“Dr. Henderson, please provide a summary of today’s finding,” Director Schultz asked.
“As I stated yesterday, I had a hypothesis that the headaches of Miss Evans had a physiological basis. Acting on my hypothesis, I did a simple ophthalmoscopy and saw presence of intracranial pressure. From there, I had an MRI taken, which Miss Evans had a previous one a month ago. By comparing these too images, you can see that Miss Evans’ brain has increased in volume from approximately 1200 cc’s to 1400, an increase of 17%. Which, I assure you, is incredibly substantial for an adult.
“Beyond that, I instructed Miss Evans to attempt to reach out to my mind, while she was in the MRI, as she did the day before with Agent Necker. I did not expect anything from it, but wished to see what effect it had on her brain.
“Not only did I get a clear image of the region of the brain activated, which is very localized to an aberrant region that we have not seen in other humans and appears highly engorged, as you see here. I believe I trained Miss Evans as well. She told me she could hear people’s thoughts without trying anymore.
“She actually brought up the idea we could remove the portion of her brain where this activity is coming from. However, she said she didn’t know if she would want that or not,” Dr. Henderson concluded.
“She will want it,” Dr. Ott said.
“How so?” Dr. Henderson asked.
“Right now, she feels deprived of the normal human experiences. As a child, she was taught not to connect with other humans, in hopes of preventing what we see here. When she has finally been allowed to emotionally connect, she has nobody to emotionally connect with,” Dr. Ott said.
“If I might interject, we were successful in locating a genetically-modified individual. His creators had meshed human DNA with fish, looking for a way to create a super-intelligent aquatic drone for use in espionage. They weren’t entirely successful in that aim with their subject. They did not create very good records of their activities, and the subject, Mr. Greer, did not know his age. However, I think it similar to the age of Miss Evans,” Agent Swanson said.
“I still think she will ultimately decide in favor of removing that part of her brain,” Dr. Ott said.
“If she does, we will not have to worry about her increasingly worrisome abilities. We will lose a great asset, but a greater risk. Does your suggestion regarding introducing Miss Evans still stand?” Director Schultz asked.
“It can do no harm. It might be good, so that she won’t regret her decision later,” Dr. Ott said.
“We will introduce the two then. While Miss Evans still has her abilities, I want you to continue your exercises with her, Agent Necker. Focus on control,” Agent Schultz instructed.
“Go easy with her. I think practicing is a catalyst for growth, almost like a muscle,” Dr. Henderson added.
“Your previous hypotheses have proven incredibly accurate, Dr. Henderson. I will keep your recommendation in mind. As Dr. Ott suggested, I was going to divert her attention in asking her about one of our suspects. Is that to still to be attempted with the new developments?” asked Agent Necker.
“As I said before, it can do no harm. It will ensure less regrets on her part later,” Dr. Ott said, waving a hand.
“It is settled. It appears Miss Evans is going to be busy tomorrow,” Director Schultz said sardonically.
Therese was lying in her bed. She had given up sleep long ago. Now she was carefully attempting to feel out the minds around her. She discovered a clerk a couple halls down that was typing at a computer and a guard patrolling the perimeter. She tried not to pry, but her curiosity egged her into skimming the tops of their minds, finding out their names, where they had gone to school, what they were planning to eat for breakfast.
She detected a new mind approaching, Dr. Ott. She immediately retracted into herself with a shudder. She glanced at her clock. It was six already? She dressed quickly and opened the door as Dr. Ott arrived. No doubt he would have many uncomfortable questions for her today.
“Good Morning, Miss Evans.”
“Good Morning, Dr. Ott.”
“How did you sleep?” he asked.
“Same,” she replied shortly as they walked to his office, wondering when he would start asking her how she felt about the upcoming surgery.
“They’ll be better on Monday.”
He wrote something down on his clipboard. “So, tell me how you feel about that?”“No more headaches would be nice,” she said.
“It would. But how do you feel about the surgery itself? Many people are nervous about surgery, especially neurosurgery. It’s a dangerous procedure.” Dr. Ott prompted.
“I know, but it can’t possibly be more dangerous than being kidnapped, wrestling a guy with a gun, or being shot in a burning building.” She knew she had spoken too long as his pen zoomed back and forth excitedly.
They arrived at his office and both sat down. She took a bite out of an apple waiting for her. She couldn’t help but think she could be a much better psychiatrist than Dr. Ott was if she could see into people’s minds.
“And, did Dr. Henderson discuss the possibility of the other surgery?” Dr. Ott asked.
“To remove the chunk of my brain that lets me read minds? Yeah,” Therese said, looking down distractedly. Talking to him would not help her make the decision.
“How do you feel about that?” he asked.
“I dunno,” she answered truthfully.
“Do you feel scared? Hopeful? How does having this make you feel? What about now when you don’t have to touch? I heard heard you don’t even have to try,” he said. She noted the slightly quaver in his voice. Was he afraid of her? Did he want to use her?
She looked up at him carefully. It was difficult to read his expression, but it would be rude to go digging through his mind. She certainly didn’t like it when he attempted to do it her. So, she would be the better man and refrain from doing so. “You heard correctly.”
