The Mind's Eye

Discussion in 'Survival Reading Room' started by ChrisNuttall, Jan 31, 2011.

  1. ChrisNuttall

    ChrisNuttall Monkey+++

    This story is something of an experiment. I thought it might interest a few people...

    Chapter One<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:eek:ffice:eek:ffice" />

    ...In pursuit of Operation Soaring Eagle, <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:eek:ffice:smarttags" /><st1:country-region><st1:place>US</st1:place></st1:country-region> Marines are carrying operations in a certain place, at a certain time, in a certain country. They’re not giving anything away tonight, folks.
    -AP News Report, 2015

    “It’s quiet,” Gunnery Sergeant David Bass muttered. “It's too quiet.”

    Lieutenant Art Russell swallowed several responses that came to mind, none of which were very helpful. The twenty-four Force Recon Marines had spent the last few hours walking from the <st1:stockticker>FOB</st1:stockticker> to the small complex up ahead, hoping that the insurgents – Taliban, terrorists or simply drug runners – wouldn’t notice the advancing American force. The locals were thoroughly cowed by the enemy and, despite the presence of most of the 1<SUP>st</SUP> Marine Division, weren't inclined to offer aid and comfort to the Americans. Art couldn’t blame them. The day the Marines had moved into the area, a local headman and his family had been beheaded – the women had been raped first, according to the locals – as a warning to others who might be considering assisting the enemy. The Marines couldn’t count on any help and, if a local who had a cell phone saw them, he might just call them in to the enemy.

    He rubbed his forehead, cursing the headache that had appeared several hours after they’d departed the base and made their way towards the small cluster of buildings. No one who had never seen <st1:country-region><st1:place>Afghanistan</st1:place></st1:country-region> would believe that it could get so hot, but Art – who had served two terms in <st1:country-region><st1:place>Iraq</st1:place></st1:country-region> – had rarely been in a hotter country. The heat beat down on the Marines, sending rivers of sweat running down their backs, despite the latest cooling battledress. His aching head was just another problem. He should have called it in, he knew, and allowed someone else to take his place, but he was no quitter. Besides, calling for a helicopter to evacuate him back to the <st1:stockticker>FOB</st1:stockticker> would have blown their cover. The NATO forces in the area had been quietly placed on alert to support the Marines if they needed it, yet they’d been told to stay away from the complex. The last thing they needed was to alert the High Value Target – <st1:stockticker>HVT</st1:stockticker> – who was supposed to be based there.

    “No argument,” Art muttered back. The small complex – nine small buildings and one large complex, clearly built during the Soviet occupation of <st1:country-region><st1:place>Afghanistan</st1:place></st1:country-region> – appeared deserted, at least from the outside. But then, he knew better than to assume that that proved anything. The Taliban had a good idea of just how good the American surveillance and communications systems actually were and knew better than to show their faces without good cause. A seemingly-deserted building might hold an entire enemy unit, hidden away under cover. Or maybe the locals had abandoned the area after the Russians had pulled out and left it alone. <st1:country-region><st1:place>Afghanistan</st1:place></st1:country-region> was a land of contradictions, where timeless beauty went hand-in-hand with mindless brutality and enough barbarity to make a Roman Emperor sick. “Spread out and check the area. My spider-sense is tingling.”

    Bass nodded wordlessly and use his hands to signal to the other Marines, who slowly started to creep out around the buildings. If they were seen, a fire-fight would break out almost at once, but the Force Recon troops were expert in operating without being seen. They’d trained against opposition forces with night-vision gear and the latest in remote sensing equipment, although they’d also trained in low-tech environments. The Marine Corps had been in the forefront of counter-insurgency campaigns for a long time and knew that a low-tech environment could be just as dangerous as a high-tech environment, perhaps more so. There were too many people in the rear who would refuse to believe in the existence of an enemy force if it wasn't radiating radio or cell phone transmissions, but the Marines on the ground knew better. The enemy could be anywhere, or anyone.

    The headache refused to fade as the reports came back through his earpiece. The Marines used a subvocal communications system to allow them to talk to one another without being overheard, or detected by any means the Taliban were known to possess. Art had never taken that for granted; the Russians or the Chinese might well have sold them some advanced detection gear, perhaps calculating that the longer the Americans stayed bogged down in Afghanistan, the greater the chance they’d have to reshape their regions to their own best advantage. The Russians hated the Taliban, but if they were willing to get into bed with the Nazis, they’d probably be willing to get into bed with the Taliban as well. His lips quirked into an amused smile as he contemplated the mental image for a long moment and then shook his head, dismissing the thought. Headache or no headache, he had a job to do.

    “The snipers are in position,” Bass said, as he crawled back to where Art was waiting. He gave the Lieutenant a concerned look as he settled up next to him. The NCO had over twenty-five years of experience in the Marine Corps – he’d taken out plenty of green lieutenants before and saved them from making stupid and career-ending mistakes – and he could probably sense that something was wrong. “There’s still no sign of…”

    Contact,” one of the snipers hissed. Art froze at once, feeling his body and mind jerk into overdrive. The absence of gunshots probably meant that they hadn’t been spotted, but the enemy could be playing it cute. “I have four jingly trucks on their way up to the complex, each one carrying at least twelve bearded men.”

    Art and Bass shared a glance. The Taliban, among the other bizarre rules they had fought to impose on <st1:country-region><st1:place>Afghanistan</st1:place></st1:country-region>, insisted that every man should have a beard – and jailed everyone who refused to grow one. The presence of beards meant nothing in and of itself, but there were no Afghanistan National Army or Afghanistan National Police units in the area. Anyone coming to the complex was almost certainly hostile. The presence of so many men suggested that they had something else in mind than a social visit. Did they intend to escort the <st1:stockticker>HVT</st1:stockticker> out of the area?

    He frowned as he pulled his terminal out of his belt and accessed the direct feed from the orbiting UAV, so high up that no one, even Bass, could see that it was there. The trucks had been tracked as soon as they’d entered the area, coming out of no man’s land to the south, towards <st1:country-region><st1:place>Pakistan</st1:place></st1:country-region>. It was another strike against them. Anything crossing from <st1:country-region><st1:place>Pakistan</st1:place></st1:country-region> to <st1:country-region><st1:place>Afghanistan</st1:place></st1:country-region> should have been declared at the border, but then no one would bother unless they were stopped at gunpoint. Art found it hard to blame them. Years ago, someone in the West had drawn arbitrary lines on a map and separated <st1:country-region><st1:place>Afghanistan</st1:place></st1:country-region> from <st1:country-region><st1:place>Pakistan</st1:place></st1:country-region> – it had been part of <st1:country-region><st1:place>India</st1:place></st1:country-region> at the time – and torn tribes and families in half. The tribesmen refused to accept the border as possessing any influence on their lives and crossed it freely, creating lines of communication that could be used by the Taliban and their supporters. <st1:country-region><st1:place>Afghanistan</st1:place></st1:country-region> was a witch’s brew of factions, each one determined to see that they came out on top, with NATO in the middle.

    Bass tapped his side. “Sir,” he muttered, as the trucks came into view. “Look!”

    Art followed his gaze. The large building at the centre of the complex had suddenly come to life. Seven men had appeared at one side of the building, one of them very familiar. Mullah Mohammed, as he called himself, had a sizable price on his head for terrorism and other crimes against humanity. He was, at least as far as NATO intelligence could put together, the Taliban’s district commander, with control over terrorist groups and cells in the entire region. He’d been marked for capture or death as soon as NATO had identified him, but no one had tracked him down, until now. He watched as men leapt off the trucks and embraced their comrades. The Marines were heavily outnumbered, yet Art found it hard to care. They had the greatest weapon of all on their side. No one suspected their presence.

    He keyed his radio, taking care to keep his voice below hearing level. The tiny mike on his throat would pick up the words and transmit it to the waiting Marines. “Get ready to move,” he ordered, scanning the remaining enemy fighters as they clambered out of the truck. They moved rather unprofessionally, part of his mind noted; they clearly weren't expecting trouble. His headache seemed to grow worse every time he looked at one of the enemy fighters, so he tried to look away from them. He checked his equipment with one hand as the Marines checked in, the snipers leading the way. The enemy, nicely bunched up as they were, would provide easy targets for the sharpshooters. Even the Taliban had learned to fear the NATO snipers. “I’m calling the contact in now.”

    Art tapped his terminal, sending the call to arms back to the Marine <st1:stockticker>FOB</st1:stockticker> ten miles to the north, and then checked his weapon one final time. The attack helicopters would be spinning up their rotors now, preparing to come out and join the fun; the transport helicopters, carrying additional Marines, would be right after them. The fighters and bombers NATO kept orbiting over the area – a mixture of American, British, French, German and Dutch aircraft – would be receiving the alert seconds later. A thunderstorm was gathering and it was about to poor itself down onto the unsuspecting terrorists. They had no idea of what was coming their way.

    He keyed his radio again. “Go,” he ordered. His headache sparked and he winced in pain. Bass frowned, but said nothing. “Open fire.”

    The snipers opened fire at once. They were used to firing from much greater ranges than they were faced with and the enemy fighters didn’t stand a chance. One by one, they started to topple over before they realised that they were under attack, the ones who had been identified as commanders going first. A handful started to blaze back towards the snipers with AK-47 rifles, but their bursts went wide off the mark. The Marine Corps trained its snipers well and armed them with the best; there was literally no flash for the enemy to use as a target. The smarter enemy fighters – including the Mullah, Art noted absently – had ducked back into the complex, trusting in its Russian-built walls to protect them from enemy fire. They were probably right. The Russians might have deliberately built ugly and soulless buildings – the true nature of communism could be seen in the buildings the communists had gifted their unwilling allies – but they were strong and certainly resistant to sniper fire. A single air-dropped bomb would smash the building, of course, yet there would be no chance of taking the <st1:stockticker>HVT</st1:stockticker> alive.

    Art swallowed a curse as enemy fighters began firing from the buildings. Their shooting wasn't particularly accurate, thankfully, but it was making life interesting for the snipers and the other men, who were crawling closer and closer to their targets. His radio buzzed with a report of four men who had attempted to escape from the other side of the building, only to run into fire from the three Marines who were advancing on the enemy rear. The four men were dead and the Marines had the remaining enemy forces trapped. A smart enemy commander would have offered to surrender, but the Taliban rarely surrendered, even when their enemy wouldn’t simply kill them out of hand. <st1:country-region><st1:place>Afghanistan</st1:place></st1:country-region>’s warrior mentality bred tough fighters. The ones who learned to think like true soldiers were formidable opponents.

    He picked himself up and half-ran down towards the complex, while the snipers provided covering fire from their positions. Now that every enemy soldier in the open was dead, the snipers had started to fire into the buildings, aiming their shots through portholes that had been used as enemy firing positions. The snipers who saw their opponents could shoot them, perhaps even kill them, even when they were firing from cover. The ones who couldn’t see their targets directly could still discourage the enemy from firing by shooting a handful of shots through the portholes. Who knew – perhaps the ricochets would take out an enemy fighter or two.

    A deafening explosion echoed across the compound as one of the trucks blew up. Art’s radio buzzed a second later, filling him in; the enemy had attempted to use one of them as a firing position, so a Marine had tossed a grenade into the vehicle. The force of the explosion suggested that the truck had been transporting goods and ammunition to the Taliban in the area, ammunition that would be turned against the Marines and the remainder of the NATO forces. The Marine who had tossed the grenade was uninjured, but stunned, so Art ordered him to stay back until he had recovered. His headache was growing worse…

    He pressed himself against the side of one of the smaller buildings, certain – somehow – that there were still enemy forces inside. There was only one way into the building – through the door – and he cursed under his breath. The enemy would have to know that, because no one larger than a child could fit through the portholes that passed for windows. The Taliban had been known to use children as suicide bombers – sometimes knowingly, sometimes without telling them what was at stake – and Art kept one eye on the window, even as he pulled a grenade off his belt. Bass caught his arm and shook his head, motioning for two of the junior Marines to lead the way. Art wanted to swear at him – if something happened to Art, Bass was perfectly capable of running the entire force on his own – but there was no time for an argument. The lead Marine held up five fingers and counted down, while the others prepared their grenades. At zero, they tossed their grenades through the window and explosions shattered the door. A moment later, the Marines were through the remains of the door, weapons raised and looking for trouble. There were seven enemy bodies in the room and one living enemy fighter, who Art suspected rather wished he was dead. His legs had been blown off and he was bleeding badly from a gash in his left arm.

    His radio buzzed as the Marines reported in. The smaller buildings had been cleared of enemy – at a cost; two Marines had been injured by the enemy as they struggled to escape the trap – but the large building was still occupied by the enemy. Art scowled as the Marines reformed outside the building, readying themselves for the final assault. There was no time to waste. The Mullah might, like several other Taliban leaders had done, take his own life when he realised that there was no way to escape. Art hated the Taliban for what they did in order to fight their way, yet even he had to respect such an act. It didn’t change the problem, however; the Marines needed to take him alive, if possible.

    Bass glanced at him and then used hand-signals to get the Marines ready for an assault. The longer the enemy had to get ready to fight, the harder it was going to be to clear the building. The snipers could keep the enemy away from the windows, but they’d have plenty of room inside to manoeuvre, particularly if they’d prepared the building for an attack. The Marines had looked for any details they could find on the interior of the building, but they’d found nothing. The Russians had claimed that the files had been lost. Who knew – they might even be telling the truth.

    Art gritted his teeth against the headache and nodded, signalling for the assault to begin. One Marine used shaped charges to blow down the door; two more threw grenades into the opening, attempting to kill the enemy before they could pick off the incoming Marines. There was a brief burst of machine gun fire, a pair of explosions and the fire dropped off sharply. The Marines slipped through the door, weapons raised, and opened fire when they saw four more enemy fighters lifting their own weapons. A burst of fire from above pinned down two Marines before a third fired a long burst up the stairs and silenced the enemy gunner. Art, Bass and two other Marines advanced to a door, threw in three grenades and followed them into the room. The room was deserted.

    The interior of the building was a dark nightmarish maze. Art pressed onwards, feeling his headache pounding inside his skull. From time to time, an enemy fighter would pop out of hiding, scream Allah Ackbar and open fire, forcing the Marines to gun him down before he could find his bearings. The enemy didn’t seem to have scattered IEDs through the building, thankfully, but they were successfully delaying the Marines. God alone knew where the Mullah and his inner circle had gone. Art had kept his bearings, yet he had no idea how one part of the massive building related to the other parts.

    A burst of firing up ahead concentrated his mind on staying alive. The enemy had taken up a strong position in the semi-darkness, using a Russian machine gun to force the Marines to stay back by firing from time to time. Art struggled to locate them, straining every sense he had as he listened for sounds of movement in-between the bursts of fire and…

    …Something snapped in his head. A torrent of noise, of screaming and shouting, poured into his mind. He barely heard Bass calling his name as the pain worsened and the noise grew louder. His head seemed to explode as he screamed, feeling blood trickling down from his nose and ears…

    …And then he collapsed into blackness.
  2. ChrisNuttall

    ChrisNuttall Monkey+++

    <B><FONT size=3>Chapter Twoffice:eek:ffice" /><?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com[​IMG]…Marine forces today captured an unnamed High Value Target and several of his principle supporters in a daring raid on an enemy compound. A spokesmen for the USMC commended Lieutenant Russell and Sergeant Bass for their actions during the raid. Lieutenant Russell was injured during the fighting and was transferred to a NATO base in ffice:smarttags" /><?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com[​IMG]-AP News Report, 2015

    His mind hurt.

    Art wasn't sure if he was awake or asleep, alive or dead. There was a dull roaring at the back of his mind, a nightmarish roar of static, with words he thought he could hear if he listened closely, yet the mere act of trying to listen only made the pain worse. He thought he could hear Bass’s voice, and that of a young female doctor, yet there was no way he could pull out individual words. It crossed his mind that he might be in Hell and, somehow, that thought gave him the ability to open his eyes. A bright light was pouring down from high overhead and he cried out as it stabbed deep into his mind. A second later, the light was switched off and he almost gasped in relief. It had simply been too much to bear.

    “It’s all right,” a voice said. Art was suddenly certain that it was not all right. “Can you understand me?”

    Art recoiled. The voice had been young and female – and therefore interesting, because he hadn’t seen a woman he’d been allowed to talk to since going on deployment – but there were waves of communication in her words. His head was buzzing with pain, yet he could pick out that the woman had lied to him. Everything was very definitely not all right.

    “Yes,” he said, finally. It took several tries to get the word out and then it sounded rather dull and atonal in his ears. Her voice was laden with meaning; his was just…his voice. “What happened to me?”

    Knowledge crashed into his skull and he almost cried out again. He’d fainted in combat, simply collapsed while advancing on an enemy position. His memories were blurred, but he recalled the headache and the final moments when he’d been struggling to locate and identify the enemy…and then there had been nothing, apart from darkness. It had almost been a relief. Bass had taken command, called in the medics from the helicopters that had swooped down to provide fire support for the Force Recon troops and arranged for him to be evacuated all the way back to the Heathe Craig Joint Theater Hospital, at Bagram Airfield.

    “You’ve been evacuated back here,” the nurse said. He twisted his head until he could look up at her. She was very pretty, with dark hair tied up into a bun and a nice – if worried – smile. Art would have tried to chat her up if he’d come under other business, but something told him that she wouldn’t be interested. Just looking at her seemed to make the noises in his mind grow louder. It dawned on him, suddenly, that he knew what had happened, even though she hadn’t told him anything significant. “You’re fine, really.”

    Art grunted as he tried to sit up. A burst of pain seemed to blast through his skull and he fell back onto the sheets. The nurse – her name was Marian, he realised, somehow – reached out and touched his arm. Art almost screamed again. Her touch wasn't unpleasant – far from it; it was the first touch of a woman’s hand in months – but the roar in his head grew louder. Marian recoiled herself, surprised at how she’d affected him. The instant she took her hand off him, the pain in his head receded.

    “I think I’d better get the doctor,” Marian said. Art shook his head. “No; you gave us a nasty fright when we brought you in and we don’t want to lose you to something unexplained…”

    “Marian…please don’t call the doctor,” Art said, before he could stop himself. “I’m fine, really I am.”

    Marian stared at him. “How do you know my name?”

    Art stared back at her. How had he known her name? She wasn't wearing a nametag or anything else that could be used to identify her; he’d just somehow reached out and pulled her name from somewhere. The roar in his head seemed to fade away into whispering voices as he concentrated, voices that spoke of worry and pain and fear. Somehow, Art knew that he didn’t dare say that out loud.

    “I had a friend who went into care here,” he said, lying. “He told me that the prettiest nurse in the centre was called Marian.”

    Marian flushed. “And so you decided to call me Marian,” she said. She thought of him as a jerk, he knew, somehow. He couldn’t blame her for that, even though the roar in his head was growing louder again. “Once you get better, I am going to slap you silly.”

    A few days ago, Art would have laughed, or joked about being a masochist, or maybe even being so desperate for a woman’s touch that he didn’t mind being slapped. Now…now he just wanted time on his own, time to think and work out what had happened to him. He couldn’t have pulled it right out of her mind, could he?

    “I look forward to it,” Art said. He smiled at her, as best as he could. “I’ll give you a call if it gets any worse, I promise.”

    Marian gave him one final doubting look and walked off, going to tend to the other patients in the centre. Art settled back on his bed and started to think. She hadn’t told him her name, or anything particularly useful, but he'd known the moment he posed the question. The dull roar in his head, like having a radio set programmed to switch between random channels, seemed to be fading away, yet somehow he knew that it would always be there. Sleep seemed impossible, not with the fascinating mystery confronting him, but somehow he dozed off. When he awakened, it was the middle of the night and a different nurse was on duty. She was tending to one of the other patients, yet the moment he looked at her, he knew that she was called Dolly and that she was in love with an officer from the other side of the airfield.

    Art concentrated hard, remembering meditation tricks his sister had told him about, back when she'd been dating a Buddhist Monk. The more he concentrated and calmed his mind, the clearer the voices in his head became. He looked over at Dolly and suddenly the voices grew much louder and clearer. She was thinking about her lover, and about how she used her mouth on his penis to make him come and…Art recoiled, horrified. There no longer seemed any room for doubt. He was reading her mind. She shouldn’t be thinking about her boyfriend while she was at work. He pulled a name out of her head – Peter – and smiled to himself. It would be fairly simple to test his theory. He waved at Dolly and she came over to him, checking the computer placed by his bed.

    “Dolly,” he said. It was hard to look at her now that he knew one of her most intimate secrets. “Would you like to go to dinner when I get out of this pit?”

    Dolly shook her head. “I'm dating a lovely young man called Peter,” she said, with a wink. Her forthright attitude made him smile. “He’s popped the question and…well, I am keeping him waiting for a few days, as my mother advised.”

    Art nodded to himself. Her words seemed to shimmer in his head, carrying impressions of her innermost thoughts. She was telling the truth; she truly loved the young man and wanted to marry him, even though she was delaying things just to prolong his agony. Her memories started to shade back towards their last few days together and he looked away, but somehow they kept pouring into his head. He was starting to realise that being a mind-reader – and it seemed impossible that he could be anything else now – wasn't all it was cracked up to be.

    “Good for you,” he said. He was tempted to ask her more questions, but manfully resisted the temptation. “What happened to me?”

    Dolly, unlike her predecessor, didn’t seem inclined to hide anything from him. “You collapsed while in combat,” she said, flatly. “The preliminary tests suggested that you had fainted, but the doctors noticed that you had some unusual brain activity and decided to transfer you here while you were thoroughly out of it. They were talking about sending you back to the States when you woke up.”

    Art blinked. “What kind of unusual brain activity?”

    “I guess a jarhead like you wouldn’t know what it meant to be actually thinking,” Dolly said. It was the first falsehood she’d told. Her superiors were concerned about Art’s condition, more concerned than they were prepared to admit, at least to him. It was just like doctors, in his experience; they cared more about their feelings than about their patient’s concerns. “How are you feeling now?”

    Art considered the question seriously. Now he knew what was happening, the pain was fading away, although the static in his head refused to vanish completely. When he closed his eyes, Dolly was a nexus of thoughts and feelings standing in front of him, viewed through the mind’s eye. He could tell the doctors what had happened…and then, he suspected, he’d end up being treated like a lab rat, dissected to see what made him tick. He’d certainly never be able to return to his unit.

    “Much better, thank you,” he said, finally. It was the truth, in a way; he knew what was going on and could deal with it. “I’ll see about getting back to my unit in the morning.”

    Dolly wasn't pretending to be shocked. “You’re staying here for at least a week,” she said, firmly. There was no give in her at all. “You collapsed while in combat. You need to be checked properly before you’re allowed back into the line of fire.”

    Art nodded, rolled over and pretended to go back to sleep. Dolly walked off, her thoughts fading away the further she walked, and Art allowed himself a moment of relief. He knew, without looking, that there were four other patients in the room, all rather more seriously injured than Art. One of the four was a British Para, who’d been wounded while chasing a group of Taliban fighters through their hideout; the others were asleep, dreaming unpleasant dreams. They were broadcasting mental waves towards him, he decided; they were the source of the static in his mind.

    “Damn it,” he muttered to himself. “What do I do now?”

    A thought occurred to him and he returned to meditation. A trick he’d picked up back when he'd been a recruit back at <st1:place><st1:placeName>Paris</st1:placeName> <st1:placeType>Island</st1:placeType></st1:place> had been to snatch sleep whenever he had a spare moment. By combining the two…sleep overwhelmed him and he fell into darkness. The night wasn't a pleasant one – he realised at some level that he was tapping into other people’s nightmares as well as his own – but at least he managed to sleep. In the morning, there was a third nurse, a young black girl. Art had half-hoped that it had been a dream, but he could read her thoughts as clearly as he could read those of the other nurses. A thought occurred to him and he tried to beam his thoughts into her mind, yet nothing happened. It was, he decided, probably for the best.

    The first three days of his imprisonment – as he soon came to think of it – passed slowly. The doctors came and visited him, putting him through all kinds of tests, which turned up nothing. The unusual brain activity they’d told Dolly about was still present, but they didn’t have any idea what it actually meant and – perhaps luckily – they didn’t ask Art if he knew what it meant. It turned out that, by slipping into meditation, Art could effectively turn off the telepathy for the tests, reducing the brain activity to almost nothing. One of the doctors suspected that he was doing it on purpose, but the others refused to take his thoughts seriously. Art kept his mouth shut and waited impatiently for them to clear him for duty. His unit was engaged against the Taliban – the capture of the wanted Mullah had clearly stirred up a hornet’s nest – and he wanted to rejoin them. It was his duty.

    On the fourth day, he received a visitor.

    “I understand that you have been lollygagging around in bed, you lazy bastard,” Lieutenant Chad Dexter said. Art felt his mouth fall open with a mixture of amusement and outrage. Dexter had been an old friend from Parris Island, but after they’d qualified as Marines Dexter had gone in for Marine Combat Training before qualifying as an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Technician and being deployed to Iraq, and then Afghanistan. It wasn't a duty Art envied him. Bomb disposal was the most dangerous task in the war. “Get out of bed and we’ll go get some chow.”

