Chris paces three steps in his room, pivots, and then walks back, his hands balled into white-knuckled fists. Three steps, pivot, then back.
The clock radio says 4:38 a.m.
The events of recent days play over in his mind and stir a fire inside him. He’s vulnerable in this place—they all are.
He plays through likely scenarios: the terrorist gets them in the cafeteria, when they go outside, or at night when they’re asleep. He could be casing the joint right now.
Three steps, pivot, then back.
Their suggestion to double the guard makes him huff. Jewel and the doctor are always asking him to calm down. He imagines palm-striking them in the nose, one after the other.
Who are these people telling me to calm down? It’s my life on the line here, not theirs.
Do they even know what happened to Maya? Are they going to be able to save her? They don’t even seem to be concerned about it.
Jack’s move on Maya sears into him like a third-degree burn. He wonders if he’s somehow at fault for playing along.
The thought creeps into his mind that he’s afraid. He shakes his head, rejecting it immediately. Afraid of what they’re doing to him and the others at this place. Afraid that they might all be doing something dangerous with their brains, something they might not be able to recover from. He keeps shaking his head, like an animal lurching over and over at its cage with the same motion, locked in an insane, repetitive behavior. Three steps, pivot, then back. There’s no other way to fight against an impossible trap.
Fight. That’s what I have to do.
They can’t protect him anymore. They can’t protect any of them anymore. He’ll have to protect them. He needs to bust out of this place. He needs to lead the others to somewhere safer.
The earbuds pound a heavy-metal mix into his auditory nerve. He thrusts his fist in the air in time with the shouting and drum-banging.
So much emotion is rippling through him that he feels like he can’t contain it. He thinks of his family back home, his older brother who never thought he would amount to anything. Look at him now—working in a top-secret government compound. They might even be training him to be a secret government agent with mind-control powers.
What do you say to that, Danny?
His parents would be proud. They didn’t hesitate when the agents came to their house and asked to take Chris away with them to a “special school.” They believe with a blind faith in the goodwill of the American government. They’re second-generation. Their parents, all four of them, came from Korea. They started businesses here, and then sent their kids to college here. They all believe in one thing: anything can happen in America.
They were proud of him then, when he only had straight A’s, swim-team trophies, a Tae Kwan Do semifinal championship. What would they say now? He’ll come home the favorite son.
If Chris were part of a team that stopped a dangerous terrorist, he would be more than a hero. His family would celebrate him on a new, unknowable plain. Everybody would. All the guys in the dojo would cheer. The high school would hold an assembly. They’d post newspaper clippings all over the neighborhood.
But what if he was the one who got hurt? What if he was the one on that operating table right now? They’d feel be betrayed. Everything his family holds dear would turn to dust. The artifice of patriotism would tear away and all they’d have is a stark, painful lie.
Chris feels ready to explode with electricity, passion—something. Anything. It doesn’t matter what.
He slams his hand against the wall. He spins around and kicks it, putting a big dent in the plaster. His foot, powdered with paint and drywall dust, throbs like he broke every bone in it.
He walks it off, pacing on the same track. Three steps, pivot, then back.
Questions bombard his mind. What have they been doing to his brain here? What have they been training him to do? Is he supposed to be able to read minds? Control someone else’s thoughts? That doesn’t seem right to him. It doesn’t fit his personality. He needs an ability to exert his life force, his energy, onto other things—make them move. That’s what he believes he’ll do if his power ever develops the way Maya’s did. Like she moved him, he believes he’ll move an object: a board, a brick, a wall.
He pulls the clock radio forward and slams it back down on the nightstand. He grabs a chair, flips it backward, and then sits, his hands on the backrest in front of him. He stares at the clock radio intently, trying to focus, but not think, like they do in training.
If Maya was able to move his arm when she felt something intensely, Chris intuits that if he wraps up all his feelings, maybe he’ll find a way to channel them into a psychic power. He wraps up his fears, his anxieties, his anger, his will, his drive to achieve all that has ever fueled his ambitions, the raging engine that’s always propelled him to achieve his goals.
A voice inside him rises for a moment, reminding him that he doesn’t believe in magic. He pushes it down. Things have changed. He’s witnessed incredible things. There’s something to this, he decides, some science that explains it. He brushes off all doubt. He wants to tap into the power.
His swim-team coach yells, “Are you going to fail? Are you going to be a loser?” The Grandmaster screams, “What are you made of? What kind of a man are you going to be?” Chris knows the answer. He’s going to be a great man, a secret agent, fulfill a great destiny, and live out all of his dreams.
Veins bulge in his forehead. His hands whiten from his bare-knuckled grip on the chair back.
Directing all his energy at the clock radio, he screams at the peak of his intensity, glaring at the object with rage in his eyes.
The clock radio doesn’t move.
He hits the chair back with both hands and gets up and paces three steps, pivot, then back to the clock radio. He kicks the chair aside. That he was unable to move the clock radio only fuels his anger further. He looks at it with renewed intensity.
Am I going to be beaten by a little piece-of-crap clock?
He relaxes his shoulders. He focuses his emotions. They sharpen to a fine edge. Now it’s like he’s shooting a laser from his mind. He feels no anger. He smiles. A quiet confidence overtakes him.
He holds out his hand and closes it into a tight fist.
Standing in the middle of the room, erect, glaring intently at the clock radio, he feels his mind slide it across the table, two, maybe three inches.
He looks around the room. His first thought is one of disappointment that no one else was there to witness what just happened. The moment is gone, and therefore invalidated.
His second thought is not a thought at all. It’s a burst of joy like he’s never felt before. It builds in him like a billowing explosion. A revelation. Pure transcendence.
He jumps up and down wildly, hooting until his voice is hoarse, pumping his fist in the air with all his might.
“I nailed it! I nailed it!” He moves closer to the clock radio, standing over it like Muhammad Ali over Sonny Liston, slamming his fist down on it. “I own you! You are mine, bitch!”
He falls to the ground and laughs uncontrollably.
Then he has another thought. It’s reasonable and intellectual. Yet still it’s more good news: he didn’t pass out. He’s fine. He stands up again.
I’m stronger than the others. I must have a special . . .
His thought trails off as his legs buckle. He falls to one hand, the other involuntarily clutching his head, which is searing with pain, like a hot drill burrowing into his temple.
A wave of dread hits him. He’s not strong. He’s going to pass out. He hopes there’s enough adrenalin surging through his blood that he can withstand it and remain conscious.
The pain gets worse. It worsens too quickly for him to brace himself against it. He falls over, clutching the side of his head, curling up in a tight ball, screaming.