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MINDGAMES
By Dr. Jeffrey A. Robinson
(unpublished)

Chapter 1

       Before I found out who I was, I was a very different person. The very discovery of what I was and how I differed from others changed everything. Looking back now, it’s hard to believe how little I questioned about my own nature. Even though I considered myself mature and cynical, I naively accepted many things about my own thoughts and behaviors, which should have signaled that what everyone assumed was wrong. No one questioned the inconsistencies, though. No one asked questions that might have revealed the truth. Everyone simply saw what they expected. I was just as everyone expected me to be. Of course, I never questioned these things either, because I had always been as everyone remembered.
        The image one has of oneself affects both mind and behavior. It’s easy to underestimate how every personality around you shapes who you really are. To a great degree, one’s self-image is inherited from those you interact with.
        The realization that everything you knew about yourself was wrong is understandably both painful and traumatic. Such change, however, is a part of growing up. All beings, great and small, go through this.
       My maturation, however, came after an unusually long childhood.
       The story of my awakening is a strange one. Perhaps it’s even unique. Thus, it’s difficult to tell. As with all stories involving others, there is not a single beginning. There are many. This is one.

*****


        Pain. White, blinding, all-consuming. All he knew, all that existed in the world was the burning singularity of actinic agony that burned in his mind. He could not think, move, or breathe. He couldn’t even scream. The only thing he could do was wait, rigid and paralyzed, for the torture to pass.
        After an eternity, his torment began to ease. The intensity of the blinding whiteness dimmed with the torturous slowness of molten metal as it cools, passing from burning yellow to throbbing red and finally fading to smoldering gray. In the cool blackness that followed, he lay helpless on the ground and trembled. Soon, his hearing returned and for a timeless period, he listened to himself gasp for air. Eventually he attempted to move, but couldn’t still the palsied trembling of his hands and arms. His body tingled as if electricity coursed through him. Thousands of unseen needles pierced his limbs with the threat of returning sensation.
       At last, the tingling softened and faded to numbness, his shaking subsided and he lay still, as unwilling to move, as he was unable. Weariness weighted upon on him like a soft blanket of lead, pinning him to the ground, sapping his strength.
        In the afterimage of pain, he rested and listened. The sound of splashing water surrounded him and he felt the coolness of liquid pooling about him on the ground. Large, storm-born droplets fell in soft fists, which gently and relentlessly pounded him. As cool, refreshing raindrops splashed on his face, he realized he was lying on his side, so he opened his mouth and let the rain wash down his face. The clear taste of water touched his tongue. With an effort that took all his will, he moaned, but the sound, which emerged was feeble and weak, tapering off into a whimper.
       When he finally opened his eyes, everything was black. At first, he thought he was blind, but a faint image of white lines emerged from the greater darkness, and he found himself staring at a bare brick wall a few feet away. Blinking, his vision gradually adjusted to the night.
        He raised his head and was rewarded with a new sensation of pain, but it was merely a dull ache in his skull and was manageable. Moaning once more, he raised a hand to his head. Water dripped from his hand and ran across his face. This time the water tasted of dirt. He spit and coughed, rolling onto his stomach, but only managed to get another mouthful of muddy liquid. He gasped and with great effort pushed himself up on his elbows. Spitting the ill taste from his mouth, he hung his head and let the rain pound on his back. Rivulets ran down his face and dripped off his nose and chin. The puddle before him reeked of garbage and filth.
        Oh God, he thought. Where am I?
       Struggling, he pushed himself up with his arms until he was in a sitting position. He tilted his head back and opened his mouth to savor the rain once more. After gulping greedily, he sighed and slowly looked around.
       He was in an alley. Garbage cans and bags of trash were lined up along one of the walls. The clean rain seemed to exaggerate the foul smell of urine and rotting food that washed down the alley beside him
        Struggling to get up, he discovered something heavy lay across his legs. What the…? Kicking briefly, he freed one foot and pushed at the dark mass that pinned him. Pulling both feet back, he rolled hesitantly to his knees and leaned forward to see what the heavy object was. His eyes grew wide when he found himself staring down into the lifeless eyes of a corpse.
        Gasping, he scurried backwards until he pressed firmly against the brick wall behind him. His fingers searched for crevices in the brick wall and he worked his way up the brickwork until he stood shakily staring down at the body before him.
       The man, dressed entirely in black, lay on his back. Shirt and pants were unadorned and of heavy material resembling canvas fatigues. The body’s mouth gaped open like a fish gasping for air, but there was no motion. The rain continued unabated and pounded on the man’s open, unblinking eyes.
        What’s going on? What’s happened? Despite the rain, his mouth was suddenly dry and his heart pounded so hard he could barely breathe. He started to reach toward the body to see if it was really dead, but pulled his hand back when he noticed the top of the man’s head was torn open. Pieces of bone and dark tissue stuck up through the black matted hair. The stream of water running past the body turned a darker color as it mingled with the blood that pooled nearby.
       Glancing around, he saw a shiny, black .45 caliber pistol a few feet away. Bile rose in his throat and he retreated away from the body, terror overcoming curiosity. He paused momentarily and studied the dead man’s face, but it didn’t seem familiar.
       What the hell? Who is he? How did he…? In a shocking revelation, he looked at his own hands and then back at the gun on the ground. Did I…? His hands began to tremble with fear and he clenched them tightly into fists as he inched slowly back further along the wall, afraid to take his eyes off the body.
       Fighting to clear his mind, he struggled to remember the incident. He shook his head as if to dispel the fog that clouded his thoughts, but he was rewarded with another wave of pain and nausea that forced him to squeeze his eyes shut in a reflex that locked his entire body in rigid response. As the pain ebbed, he found he couldn’t remember any attack. In fact, he didn’t know what he was doing in this alley at all. His feet stopped moving and he stopped as he realized he didn’t remember anything at all. Where am I? What am I doing here?
       Terror gripped him anew. He couldn’t remember anything! The date, the hour, even his own name eluded him. Frantically, he tried to recall the last thing that happened before… before… the pain, but there was nothing. Nothing at all. Panic flared in his mind and the taste of vomit rose to his mouth. He gagged uncontrollably and spit the bitter, burning acid to the ground, but the putrid smell of rot and decay around him heightened his awareness of the scene before him and he gagged again
       Death lay nearby and the mystery of the violence deepened, as even his own identity proved inaccessible. Lightning flashed and was followed an instant later by a sharp crack of thunder that exploded nearby like an artillery shell.
       Startled, he spun around and ran into the night, the half memory of a forgotten gunshot mobilizing the terror within him. Adrenaline drove weariness from his limbs and he sprinted unthinkingly down the alley and out into the distant unlit streets beyond.
        It was many minutes before he slowed his paced. After crossing dozens of streets, he paused, leaned against a wall at the edge of an alleyway that opened onto another nameless empty street, and gasped feebly for breath. His lungs burned and his legs ached as his strength abandoned him.
       Clinging feebly to the wall, he studied his surroundings, but nothing looked familiar. He didn’t know where he was, or where he was going. He didn’t even know who he was, or what had happened.
        For a moment he thought of seeking help, but the night was quiet and empty, except for the unrelenting rain. No passersby braved the downpour. No traffic disturbed the isolated streets. Only dim lights of distant streetlights penetrated the night and gave shape to the dark black rain.
       A weak sob rose to his lips and he slumped down against the corner of a building. The continuing rain and overwhelming exhaustion washed his fear and terror away. As he shivered, he reluctantly accepted the fact that he was lost.