    “Thank the Lord,” Art said. “What are you doing here anyway, you retard from Hell?”

    Dexter opened his mouth, but before he could speak the answer flowed into Art’s mind. He’d been assigned to clearing IEDs from the nearby area, and then deployed in support of Ranger deployments to the west. Art shivered and fought hard to control his mind. It hadn’t occurred to him – and it should have done – that he’d be able to read the minds of his friends as well as his enemies and random encounters. It felt as if he had violated Dexter somehow and the fact that his friend would never know the truth didn’t change it. He’d been treating it as a game, poking into the minds surrounding him, but now…the full nature of what he’d done hit him.

    “Art?” Dexter sounded worried, as if his voice was coming from a far distance. “Art – are you all right?”

    “Yes,” Art growled, cursing himself for the display of weakness. It would probably convince the doctors to keep him in bed for another few weeks. “I’m fine and I'm coming…”

    He pulled himself out of bed, reached for his uniform and donned it quickly, before checking his sidearm out of habit. The airbase had been attacked before he'd been deployed to <st1:country-region><st1:place>Afghanistan</st1:place></st1:country-region> and everyone on the base was supposed to pack heat, even when off duty. Art privately suspected that some of the REMFs on the base were more dangerous to their own side than to the enemy, but it hardly mattered. If the Taliban risked an attack in force, it would be touted as a victory by the enemy, even if they were wiped out to the last man.

    The hot air struck him as soon as they stepped outside the hospital and he recoiled, gathering himself before he could continue onwards towards the chow hall. The airbase was the size of a small town, complete with American restaurants and other entertainments. The chances were good, Dexter informed him with an evil wink, that some of the female personnel on the base were running a prostitution ring, although that was strictly against regulations and they’d be punished severely if they were found out. Art found it hard to care. It had been too long since he’d been with a woman and they had strict orders not to even think about trying to chat up the local women. Besides, he had always found the heavily-veiled Afghani women to be more than a little creepy.

    “We’ll go to KFC,” Dexter said. Art didn’t bother to argue. “They do meal deals for soldiers from the front lines.”

    “How respectful of them,” Art said, as they stepped into the building. “You’d better order and…”

    He broke off. Coming into the KFC had been a mistake. There were over fifty people in the room, all broadcasting their thoughts and feelings into the air. Art’s head spun and, for a moment, he was on the verge of blacking out again. Dexter didn’t seem to notice, but Art knew…and fought hard to control his mind. It seemed impossible to prevent the thoughts slicing into his mind and tearing his world apart. If he couldn’t learn how to control the ability, he realised bitterly, he would have to live a secluded life. It was the only way he could have any peace.

    And then he sensed it. It was another nexus of thoughts and feelings, but one brimming with hatred and deadly intent. His head snapped up and he started to look around, trying to locate the source of the hatred. His eyes settled on a local contractor, one wearing a suspiciously large local robe, who was pressing his way into the middle of the crowd. The anticipation in his mind sparked higher and Art realised, with a shudder of terrifying horror, what was about to happen. He drew his weapon with lightning-quick reflexes and pointed it directly at the contractor.

    “Hands in the air,” he shouted. The contractor’s eyes opened wide with anger and then his hands snapped down towards his belt. Art didn’t hesitate. He fired twice, putting two shots right through the man’s head. As his body collapsed to the ground, the robe tore, revealing a suicide belt. Dexter dropped the chicken nuggets on the ground and dived for the bomb, disarming it before it could explode. Art, his mind reeling from the sense of death, stumbled and fell towards the ground.

    The MPs arrived and took control of the scene. Art wanted nothing more than to stumble away and think, but he found himself collared by one of the MPs. He was a bluff aggressive man; someone – Art guessed – who had been rejected by the front-line forces. The moment his skin touched Art’s, there was another burst of thoughts and feelings, but they were too jumbled up to make any sense.

    “Good work, Marine,” the MP said. “How did you know?”

    Art took a breath and confessed. “I read his mind.”
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  3. Byte

    Byte Monkey+++

    Interesting story line. Looking forward to see where you take this one.

  4. ChrisNuttall

    ChrisNuttall Monkey+++


    Chapter Three<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:eek:ffice:eek:ffice" />

    …An attempted suicide bombing at Bagram Airfield was foiled by the quick reactions of a Marine Lieutenant who had been repatriated to the airfield to recuperate after being injured while on active duty. The bomber was a man who bribed his way onto the base’s workforce and smuggled a suicide belt into the base over the preceding week. The bomber was killed and no one else was hurt.
    -AP News Report, 2015

    He wasn't formally under arrest, but it felt very much like prison.

    Art looked around the small apartment for what felt like the thousandth time and tried to relax. The MPs hadn't believed him, of course, so he’d demonstrated his ability to their leader. Their leader had taken him to the base CO, who also hadn't believed him, but had handed him over to the local CIA officer once Art had finally managed to convince him. The CIA officer, whose mind had lit up with a curious mixture of anticipation and fear, had ordered Art transported home by the shortest possible route. That had turned out to be one of the CIA’s classified rendition flights, which had also been transporting several prisoners the Marines had taken in their recent raids. Art had stayed away from the prisoners – the hatred radiating from their minds had poisoned the atmosphere around them – and tried to sleep. It hadn't come easily.

    He rubbed his rear as he picked up the book and tried to concentrate on it. After arriving in the United States, he’d been transported further inland, towards what he was starting to suspect was a secret CIA installation. In hindsight, it seemed very likely that the CIA would want to make use of a telepath, if they actually managed to get their hands on him. He had found himself seriously considering trying to break out and escape – the CIA might just want to dissect him, just to find out what made his telepathy work – but a quick check had revealed that the door was not only locked, but secure. There was no other way out of the apartment.

    The one blessing, as far as he was concerned, was that he was alone. He’d tried hard, but he hadn't been able to shut down his telepathy; the best he could do was reduce the static that blared through his mind every time someone came close to him. There was no background noise now, thankfully; he couldn't even sense someone on the other side of the door. He suspected that he was being observed through hidden cameras – he’d searched the apartment on general principles, but found nothing – and he was tempted to do something unspeakably rude just to upset the watchers. Instead, he forced himself to read another chapter of his book. The CIA officer back at the airfield had given him a box of paperbacks a publisher had sent out for the troops, although Art wasn't sure if they were a gift or a loan. He shook his head at the thought. The books had been sent out to the troops in the field and he’d send them back to the Marines when he had a chance.

    They’d taken his watch when he’d entered the compound, along with his cell phone and holstered pistol, but Art had always had a good time sense. He'd been in the apartment for over four hours, just waiting for the CIA to decide what to do with him. Irritated, he looked over at the bed and shower, something that struck him as almost sinfully luxurious after the harsh conditions of Afghanistan. Perhaps he’d take a nap – all soldiers learned to sleep when they had a chance – and wait for something to happen. He wasn't in any physical danger, or so he told himself. Unfortunately, the paranoid part of his mind refused to believe him.

    Alice Spencer looked down at the file in front of her and then up at the computer screen, which was showing the live feed from the hidden camera in the observation suite. Lieutenant Russell could hardly be described as handsome, she decided after a moment, not after his face had been rearranged during a bout at Parris Island. On the other hand, there was a certain rugged charm in his features and her last boyfriend, an over-paid pretty boy, had cheated on her twice and then run off with one of her girlfriends. There was something to be said for a man who wasn’t full of himself.

    She looked back down at the file and shook her head slowly. Alice had no direct military experience – she’d only graduated from training a year ago and had been assigned to Project Looking Glass because she’d come in near the bottom of the class – but the file was very impressive. Lieutenant Russell had joined the Marines as an enlisted man – whatever that meant – and had been at the top of his class at Parris Island. Deployed to Iraq as part of the Surge, he’d been commended for heroism in the face of the enemy three times and reprimanded for being insubordinate once. The Marine Corps hadn't worried about the latter; he’d been encouraged to become a commissioned officer after taking command of a mixed platoon after the senior officer had been badly wounded during a battle in downtown Baghdad. The Marine Corps would be sorry to lose him.

    It probably wouldn't matter anyway, she knew. The really interesting part, at least as far as she was concerned, was that Lieutenant Russell had scored highly on the Zeller Test, a test that was administered to everyone who joined the United States Armed Forces, regardless of the branch. He should have been recruited for Project Looking Glass instead of being allowed to deploy, but apparently he’d turned down the officer of stateside duty and his superiors had backed him up. And now he’d turned into a telepath. Alice felt the first stirrings of genuine excitement as she read through the report that the officer in Afghanistan had hastily cobbled together. The CIA had always had its doubts about the Zeller Test, yet it couldn't be a coincidence that a person who’d scored highly on the test had turned into a telepath. The test had been designed to measure psychic powers, after all.

    “Psychic potential,” her superiors had said, when she’d been assigned to Project Looking Glass. Looking Glass was a tiny operation within the CIA, not least because Congress refused to fund it openly, fearing that they would be turned into a laughing stock. Some results had been interesting and terrifying; more often, the project seemed to be permanently on the verge of failure. “A person who scores highly on the test may never develop anything we can actually use.”

    Alice sucked in her breath as she stood up, knowing that she was procrastinating. Her superiors had been quite clear as to why it was her, rather than someone more experienced, who would be conducting the first interviews. Alice was new and her only CIA duties had been with Looking Glass. She knew nothing a telepath could extract from her mind. The thought was unpleasant. Like all CIA employees, Alice had been through the verification process – she’d been hooked up to a lie detector and shot full of truth drugs, leaving her sick for hours afterwards – but this was different. Lieutenant Russell could look into her mind. She might have known nothing of interest to an enemy intelligence service, yet she had plenty of embarrassing secrets...

    Taking a breath, she strode towards the door before she lost her nerve completely.

    Art looked up sharply as the door clicked open, revealing a young woman wearing a casual suit. She had long blonde hair, tied back in a ponytail, and a face that was pretty, rather than beautiful. He didn't need any telepathy to sense her apprehension; in some ways, she was acting rather like a newcomer to a unit rather than an experienced professional. He couldn't help, but notice how she’d pulled her shirt tighter than it really needed to be, revealing high firm breasts and wide hips. It struck him, a moment later, why she’d dressed in such a manner. She wanted to be both businesslike and attractive. His telepathy reached out towards her, but he held it back. He didn't want to go crawling through her mind.

    “Good afternoon,” the girl said. She had a warm voice, one that would have been seductive if she hadn't sounded so nervous. Art found himself liking her on sight, even though she looked almost as if she was still growing into womanhood. “I’m the CIA officer assigned to your case.”

    The emotions underlying her words were complex, too complex for Art to pick apart quickly. “Pleased to meet you,” he said. He held out a hand and she took it. He was instantly aware of her, of the flickering emotions running through her mind. Her handshake was firm, but she didn't keep the contact open any longer than she had to. “What are you going to do now?”

    “Answer me a question first,” the girl said. “What is my name?”

    Art blinked, and then understood the test. He reached out with his mind and sensed a name bubbling on top of her mind. It felt right. “Alice,” he said. Her face seemed to freeze with shock. “Your name is Alice Spencer.”

    Alice swallowed, hard. “Yes,” she said, finally. “Welcome to Looking Glass, Lieutenant.”

    “Hold on a minute,” Art said, quickly. Her emotions were shifting too quickly for him to follow easily, but she seemed to be frightened. “I haven't agreed to do anything.”

    “We...ah, the Company, the CIA, have had a research program into ESP ever since the start of the Cold War,” Alice said. Her emotions seemed to be quietening down as she spoke with increased confidence. “Looking Glass is merely the latest version of that project. As a telepath, we have arranged your transfer to detached duty with us...”

    Art felt as if he had been punched in the gut. He should have expected it, he knew, yet it was still a shock. Somehow, he’d thought that there would be a few experiments, perhaps a few medical tests, and then he could head back to his unit and reassume command of the platoon. As a young enlisted man, he knew what he would have thought of any officer who deserted his men...and he felt as if he were deserting them, even though it hadn't been his choice. Alice was watching him sympathetically, but Art ignored her. How could she understand what they'd done to him?

    “Right,” he said, finally. “And how long do I have to wait until I return to my unit?”

    He knew the answer before Alice could speak. “You cannot return to your unit,” Alice said, finally. There was genuine sympathy in her mind. “At the moment, Lieutenant, you represent a priceless asset – you are a priceless asset. We cannot simply throw you away and send you back to combat. You might be killed!”

    “Occupational hazard,” Art said, dryly. “What makes me so special? Surely, if you have a research program into telepathy, you have more than one telepath.”

    Alice started to answer and then stopped herself. “Read my mind,” she said, finally. Art, who could sense the feeling of violation flickering through her mind, shuddered inwardly. Her mind was raging up a storm again, a mixture of a desperate desire to test him thoroughly and fear of what he might find in her mind. “Why don’t you find the answer to your question yourself?”

    Art looked at her for a long moment and then extended his mind again. This time, he found himself running into memories of attending a concert – he recognised Midgard Metal, a band that had been quite popular with some of the younger soldiers – as he slipped into her mind. Alice, he realised suddenly, was deliberately thinking of other memories and thoughts, trying to distract him and force him to pull out of her mind. That realisation allowed him to understand that thoughts alone weren't enough; the emotional shading covering the thoughts was just as important. It seemed impossible to rifle through her mind as easily as one could use an internet search engine. Even a very young person would have hundreds of memories to use to distract him.

    Her mind seemed to flare around him and he found himself sitting in a small classroom, where a tutor was lecturing a tiny group of students – no, prospective CIA agents for Looking Glass. As if the mere thought of the project’s classification was enough to draw the memories to his attention, he found himself suddenly swimming through her memories. Her tutor – staring at a man though a woman’s eyes was surprisingly disconcerting – hadn't pulled any punches. The CIA had only a handful of people with ESP potential and none of them had been telepaths, at least not in the same sense that he was a telepath. The most advanced had been remote viewers, who tended to burn out quickly.

    Art pulled out of his mind and sat back, surprised. “You don’t have any other telepaths?”

    Alice looked equally surprised. “I couldn't feel anything,” she admitted. Her words were shaded with undeniable truth. “I knew that you were peeking” – another flicker of violation blazed through her mind, sending a wave of guilt running through Art’s own mind – “but I couldn't sense anything. What did you find out?”

    “You like Midgard Metal,” Art said, with a wink. Alice laughed. “I know soldiers who’d be prepared to date you just for that.”

    “I like to think that I bring other attributes to a relationship,” Alice said primly...and then burst into giggles. Art found himself chuckling; the sound of her giggles seemed to blow away all the uncomfortable tension in the room. “My girlfriends and I went to the concert a few years ago, where I met a boy who ****ed me right in the stands while we were dancing...”

    Art lifted an eyebrow. Her words had been shaded with falsehood. It wasn't outright malice, as far as he could tell, but she was definitely lying and clearly testing him again. “You’re lying,” he said, with a wink. He couldn't see the truth without looking into her mind, but he knew that she was lying. “What actually happened there?”

    Alice grinned back. “You tell me,” she challenged. “What really happened there?”

    Art gathered himself and peeked. A moment later, he felt a shocking rush of emotion as her memories opened up in front of him. For a moment, he teetered on the brink of blacking out, as memories that were uniquely female rose up and roared through his mind. Her first boyfriend had been a daring young man and had danced behind her, slipping up her skirt in the semi-darkness and slipping into her, all the while concealing his activity from everyone else. He was suddenly aware that his penis had swelled and grown hard...

    “Art,” Alice was saying. His mind was swimming and it was hard to pull his mind back together. “Art...Lieutenant...are you all right?”

    “Just dazed,” he said, shaking his head. At least it didn't hurt. For a few seconds, he had been female, at least in his mind. The intensity of the emotions had overwhelmed him. “You went with your boyfriend and...”

    He found himself smiling at the memory. “Brave bastard,” he said, finally. “What happened to him?”

    “He wanted to have a foursome with me, one of my girlfriends and a boy he knew,” Alice said, reluctantly. “I said no and he dumped me.” She shrugged. “I was on the verge of leaving him anyway. He had too many weird demands.”

    Art flushed at the emotions that echoed in her words. The young Marines had shared tales about women they'd known openly, including some very strange stories; he’d always suspected that most of them were lies. He’d ********ted a few times himself back in the barracks, telling stories that sounded as if they came out of Penthouse Letters or Playboy. Perhaps some of the stories had been true after all.

    Alice cleared her throat and changed the subject. “What else can you do?” She asked. “Can you pick something up with the power of your mind?”

    It had honestly never occurred to Art to try. He pulled a pen out of his pocket, placed it on the table and stared at it, willing it to rise. His eyes felt as if they were going to pop out of his head with the effort, but the pen adamantly refused to move. He concentrated hard, and then tried to defuse his concentration, yet nothing happened. Finally, he gave up and returned the pen to his pocket.

    “No,” he said, finally.

    Alice nodded. “There were some odd results back in the past,” she said, finally. There was something in her voice that warned him not to push the issue, at least not at once. He could have pulled it out of her mind, yet...that would have left him feeling like a peeping tom. “The Russians claimed to have made staggering advances in mental science. We never managed to acquire any hard data.”

    She swallowed again. “Let's try something else,” she said. “I want you to try and make me do something.”

    Art stared. “Are you serious?”

    “Yes,” Alice said. She held up a hand before he could speak. “No, don’t tell me what it is; try and make me do something. Try and make me do anything.”

    “All right,” Art said, finally. He stared at her, concentrating on trying to make her lift up her shirt and show him her breasts. It was the first thing that came to mind. He concentrated hard, but her hands refused to move. He could see her mind, he realised, and read her thoughts, but he couldn't alter them. “No luck.”

    “You wanted to see my chest,” Alice announced. Art blinked at her. How the hell had she known? She laughed at his expression. “It’s the first thing a man would think of, dummy. Men! Telepaths or not, you’re all pigs.”

    Art shook his head in disbelief.
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  5. ChrisNuttall

    ChrisNuttall Monkey+++

    Comments are always very welcome and encouraging...

    Chapter Four<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:eek:ffice:eek:ffice" />

    ...In a speech today at the New York Paranormal Institute, Professor Zeller, the former director of the CIA’s Project Star Gate, claimed that the human race was approaching a breakthrough into a new age, when humans would be able to access and manipulate cosmic forces with the power of mind alone. The sceptics in the audience noted that Professor Zeller had never provided any concrete proof of his increasingly grandiose claims...
    -AP News Report, 2015

    “You know,” Art said, several days later, “anyone would think that you didn't believe me.”

    The man facing him refused to smile. “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence,” he said, flatly. “We have to test you as thoroughly as we can.”

    Alice, sitting next to Art, smiled at him. “It's nothing personal,” she assured him. “You would be astonished to discover how many frauds there are who try to get themselves onto the Company’s payroll...or, for that matter, how many real remote viewers simply have a bad day from time to time and cannot produce anything. We test them heavily to see if they score above average on the Zeller Scale, more than the law of averages would allow for.”

    Art scowled. Alice had, at his request, provided him with files on the CIA’s research into the paranormal, but most of the files didn't seem to apply to him. The CIA’s small group of remote viewers – men and women who could send their perception out of their bodies and start roaming across the world – weren't telepaths. The testing system the CIA had devised wasn't intended for telepaths and it showed. Art had tried his hand at remote viewing, at Alice’s suggestion, only to discover that whatever abilities he had, he didn't have that one. He couldn't see through walls, or clothing, let alone send his mind roaming away from his body.

    “Fine,” he said, dryly. “Let’s get on with it, shall we?”

    The man facing him – he had refused to give his name, silently daring Art to peek into his mind – produced a sealed pack of cards from a pocket, tore it open and shuffled them with the ease of long practice. Art guessed that he was a poker player when he was off duty, which suggested all sorts of new and interesting uses for his powers – if anyone on the base could be convinced to play poker with him. The ability to know if a person was bluffing or not, let alone to see what cards they held, would be very useful.

    “The odds, in case you are interested, are one in fifty-two against you,” the man said. He produced a card and held it face-down on the table. “What card have I produced from the pack?”

    Art shook his head in irritation. Apparently, some of the CIA’s paranormal operatives were able to predict the cards without having someone else look at them. That, too, was an ability Art didn't seem to have developed. The man looked at him, shrugged, and held up the card so that he could see it. Art looked into his mind and blinked. The man was concentrating hard on the same thought – jack of hearts, jack of hearts – yet his thoughts were shaded with falsehood. He had a more organised mind than Alice and it took Art longer to realise that the card was actually the six of diamonds.

    “Six of diamonds,” he said, finally. He couldn't resist adding a snide comment. “And you were thinking of the jack of hearts.”

    The man seemed, just for a second, to blink in surprise. “Not bad,” he said, grudgingly. “That was very clever, Hans.”

    Art rolled his eyes at the bad joke. Clever Hans had been a horse who, according to the story, had learned to count and answer questions. It had turned out, after investigation, that the horse’s owner was subconsciously cuing the horse to give the right answers. The CIA seemed to be aware of the possibility that someone on the base was giving cues to him, hence the several different formats, the different questioners and the stranger questions. Alice hadn't been the only person to challenge him to dive into their minds and pull out the answers.

    The base, Art had discovered after asking the right questions, had originally been a command and control centre for military operations in the event of a bomb taking out the White House and NORAD. The base had been exposed by an inquisitive reporter – the lowest form of life, in Art’s opinion – and the CIA had obtained it after the government had spent billions of taxpayers’ money on building a new complex in a secret location. Project Looking Glass was merely the latest in a long line of CIA projects to use the base, forcing the CIA to scramble to outfit the base for Art and any other telepaths that might be discovered. Art privately hoped that they would have the sense to remain undiscovered. People just didn't react properly around a telepath.

    Alice, at least, seemed to accept that he could read her mind, but others – the ones who believed him, at least – were far less inclined to accept it peacefully. No matter how many times Art swore that he wasn't peeking through their minds without permission, they seemed unwilling to believe him and avoided him where possible. The sceptics, on the other hand, refused to believe that he could do anything special until he showed them the truth, at which point they joined the other group. He hadn't understood, at first, why the CIA had kept sceptics on the base, but Alice had explained that they helped keep the researchers honest. Project Looking Glass was always starved of funds and a handful of researchers had tried to fake up results a few years ago, just to get the funding they needed. It hadn't struck Art as particularly honest.

    “No worries,” Art said. They ran through several more cards before the man nodded and stood up. “What are you going to do now?”

    The question, as always, provoked a deluge of thoughts from the person’s mind. He was going to go back to his quarters, get very drunk and then report back to his shadowy superiors at Langley. They probably wouldn't believe him when he reported that Art was a genuine telepath, but then...he hadn't believed either, not until he’d seen the proof. He was oddly worried about what telepaths meant for the future of the human race.

    “Nothing in particular,” the man said. If he knew that Art knew he was lying, he refused to show any sign of awareness. “Thank you for your time.”

    Art watched him go and then looked up at Alice. “Don’t they believe it yet?”

    Alice gave a pretty shrug. “You have to understand,” she said. “The ones who backed Project Looking Glass are doubtful because you don’t fall into any of the expected categories. The ones who wanted the project shut down don’t want to believe in you because that would mean that the project shouldn’t be shut down. The ones who think that a telepath could solve all their problems are also the ones who think that funding will be redirected from their particular projects...”

    “Oh,” Art said. “And to think I used to think that the CIA knew everything.”

    “A cunning tissue of deceit spread by our devious political superiors,” Alice said. “It’s good to know that something works.”

    Art frowned. He hadn't asked – because he didn't want to know the answer – but he had a nasty suspicion that he was working for the CIA now. It wasn't a pleasant thought. In the military, the CIA and the State Department competed for the position of least-liked government bureaucracy; the former because the information they provided was often wrong, the latter because they gave away gains the military had won at huge expense. Art had been a young enlisted man in Iraq during the Surge and he believed, firmly, that the State Department and the CIA had, between them, prolonged the war. It might well have been an unfair belief, but it was his. And now he might well be working for the CIA. He would have to hang his head in shame when he returned to his unit, if he was ever allowed to return to his unit.

    Alice, clearly unaware of his thoughts, grinned sourly. “Everyone thinks that we have the ability to see everything, control everything and shape the world the way we want it to be,” she said, dryly. “They don’t understand that there are inherent limits in intelligence-gathering, just as there are in everything else, and that – at best – we see through a glass darkly. Or maybe we don’t have to any longer; you don’t have to guess at what someone is thinking.”

    Art was still thinking about it an hour later, when they reported to the base’s medical facility. As befitted a bunker intended for top military and civilian leaders, the medical facility was first-rate, although the CIA had apparently had to fly in some of the more advanced medical scanners from private hospitals and research facilities. Art had honestly never considered just how many ways the human race had to monitor brainwave activity, or how little the human race understood about the brain. It had made him wonder if he’d somehow learned to use a part of his brain that hadn't been working beforehand, but the doctors had set him straight. The human race used most of its brain, at least in theory.

