Hint 20. Stay In Practice
Normally a trip to The Facility is like paid holiday. I get to go for a whole weekend of tests that regularly feel more like a stint at an adventure park than anything else and I still get time off in lieu. I think it’s worse if you have a mind power because then they actually do tests on you. Once they’d worked out the science behind my power, and once I’d learnt my personal limitations, my monthly trips to The Factility started becoming more about testing their things. Can I transport through this material? Can their new machine track my invisible movements?
This time, quite obviously, there is somewhat more trepidation. Shark has appeared, out of the blue as always, and is helping me pack for my weekend of subterfuge. Every now and again I have to stop what I’m doing just to watch him. It’s the most mundane thing I’ve ever seen him do. It’s weird watching him fold shirts in a mask.
I like it, though. It makes me start thinking things like ‘could we be normal together?’ and ‘what would it be like to sit on a sofa with him, in our PJs, and watch a movie?’. I pause in the stream of thought questions. I have become quite used to his presence and I inadvertently find myself waiting for him to answer.
“Sure, we could try that,” he says, “but it’s a little depressing that your fantasies have become so boring already. I had some more exciting pastimes that I was thinking of trying out first.” He bends down, fishing a pair of lacy knickers out of my suitcase and flicking them at my face.
I dodge the projectile lingerie, laughing.
“Alright,” I say, “but you’ve got to promise not to be gentle with me.”
He straightens, looking at me appraisingly. His eyes sweep over my curled body, tucked into the corner of the room while he does all the work, and he uses his teeth to pull the corner of his bottom lip into his mouth. It’s insufferably attractive.
I want to remind him how easy it would be for him to just come over here and kiss me but I know it won’t go down well. I can hardly blame him either. It must be difficult to like someone and then have to hear them think fond thoughts about someone else. I’m working on it. When it’s an away game and neither of them are around, I’m definitely Team Shark, a sentiment that is only strengthened when it’s Shark’s home game and I get to watch him stride around in all his glory. The problem only comes in when it’s Jack’s home game and then his metaphorical cheerleaders are so good at rustling up support that I find myself in amongst Team Docklen. It doesn’t help that Amber’s an avid Docklen supporter. It’s not her fault, she doesn’t even know that Team Shark is an option, so it’s naturally biased - a bias that falls in Jack’s favour every time he comes around.
“Perhaps if I knew what was so terrible about him, the dirty secrets that none of you are willing to share,” I say, knowing full well that Shark has been listening in to every word of my internal monologue, “then it might make it easier.”
“We’ve been over this.”
“Fine,” I grumble, knowing he’s right. I’m a grown woman, I should get over my feelings on my own.
Shark finishes folding T-shirts, throwing them into my suitcase and throwing himself on my bed.
“Are you ready?” He asks.
He reaches forward, presenting me with a curled fist. I remove myself from the corner, pushing curious fingers into his palm, opening his hand to reveal the slip of black material, crushed under his fingers. His skin feels coarse against the soft pads of my fingers.
“In case you get in trouble,” he says.
I don’t say anything, gently straightening the creases out of the mask and attaching it to my face.
“Hey, Whisper,” he breathes.
I wink. Whisper doesn’t speak.
Do you remember the plan?
He was right, I am starting to get used to the vibrations of his voice, the way his words settle over my mind.
“So you know the time…?”
“Midnight, Saturday,” I interrupt, directly quoting the words he’s used a hundred times before this conversation already. “Don’t do anything stupid until then. Feel free to scout this evening…”
“But don’t do anything stupid.”
“I already said that bit.”
I thought Whisper wasn’t supposed to say anything.
I laugh, punching his arm.
“Stop that, you’re confusing me.”
He rolls over onto his back, tipping his head so that he can look up at me.
“The Lady and I will be running a distraction at midnight. We’ll draw as many Sapient+ into the field as we can. Hopefully you’ll be on your own. They won’t suspect you.”
“I’ll be fine,” I say.
“I know.” He reaches an arm up above his head, drawing fingers over the cool silk on my face. “You’re a superhero.”
“No I’m not, I’m an Agent of the People.”
For the first time, as I wait for the lift down to the cavernous basement complex beneath The Facility, I am not alone. He stands there already, as I arrive, looking considerably less dead than the last time I saw his blank eyes gazing out at me from Professor Larry’s computer screen.
“Hi,” I say.
He doesn’t move, just looking at me suspiciously out the corner of his eye.
“I’m Maya,” I say, holding out a hand to shake.