*****

        The rain let up an hour before dawn, tapering off to a drizzle and then slowing so gradually it was impossible to tell exactly when it stopped. The temperature had dropped quickly and the humid air congealed into a thick fog that shrouded everything in an opaque blanket of gray.
        Shivering against the cold, he cowered in a corner of an alley. Too tired to continue running, he tried to cover himself with cardboard as feeble a protection from the cold, but the damp corrugated paper grew limp and had started to dissolve. What didn’t fall to pieces softened and sagged so it conformed to the shape of his huddled body. He huddled in a tiny niche, his legs drawn up against his chest. More unconscious than asleep, he didn’t barely recognized the sounds of people approaching and confused their words with dreams.
        “Maria,” called a deep voice. “Over here. I think I’ve found him.”
        The sounds of footsteps splashing though puddles on the ground were followed by a gasp. “Oh dear,” said a woman’s voice. “Is he all right?”
        “I think so,” came the man’s reply. “He’s almost completely buried under trash. I’d have missed him, if I hadn’t heard him wheezing so loud. I thought I’d found a litter of kittens whining from the cold rain.”
        Together they slowly pulled away the flimsy remnants of cardboard, which covered the near lifeless form
        “He’s in pretty bad shape,” the woman said. “We have to hurry and get him inside.” She stood and lifted the last waterlogged piece of cardboard away. The nameless wretch shuddered as the cold morning air touched him. “The poor man,” she said. “He’ll catch his death out here, if we don’t get him someplace warm.” She knelt down and took his wrist, holding it gently for a moment. “Patrick, pick him up if you can. We don’t have much time. His pulse is weak and thready.” “Is he asleep?” asked the man, as he bent over to pick up his charge.
        “I don’t think so,” she said. “He’s suffering from exposure and may be in shock. We’ve got to get him somewhere warm and dry.”
        Patrick picked up the unresponsive form, as if it were a child. The man’s eyes never opened, but his shivering became more pronounced. “My God, he’s shaking like a leaf. Should we take him to the emergency room over at St. Luke’s?”
        “No,” said the woman. “Bring him to the clinic. It’s closer. Something’s odd here. He isn’t a transient or one of the usual homeless hereabouts. Look, he’s dirty and wet, but his clothes and shoes look new. Come on, let’s get him inside and I’ll make him some soup.”
        Patrick turned back the way he’d come, carrying the unconscious form as if it weighed nothing at all. Maria followed and together they headed back down the alley to the clinic.