    “Your test results are very interesting,” Doctor Peter Sampson said. He’d explained that he’d worked with the remote viewers before moving on to carry out research into mind-machine interaction at a classified CIA-operated research facility. Sampson had been delighted to hear that the CIA had finally discovered an actual telepath and, according to Alice, had needed no prompting to sign an updated set of security agreements and join the project. “If you’ll take a look at that...”

    Art smiled. The doctor was a tall lanky man with a shock of brown hair and a slightly-manic attitude to life. His thoughts, Art had discovered, seemed to run and jump in strange channels, moving from place to place faster than Art could follow. He was unquestionably a genius, yet Art privately wondered about his grip on reality. He didn't want to be too close to a madman. With telepathy involved, the madness might rub off.

    The wall-mounted display was showing his brainwaves, as they'd been recorded over several days. The Marine Corps had never recorded his brainwaves, Art had been told, which was apparently unfortunate as they didn't have any baseline to identify any changes. Even so, comparing his brainwaves to the average person’s revealed some odd spikes in his mind, even when he wasn't actually trying to use his telepathy.

    “That spike there, I think,” the doctor said, “is your actual telepathic activity. Just for a few seconds, your brainwaves...”

    Art interrupted quickly. “Layman’s terms, doctor, please,” he said. The first time they’d met, Sampson had sprouted off an impenetrable wall of jargon that hadn't made any sense at all, even to a mind-reader. “I’m just a dumb jarhead and I need plain English.”

    “Very well,” Sampson said. “Basically, human brainwaves are electrical activity within the brain caused by the firing of neurons within the brain. The level of brainwave activity changes depending on what you’re actually doing...ah, when you are asleep, your levels of activity are profoundly different to when you are awake. Certain people can actually control their brainwaves to some extent, allowing them to work towards merging their minds into computers...”

    He broke off, perhaps remembering that he wasn't supposed to talk about that particular program. “The important point is that we used Electroencephalography – what you laymen call EEG – to monitor your brainwave patterns while you used your telepathy,” he said, tapping the small controller on his wrist. “That spike within your brain represents telepathy.”

    Art frowned. For someone who hadn't seen a real telepath before Art had arrived, the doctor seemed surprisingly confident. “When you use your telepathy deliberately, the spike skyrockets,” the doctor added. “Even when you are at rest, however, the spike remains active; I suspect that you will never manage to block your mind completely. You seem to have become a receptor rather than a transmitter, although I imagine that, given time, other telepathic powers will develop.”

    “Oh,” Art said. He rubbed the back of his head, feeling the static swelling within his mind. “How certain are you of this?”

    “That spike isn't very common, even as a once-off,” the doctor said. “It is the only unusual thing about your mind. The really interesting point is that we can use this to check out other telepaths. There is a good chance that some of the people in mental hospitals are actually telepaths who never learned to control their telepathy.”

    Art considered it. He had to admit that it sounded logical. “And what will you do with the results now?”

    “Continue to study, of course,” the doctor said. He didn't quite say stupid, but it took no telepathy to hear it within his voice. “You must understand that this represents a priceless opportunity for research. Why, just by studying you, I have conceived a dozen new theories to account for the unexplained manifestations of brainwave patterns within human minds and...”

    Art held up a hand. “I understand, doctor,” he said, firmly. He didn’t want to carry on with the tests, but there was no choice. “Can I suggest that we get on with it?”

    Later that evening, Alice returned to her quarters, locked the door with her handprint and keyed the small secure laptop she’d brought with her. The computer was designed for operations in hostile terrain and bringing it with her seemed unnecessary, but her superiors had insisted. It hadn't occurred to her until much later – when she’d finally realised that telepathy was actually real and it wasn't another attempt to waste time and funding on a scientist’s pet experiment – that the advantage in using the secure computer was that it needed her handprints to work, rather than just a password. Lieutenant Russell wouldn't be able to hack into her machine, even if he pulled all of her knowledge out of her mind.

    It was a truism that the CIA never slept. The Directorate of Science and Technology – which, among other classified programs, funded research into ESP and the paranormal – needed to remain at the forefront of research, whatever it took. Alice had heard, when she'd been briefed for the first time, that the Directorate’s Director – her ultimate superior – was very interested in telepathy. He’d fought with Congress for a larger black budget and scrabbled with the other directorates to ensure that the remote viewing project received all the resources it needed. When he’d heard that a genuine telepath had been discovered, he’d ensured that Lieutenant Russell was transferred into the CIA. Alice sat back and relaxed as his face appeared on the laptop’s screen.

    “Agent Spencer,” Director O’Donnell said. He looked tired, Alice noted; she suspected that he was, once again, working late at the office. She’d been told that working for the company tended to put a lot of strain on marriages and even relationships, not least because CIA officers couldn't talk about what they did with their partners. Alice’s own relationships had floundered on the same principle and dating fellow officers was frowned upon. “I don't have much time, so this will have to be quick.”

    “Yes, sir,” Alice said. Director O’Donnell would have been reading all of the reports that had been forwarded from the base, but he preferred to keep hands on contact with his agents, believing that the person on the spot knew what was going on better than home office. It was a rare attitude in the CIA. She ran through a brief outline of what had happened since they’d last spoken – very little, apart from additional tests – and concluded with a comment about Doctor Sampson’s proposed research program to look for additional telepaths. “We’re reaching the limits of what we can do here, sir.”

    “So I understand,” Director O’Donnell said. He sounded distracted, which was odd. Normally, even when talking to a relatively junior agent, he was polite and formal. “What are your impressions of Lieutenant Russell?”

    Alice flushed, lightly. “He seems a nice person,” she admitted, finally. That, at least, was true, although she knew that it was far from enough. Some of the most embarrassing disasters in the CIA’s long history came from ‘nice’ people. “I think he’s growing bored with the procedures here. He isn't a lab rat, sir.”

    “And most of the remote viewers volunteered for service,” the director agreed. He tented his fingers and frowned. “There are...other parties within the National Intelligence Community who have gotten wind of what’s fallen into our lap. They want a share in the excitement.”

    Alice frowned. “What do they want, sir?”

    “For the moment, nothing, but that is about to change,” the director said. “I want you to warn Captain Russell – we’ve bumped him up a rank or two – that he may be deployed outside the base within the week, perhaps sooner. Matters are coming to a head.”

    “Yes, sir,” Alice said, puzzled. What matters were coming to a head? Who else wanted to use a telepath? “Should I pass on any other message?”

    The director shook his head. “Not to the Captain, Agent Spencer,” he said. “We’re very pleased with your progress so far. Hopefully, in the next few days, you should have a chance to operate alongside other...elements.”

    Abruptly, he straightened up. “We’ll be in touch, Agent Spencer,” he said, flatly. His voice hardened suddenly. “Until then, carry on as directed. We’ll see you soon.”

    His image vanished from the screen. “Yeah,” Alice muttered to no one in particular. She’d been given odd orders before, but the ones she’d just been given were the oddest. “Be seeing you too.”
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  6. Witch Doctor 01

    Witch Doctor 01 Mojo Maker

    Reads well so far.... however change the following...

    ...but apparently he’d turned down the <S>officer</S> offer of stateside duty ...

    keep up the good work...
  7. ChrisNuttall

    ChrisNuttall Monkey+++

    Comments would be appricated.

    Chapter Five<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:eek:ffice:eek:ffice" />

    The FBI today issued an alert warning for possible terrorist activity within the City of New York. This marks the seventh alert within the last four months, all of which failed to materialise. Speaking in New York, NYPD Commissioner Amy Angotti said that all alerts had to be taken seriously and asked for the public to trust the NYPD and the other emergency services to do their jobs. Sources within the Administration of Mayor Hundred, however, claim that the alert is not being taken seriously after so many false alarms.
    -AP News Report, 2015

    Art had been delighted to hear, from Alice, that he would actually be going on deployment again, but the excitement hadn't lasted. For the first day, he’d cooperated enthusiastically with all of the tests, yet as the days wore on, he became more and more claustrophobic, even to the point of returning to his half-baked plan of escape. The Marines had trained him in both escape and evasion techniques and he was sure that he could remain undetected, once he was out of the complex. By the end of the fifth day, he had decided that someone had lied to Alice about him leaving the complex and, when the call came, he was mildly surprised.

    “We’re leaving tomorrow,” Alice said. She hadn't been told any more than he had – a security measure, he realised sourly, designed to protect the information from him – but she was just as glad as he was at the thought of leaving the complex. “You’ve been ordered to prepare for a short visit to a city.”

    “Shore leave,” Art said, dryly. He ran through the items in his quarters and swiftly decided that the only thing worth taking was the pistol he’d brought with him back from the States. The unmarked uniforms he’d been issued were hardly worth wearing, not if they wouldn't allow him to wear his Marine BDU. At least they’d given him some civilian clothes so he could pass unremarked. “And they didn't tell you why?”

    Wondering about what it could be kept him up half the night, but he managed to get a good night’s sleep before being woken up at seven in the morning. His body clock was a little disorientated from sleeping in the sunless complex, yet he felt surprisingly good as he washed and then ate a hearty breakfast with Alice. She wasn't a morning person, but she was good company; if they’d met under different circumstances, Art knew, he would have made a pass at her. As it was, with everything he did observed 24/7, he knew that there was no such thing as privacy in the base. Once they’d finished their meal, they were escorted outside and into an unmarked black car that had materialised on the edge of the base. The government-issue plates on the vehicle, Art suspected, allowed them to break the speed limit without worrying about local cops. A quick check revealed that the vehicle was also armoured, suggesting that it was normally used for VIPs, and the drive was clearly a trained bodyguard. His emotional sheen didn't alter when he saw Art, convincing him that the driver hadn't been told about the telepath in the back of his vehicle.

    Art hadn't had the time to look at the outsides of the compound when they’d brought him inside and so he took the opportunity to look around while enjoying the feeling of fresh sunshine on his face. The bunker had been built under what was clearly a guest inn, one of the many motels and suchlike built alongside the roads for tired and weary drivers. He wondered how real drivers were discouraged from calling in and trying to book rooms, but then it occurred to him that – with a little care – guests could be prevented from seeing anything classified, leaving them to drive away unaware that they’d been sleeping over a nuclear bunker.

    “Come on,” Alice said, firmly. “It's time to go.”

    Art allowed her to pull him into the car and close the door behind him. The vehicle was almost sinfully luxurious, with a complete set of communications equipment, a small drinks machine with coffee and alcohol and some of the most comfortable seats Art had ever experienced. It was an eye-opening insight, he decided, into what was really done with taxpayers’ money. He wouldn't have been surprised to discover that a new Stryker vehicle could have been purchased for the cost of the limo. The driver started the engine and it hummed to life, quieter than in a civilian vehicle. Art rolled his eyes. Lifestyles of the rich, famous and unaccountable indeed!

    “Tell me something,” he said, as he settled back into his seat. Alice offered to pour him a drink and he shook his head. He had no idea how alcohol would react with his telepathy. If he lost might explain why so many people acted badly when drunk. They might be unable to access their telepathic powers without being drunk, but then they were unable to control them, subjecting themselves to maddening bursts of unstoppable noise in their heads. He shook his head at the thought, smiling to himself. If telepathy ever entered the public sphere of awareness, that excuse was likely to become popular. “Where exactly are we going?”

    It was the driver who answered. “New York, sir,” he said. He sounded vaguely surprised that Art didn't know. “We’ll have you there in forty minutes, unless we run into really heavy traffic.”

    Art shared a glance with Alice and then settled back to enjoy the ride. As the car slipped out of the side road and onto the interstate, he was suddenly aware of the fleeting thoughts of other drivers in their vehicles. The contacts were brief and very faint, but they were always at the edge of his awareness, like the buzzing of an unwanted insect that had made its way into the car. Some drivers, he noted with a thrill of alarm, were bored; others were nervous, or merely intent on getting to their work on time. As the traffic started to thicken on the way into New York, the mental murmur grew louder. He found himself closing his eyes in the hopes that it would help shut out the noise. It didn't help.

    Alice reached out and touched his hand with her gloved hand. “Are you all right?”

    “No,” Art managed. He drew on reserves he hadn't thought he had and built a mental shield around his mind. The shield lasted as long as it took for him to take his attention off it and then it collapsed into a wave of splintered thought. Swallowing curses, Art focused his mind and tried again, imagining building a wall out of the building bricks he had played with as a child. The barrier didn't seem to hold for long. A second’s eye contact with one of the other drivers was enough to bring it crashing down. “There are so many thoughts out there.”

    Alice frowned. “Do you want to go back to the base?”

    She meant well, Art knew, which was all that kept him from snapping at her. He couldn't – he wouldn't – abandon his duty just because he felt unwell. His determination had been what had kept him going towards the Taliban base even though he was nurturing a headache, a headache that might well have been the precursor to developing telepathy. He knew that he could back out, that he could go back to the base and hide for the rest of his life, yet he couldn't do it. If he stuck with it, he might manage to learn how to develop perfect control.

    “No, thank you,” he said, as she started to prepare a mug of coffee for him. “I’ll be fine.”

    The background noise seemed to rise higher as they entered the City of New York. It was strange; Art couldn't pick out any individual thoughts, but he could sense the collective mind of thousands – perhaps millions – of human beings. Sparks of life flittered through his awareness, granting him brief insights before fading away, leaving him feeling like a voyeur peeking into the lives of unknowing men and women. Back when he'd been at school, one of the nerds had managed to establish a concealed camera in the girls changing room and Art, when he’d been let in on the secret, had been disgusted. Now, with his almost uncontrollable telepathy, he was left to wonder about the difference between him and the nerd who’d spied on girls who would never have given him the time of day. It occurred to him, bitterly, that there was no difference.

    Somewhere in the city, a man was beating his wife; Art felt her pain as if the man was beating him. A girl was kissing her father before he went off to work. An older boy was running to school in the hopes of meeting his girlfriend for a quick kiss before they were called into class. A priest was kneeling in prayer; nearby, a cleaner was thinking impure thoughts about her local priest. Art flushed and pulled his mind back, trying to control it. His mind refused to behave.

    “Here we are,” the driver sang out, as they pulled into a sealed compound. Art had never been to New York before, leaving him completely lost until he saw the FBI sign on the door. “You’re expected in Room 101 in ten minutes.”

    Art looked at Alice, who looked back, equally puzzled. “Come on,” Alice said, as the driver opened the door. “We may as well go in and find out what they want with you.”

    The interior of the FBI building was a bustling madhouse. A tired-looking man checked their ID cards against a central database, without really paying attention. Art resolved to write a sharp letter of complaint after he’d found out what they wanted with him; sloppy security generally meant that the enemy was about to launch a nasty surprise. Perhaps it wasn't such a concern back in the States – the transition from a war zone to a peaceful city was always shocking – but it still bothered him. If he’d found one of the Marines under his command being so careless, he would have chewed him out and then sent him to clean out the latrines, or worse. A careless guard was just inviting the enemy to stick the knife in one’s back.

    After they passed through security, a young Chinese FBI agent escorted them up the elevators and onto the thirteenth floor. The young man clearly knew something about Art’s abilities, because he kept glancing sharply at Art and then looking away, while his thoughts were a blaze of maddened confusion. Art had no intention of peeking into his mind, but somehow he doubted that the young man would believe him if he had told him. The agent couldn't wait to get away from him.

    “This is the briefing room,” the agent said, finally. He waved them both into a small room with a set of chairs and tables. Art noted the presence of water jugs on the table and a coffee machine at the side of the room, along with a small basket of cookies. Someone, it was clear, expected the meeting to go on for a few hours. “The agents will be with you shortly.”

    Art barely had time to watch the young man fleeing out the door when the three agents filed in, two men and one woman. They were wearing black suits that practically branded them as federal agents, complete with holsters and cell phones. Art, who had developed a fine eye for spotting concealed weapons in Afghanistan, suspected that the weapons wouldn’t be so obvious to the untrained eye. The agents waved Art and Alice to chairs and took their own seats facing them. It felt rather like an interrogation.

    “Thank you for coming,” one of the male agents said. “I am Agent Coombs, from the Joint Terrorism Watch Centre. This” – he indicated the woman – “is Agent Evens of the FBI’s local counter-terrorism unit and Agent Manning of the National Security Agency. We know who you are.”

    Art nodded. Agent Evens was tall and blonde, with strong cheekbones and an oddly vulnerable face. Agent Coombs was shorter, with dark skin and a surprisingly wide smile; Art liked him on sight. Agent Manning was older, with short grey hair and a heavyset body. All three of them had ordered minds – Art could tell that without trying to read surface thoughts – but Agent Evens was deeply worried about something. He suspected that it had something to do with the reason they’d been called to New York.

    “Thank you,” Art said, dryly. “Why are we here?”

    “I’ll allow Agent Evens to handle the briefing,” Coombs said. “She’s the ranking officer for this operation.”

    Agent Evens nodded. “This” – she tapped a remote control, triggering the display – “is Yusuf Mohammad Patel, of New York.”

    “Ah,” Art said. The face on the display was that of a dark-skinned man with a neatly-trimmed beard and dark eyes, not unlike some of the fighters he’d faced in Afghanistan. Evens tapped the control again and the image changed, showing Patel in western clothes and then in East Asian outfits. The expression on the face didn't change. “And who is he when he is at home?”

    Evens assumed a lecturing tone as she spoke. “Patel is the child of second-generation immigrants from Pakistan,” she said. “His grandfather was a canny old buzzard and invested carefully; his father took his inheritance and invested it again, earning a considerable fortune importing Pakistani goods into the United States. His distant relatives in Pakistan handle the purchase over there and Patel’s siblings handle the distribution here. In short, his father and grandfather realised the American dream. Unfortunately, it seems that Patel has become involved in less than savoury activities over here.

    “We first became aware of him largely by accident, after we raided a terrorist training camp in Pakistan,” she continued. “We had known that Patel had made several trips to Pakistan as part of the grooming process for taking over part of the family business, but it looks as if he may have picked up Islamic extremism instead. The records we recovered suggested that he had been treated separately from the other recruits and perhaps assigned to remain in deep cover rather than going to join the fight against NATO forces in Afghanistan.”

    Art nodded. The Taliban and other Islamic groups were capable of attracting recruits even from the West, luring them out to Afghanistan to fight the American and NATO troops in the country. Some of them had been unwilling recruits who had come out to see the camps – and then been told that they couldn't go home – while others had been just as fanatical as their Taliban mentors. Art privately viewed them with disgust. America – and Europe – gave the young men good homes and far more freedoms than they would enjoy if the Taliban took over, yet they were prepared to spit on those freedoms and go fight for evil. If it had been up to them, they would all have been put in front of a wall and shot for treason.

    “Be that as it may, he returned to the United States and, since then, remained undercover,” Evens said. “He did nothing to trip any warning signals; we only became aware of him after raiding the terrorist camp. We know, now, that someone stole a considerable amount of money from his family business and passed it onwards, but – if the truth be told – we don’t even know if it was him. It may be just a coincidence.”

    “I see,” Art said, thoughtfully. “Why haven't you just scooped him up and interrogated him?”

    “We decided, when we became aware of his existence, to watch him in the hope that he would lead us to another deep-cover ring operating on our soil,” Coombs said. “Sadly, we do not have sufficient proof to arrest him and what we do have would be thrown out by a competent lawyer without much trouble. His family has donated considerable sums of money to the Mayor and various political figures in the country. We cannot simply arrest him without far more evidence.”

    “But now things have changed,” Manning said, speaking for the first time. “We have detected signs that another big terrorist offensive may be imminent and that a major figure in the global terrorist network has come to our soil. Patel may well have been contacted by his controllers and warned to prepare himself for action. We need to head this operation off at the pass.”

    “Yes,” Art said. “So why don’t you arrest him now and grill him?”

    “Two reasons,” Evens said. “First, the terrorists may change their plans if Patel is pulled in for questioning. They know that everyone breaks eventually. Second, Patel will scream for a lawyer and refuse to say anything. Once he is released – and we won’t be able to hold him – his daddy will sue the FBI, NYPD and anyone else linked to the arrest, while Patel holds a press conference claiming that he was brutally tortured while in custody. The media groupies will pick up on it and do vast amounts of damage to our public image. We have enough problems operating effectively against terrorists without the government slapping another layer of safeguards and bureaucracy on us.”

    Art nodded. All of a sudden, everything was starting to make sense.

    “And that’s why you want me here,” he said, thoughtfully. The conclusion was inescapable. “You want me to read his mind and tell you what he knows.”

    “Yes,” Evens said. For the first time, her mind felt a shiver of fear, fear of a man who could peek into her mind. “We have no other choice.”

    “If the Emir is truly on American soil,” Coombs added, “the entire country could be in danger.”
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  8. ChrisNuttall

    ChrisNuttall Monkey+++

    Chapter Six<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:eek:ffice:eek:ffice" />

    ...Reports that a major figure in the terrorist underworld had come to America were issued by the Joint Terrorism Watch Centre, but internal sources at the White House claim that the alert was issued in error. The alert is seemingly unconnected to the alert issued earlier in the week in New York...
    -AP News Report, 2015

    “Tell me something,” Art said, slowly. “Is reading someone’s mind even legal?”

    “There is no law against reading a person’s mind,” Manning said, carefully. “There are laws that state that we are not allowed to pick up people off the streets at random, nor are we allowed to start brutalising suspects into signing confessions, but there is no law against employing telepaths in government service.”

    Art considered it. He disliked being a telepath at the best of times. As he’d discovered walking through the FBI building, he was always aware of people surrounding him, even if they weren't aware of what he was. The ones who did know what he was had a tendency to cringe away from him. If nothing else, reading a person’s mind – even a suspected terrorist’s mind – was of dubious morality. He didn't like the thought.

    On the other hand, he didn't want to discover – afterwards – that Patel had been involved in something nasty and that his refusal to read Patel’s mind had allowed him to carry out the terrorist attack. If he read the man’s mind and discovered that he was innocent, he would be able to tell the agents that they’d found the wrong man. Put like that, he decided, his duty was to read Patel’s mind...without allowing Patel to know that his mind had been read. That, at least, shouldn't be difficult. They could arrange things so that Patel could be held without even knowing that Art was anywhere nearby.

    “I have a question,” Alice said, from where she was sitting next to him. Her voice broke the logjam in Art’s mind. “Who is the Emir?”

    “We don't know,” Coombs admitted. He frowned. “From what we do know, the Emir is a senior personage within AQ Prime – the core of the terrorist movement that attacked New York years ago – but we have no idea, even, what he looks like. That’s not actually uncommon in counter-terrorism work. The chances are good that we do have a file on him, yet we haven’t managed to link the two together. Apparently, with AQ Prime being scattered by the war, the Emir assumed command of a number of sleeper cells and started working on a new spectacular to show global believers that the war is far from lost.”

    “I see,” Art said. He decided to test the limits a little. “I’ll want to see his file, of course, and that of our friend Patel.”

    “Of course,” Evens said.

    “I have a second question,” Alice announced. “How do you intend to bring Patel into this building?”

    Evens grinned. “It seems that our friend Patel has a small number of unpaid parking tickets to his name,” she said. “A pair of uniformed officers from the NYPD will pick him up and transport him here as a common prisoner. When he’s here, Captain Russell can read his mind while he’s cooling his heels and then we can decide what to do with him. Ideally, we’d want to release him so he can perhaps lead us to the Emir.”

    “Very well,” Art said. He thought about demanding that they allowed him to join the team hunting the Emir, but he decided not to push his luck too far. That could come later. “You arrange for him to be arrested and we will wait for him here.”

    As it turned out, it took nearly two hours before a handcuffed and loudly-protesting Yusuf Mohammad Patel was pushed into the office. The officers who’d arrested him had had to face his angry protests, threats to sue and finally an attempt at bribery before they’d finally managed to take him into the van and transport him to the FBI office. The van had parked in an underground garage, something – Art hoped – that would prevent Patel from knowing where he was being held. Perversely, even though it was a minor charge and no one expected someone with such a wealthy family to be held for long, Patel was still demanding a lawyer when Art was shown into the viewing room. The one-way mirror would allow him to see Patel while Patel couldn't see him. Back during training, Art and his comrades had joked around with their mock interrogators, but Patel seemed to be sitting uncomfortably still. It took no telepathy to realise that he was uneasy about something.

    “Everyone else out,” Art said, shortly. He was willing to put up with Alice being in the room, but not the three agents or their subordinates. Patel had been left in the room to cool his heels, or so he had been told, something that might put him in a far more cooperative frame of mind when the police returned to the room. Or maybe he would have the presence of mind to continue demanding his lawyer. “I’ll see what I can find out.”

