“Is he okay?”
“Physically, he’s fine. Mentally? We don’t know. He had a panic attack in the middle of a crowded building. Since you’ve already told me he doesn’t have any history of anxiety, it stands to reason that he’d have had to experience something pretty traumatic to undergo such a violent reaction.”
“And he’s been unconscious since?”
“Yes, sir, although—hold on…”
Bright white lights flood my vision as my eyes slowly crack open, peering beyond the edges of my eyelids to see three figures standing over me, one in a lab coat, the other two in jackets. My painfully dry throat works to clear up as I take a breath to speak.
“Mom, Dad,” I croak out. “Hey guys.”
My mother, a short woman of some fifty years, grips my left hand in calloused fingers and looks down at me with gentle eyes. “Hey, papi. How are you feeling?”
I blink a few times, staring at the ceiling with furrowed eyebrows. “Thirsty.”
The doctor, a blonde woman a little taller than my mother, walks up next to Mom and hands her a paper cup with ice chips inside. “Keep it slow, Mrs. Prince.”
She nods and takes the cup, handing me two of the chips. Mom knows the drill, and I carefully crunch through the first couple, allowing them to dissolve and liquefy, the cool water sliding down my parched gullet with unsatisfying ease. A few more minutes pass like this, and at the end, I feel like my throat was injected with Novocain, but functional.
“How long was I out?”
My dad, a heavy-set man about a year younger than Mom, walks up next to his wife and holds her free hand. “Almost a week. You had us worried, papi.”
I smile a little and blink slowly. “Sorry. I try not to.”
“I know.” Dad grips my shoulder firmly, a relieved smile flickering over his lips. “But you’re okay, and that’s all that matters.”
I frown as my last memory flashes through my mind’s eye, then look up at them. “What happened?”
They exchange a brief look before Dad speaks up. “No one knows for sure. A lot of people just…stopped moving all at once. It’s like they were all hit with a sedative at the same time, blanked out for a minute or so.”
“But…none of them ended up like me.”
I frown even deeper, staring off to the side as my jaw works. My eyes go back up to them after a few seconds. “Any idea why I was affected differently?”
“None,” Mom answers, thumb stroking my shoulder. “We’re just glad you’re okay.”
I nod slowly, laying my head back against my pillow.
“Anyway, we should let you get some rest.” She puts the cup of ice on a tray next to my bed, kissing my forehead solidly as Dad curls an arm around her shoulders. “Keep eating. You gotta stay hydrated.”
I nod once more and smile at them. “See you in a bit.”
“Sleep well, papi,” Dad says, ushering Mom out of the room.
The door shuts behind them a moment later, leaving me alone with silence and my own thoughts. A deep frown plasters itself to my features.
I’d have thought I was getting schizophrenia if everyone else hadn’t decided to go all glass-eyed at the same time. My eyes narrow. And then there’s the words. Like they were talking about me.
This, admittedly, was common enough for schizos, but the voices were all distinct, almost like my mind was taking them from the crowd itself, taking their concern and assimilating it into my own psychosis.
But they all passed out at once.
My head shakes slightly to clear away the confusion. I’m awake and alive and okay. Best to just leave it alone…unless, of course, this happens again, in which case I’m pretty much screwed. A long sigh leaves my throat.
Because every college wants a schizophrenic engineer as an alum.
I huff and roll my eyes at my own cynicism, closing them slowly as I grab the ice chips and pop a few in my mouth. They fade to liquid and roll down my throat just as the doctor comes back in, a smile on her face and a clipboard in her hand.
“How are you feeling, Mr. Prince?”
I cough once, twice. “Wrecked but alive. Probably the best I can hope for after waking up from a coma.”
She frowns a little. “Well, it’s a bit more complicated than that. See, according to every test we’ve run, it wasn’t your body that pulled you under or kept you unconscious.”
I furrow my brows and give her a sideways look.
