced an anti-gravitational effect. She hopped onto the stick and flew off toward Samuel.
She arrived to flames devouring her favorite home. Walking outdoors, impervious to the flames, was another woman, another…there was a word burning in her brain…technomancer. Their minds reached out and connected like servers sending signals. Gracie instantly knew what had happened. Her father, with his exceptional mind, called out to the technomancers like a beacon. This one just happened to be nearest at the time the meme struck.
Gracie felt something she had never experienced in that moment. It wasn’t as if she didn’t have a range of emotions but for the most part Gracie felt varying degrees of satisfaction and disappointment. But now she felt a rage unlike anything she ever conceptualized. It filled her up in a way that was so encompassing it was almost pleasurable, like fingernails tracing across the entire surface of her skin. Her flying tech stick reformed into a deadly blade and she brandished it against the oncoming technomancer that slew the only person who ever truly cared about her.
“YOU WILL PAY!” Grace screamed, tears turning to steam on her molten hot cheeks. She rushed to engage her father’s murdered and was met with a force of energy that struck her and sent her flying in the opposite direction, her sword escaping from her grasp and throwing sparks as it struck the cracked pavement.
“You’ll need more than that little pig sticker if you’re gonna take me on blondie,” mocked the assailant. It then reached out with it’s own strange power and commandeered the weapon Gracie made, twisting the metal structure and melting it down into a pair of gauntlets surrounded by coils of electricity. “Niiiiiice, you got an anti grav modul here, I wouldn’t have thought of that! But I wonder if I can use it for…THIS.” The monster extended their arms and power rushed forth from the newly acquired gloves, it slammed into Gracie and pinned her to the ground. If Gracie hadn’t been a technomancer herself, it would have crushed her into paste.
“GRACIE!” came a cry from a man Gracie had little regard for. Samuels boyfriend, the biologist who always wanted to ask about Gracie’s parentage. He must have rushed over to Samuel’s house after everything went crazy to see if he was all right. Gracie reached out with her power and grabbed the mind of the man her father loved and drank deeply from it, leaving nothing behind but empty grey matter.
Recharged, Gracie used the extra bandwidth to access her riding stick. In less than a second the metal melted and reformed yet again, slithering up to the technomancer’s neck and twisting into an ever tightening collar. The technomancer attempted to stop this but found it’s power blocked by Gracie’s will. The collar got tighter and the thing choked and clawed uselessly at it, the metal sharpened and twisted in one swift motion to the left. The technomancers head now rested three feet from the body, blackish fluid forming around both.
Gracie stood, taking in deep acidic breaths as she did. Her enemy vanquished, at the expense of the life of someone Samuel held dearly. It was unavoidable and didn’t really bother her all that much. But what was this stabbing feeling in the pit of her stomach, why would these tears not stop coming/ She extinguished the flames, magnetizing tech around her to pull the water pipes from beneath the now ruined pavement. Then, she cleared the debris, leaving nothing but the blackened and shriveled corpse of the only person that ever believed in her. Without knowing why, and having no way of processing the immense onslaught of emotion she was experiencing, Gracie wailed in despair. As she cried and screamed into the sky, she became the eye of a small storm, the remains of the surrounding tech resonating to her fury. The remains of her adopted father disintegrated before her eyes and Samuel’s ashes swirled around her over and over again in a tornado of sorrow. Finally, her cries subsided and she fell to her knees.
Then, a doorway made of green energy appeared out of nowhere and a stranger in a white lab coat stepped out from it.
“Hello Gracie. Did you know you are very, very different?” asked the man said in a deep timber.
Gracie did not reply.
“I’ve been watching all of you, you technomancers. You, young lady, are wholly unique amongst them. While the others became twisted monsters, you…you may have gotten better.”
To this, Gracie croaked out a response, “Is that why I feel… like this?”
“Yes.” the strange man said.
“Then I want. It. To. STOP!” on the last word, fire and asphalt spat up all around her. The man in the white coat braced himself and tapped on a console mounted in his wrist. “Careful there, I’m keeping your power from infiltrating my tech, I only have so many firewalls. Listen carefully because we don’t have much time. Come with me, I have a place that’s been protected from this madness. We have to rally forces for the battle to come and we need your help.”
“What…what am I?”
The strange man in the white coat kneeled down to look her in the eyes before saying, “Pumpkin, you are the one and only Good Witch. Now come with me a build a better future.” He stood then, reaching his hand down to her. She took it and together they passed through the portal.
In the coming months, years, decades…Gracie would work with the man in the white coat to save mankind. Together they worked tirelessly to best the technomancers and improve mankind to make sure they were better protected. But every time the made gains, they suffered more losses. Still, Gracie never gave up hope, she would find a way to save the world…by any means necessary.
By Dick Phillips and Corinne Marie
Art by Stevie VanBronkhorst