    He sat down on the uncomfortable chair and peered at Patel. Telepathy didn't seem to work according to logical rules, but it did seem to follow some rules of its own. One of them was that it was possible to read the mind of someone at a considerable distance, provided that he could actually see the person in question. The one-way mirror was so clean that it provided the illusion that they were sharing the same room. Art hoped that his mind would be deceived as he slowly reached out towards the tight nexus of thoughts that made up Patel’s mind. He didn't need interference or interruption.

    The blaze of thoughts that confronted him made him recoil in shock. Patel’s mind kept chanting, over and over again; wave after wave of questions and fears and torments. He had no idea why he’d been picked up, but his mind kept returning to a single point; he had failed his tutors and the Emir. As if merely thinking that name was enough to convince his mind to go elsewhere, Patel’s memories flared in front of him, revealing a handsome middle-aged man who had taken a young boy in hand and taught him how to be a man. Patel was, Art realised, a roaring tempest of hatred and resentment. The Emir had given him a focus for that resentment and a cause to live – and die – for.

    Art found himself gripping his seat as he probed deeper. Patel’s mind was surprisingly undisciplined for someone who had been entrusted with such a vital mission, but then – the terrorists probably hadn't expected to have such levels of access at all and had had to take the person who had offered it to them. As the youngest son of nine, Patel hadn't been entrusted with anything like the level of responsibility of his siblings...a wave of childish resentment blazed through his mind, almost stunning Art as he fell back and regrouped. Patel was acting as if he was trying to strike back at his father and fellow siblings. Absently, a part of Art’s mind wondered if he had been so resentful before he'd gone to Pakistan and fallen into the hands of the Emir. He’d seen it before. A young man, unsure of his place in the world, who fell into the hands of someone who knew how to mould and shape him into an ideal form...the whole process was sickening, but it happened far too often. A young man who could have been a loyal citizen had been transformed into a fanatic.

    Odd, he thought, as he started to probe again. The bastard would have made a good Marine.

    The thought seemed blasphemous, yet there was a certain undeniable logic. Patel had remained faithful to his cause for several years, robbing his father to set up terrorist accounts for the incoming fighters and never weakening, never questioning himself to the point where he might have started to wonder if he was doing the right thing. Under other circumstances, Art would have been impressed; even now, part of him was impressed. The rest of him was sickened. Patel’s thoughts swirled around him, a stunning mixture of emotions and memories, all blurring together into a single mass.

    Art found himself wishing for a search engine as he probed deeper, forgetting his scruples as the horrors Patel had envisaged floated into his mind. It was easy to read Patel’s surface thoughts – the man was in a hurry to leave, which suggested that they might have picked him up just in time – but the deeper thoughts and feelings were harder to find. Art concentrated as another memory burst over him – receiving the first message from the Emir in years - and followed it back to its source. The terrorist plan suddenly lay revealed in front of him and Art, horrified, fell out of Patel’s mind.

    Alice felt a cold shiver creeping down her spine as she watched Russell and Patel. No matter how she tried, she couldn't sense anything of the mental combat being waged, even if one of the combatants didn't even know that he was under attack. Hardly daring to move, she looked over at Patel and shivered again. The young man was twisting and pulling against his handcuffs, yet seemingly unaware of what was going on. It was uncanny and, even though she had embraced the concept of using telepaths for police and counter-terrorist work, Alice couldn't help feeling terrified. The world was changing right in front of her.

    Once, years ago, she had watched a movie about a world where some of the population had been telepaths. The remainder of the population had had to know that their thoughts were being read whenever a telepath felt like reading them, but they hadn’t been able to do anything about it. The telepaths ruled the world and served as the police force, reading minds and using the evidence as proof of guilt. Their telepathy allowed them to declare that even thinking about committing a crime counted as guilt. Alice believed that that was nonsense, yet if Project Looking Glass ever went public, how would the public react?

    One of the most fundamental rights in the United States was the right to remain silent. A criminal could confess, if he or she decided to admit the truth, but they couldn't be forced to talk. Even terrorists, captured on American soil, received some rights. A telepath, on the other hand, could simply reach into their minds and remove information – any information. She remembered the games she’d played with Captain Russell, back when she hadn't really believed that he was a telepath, and shivered again. Everyone had private thoughts and feelings they wouldn't want the rest of the world to know, but a telepath could bring them out into the open.

    She looked over at Captain Russell and scowled. He, at least, had a sense of ethics, but what would happen if other telepaths did not? Would some of them decide to read minds for fun and profit; would kids in school develop the ability to read the minds of their peers; would criminals seek to use telepaths for criminal activities? Part of Alice had been scared when she’d realised that his powers weren't a joke, but now...she wondered if she shouldn't just draw her pistol and put a bullet through his head. No, she told herself; it wouldn’t work. The CIA knew how to find other telepaths now.

    Damn it, she thought. Perhaps it was living in close quarters to him, perhaps it was something else, but she was finding him increasingly attractive. And, of course, he could read that in her mind if he went peeking. And he’d know that she had considered killing him.

    “Ouch,” Captain Russell said. He looked badly shaken and she had to catch him when he tried to stand up. His body was heavier than she had expected, but somehow she managed to hold him upright long enough for his legs to recover, aided by a mug of coffee brought in by one of the FBI agents. “That...that was not a pleasant experience.”

    The three agents entered soundlessly. “You spent nearly thirty minutes staring at him,” Manning grated. Alice didn't need telepathy to know that he was questioning the wisdom of allowing Captain Russell to use telepathy, or even if telepathy really existed. “What did you find out?”

    “You were right,” Captain Russell said. He sipped his coffee gratefully. “That young man is in bed with the terrorists and the Emir is in New York.”

    Evens looked up sharply. “Do you know where he is now?”

    “Not at the moment,” Captain Russell admitted. He grinned, weakly. “Apparently our friend over there” – he waved at Patel through the one-way mirror – “isn't trusted enough to know where the Emir sleeps at night. On their first meeting, he gave the Emir several thousand dollars in cash and left him to find his own resting place. I’m afraid that he and his allies in Pakistan have been quite bad boys.”

    He rubbed the side of his head before continuing. “We should have seen it at once,” he said, dryly. “Patel’s father owns interests in several freighters. The unwanted son – that guy has major father issues - has been using them to bring in the components of a very special bomb from Pakistan. The Coast Guard cannot find them where they were hidden, so they get to New York and transferred to an old warehouse, where the bomb is being assembled. Once the bomb is finished” – he made a motion with his fingers – “BOOM.”

    Coombs couldn't turn pale, but Alice had the sense that he’d nearly fainted. “What kind of bomb is it?” He demanded. Alice knew what he was thinking without telepathy. “Did they somehow get their hands on a nuke?”

    “A dirty bomb, apparently,” Captain Russell said. He scowled, gritting his teeth against the pain. Alice, who’d seen him fighting headaches before, opened her purse and produced an injector, which she offered to him. The painkiller was strong enough to dampen the pain of almost any injury, but Captain Russell refused it. It also caused drowsiness. “In a few days, the Mayor is going to address New York and announce that he intends to run for re-election. The dirty bomb will be triggered in Times Square or as near to it as they can get.”

    “And hundreds of people will be killed,” Evens said. “We have to warn them and snatch the bomb before they can trigger it.”

    “And that would risk revealing that we have picked up Patel,” Coombs pointed out. “We need to be sneaky.”

    Captain Russell looked up, angrily. “Are you saying that you are not going to act on the information I have provided?”

    “Captain,” Manning said, slowly, “telepathic evidence is not admissible in court. Even California doesn't recognise psychic evidence, no matter how many people swear blind that they saw their dead grandmother in a séance and she really wants them to have the jewels that were left to the other sister.”

    “I am not a ****ing medium,” Captain Russell snapped. “We know where the bomb is, we know where they are assembling it and we know what they intend to do with it. What should we do? Wait around for that asshole over there to confess of his free will? He’s still screaming for a ****ing lawyer and the moment you release him, he’ll go running right to the Emir and warn him that they might have been detected.”

    “Or they might start moving up their plans because Patel was arrested,” Evens said. She frowned. “It wouldn’t be the first time we’ve picked someone up on a trumped-up charge in the hopes they would spill their guts. They’re probably wise to that trick by now.”

    Alice blinked in surprise. “Then we have to move now,” she said. “If we capture a dirty bomb – we’re not talking about an illegal handgun or an assault rifle, but a weapon of mass destruction – we’ll be heroes. Any small irregularities will be forgotten or forgiven.”

    Evens snorted. “You haven't been in this business long, have you?”

    “Enough,” Coombs said. He thumped the table to make his point. “Petty bickering doesn't help us. We have received warrants because of communications intercepts before and classified them all under the Patriot Act. The discovery of the dirty bomb will prove their guilt far more than any...telepathic evidence.”

    Captain Russell nodded. “I’ll give you the address in a moment,” he said. “How are you going to hit it?”

    “Carefully,” Coombs said. “The NYPD SWAT team has been on alert for the last week; we’ll get them online and pointed at the target. The terrorists might have completed the bomb and have someone sitting on the trigger, just in case. If there is any doubt, we'll shoot first and ask questions later. Doubtless, we’ll keep a few hundred lawyers gainfully employed arguing about it for the next ten years.”

    He chuckled, humourlessly. “Good work, Captain,” he said. He didn't sound too happy, but Alice guessed that he wouldn't be happy until the dirty bomb was recovered. “New York owes you a debt.”

    “I’m coming with you,” Captain Russell said, firmly. Alice opened her mouth to argue, but he spoke over her. “You’re going to need a telepath to make sure that none of them try to lie to you – and we have to track down the Emir as quickly as possible.”

    “That isn't wise,” Alice protested. She wanted to say something stronger, but nothing came to mind. She had known, intellectually, that Captain Russell missed combat, yet this meant risking a valuable assert...and he was right. The SWAT team would need a telepath. “You can't put yourself in danger...”

    “It’s not debatable,” Captain Russell said. “I’m going.”
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  9. ChrisNuttall

    ChrisNuttall Monkey+++

    Not that I want to beg, but...comments?

    Chapter Seven<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:eek:ffice:eek:ffice" />

    An unconfirmed report from a source within the NYPD claimed that the SWAT team, which had been placed on alert, was deployed ten minutes ago to an unknown destination.
    -AP News Report, 2015

    “Marine or not, you’re not going in with the first team,” Sergeant David Crawford said, firmly. “My orders are to keep you out of harm’s way.”

    Art scowled at him, but knew that further arguing would be futile, even without telepathy. He couldn’t really blame Crawford for his attitude. If he’d been running a raid with a platoon of Marines, he wouldn’t want outsiders crawling all over the operation and getting in the way himself. He’d taken a moment to read Crawford’s file and he'd been impressed. The NYPD SWAT team had a good record for dealing with terrorists, snipers and other threats to public safety. Behind the SWAT team members, who were donning body armour and checking their weapons, he could see the small NEST team that had been hastily summoned. The Nuclear Emergency Support Team had worked closely with the SWAT team in the past, after there had been reports – false, apparently – that a nuclear weapon had been smuggled into the city.

    “Fine,” he said, gracelessly. He should have known better than to think anyone would have let him close to the action. It sounded petulant, he acknowledged a second later, but it was galling to be needed for an attribute he didn’t want and would throw away if he could. The background murmur of the city seemed to be growing louder in his mind. “I’ll be coming in as soon as you have secured the warehouse.”

    Crawford didn’t bother to argue that point. Instead, he strode away to his team and began barking orders. Art had to admit that he had a good voice, although the Marine in him found the SWAT team to be alarmingly unprofessional. But then, the Marines operated in war zones, while the SWAT team had to operate in a civilian environment. They should shoot an American citizen by accident and all hell would break loose. He glanced over at Alice, who was looking down at the charts of the warehouse that someone had pulled out of City Hall, and then wandered over to join her. Being so close to a dirty bomb – even though dirty bombs were not quite as dangerous as the media made them sound – was bothering her. Art didn’t blame her, for it was bothering him too.

    Patel’s father, according to the records, had bought the warehouse before the first economic shockwaves had started to shake the entire financial system. He’d found himself with a white elephant, a warehouse that had to be maintained, but with very little to actually store in it. Matters weren’t helped by the fact that the warehouse was in a very rough area of <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:eek:ffice:smarttags" /><st1:City><st1:place>New York City</st1:place></st1:City> and that local gangs kept breaking into the building in search of drugs or money. He was surprised that Patel had chosen to risk using it as a base, but he had to admit that the terrorists would probably be capable of dealing with any intrusion from the gangs and no one in authority would give the building a second glance. The chances were good that his father or his relatives would never look at the building until it was far too late.

    The SWAT team had sent a set of covert observers into the area as soon as they’d received the warning and they had slipped close to the building, their tiny cameras sending back a live feed to the SWAT team at the assembly point. The building itself had only three entrances; a small door at the front, an oversized loading bay and a fire escape at the rear. According to the plans, there was a small office at the front of the building and the remainder was storage space, but Crawford had warned them that they couldn’t rely completely on the plans. There were plenty of tricks the terrorists could have pulled to make life hard for the team, just to buy them time to detonate the bomb and score a victory, of sorts. A dirty bomb going off anywhere in <st1:City><st1:place>New York City</st1:place></st1:City> would be a victory for the terrorists.

    “All right, listen up,” Crawford said, as the team assembled. They'd already been briefed extensively, but he was clearly the type of person who insisted on going over the high points before each operation began. “You know what’s reported to be in that warehouse. You know there are people alive in there. We will take them alive, if possible, but if they move towards the bomb or draw weapons shoot to kill. You may not get a second chance.”

    Art scowled to himself. The NEST team had run a covert scanner – disguised as a bird, of all things – near the warehouse, but they’d been unable to pick up any traces of radiation. The bomb, assuming that it was still in the warehouse, could be anywhere. Patel’s mind had sworn blind that the terrorists were packing it into a white van, one that wouldn’t earn a second glance from anyone who might have been able to stop them before it was too late, but they could have lied to him. If a person who was lying – without knowing that he was lying – could fool a lie detector, he could fool a telepath as well. Patel’s mind had been a seething caldron of resentment and hatred, but underlying it all had been an uneasy concern about his allies. Were they setting him up for a fall?

    “Good,” Crawford said. “Let’s go.”

    Art had been curious to watch how the operation was conducted and watched with interest as the SWAT team moved into position. It had been decided not to attempt to evacuate the surrounding area – a gutsy call on Crawford’s part, Art knew – as that ran the risk of alerting the terrorists. Instead, several unmarked police vans would convey the SWAT team to their destination and then standby to provide support if necessary. Additional forces – and the NEST team – were already on alert. They’d be moved into position as soon as the SWAT team launched their offensive.

    “They’ll be cutting power to the warehouse just before they go into view of the security cameras,” the watch officer commented. Art could sense a knot of concern in his mind, a fear that something would go badly wrong. “Ah…there they go.”

    On the screens, Art saw a group of men in black outfits running forward to the two small doors and smashing them down, charging in with weapons raised and shouting orders for the terrorists to throw down their weapons and raise their hands. A handful of gunshots rang out in the confined space, seconds before the NEST team was called into the building. The SWAT team searched the building from end to end before calling back to the base and reporting that it was secure. Art just hoped they they’d remembered to tell the enemy that the building was secure. While clearing houses in <st1:country-region><st1:place>Afghanistan</st1:place></st1:country-region>, the Marines had often been surprised by enemy fighters who had hidden within the buildings or crept back to reoccupy a cleared house.

    “All clear,” Crawford’s voice said, finally. “Come on in; the water’s fine.”

    Art concealed a smile as he was escorted into a police van and driven the five blocks to the terrorist-held warehouse. From the outside, it wasn't any more impressive than the pictures had made it seem, although the presence of police vehicles – marked, this time – suggested that something bad was going on inside the building. The uniformed police officers were already setting up lines and warning a handful of curious onlookers to keep their distance; it wouldn’t be long before the media arrived. The chances were good that someone with a cell phone had already called the media and – if they had a camera on their phone – had taken footage that would probably be uploaded to the internet. It was very hard to do anything in total secrecy, Art knew, even in the intelligence community.

    The interior of the warehouse was almost empty. A single white transit van sat in the centre of the cavernous interior, with the NEST team pouring over it. Art realised, with a shiver, that the Emir might have intended to launch the attack ahead of time, perhaps because Patel had been arrested or because he had never trusted his ally. His mind sensed the terrorists before he saw them; seven men, lying on the hard floor with their hands cuffed behind their backs. Two more terrorists lay dead on the ground. Art checked the bodies out of habit and discovered that they’d been put down swiftly and professionally. He guessed that they’d made the mistake of attempting to fire on the SWAT team and had been gunned down.

    “We have a problem,” Crawford said. “Come and look at this.”

    Art followed him over to the van. The terrorists had pulled out the van’s normal fittings and piled in a crate, attached to a simple remote timer and keypad. The timer was clearly counting down to something, but the display had been scrambled, making it impossible to tell how long they had left before the bomb detonated. The NEST team’s bomb disposal officer looked up and shook his head. The weapon, Art realised from his mind, had been carefully constructed to make defusing it impossible.

    “I push into this and it will explode,” the officer said, flatly. Art sensed the cold professionalism underlying his words and shivered. Bomb disposal officers were the bravest of the brave. “We need their disarming code.”

    Art nodded. “Lucky I came along, then,” he said. Crawford scowled. He’d been briefed on Art’s abilities, but he hadn’t believed a word of it. It wouldn’t be the first time officers and men had been fed an absurd story to see how much of it they believed before common sense asserted itself. Art had always hated the practice, even though he understood it. It would be a disaster if a team of Force Recon Marines blindly followed orders that ended with the assassination of the President, or worse. “Which one of the assholes is in charge?”

    Crawford stepped out of the van and pointed to one of the terrorists. “That was the one giving orders when we broke in,” he said. His droll tone couldn’t conceal the urgency spreading through his mind, the fear that the bomb might go off after all and kill his team. “You’ll have to ask him personally.”

    Art nodded and stepped over to the terrorist. Up close, cuffed and helpless, he didn’t look that impressive, but then they never did. The cowardly shits who were happy to beat up women and children – and force them to follow an ideology that was alien to them – rarely turned out to be impressive warriors. He’d discovered that while the Taliban were tough and determined fighters, the same couldn’t be said for the allies they recruited from the West. Many of them had second thoughts when it was too late to back out.

    “We can do this the easy way or the hard way,” Art said, flatly. “I want the code for disarming the bomb. If you don’t give it to me willingly, I will take it from you by force.”

    “Burn in hell,” the man said, finally. He had an accent that reminded Art of a joint operation the Marines had conducted with the Pakistani Army, back along the border between <st1:country-region><st1:place>Pakistan</st1:place></st1:country-region> and <st1:country-region><st1:place>Afghanistan</st1:place></st1:country-region>. “I accept death for my cause and…”

    “Enough,” Art said. He drew back his foot, as if he was going to kick the helpless terrorist in the ribs. “Believe me; I will get it out of you.”

    “You’re not allowed to torture me,” the terrorist sneered. “And even if you did, I can hold out long enough to make it useless. The bomb is going to go off very soon.”

    Art shrugged and reached out with his mind. “What is the code to disarm the bomb?”

    “176363,” the terrorist said, out loud. Art knew he was lying; the falsehood blazed through his words. The code would actually trigger the bomb ahead of time. Ignoring it, he reached into the terrorist’s mind as he repeated his question. This time, the answer floated on the top of the terrorist’s mind.

    “273939,” Art said. The terrorist was staring at him in disbelief – the entire room was staring at him in disbelief. Even the terrorist who seemed to be on the verge of breaking into tears was staring at him. “Put the code in and disarm the bomb before it is too late.”

    The NEST bomb disposal officer scrambled back into the van and started to input the code. Art braced himself for an explosion and sudden death – the bomb was partly made up of C4, used for scattering radioactive material everywhere – but nothing happened. The team could dismantle the bomb and remove the radioactive material without any further problems. The terrorist was still staring at him, sheer terror flickering through his mind. Art smiled at him and the terrorist recoiled. Somehow, deep within his mind, the terrorist had guessed what had happened. Art knew, beyond all doubt, that he was terrified. What did it mean for Global Jihad if minds could be read at will?

    “You can answer me one other question,” he said, flatly. “Where is the Emir?”

    The terrorist tried to stammer out an untruthful answer, but the real answer was bubbling away on the top of his mind. The Emir, after a brief visit to Ground Zero, had gone undercover – hidden even from his own most trusted adherents – until the time came to use the bomb. He was actually expected at the warehouse that evening, after the bomb had been completed and everything else prepared for action. Details of the full scope of the terrorist plot – details concealed from Patel, for whatever reason – flared through his mind. The terrorists had obtained assault rifles from a crooked arms dealer and intended to attack the emergency services when they responded to the dirty bomb. The carnage would have been unbelievable and horrific. Art allowed himself a moment of relief. The chances were good that they’d headed the terrorist plot off at the pass completely.

    “He’s coming here this evening,” Art said. It was odd. If the terrorists had intended to launch their attack so soon, where had they intended to target? The Mayor hadn’t brought his speech forward for their convenience, after all. He posed the question to the terrorists and found nothing. The Emir hadn’t bothered to tell them the target. “We’ll be here, waiting for him.”

    “He won’t come,” one of the terrorists spat out. “He’ll see you here and vanish before you can catch him.”

    Crawford nodded. “The bastard is probably right,” he said, as the follow-up teams arrived. The terrorists were picked up, their legs were chained to make running impossible and they were marched out towards the prison van. They’d be transported to a secure prison and held until charges could be filed. The dirty bomb would provide all the evidence the FBI needed to charge them with terrorism. The forensic teams might pick up enough evidence to make additional charges stick on Patel, rolling up the entire terrorist network. “The media have already been alerted and reporters are on their way. My superiors want to make a public statement.”

    Art rolled his eyes. “Just remember to say nothing about how the information was obtained,” he said. He knew that it was probably useless. The entire warehouse had seen telepathy in action. Someone – he wondered who – would spill the beans to someone else and the word would be out. Even a rumour would be disquieting to the world…on the other hand, there had been conspiracy theories about secret groups of telepaths running the world for years and society hadn’t broken down into anarchy. “What about…?”

    “You saw the Emir in their minds,” <st1:City><st1:place>Alice</st1:place></st1:City> said, suddenly. “You could do a composite picture of him so we’d know who to look for and then…”

    “Good idea,” Agent Evens said. She’d remained behind with her two friends and colleagues. Art had been privately grateful, as – he knew – had Crawford. The last thing either of them needed was superior officers blundering around and issuing impossible orders. “Once we have the picture, we’ll upload it into facial recognition programs and issue a public warning. Someone may well come forward and tell us where he is. It’s certainly worked before.”

    Art nodded. “All right,” he said, shortly. The background hum of the city was growing louder, distracting him. “Let’s go back to base and we can work on the image there.”

    As it happened, once the FBI’s best artist had helped Art come up with an image of the Emir as his men had seen him, the Emir was arrested within four hours. His face had been picked up by a set of security cameras as he made his way in and out of an expensive hotel – where he’d stayed while his men slept on hard floors in the warehouse – and stored until the image had been uploaded into the NYPD’s database. As soon as the cameras had reported his presence, the SWAT team had mobilised, secured the hotel and arrested the Emir. They’d expected a fight, or a suicide attempt, but instead the Emir surrendered at once. Art wasn't too surprised. Terrorism was the weapon of a coward and the men who sent people out to die in his name were rarely the bravest of the brave.

    “You did well today,” <st1:City><st1:place>Alice</st1:place></st1:City> said, once they’d been allowed to move into their sleeping quarters and get some rest. The FBI seemed reluctant to let them out of its building and had already arranged for Art to be present when the Emir was interrogated. “You’ve changed the world.”

    Art grinned. “I have, haven’t I?”
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  10. ChrisNuttall

    ChrisNuttall Monkey+++

    Chapter Eight<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:eek:ffice:eek:ffice" />

    A terrorist cell was broken up and arrested in <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:eek:ffice:smarttags" /><st1:State><st1:place>New York</st1:place></st1:State> this evening, sparking concerned remarks from City Councillors about the lax response of the Mayor to the terrorist alert issued by the JTWC. Furthermore, a vague report has reached this reporter that non-standard interrogation methods were used by the arresting police forces…
    -AP News Report, 2015

    “You do realise that you could have been exposed?”

    Art found himself counting to ten under his breath. It wasn't the first time he’d been chewed out by a superior officer, but at least those superior officers had had the courage to face him while they were expressing their opinion of his misdeeds, his general level of competence and his parentage. Director O’Donnell – who had been introduced to him as the Director of the <st1:stockticker>CIA</st1:stockticker> Directorate of Science and Technology, which meant nothing to Art – was talking to him from a video screen. It took no telepathy to realise that the Director was concerned that Art might read his mind.

    “It was a necessary risk,” Art said, firmly. He’d always disliked being second-guessed out in the field. “If I hadn’t been there, the dirty bomb would have detonated, and the results would have been unpleasant and devastating.”

