Therese woke in an instant, rubbing her head. The headache wouldn’t leave and now she saw Asma whenever she closed her eyes. She almost wished the girl would stare at her, condemn Therese of giving away information that could have save the child. But, Asma didn’t. She danced instead, with the gaiety of a child who did not know her fate. However, Therese thought that even if Asma knew she was going to die, Asma would forgive her.
But, Therese didn’t know Asma was going to die. They had said they would protect her. They might yet just keep their word. She couldn’t assume guilty until proven innocent. Most people were good.
She rubbed her eyes and brushed her teeth, thinking about Asma and what would happen to her.
“Miss Evans?” a woman called outside her door.
“Has Asma been protected?” Therese asked, running to the door.
“Yes,” the voice replied quickly.
Therese cocked her head, confused by the quick and blunt response and also her feelings toward it. In her mind, there was no way the woman outside her door was telling the truth, although she did not know why.
“That was strangely fast considering how everyone assured me of how difficult it would be yesterday,” Therese said carefully.
“Is was luck,” the voice responded.
“Really? Where is Asma then?” Therese asked.
“She has been taken into protective custody,” the voice said. The falsehood and deceit were so heavy in the voice that Therese felt she might choke on the fumes.
“How come you’re lying to me? Have you even tried to protect Asma?” Therese asked.
The voice remained silent awhile.
“We hoped to put you at ease before we ask of you a favor,” another voice said, male this time.
“By lying. I do not appreciate it. Please, just tell me the truth; don’t try to lie to me. What exactly is the favor and what exactly has has happened to Asma?” Therese asked.
A silence again. Therese thought she might have heard whispers through the door, but she couldn’t be sure. A third voice answered.
“Steps are being taken to analyze the possibility of extracting Asma. As for the favor, we wish for you to verify the information you reported by asking Mr. al-Fadl to sign your report.”
“Why do you need me to do that? It doesn’t sound like you need a mind-reader for that,” Therese said.
“We want to know his response, and he does not express much physically. If a detail is wrong, it is important we catch it now,” the third voice said.
Therese chewed her lip. “You’re trying to protect Asma then, right? You haven’t done it, but you’re trying.”
“Yes, Miss Evans,” the first voice said. It wasn’t lying this time.
“I’ll put on the helmet thing, then. Oh, do you want the anesthetizer thing back? It’s off my arm, so its not going to do much good in here,” Therese said, spying the device on her bed.
“If you would be so kind, Miss Evans,” the second voice said.
She stared off her helmet for a moment, readying herself. It would be okay. It wasn’t forever. It would allow her to talk to Abdul and explain that they are trying to protect Asma. She had to do it.
She did it in one swift motion her mind condensed into a pinprick. She stumbled, catching herself on her bed and breathing deeply. It was okay. It wasn’t forever. She’d be able to think freely again soon. She grabbed the anesthetic-delivering device off her bed.
“I’m ready,” she said, trying to disguise all the pain in her voice.
The door opened, and the white-coats led her back to the room she’d been in the previous day.
“If you would please hand that over, Miss Evans,” a voice said.
She look around confusedly, trying to figure out how she came to be in the room, where the voice was coming from, and what it wanted. It was too much for her brain. She collapsed to her knees, head in hands, trying to regain control. With her eyes squeezed tight, all she could see was Asma, dancing. She followed Asma’s feet for a long moment before the motion allow Therese’s brain to retract.
“What were you asking?” Therese said, getting carefully to her feet.
“The device?” a voice asked. She saw a hand gesture to her own. She spied the box and attached tubes in her hand.
“Oh,” Therese said, turning it over for a moment, careful to keep her thoughts short and quiet. “You want it back?” She held it out to the white-coat who had spoken. He took it out of her hand and placed it in a pocket.
“Could you please sit down, Miss Evans?” he asked, gesturing to the chair she had sat it when he attached the device yesterday. She nodded and sat.
He attached a new device quickly. Therese hardly noticed. She barely could. She just closed her eyes and watched the dance.
“You can take off the helmet, Miss Evans.”
Therese did not need to be told twice. The helmet was flung from her head in and instant as her brain expanded quickly in the area, gulping fresh thoughts excitedly. She could sense Abdul and his carefully neutral mind in the other room, but an itch drew her attention to the device to attached to her arm. Before, surgical tape had held it in place. Now, several layers of gauze and a tight neoprene cover held it to her arm. She thought there might be surgical tape beneath everything else judging by the feel, but she could not see it. She had the feeling that it order to get it off, you would need scissors, and there were no scissors in her room.