“What do you feel when you touch another’s mind?” he asked.
“Him or her,” she said concisely. She’d been over this before.
“But now, when you can touch without touching, when you feel all those around you. What does it make you feel, Miss Evans?” he asked.
“Like them. Then, I remember I am Therese,” she said, attempting to downplay how excruciating it was to find yourself when you were losing control.
“Do you not remember who you are all the time, Miss Evans?” he asked, affecting a countenance of concern.
“I know myself, but I know everyone else too. As long as I don’t lose track of myself, I can pull myself back,” she said as he wrote rapidly.
“And how does that make you feel, Miss Evans?” he asked.
She attempted to figure out something she could say without lying that wouldn’t let him into how frightening and disorienting the experience was, how it brought her back to her amethyst, deathly dreams, how it made her think she may never get back, how the cacophony of thoughts pulled her forward into their irresistible mists.
“A little uneasy,” she said slowly, watching his pen as he gleefully wrote.
“Please take me inside your mind, Miss Evans. Describe to me how it feels, moment by moment, when you almost lose control,” he said.
It was a difficult experience to express, and she especially didn’t want to try expressing it to him who would be judging her word choice and impressions intently. He would probably connect it all somehow to issues she had with her father as a kid or something about teenage angst. She reached her mind out to the corridor, feeling desperately for Agent Necker. He was there.
“I think Agent Necker is supposed to be here soon,” she said quickly, rubbing her temple as her head throbbed from the now consistent headache.
He raised his eyebrows, writing something down. She thought about how happy she would be when there were no more clipboards. Then, she realized she had no idea when that would be. If she had them remove her abilities, would they stop keeping her here? If she didn’t, would every morning and night be stuck here for psychoanalysis until she died?
Agent Necker knocked on the door, and Therese jumped up to retrieve it.
“Good morning, Miss Evans,” he said.
“Good morning, Agent Necker,” she returned.
They left quickly as Therese could make them without the appearance of hurrying. “You don’t look terribly happy today, Miss Evans,” Agent Necker said slowly.
“Oh, it’s nothing. I can’t sleep, I have a bad headache because my brain’s growing out of skull, and an irksome psychiatrist is trying to get me to explain to him how it feels to read minds,” she groaned slightly, rubbing at her skull.
“Irksome? Good word use,” he smiled lightly. That is why she liked Agent Necker.
“Well, annoying seemed a little childish, so I figured I would step it up a notch,” she shrugged.
“If you’re feeling up to it, I was going to ask for your help on something,” he said.
“Wait, you want my help? You mean, I can do something for you guys?” she exclaimed, suddenly forgetting everything.
“Yes. A man has proven reticent in cooperating with our interrogators. We were hoping you could provide some information on who he works for and what they are planning,” he said simply.
“I’ll help. I want to help,” Therese bobbed her head eagerly. It hurt her brain, but she didn’t care.
“Excellent. Please follow me, Miss Evans,” they walked down a different hall, through several security locks, past a corridor, and into another building. Therese was looking eagerly around her, attempting to take in the new surroundings at once. As they stepped inside, however, Therese was forced to go on the defensive. A swarm of minds descended on hers.
Her name was Therese Evans. She used to live in Houston, Texas, where she went to college. She was almost nineteen years old. She disliked the color purple and psychiatrists.
“Are you alright, Miss Evans?” Agent Necker asked, bringing her up short.
“Yes,” she said slowly, attempting to keep herself in one. “It’s just, there’s a lot of people here.”
“And you can hear them?” he guessed.
“You don’t have to do this, Miss Evans” he said.
“I want to,” she said shortly. Her name was Therese Evans. She pulled herself back. “I’m ready, just don’t walk too quickly.”
They walked slowly through a few more halls with many security locks. Therese felt the flux of people entering and leaving her range of consciousness. Every so often, a very clear thought would break from the roiling mass. Someone had stubbed their toe. Some was calling their little girl on the phone. Someone was very frustrated with solitaire.
She fought back from these intrusions. Her name was Therese Evans. She used to have a lucky pen she would take with her to tests. In second grade, she got the nickname, ‘Leather,’ because she played on the monkey bars so much, her hands felt like leather. She was almost nineteen years old.
They walked into a small room off the hall.
“Miss Evans, may I introduce you?” Agent Necker asked, gesturing to a few men in the crowded room. They looked down on her, sharply, eyes glaring into her with a ferocity. They had loud minds too. Her name was Therese Evans. She nodded, almost imperceptibly.
“Miss Evans, this is Agent Jorge, Agent White, Agent Harold, and Agent Strait. He gestured to a dark man, a light man, an old man, and a younger man respectively. Therese nodded a greeting to the men. She wished she could tell them to think more softly.
“Miss Evans, they have all been given clearance in observing you. The subject is in the next room. There is a window, if you wish to view him,” Agent Necker informed her.
She didn’t like how they all stared at her, thinking things without any regard to courtesy. Her name was Therese Evans. She won the school science fair in fifth grade.
She looked out of the window and saw a man, head in hands, staring at a table in front of him. He looked distressed. His knee was jumping and jittering underneath the table. She attempted to reach out to him.