“Immediately after wheeling you into the ER and verifying your vitals,” she continued, “I had the technicians run a scan of your brain activity. What they found was…astonishing.”
She flipped through the clipboard in her hands. “According to our tests, only one section of your brain was active at the time of the event, but over the last week, it’s been reactivating section by section. Involuntary motor functions, like breathing and organ function, stayed active, followed by a few finer points, eventually up to your higher functions like thought and rational process. We ran our last MRI this morning and found that node lit up like a Christmas tree. I theorized you might wake today.” She smiles. “Turns out I was right.”
I smile back. “Lucky me.” My eyes drift to the ceiling, another couple of chips entering my mouth. “So when can I get out of here?”
“I want to run a few more tests, make sure you’re not at risk of passing out again, maybe more severely this time. I estimate another day or two at the most.”
My brows knit together. “What about the others?”
She blinks. “What others?”
“The other people at the Convention Center. I was told they all froze at once, and I saw it happen, right before I—” My mind flickers to the man in brown, to those unmistakable silver eyes, and I fall silent.
I blink and turn to her. “Huh?”
“You were saying something?”
My shoulders shrug. “Oh, no, I was just wondering if anyone else at the Center had similar symptoms.”
Her head shook. “None. Though there was a young man around your age asking about your condition when it happened.”
I nodded slowly. “Ping.” My eyes glanced around. “You got my phone anywhere around here? Should probably text him, let him know I’m okay.”
“Absolutely, sir, but keep it brief.” She hands me the black iPhone before heading for the door. “You need your rest.”
I nod and send Ping a quick text: “Hey, runt. I’m still alive.”
A few minutes later, he responds. “You fking ahole! Can’t just pass out on me like that.”
A chuckle bubbles from my throat. “I’ll keep that in mind. You okay?”
“Yeah man. Expo center was all kinds of weird after u left. Everyone walkin around confused like. Glad to hear ur okay. :)”
“Yeah, you too. Still don’t know exactly what happened, but I’m all right. Better go. Doc says I need my rest.”
“I gotcha man. Sleep tight, my nigga.”
I roll my eyes and snort. “You know you’re the only Asian guy I know who can actually pull off gangsta speak.”
“Lol it’s a gift. See ya soon, Mace.”
“See ya Ping. Over and out.”
I grin and lay my phone down on the tray, emptying more ice chips into my mouth. A drowsy spell overtakes me as my eyes flutter shut, mind wandering in something of a haze. I hear voices just outside my door, and my eyes twitch behind their lids.
“—don’t know for sure. Maybe it’s nothing.”
“Doesn’t seem like nothing. You’ve been feeling like this all week. Sure you’re okay, babe?”
“…no. But I will be. Don’t worry about me.” A pause. “I should go check on my patient quick. Be right out.”
I take deep breaths, eyes flickering open as soon as I hear her come in, a sly grin on my face as I put another ice chip between my teeth. “What’s up, doc?”
She does a double-take at my tone and voice (and the ice chip in my mouth), then breaks into laughter. It’s only when her hazel eyes close that I see the deep rings under them from far too many sleepless nights. “Your vitals and brain activity, for one,” she answers, a hint of laughter still in her voice and a wide smile on her face.
“That’s good news.”
“It’s great news. Like I said, I’ll want to keep you for observation a little longer at the least, but you should be good to go in another day or two. Won’t take you away from your studies for too long.” She gives me a wink, and I grin widely, leaning back and nodding against my pillow.
“Thanks.” I look over at her. “Never got your name.”
She looks up from her clipboard and gently shakes the hair from her eyes. “Kristina. Kristina Sorenson.”
I hold out my hand and shake hers. “Thank you, Dr. Sorenson. I know it couldn’t have been easy handling my parents as long as you have.”
Kristina smirks and shrugs. “On the contrary. Your parents were a delight to have around, apart from the initial hyperventilating and demanding answers, but that’s all part of the package.” She puts a hand on my shoulder. “Just means they love you.”
