“Dr. Ott, please tell us about your findings for today,” Director Schultz requested.
“I believe I have made a breakthrough, although she still is incredibly suspicious of authority. I believe she has deep-seated issues with her future and purposefully ignores it. Mortality is an overarching theme. She’s seen many die and does not wish to do so herself.
“She also fears who she is now. The reoccurring dream is representative of her mediation on the past. She has no comfortable place to be. I do believe she is experiencing deep emotional turmoil that is physically manifesting as headaches. She is still a teenager and thus has difficulties in managing the emotional difficulties of her past,” he concluded.
“She really is quite extraordinary. I attended with Agent Necker as he asked her to attempt to find a memory of his without touching. She proved my hypothesis correct. I would really appreciate if I could do a few imaging studies on her as soon as possible. I think I disagree a bit with Dr. Ott, though,” Dr. Henderson ended quietly.
“Really? How so?” His tone was cutting as his eyebrows ascended upwards.
“I believe there is a physical cause of the headaches. Agent Necker will surely agree with me that she is a diligent worker. I do not think she would invent them, Dr. Ott.”
“I do not believe them to be a figment of her imagination, Dr. Henderson. They are very real. However, even hard workers can have emotional baggage they are unequipped to handle.”
“I do not believe she is emotionally unbalanced,” Henderson returned.
“Dr. Henderson, you are speaking from your background as-” he started.
“A neurologist. I study the brain, but in a different way from yourself,” she said proudly.
“Ah, but I do not believe neurologist delve into the psyche from a personable approach, as I do. You merely observe EEGs and cranial folding,” he cut back.
“Doctors, please. It is evident that you differ in opinion. Dr. Ott has known Miss Evans the longest, so we shall defer to his judgement on how to proceed with her as a person. However, Dr. Henderson has successfully proved her hypothesis suggesting she has a greater understanding of the abilities of Miss Evans, so she will be given permission to run tests on the subject. Agent Necker, do you have anything to add to the accounts of either Dr. Ott or Dr. Henderson?” Director Schultz asked.
“Miss Evans is an adult, albeit a young one. I see no need to apply scathing labels of teenager to point to emotional instability. From my interactions, she seems tired, and that is all. She has little to herself, so she attempts to keep her mind private,” Agent Necker added.
“It is concerning she appears to have not spoken openly to anyone. We do not know her motives. And her capabilities seem beyond what we originally thought. She is improving beyond what we can control. She can get information, make people feel things. It would be in our best interest to figure out a way to limit what she can do, if need be. Checks and balances,” Director Schultz said.
“She has expressed nothing beside compliance while I have been with her. I do not believe it prudent to attempt to limit her. It would only give her reason to mistrust us,” Agent Necker replied.
“She has not been so compliant with me. She has shown an obvious distaste of authority. While I agree we should not let her know there are any attempts to limit or control her, we should begin to explore options. For one, I think she would be more compliant if she had someone to talk to, similar in age and situation. Someone that could be her friend,” Dr. Ott declared.
“There is no one that fits that category, Dr. Ott,” Dr. Henderson shot back. “To take genetic manipulation out of a government-funded laboratory takes a special breed of scientist that is willing to spurn the law which they must have held righteously to throughout their education, has access to large amounts of money, and that can find hundreds of thousands of fertilized human eggs to perform tests on. Even then, probability is against them. Humans have evolved over a course of billions of years. The likelihood of those scientists stumbling on something as great as this, even if they knew what they were looking for, is infinitesimal.”
“It does not have to be as great as this, Dr. Henderson. It just has to be something. A friend would ease her into this transition, as she seems to have a fair bit of bitterness being here and being who she is,” Dr. Ott responded.
“Dr. Henderson is right, Dr. Ott. We have not found such an individual before. At your request, we can redouble efforts in searching such an individual out, but is there any other alternative?” Director Schultz asked.
“If I might offer a suggestion, Miss Evans has expressed a desire to avenge her mother. If she is allow to assist in a case, perhaps she will be more at peace,” Agent Necker said calmly.
“Dr. Ott?” Agent Schultz asked.
“It is possible. Some small thing as to not upset her too much may be of use. You would have to be careful though. I think it best to not let Miss Evans know quite the extant of what she could use her powers for.”
“I agree. We will keep these suggestions in mind. Thank you for your time. Please report back at the same time tomorrow,” said Director Schultz, dismissing them.
Therese sat up quickly. Her head was killing her. Her shoulder was stiff. And she was tired. So much the norm.
She stretched her shoulder out slowly and wiggled her fingers about, flexing them experimentally. It was strange to touch them to their right-hand counterparts, feel the difference in sensation experienced on both sides. She wondered if it would ever be normal.