Immediately, she was bombarded by the static of the people around her. It was like stepping out in a sandstorm to find a single speck of dirt. She retreated back before she lost herself. She rubbed her temples, focusing her energy. She inched it out slightly, probing forward towards the man, but she was blind in the fury. She could not sense him in particular and the effort of going out into the storm left her weary.
She broke off, and turned to Agent Necker. “There’s too many people. I can’t focus in on him,” she said quietly, feeling sick to her stomach. She hated failing. She could see Agent Necker’s disappointment.
“That’s quite alrig-” he started.
“Wait, can I go in there with him? If I could touch him, then I wouldn’t have to worry about finding him. I could do it then!” she said excitedly.
Agent Necker looked at the men. “Is he restrained?” Necker asked.
“Yes,” Agent Jorge answered.
“Do any of you have objections?” Necker asked. They shook their heads. He turned back to her. “Miss Evans, you have permission. Do you wish to proceed alone?”
She nodded. He showed her to the door, and she walked inside.
The man looked up at her, confused. She supposed not a lot of teenage females were interrogators.
“Who are you?” he croaked miserably, edging into anger. He scowled at her.
Instinctively, she reached out to him. She still couldn’t find him in the storm, but she realized she didn’t need to. Slowly, she found calm complacency within herself, and pressed it outward towards the hoard of minds buzzing outside her.
They settled down obediently. They weren’t so loud, weren’t so harsh. Why hadn’t she tried this before? The man was no longer frowning.
“My name is Therese Evans,” she told him, while reaffirming it to herself. “Would you mind if I held your hand?” She walked slowly towards the table.
If he was startled by the request, he didn’t show it. Instead, he reached his hands outward, chained together by handcuffs. She put hers gently in his.
His name was Greg Sanders. He was thirty-three years old and liked fishing. He grew up in Brooklyn with two sisters. He attended the same public school his parents did. They had been high school sweethearts. He secretly wished he had had a high school sweetheart. He worked as a electrician at a local electronics supercenter. That was when it happened.
She broke off, staring at the man as he blinked slowly with very dark eyelashes. “Thank you, Mr. Sanders,” she said kindly.
She left the room and found the agents strangely dazed when she walked in. She suddenly realized there was a reason she didn’t calm everyone indiscriminately. They would resolve into their normal emotions soon. There was nothing Therese could do about it now besides make them feel a different emotion, but she wasn’t a believer in that two wrongs make a right.
“Agent Necker?” she asked, elbowing him as to avoid accidentally making contact with his skin.
“Oh, yes, Miss Evans?” he shook himself lightly, as if waking up from a dream. “That was you, wasn’t it?” he asked, examining the still benumbed agents.
“Yes. I’m sorry. I didn’t think about it,” she blushed, feeling a little like a truculent child.
He tapped each man on the shoulder as they roused themselves. He whispered a word of explanation to each before turning back to Therese. “What did you learn?” he asked.
“He’s innocent,” she said simply.
“That’s impossible,” Agent Strait was glaring at her.
“I know what happened and how you found him, but he had nothing to do with it. His manager told him he needed to look at the electric circuitry underneath between a couple of buildings in his complex. He found the wiring for the bomb and was trying to figure out what do with it. He heard something. He got scared and ran. He had the blueprints of the Empire State Building because he was curious about architecture,” Therese said evenly, examining the incredulous faces. “Why don’t you believe me?” She felt distinctly off-balance.
She felt herself slipping. Her name was Therese Evans. She sang in the shower sometimes when no one was listening. Her father’s name was Daniel Nathaniel Evans.
“Are you telling the truth?” Agent White asked her.
“Yes, of course. I swear,” she replied nervously. It was overwhelming. The glares and their angry minds digging into hers. She felt as if there was no room for her. No room for her brain. Her head hurt.
“Miss Evans, is that your final report?” Agent Necker inquired without emotion.
“Yes. If you have any specific questions, I’ll answer them,” she said quickly, looking down at the floor. Her name was Therese Evans. She was almost nineteen. Her childhood home in Idaho had a blue door and a yard with a tree you could see from the office window. She found her father dead in that office when she was thirteen.
“That is all that is required of you, Miss Evans,” Agent Harold said dismissively.
Agent Necker and her left quickly. She kept her hands on her temples. It felt like claws were grabbing at her brain. She was afraid in some nonsensical way that if she removed them, she would leave her body and never returned.
It was only after they returned to the near deserted corridors of her own building that she removed her own hands. She could sense Agent Necker beside her and some janitor up a level, but it was so much calmer than the hubbub before.
“Ouch,” she breathed, attempting to quiet her breathing and center herself.
“Does it hurt when there are so many people?” he asked.
“Well, they don’t hurt. It’s more like I have to staple myself in so that I don’t get lost in hive of thoughts. What are they going to do with Mr. Sanders?” she asked.
“The man has acted very guiltily and there is much evidence against him,” he said. She felt her stomach drop. She knew how it felt to be in an interrogation room where no one believes that you didn’t do anything wrong.
“If you’re not too tired, Miss Evans, there is one thing I wanted to test,” he gestured to the door of the training room.