I smile and nod, taking another deep breath.
“Anyway, get some rest. I’ll run some more tests in the morning, but don’t worry about it. It’ll all be painless nonsense.”
“Good to know. Thanks, doc.”
I lean back into my pillow and watch her leave with a smile, then stare up at the ceiling before looking around at my bed. Seeing I’m not restrained in any way, I roll over onto my side and trip the release for the bed’s head section, flattening it against the gurney. My body rolls over onto my stomach, and I press my face into the pillow, the only way I can reliably sleep. As I drift into a sub-conscious state, the voices outside my door return as if in a tunnel.
“You’re buzzing out, right now, and then I’m taking you straight to bed.”
Kristen giggles. “Oh, yes please.”
The man chuckles. “You know that’s not what I meant.”
“And yet, would you be opposed?”
She laughs again. “I rest my case.”
“Come on, then, Mrs. Sorenson. We’ve got a date with the mattress.”
I snort and smile into the pillow, the last dregs of my consciousness fading away with her laughter.
10 hours later
“Just relax, please. This is going to take a while. Loud, but not too scary, I hope.”
I smirk. “Long as I’m not watching a horror movie, I don’t scare easy.”
Dr. Sorenson chuckles. “Good to know. Here we go.”
I look out the bottom of the MRI machine and give my watching parents a smile and a thumbs-up. And then my hearing is overpowered by loud noises. The magnetic fields dance and rumble around my body, the machine doing its work for nearly an hour before finally turning off and giving my overtaxed ears a rest. Upon having the gurney holding me retracted, I sit upright and send the doctor a smile.
“So, what’s the verdict, doc? Gimme some good news.” I frown when she doesn’t respond, and look over to see her staring at her monitor in shock, my parents standing right behind her. “Doctor Sorenson?”
She looks up at me. “You can get up now, Mr. Prince. Your results are…it’s probably better if you see for yourself.”
Anxiety rising within me, I stand and hurry over to the observation booth, exchanging a look with my astonished parents, then gazing down at the monitor. I shrug. “What am I supposed to be looking at here?”
Kristina looks at me. “The data centers of the brain, the ones defining higher functions? They’re…how do I say this—overclocked.”
My brows furrow. “What do you mean ‘overclocked’?”
She turns back to her monitor, typing. “I mean they’re operating on a level at least three times that of a normal human being.”
My shoulders rise and my head shakes. “Okay, w-what does that mean? Is there something wrong with me?”
Sorenson grins. “Not in the slightest.”
“Then what? I mean, am I gonna be a super-genius now or something?”
She shrugs. “I honestly don’t know. I’ve never seen results like this before. Not sure anyone has. I don’t think it’s anything to be concerned about, although if you’re really concerned I can recommend a specialist to take a look at your results.”
I think about it for barely a moment. “No, I think I’m all right.”
My dad turns to me. “You sure, papi?”
I nod once. “Yeah, I mean, if it becomes a problem I can always come back, but…I really just want to go back to my dorm and sleep this off.”
Kristen writes in her clipboard. “And as of right now, that’s entirely your prerogative.” She hands me a sheet from the board. “Your discharge papers. Just take those to the front desk as soon as you’re ready and they’ll have you out of here in a jiffy.”
I take it and smile a little. “Thanks.”
“You’re absolutely welcome,” she replies with a smile. “Was there anything else?”
I think for a moment. “So, you’ve run tests, done scans. Any ideas what caused me to pass out?”
Her smile dampens. “Honestly, I couldn’t tell you. No physical stress or trauma was observed, and all your vitals seemed normal. Apart from abnormal brain activity, nothing was off about you at all, either when you were first brought in or from the scan just now. I don’t know what happened.” She purses her lips. “I’m sorry I can’t be more helpful, but the fact is, I’ve never seen anything like this before.” A business card appears in her hand as she rises to her feet, about half a foot shorter than me. “If anything else happens along these lines, feel free to call me.”