    They would have been far worse, Art knew, than any prior terrorist attack on American soil. The terrorists had somehow obtained enough radioactive material to poison most of <st1:State><st1:place>New York</st1:place></st1:State> and the C4 to ensure that the radioactive material was spread far and wide. Even if the bomb had gone off in the warehouse, rather than in <st1:place>Times Square</st1:place>, the results would have been disastrous. The city’s population would have panicked and fled, causing a massive economic crisis. And the terrorist movements across the worlds would have taken heart at their great success.

    “It was my call,” he added, sharply. “I trust that there have been no unpleasant repercussions?”

    There was an uneasy pause. He might not be able to read the Director’s mind through the viewscreen, but he could feel the alarm flickering through <st1:City><st1:place>Alice</st1:place></st1:City>’s mind at the way he was speaking to her superior officer. It was amusing to discover that the <st1:stockticker>CIA</st1:stockticker> – the so-called secret power behind the world – was far more risk-averse than the Marine Corps, but then the <st1:stockticker>CIA</st1:stockticker> had much more to lose. The Marines were beloved by most of the American population; the <st1:stockticker>CIA</st1:stockticker> was generally seen as a wasteful government office populated by dangerous incompetents.

    “No,” the Director said, finally. “We have more than enough evidence to try Patel for terrorism without bringing telepathic evidence into the mix. Your support was most welcome and you have the thanks of many powerful departments.”

    Art smiled. The week they’d spent in <st1:State><st1:place>New York</st1:place></st1:State> had been spent watching as the terrorists were interrogated and noting the truthful answers as they tried to lie to their interrogators. The terrorists hadn’t really grasped it, even though some of them suspected the truth, and the Emir had proven an intelligence windfall. Terrorist cells in <st1:country-region><st1:place>Britain</st1:place></st1:country-region>, <st1:country-region><st1:place>France</st1:place></st1:country-region> and <st1:country-region><st1:place>Germany</st1:place></st1:country-region> had been broken up by the local security forces, while safe houses and training camps in <st1:country-region><st1:place>Pakistan</st1:place></st1:country-region> had been exposed. No matter how one looked at it, it was a great victory for peace and civilisation.

    “However,” the director continued, “there is a more important concern. We need to locate other telepaths.”

    Art scowled. The <st1:stockticker>CIA</st1:stockticker>’s research had proven the existence of a telepathic spike in a person’s brain, but it had been alarmingly clear – even before they’d taken a jaunt to <st1:State><st1:place>New York</st1:place></st1:State> – that not everyone with the spike was able to use it. In fact, they’d been planning to bring in the people with the most potential and hope that they could somehow trigger their telepathy, something Art doubted would work. He’d been stressed and desperate when his telepathy had been triggered and it wouldn’t be easy to reproduce the effect. The recruits had been arriving at the base since he’d gone to <st1:State><st1:place>New York</st1:place></st1:State> and none of them, it seemed, were very happy with the situation. He didn’t blame them.

    “We’re going to be working on that this afternoon,” Art assured the director. There was no point in pushing the issue any further. “If there are any other questions…?”

    “No,” the director said. He paused. “And thank you for your services, Captain. You made a very real difference this week.”

    Art was still smiling when he walked into the small lecture hall, four hours later. The bunker hadn’t been designed with a lecture hall in mind, but one of the massive storerooms had been cleared out and a number of chairs and tables – and a pair of computers – had been slotted into the room. It had a vaguely ramshackle look that Art liked more than the more formal conference rooms he’d had to endure in <st1:State><st1:place>New York</st1:place></st1:State>. The fourteen men and women in the room stood to attention when he entered. Two of them outranked him, but it had been made clear that he was in charge.

    “Thank you for coming,” Art said. He could sense their impatience and irritation without needing to probe very deeply. Ten of them had been pulled out of the front lines; the remaining four had been pulled out of various operational and intelligence centres and probably suspected that they were in deep trouble. None of them had any idea what they’d been summoned for, or what their superiors wanted with them. “Please be seated.”

    He ran his eyes over the crowd and smiled. Six of them were Marines or regular army; five came from the Air Force and the remainder came from the intelligence community. They’d had a chance to compare notes and had probably realised that they had only one thing in common. They were all over-achievers, the men and women who were just very good at their jobs. It made him wonder if telepathy, even if used without any awareness of what they were doing, was involved somehow.

    The research staff had advised him to break it to them gently. Art knew his fellow Marines, at least, well enough to know that they wouldn’t tolerate any ********. He intended to break it to them as bluntly as possible. He wondered, suddenly, if any of the Marines knew him personally, but he didn’t recognise any of them. It might have made it easier for them to believe him.

    “Recently,” Art said, “I developed telepathic abilities while on deployment.”

    He didn’t need to be a telepath to sense the waves of disbelief rolling towards him, emanating from the seated men and women. It took everything he had not to recoil in pain as their emotions poured into his head, but somehow he remained upright and focused. Briefly, as quickly as he could, he ran through a brief explanation and then an outline of what had happened in <st1:State><st1:place>New York</st1:place></st1:State>. That received some surprised looks; there had been rumours that something odd had happened in <st1:State><st1:place>New York</st1:place></st1:State> and telepathy would explain it nicely. Or so they thought.

    “If that is true,” a short man wearing the uniform of an Army Ranger said, “please would you tell me what I am thinking of right now.”

    Art had to smile at the challenge in his tone. He liked the Ranger on sight, even if he was a Ranger and therefore not quite as good as Force Recon. Art concentrated, reached out towards the Ranger’s mind and had to smile. The Ranger was thinking about having sex with Bugs Bunny.

    “You have a filthy mind,” Art said, and told everyone. The Ranger gaped at him. Simon Hawking had deliberately thought of something no one would consider believable. Art sensed the sudden flurry of fear – fear that he might be peeking into their thoughts – that ran through the group. The look on Hawking’s face was unmistakable. “Why did you think about Bugs Bunny?”

    Hawking leered. “My girlfriend and I once dressed up as Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck for charity,” he explained. “Afterwards, we were so tired that we couldn’t be bothered getting undressed before we had sex and…”

    “Oh,” Art said. He carefully held back the other comment that rose to mind and cleared his throat loudly. “The important part of the story is that I have a telepathic spike in my brain…and you have it too. You are, at least potentially, telepaths like me. What we intend to do here is to unlock your powers and put you to work serving your country.”

    There was a long uncomfortable pause. “Sir,” one of the women said, finally, “what do we have to do to get out of this chicken-**** outfit?”

    Art gave it to her straight. “If it doesn’t work,” he assured her, “you will be returned to your unit with a letter of commendation. If it does, you may discover that working with us is more rewarding. I helped catch a set of very dangerous terrorists and save <st1:City><st1:place>New York City</st1:place></st1:City>. You may end up doing the same.”

    There was a second pause. Art knew what they were thinking, even without reading their minds. None of them wanted to attempt to become telepaths, although he was sure that at least a few of them were tempted by the prospect. They wanted to continue to serve in their units, instead of abandoning them on the whim of a crazy officer’s scheme. He wondered if their reluctance to accept that telepaths were real – or that they had telepathic powers themselves – was driven by fear that they would never be able to live a normal life again.

    The thought made him smile inwardly. Somehow, after the operation in <st1:State><st1:place>New York</st1:place></st1:State>, he’d accepted it without quite admitting it to himself. A Marine Lieutenant – even a Force Recon Marine Lieutenant – was replaceable. Sergeant Bass was probably breaking in yet another green lieutenant right now. A telepath – so far, as far as they knew, the only telepath – was unique. If it meant that he could no longer be a Marine, at least he’d found a worthy cause.

    But the others would not accept it so quickly.

    “If we agree to go through with this,” the woman said, even though Art knew that she knew that there was no choice, “what will happen to us?”

    “You will be tested,” Art said, and refused to be drawn any further. The researchers had drawn up a whole list of experiments – Art had vetoed two of them on the grounds that they were too dangerous – and were looking forward to trying them out. It made Art think of the blind leading the blind, or carrying out delicate surgery by touch alone, without any prior training or experience. God alone knew what was going to happen. He wasn't even sure if it was legal. “Unless you have any further questions, we’ll make a start at once.”

    “I have one,” Hawking said. “Is this telepathic power good for picking up hot chicks?”

    “You’re not allowed to talk any more,” Art said, firmly.

    <st1:City><st1:place>Alice</st1:place></st1:City> watched from behind a one-way mirror as the potential telepaths started to undergo the procedure that should – in theory – allow them to develop their telepathic powers. Doctor Sampson had explained it to her, but <st1:City><st1:place>Alice</st1:place></st1:City> had only been able to follow about one word in ten of a very complicated explanation. The gist of it – as she’d been able to establish after he'd finally finished the main explanation – was that the doctors intended to use electrodes to simulate parts of the brain and hopefully allow the patients to develop telepathy.

    She watched as one of the female patients, stripped down to her underwear, was placed on a surgical chair. The doctor attached the electrodes to her forehead and took the baseline readings, checking that she was thinking properly before the experiments began. The woman looked nervous and <st1:City><st1:place>Alice</st1:place></st1:City> didn’t blame her. She’d been briefed that the <st1:stockticker>CIA</st1:stockticker> had developed a way to simulate emotions in a person’s mind, yet she also knew that the process was not one hundred percent reliable. An oversight committee had cancelled the process on ethical grounds after an experimental subject somehow became overwhelmed with bliss and became trapped in a permanent high.

    When she’d been young, she’d read about experiments carried out by doctors – if they deserved the name – in Nazi Germany. It had surprised her to discover that the <st1:stockticker>CIA</st1:stockticker> carried out its own experiments, although she had to admit that the <st1:stockticker>CIA</st1:stockticker> was a great deal more moral about the whole process. The experiments were carried out on volunteers or, in a handful of rare cases, on Death Row prisoners. Some of the fruits of the covert research programs had found their way into the public domain. Even so, the whole process disturbed her on a visceral level.

    She liked Captain Russell – not least because he hadn’t made a pass at her when they’d wound up sharing the same room – but she didn’t know the other potential telepaths. If the experiments worked, they’d end up with fifteen telepaths in all, who would probably be distributed among the various intelligence and counter-terrorism agencies. And what would happen then? <st1:City><st1:place>Alice</st1:place></st1:City> knew, even if Captain Russell didn’t, that they’d gotten lucky with Patel. If the SWAT team hadn’t been able to find enough evidence to implicate him, a great many hard questions would have been asked, starting with the obvious one of how they’d known to pick him up.

    An alert tone rang through the observation room and she turned back to watch the woman. The doctors had strapped her to the table and the experiment was about to begin. <st1:City><st1:place>Alice</st1:place></st1:City> didn’t want to watch, but she felt as if she had no choice. It was her duty.

    The emotions running through the room were loud enough to make him want to flee and head back to his quarters, but Art forced himself to remain in the room as the first experiment began. The woman on the table had had the highest rating on the scale and so the doctors had chosen to start with her, using both the induced emotions and a tailored group of drugs to bring out the telepathic ability. Art could sense her fear – almost panic – as they placed the skullcap on her head and started tapping the computers. The timer was counting down…

    Art cringed as a blast of absolute terror blazed through the room. He staggered and then found himself on the floor, his head reeling in pain and horror. Before he could get up, another blast of terror flashed though the room, followed rapidly by a third and then a fourth. He opened his mouth to demand that the experiment was halted, but it was already too late. There was a fifth burst of absolute terror…and then the woman’s mind opened wide. Art pulled himself to his feet and yanked the doctor away from the controls. The woman’s telepathy had flowered suddenly and violently, just like his had back in <st1:country-region><st1:place>Afghanistan</st1:place></st1:country-region>. She was reading, without any preparation, the mind of everyone in the room, Art included. A moment later, before he could do anything, she fainted.

    “Take her to the recovery room and clean her up,” the doctor ordered, calmly. Art wrinkled his nose. The woman had been so terrified that she’d lost control of her bowels and bladder. “We’ll move operations to the next room until this one can be cleared.”

    Art stalked away, angrily. The experiment had worked…and he felt ashamed of what he’d done, or started, just by developing his abilities. Who knew where it would all end?

    The experiments were a success with twelve of the potential telepaths, in the end. One of the men resolutely refused to develop any telepathic powers; one of the women went into a coma and nothing they could do could bring her out of it. Art cursed the doctors aloud, but they and his new superiors were unmoved. A legion – or even a platoon – of telepaths was worth any risk. He suspected – the superiors had refused to meet with him or the other telepaths – that they’d already decided that some potential telepaths were expendable, as long as they developed a small number of telepaths under their control.

    Once the new telepaths recovered, however, they made process by leaps and bounds. It was easy to tell when one telepath was probing another’s mind and they held competitions to develop ways of shielding their thoughts from other mind-readers. The embarrassments that Art and most of the others had anticipated didn’t materialise, although the non-telepaths in the base tended to give them all a wide berth when contact wasn't absolutely necessary. At least it was becoming easier to block out the thoughts of others, telepaths or not, now they could practice on each other. Art suspected that it wouldn’t be long before several of them were deployed to work in other covert interrogation teams, but for the moment they could act least practice. It was much easier when he had someone to talk to who genuinely understood what telepathy was like.

    The other discovery was that, with effort, they could actually send telepathic messages from mind to mind. They couldn’t reach a non-telepath, sadly, but they could contact each other at a quite considerable distance. Once they’d mastered it, the telepaths had started using it to talk in private, knowing that the watchers – the entire base was still under scrutiny – couldn’t listen to them. Art had a private suspicion that the effects of that were still undiscovered. Who knew where it would all end?

    The day afterwards, four of the telepaths received marching orders to join various intelligence agencies. Art waved them off, knowing that they would still be in touch mentally. As far as they could tell, telepathic messages didn’t seem to have any range limitations, although they’d never been that far apart since blossoming into telepathy.

    And, somehow, they’d never gotten around to describing that ability to the researchers. It would only have upset them.
    jasonl6 likes this.
  11. Yoldering

    Yoldering Monkey+++

    Just came across this today. I will read and let you know what I think. I have read the first few lines and I am interested...
  12. ChrisNuttall

    ChrisNuttall Monkey+++

    Interlude One<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:eek:ffice:eek:ffice" />

    From: Project Looking Glass Analysis Team
    To: Looking Glass Distribution List
    Classification: Looking Glass Cleared Individuals Only

    As per the directive from <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:eek:ffice:smarttags" /><st1:City w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Langley</st1:place></st1:City>, we have been carrying out experiments into the alleged mental powers demonstrated by Subject Alpha. The results of the tests have proved that Subject Alpha possesses genuine mental powers. A series of tests were devised and conducted – see attached document – with the intention of qualifying the nature and limitations of these powers, as well as devising a test in the hopes of locating others with comparable abilities.

    Subject Alpha is essentially capable of reading minds. Going from his testimony, it is extremely difficult to control the ability, let alone neutralise it. (Closing the mind’s eye appears to be impossible.) The ability does not appear to follow logical rules, at least as we understand them. Subject Alpha is incapable of reading the mind of a person five meters away when he is unable to see the person, but is capable of reading the mind of a person ten meters away, provided that he is able to see the person.

    There appear to be several levels to the ability. First and foremost, Subject Alpha is capable of reading the emotions of a person speaking to him, even at quite a considerable distance. This ability turns him into an organic lie detector. He claims that he can always tell when a person is knowingly lying to him; their words are shaded with falsehood. It seems impossible to fool him.

    Second, Subject Alpha is capable of reading the surface thoughts of another human being. To use a specific example, he asks a question and then reads the answer out of the target’s mind. The truth apparently floats to the top of the mind – his words – even if the target chooses to lie verbally.

    Thirdly, Subject Alpha is capable of digging into a person’s deeper thoughts and memories. This process is apparently unreliable as the target can distract him by thinking about other thoughts and memories. To some extent, this process requires physical contact; the wags on the base have already termed it the ‘Vulcan Mind Meld.’

    Subject Alpha does not appear to be capable of influencing or controlling other human minds. Despite some experiments, he is also unable to use telekinetic abilities or remote viewing.

    As Subject Alpha scored highly on the <st1:stockticker w:st="on">ESP</st1:stockticker> test administered to all new recruits into the military – his specific test was administered at <st1:place w:st="on">Parris Island</st1:place> – other high-scorers were tested and pushed into developing telepathic abilities. It is recommended that others who scored highly be also tested for telepathic ability. However, as Subject Alpha’s abilities appeared under stress, it is likely that others (i.e. not people involved with Looking Glass) will develop telepathic powers on their own, without medical intervention or support (see attached file). All field commands should be alerted to watch for signs of stress that might lead to a telepathic breakthrough.

    It should not need to be stated that this is both an opportunity and a considerable security threat. A telepath with comparable abilities could pull classified data out of the mind of a security-cleared person, who would not know that their mind had been read and that the data was loose. (A handful of people on the base were able to sense Subject Alpha’s mental touch; interestingly, they also scored high on the ESP test administered at intake.) If other telepaths appear, we may be forced to face rapid and unpleasant social changes when the details become public.

    In line with that, I have several possible recommendations…
  13. ChrisNuttall

    ChrisNuttall Monkey+++

    Chapter Nine<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:eek:ffice:eek:ffice" />

    Yusuf Mohammad Patel, arrested four weeks ago on charges of terrorism, claimed in a court hearing that his mind was read by government agents without his consent. This marks the third such claim surrounding the <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:eek:ffice:smarttags" /><st1:City w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">New York City</st1:place></st1:City> Dirty Bombers, a claim that has been roundly dismissed by the government. In a statement issued to the media, the NSA stated that while some evidence had to remain secret for reasons of national security, the evidence discovered with the bombers was enough to convict the would-be bombers.
    -AP News Report, 2015

    “So tell me,” Professor Benjamin Zeller said, “how are we today?”

    Elizabeth Tyler scowled at him. Zeller looked rather like a genial – and mobile – version of President Roosevelt, but his smile concealed a razor-sharp mind and an obsession with the paranormal that led him to spend his own money on his private quest. Elizabeth knew that she shouldn’t mind too much – after all, his money was helping her get through college – yet he could be irritating, all the more so when she had a date with her boyfriend lined up in a few hours.

    Two years ago, when she had moved to college to study for her degree, she had underestimated how much it cost to maintain a respectable college lifestyle. She’d blown through her funds alarmingly quickly and had been reduced to begging her parents for money, a source that had started to dry up after the third time she’d gone home, hat in hand. It was hard to get good jobs while being a student and some of the jobs were downright sleazy. As a young brunette with a perfect figure – or so she considered herself – she was a magnet for all kinds of indecent proposals. One recruiter had even offered her dollars for posing naked on a website. She had been seriously considering the offer – she had been that desperate – when a friend had pointed her to Professor Zeller’s program. Elizabeth hadn't expected much, but the reward had been surprisingly high. They’d been offered fifty dollars just for completing a test.

    Elizabeth had been surprised to be called back a few days later by the Professor himself, who had explained that her tests scores had been very high and offered to work with her to develop her psychic abilities. Elizabeth had been stunned. It wasn't uncommon for college students to be given all kinds of tests and she honestly hadn't realised that the test she’d undergone had been intended to measure ESP. She’d thought it was just an odd survey for psychological research. It had crossed her mind that it was a joke – or another attempt by a lecturer of dubious integrity to get her into bed – but she’d been offered a hundred dollars for each successive test. That, she’d decided, was too much for a joke.

    “Tired and headachy,” she said, finally. The headache had been pounding in her temples all day, despite swallowing twice the recommended level of painkillers. “Do you think that we could get on with it? I have to be home early tonight.”

    “Of course, of course,” Zeller said. He smiled as he passed her the first set of cards. “Shall we play a game or two first to lighten the mood, or should we get straight on with the program?”

    Elizabeth hesitated, and then nodded. She hadn't played Snap since she’d been a little girl, but playing with Professor Zeller was surprisingly fun – and challenging. The professor had no sense of chivalry when it came to playing games and never let her win. It was an attitude she wished, sometimes, that her boyfriend shared. Ron would take her bowling, or playing pool, and then throw the game, allowing her to win easily. It just wasn't challenging.

    The Professor dealt out the cards and chattered away about nothing as he sorted them out into two piles. He’d actually altered the rules of the game slightly, providing no less than four different ways of calling snap, although Elizabeth wasn't sure if it added anything to the game. She tried to push the headache to the back of her mind as she bent over her cards, watching as he placed his first card down gently, but it refused to fade. It only grew stronger as she put down her own cards, watching carefully for the first matched set. The shout, when it finally came, was loud enough to send new shivers of pain through her head.

    “I win,” Professor Zeller said. Elizabeth was tempted to remind him that she had a headache and therefore couldn't be expected to win, yet such excuses never worked with Zeller. He’d pointed out, to one of his other students, that life not only wasn't fair, but also never gave second chances. One couldn't expect to come back from the grave just because one had had a headache when crossing the road and therefore missed the bus barrelling towards a fatal impact. “Shall we move on to the other tests now?”

    Elizabeth rubbed her forehead, hoping that the pain would fade soon. “All right,” she said. A sudden stab of pain through her head made her feel as if she was going to be sick, all of a sudden. “Let’s get on with it.”

    Professor Zeller brought out the big table and waved for her to sit in one of the chairs. There was no way to see what his hands were doing on the other side, or the cards he was studying, forcing her to try to guess at what card was in his hand. The test confused her at times, but was his money and it sure beat flipping burgers for a living, or selling her body on the streets.

    “So tell me,” he said, after a moment. “What card am I holding?”

    Elizabeth took a wild guess. “The four of hearts,” she said. She allowed some of her anger and pain to slip into her voice. “What card are you holding?”

    Professor Zeller didn't answer, but then he never did. They ran through all fifty-two cards, the Professor keeping score on a sheet of paper, and then repeated the process, by which time Elizabeth’s headache had grown to alarming proportions. She found herself slurring the words, her vision fading in and out...and he barely caught her before she slid off his chair and hit the floor. For a moment, she was sure that she had blacked out, for she awoke lying on the couch, a nervous face peering down at her.

    “You fainted for a moment,” the Professor said. Somehow, she didn't doubt his words. “How are you feeling now?”

    Elizabeth stared up at him. The pain in her head had faded away, but it had been replaced by an odd background noise, like millions of voices murmuring away just quietly enough to be heard yet too low for her to pick out individual words. She tried to stand up and discovered that her legs were threatening to fail her. It took two tries before she managed to stand upright and push away his helping hand.

    “Tired,” she said, honestly. She hadn’t felt so tired since she’d run a marathon for charity back at school, back when she hadn’t been able to wait to go to college. How long ago that seemed now. “Can I...would you mind if we finished the tests another day?”

    Zeller gave her a calculating look, and then nodded once, shortly. “I dare say that we can pick up again next week,” he said. He frowned to himself. “You can always come again tomorrow to complete the tests, or...”

    He shook his head. “Never mind,” he said. “You’ll get the payment for this set of tests anyway, without worrying about the rest of the tests we should have conducted. You have a nice evening and don’t worry about a thing.”

    “Thanks,” Elizabeth said, giving him a quick hug. The Professor was nicer than he had to be, but then he could afford it. If she’d been working in a burger bar, she would probably have been sacked for daring to suggest that she needed time off work, if only to recover from a headache. “I’ll see you soon, all right?”

    She was smiling as she ran down the stairs and out into the open air. It was summer and so there were hundreds of students enjoying the warm air. Harvard University – her father kept muttering about the People’s Republic of Massachusetts whenever she asked for an additional loan - wasn't a bad place to study, but it did have its problems. One of them was the fact that it cost far too much – her parents were paying most of it – and that degrees counted for less and less these days. At least Harvard had a good reputation still; several of her friends from school had had to go to inferior colleges and wouldn't be able to find a high-paying job when they graduated.

    The walk back to her student housing took only a few minutes normally, but this time it took longer, much longer. The noise in her head had grown louder the moment she stepped outside, as if it was ringing in her ears. She scratched at her ears in the hope that the sound would fade away, but it remained there, mocking her. Her legs kept shaking and it took an effort of will to keep walking back to her flat, one shared with four other students. It wasn't a bad arrangement, even if they were living in each other’s pockets. She envied the students whose parents obtained houses and even single flats for their use. They were the luckiest people on campus.

    Her head was spinning when she reached the flat and it took several tries to remember her PIN code to get through the security gate and enter the lobby. Oddly, the sound at the back of her head faded away the moment the gate was closed behind her, falling back to a background murmur. She was alone. Puzzled, but grateful, Elizabeth took the stairs two at a time and ran into her flat. As she had hoped, her flatmates were all out, allowing her to make herself a cup of coffee and settle down in front of the television. She had intended to take a short nap before her boyfriend arrived, but she ended up being shaken awake by one of her flatmates.

    “Your boyfriend is here,” Lilly said. Elizabeth almost fainted again. Lilly’s words were calm and dispassionate, but she sensed an outpouring of emotion behind them. She had known that Lilly didn't like Ron, yet she hadn't realised just how much scorn lay behind her feelings. The background noise seemed to be growing louder. “Can I kick him out or should I send him in to see you?”