“I’m fine,” she said, attempting to ignore her headache and summon energy she did not have. Sometime she wondered if one day she would just die of exhaustion. Could a person die of exhaustion, or would they collapse into sleep first?
He led her into the room. He gestured her to sit on the floor as he did likewise. “How do you keep yourself you when you meet all the other minds?” he asked. “You seemed to be concentrating quite intently on something.”
“I just repeat stuff like my name, age, memories, and stuff like that,” she shrugged a little bashfully. It wasn’t like there was magic to it or complicated rituals.
“I wonder if you could do that so you could touch people too, without feeling their minds,” he said slowly.
“I don’t know if I could. I seem to be becoming more sensitive to others now. I used to be able to be in crowds before without a problem...” she trailed off. She used to be able touch people too. She used to be normal. No, she had the appearance of being normal. She hadn’t been normal since she was a fertilized egg.
“Are there many people you can feel right now?” he asked.
“Well, there’s you. A janitor is upstairs. I think Dr. Ott’s in his office. I think Dr. Henderson is in her lab,” as she stretched her mind to reach into each prick of consciousness, a headache exploded near her temples.
She rushed to keep herself as she felt Agent Necker closing in around her. She fought back. Her name was Therese Evans. When she was fifteen, she took Missy and Jackson, her neighbor’s kids, trick-or-treating. Missy was a pirate. Jackson was a baker.
She slowly sat up again. “I don’t think I should try that again right now,” she whispered. Every muscle was shaking with an intense pressure she did not know the source of.
“That’s alright, Miss Evans. We won’t try to expand your mind until your mind has room to expand,” he said. She smiled slightly at his cutesy phrasing.
“Yeah, Monday.” She paused for a moment, debating whether to ask him or not. She had felt his mind so many times in their training, although she tried to conserve his privacy. She felt as if she knew a lot of him. Of course, there was much more that she did not know. However, she knew for certain he was honest, kind, and actually cared for her.
“Agent Necker?” she said finally.
“Yes, Miss Evans?”
“You know, they can take a piece of my brain out, and they think I’ll be normal again. I won’t have other people’s thoughts attacking my head. I won’t have the dreams. But, my brain won’t be the same. I wouldn’t be me. What do you think I should do?” she asked.
“I’m afraid, Miss Evans, only you can make that decision. I will respect it no matter what it is,” he said gravely.
She nodded. She was half-expecting such an answer.
“There was one other thing I was curious of. I’ve seen you control people’s emotions, encourage them into certain tasks, make them feel tired. I’ve felt it myself, but there’s always gentle and positive. Are you capable of pressing negative emotions?” he asked, almost reluctantly.
“I made my mom angry once,” Therese shrugged, surprised at the question.
“Could you make me feel pain?” he asked.
“I don’t know. I’ve never tried. Why do you ask?” she suddenly felt very nervous. What was he talking about? Were the government people going to try and use her to torture people.
“Miss Evans, you’ve said you give other people your feelings. So, if you gave me your pain, would you feel less?” he asked.
“Agent Necker, I’m really not comfortable with this,” she said, standing up shakily. Sure, her head felt like it was being crushed, but she didn’t want to make someone else feel it, much less Agent Necker. It didn’t seem right.
“Miss Evans, I’m afraid I must insist.” He stood also.
“Well, I don’t always transfer feelings. Like I really don’t feel that much less tired if I make someone else tired,” she said, backing up a bit. “I’m really not comfortable with this.”
“Miss Evans, I order you to,” he said harshly. “You’re pain is affecting your actions and limiting your abilities.”
She was frightened by this suddenly personality change and by the way he was ordering her. Why was it so important? Were they going to make her try? Could she lie and say she tried when she didn’t? But she was such a horrible liar. She would just do a little bit of pain. Then, he would stop demanding.
“Do you really want me to?” she asked.
“Okay,” she said. It was easy to gather the pain in her. It was everywhere from her aching shoulder, to her pounding head, to her sore feet she had been on all day. She just pressed into a tight ball that made every nerve she possessed burn in fire. Then, she found Agent Necker and pressed it slightly towards him.
Apparently things did not go by degrees. All at once, the bundle of pain left her and encountered Agent Necker. She broke off immediately after she realized what had happened, fighting to return to herself.
“Agent Necker,” she called, running forward to the man lying senseless on the floor. His limbs were twitching and he clutched at his head. Murmuring something.
She pressed her hand onto his forehead. She could not take his pain away again. She didn’t know how to remove something. But she could give him peaceful sleep.
She felt a great throughput of emotion. She hadn’t been careful in controlling herself. She flew through memories. She saw herself two months ago, in pajamas at her dorm, when the agents had picked her up. She saw herself in the interrogation room. She saw herself lying in a hospital bed. She saw her rushed transformation from tired college student to anguished, exhausted, war-torn, lab experiment. She saw that Agent Necker was sad it happened, but the terror he had now at the pain she experienced overcame all. She spread over his emotions with calm sleep.
Her arm was shaking as she removed it and the man relaxed.