*****

        Barely aware of his surroundings, Michael withdrew even further into himself. Strange images disturbed his sleep and he confused the conversation of his benefactors with strange unbidden dreams which came in a patchwork of mismatched fragments. The gentle rocking motion, as he was carried, slowly nudged him into deeper sleep. Long before they arrived at the clinic, he was oblivious to everything except memories of his safe, warm bed when he was a little boy.
       
        He ran, but his surroundings barely moved. Despite his efforts, regardless of how hard he ran, he couldn’t seem to make any progress. His legs moved, but he did not. Whether the pounding of his heart was from exertion or fear, he couldn’t tell. He looked back again and saw his pursuer closing on him.
       The tall man with long black hair wore a long coat and seemed to gain steadily even though his pace was slow and leisurely.
       Breaking into a sprint, he knew he couldn’t maintain this pace much longer. His lungs burned, but his speed refused to increase. The air seemed to thicken around him slowing him further. Glancing back again, a cold wave of terror washed over him.
        The man in black smiled and closed the distance between them. “You can’t get away, Michael,” the stranger said. “You know, you can’t escape. You can’t hide.”
        Turning away from the stalking figure, he stumbled and began to fall. As the ground rushed up toward him he heard the man call his name once more.

*****

       “Michael. Michael!”
       Someone was shaking him and repeating his name. He gripped his blanket and tugged it tighter, as he tried to hide from the annoying sound. His motion, however, triggered a coughing fit. Convulsions wracked him and, when the coughing subsided, he gasped and trembled.
       A hand gently pulled at his shoulder. “It’s okay, Michael. Come on. Roll back this way and have something to drink.” He started to pull back, but the mention of something to drink registered and brought the realization of terrible thirst. Rolling back toward the voice, he opened an eye and squinted against the dim light.
       A shape appeared out of the blurriness before him and soon he beheld a woman leaning over him. He blinked, confused, and disoriented.
       He lay on a cot covered with heavy blankets. Lit only by a single dim lamp, the tiny room was thick with shadows. If there was a window, it was either night or there were drapes which blocked any outside light.
       The woman, silhouetted against the off white wall behind her, held a cup out toward him. He didn’t recognize her. She was a middle-aged, Caucasian woman with a pleasant smile and wore a dark shawl over a light colored dress. Her blonde, or silver, hair was pulled back and tied in a short ponytail. Her voice was gentle and reassuring. “Come on, Michael. Try to take a sip of this.”
       He reached out to take the cup, but his hands shook so badly he couldn’t hold onto it. The woman gripped the large heavy mug and eased it toward his lips. Together they raised the cup until he could drink its contents. He gulped greedily, until she pulled the cup away.
       “No so fast. Take it slow.” After a pause, she edged the cup back toward him and allowed him to drink again. He swallowed, slower this time. The liquid was warm and like a thick, salty broth. Eagerly, he drank until he needed air. When he gasped, she pulled the cup away once more.
       Struggling against the blanket, he tried to sit up then, but the room spun wildly and he collapsed back down onto the tiny bed. Blinking, he studied the woman’s face.
       “There,” she said. “That’s better, isn’t it? You just rest for a while, Michael, until you feel a little stronger.”
       “Who…who are you?” he asked.
        She leaned back and answered, “My name is Maria O’Hara. My husband, Patrick, and I found you unconscious and half drowned in an alley nearby. You were near dead from exhaustion and cold. He carried you here to our clinic. You’ve been sleeping for more than a day now, recovering.”
        Struggling to remember anything, he could only recall his awakening in the rainy alley and his flight through the darkened city streets. He vaguely remembered hiding amongst cardboard boxes, when he grew too cold and tired to run anymore, but he had no memory of being brought here. Trying to remember anything at all was like trying to see through fog. He couldn’t recall who he was or what he had been running from. Nonetheless, these people had called him by name.
        “Why do you keep calling me Michael?” he asked. “Do you know me?”
        The woman frowned and slowly shook her head.
        “We called you Michael, because that’s your name,” said a loud deep voice from behind her. The woman leaned back and turned toward the voice. Looking up, he saw a large figure looming in the doorway of the tiny room. The shadow approached and Michael cowered back on the bed. Kneeling down, the shape coalesced into the form of a large older man. He had broad shoulders and a deep resounding voice. While his eyes were hard and sharp, he wore a soft smile. His thick, black hair was highlighted with gray at his temples, and thick lines about his eyes bore evidence of long, unkind years.
        “At least, that’s the name on the driver’s license in your wallet. Here.” The man held out a small object.
        Reaching out, Michael took the wallet and opened it. Flipping it open, he looked at the photo ID inside. It identified someone named Michael Cole and, while the name seemed familiar, neither the address, nor even the picture triggered any memories.
        “I don’t even know if this is mine,” he said, passing the billfold back to the older man.
        The man accepted the wallet, but he opened it again and examined it once more. “Well,” he said. “The picture certainly looks like you. Are you sure the name doesn’t ring a bell?”
        An empty, aching fear settled in on Michael and he clutched the blanket, pulling it closer around him. He shook his head slowly and his eyes filled with terror, as he recalled the nightmare of someone calling him by that name.
        “He has amnesia,” said Maria leaning back and turning to her husband. “He’s had some traumatic experience. While there’s no sign of any head injury and nothing seems physically wrong with him other than exposure, he’s been terribly hurt. Let him rest, Patrick. His memory loss is probably just temporary.”
       Patrick stood and walked back across the room. Maria leaned close and tucked his blankets tightly around him. [Reads like this “he” is Patrick.] In a soothing voice, she said, “It’s all right, Michael. You just go back to sleep. You’ve had enough exertion for now. Everything’s going to be all right.”
       Michael started to speak. He suddenly had a dozen questions, but before he could open his mouth to ask any, Maria gently put her finger over his lips and cut him off. Her smile and her silent admonition dispelled his queries.
       As he closed his eyes, she held his hand and soon began singing a gentle wordless song. It reminded him of how his mother used to sing to him as a child. Within moments, a great weariness overcame him and he drifted back to sleep.
       