This was her normal. This new normal. She would learn to accept it. Maybe she could do some good with it, as the simple carrier of this thing that she was able to do.
She was still in her clothes from yesterday, so she took a quick shower and brushed her teeth before she glanced at her alarm clock. Tonight had been a better night. She had given up on sleep only an hour before she was summoned. She guessed she only managed to fall asleep until much later than normal, so they canceled each other out.
She glanced at the door knob. She could just walk out of there. She could do what she did back with the people who murdered her mother. She could just make everyone she passed want to let her through. However, the control she had was so tenuous. It had led to the disaster last time. It would never work. And then she would have to have a long talk with Dr. Ott when she got back.
She regretted the sentences she spoke the day before. He probably called her depressive again and diagnosed her with anger management issues. He seemed to always assign several disorders to her when she felt perfectly fine herself. Well, maybe not perfectly fine, but as fine as anyone could get in her situation.
She went to her notebook and flipped to the page where nestled tiny in the margin she had written, “Buck up. You’re not dead yet.” For some odd reason, the words always made her smile. It made her think of her dad. He never tolerated any display of emotion. Any sadness was counteracted by telling her to think about it logically and, in the end, get over it. She sometimes wondered if she was actually physically related to him. As she understood it, her grandfather’s laboratory worked with a cartload of fertilized eggs. It wouldn’t be surprising if, as her mother had fertility issues, her parents genome were represented there.
More likely than not, she wasn’t.
But it didn’t matter. Anyone could be born. Not anyone could make something of themselves.
There was a knock at the door. Therese stood up, carefully replacing her notebook and lying the hair on top of it, and then she answered the door.
“Good morning, Miss Evans,” Dr. Ott said. She suddenly remembered why she had lost her temper a little the night before.
“Good morning, Dr. Ott,” she replied evenly.
“How did you sleep?” he asked, clipboard at the ready.
“And the headaches?”
“Well, I dunno. Maybe worse,” she said.
He scrawled upon his clipboard excitedly. He had scored a point.
They walked down the hall together. “So, Therese, I was hoping we could discuss more what you said yesterday. How does the word ‘mutant’ make you feel?” Why did he have to bring it up? It was really stupid of her to say so much.
“It’s a generic term. You’re a mutant too, in a sense,” she shrugged.
“What dreams did you have before you applied this term, mutant, to yourself, if you don’t have dreams for the future now?”
“I wanted to be an engineer, like my dad,” she replied tonelessly. He opened the door for her and she mechanically inserted a bagel into her mouth as she sat in her usual chair.
“Why?” he asked.
“I liked my dad.”
He made a note on his clipboard. “Surely you liked other people with different professions.Why an engineer?”
He was not making this easy. “It was an interesting field.”
“How did it interest you?”
“I dunno, I mean, you solved problems. That’s interesting,” she shrugged. He jotted notes down quickly.
“Did you consider yourself a problem solver?” he asked.
“Yes.” She had made it a law to answer with only one word whenever he asked a yes or no question. Still, he got something from it, by the rapid moving of her pen.
“Do you now?”
“Yes.” She fidgeted uncomfortably in her seat as he wrote more. What was he getting out of this?
“What problems did you want to solve?” he asked.
“I dunno. I was trying to figure it out in college,” she said, scuffing a foot on the floor.
“What about now?”
“What problems I’m given,” she replied. This time, she looked him in the eye, staring him down. However, he even seemed to take something from that, pen twisting in some complex dance as he ran it across his clipboard. He turned a page.
There was a knock at the door. Eagerly, Therese jumped from her seat and opened it to find Dr. Henderson outside.
“Good morning, Miss Evans,” Dr. Henderson said pleasantly.
“Good morning, Dr. Henderson,” Therese returned. She looked between the Dr. Ott and Dr. Henderson, seeking an explanation and a gentler way to ask, “why are you here?” Every so often, she got pulled into some research lab to which they connected her up to wires and the like. Was Henderson going to give it a go?
“You don’t look like you’ve been informed that I was going to invite you to my lab today,” Dr. Henderson said, looking over Therese to Dr. Ott behind her with raised eyebrows.
“I wasn’t,” Therese returned, looking back herself at Dr. Ott, who was very evidently not surprised to see Dr. Henderson.
“You’re early. I was getting around to telling Miss Evans,” Dr. Ott cut back.
“Miss Evans, will you follow me please?” Dr. Henderson asked. Therese still found it hilarious how they always made it seem like she had a choice. Still, being physically poked and prodded in a lab was better than this mental game with Dr. Ott.
“Of course,” Therese replied happily, leaving Dr. Ott readily behind.
For a moment, they walked in silence, before Dr. Henderson leaned in slightly, careful to avoid physically touching Therese, and whispered, “So, you don’t think it was my fault?”