Already, her pain had regenerated. Her head hurt and now; her chest ached. What had she done to Agent Necker? He needed help. Was he breathing? Was his heart still beating? She couldn’t touch him to physically figure it out, but she didn’t want to reach towards his mind again.
Realizing this, she rose to unsteady feet and ran towards the door. She yanked it open and called out into the hall. “Help! Someone help!”
She heard footsteps and she ran back to Agent Necker, hovering around, struck with terror that she did not know how to help him. She felt the urgent attentiveness of the guards bursting through the room. It almost over came her.
Her name was Therese Evans. She played the violin for two years and hated it. She really, really hated the color purple. She wanted to never hurt people again.
A guard was barking questions at her as another pounded at Agent Necker’s chest. It was hard to keep herself centered. Her name was Therese Evans. Her mother and father were murdered because of the actions of her grandfather in creating her. She was a key player of the murders of sixteen young women. Death and pain followed her.
“Miss Evans,” the voice that shook her out of her reverie was not the one she would’ve like to hear.
“Yes, Dr. Ott?” she asked. She noticed she had crouched into a ball, her arms covering her head with her chin tucked into her chest. Agent Necker was gone, and Dr. Ott was standing next to her, clipboard in hand.
“What happened, Miss Evans?” he asked.
What happened. She didn’t want to say. She didn’t want to talk. She wanted to curl up into that ball again and wait until Monday, when everything would be over. But no, she owed it to Agent Necker.
“Is Agent Necker okay?” she asked hesitantly, attempting keep a firm grip on herself. Dr. Ott had a very loud brain, she realized, not like Agent Necker. Her name was Therese Evans.
“We’re not sure, Miss Evans,” Dr. Ott said. “Perhaps we would be better equipped to handle him if we knew what happened.” Her name was Therese Evans.
“Well, we were talking. We’d gone to see this guy, Greg Sanders, some agents were interrogating. It was hard to concentrate with all the minds. I had a bad headache. Agent Necker asked if I could transfer some pain to him. I told him I didn’t know and I didn’t want to, but he insisted. So, I did. Then, he was on the floor, writhing. I made him go to sleep, and I got help,” she whispered quickly. She could sense Dr. Ott’s disbelief and could just make out the devious scratch of his pen.
“Alright, Miss Evans. How about you come to my office so we can discuss this?” he said slowly, as if he thought her insane. She supposed she must be. Why had she been talked into that?
Obediently, she stood up and followed Dr. Ott. Her name was Therese Evans. She was almost nineteen. She was E-VET. Her creation was financed by murderers. She had watched her mother die when they had tried to run away.
“Please, sit down, Miss Evans,” Dr. Ott indicated her normal chair. She sat.
“Where is Agent Necker? Can I see him?” she asked.
“I think that inadvisable at this point,” he said slowly. “Please calm down, Miss Evans.”
She could sense people milling about the halls. The place had been empty minutes before, now there were lots of people. It was hard to concentrate. Her name was Therese Evans.
“There’s just a lot of people around,” she returned. “It hurts.”
“How does it make you feel when there is a lot of people around, Miss Evans? Does it make you angry?” he asked.
“Not angry,” she shook her head. “Lost.”
He was writing quickly on his clipboard. It would be so easy to figure out what, but she didn’t. No, she wouldn’t. She would not go into people’s minds at random if she could help it. Her name was Therese Evans, and she was trying to be a good person. And failing.
She kept thinking back to Agent Necker. Her mind had been inured to the pain, but his had been fresh. She bundled it all up and gave it to him. She couldn’t imagine it.
“How do you feel when you’re lost?”
“I dunno. Lost.” She pulled her legs up to her chin and hugged them.
“If you have the other surgery, you’ll never hurt someone like that again.” The starkness of the comment shocked her. She looked up to find Dr. Ott staring her down carefully.
“That’s true.” She whispered the words, feeling their intensity resonate in her chest. Maybe she needed to have part of her brain removed. It would remove the bad parts. She wouldn’t have to deal with keeping her identity or hurting people or controlling people.
“Dr. Ott, Miss Evans,” someone walked through the door without knocking.
“You are interrupting our discussion, Agent Swanson,” Dr. Ott said tightly.
“I was told I could find Miss Evans here. She is supposed to be meeting Mr. Greer now. I was instructed to lead her down,” he explained.
“I think extenuating circumstances has altered the plan, Agent Swanson,” Dr. Ott responded.
“Dr. Ott, you met Mr. Greer. You know how he is. I think it would be better that he at least had proof of her existence. He was very interested in meeting you, Miss Evans.” Therese perked up at mention of her name. Who was this Mr. Greer, and why was he interested in meeting her? If Dr. Ott didn’t want her to meet him, than she should probably want to meet him.
“Very well, I will accompany you,” Dr. Ott said after a long moment.
The pair got up and walked through the crowded hall and into an elevator. They descended several stories. It was difficult being so close to people. Her name was Therese Evans. She was almost nineteen. She had a growing brain. She was friends with Agent Necker. She had hurt him.
The got off at the bottom floor, which smelled like standing water and was very damp. They turned to first door on the right. Whatever Therese had been expecting, it had not been this.