“Caesar,” he replies, ignoring my hand. “MI6. You?”
Caesar? Really? What a name.
“The Met,” I say and what little interest he had is lost immediately.
“Oh,” he says, not even looking at me as he walks into the open elevator. “Well someone’s got to do that, I guess.”
I’m so disappointed. He’s the only person in the whole world that’s the same as me and he’s just such an utter arse already.
“Can you translocate too?” I ask because otherwise I’ll let slip I know what he can do and I don’t trust myself not to give away that I’ve seen his file.
We step out of the elevator, entering into the cold, white corridors of The Facility’s testing area. These tunnels go on for miles, a chilling maze of fluorescent strip lighting and tile flooring.
“You know why they’ve got us here, don’t you?” Caesar asks as our feet take us automatically towards the changing rooms. I clutch a token in my hand that will allow me into one room and one room only. It’s the familiar procedure. Inside I will find whatever clothing they require me to wear for the first test.
I just shrug as we come across a door, stamped with three bold numbers, the same as those on the token Caesar’s flipping absently through his fingers.
“They’re comparing us,” he says, walking into his room without looking back. I get the impression that if his sentence were longer than the time it took for him to walk in and close the door behind himself, then he’d simply not care, closing the door in my face as I wait for him to finish speaking. As it happens, however, he has just enough time to finish what he’s saying before he locks me out. “Looking for tells so they can use what they find out about us to identify that Whisper girl.”
At his words, my blood rushes cold.
By the time I reach my changing room, I’m half panicking. What if they already have readings on me, on Whisper, and they notice we’re the same? My heart rate picks up, beating so fast I can hear it. What if they know why I’m here? I manage to convince myself there’s a whole squad of machine gun wielding super beings hiding behind one of these white doors, waiting to take me away.
Instead, as I slip my token into the slot and the door slides open, all that’s waiting for me is a slick elastane suit with wires threaded up the arms.
If you panic like that every time you open a door, Maya, how am I supposed to know when you’re in real trouble?
Shark’s voice flashes through my mind and I have to smile. He’s there, always there. Looking out for me.
Don’t do anything stupid, he reminds.
I squeeze myself into the lycra, hating the way it clings to everything I would change about myself. I think about The Lady and the way she looks almost perfect in that tight catsuit of hers. I’d be a lot happier right now if I had a mask to wear. It’s strange; the way it becomes a part of you. I’m a different person with it on, more confident in myself, in what I can do.
I walk from the changing room, content in that knowledge that Shark is just a thought away.
The testing arena is large and white and empty with a glass window and a light on one wall. That’s it. In fact, the only notable thing is Caesar, dressed in an identical, male version of my creepy alien suit. I silently join his side as we wait for instruction.
Within ten minutes, I am grateful for everything that’s happened to me lately. I really need it, that extra push that comes with knowing you’re a superhero. It seems Caesar was right about comparing us. Only, they’re not just comparing us, they’re pushing us. Normally my power comes as something easy, thoughtless, but by the end of the first hour I’m exhausted, dripping with sweat.
The light above the far wall flicks to red with an audible click and I allow myself to materialise in the corner of the room. They’ve been making us hold ourselves in the in between for as long as possible without moving or materialising anywhere. It’s damn near impossible to stay still when you don’t exist. On two separate occasions I almost lose myself completely and can’t make it back as a whole human being. It’s not uncommon for people to die during testing. I saw it happen once but it’s not a memory I care to go over.
I allow myself to lean against the wall, slipping to the floor, and look out across room. Caesar collapsed ten minutes ago and he’s still just lying there, chest heaving. It fills me with savage pride to know that I outlasted him. He was so smug about being MI6 but he’s probably such a good little boy, never uses his powers unless he’s been told to. He’s rusty, out of practice, but I hardly walk anywhere these days. I’m more at home with my powers than most Sapient+. It’s a part of who I am.
In the end, I don’t have time to do anything stupid. I don’t have time to scout the premises, poke my head around corners. We finish at nine and when a small woman shows me to my room, garbed in the same white scrubs that everyone down here wears, I collapse gratefully onto the plump pillows and close my eyes. I don’t even consider the spa or the sauna or any of the other luxuries that come with an overnight stay at The Facility. I don’t even shower, sleeping as I am, caked in sweat, and I only wake up when it’s long past dark and Shark’s thoughts are screaming in my mind, ripping through the pleasant world of my dreaming conscious like animal claws in soft, yielding flesh.