“We can’t run away,” Maya says as she walks hurriedly down the hall with the others.
Chris rubs his head lightly and smiles at Sabine. “I’ll never underestimate you again.”
Maya gets in front of him. “Chris, listen to me.”
“How about a compromise,” Jack says. “Let them know what’s happened. Find out how quickly they can move us to a more locked-down area. If they blow us off us after that, then I vote we go with Chris.”
Jack thinks Chris is being reckless, but the nod to his leadership could cool his bravado. Jack never thought he would meet anyone more reckless than himself, but then he never expected to meet anyone like Chris.
“That’s a good first step. I agree,” Maya says. “If we run, they’d just come after us. If we can work with them we’ll have a better chance against this terrorist.”
“Okay,” Chris says. “We’ll try it that way. We give them one more chance, and they better not screw us over.” Their pace quickens as they move from the dorm area into the administrative wing.
“But remember,” he continues, “we have the power in this situation, now that we’ve ‘manifested’—is that what you called it? At least most of us.” He puts a hand on Jack’s shoulder. Jack can tell he’s trying to show understanding, but it’s more like a punch to the stomach. He hardly needs a reminder that he’s the only one in the group who hasn’t unlocked an ability.
Jack does his best to brush it off. He slaps his hands together as they round the hall to the training center’s command office. “Okay, let’s go.”
A receptionist in a military uniform moves from behind a desk to bar their entry. They barge through, with Chris in the lead. Sabine trots along, expressing hope that they don’t get into trouble.
They find Jewel, the doctor, and a few other men huddled in a control room over a console. Maps, dossiers, and scrolling data fill a large screen above them. The doctor stands to face them. “You children are not allowed in here.”
Jewel steps in front of her, his arms out. “Let’s go.”
Chris fixes himself in Jewel’s path. “Let see what you can do,” he says.
Jewel reaches for Chris as if to usher him out, but just before his hand makes contact, it stops. Jewel struggles to push it forward, but can’t seem to move it.
“Ha!” Jack yells. “Check that out! Children, huh?”
Jewel looks at Chris. “How are you doing that?”
“I’m not,” Chris says slyly.
Jewel looks at he other kids and spots Maya focusing intently on his arm, gripping Sabine’s shoulder.
He withdraws his hand and rubs it. He nods to two other security officicers in the room. “Let’s get these kids back to their rooms.”
As two large men step forward, Maya angles her gaze toward them. One of them slows, pushing ahead as if against a powerful wind. The other steps around him.
“I can’t stop them all!” Maya cries.
Jewel looks at the doctor, then back at Maya and the others. “You may have powers, but we still have rules here,” he says with a slight quaver in is voice.
“Everyone, stop,” the doctor says.
Maya falls to one knee. “That hurts,” she says.
“Go around it,” Sabine whispers to her.
The doctor steps in front of Maya and cracks something approximating a smile. “This is extraordinary. You controlled them, Maya?”
“You know it,” Chris says.
“There’s no need to resort to physical force,” the doctor says, raising her hand to Jewel, who stands back. “Or extrasensory powers.” She eyes Maya.
“Okay, but don’t just shut us out,” Jack says. “We came here to talk to you.”
The doctor turns to Jack. “It seems tempers are flaring. You may have a hard time believing this, but we don’t want to fight with you either. We also don’t want to be forced to restrain you.” She looks to each of them. “Everything we’re working for here could be in jeopardy if we can’t work as a single unit. What this program is deigned to do is help you harness your gifts, which it looks like we’ve clearly begun to do—”
“No, we did it,” Chris says.
“Okay, you did it. And I’m grateful that you came to us to demonstrate that.” She smiles. “It’s remarkable. It’s everything we’ve been working for.”
“We want to work together, too,” Maya says. “But we’re concerned for our safety.”
Jack can see the doctor is holding back deeper emotion, which surprises him. Who knows how long she’s been trying to see results from all her work?
“We want to develop our power so we can stop that terrorist,” Jack says. “Prevent him from trying to hurt anyone else.”
“We want that as well,” the doctor says. “We believe we can help you deter further acts of aggression from this dangerous individual. But first, data must be collected. Plans must be formulated—”
“We’re not going to be able to do any of that if we’re dead,” Chris says. “If he comes back here—which he could do any minute—we’re done for. He’s a lot more powerful than we are.”
The doctor nods. “We arrived at that same conclusion. I’ve put in a request to NSA leadership to transfer our entire operation to a more secure facility. An SAP level-one, underground.”
“Now you’re talking. When does that happen?”