A giant tank the size of a swimming pool sat in the middle of a colossal room. A few people in white coats scurried back and forth, eyes on the object in the tank: a boy shucking oysters.
His hands and feet were webbed. He had a fin arching from his brow to behind and down his back. His skin was a cold, blue-gray and he had the strangest, bulging green eyes. Noticing her, he dropped the oyster and his knife. He waved.
Therese walked forward towards the tank. This was Mr. Greer. She waved back to him. It was hard to forget the scurry of scientists behind her, but she did her best. Her name was Therese Evans. She was not alone.
He paused at a keyboard she had just noticed was in his tank. He quickly typed something, which appeared on a screen attached to the tank. “My name is Neptune. Are you the other freak?”
She nodded, then rubbed at her head. Why did people have to think so loudly?
“Do you have a headache?” he typed.
She nodded. She noticed a keyboard opposite to his own and typed, “I always do.”
“That’s strange,” he responded.
“Not really. I guess my brain is weird and decided it wanted to keep growing although my skull disagreed. A side effect of being a mutant, I guess,” she typed.
“You look so normal. Is the only weird thing inside your head? They wouldn’t tell me much about you,” he wrote. “Can you tell me?”
She looked back at Dr. Ott and Agent Swanson, who were conversing with some of the scientists. If they didn’t want her to say something, they would’ve told her.
“My name is Therese Evans. My grandfather made me from an fertilized egg. My father felt bad for me, so he stole me and raised me far away from my grandfather. I didn’t know I was a mutant. He kept it secret, even from me.
“Then, he died, and my abilities became apparent. I can hear people’s thoughts. I can make them feel certain emotions. I didn’t know it for a long time. I just had strange dreams where my friends died that came true. Eventually, the FBI interrogated me. Then I was kidnapped by some of the people who financed my creation. They murdered my mother when we were escaping. I found my grandfather, who tried to force me to work for him. I shot him. Now, I’m here,” it felt strange to type it out like that. But it was reassuring at the same time to have that press of identity.
“That’s awesome, Therese.” It was not the response she was expecting. It felt strange to have someone call her Therese again. For so long now, everyone called her ‘Miss Evans.’ “I never got parents, even fake ones. I’ve been in a lab my whole life as they were trying to make me into a weapon or a spy or something. Then, the FBI people came in, guns blazing. They said they had you, and I didn’t want to just hang around with scientists. No offense to anyone, but they’re just a bunch of boring jerks. So, what’s your favorite food? I like oysters.”
“Mr. Greer, Miss Evans and I must really be going,” Dr. Ott said as he appeared suddenly behind her.
“Come on. You lure me here with a promise of another mutant, then you just want to whisk her away? Really? And you call yourself the good guys?” He stuck out a serpentine tongue at Dr. Ott.
Therese laughed, honestly laughed. She wouldn’t have minded doing that Dr. Ott herself, who appeared to be very flustered as he wrote on his clipboard. She couldn’t help but wonder at the remarkable bravado of her new friend. How could he keep so upbeat?
She felt the need to warn him, so she typed quickly, “Dr. Ott’s a psychiatrist. You might want to be careful or he’ll diagnose you as bipolar or ADHD or something.”
“And why would I care?” Neptune asked. He swam in a loop the loop lazily. “I’m king of the ocean!”
“Miss Evans, please follow me,” he said.
“Can’t I talk to Neptune a bit longer, Dr. Ott?” she asked. Strangely enough, talking with a mutant made her feel normal despite all that had happened. She felt like the Therese she used to know.
“You heard the lady. Let her talk, Dr. Big Nose!” Neptune declared. Apparently he could read lips, at least to some extent. Therese glanced back at Dr. Ott, who was quite furiously writing on a pad of paper.
“I think it best that we leave now, Miss Evans,” he said pointedly, glaring.
His glare brought her back to her real world, not the fun, carefree one that Neptune had created. “I’ll come back later, okay Neptune?” she typed.
“Fine. ASAP,” he typed back.
Therese waved good-bye to Neptune and then walked with Dr. Ott back to his office. Dr. Ott was so consumed in writing down things about Neptune, he didn’t even ask her any questions. The halls were emptying of their previous activity again. Therese didn’t need to stress as much. Besides from the persistent headache and fatigue, she felt almost normal. Well, fatigue had been so normal for so long, she didn’t even need to get rid of that.
“How do you feel about Neptune?” Dr. Ott asked as Therese sat down in his office.
“He’s funny,” she said shortly. By his expression, Dr. Ott didn’t seemed to think Neptune was funny.
“How so?” he asked.
“He doesn’t care. Nothing limits him. He’s just, happy,” she said. How did he manage to do it?
“Do you care? What limits you? Are you not happy?” he asked.
She shifted uncomfortably in her chair, becoming immediately sober. “Yes. I care. If I don’t, I accidentally hurt people.”
“Do you feel your ability is a responsibility? A burden?” he asked.
“No. My life has been my choice.” She liked that. She had chosen her life. She’d been given many opportunities for her life to play out differently. She could’ve never gone after her grandfather. She could’ve decided to work for him instead. She could walk out the building right now, calming everyone she met so that they wouldn’t try and stop her. But she didn’t, because she chose not to.
