STAR FINDER

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Chapter 4: Eggheads and Scholars

“Naturally. What does that have to do with me?” She wiped her damp cheeks with the corner of her pink Hello Kitty T-shirt. Nervous, she stood, circled him like a caged lion. “This is an avoidance tactic. Answer my question? Why do we live like this?”

“Lilly, sit down. You’re making me dizzy. A savant? What do you remember from your studies?”

She returned to her desk and the bottle of lukewarm water. Unscrewing the cap, she gulped down half the bottle.

“The origin of the word savant is Middle French, savior, from Latin sapere to be wise. It is a condition in which a person has a serious mental disability, but whose brain can absorb detailed knowledge in a specialized field of study. Some savants do complicated math, others draw, paint, or play music without instruction.”

“Encyclopedia perfect. Now, don’t interrupt and just listen to this comparison. A savant’s mind is like the headlights on a car. Some parts of their brain are on high beam and other parts are on low.”

A terrible weight settled in. “Because I have my own lost and found department inside my head, you are saying I am a savant?”

“Yes.”

Lilly shivered as if a ghost had passed through her. Emotions stunned, her quick mind went on autopilot. Her voice barely a whisper. “Is that why Skye tutors me? My brain doesn’t work right? It is dim?” She had prided herself on her quick mind. Was that wrong? Of course, she had no one to compare herself too. When there is one student in the school, she would automatically be first in the class.

“Hey, no. Who’s the neurobiologist here?” It was rhetorical. “Believe me, there is nothing wrong with you. You are not flawed. High beam…no dim spots in your brain.”

“And Skye? Why can’t I meet her? Where is she? What does she do inside my,” she pointed, “head?”

“Great question.” Thrilled, he clapped, once. “Skye helps. She is more familiar with your condition than anyone on earth.”

He had hesitated. He is holding back? And ‘condition’? The word frightened her. Suddenly she didn’t want the whole truth. What if the answers hurt more than the not knowing.

“Should I continue?”

Lilly crossed her arms and braved up. “This is very informative and is helping me to focus some of my concerns.” As always when under pressure she hid behind her bookish professorial facade.

Cosmo played to this opportunity. “EMPs, electromagnetic pulses have been shown to enhance electrical connections inside the brain.”

“Of course.” She pulled up a stream of information stored in her memory cells. “Resulting in an increase in the percentage of neurons-to-glial-cell ratio that enhanced cognition and memory. Interesting…this is your theory?” He nodded. “But EMPs? I remember your lecture on level-one nuclear EMP. You said and I quote, ‘EMPs destroy electrical devices.’ Logically, a strong EMP would do the same to a human brain. Fry it.”

Cosmo walked to the whiteboard and diagramed. Seconds later red and black pictures and equations filled the space. “Focused bursts here,” he indicated with his marker, “pinpointing specific areas of the brain with a person-to-person transmission is the solution.” He added arrows. “I have collected some interesting data during my research.”

“Two problems. Source? Another savant, who could create and transfer EMPs. That is impossible.” One finger tapped her chin. “Unless…?”

“Yes,” answered Cosmo. “Skye.”

“Skye is like me and can create EMPs? No one can live through such a transfer without…”

“Yes. Put it all together…” he watched, let his daughter’s beautiful mind go to work.

“Shielding. A brain buffer would be necessary. Your hypothesis is…” Then it hit her. The answer to a question she had asked. “My ratty old pink headband is a shield? Skye has been shooting EMP burst into my head and you allowed her to do it?”

“It is perfectly safe. Skye and I have developed a new type of shielding. A neuro-nano chip. Once implanted, it would seek out and connect wirelessly with the DNA of another compatible savant.”

“Someone with similar DNA…me and Skye?”

“Yes, Lilly. A device that was attracted to your specific brain waves. Sort of a mental magnet.”

“Dad, dad. Slow down. Hold on.”

Cosmo took a breath. He was excited to let it all out. Finally, his Lilly would see how special she was and as a budding scientist would be fascinated. “What if the people society labels as mentally deficient aren’t. What if they are superior? Just think about it.”

She felt ill. Her stomach rolled. She fought to keep bile from exploding out of her mouth. “That’s what you have been working on. A way to unlock my brain?”

“Yes.” Cosmo’s calloused hands rubbed down his clean-shaven face. He braced himself knowing his daughter would be quick to come to the desired conclusion.

“Your research…it is me?” She swallowed hard. “I’m a test subject!”

“Yes. You’re a very rare savant. It is the unusual configuration of your brain’s electrical system that allows you to accept Skye.”

“And she is what… the battery that jump starts me?” This is awful. Worse than she could ever have imagined. Her father recited gathered data as if reading from a file fold, not her life. She shuddered. “…then I’m a prisoner because you are studying me? You keep me isolated so my responses aren’t skewed by outside influences.” Tears, not the little lace things as before, but huge bold round ones rained down as she screamed, “I’m not gifted, I am cursed! I’m trapped here. A caged rat in your maze!”