I nod slowly, taking and pocketing it. “You got it.” I flash a quick smile and shake her hand. “Thank you for everything.”
She smiles back. “Just doing my job.”
It’s five minutes before we’re waiting at the front desk, and I’m pacing impatiently, my parents the example of calm as they check their phones, Mom periodically rubbing my arm.
“Right,” the desk lady says, “here you go.”
I reach over and take the receipt of service, flashing a weak smile before pocketing the paper and turning for the door. I stop in my tracks when a whisper reaches my consciousness.
“Can’t believe this shit. I pay thousands of dollars for health insurance and they can’t even pay half my costs?”
I instinctively look to my left, seeing a frazzled woman scowling at a sheet of paper, and I stare for a moment. The sounds of sobs fill my ears.
“No, no, no, this can’t be happening. This can’t be happening…”
My eyes go right to see a girl sitting in an office talking to an apologetic doctor and bawling, hands over her face. My lips part and eyebrows furrow as my breathing picks up in pace, eyes shifting forward in alarm when a cold rush of fear fills my veins and I catch sight of a well-dressed businessman sporting a clenched jaw and a desperate fire in his eyes.
“My daughter deserves better.” He fingers something in his right jacket pocket, lips unmoving. “I won’t let them kill you, Natalie. I won’t.” He moves toward the front desk, walking right past me.
In a move of something akin to insanity, I intentionally shift my body and weight to bump him—hard. Startled, he falters and I grab his arms to steady him.
“Whoa,” I say concernedly, “hey there man, you okay?”
He barely makes eye contact with me, right hand still in his jacket pocket. I nonchalantly pat the front of his jacket to make sure he’s okay and feel something hard in its right side. Blinking fast, the man gives me a quick nod.
“Yes, I’m fine, thank you.” He starts to turn back toward the desk, but I grab his right arm when another pang of alarm runs through me.
My eyes lock with his, as I have his full attention now. Lips pursing, I shake my head slightly, grip tightening around his forearm. His eyes widen in shock and a trace of fear, jaw dropping slightly. I keep eye contact.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” I ask with a heaviness to my tone.
He hesitates for a moment, eyes flickering from one of mine to the other. After about ten seconds of this, and strange looks from both my parents and some of the patrons, something in his expression softens, and the sheer desperation I saw before breaks. His breathing becomes choppy and eyes glisten as he bites his lower lip hard. I give him a small, sympathetic smile and release his arm, holding my left hand out palm-up. Slowly, he pulls a small paper bag from his jacket and puts it in my hand. In turn, I tuck it into my pants pocket and give his hand a firm squeeze.
“Just hang in there,” I say quietly. “Everything will work itself out.”
He looks me over, jaw still halfway to the floor, and blinks a few times, then nods slowly and turns for the door. I watch him leave with an expression somewhere between satisfaction and shock, left hand fingering the cold steel of the gun inside the bag. It’s a few seconds and the arrival of my parents at my side before the reality of the situation hits me.
Holy shit…he was gonna—
“Papi,” Dad says, “what just happened?”
I glance at him, then at the door. “I’ve got no earthly idea.”
2 hours later
It takes two hours, lunch, and a whole lot of sweet-talking to convince my parents that I’m all right and that they can go home to VA. I’m still reeling from the incident at the front desk.
Just like all those people at the Convention Center. But this time more…defined. More real.
Whatever the case, I’m lying on my bed right now, staring at the ceiling with a concentrated frown on my face and a whole lot of questions that need answering. Chewing my lower lip, I reach into my left pocket and pull out the bag, peeling away the brown paper to reveal a Glock 19, a common and reliable handgun. And one with a really large clip. Ejecting the magazine, I pull one of the rounds from the track and inspect it, grimacing when I see the tip.
