Jewel rolls out a large leather chair from the conference table and sits, twirling Jack’s phone in his hand. Another man unlocks Jack’s handcuffs and put them on his belt like he’s done the move a thousand times.
“Don’t run off on us, okay, buddy?” Jewel says, jokingly. He probably realizes Jack can see that running off at this point would be exceedingly stupid. Through the glass walls of the conference room, Jack can see at least two dozen FBI agents, CIA agents—or whatever these guys are—walking around in an expansive cubicle farm. They all look trained, fit, and are probably armed.
Somebody turns on a large flat-screen on the far wall. On it, a stocky woman in a grey pantsuit sits into the frame and looks out at them. She has close-cropped silver hair and wears a pair of bifocals on a necklace.
“Well, hello,” she says, smiling a soft, professional smile. Her face is wise and kind, her voice low and sharp. There’s no one in the room besides Jack, the men who nabbed him, and now this woman on a screen. But from her tone it seems like she’s talking to Jack.
“Good evening, doctor,” Jewel says nonchalantly. “Jack is here with us, as you can see.”
Jewel looks at Jack for a moment. “No, ma’am. No problems.”
She looks down at a thin dark manila folder on the desk in front of her, flipping it open.
Jack shifts in his seat.
“Do you know what an IQ is, Jack?” the woman asks with a stern look on her face.
Jack looks around the room, not sure if or how he should respond to her. He decides he has no good reason to stay silent and clears his throat.
“Yeah, of course,” he answers, like it’s the most obvious thing in the world. He’s put together by now that the test he took in school earlier was some kind of IQ test. How that relates to all of this, however, is still a mystery to him.
“Do you know what your IQ is?” she asks.
Jack looks to the others for clues as to what this conversation is about.
“Uh, no. Not really,” he mumbles. “What am I, like a genius or something?”
Jewel stifles a laugh. Jack shoots him an angry look.
“No, your IQ is quite average, in fact,” she says without a smile. “But that’s not why you’re here.”
Jack examines the woman’s face, trying to read her. Then he looks at Jewel and the other men.
“What’s that suppose to mean?” he asks, slightly jilted at what he takes as an insult to his intelligence.
The woman’s face seems to be moving toward a genuine smile, but it stops short. She’s not going to break from this hard schoolmarm routine.
“I’m sure you have many questions,” she says.
“I’m afraid I’m not going to be able to answer very many of them. But I can tell you one or two things about what is happening to you, or, rather, what will happen to you, if you make the right choices.”
She picks up the folder and opens it.
“You did very well on your test today,” she says, putting on her glasses.
Jack leans to the side of his chair, trying to rest his elbow on the metal armrest, but finding it slippery. “Yeah, that’s what he told me.” He points to Jewel. “It was an IQ test. I get that. But you said you don’t care about that. So, what’s up with all this?”
She cocks her head. “The mandated tests are intended to give school districts an indication of students’ intellectual capacity. Apparently they find some value in the IQ.” She hits the word IQ with clear disdain. “The tests have another function, a somewhat subversive function.” She takes off her bifocals and lowers the folder. “That’s why you’re here.”
She leans forward, resting her forearms on the desk in front of her, clasping her hands symmetrically and looking at Jack with humorless yet trustworthy eyes.
“My name is Dr. Conway. I’m a psychiatrist. I oversee a program at Army Intelligence and Security Command in Washington.” She speaks at a slow clip, cutting off each word cleanly after she releases it. “It’s part of the NSA.” Jack perceives that she’s trying to connect with something he might have heard of before. “You’re going to be a part of that program.”
Jack takes another look around the room.
“What if I don’t want to?”
She raises her eyebrows. “I can understand why you might say that, Jack,” she says with more empathy than Jack has seen her display yet in this conversation, though he notes it still isn’t a lot. “We approached you in the unorthodox way that we did due to circumstances beyond anyone’s control.”
Jack lifts his hands and plunks them down with an angry huff. “Look, whatever. Somebody has to take care of my grandpa. I have to go to school. I don’t want to be in any kind of military . . .” he settles on a word and hits it with disdain, “program.”
He notices her pulse doesn’t seem to rise in the slightest. He imagines she’s probably interviewed a lot harder people than him.
She replies calmly. “Your studies, such as they are, are irrelevant. And we’ve arranged for your grandfather to be placed in an assisted-living facility.”
Jack can’t stifle his incredulous laughter. “What? You can’t do that. Grandpa doesn’t want to be in one of those places. He can’t be. He’d go ballistic.”
“I’m afraid it’s already settled, Jack.”
Jack shakes his head. “You can’t do this. You can’t just come in and . . .” he stutters, trying to find the words. “I have friends. I have a life.” His volume spikes “Who are you guys? What is this?!”
Jewel holds out his fingers and intones, “Settle down now.”
Jack contains himself. He sees no point in losing his cool here. That would end badly.
The doctor takes a short breath. “Without any surviving or competent guardians, you, as a minor—”
“I’m almost eighteen!”
“You can be remanded by the state, legally. It’s a simple matter.”
Jack can’t believe what he’s hearing. He stares at her. His jaw drops.
“You’ll be housed at the field office here for the night. You and your small detail will leave for Fort Belvoir in the morning.”
Jewel looks at him, adding, “0800.”
Jack tries to maintain his composure, but the stress is clear in his voice: “There is no way you can do this. You can’t just take people places. That’s kidnapping.”
“What I’ve told you is accurate, Jack. We already have a court decree.” She shifts in her chair, with no sign of a chink in her armor. “I’d like to make you aware of an important fact.” She seems to look past him. “The opportunity you’re being given to work inside this program is extremely rare, and quite privileged. There are only a handful of people in the entire world who qualify with test scores comparable to yours.”
Jack isn’t sure how to process this information. A handful of people in the world? It seems so implausible.
“Of course, you’ll need to be retested, to rule out any assessment error,” she trails off. “Do you understand what I’m telling you, Jack?”
Jack appreciates her ability to deliver a backhanded compliment. But does she really think that telling him he’s special is going to make him feel better about being abducted? If she thinks he’s going along with any of this crap for one second, she’s in for a big surprise. He’ll pretend to go along for now, but he’s busting out of this place the first chance he gets.