Cosmo’s heart cracked. Would she forgive him? And this wasn’t the worst of his secrets.

“I am a freak! You made me into a freak!” She ran to the kitchen. When he came toward her she dodged to keep the center island between them.

“Baby, you must know I would never hurt you. I love you. I would never let anyone hurt you. Skye is a friend.”

“Oh, sure. A friend that controls me.”

“No! God no. Never. She’s not like that. She’s a gentle creature. Her only function is to help with your wiring, unlock doors in your mind.” She was also searching for a cure for Lilly’s escalating hormones but that was for a future conversation.

“So, I am nothing by myself? Without Skye I would be, what did you say, dim? Now you want to put a chip in my head?” Eyes and face scarlet, she boiled over. “Put it in your head, first!”

Cosmo reached out. “Calm down. Give me a chance.” He grabbed her arm.

Lilly jerked free, tromped into the living room and plunked down in her favorite chair. When he came near she refused to look at him or even acknowledge his presence.

Deep shoulder-shaking sobs filled the apartment. “Mom. I want Mom! I wish…” She screamed again, “I want Mom!” Tucked between the cushion and the arm was a photo album with pictures of her mother. …” She dug it out, sniffled and crushed the album to her chest like a security blanket and curled into a ball.

Cosmo wanted to defend himself and tell her she didn’t want that horrible woman. He had loved Nashi once. That was until he overheard her bartering to sell Lilly, her own flesh and blood, back to Nautilus. The woman never nurtured or cuddled Lilly. Their daughter was always sample #192 to Nashi.

That was one secret he’d take to his grave.

Cosmo went to Lilly. Got down on one knee.

She jumped up and fled down the hall, album in tow.

Cosmo followed.

She threw open her bedroom door, darted inside, and slammed it behind her. The lock clicked into place.

“I’m sorry.” He pressed his forehead to the wood. “I love you.” The air between them grew heavy. “All this information…the way we live, it’s a lot to digest. It is not the life you want or deserve. I am sorry.”

She kicked the wall leaving a sizeable divot. Bawling, back against the door she cried out, “I hate my life! I hate you!”

Cosmo spoke through a crack. “I…please…damn it. Stop crying. I never know what to do when you cry. Baby, I’ll do better. No more secrets. Not so much security. Hey, you’ve been hungry for ice cream. The real thing. Tomorrow night we’ll go to Schaffer’s. What do you say? Is it a date?”

A cell phone rang. They both froze. The sound came from inside the apartment.

Lilly lurched as if shot. Her eyes sent daggers flying at the man on the other side of her door. “What is that? You have a phone. Another lie! You said no phones allowed!”

“I must answer this. It has to be urgent.” He rushed to his desk, pulling the key from his pocket as he went. The buzzing was coming from inside a drawer. He unlocked it, picked up his phone, and entered his ten-digit password.

“Yes.” He listened. Sweating, he strolled to the window and looked out. In the park in front of his building, they were setting up for a block party. The band had just arrived.

Cosmo’s conversation was short and to the point. “Tonight? I don’t like last minute changes.” His jaw muscles bulged. “You’re sure. And you have it in your possession?” He paused. “I’ll be there.”

He disconnected, crushed the phone under the heel of his army boots. He gathered the pieces, found the sim card and twisted it between his fingers. He dumped it all in the trash.

Procuring the chip was why he had come to Washington. Wireless, direct communication between Lily and Skye would be vital when Lilly was on her own. Sure, the supplements, nootropic or smart pills, were building bridges in Lilly’s brain to give Skye direct access, but that took time. The chip was a sure thing.

“Lilly.” He knocked on her door. “Please let me in.”

“No. You said no more secrets. You lied.”

“I’m sorry. If it helps, I threw away the phone.”

Tonight, after Lilly was asleep he’d slip out and pick up the chip. Because of his earlier sighting, the man at the bus stop doing recon, he would have to take extra precautions. That included avoiding street cameras. That was a time-consuming process. Lilly would be left unguarded most of the night. What would she do if something happened to him and come morning he wasn’t sitting at the breakfast table?

He wanted to think she would be okay. What he had taught her would see her through, give her courage. She wouldn’t be completely left on her own. Like Nautilus, he had his network of helpers. One, in particular, a person whose life he had saved, had promised to keep an eye on Lilly and take her to the safe house he had prepared. Better chalk the bottom step out front and give him a heads up, Cosmo reminded himself.

“Kiddo, it’s not good to go to bed angry.”

Two small fists thumped the barrier between father and daughter. “Go away.”

She ran to her bed and dropped face down. When a fuzzy gorilla fell off the shelf and landed on her head, she bolted upright and threw every stuffed animal within reach across the room.

Cosmo gave peace one more chance and tapped. He jiggled the knob.

Lilly yanked the quilt over her head, burrowed into her pillow clutching the photo album, and curled into a blubbering ball.

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