    Elizabeth felt her head spinning. “Please show him in,” she said, grandly. Lilly made a face at her and headed back to the door. By agreement, the flatmates weren't allowed to show anyone in without the permission of the person they’d come to visit. It was a safety issue more than anything else. A university campus wasn't always the safest place in the world. “I may not look my best, but...”

    She’d liked Ron from the moment she'd seen him on the football field. He was tall, beefy and handsome, even though Lilly had told her that there was nothing between his ears. She suspected that Lilly had dated Ron at one point and the relationship had ended badly. It wasn't something she could hold against either of them. It wasn't as if she hadn't had any relationships before she’d started dating Ron. She looked up, smiled at his red hair, met his eyes...and knew. Elizabeth couldn't have said how she knew, or what told her the truth, but she knew to the deepest fibre of her being that he was cheating on her. She stared at his face, looking for the lipstick she was sure was there, yet she saw nothing. It was all she could do not to scream in rage and frustration. She’d been looking forward to their night out, damn it!

    “Ron,” she said. Her voice was shaking and she had to swallow hard before she could speak again. It was more of an effort that she had expected and she wondered, dimly, if she had suffered a stroke. “Why did you cheat on me?”

    He was staring at her in complete disbelief, but answers roared into her head, somehow. She saw a dark-skinned girl with brown eyes and large breasts, someone who was willing to do something for him that she had refused to consider. Memories – Ron’s memories – flared through her mind. The girl and he had kissed, and made love, and done everything together...while she’d thought that he was in love with her. Elizabeth felt hot anger boiling through her mind and tried to stand up, intent on murder. How dare he treat her in such a manner? She wanted to kill him.

    “I didn't cheat on you,” Ron said. It would have been convincing if every word hadn't dripped with insincerity. His thoughts were spinning madly through her head. He was thinking that he could charm her back into his bed, perhaps for just one more time, perhaps forever...and she’d forget about the other girl. “Who’s been telling lies to you?”

    “They’re not lies,” Elizabeth ground out. The boiling rage in her mind was making it hard to think. “Who is she?”

    A name flashed through her mind. Janelle. Ron’s memories of her were tinged with lust and admiration; lovely breasts, long dark legs and skilful lips. Elizabeth shuddered as the memories played out in her mind. Her mother had told her that all men were animals. She hadn’t realised that her mother had meant it literally.

    “But there is no other girl,” Ron pleaded. Elizabeth knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that he was lying. He reached out a hand for her and she pushed him back. “Elizabeth, I love you...”

    He reached out for her again and this time bare skin touched bare skin. Elizabeth screamed as more memories roared into her mind, each one stronger than the last. She was barely aware of Lilly running back into the room, followed by Gayle – another flatmate – and her boyfriend. Ron’s life was pouring into her. She saw his earliest memories, his first kiss, his first sexual experience...everything. Lilly had been right. Ron was a bastard who had hurt too many people for his own amusement.

    But what was happening to her?

    “Get out,” she said, as Ron let go of her. Impossible as it seemed, the more people there were in the room, the louder the noise in her head. What was happening to her? “Just get out! I never want to see you again, you...”

    Ron looked as if he wanted to say something sharp and cutting – she heard it in her head before he could speak – but Gayle’s boyfriend took him by the arm and pushed him towards the door. Ron was a bigger boy, yet he offered no resistance. He seemed to be in shock. Elizabeth shouted after him, in anger, that she would speak to Janelle and then he would have neither of them, feeling his shock blasting through her mind. She could see the question – how the hell had she known – blaring through his mind...

    Understanding clicked. She had read his mind.

    Lilly touched her skin gently and Elizabeth recoiled as Lilly’s memories flared through her mind. She had never realised how desperately lonely her friend was, although she was amused to realise that Lilly had never dated Ron. She had thought that she’d seen Lilly in Ron’s memories...what was happening to her? What had she become that she was willing to probe her friend’s mind? A thought occurred to her and she smiled. She could ask the lectures what questions they intended to use in the exams and study for them, once she’d read the answers out of their minds. And, perhaps, she could check any future boyfriend to avoid dating another cheating asshole.

    “Elizabeth,” Lilly was saying. In Elizabeth’s dazed state, it was hard to separate what her friend was saying from what she was thinking. She fought to overcome the confusion in her mind, but every time she managed to control it the background noise rose up and overwhelmed her. It dawned on her that the background noise was the massed thoughts of everyone within range. “Do you need a doctor?”

    “No,” Elizabeth said, flatly. She knew who she had to take it to, the only person who might believe her and be able to help. She’d wondered why Professor Zeller had chosen her for his experiments – none of the explanations seemed to fit – but now she understood why. “I need you to help me get back to Professor Zeller.”

    Lilly frowned. “You really ought to rest,” she said. She didn't understand what was going on, for which Elizabeth was eternally grateful. She knew how she would have reacted if Lilly had told her that she could read her mind and she suspected that her friend would react in the same way. Her little brother’s friend had once peeked on her while she was changing and she’d kicked the little asshole so hard that he’d gone home bruised. Her mother had understood even if her father had given her a lecture on holding her temper under control. “I can get you a drink and...”

    “No,” Elizabeth said, again. Now that Ron was gone, it was easier – somehow – to stand up. Perhaps with practice she would be able to block out the feeling – the thoughts of everyone within range - completely. Professor Zeller had been teaching her mental exercises and one of them, at least, came in handy for the situation. It was weird. Had he known, in advance, what was going to happen? “ me get back to the Professor.”
    jasonl6 likes this.
  14. ChrisNuttall

    ChrisNuttall Monkey+++

    Chapter Ten<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:eek:ffice:eek:ffice" />

    The reports that telepaths have been used in military and intelligence operations have been impossible to prove and have therefore been relegated to the same level as UFOs and ghostly encounters...
    -AP News Report, 2015

    Roger Erickson silently cursed his superiors under his breath as he made his way up the stairs to Professor Zeller’s study. Sending him here was probably their idea of a joke. It wasn't his fault that the last interview he’d undertaken had turned out so disastrously; after all, no one had warned him that the interviewee was so difficult to interview. He’d been told – after the fact – that he should have watched her prior interviews, but then it had been far too late. The disaster had turned him into the laughing stock of the newsroom and while the union had kept his superiors from firing him, they hadn't been able to help him to maintain his position. Instead, he got all of the **** jobs, including interviewing a professor whose only real claim to fame was once having worked for the CIA.

    It wasn't, in Roger’s view, a particularly good item to have on one’s CV. He’d checked, of course, with Head Officer and he’d been assured that Professor Zeller’s ex-CIA qualifications were impeccable, even if he had left the CIA ten years ago. The details hadn't been clear on just how willingly he’d left the organisation, but – this time – Roger had taken the precaution of skimming through three of the professor’s published books and he was starting to think that Zeller had been sacked for delusions of grandeur. Or perhaps he’d developed them after he’d retired. He would hardly be the first ex-CIA officer to publish largely fictitious memoirs and retire on the proceeds.

    Harvard University clearly didn't think that much of Zeller either. There was no clear explanation as to why Zeller was allowed to live and work at the university, although there was a vague suggestion that he’d actually donated a sizable part of the family legacy to the university. It would have explained quite a few things about him, not least the fact that he didn't seem to have any official duties or responsibilities. The most strenuous thing he’d done for his official employers had been to give a lecture on the CIA from time to time. He had no secretary, no young intern or even a modern office. They’d given him an office that probably served as his apartment as well.

    He knocked on the door and it opened, revealing a comfortable lounge with a pair of sofas and a single comfortable chair – and a roaring fire in the grate. It was a warm day outside so he was surprised to see the fire, unless it was meant to make him feel comfortable. There were three people in the room; an elderly gentleman he assumed was Professor Zeller, a younger Indian man and a brown-haired student. He gave her a quick once-over, wondering absently what she would be like in bed, and was surprised when she flushed dark red. Her clothing was surprisingly conservative for a university student.

    “Thank you for coming,” Professor Zeller said. “This is Kareem Ganchi, my legal representative and Elizabeth Tyler, one of my students.”

    Roger eyed Ganchi with new respect. Ganchi had been involved in several legal trials that Roger had covered, back before his fall from grace, and had won them all. He tended to take on cases involving civil liberties and was a known opponent of the Patriot Act, even taking on cases without pay if he felt that human rights were being violated. It hadn’t made him popular in all places, but it was an impressive history. He was also known for winning vast damages from various corporations for all kinds of misconduct.

    “Charmed,” Roger said, slowly. He’d assumed that Zeller had intended to waste his time – or his superiors had intended to send him on a wild goose chase – but he doubted it if a lawyer was involved. “Might I ask what is going on here?”

    Zeller smiled. “What do you think is going on here?”

    Roger scowled at him. His tolerance for games was limited. He saw the girl – Elizabeth – cringe back as he looked at her, something that puzzled him. Unless...had she been raped and they intended to blame it on him? No, that couldn't be the answer. Proving his innocence would be simple enough and then three careers would be ruined. His uncertainty made him disinclined to try to guess.

    “I don’t know,” he said, finally. “What is going on here?”

    Zeller indicated the girl with a wave of his hand. “After ten years of trying, my experiments have finally produced a result,” he said. “Yesterday, Elizabeth developed telepathic powers. You’re looking at the first human telepath to come into existence.”

    Roger’s first inclination was to laugh. Back when he’d been a very junior reporter, he’d been sent to report on mediums and magicians and all kinds of confidence tricksters – people who, by and large, had fooled people who wanted to be fooled. It didn't take much effort to come up with a convincing trick, one that might even stand up to careful scrutiny. But then...what if?

    There had been vague reports filtering through the internet that the government had developed a new tool for hunting down and capturing terrorists. Roger had never been sure how seriously to take them, not least because many of the regular sources had dried up or refused to talk about it. Leaking information to the media was part of the political game, yet very few whispers had made it out to the hundreds of waiting ears. But...the New York Dirty Bombers had released official statements claiming that their minds had been read, something that – on the face of it – was absurd.

    Roger wasn’t blind to the weaknesses of his profession. He knew that reporters often picked up enemy statements and reported them as fact, even though they should have known better. It happened because such statements were often possible – even though they were far from accurate – and therefore believable. It was easy to believe that a CIA agent had authorised the torturing of suspects, even if it was against regulations; it was harder to believe that they had been reading minds. Why would a group of terrorists put forward a lie that everyone knew was a lie? The answer was obvious. They wouldn't; they’d just make themselves sound like idiots.

    And that suggested, he realised, that there was some truth to the story after all.

    He shook his head. It couldn't be possible.

    “So you’re a telepath,” he said, turning to Elizabeth. It would be easiest to deal with her first and see if she was actually what they claimed her to be. If they were lying...well, he could go back to the office and bitch to his superiors about wasting his time. “I’d like you to prove it.”

    Elizabeth’s voice was very faint. “When you entered the room,” she said slowly, “you wondered how I would look naked and how I would be in bed with you.”

    Professor Zeller coughed loudly as Roger flushed himself. She was right. He had wondered that, yet...any normal male would wonder that when confronted by an attractive female. A homosexual would have similar thoughts about another handsome male. And, coming to think of it, she had flushed when he had wondered about it. A chill ran down his spine. It could be real...or it could be a coincidence. Further testing was needed, clearly.

    “Very well,” he said. He considered for a long moment and then concentrated, summoning a mental image of a unicorn being ridden by a version of his ex-wife. The woman had been sweet when they’d married, but when they’d spent two months together she had turned into a complete harridan. “What am I thinking of now?”

    Elizabeth told him.

    And Roger’s world turned completely upside down. There was no way that that could be a coincidence. She could read his mind. A thousand memories flashed in front of his eyes, memories that he had considered to be private, ones he would never have shared with anyone. He knew that she could see them in his mind, or perhaps she could dig them out of his deeper memories and share them with the world. The thought was horrifying.

    “You have to tell the world,” Professor Zeller said, finally. Roger was still shocked, but he was nodding slowly. If Elizabeth had telepathic abilities, it was possible that the rumour about military telepaths was true after all. And that meant that he would have the scoop of a lifetime. And that meant that he would have to be reinstated as a top reporter. “The longer you delay, the greater the chance that someone from the government will succeed in classifying this and hiding it from the public.”

    “I understand,” Roger said. He took one last look at the girl and smiled. “Why don’t you brief me in private so I can file a proper article? And then there are some forms for you to fill in, just in case of legal trouble.”

    “There will be none,” Ganchi assured him. “The law does not cover telepaths.”

    The day went slowly for Elizabeth. Surprisingly, somehow, Professor Zeller had almost no mental presence at all. Everyone else she met over the course of the day was a tight knot of emotions, thoughts and feelings, but Professor Zeller was a complete blank. It made her wonder if the CIA’s experiments had produced more results than they’d realised at the time or if Professor Zeller had made a breakthrough and then concealed it from his superiors. His mere presence was reassuring, if only because she wasn't picking up any background noise from him. On the other hand, he was looking at her as if she was his meal ticket.

    She scowled as she settled back into the sofa after proving herself – again – to the latest set of visitors. Professor Zeller had been calling in scientists from all over the city, making it harder and harder for anyone to cover it up. No one believed them at first, not until Elizabeth read their minds to prove it. It wasn't the most relaxing experience. Their disbelief had given way to shock and then to fear. One of the men who had visited her had had a very dark mind. She wasn't sure how to tell the difference between real memories and fantasies, but his involved children and horrific sexual acts. She’d told Professor Zeller’s attorney – whose mind tended to focus more on the attractive young men who came to check the story – and he’d promised to look into it. It seemed that telepathic evidence wasn't legally admissible in court.

    The thought bothered her. One of the thoughts that had run through the lawyer’s mind – he hadn’t said it out loud – was that she could be arrested and charged with intruding into a person’s privacy. It had scared her, not least because she had no idea how she could prove that she hadn’t been into someone’s mind. She had been arrested once – at a protest march a year ago, for a cause that had seemed a good idea at the time – and that hadn't been a pleasant experience. What would it be like if she was arrested for real?

    She looked over at the untidy stacks of books and smiled to herself. Professor Zeller had encouraged her to read his books and papers and so she had, although not all of them had made sense. He believed that human evolution was still underway – although it had been slowed by the development of tools and procedures to cheat Darwin – and that the next logical step in human evolution was the development of telepathic powers. The CIA had been happy to recruit him to help with their remote viewing project, but much less keen on his ideas about human development. Elizabeth privately suspected that they had a point. She had a friend who was confined to a wheelchair and she wouldn't have liked it if anyone had suggested that nature should be allowed to take its course, killing her friend and anyone else who happened to be crippled. Besides, someone who had been crippled as a child would not have being a cripple in their genes.

    Professor Zeller came back into the room and grinned at her. “Success, of a sort,” he announced, cheerfully. “The entire university is chattering about you, my dear.”

    “Oh,” Elizabeth said. It dawned on her, suddenly, that her life was about to change completely. No, it had changed completely. She could no longer hope to keep what she was a secret. Her friends – and Ron, her ex-boyfriend – would know that she could read their mind. The fear and suspicion she’d faced from the people who had come to see her – to gawk at her – would be multiplied in the minds of her former friends. They would never know if she was reading their minds or not and it would destroy them. “What happens now?”

    Professor Zeller beamed. “Why, we tell the world and...”

    He broke off as someone knocked on the door. When it opened, it revealed Charlie Lain, one of the other members of Professor Zeller’s research program. Blood was gushing out of his nose and ears, for no apparent reason. Elizabeth reached out with her mind and recoiled in surprise, for his mind was reaching out towards hers. She knew him then, far more intimately than she had ever known anyone else, and he knew her. The words didn't have to be spoken aloud. Charlie had developed telepathic powers of his own.

    Zeller didn't seem surprised when she told him, although he was surprised by the violence of Charlie’s awakening. He’d had a headache during his own tests, but nothing had happened until he’d gone to watch a football match with some of his friends. His awakening – and Elizabeth winced at the feelings emanating from his mind – had been in the midst of thousands of people. He had been incredibly lucky to survive the experience.

    “You should have stayed in the hospital,” Zeller said, firmly. Charlie glared at him, his emotion blazing out like a beacon. “You’re not well and...”

    “I want you to make it stop,” Charlie snapped. He didn't seem willing to compromise. “You’re the one who insisted that we do your tests, you’re the one who monitored our brainwaves and suggested that we try different exercises...I want you to make it stop!”

    Zeller seemed surprised for the first time. “Why would you want it to stop?”

    Charlie jerked forward, caught the professor by his collar and pushed him against the wall. “I can hear them,” he hissed. “I can hear them all! I can hear everyone in the world thinking and thinking and thinking and...”

    His voice trailed away. “I can’t think for myself,” he said, in a quieter tone. “I cannot think at all.”

    Elizabeth caught her breath. Charlie didn't know it, but he was bombarding her with his thoughts and feelings – and those of everyone within range. Or perhaps he did know and he just didn't care. She suspected that he would know if she tried to look into his mind to find out the answer, or...

    “Calm down,” she said, quietly. She wanted to touch him, but she didn't dare. Physical touch seemed to make the contact stronger. “Listen...”

    “You calm down,” Charlie shouted. “Stop shouting; just stop shouting...”

    “I'm not shouting,” Elizabeth said. She recalled one of the basic mental exercises and concentrated on it. It was easier so close to another telepath. “I want you to think about building blocks, ok?” Charlie nodded, letting go of Zeller and rubbing his head. “I want you to think about building a wall of blocks around your mind. I want you to concentrate on the blocks, one by one, as you slot them into place. Your thoughts are inside the barrier; everything else is outside, kept away from your mind by the walls...”

    Charlie’s mind seemed to quieten down as he concentrated, although – as he built his mental walls step by step – it was growing harder to read him. The walls didn’t seem to confirm to natural laws, but then they were really nothing more than mental constructs. Her own blocks seemed to topple the moment she questioned their value to her.

    “All right,” she said quietly, once Charlie’s blocks were in place. “I think we’d better check on the others. What happens if they developed telepathy at the same time?”

    “I’ll see to that,” Zeller said. “You two can remain here and relax. Keep working on your mental blocks...”

    “Professor,” Elizabeth said suddenly, “why are you so hard to pick up mentally?”

    Zeller smiled. “Long story,” he said. “I’ll tell you it one day.”

    Roger finished writing his story and scowled down at it, knowing that his superiors would question it before allowing it to be published...and also knowing that failing to publish it would result in someone else beating him to the punch. He’d confirmed everything as far as he could, with no less than four academics willing to add their names to a statement that confirmed what had happened. He’d even kept speculation as limited as possible.

    Staring down at the computer, he tapped a key and uploaded the story to the publishers. The story was out now, whatever else happened. If his superiors didn't want it published, he would upload it onto the journalists internet network and his scoop would be preserved when the story finally broke – and his superiors would end up with egg on their faces. The computer pinged a second later and he read the message with a flicker of surprise. The story was going to be published.

    Grinning, he walked out of the building and went for a celebratory drink. Whatever happened now, the story would be impossible for anyone to kill. The human race was about to discover the existence of telepaths and the world would never be the same again. And it was his story. His name would go down alongside Woodward and Bernstein.
  15. snowbyrd

    snowbyrd Latet anguis in herba

    well done

    Although the use of centre instead of center indicates British infuence. I use tyre and bonnet all the time. I wonder about his sister dating a 'monk'. Seems odd but perhaps some sects do. over all very enjoyable. I would have commented sooner but I had trouble stopping to do so.
    Thanks for the read, I enjoyed it.

  16. ChrisNuttall

    ChrisNuttall Monkey+++

    Chapter Eleven<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:eek:ffice:eek:ffice" />

    Scientists at Harvard University today confirmed the first known development of telepathy in human beings, producing no less than seven people with mind-reading powers of varying strengths. Professor Zeller, the developer of the research programs that produced the telepaths, stated that it was the dawn of a new era for the human race. The federal government refused to comment, both on the development of the telepaths and the suggestion that telepaths were used to catch the New York Dirty Bombers...
    -AP News Report, 2015

    “So,” Art said, as the government car pulled into Harvard, “who is Professor Zeller anyway?”

    They had been caught completely by surprise. Despite the NSA’s hugely expensive system for intercepting and monitoring phone calls and the internet, Professor Zeller’s bombshell was already hitting the news by the time Looking Glass was alerted. It had been sheer luck that Art had been even remotely close to Harvard and by the time they could reach the building, the news was spreading all over the United States. The coverage had a detectable tone of ‘have they gone mad’ but it was spreading. The testimonials from both staff and students were helping to push it along.

    Art rubbed the back of his head as the car parked next to cars belonging to a dozen media outlets and other interested parties. If Professor Zeller had been CIA at one point, he should have known better than to trigger off a media feeding frenzy. The CIA had recruited several think-tanks to attempt to puzzle out what would happen if an awareness of telepaths entered the general public mentality and few of the results had been good. The worst case had suggested that telepaths would be rounded up and sterilised by the government, if not shoved into gas chambers and left to die. It hadn't made pleasant reading.

    It was easy to see the writer’s point. In the six months since discovering other telepaths and Professor Zeller’s brainstorm, Art and his comrades had been used in a role that made him uneasy. The CIA routinely did security tests on its staff, including lie detector tests and drug interrogations, but this time things had been different. Art had been concealed behind a one-way mirror, watching and reading minds as questions had been thrown at the test subjects. They’d uncovered four Russian moles, six Chinese spies and several officers who had been slipping information to the media from time to time. The CIA had a nasty reputation for leaking like a sieve, yet Art had never realised the scale of the problem. Lie detectors and security vetting were far from completely reliable. Even so, it was setting a worrying precedent.

    The CIA’s recruits had known that they would be expected to undergo various security checks, but none of them had signed up to have their minds read by telepaths. They didn't know that their minds had been violated and when they found out...Art wouldn’t be too surprised if they were angry. Even with light peeks – the term had entered general use – he’d picked up too many secrets. Quite a few officers were homosexual, or cheating on their partners, or worried about their expenses and paperwork. He’d said nothing about that to his supervisors. They didn't need to know.

    Alice frowned. “Why don’t you read my mind?”

    “I’m lazy,” Art said. Pulling individual facts out of a person’s mind was possible; it was a great deal harder to obtain a complete story, particularly when it wasn't of great significance to the source. “Why don’t you tell me everything and I’ll tell you if you’re telling the truth?”

    “I thought Marines weren't allowed to be lazy,” Alice countered, although her words carried a worried emotional state. She, too, was concerned about the effects of the leak. “Let’s see...he actually left the Company before I joined, so I never met him in person...”

    She ticked off points on her fingers as she spoke. “Professor Zeller was the youngest son of very old money, one of the richest people ever to join the CIA,” she said, thoughtfully. “He could have wasted his life without ever touching the seed money, but instead he developed an interest in the paranormal from a very young age. The CIA was throwing money at ESP in those days and they decided that a scientist who was obsessed with proving the existence of telepathy would make a suitable recruit. The Russians were supposed to be making advances in turning ESP into a weapon and the CIA thought it needed a counter.”

    Art smiled, although in truth he felt no humour. It had crossed his mind that he might not be the first telepath after all. It was possible that the Russians had developed telepaths of their own and that they continued to operate in secret, without alerting the Americans or anyone else to their existence. So far, most of the reports he’d read that had come out of the Russian ESP program had been vague in the extreme – or written to be sensational – but it was possible that there was a hard core of truth lay somewhere within the reports. It was equally possible, as Alice had reminded him, that they were all nonsense. The CIA had been desperate for funding in those days.

    “Professor Zeller developed the Zeller Test and many of the other tools we use to measure psychic potential,” Alice continued. “He pioneered some of the research into remote viewing – Project Star Gate – and made several strides forward. Unluckily for him, most of the research wasn't particularly impressive and some of his enemies claimed that he was faking the results, despite the most secure tests we could conduct. Remote viewing simply doesn't seem to work according to the laws of science as we understand them. Unlike...say, a gun, it doesn't always seem to work. Zeller eventually quit in disgust and went private, writing several articles on his life with the CIA. We didn’t even consider calling him back to see you.”

    “Oh,” Art said. “And since then he’s been carrying out his own research?”

    “So it would seem,” Alice admitted. “The Company didn't bother to keep a close eye on him afterwards. Far too much of the details surrounding Project Star Gate had already leaked out into the public and generally been dismissed. Zeller was allowed to continue his research in private and...well, we may have misjudged him. He’s produced civilian telepaths.”

    “Yes,” Art agreed. Ahead of them, the background noise was sparking with shock and fear. More and more people, he realised, were becoming convinced of the truth. They had come to Harvard intending to prove that there was no such thing as telepathy, but instead they were realising that telepaths were real. The thought made him wince. There was no way to shut down the media circus now. “What on Earth was he thinking?”