And her brain would squash itself if she did. She rubbed her temple. It was just until Monday.
“And what choice have you made regarding keeping your ability?” he asked.
“I want to keep it.”
She was as surprised at the words as he was, but she knew they were true. Talking with Neptune, even just that little bit, let her know that it was okay to be different, strange, and be able to do impossible things. It was a lot to handle, but she could handle it. It was her choice.
“Did I hear you correctly, Miss Evans? You do not wish for the surgeon to remove this responsibility?”
“Dr. Ott, this responsibility, as you call it, is me. It’s my brain. It’s how I’ve come to define myself. It can be difficult, but I will learn to work with it. I don’t think I can ever go back to normal. I don’t think I ever was normal. I don’t want to be stuck in the world in between. I want to be me, which includes a chunk of my brain that makes me hear voices,” she said. The pen seemed to be beside itself in glee as it glided across the page.
“So do you feel you are only your ability?” he asked. She remembered the game again.
“Then you would be yourself without it?”
He raised his eyebrows. Therese said nothing.
“Can I see Agent Necker and Neptune tomorrow?” she asked after a long moment.
“That will depend on his condition and no,” Dr. Ott said.
“Wait, why can’t I see Neptune?” she asked.
“He is at a very fragile emotional state. He has been stuck in an illegal research lab for a very long time. He’ll need to be slowly acclimated to real life,” he said condescendingly.
“He seemed fine to me,” Therese retorted.
“You are not trained to perceive the warning signs of mental instability as I am, Miss Evans. I assure you, several were present. Besides, it would probably be best to wait until after the surgery when you are more stable,” he said delicately.
“I feel I am stable right now.”
“I am sure Agent Necker would disagree.” She felt as if he had punched her in the stomach. She was nauseous. Her mind swirled. She felt herself leaving into the ocean of minds.
Her name was Therese Evans. She was friends with Neptune Greer and Agent Necker. Her brain was growing too big for her skull. She sometimes couldn’t tell which mind was hers.
“Miss Evans, you’ve had a long day. I will retrieve you a quick dinner and we’ll talk again tomorrow,” Dr. Ott said, with some mockery of kindness.
“I’m not hungry. Can I go to my room, Dr. Ott?” she asked.
“Your body needs food, Miss Evans. Especially after a day such as this.”
“I really don’t think I could eat right now. I just want to sleep,” she replied.
“But-” he started.
“Please,” she said quietly, looking down. She could hear the quiet scratch of his pen.
“Alright, Miss Evans,” he said.
He walked to her room where she immediately fell down on her bed. Dusk was filtering a bit of light into her room. Her head hurt. There was a few buzzing minds around the building that threatened to draw her off course, but there was much to think about.
She thought about the surprise Dr. Ott had expressed to her decision to keep her ability. It seemed oddly foreboding to her. She knew he had pull in deciding what they would do with her. Had he expected her to want it pulled out of her head? Did he want it pulled out of her head? Why would they want that?
Because they were afraid. The answer came surprisingly easily. If she was afraid of what she could do when she was the one controlling it, she could only imagine how they felt. They didn’t believe she was telling the truth about Greg Sanders and now with the horrible mistake with Agent Necker.
What would they do, if they were afraid? She must get surgery. The sharp pain in her head constantly reminded her of that. Would they stop only at expanding her skull? Or, when she was anesthetized and helpless, would they take the part of her brain that made her who she was? Would she even wake up? What if it was too much of her brain, and it simply killed her? If they were so afraid of her, would they just kill her? They were the good guys though. Even frightened good guys didn’t kill good people. She would have to trust them.
She still felt uneasy. She needed to talk to someone that understood what it was like to be powerfully different. She needed to talk to Neptune again. He would understand.
There was no one in the hall or in the elevator shaft. She could go see him. If they caught her, she would just tell the truth and probably be scolded back to her room. It wouldn’t do much harm.
She slipped out of bed silently. She slithered through the door, closing it softly behind her. She tiptoed down the hallway and waited restlessly at the elevator. No one was coming, she knew, but it still felt like she was doing something really bad. All she was doing is going to talk to someone though. Then, she would go back to bed.
The murky bottom floor was just as empty as her own. She opened the door to Neptune’s room and snuck in.
“Hello, Therese,” Neptune wrote. He was waving happily.His smile put Therese at ease. She smiled and waved back. “Hey, Neptune.”
“It sucks that all the scientists already declared it my bedtime. I would’ve liked to see you in action. So how many guards did you have to knock out with your brain to get down here?” Neptune asked. He turned in excited twisted-eights wickedly.
“None. There were none in the hall when I came out,” she replied.
“They’re afraid of you, Therese. I mean scared. But, I guess no one likes their brain messed with. You’re not making me like you, are you?” he scowled at Therese angrily.
Therese shook her head violently, rattling her brain. “No, of course not. You like me?”
“You’re fun and unexpected. Like, they didn’t expect you to sneak down here so they didn’t post guards. It makes you dangerous and them afraid. I like that,” he smiled.