“You don’t want me to take this off again, do you?” she asked.
“As it is secured thusly, an attempt to pull it off could injure you,” a white-coat said.
“That just explains the consequences of trying to pull it off, not why you attached it this way. Why must I have this on my arm at all times, like when I’m alone in my room?” Therese asked, before shaking her head. “It’s okay. You don’t need to answer that.”“Miss Evans, this is a copy of your report. If you could please get Mr. al-Fadl to sign it,” a white-coat said, handing over a photocopy. It did not have the portrait of Asma in it.
“I’ll try,” Therese said. They opened the door for her and led her in.
“Hello, Abdul,” she said quietly, sitting across from him. “I’m Therese Evans. Do you remember me?”
He flicked his eyes up for the briefest second as a barrage of thoughts overcame his cool exterior. He thought her supernatural, not normal, of bad intents, and not nice. God was the only one who should be able to look into minds, and Therese was not God.
“I’m really sorry that I had to see your memories. I made them promise to protect Asma though. They’re trying to find out how as we speak,” Therese said earnestly.
He did not believe her.
“She is a dancer, isn’t she? Whenever I close my eyes, I see her, Abdul. She’s very pretty and very graceful. She’s the best eight-year-old dancer I’ve ever seen. And she smiles too, with the light of a thousand suns. Every time I close my eyes, Abdul, I see her dancing. How could I ever harm allow anyone to harm her once I see her?” Therese asked.
He looked up at her dubiously as his ambivalent feelings peaked to the surface. However, he quieted them swiftly and looked at the table.
Therese pushed the report toward him. “I wrote up what I saw in your mind. They’re going to try to stop the attack. I know you don’t want them to, but there’s little eight-year-old girls out there like Asma who could get hurt. We need to protect them. If you could just read through it and tell me if I did anything wrong,” Therese said quickly.
His mind was disconcertingly flat. He refused to notice the papers. His mind was strung as tight as a wire.
Therese sent toward him a river of ease and calm. He didn’t need to worry. They would protect Asma. The faster he verified the information, the faster they could protect Asma. He just had to look through it quickly. It could only help Asma.
He glanced at the papers, considering it carefully, before shaking his head. He looked at Therese and thought very clearly.
“You do not understand, Therese Evans. These men lie. They will not protect one who is not their own. You can take what you want from me. You have unnatural power to take minds and memories. But I wish you to know that they will kill Asma once you do.”
Therese jumped slightly at such a strong thought. Abdul was speaking to her. His thoughts were filled with pain, agony, and lost. Therese tried to assure him they were good, that they were not lying.
“You did not see all of my memories then, Therese Evans. Look inside me and see how the lies they have told. If you take for them some of my memories. Take for me others. Take for Asma.”
Therese took a deep breath as Abdul stared straight into her eyes, urging her onward. Therese glanced behind her shoulder to where the white-coats were standing. Therese hadn’t noticed it before, but there was a camera. They were monitoring her every motion, but not her every thought.
She turned back to Abdul and nodded. She dove into his mind. He shoved several memories right at the surface, and they passed in a flurry of broken images. He was beaten in prison cells. He was spit upon. No one would tell him the direction of Mecca. They shaved his beard. They would force him out of his cell into work or question whenever it was time for him to pray. They told him they had his daughter, waiting for him. They told him all the other conspirators had been caught. They told him that he would be executed if he did not confess this moment. They lied again and again.
Therese retreated from his mind, staring at Abdul and panting. The graphic images of some of the humiliation and torture they made him endure continued to cycle through her mind.
Therese did nothing for a long while, before she hesitantly responded to Abdul. She could tell when they were lying or not. They said they would try to protect Asma. They knew the information came from him, so it would make no difference. If he cooperated then someday he might be able to live with Asma again. He could just read it. He didn’t have to say anything. Just please, he had to read it.
She didn’t want to hear his retort, she flooded him with calm and ease before he could think another thought. He couldn’t rebel against the strength of this equanimity. He read the document, nodding to denote its veracity.
“Could you please sign it?” Therese asked.
All of his mental walls came up. His mind became closed and flat. He turned his eyes to a blank space of table.
Therese tried to let him know that they already had the report and that they already knew it was from him. Signing it would just make it official. But, he resisted strongly in silence. He did not want to sign it. He thought it would make it more likely that Asma might get hurt.
“Does he have to sign it?” Therese asked, turning back to the white-coats.