    A thought occurred to him and he frowned. He’d developed his telepathy through stress while on a combat mission and the other telepaths had been developed through being forced to feel stress and fear. How had Zeller developed his telepaths? Somehow, Art doubted that any student would stand for allowing a professor to conduct pain experiments on their bodies. Or, as one of the researchers back at Looking Glass had speculated, had the presence of a handful of telepaths started to speed up the development of additional telepaths, without the need for induced stress? There was no way to know.

    “I called ahead,” Alice said, as she opened the door and stepped out onto the streets. The noise of people milling about ahead of them grew louder. “The Professor has agreed to meet us in private, rather than subjecting us to a press conference.”

    “Right,” Art said. “And what exactly are we supposed to do?”

    “Find out just what the real situation is,” Alice said, briskly. Her voice was normal, but her mental tone was worried. If there were other telepaths up ahead – and Art was sure that he could sense at least one telepath up ahead, although his mind could just be playing tricks on him – all of her CIA secrets would be exposed. Her superiors had sent her to Art because she knew relatively little, but that was no longer true...and none of the non-telepaths had succeeded in producing a mental shield to protect their thoughts. “And then report back to Looking Glass. I heard that the President himself is being briefed now.”

    Art had to smile. It hadn't occurred to him – until it had been pointed out by one of his briefers – that the President himself hadn't been told the details of Project Looking Glass. It didn't sit well with him; he might have had some problems with some of the people who had sat in the Oval Office while he was alive, yet the President was still the Commander-in-Chief of the United States Military and therefore Art’s ultimate superior. He suspected that the President, no matter how relieved he was because of the success in New York, would be unhappy about not having been told in advance. As it was, Professor Zeller’s success would fall upon a President who was mentally unprepared for the shock.

    Alice seemed to know her way around Harvard and led them away from the crowds, towards a rear entrance that was guarded by a pair of campus policemen. Art checked them out as they approached and smiled at their reactions to the card Alice held up for them to see. Harvard University had provided more than a few recruits for the CIA and the rest of the federal government over the years, yet they were still a resolutely liberal college. They would not be comfortable with intelligence agents prowling around on campus. Art shrugged, dismissing their concern. It hadn’t been that long ago that several terrorist recruiters had been arrested at various campuses across the United States, an operation made harder by the reluctance of the college authorities to allow the FBI to operate on their territory.

    “Professor Zeller will be with you shortly,” a harassed-looking secretary said. Her mind was a maelstrom of shock and disbelief, shading rapidly towards horror. Art guessed that she hadn't believed in telepaths until she had found herself confronted by several, all college students. He hated to think of what they would do with telepathy, particularly if they hadn't been identified as telepaths. The opportunities for blackmail were staggering.

    A moment later, a door at the far end of the room burst open and Professor Zeller swaggered through, followed by a mousey-looking brown-haired girl and a green-haired boy. Art kept his face blank with an effort. He had never considered dying his hair and couldn't understand why anyone would choose to do so while they were studying. Of course, while the staff might think that the students were there to study, the students might have different ideas.

    “I’m sorry about the delay, my dear,” Professor Zeller said, to Alice. His voice was larger-than-life, a booming sound that made Art detest him instantly. “I had to check up on Charlie. I’m afraid we had to sedate him and transport him to an isolated medical centre owned by my family. His telepathy was torn wide open and he was unable to maintain mental blocks for long.”

    Art frowned and reached out mentally towards Professor Zeller...and recoiled. The Professor seemed to be a complete blank. Even another telepath, one who was capable of shielding himself, could still be detected, even if it was impossible to pull information out of his mind. The Professor...didn’t seem to be there at all. Art felt a shiver running down the back of his neck. Not for the first time, he had been confronted by the inexplicable. Had Zeller been experimenting on himself as well?

    “Thank you for seeing us,” Alice said, formally. “You know who we represent.”

    “The Company can go piss up a rope,” Zeller boomed. Art had to smile, even though he was still unable to probe Zeller’s thoughts. “I could have developed telepaths for them, but no – they insisted on developing cell phone intercepts and satellite observation...BAH! What use is it if the Company knows what someone is doing when they do not know what they are thinking? I told those half-witted morons years ago that they could develop telepaths and they rejected me...”

    “...Mocked you, cast you out,” Art said, dryly. Zeller glared at him. “Professor...”

    He stopped as he felt the intrusive tickle of a person trying to worm their way into his mind. He turned to look at the girl and blinked; she was one of Zeller’s telepaths. Art frowned, tightened his own shields and looked back. Her mental blocks were impressive for one who had only developed telepathy two days ago – they had to be, or she would have gone insane from being so close to so many people – but Art had drilled with other telepaths and knew how to break down blocks.

    “You’re telepathic,” the girl said, in shock. “I thought I was the first.”

    “That would be him,” Alice said, dryly. Professor Zeller, for the first time, had been struck speechless. “Professor, we need to talk about the future.”

    “There’s nothing to talk about,” Professor Zeller said. Art had no difficulty in realising that the Professor’s obsession was blinding his mind to reality. “The entire world will know about my success and you can’t cover it up.”

    “Yes,” Alice sighed. “Congratulations. You’ve single-handedly changed the world. Well done.”

    Her voice hardened. “Every single person you tested – if they’re telepathic or not – will have been marked down by now,” she said. “The human animal is a suspicious beast. How long is it going to be before mobs arrive at Harvard to storm the gates and burn your telepaths for poking into their minds? How long will it be before people who have nothing to do with you get accused of being telepaths and attacked? You should have brought this to us!”

    “So you could cover it up for the next thousand years, like all of the research you laughed at?” Zeller demanded. “It was my success and...”

    “No one is disputing that you made a remarkable breakthrough,” Alice said, patiently. “You have to understand that...”

    “No,” Zeller said, flatly. “I will not cooperate with the Company. They had their chance and now the world will see what I can do.”

    Art smiled. “You can’t do anything,” he said. At the back of his mind, he wondered if that was actually true. Why was Professor Zeller a mental blank? “You’re not a telepath yourself.”

    He looked over at the two telepaths, the scared girl and the green-haired boy. Somehow, Art had no difficulty in believing that the lad would enjoy using his telepathy to peek into other minds, without regard for any ethical qualms. When he’d been a young man, it would have probably seemed a cool idea to him too. He could have answered the age-old question of what women actually wanted, picked up girls who were interested in him...the possibilities were endless.

    “Tell me,” he said. “What do you want to do?”

    Elizabeth didn't know what to think. Professor Zeller had explained that the two people they were going to be meeting were from the CIA, but she hadn't expected a rugged-looking man and a pretty girl only a few years older than Elizabeth herself. On the other hand, the man was a telepath and the woman had calm and disciplined thoughts, although she also had the underlying edge of fear that was becoming alarmingly common. Elizabeth didn't probe too closely. She didn't want to alert the CIA telepath.

    “I don't know what I want to do,” she admitted. It had been cool proving that telepaths existed, but after that...the growing air of fear and worry was wearing away at her. Worse, Charlie’s mental blocks hadn't held at all, despite her support. She hoped that being sedated would make life easier for him, even though there was no way to know for sure. She had taken a brief nap herself and discovered that the thoughts and feelings of everyone around her seemed to bleed into her sleep. “I used to think that I was going to become a lawyer.”

    The CIA girl – Alice – smiled. “You may well be in danger here,” she said. “You and your fellow telepaths may find yourself targeted by all kinds of people. We can take you and the rest of you into protective custody where you will be able to sleep safely.”

    “And then they won’t be able to leave,” Professor Zeller said, sharply. “You’ll just cover them all up and...”

    The CIA telepath smiled. “Do you think that they will be able to resume a normal life?”

    Elizabeth placed both hands on her ears, as if by doing so she could blot out their words. She didn't even want to think about it, yet there was no choice. If she went with the CIA, they might be able to help her, but it would mean letting Professor Zeller down badly. He needed her to prove that telepaths existed and...

    “You need to see this,” the secretary said, bursting in. She tapped the television at the end of the room and switched to Fox News. “I just got an update from a mailing list...”

    The television showed the face of a well-known presenter. “...have just come in,” the presenter said. “A man has been arrested in Kansas after shooting his neighbour, who he accused of being a telepath and reading his mind at their poker games. The claim is a reference to the announcement made a day ago that actual human telepaths had been discovered and are capable of reading minds...”

    “Well,” Alice said, as Professor Zeller turned off the television. “I don’t know if that man was a telepath or not, but I do know that you are likely to be in danger. Please...”

    “No,” Elizabeth said, flatly. She couldn't let Professor Zeller down, not now. And besides, if the CIA had telepaths, who knew what they could do – had been doing - with them? “Thank you for the offer, but no.”
  17. ChrisNuttall

    ChrisNuttall Monkey+++

    Chapter Twelve<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:eek:ffice:eek:ffice" />

    In an update to the Kansas Telepath Shooting, State Police have confirmed that the shooter was a ‘deeply disturbed’ man who had a long history of violence, alcohol abuse and several prior convictions for disturbing the peace. There is no proof that his victim was, in fact, a telepath. Even so, chatter on the internet is running in support of the right to shoot telepaths for mental intrusion; the term used most often is mental rape.
    -AP News Report, 2015

    The President of the United States could not allow himself to appear surprised by anything, the President knew. When he had entered office, he had believed that he would be able to shape the future of America, steering the country towards a grander future. Instead, there had been crisis after crisis after crisis, leaving him feeling as if the country was rudderless and heading towards absolute disaster. His predecessor had warned him that as long as he was in office, he would be the least popular President of the United States ever, at least until his successor took up the office and the public discovered that they missed the previous President. It was easy to see why. The President was both the most powerful man in the world and the most constrained. A single wrong move could spell disaster.

    He kept his face blank with an effort as he looked up at the CIA Director. The file that had been put on his table – he'd had to clear the afternoon to deal with the crisis, something that had become regrettably common ever since he’d been inaugurated – sounded like something out of a bad novel. Telepaths – mind-readers – existed. It seemed impossible, yet the file was quite clear that it worked and that the CIA had moved to take advantage of them, at least as long as the secret remained a secret. And now the secret was out. The President’s country was awakening to the fact that the world had changed. There had been no advance warning for him, leaving him stunned and scrambling to catch up. Heads would roll if he had time to deal with it personally.

    “And all of this is real,” he said, sharply. The CIA Director nodded flatly. “How long have you known about this without telling me?”

    “The first telepath appeared six months ago,” the CIA Director said. They were not friends and would never be friends, for the CIA Director had been appointed by his predecessor. “We had no idea that Professor Zeller was running a private research program until it was too late.”

    The President nodded towards the silenced television at one end of the room. Professor Zeller was giving yet another news conference, telling the world about telepaths – including telepaths in government service. The President swallowed a curse before it had properly formulated itself in his mind. The last thing his government needed was an accusation that it had been reading the minds of ordinary innocent civilians. And yet, he didn't see any way to prevent such accusations from being made. The world had just turned upside down.

    “Fine,” the President said, rubbing his forehead. The presidential inbox was already filling with secure emails from various congressmen and senators, asking what – if anything – the President intended to do about the crisis. The President had no idea what to do. He knew how to handle a terrorist strike, he knew how to handle a natural disaster or an act of war, but telepaths weren't in the presidential manual. The suggestions he was receiving ranged from ignoring the issue, which was impossible, or declaring martial law, which was also impossible. “What do you suggest that we do about it?”

    “I suggest that you speak to the nation,” the CIA Director suggested. “You could tell them how telepaths have helped make the country more secure and how some of them saved the city of New York from a dirty bomb explosion. You could tell them that...”

    The President scowled. “You do know, I assume, that the lawyers acting for the terrorists have claimed that their minds were read by the police?” The CIA Director shrugged. “Two days ago, that sounded absurd; now everyone is going to believe it. And does telepathic evidence count in a court of law?”

    “There is no law forbidding the introduction of telepathic evidence,” the CIA Director said. “Besides, even without the use of telepathic evidence, there is more than enough to convict them and send the bastards to Death Row.”

    The President, who had been a lawyer before turning to politics, shook his head. “It could tie the case up for years,” he said, sharply. “If the police only raided their base because of telepathic evidence, a lawyer could argue that all of the evidence was obtained illegally and should therefore be thrown out.”

    “That makes no sense,” the CIA Director protested. “We know they’re guilty.”

    “That will only be the start,” the President predicted, with a droll smile. He was privately enjoying the CIA Director’s unease – except how did one know that thoughts were private any longer? No one could know if their thoughts were private or not. Not now. “How many other cases have enjoyed the help and support of your telepaths?”

    He didn't wait for the answer. “And how can we prove,” he asked, “that telepathy has never been involved? How many cases will have to be reopened just because defence lawyers claim that their clients had their minds read?”

    The President sobered. “And all of that doesn't change the fact that the public awareness of telepaths is going to change the world,” he added. “What do we do if a telepath reads someone’s mind without their permission?”

    “I have a proposal,” the CIA Director said. He frowned. The President, who was fairly good at reading people, knew that he was nervous. “We draft telepaths into government service and...”

    The President cut him off. “No one has been drafted against their will for years,” he said. “Legally, I doubt that we could draft anyone without a special act of congress and then lawyers could tie it up for years.”

    “Mr President,” the CIA Director said, “we are standing on the brink of absolute catastrophe.”

    The President frowned and quirked an eyebrow in disbelief. “Every time there is a new development, the world changes,” the CIA Director said. “Back when internet file sharing became popular, the public started to share MP3 files and suchlike and it was very hard to legally stop them. The music industry went berserk and tried to stop it, which only made file-sharers more determined to continue sharing files. People who didn’t give a damn about the issue one way or another became involved in trying to regulate it and they largely failed. It wasn't an easy field to regulate.

    “Telepathy offers us the same problem,” he added. “How do we know what a telepath is capable of doing? We don’t have laws covering telepathy on the statue books, so reading minds is not – technically – illegal. We may be able to catch a telepath on charges of invasion of privacy, but it may be hard to make it stick.”

    The President rubbed his forehead. “Get to the point,” he ordered. “What does file sharing have to do with telepathy?”

    “We are all brought up to regard our minds as inviolate,” the CIA Director said, quickly. “What will happen to our society when we discover that our minds are not inviolate? The music industry tried to hit back against the file-sharers by pushing for all kinds of bad laws, all of which were very difficult to enforce. If we draft telepaths, we may be able to control them without risking major social change...”

    “I see,” the President said. “How many telepaths do we know about?”

    “Around forty,” the CIA Director said. “The chances are good, however, that more will be coming out of the woodwork in the next few weeks and months. What happens if even one percent of the American population is telepathic?”

    The President nodded. “I see,” he said. “I’ll think about it.”

    Three hours later, the President rose to his feet in welcome as Senator Tom Brookline was shown into the Oval Office. Brookline was one of his oldest friends and political rivals; a man whose sincere belief in the Republican Party was as strong as the President’s belief in the Democratic Party, yet he was someone the President could take to without it turning into a political catfight. Politically, they were deadly enemies, but that didn't stop them being friends outside politics.

    “Mr President,” Brookline said. They shook hands firmly. “What can I do for you?”

    The President smiled as the maid brought them both coffee and then faded away. “What’s the word in the GOP about the telepaths?”

    “Very little as yet,” Brookline said. “Half of the senior leadership are still convinced that it’s a joke and they’d end up with egg on their faces if they jumped too quickly.” He looked up sharply. “It's not a joke, is it?”

    “I wish I could say that it was and laugh at you,” the President said. He picked up the file the CIA Director had left behind and passed it to Brookline. “Read this and tell me what you think.”

    Brookline skimmed through the file quickly and thoroughly. “I see,” he said, finally. “It looks as if at least one telepath deserves a medal.”

    The President shrugged. “So it would seem,” he agreed. “The fact remains that the secret is out and spreading – and that new telepaths, civilian telepaths, are beginning to pop up. What does this mean for the future?”

    Brookline did him the honour of considering the issue carefully. “Well...I suppose it depends on just how many telepaths there are,” he said. “What happens if we all become telepathic over the next year or two? I think that we’d all be much happier if we knew what everyone else was thinking all the time. Or what if only a tenth of the population becomes telepathic? Or half the could be a nightmare.”

    “Yes,” the President agreed.

    “There will be demands for immediate regulation, of course,” Brookline continued. He grinned. “I suspect you may be urged to create a Psi Corps at once.” The President snorted. “You’ll have to change the name, of course, or the government will be sued, but I think that that is what they will want you to do. Telepaths to be licensed, branded and put to work for the government – and kept under control. That won’t please civil liberties groups or the telepaths themselves. Why should they be kept under an insulting level of control?”

    He scowled. “The problem with humanity, of course, is that we keep dividing people into groups. Protestants against Catholics; Sunni against Shia; Muslims against Jews; Americans against never really ends. We have conflict between people whose only real difference is skin colour, discrimination against women because they are women, discrimination against homosexuals and lesbians...I could quite easily see people discrimination against telepaths.

    “Why do straight men generally dislike homosexuals? Is it because a homosexual man might see a straight man as a sex object? That he might do unto him as he would do unto a pretty girl? You remember the old joke about how guys spend all of their time thinking about sex? The joke gets less funny when you realise that gay men are just the same – they just think about men rather than women. And it hits straight men right where they live. They want to do the ****ing, not be ****ed themselves.”

    The President nodded. Unlike the CIA Director, Brookline was actually making sense.

    “It will only get worse when telepaths are involved,” Brookline added. “A telepath can look into your mind and see all of your secrets. All the thoughts and feelings that you keep bottled up for the sake of your own sanity and safety. It will seem to everyone that a telepath could be reading their mind every last second of the day – it will strike them right where they live. How many dirty secrets does the average person have? Do you lust after your married workmate? Do you secretly wonder what it would be like to make love to a person of the same gender? Do you have a habit of helping yourself to leftover food at the place you work? Do you steal paperwork and office supplies? Do you feel guilty because...?”

    The President held up a hand. “I get the idea,” he said, flatly. He remembered the shooting in Kansas and scowled. The latest reports were clear that the victim had never been a telepath.

    “And there is another problem,” Brookline said. He tapped the report with one long finger. “This report says that four known telepaths are effectively incapable of functioning within normal society – and that several other telepaths have been pulled out of mental care centres, where they have been driven insane by their own powers. You may need to separate telepaths from normal society as much as possible, if only for their own good. Find a nicely isolated patch of land somewhere in flyover country and set up a home for them there.”

    The President nodded. “So...what do you suggest I do?”

    Brookline considered it. “The best I can suggest is setting up some kind of regulatory agency,” he said, finally. The President blinked in surprise. He wouldn't have expected a statist solution from Brookline. “You see...the difference between a working and civilised state and a failed state is the rule of law. People have to believe that the law will be fair and even-handed. If not, they tend to take the law into their own hands. You need a way of identifying and punishing telepathic criminals, if only to prevent lynch mobs from forming every time a telepath may be involved in a crime.”

    “This problem isn't going to go away, is it?” The President asked, bitterly. “The telepaths aren't going to just vanish...”

    “Probably not,” Brookline said. He pinched himself and grinned. “I didn't wake up.”

    “Thanks for your help,” the President said, sincerely. “I just have to run a few ideas past my cabinet and then...”

    “There’s something else you need to know,” Brookline said. He hesitated. “You’re a good man, even if you are a Democrat. You have to understand this.”

    He paused. The President realised that he didn't want to continue. “Where I live, Mr President, back home, I have a neighbouring family who has a beautiful daughter. I see her every day as she goes out running through the gardens, including mine, and she waves to me. She wears short skirts, so short that sometimes they flip up and I see her panties, or very tight shorts. I know that I shouldn't, but I watch her and sometimes I wonder what it would be like to reach out for her, pull her towards me and take that fantastic ass in my hands. There are times, when I am in bed with my wife, that I think of the daughter instead.”

    “I don't understand,” the President said, confused. “You would hardly be the first man to lust after a pretty girl.”

    “She’s fourteen years old and looks seventeen,” Brookline said. Once he had started talking, he seemed to be unable to stop, despite the President’s shock. “I have never touched her and never will, no matter how tempting it becomes – even though I know that she will grow older. Touching her now would be statutory rape. I might have thought about it, but I would never actually do it.

    “Now tell me; what would happen when a telepath read my mind and found that?”

    The President stared at him. “They’d accuse you of lusting after her,” he said, flatly. “But merely thinking about it isn't a crime...”

    “Before telepaths came into existence, no one could prove that someone was thinking about doing something,” Brookline said, sharply. “Even when we discovered bombs and weapons stored in terrorist hidey-hole or two, it was still hard to press charges against them and a good lawyer could argue that they weren't thinking of blowing up a building or two in the United States. you can prove that something was thinking about doing something unpleasant.”

    He spoke on before the President could interrupt. “Have you never wanted to strange an irritating reporter who insists on misreporting everything you say? Have you never wanted to send the Marines into some foreign country to kill the leader who keeps irritating Americans and keeping his own people in bondage? Have you never wished that you could pull a Nixon and act outside the law?”

    Brookline smiled. “How many secrets do you think are in Congress and the Senate? How many Congressmen do you think are ****ing their interns like President Clinton? How many Senators have dirty little secrets that they won’t want revealed, whatever the cost? Everyone is scared, Mr President, and you’re going to have to reassure them, somehow.”

    The President snorted. “What was I thinking when I ran for this post?”

    “I dread to imagine,” Brookline said. “That’s why I never threw my own hat in the ring.”

    He stood up. “I’ve taken up enough of your time, Mr President, so all I can really do now is wish you good luck,” he said. “Good luck.”

    “Thanks,” the President said, dryly.

    Once Brookline had gone, he settled back into his chair and stared down at a sheet of blank paper. He preferred to write down his thoughts where possible, knowing that hackers had hacked into the White House’s computers before. a telepath could pluck his thoughts out of his mind. He understood what Brookline had said. There would be no such thing as privacy any longer. And that would scare people. The arguments and protests over telephone tapping and email interception would be nothing compared to the coming storm.

    Carefully, thinking hard, he started to draw out the future on paper.
  18. mija

    mija Observer/Contributer

    Excellent writing as usual. Anyone that has enjoyed your past works will be interested. Might be a stretch but if you posted your grocery shopping list from last week people would read it based on the quality of your previous writing.

    Thank you for your thought provoking entertainment.
  19. ChrisNuttall

    ChrisNuttall Monkey+++

    Chapter Thirteen<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:eek:ffice:eek:ffice" />

    With reports that government-supported telepaths have been probing the minds of suspected criminals and terrorists spreading through the country, a number of civil liberties organisations have already started demanding injunctions against any further telepathic probes being carried out by the government without a legal warrant. This comes on the heels of a protest lodged by two of the lawyers of the New York Dirty Bombers – and the sacking of a third lawyer when he refused to lodge a comparable protest. The New York Attorney General called the protests a grotesque attempt to delay justice – New York is seeking the maximum penalty for the terrorists.
    -AP News Report, 2015

    “Mind-readers OUT, Mind-readers OUT, Mind-readers OUT...”

    Roger winced as the sound assailed his ears. It looked as if all of Harvard and most of the surrounding city had come out to join the protests against telepaths. In the two weeks since Professor Zeller had introduced his pet telepaths to the world, the reaction had moved from awe to anger and fear. Matters weren't helped by several eye-witness testimonials of what had happened when telepathic talent had blossomed into life. One man, a former boyfriend of one of the telepaths, had even filed a formal complaint against his ex for mental rape, claiming that she’d exposed his cheating through reading his mind.

    “You’d better be careful in there,” the policeman said, as Roger tried to slip closer. “So far, it’s quite orderly, but it’s going to get a lot worse very quickly.”

    Roger nodded, trying to ignore the lines of policemen that were rapidly forming up and preparing themselves to contain and disperse a riot. He’d seen student protests that turned into riots before, back when he’d been a cub reporter and the G20 Protests were underway, but this had an altogether nastier tone. He saw yet another police van arrive, followed by a pair of ambulances, and realised with a shiver that the police were expecting wounded. The last news report he’d picked up on Twitter had claimed that the Governor was calling up the National Guard to assist the police if the riot got completely out of hand.

    The noise was only growing louder as he made his way along the edge of the crowd. He’d seen plenty of basically good-natured protests and felt fairly safe there, but this was different. There was a hard edge to the protest, not helped by the presence of hundreds – perhaps thousands – of professional protesters and trouble-causers that had arrived to join the excitement. A source in the Campus PD had told him that the internet had been used to advertise the protest – billed as a march for mental privacy – and thousands more were expected to arrive any moment. The police, apparently, were setting up roadblocks and shutting down public transport in the hopes of preventing more protesters from arriving at the campus. They’d probably end up taking part in an impromptu march against telepaths elsewhere. Riots had a life of their own once they got really started.

    He caught sight of a speaker, standing on a table someone had hauled out of a classroom, and paused to listen. “...They can read our thoughts and feelings,” the young woman was saying, her words booming out over the crowd. Roger could feel it responding to her chosen words, a shifting wave of anger and fear that seemed to spur them onwards. “What sort of privacy will we have in a world where our thoughts can be read?”