“You like that?” she asked.
“I mean, people created us as monsters to do their will. I like it when they realize we aren’t their pets, but ourselves. One day, I’ll leave them all behind and go to the ocean,” he typed.
“Won’t you be lonely?” she asked.
He swam up to the glass plate of the tank, pressing his hand to hers through the glass. For a long moment they stared at each other. Therese thought she could see in his eyes a certain sadness. He had never known freedom. She had.
He moved to the keyboard. “I will, but I need freedom. They fear me too, so they won’t give it to me if they can stop me. I will have to go far away.”
“They fear you?” she typed.
“They fear those that are different, stronger than them. I could shock them to death if they try to touch me. I could hear their discussions from far away. I could poison them. I’m not quite as awesome as you are, but hey. I guess my scientists were weren’t as cool as your scientists.” he smiled, twisting in the water after he typed.
“We could help them too,” she typed hesitantly. “I think they’re good.”
“Good people don’t imprison others. Ask if you can leave. You’ll see how ‘good’ they are then. Society sucks. We should escape, just the two of us. We can live on the beach, far away from anyone else.”
He reached out across the glass to her again. She didn’t want to get into his mind, so she drew her hand back slightly. “I don’t know. I mean, we are unique. Shouldn’t we do some unique good?”
“Society had trampled you, and you want to help them? You’re a bleeding heart, Therese. But the sad thing is they don’t see it. You’ll always be a dangerous freak to them. If they find out a way to destroy you, they won’t hesitate. It doesn’t matter you’re innocent.”
Her response was automatic. “I’m not innocent. I’ve hurt people, killed them.”
“Did you mean to?” he asked.
“Then, you’re innocent.” Therese looked at him. It was one of the kindest things anyone had ever said to her.
“Thanks, Neptune, for saying that.”
“It’s only the truth. Hey, Therese, do you want to come up to the top of the tank? I want to see you face-to-face. I want to hold your hand. My eyesight isn’t very good,” he typed. He knew what is was to feel lost and alone, to not know who you were, to not trust yourself.
“If I touch your hand, then I’ll touch your mind too. I can’t really stop it.”
“I’m not afraid of you, Therese.”
He held his hand out through the glass.
“Okay.” She went to the side of the tank and climbed up a ladder slick with condensation. Her shoulder was stiff, but she worked through it. The cool air was actually kinda nice on her headache.
The top of the tank had to be twenty feet up. She sat down on a small swim platform as Neptune surfaced. He waved excitedly.
She did likewise.
He motioned her into the water. She shook her head. “It’s much too cold and I don’t have a swimsuit.”
She wasn’t sure if he understood, but his response was an impersonation of a chicken in the water beneath. As soon as she realized what he was doing, she laughed at his silliness. Still, she shook her head, rubbing her arms to signify her aversion to the temperature.
Suddenly, he splashed several waves of salty, freezing water on her. She gasped and laughed, now soaked. He gave her a smug look as if to say, “Now out there isn’t any colder than in here.”
“Fine,” she said, mostly to herself. “I guess I didn’t do any laps with Lawrence today anyway.” She scooched to the end of the swim platform and slid into the freezing water. It felt like daggers into chest, but it took her mind off her headache. She surfaced again, throwing back her wet hair.
She saw Neptune swimming below her in jubilant circles. She smiled and swam across the tank, practicing her strokes from her physical therapy. He was still swimming beneath her, even as she reached the opposite edge of the pool. He motioned her downward, holding out his hand to her.
She took a deep breath and swam down.
It felt as if she had jammed a fork into an electrical outlet. None of her muscles could move. Her brain went into a spasm. She couldn’t see.
She felt her back hit against something, then her head. Then she felt something tearing at her clothes with sharp claws.
She had to move. She had to stop the clammy flesh clutching hers. She forced her arm awkwardly forward and tried to push the attacker off. She couldn’t muster the strength, and it thrust her downward, hands on her chest, suctioning out any air that might have remained in her lungs.
She couldn’t breathe. She had to get out. She was going to die. If she couldn’t physically outmatch her attacker, there was only one way. She balled up her pain into an excruciating, throbbing bundle, and she reached out quickly to her attacker.
It was hard to make contact. The mind didn’t feel quite right. It felt broken, disjointed, and slippery as a fish. It was full of quick, unmeaningful connections and dark desires. She kept trying to grab at it, but it resisted her efforts, giving almost a shield of electricity.
She threw all she could at the black, whirling mass.
There were more minds than his. Even as she broke off from it, she was overwhelmed by the multitude. She was lost in the ocean.
Her name was Therese Evans, and she was drowning.
He was still clinging to her. She couldn’t swim up. She found something sharp at the bottom of the tank. She grabbed it instinctively and thrust in into the mass of flesh on top of her. It released her.
She swam up quickly and took gasps of air. She couldn’t make sense of anything beside her desperately beating heart and the minds around her. One was fading. One was leaving.
Her name was Therese Evans, and she had to pull herself out of the pool.
She found the swim platform and pulled herself up, coughing saline water. The salt burned in deep scratches she now realized littered her body. And very red water clung to her tattered clothes.