Therese shook her head, thinking back to the siphoned memory. When Dr. Henderson first started her own lab, she had brought in a burgeoning PhD student who had great potential but had difficult concentrating. His thesis was rejected, and he had seemed unconcerned of the result. Dr. Henderson had a serious discussion with him and his work ethic. He shot himself later that day. “It wasn’t. No one could’ve seen it coming.”
Therese couldn’t help but feel a connection to Dr. Henderson through that insecurity. To be a part of death, however unwilling, always kinda hung over you. “Thank you.”
Therese wrinkled her nose slightly as her headache worsened as they walked into Dr. Henderson’s lab, reaching a hand up to her temple.
“So, the headache’s are still bad then? When did they start?” Dr. Henderson asked. She gestured Therese to sit on a stool near a bench. The room seemed a combination between a hospital and a research lab with much of the medical equipment Therese had come to recognize and benches with chemicals she knew from her friends who worked in labs during college.
“Uh, soon after I woke up in the hospital. So, like six weeks ago? They weren’t very bad at the beginning. They seem to be getting worse,” she said. No one had asked her that before. Dr. Henderson was acting as if Therese wasn’t just stressing herself out and giving herself headaches.
“Okay,” Dr. Henderson stood up, and strangely, after putting on gloves, gently took Therese’s head in her hands, looking down on it from above. She said nothing, but pulled up an ophthalmoscope. “Please look at my finger, Miss Evans,” she asked.
Confused at what having headaches had to do with her eyes, Therese obliged. Did she need glasses or something? For something so mundane to be causing her such pain seemed morbidly amusing.
Dr. Henderson looked at her right eye, then switched to her left eye. She set it down, and turned to Therese. “Miss Evans, you have papilledema in both eyes.”
“What does that mean?” Therese asked, completely bemused.
“It means your optic disk is swelling, usually caused by abnormal increase in intracranial pressure.”
“So, I have a lot of pressure on my brain?” Therese guessed.
“In a way. I have seen it before in cases of tumors, hydrocephalus, and craniosynostosis. I think the last may be similar to what we are dealing with here. To be certain, I want to get an MRI done on you,” she said seriously, standing.
Something was wrong. What could possibly be so strange with her that would cause Dr. Henderson seem so grave. Therese also stood. “Okay. They did that to me before once. When I first got here they did a bunch of things, MRI, EEG, even genome sequencing.”
“All the better,” Dr. Henderson returned as she opened the door for Therese and they walked down the hall.
“What is this craniosynostosis you talked about?” Therese asked, attempting to find reasons to her concern.
“As you may know, there are fissures in the skull that aren’t fused at birth to allow room for the brain to grow. In some cases, these fissures fuse prematurely, even before the child is born. The brain has no room to grow, which, as you can imagine, has a whole host of complications.”
“But, I’m not a baby. Brains don’t grow when you’re an adult. You can’t make more neurons, or something like that, right?” Therese asked.
“There has been recent research to show that adults do regenerate some neurons. However, it is not quite what I had in mind. I think your brain is growing much faster than that, Miss Evans,” Dr. Henderson said seriously.
As they went into the MRI room, Dr. Henderson went to the lab techs who were apparently in between doing experiments. They talked for a moment, before Dr. Henderson returned to Therese.
“They are allowing me to squeeze you in. So, if you’ll please,” Dr. Henderson gestured to the MRI.
Therese obediently laid down on the the table, thinking intently as she was pulled into the machine. Dr. Henderson thought her brain was growing? How strange was that? Maybe this would be how she died, her brain grew too big for her skull. Maybe she would just have a stroke and keel over at any moment. Dead.
Therese stared at the interior of the MRI. Could they just open her skull up? I mean, would it be that hard to just break her skull up into the fissures she had when she was a baby? Would they leave room for her big brain? What if her brain never stopped growing, and all the sudden she had a giant head that she could barely support?
She almost laughed at the image, but didn’t, knowing she had to keep still.
“Miss Evans, while you are there, would you mind trying to did what you did yesterday?” Dr. Henderson asked. Therese noticed she wasn’t very specific. She guessed the lab techs did not have clearance to know about her.
Therese knew it was impossible. Dr. Henderson was very far away. A few millimeters had been hard to breach. Perhaps she just wanted Therese to try, to see what her brain did. Other scientists had done that to her.
Therese realized she didn’t know the student’s name who died. That would be her goal. She summoned up all her energy, and attempted to press it from her, into the void of the air, and to Dr. Henderson.
It felt as if the ground had been suddenly yanked out underneath her feet. She felt nauseous, but she kept pushing. Dr. Henderson was out there somewhere. She didn’t sound that far away.