    Another speaker stood up as the girl stood down. “We have to make them see that they cannot expect us to stand still and have our minds read,” he thundered, using the microphone to amplify his words. “We have to demand that telepaths be barred from the public and forbidden to read minds! The government will not listen to us unless we make our point clear! March with us for mental privacy!”

    Roger turned and headed onwards, towards the protest office. The protest was still getting organised, with several stewards trying to point the crowd in the right direction. With so many eager volunteers standing up and speaking to the crowd, matters were already getting out of hand. He could feel the energy washing through the crowd, the sensation of thousands of humans all united towards a single purpose. It was seductive; he could have lost himself within the sensation. No wonder that so many protests got out of hand. The madness of crowds was overpowering, pushing people to do things they would never do on their own. He wondered, vaguely, what a telepath would make of it, before realising that a telepath would never be able to endure the presence of so many people. It was common fact that several telepaths had had to be removed to a deserted part of Alaska before their minds gave out completely. They hadn’t been able to block out anyone, or control their powers.

    The protest organisers looked harassed when he arrived. He knew that they were not completely in control. Some of the people who had started to publicise and encourage people to come to the protests had kept their identities hidden, refusing to meet with the other organisers or provide stewards for the protest. That almost certainly meant that radicals from a dozen different groups were present within the protest, looking for a chance to cause trouble. He caught sight of a pair of teenage girls, carrying heavy bags and, oddly, a stuffed bunny and winced. They were out to cause trouble, he was sure. Very few people would carry a bag to a protest, not when pickpockets and other thieves saw it as a chance to operate without detection.

    “I’m Roger,” he said, taking it for granted that they would know who he was. His scoop had made him incredibly famous and earned him death threats from all over America. It seemed that he’d managed to annoy both conservatives and liberals; the conservatives thought that he’d betrayed American military secrets, while the liberals thought that he’d been encouraging telepaths to come forward and admit to reading minds. It was odd to see the two sides of American political discourse united on anything, but both conservatives and liberals, for different reasons, disapproved of public telepaths. Or maybe it was just a basic human reaction. Both sides would have secrets they wouldn't want to make public.

    “Yes, we know,” the leader said. He was tall and beefy, with red hair and a smile that didn't quite conceal his own nervousness. They had thought that they were in charge until they discovered just how many people had come to the protest. If they didn’t please the crowd, it could turn on them as easily as it could march against telepaths, or the police. “I don't think that we have much time for interviews...”

    “There’s always time,” Roger said, making a show of consulting his watch. There was still half an hour until the protest was actually scheduled to begin. He glanced up as a police helicopter flew overhead, and then looked back at the leader. “To start with, then, what is your interest in being here?”

    The leader frowned. “My girlfriend read my mind,” he said, shortly. Roger nodded in sudden understanding. He'd interviewed Elizabeth Tyler and she’d mentioned Ron, her boyfriend, during the interview. She hadn't been too impressed with him, he gathered, although that might just have been hindsight talking. He wouldn't have been too impressed if a girl had cheated on him, both with her for cheating and with him for taking her seriously. “I want to make sure that that doesn't happen again.”

    One of the other leaders caught his arm. “We’re here to make sure that there are new laws passed against telepathy,” she said, firmly. She had a faint smile that would have been charming, if some of her teeth had been smaller. As it was, her smile made her look like a happy rabbit. “We want to make sure that our mental privacy is respected.”

    It wasn't Roger’s place to debate with them, but he needed answers. “But how do you intend to prove or disprove that mind-reading did in fact take place?”

    “We want all telepaths isolated from the rest of us,” Ron said, firmly. He sounded hurt, although Roger couldn't find it in him to be sympathetic. He’d cheated on his girlfriend, after all, and had to have known that she would find out one day. “They have to be rooted out and transferred to somewhere else...”

    “That’s what they used to say about niggers,” Roger said. He used the pejorative for shock value. “And then Hitler used to say the same about the Jews. They didn't ask to be telepaths...”

    “And we didn't ask to have our minds read,” the girl snapped. “Don’t you dare pull a Godwin on this conversation!”

    “He’s a reporter,” a third leader said. “What do you expect? Besides, Godwin’s Law is really Godwin’s Folly.”

    Roger would have said something else, but then a new wave of shouting burst out over the crowd. A young boy – he couldn't have been much older than fifteen – had fallen to the ground, blood flowing from his nose and ears. The crowd had gathered around him and were slowly kicking him to death, screaming “telepath, telepath” out loud. Roger watched in horror, unable to move, unable even to summon the police to intervene. The small camera mounted on his lapel caught it all as the boy was battered to death. The crowd roared, as if it were a living thing, and surged forward towards the campus – and Professor Zeller’s telepaths.

    He was suddenly able to move again, but it was far too late to help the boy. His body was lying on the ground, trodden under by thousands of pairs of feet as the crowd kept moving. A wave of bile rose up in his throat and he vomited in disgust, unable to believe his eyes. He heard sounds from the police lines, and the pop-pop-pop of tear gas canisters, but somehow he knew that it would be far too late to save the boy. The entire crowd had gone mad.

    “You shouldn't be here,” Leo said, as Elizabeth stood at the window, watching the surging crowd down below. It seemed to be a living thing, thousands of minds blurring into one single supernatural creature. She could barely look at it without feeling a growing pounding inside her mind, yet she kept forcing herself to look. She needed to develop her mental shields, whatever it took. “They want us dead.”

    Elizabeth nodded. She’d felt at least one person die within the crowd, a sensation akin to feeling a rubber band snap in her mind. She didn't want to know what would happen if someone died while she was within their mind, although she had a suspicion that the shock would kill her or drive her insane. Professor Zeller had wanted to reach out and test the inhabitants of the closest mental hospital for telepathy, but the moment they’d reached the building they’d been repelled by the waves of maddened thought reaching out towards them.

    “I have to be here,” she admitted. Part of her believed that it was all her fault. Ron was down there, whipping up the crowd against telepaths; Ron, her former boyfriend. She suspected, from his mood, that Janelle had dumped him as well. “I have to see it happen in person...”

    “They’re morons,” Leo said, simply. Unlike Charlie, or Elizabeth for that matter, Leo had always had a superiority complex. He was fiendishly smart – and knew it, and made sure that everyone else knew it – and telepathy had only added to his arrogance. He’d proposed, quite seriously, that the telepaths should breed together to produce telepathic children who would be stronger than their parents. Professor Zeller had been inclined to support the idea, but all of the female telepaths had flatly refused. “They’re lashing out in hatred and fear at something they don’t understand and will never have for themselves.”

    Elizabeth scowled. In two weeks, she had come to realise that every time a normal person – a mundane, to use Leo’s term, which he’d stolen from Babylon 5 – met a telepath, there was a brief flash of fear and shame, fear at the thought that their mind would be read and shame at the thought of someone else knowing their darkest secrets. She found it depressing and a little demeaning – she was more than just her telepathy – but some of the other telepaths, Leo in particular, got off on that sick little feeling.

    “They're scared of us,” she said. She hadn't dared go back to her flat, not even to pick up her possessions. Professor Zeller had cleared the building for the telepaths and set up a camp bed for her in one of the abandoned offices. It was uncomfortable, but at least she wasn’t surrounded by babbling minds. “Wouldn't you be scared if your innermost thoughts were known to the entire world?”

    “Perhaps,” Leo said, easily. He slipped into the telepathic waveband, transmitting his thoughts to her directly. “But then, my thousands of intimate thoughts are not known to the entire world.”

    Elizabeth was preparing a cutting reply when the door burst open, revealing a campus policeman. “You have to get out of here now,” he said, sharply. “The crowd has gone berserk and is heading here...”

    “Doubtless with pitchforks and torches,” Leo said, calmly. Elizabeth couldn't detect any concern in his words, which suggested either foolishness or bravado. “The modern-day witch-hunters are coming to kill us all.”

    Elizabeth turned and looked back out of the window...and stood, transfixed by the roar of emotion that was reaching out towards them. Thousands of people were advancing on the building, their minds baying for blood – telepath blood. She couldn't move as their screaming minds bore down into hers. She was only vaguely aware of the other two until someone slapped her face, hard. Elizabeth staggered and fell towards the floor; Leo caught her just before she could hit the ground.

    “They’re coming,” Leo said. For the first time, he sounded shaken. The fear in his mind was rapidly becoming replaced by anger. “They’re coming for us.”

    “You’re not superhuman, you dimwit,” Elizabeth swore at him. She allowed her contempt to flow into her voice as the noise outside grew louder. “You have to move, now.”

    Her legs were still wobbly and she had to hang on to Leo’s arm as they stumbled off towards the rear of the building. “We’re evacuating the surrounding area,” the policeman said. His words were reassuring, but his mental tone was grim and worried. And, she realised with a shiver, part of him was wondering if the crowd wasn't right after all. It had simply never occurred to her, before, that policemen were human too and would worry about mental intrusion. “Once we get outside, we should be met by others who will escort you to a safe area and...”

    The entire building shook. Elizabeth felt, more than heard, rioters pouring into the building. She could hear the police demanding, though microphones, that the crowd stand still or disperse, but it didn't seem to be working. The crowd had turned into a maddened animal, its thoughts pervading the telepathic waveband and demanding blood. It would be impossible to stop the crowd until the madness faded away. Perhaps the police could use knock-out gas on them, or...did the police even have knock-out gas? They hadn’t used it at the last protest she’d attended...

    She winced. If she had realised just how terrified the targets of those protests had had to be, she wouldn't have gone and added her voice to the crowd. She had been all fired up with youthful outrage and she hadn't thought about their victims., if she could take it all back, she would. The policeman grabbed her arm and pulled her back, too late. The protesters had, deliberately or otherwise, blocked their line of escape. Elizabeth stared in horror as they advanced, their faces twisted with madness, for they had recognised her. Professor Zeller had identified her to the world and now she was their target. Their thoughts and feelings bombarded her, hatred so deep that it was far beyond logic and reason, the same kind of hatred that she felt for rapists and molesters. In lashing out at her, they were lashing out at all telepaths, hating them all. Shame turned her legs to jelly and she collapsed, knowing that her life was about to come to an end. The campus policeman was drawing his pistol, clearly intending to go down fighting, yet there was no hope of escape. The crowd was closing in, the ones at the back pushing the ones at the front forward...

    Leo caught her arm. GO AWAY, he thought. It took Elizabeth a second to realise that he was broadcasting to the crowd, a desperate measure. They’d never been able to communicate telepathically with mundane humans. GO AWAY, GO AWAY, GO AWAY...

    Fear for her life gave her thoughts power and she pushed as hard as she could, adding her mental voice to Leo’s. GO AWAY, GO AWAY, GO AWAY...the crowd recoiled, as if it had run into an unbreakable barrier. GO AWAY, GO AWAY, GO AWAY...

    Roger had been trying to run, to get away from the crowd and the advancing policemen, when the thoughts slammed into his brain. The power and compulsion was impossible to resist. He ran, unable to stop himself, fleeing for his life as unholy terror washed through his mind. He saw a police helicopter fall out of the sky as the pilot jumped out – without a parachute – and saw the police lines breaking up into chaos. The protesters had turned on one another and were fighting and kicking to get the hell out of dodge. He couldn't help himself; he just kept running until the compulsion faded away. Stumbling, he fell to the ground and gasped for breath, one thought running through his head.

    What the hell had just happened?
  20. ChrisNuttall

    ChrisNuttall Monkey+++

    Chapter Fourteen<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:eek:ffice:eek:ffice" />

    An emergency report from the riot at Harvard claims that upwards of four hundred people have been killed in the crush and over a thousand others have been injured. Police sources are saying nothing about the riot, but the governor stated that martial law had been declared in the area and that the National Guard had been deployed to assist with the clean-up. The President is expected to address the nation at some point this day.
    -AP News Report, 2015

    “It looks like a freaking war zone.”

    Art said nothing, but he couldn't disagree with Alice. It had been barely two hours since the telepathic blast had stopped the riot and the local police, National Guardsmen and emergency services had barely been able to make a dent in the damage. The official estimate was that five hundred protesters, policemen and innocent bystanders had been killed in the riot. Art suspected that the actual number was far higher. He’d never seen anything like it in Iraq or Afghanistan.

    There were bodies – dead or merely stunned –everywhere, too many for the emergency services to handle at once. Many of them were policemen who had been caught up in the telepathic blast or crushed by the protesters in their unreasoning flight from danger. Others had just been caught up in the disaster, or jumped out of windows when the telepathic blast had roared into their heads. Art had sensed it from several hundred miles away; in fact, he was sure that telepaths had felt it all over the world. It was lucky that non-telepaths outside a mile or so from the epicentre of the blast had felt nothing, or the disaster would have been far worse. Even so, there were crashed cars on the roads and hundreds more dead and wounded when they’d suddenly found themselves consumed with an urgent desire to run away. It would take weeks to sort out the damage and months to reassure the public that it wouldn't happen again – except it might just happen again. Art knew that there was no way to predict such an event or prevent it from happening. He wasn't even sure what had happened at Harvard.

    He looked over towards the line of prisoners and scowled. He had never had much time for protesters in his life, yet watching lines of young men and women being cuffed, searched and loaded into police vans was chilling. They’d probably all be released unless something could be pinned on them; according to the police, quite a few protesters had arrived with weapons and bad intentions. The fire raging on the other side of the campus was proof of that, apparently; the protesters had brought Molotov cocktails and tried to use them on the telepaths. God alone knew how many had really been injured.

    The wounded, at least, were being treated decently. If there was one good thing to come out of the crisis, at least the protest had been stopped dead in its tracks, allowing the wounded to be evacuated without further delay. Art didn't know how many of the wounded could be saved. The city’s doctors had all been alerted, but were they prepared for so many casualties? Years ago, he'd taken part in an exercise that had rehearsed what the Marines would do if a nuclear bomb was deployed against an American city and the results had not been encouraging. Local medical centres had either been destroyed or overwhelmed. It had proven hard to get the wounded to centres that were further away.

    “Yes,” he agreed. “It does look like a war zone.”

    The media coverage they’d picked up as they’d been raced from Washington to Massachusetts hadn't been too detailed. It looked as if the protest had somehow gotten out of hand and then...something had triggered a telepathic blast. The talking heads on the various networks hadn't known anything more than that, which hadn't stopped them pontificating on the implications and on what they thought the government ought to do about it. Some of them were suggesting, loudly, that the government should lock up every telepath at once to prevent a second disaster, without caring one whit for human rights. A couple were even claiming that this proved that the more absurd claims against telepaths – including one where a woman claimed that a man had telepathically forced her into bed – were actually true and therefore criminal offenses.

    Art shook his head. The Looking Glass project hadn't produced anything other than mind or emotion readers, but this...he caught sight of a pair of dead bodies, their features twisted by absolute terror, and shivered. The world had just changed again. He knew, from the feeling of the mental blast as it slammed into his skull, that the telepaths who’d broadcast it had been absolutely terrified, yet somehow he doubted that it would matter. If the government could consider new gun control acts because someone – terrified – had shot the wrong person, he had no doubt that they would consider new telepathic control laws. Worse, those laws would be extremely difficult to enforce, which would weaken them. He had no idea where the world was going, yet he doubted that he would enjoy the destination when they found out.

    And to think that, several months ago, he’d been in Afghanistan. Everything had been so much simpler then.

    The police had moved the telepaths – and their representatives – to the Houghton Library. The Houghton Library, he’d been told, held many of the university’s special collections, at least under normal circumstances. Now, it had been cleared and was being used as a clearing house for the lightly-wounded and the telepaths, who had been separated from the wounded. No one knew if the telepaths could or would produce a second telepathic blast, but no one wanted to take chances. The policemen at the door saw their ID cards and looked – and felt – relieved. They didn't want to handle their dangerous prisoners any longer. Art found it hard to blame them.

    “Thank you for coming,” Professor Zeller said. The man was still as much a blank as ever, but his self-confidence didn't seem diminished by the disaster. “We need you to help escort these two out of the police lines.”

    Art pressed his lips together, angrily. The two telepaths – Elizabeth Tyler and Leo Davidson – looked rather shell-shocked by what had happened. He found it impossible to blame them. Their lives had turned upside down when they’d developed telepathy and then turned upside down again when they had developed new powers under stress. Art scowled. Back at the Looking Glass headquarters, Doctor Sampson was doubtless already devising experiments to stress telepaths further, in hopes of developing stronger and more remarkable powers.

    “I'm afraid that they will have to remain in custody for the moment,” Alice said, firmly. “Far too many people have been killed for any other...”

    “You cannot, legally, hold them,” the lawyer said. Mr Ganchi had an odd mental tone, Art realised; he was nervous being so close to the telepaths, yet he was determined to defend their rights. “They acted in self-defence. I could get a judge to order their release quickly...”

    “I doubt it,” Alice said, angrily. “Do you know how many people died out there?”

    “They were trying to kill us,” Leo snapped. He looked up angrily, his eyes glaring daggers at Alice. Art sensed the thoughts accompanying the words and scowled. Just what they needed – a self-righteous prick who thought that he was God. He’d met too many young officers who had had the same attitude and they, of course, had lacked telepathic abilities. Leo sounded as if he was on the verge of hysteria. “They were trying to kill us!”

    “Call it protective custody,” Alice said, patiently. “The fact remains that whatever happened here, whoever was right or wrong, is going to have alarming effects right across the world. The public needs to know that matters are under control or worse things may happen...”

    “Why should we do anything for them?” Leo demanded. “They tried to kill us!”

    Art scowled, unsure of how to proceed. The hell of it was that Leo was right, in one sense; they had acted in self-defence. And, in addition, they hadn't known what they were capable of doing until they had been stressed and forced to develop new abilities. They could not be held responsible for what they had done, any more than a child who found a gun could be held responsible if he or she accidentally shot someone. And many of the people who had died were trying to kill the telepaths when the telepathic blast sent them running for their lives.

    On the other hand, many of their victims hadn’t been protesters. Policemen who had been trying to save their lives had been killed, either directly or indirectly by the telepathic blast, and dozens of drivers had been killed or wounded well away from the protest itself. They weren't homeowners who had shot intruders without bothering to ask questions first; they had more in common with homeowners who had opened fire with machine guns and sprayed bullets over the neighbourhood. They could be charged with negligent homicide, he suspected – law wasn't his strong suit – except they hadn't known what they could do. The lawyers were going to have a field day.

    “Because people are scared,” he said, finally. “You’re telepathic, just like me. You ought to know that.”

    Leo stared at him, angrily. “And do you agree to keep your talent under control because it would upset people if you didn't?”

    Art swallowed the urge to smack some sense into the young man. “You seem to have missed the point that people are scared,” he repeated, calmly. He’d endured drill sergeants and recruits who should have been kicked out of Parris Island in disgrace. He could handle one young man with an inflated sense of entitlement. “What happened here – and your blast killed or harmed people who were not trying to kill you as well as people who were trying to kill you – is going to send shockwaves across the globe. You need to help us put a lid on it before it gets far more out of hand.”

    “I am not responsible for their stupidity,” Leo said. His thoughts were coldly superior, but Art could sense an underlying layer of fear. Leo didn't dare back down. “They tried to kill us and I will not submit to mistreatment because of their stupid fear...”

    “Perhaps I could propose a compromise,” Professor Zeller said. “My family owns a sizable mansion some distance from local population centres. I intend to transfer the telepaths who have agreed to work with me there, where they will be away from the people who fear and hate them...”

    “They’ll be calling him Professor Z soon,” Leo said.

    “...And they won't be picking up stray thoughts from the general population,” Professor Zeller added, ignoring Leo’s snide remark. “They will be able to learn how to shield their minds and avoid reading other people’s thoughts, at which point they will be able to re-enter the world as responsible telepaths.”

    Alice frowned. “Telepaths who have agreed to work with you?”

    Professor Zeller beamed. “We have inaugurated the world’s first institute of telepathic research,” he said. “We will be working to both teach telepaths how to master their powers and studying telepathy in the hopes of learning how to control, develop and perhaps even create the powers within mundane human minds. I intended to make the formal announcement in a week’s time, but we already have hundreds of scientists signed up to join the research into telepathy and other mental powers.”

    He beamed in delight. “We should make a whole series of wonderful breakthroughs into the innermost workings of the mind,” he added, seriously. “How can anyone stop such a project?”

    Art scowled. If Professor Zeller had so many people already signed up to work with his institute, it would be difficult – politically speaking – to shut it down. Furthermore, the idea did have a certain inherent logic – and it would keep telepaths from non-telepaths and minimise the dangers of additional riots. It would even provide an alternative to drafting telepaths into Looking Glass, as some political figures were already suggesting.

    “You know,” Alice said, flatly. “The reason the Company chose to fire you was because you never thought about the consequences of your actions.”

    Professor Zeller glared at her. “I was making breakthroughs that scared the Company,” he hissed, angrily. “They refused me additional funding because they feared that I would change their tiny minds and deny them their chance to win vast amounts of funding for spy satellites and...”

    “No,” Alice said. Art sensed the anger she was fighting to keep under control. “You wanted to make breakthroughs without ever asking what might happen if you succeeded, or what it might do to the world. You wanted to push ahead and didn't understand why everyone else wanted to advance slowly. You were so obsessed with your project that you never thought about how it would affect the outside world.”

    She met his eyes, refusing to budge. “There are all kinds of...things concealed within the vaults at Langley that have been deliberately concealed from Joe Public,” she said. “There are advances that would change the world for the worse if they got out and truths that would merely give new life to old causes. There are secrets about attempts to smuggle backpack nukes into the United States and biological weapons that were – barely – captured before they could be destroyed. Releasing any of those little details – how close we came to collapse – would shock and terrify the nation. And telepaths are just another little detail, one more powerful and dangerous than most.”

    Alice stepped back and waved a hand towards the chaos outside. “The world just changed,” she said. “People believe, now, that telepaths exist and can do things to them...and that there is no defence. The world is going to change again and again and it’s going to become much darker. Did it not occur to you that we might have good reasons to cover everything up as long as possible?’s going to get a lot worse before it gets better, Professor. Think about that when the State Prosecutor starts trying to assign blame for the riot.”

    “The riot,” Leo said, “was caused by a group of stupid idiots who believe that we would spend our entire day reading their minds.”

    “You are applying logic and reason,” Art said sharply, “to something that is not governed by logic and reason. People are scared. How long do you think it will be before political leaders start demanding that telepaths be rounded up, tattooed and sent to Alaska where they will be away from the mundane population? I’m telling you, right now, that your actions today have brought that day closer.”

    “We didn't mean to hurt anyone,” Elizabeth said, from where she was seated. She hadn't spoken a word since they’d entered the room. “We didn't know...”

    “I know,” Art said, more gently. “I know you didn't know. Do you think that that will make any difference to the public reaction?”

    Alice looked at him, and then nodded. “We will provide transport and escort to your mansion,” she said, to Professor Zeller. “These two telepaths, at least, are to remain within the mansion until the whole ungodly mess is sorted out.”

    Leo looked up, sharply. “But...”

    “The other choice is going into protective custody until the lawyers manage to reach a consensus on who is responsible for what,” Alice snapped. “I suggest, very strongly, that you accept being under house arrest for the moment and don’t push your luck any further. If you go on live TV and start calling people stupid idiots – just because they’re afraid of you – you’ll just provoke additional riots. The choice is yours.”

    They locked eyes for a long moment.

    “We’re going to the mansion,” Elizabeth said, flatly. Leo looked surprised, but nodded. Art could sense his relief and frustration, relieved because he knew he should back down and didn't quite dare, frustrated because he wanted to push back against the world. “We didn't mean to do any of this...”

    “I know,” Art said. “But I’m afraid that you will have to deal with the consequences. We all will.”

    Roger showed his press pass to one of the National Guardsmen and was surprised when the guardsman waved him through, after warning him to stay out of the way of the emergency services. The scene was a nightmare and it seemed impossible to believe that everything could have gone so bad so quickly. His head still ached from where the telepathic command had slammed into his skull, forcing him to run...dear God, if they could do that, what else could they make people do?

    I did this, he thought, and shivered. He'd been pushed into visiting Professor Zeller, convinced that he was wasting his time, when instead he had stumbled over the scoop of the century. He’d gleefully shouted the news to the world, convinced that he would win the Pulitzer for his efforts and instead...he’d helped provoke a riot. Perhaps several riots; there were reports of unrest down south and several more suspected telepaths being lynched across the United States.

    He’d always approached his profession with a cynical air. The modern-day reporting environment was based around speed, not accuracy. A half-correct report that beat a correct report to air was a victory...and, with the speed of the news cycle, an inaccurate report could be swept away and forgotten, not retracted. Reporters had become careless with the facts over the years, allowing half-truths and even outright lies – and enemy propaganda – to enter the news sphere. How many other riots had been triggered by reporters, he wondered; how many lives had been lost, or ruined, because a reporter had no time to do his homework?

    And how much of the riot that had destroyed the campus was his fault?

    Roger looked into his soul and wondered, for the first time, if he had done the right thing.
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