Therese turned back to Abdul. She forced upon him all the serenity she could plus the idea that he must sign the report. He resisted. He shook his head. He tried to shake off the tranquility she fed, trying to think his own thoughts. He could not do this. It would hurt Asma. He had to keep Asma safe. He couldn’t listen to his own thoughts. They were made by the betrayer, the thought-manipulator. He had to do anything but sign it.
Therese didn’t know what else to do as she tried to make him calm again. He wasn’t calming. If anything, he was becoming more upset. She glanced back at the white-coats. One of them had his finger on the controller for the anesthetic in his pocket. She didn’t want to go to sleep.
“Please? He really, really doesn’t want to sign it,” Therese said.
“He must sign it Miss Evans. You must make him,” a white-coat said, tapping the controller. There was no please, now, just a very real threat. What would they do once she was unconscious? Would they take her brain, now that she wasn’t using it to help them? After seeing what Abdul had seen, she wasn’t sure if they would even refrain from killing her.
She grabbed Abdul’s hand with her mind. It steadied instantly, at her control. He tried to grab it with his other hand, but she brought it to his side. He looked at her with nothing but unrestrained horror. She did not calm his mind this time, but put it to sleep and brought his body under her control.
Then, she signed the report through Abdul’s hand.
As she released her hold, Abdul’s fell back onto the floor.
“No!” she called. She stumbled from her own chair as she tried to process what she just did and tried to reach Abdul. What had she done to him? Was he breathing? Was his heart beating?
“Miss Evans, please follow us back to the other room. We will send someone else to examine Mr. al-Fadl,” a white-coat said. She ignored the voice, falling to her knees. Her hands shook as they felt on Abdul’s neck, searching for his pulse.
“Stop!” a white-coat ordered with a voice that echoed through the room. She found his pulse. He was alive. She let her hands all in her lap and looked up toward the white-coats. All three of them were staring at her. Two of them had the controllers to the device on Therese’s arm in their hands. The other had backed up behind the other two.
“He’s alive,” Therese said before her headache caught up with her. She closed her eyes and gritted her teeth. Asma danced.
“Stand up,” a white-coat ordered. Therese stumbled to her feet, using the table that used to sit between Therese and Abdul for support. It felt as if her brain had been immersed in boiling lead. She could barely think. She felt as if she might be sick.
“Can you walk, Miss Evans?” a white-coat asked.
“You have to protect Asma. You have to. I made him sign it. He didn’t want to. He knows if the Cobra sees it, he’ll torture Asma. He knows that there’s now proof that he gave us information. He doesn’t want Asma hurt. But I made him to do it. I forced his hand. I made him. I controlled him,” Therese blabbered. The ache and emptiness in her chest felt as if it might suck the pain in her brain in the vortex it represented.
The white-coats were whispering to one another.
“Can you walk, Miss Evans?” a white-coat repeated.
Walk. Walk away from this room and leave Abdul alone, like an empty shell. She had betrayed him. She didn’t know why. What she did was wrong. She made someone do something. She didn’t even suggest it. Suggesting it didn’t work. She made him do it. She made him work for these people she didn’t know if she could trust.
“Is someone going to check on Abdul?” she asked.
“Yes, a professional has been called for. We must get you back to your room, Miss Evans,” a white-coat said.
Therese nodded slowly and pulled herself upright. She followed them into the other room where she put on her helmet. Then they led her back to her room. She limped more than walked, but arrived there all the same.
Inside her room, she threw off her helmet and stared at the ceiling. What had she done to Abdul? What had she done to Asma? Why did she do it? Why didn’t she just say no to the white-coats? They couldn’t make her. Why did they need a signature anyway?
She closed her eyes, pressing a pillow to her face. Asma twirled across her vision, and Therese threw the pillow away. She didn’t want to look at Asma. She didn’t want to see her. Not when she might die because of what Therese did.
Therese put her heads in her hands, massaging her temples. Why did seem that nothing she did seemed right? Was she just a horrible person? If she let them take out her brain or kill her, then she wouldn’t have to feel this pain anymore. She wouldn’t gamble lives anymore. She could get away.
But she couldn’t. She couldn’t run away, because even if she did, Asma could not. It did not matter if she blocked out the world, it wouldn’t change what was happening.
She would face Asma and explain for herself.
Therese settled herself on her towel and meditated.
She pulled her body up again, ignoring the weight of gravity trying to prevent the task. Asma smiled as she danced around the drawn up body, her mauve skirts flung out in all directions like a flower in bloom.
She pulled the body forward to the desk. She grabbed a pencil and paper, and she drew. She drew Asma a hundred times, dancing, smiling, laughing, singing, flying, with her father, with her late mother. Again and again, she drew Asma’s face. From every angle, with every zoom.