She felt a tickle, but it became too much maintain. She slipped back into herself. She thrust her energy out again, seeking out exactly where she knew Dr. Henderson was. She felt as if she was slowly dying as the energy was sucked from her. She couldn’t stop though, she had to keep going when she was so close. She made contact. She was slipping, but she clawed out wildly through Dr. Henderson, attempting to find grounding, something to hold onto.
When Therese opened, her eyes, she staring into a very bright light was above her. Her head felt as if it had been split it to two. Everything seemed slightly fuzzy, and she was so very tired.
Therese made out someone’s face. “His name was Chase,” she murmured.
“Are you alright, Miss Evans?” it wasn’t Dr. Henderson. Where was she?
Therese closed her eyes, pressing a hand to her throbbing head. The light was too bright. She sat up slowly, attempting to recollect herself. “Where is Dr. Henderson?”
“She’s talking with some people. Do you remember me? I’m Dr. Vaca.”
Therese opened her eyes again, staring at the balding, Hispanic man with a ridiculous mustache and open, brown eyes. “Yes. I do. You were the geneticist. Did you find anything interesting with my DNA?”
Then, she felt it. She felt the answer before he spoke. She felt his excitement over the nature of the experiment, his confusion as he wrestled through billions of base pairs, and his determination to keep going. “Well, it is all very interesting. There are many, many novel mutations we simply haven’t seen before and that we don’t know the effect of-” he started.
Dr. Henderson had entered the room, Therese realized without looking up. “Miss Evans, you’re awake.” An overflow of emotion was pouring from Dr. Henderson. It was too much. Therese clenched both hands to her temples, trying to staunch the flow of thoughts.
“Miss Evans, are you alright?” Dr. Henderson asked.
Therese took several steadying breaths, attempting to find herself. Her name was Therese Evans. She was eighteen, almost nineteen, years old. Her parents were Daniel and Carol Evans. She was as strong as her father made her.
She looked up slowly as her own thoughts overcame the static of those around her. “I’m fine. It’s just, well, I don’t really have to try now to hear what you guys are thinking. I have to try not to hear it. I have it under control now though. So, my brain is growing, then, Dr. Henderson?”
Both faces had identical expressions of stupefaction. Dr. Henderson quickly recovered. “That is quite astonishing, Miss Evans. And yes, your brain is growing. I was talking to my colleague, a neurosurgeon named Dr. Lewis, and he believes it possible to reassemble your skull to fit the increasing volume. We have scheduled the surgery for next Monday. More than that, we’ve target the region of the brain responsible for your abilities.”
“Wait, it’s just a region? You mean, you could remove it, and I’d be normal?” some strong emotion was brewing in her chest. As she thought to decipher it, her headache crescendoed. She let her defenses down. She felt the onslaught of Dr. Henderson’s and Dr. Vaca’s minds pressing down on her.
Her name was Therese Evans. She was almost nineteen years old. She grew up in Idaho. Her father was an engineer. Her grandfather was an illegal, genetic experimenter.
She found herself again and motioned for Dr. Henderson to continue.
“Theoretically, yes. Is that what you want?”
“I don’t know. I will have to think about it,” Therese rubbed the side of her head. She could be normal. She could touch people without becoming them. She would not hear their thoughts. She would not have to fear that eventually the voices in her head would become so loud she couldn’t hear herself. Maybe they would let her leave.
“I’m really quite tired. Can I go to bed now?” she asked. It was all too much.
Dr. Henderson nodded, and Therese was escorted back to her room. She stared at the ceiling for a long time, rubbing at a skull soon to be broken apart to make way for an enormous brain. She may not be a doctor, but she knew that things growing abnormally was a precursor to cancer. Maybe a brain tumor would kill her. Would removing the part of her brain responsible for this ability stop the abnormal growth as well?
She had five days to figure it out. To go back to being normal or not. Well, she was never really normal, so she couldn’t go back to it. Her ability had just been latent. How would it have been if her father had trained to use it, as Agent Necker was doing, instead of teaching her to avoid using it? What could she be accomplishing now? Would her brain not be squeezing itself to death inside her skull as then the fissures hadn’t fused when she was a young child? Would she have been able to stop the people from murdering her father? Her mother? The girls?
She could get away from it. Never have the purple dreams again. Sleep normally. Go back to real life. Get a boring job. Have friends.
Her headache was pounding in her head. At each peak in the sine function of pain, she lost control a little. Her mind expanded outward, touching the consciousness of those around, feeling their pains and their triumphs.
It was always getting worse. Would she, in the future, not be able to stop it? To never differentiate herself from the minds around her? Would she go insane?
It was a lot to think on, and she did it uneasily long into the night.