Hollow point. Meant for real damage. He was planning on killing people, not just making noise.
Clenching my fist around the bullet, I shift my gaze back to the ceiling and narrow my eyes. Suddenly, I leap from the bed and land next to my desk, powering up my laptop, and go to Google.
Search: real-life psychic.
A list of tarot and palm readings come up with stellar reviews, and I roll my eyes, frowning. My fingers go to the keyboard once more.
Comic sites and a link to Wikipedia show up, causing a frustrated sigh to come from my throat.
Search: telepaths in real life.
An article about an Indian savant girl pops up, and I click in. The author outlines details of tests and research done on her to test her extrasensory abilities. The results show her passing every test with flying colors, even being able to pull memories from her mother’s head with ease. Researchers are still emphasizing the need to conduct further testing in even more controlled settings to verify these claims.
I blink once, twice, then research the characteristics of savants.
Savant: term used to describe a person who has incredible skills in a specific area, yet is intellectually handicapped. A gentle snort leaves my nostrils. Pretty sure that doesn’t fit me. I frown sideways. So what the hell is going on?
I sigh and lean back in my chair, thoughts running through my head like rats as I stare at the ceiling. Hours pass with me in this position, and I lose track of the number of times my roommates go in and out of the room. Finally, I get a series of hard taps on my shoulder and turn my head up to see Ping standing over me. I inhale sharply.
“I didn’t tell you I was leaving the hospital.” I cringe hard.
“No,” he deadpans. “You didn’t.”
Another sigh. “I’m sorry man, it’s just…it’s been a really crazy day.”
He snorts. “Tell me about it. First we get messages from all our classes with a whole lot of pre-class assignments, then a PSA e-mail from admin about some assholes robbing people at gunpoint three blocks from here, and now my best friend—”
“Wait, what? What was that about a robbery?”
He blinks once. “Oh, yeah, uh…there was an armed mugging a couple blocks away, by 30th street.”
“Any description of the guy?”
He gives me a strange look. “Why, you lookin’ to hunt him down?”
I snort and roll my eyes. “I’m no cop, boyo. Just a guy lookin’ to stay out of trouble. If I spot him at a distance, I can run the other way.”
“Yeah, you can. Will you?”
I stay silent for nearly half a minute. “I don’t know.” That isn’t true. “I guess I never really thought about it.” Also not true. Not sure why I’m telling Ping this.
One of my brothers is a cop down in DC, so he’s insisted that we all learn how to defend ourselves, both unarmed and with weapons of all types. With the mechanics and techniques he put me through, the first time we went shooting, I managed to get kill shots with ease at nine yards and with a bit more difficulty around eleven yards. Considering that most gunfights happen at around five to ten feet, I consider myself fairly well prepared. That is, of course, assuming I’m armed. Mind flickering back to the Glock I disarmed that man of, I realize I am.
Technically, I’m breaking school policy by having a weapon, but who’s gonna tell? Not my roommates, and certainly not my RA, who’s never even in my room.
“Yo, you still awake?”
I blink and look up at Ping. “Hm? Oh yeah. You saying something?”
He sticks his hands in his pockets. “Nope, you just spaced out for a second.”
I snort and smirk. “You should be used to that by now. I’m a very mental person.”
“Yeah, in all sorts of ways.”
I arch an eyebrow and give him a look.
Ping just grins and waves. “Anyway, I’ll let ya get back to whatever it was you were doing. Later.”
I nod absently and stare off into the Philly skyline, a concentrated frown on my face. Eventually, my eyes drift up to my bed, and my body follows, one hand grabbing the gun, the other the magazine and loose round. I push the bullet into the track and the mag into the weapon, but don’t pull the slide back to chamber a round. The Glock goes into a locked chest in my wardrobe, and I slump back into my seat, slowly spinning around. Giving the chest one last look, I grab my jacket and head off to dinner.
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