She kept drawing with a passion, trying to keep the child with her that others seemed so eager to make part with this world.
“Miss Evans?” Dr. Ott asked, knocking on the door.
Therese looked up as the pain of her headache hit her. Papers were toss across the room as her eagerness had betrayed no tidiness. There were Asmas everywhere.
“Yes?” Therese said carefully, trying not to reveal her pain.
“Are you alright? You sound a little strained,” Dr. Ott said.
“Yeah, I, well, I just have this headache,” Therese said.
“Like before?” Dr. Ott asked.
“I dunno, maybe? I think it might be worse,” Therese said between clenched teeth.
“I’ll see if we can get you an MRI soon,” Dr. Ott said quickly.
“What about Asma? Are you protecting her?” Therese asked.
“We are doing our best. We understand you care deeply for this girl,” Dr. Ott said.
“I promised her father she’d be alright. I took the memories from his head. I made him signed it. I was the one that physically forced his hand,” Therese explained tightly.
“You physically forced his hand?” he asked.
“I mean, he refused to do it, no matter how much calm I fed him, no matter what I told him. He was too strong-willed, too protective. So, I quieted his brain and I took control of his hand and signed it for him. He had already read through it and said everything was correct,” Therese said quickly.
“I see,” Dr. Ott said. “Do you know what they were planning to do before Mr. al-Fadl was caught?”
“They were planning on running some planes into some nuclear power plants,” Therese said quickly. “It was in the report.”
“How many would that kill, do you think?”
“From fall-out and everything? They estimated at least a million. They also planned for a collapse of the Western economy would cause starvation for many more,” Therese said.
“The information you extracted saved those people,” Dr. Ott said emphatically.
“Does that mean your not protecting Asma?” Therese asked. “You’re trying to tell me she doesn’t matter since so many more are being saved.”
“Of course we’ll still try to protect Asma, but I’m just informing you that even in the worst case scenario, you should never feel ashamed at what you have done. You saved millions,” he said.
“And killed an innocent little girl,” Therese whispered. “I see her all the time in my head. Whenever I close my eyes, even for a second, she’s there. I don’t want to see her hurt. She’s a dancer you know. I don’t think she has any formal training, but she dances all the time for fun.”
“Therese, you are doing good,” Dr. Ott said slowly.
“Is Abdul alright?” Therese asked.
“He’s doing fine,” Dr. Ott said.
“Please, if you are allowed to say anything, please encourage them to protect Asma. Please?” Therese pleaded.
“I will do my best, Miss Evans,” he said.
“Thank you,” she said.
“Miss Evans can force actions upon people even if their higher conscious refuses,” Dr. Ott said.
“I take it your interview with Miss Evans proved advantageous?” Director Schultz said.
“As predicted, an assurance from authority does little to soothe her worries on morality. However, I thought it important to report that Miss Evans actually controlled the hand of Mr. al-Fadl when he signed the report. He read it of his own accord with nudging from Miss Evans. However, as he vehemently refused to sign, she took his hand and did it for him,” Dr. Ott said.
“How is this different from what she has done before?” Director Schultz asked.
“Before, she suggests things. She calms people down and asks them to do things. This time, she forced. It didn’t matter how opposed he was, she could make him do anything. Nothing can overcome her,” Dr. Ott said.
“This might be useful,” Director Schultz said.
“Another important note is that her headaches have returned, and they are worse than before,” Dr. Ott said.
“We’ll need another MRI then soon,” Director Schultz said. “Isn’t this abnormally quick? I thought it took much more training last time in order to merit surgery.”
“Yes, but perhaps Mr. al-Fadl has proved more intense training that she previously underwent. Maybe growth is easier with a bigger brain. Perhaps it is stress-induced,” Dr. Ott said.
“She is stressed then?” Director Schultz asked.
“Very. She doubts the morality of what she is doing. I believe it is already presenting itself in minor psychosis. She says she see Mr. al-Fadl’s daughter whenever she closes her eyes,” Dr. Ott said.
“We’ll do the MRI tomorrow. Is there anything else of note from your interview with Miss Evans, Dr. Ott?” Director Schultz asked.
“She repeats her request about protection of Asma,” Dr. Ott said.
“Yes, well, that’s impossible if we wish to prevent this attack. If they knew we knew, then we would be dead by now” Director Schultz said.
“I was simply repeating Miss Evans’s request,” Dr. Ott said.
“Thank you for the update on Miss Evans. You are now dismissed,” Director Schultz said.