“Things don’t move quickly in government. There’s bureaucratic procedure to contend with. But we’ve begun the process. What you’re able to do now will prove the necessity of prioritizing the program. We’ve got to document it and demonstrated it.”
“In the meantime, what can we do to defend ourselves against this guy?” Jack asks, “Where is he now? Do we know anything about what he’s planning to do?”
“It’s too soon for that. We’re analyzing the data we have.”
Looking at the doctor closely, Jack can see that she’s not telling them everything she knows.
“We’ll convene at 0930 in the main dormitory conference room. We’ll discuss strategy, and our priorities moving forward,” she says. “We want all of you to be involved in the decision-making. But it’s also critical we arrange more tests to get an understanding of the parameters of your abilities.”
Jack assesses the doctor’s body language: the subtle twitch in her brow, the hesitancy in her hand movements. He finds when he looks at her a certain way, he feels he can almost see behind her eyes, and then he feels his senses open, unlocking a new way of seeing. He perceives something deeper inside her mind, almost like he’s in it with her. It’s a new sensation unlike anything he’s felt before. He experiences an almost out-of-body trance. In it, he can see clear images that she’s experienced, like on a monitor. He sees the White House press briefing room, the president, a dossier.
The sensation ends as quickly as it began. He emerges disoriented. He wants to blurt out what he’s seen, but holds himself back.
“Go with Agent Klanmer now back to your rooms. There will be two guards at each door for your protection.” The doctor uses her best “mom” voice, exuding confidence and trustworthiness. But Jack somehow knows that the doctor just wants to pacify him and the others, not bring them into her inner circle. She cares for them. She thinks of them as her children, almost her property. She doesn’t want to send them into harm’s way before they’re ready.
Jack tries to look inside her mind again. It’s like moving through an invisible door. He finds it. Again he sees the president, the White House. He sees now that the image is in fact on a monitor. It’s security-camera footage the doctor saw earlier today. The terrorist is there, with reporters. She’s analyzed it. She knows who the terrorist is. She’s considered scenarios: the president killed, a nuclear weapon launched. They’ve weighed options and created contingency plans, none of which include Jack or the others. The knowledge shoots into his mind like a dagger.
He loses his balance. Maya and the doctor reach for him.
“Are you all right, Jack?” Maya asks.
“She’s lying!” he blurts out. “They know what’s going on. They have information. The man who tried to kill us. She knows him.”
Jack’s head throbs with a stabbing pain. He feels like he’s going to pass out. “Sabine, help,” he groans. Sabine comes to him.
“That’s absurd,” the doctor says. She and the other men watch with curiosity as Sabine puts her hands on Jack’s forehead.
A half-dozen more guards arrive, appearing more than capable of restraining the kids, no matter what powers they might summon. The doctor holds a hand up to stay them.
Jack feels Sabine’s presence in his mind, similar to what he felt during the ceiling collapse, but more completely. This time, it’s the essence of her enveloping him. A kind and simple felling that soothes his mind, gives him a sense of calm, and guides him around his pain to a quieter place. He experiences his pain as separate from himself, and can feel Sabine walking him around it, looking at it.
He shakes his head. The pain dissipates. He tousles Sabine’s hair and smiles at her. She beams.
“Jack,” Maya says excitedly “You read their minds.”
Chris steps up to the doctor. “Why are you keeping information from us? I thought you said we were a team.”
The doctor looks unsure. “There are protocols. Certain information is coded for strict security clearance. There are laws. This is not something I control.”
Jack wonders what she’s saying. He notices she’s quivering slightly, a glimmer of perspiration forming on her brow.
“Is what Jack said true?” Maya asks.
The doctor struggles to explain herself. Jack can see through her facade of confidence. For the first time he’s witnessed, she doesn’t seem to know exactly what to say.
“It’s not my place to confirm nor deny particular facts pertaining to national security. Not until stakeholders have been briefed, and order and proper procedure is maintained within this program.”
“No, no, no.” Jack dismisses her. “This is urgent. It’s something happening right now, something big. Forget procedure.”
“There are larger forces at work here,” the doctor snaps back, almost cruelly. “We’ll discuss next steps in an hour. That’ll be all.”
Jack doesn’t need special powers to see that she’s stalling. But he wants to know more. His power is like a new toy. He goes back into the doctor’s mind, more easily this time, and pulls out all the information he can: political intrigue, Machiavellian plots, jockeying for budgets and increased appropriations, controlling Jack and the others, influence in the bureaucracy, dark predictions, where she keeps her keys, her ATM password, everything.