Chapter 2

       Things are not always what they appear to be. Sometimes the simplest ideas are actually quite complex and the most convoluted problems have remarkably simple solutions. You have to look past appearances and somehow question answers you have taken for granted. Beginnings, for instance, sometimes start in the middle.

*****

        Doctor Drew Ferguson stood silently in the operations room. After two days of frantic searching, Michael Cole still eluded them. All scheduled training operations had been suspended and more than two dozen teams had worked in shifts combing the city without success. Each team consisted of a pair of men, one a combat specialist and the second, one of the new telepaths still under training.
       Heretofore, the operations room had only been used in simulated missions. The search for Michael reflected its first real tactical application. All the personnel manning the consoles were regular Army, most of them from communications or intelligence specialties. They all had top-secret clearance or they wouldn’t even know of this facility. The few special ops personnel assigned to the facility were out with the trainees dealing with the current crisis.
       No one spoke. There was nothing to report. After hours of restless waiting, Dr. Ferguson didn’t even ask anymore. As soon as anything happened, someone would inform him.
       Dr. ferguson jumped as the door to the ops room flew open and slammed loudly against the wall, followed by Peter Morton, the most senior agent, who strode boldly into the room. Dr. Ferguson started to ask what luck he’d had with the search, but Peter’s dour expression silenced him.
        “So you found no sign of him,” Ferguson said.
        Peter tore off his black raincoat and threw it angrily onto a chair by the door. The toss went wide and the plastic slicker slid onto the floor like a black puddle. No one spoke. Normally Peter was cold and unemotional. His barely contained anger was out of character and somehow more frightening than outright rage.
        Gritting his teeth, Peter glared at the Army surgeon who headed this clandestine research facility. “There’s been no sign of him since we found Hendricks’ body in that alley two nights ago. His partner is still in a coma and may never recover.”
        “Could he have gotten away?”
        Peter paused momentarily and then said. “I wouldn’t have thought it possible. The storm that hit the city the night of Michael’s escape shut everything in the city down. The airport was closed and the major roads were washed out. Most of the city was blacked out when the main power lines went down. He couldn’t have gotten away. I’m certain we had teams at all the major city exits before he could have reached them.”
        He shook his head slightly. “I would have bet anything we’d have found him by now.” Clenching his hands, he added, “I should have been able to find him myself. Somehow, he’s managed to hide himself.”
        “Even from your telepaths?” probed Ferguson.
        “Yes,” replied Peter. “And they’re your telepaths, not mine. I’ve done my best to train your test subjects here at Project Mindguard, but your teams are new and untested. They’re good despite being so new to their skills, but they’re still learning how to use their new abilities. Still, I’m surprised that Michael has managed to hide from me. He was always one of your strongest telepaths, and his mental shields were nearly perfect. But I should still be able to sense his presence if he were anywhere nearby.”
        Peter confronted the doctor. “This is all your fault, you know. I told you he was unstable. If you’d listened to my warnings none of this would have happened. Now, however, your golden boy, Michael Cole, has killed one of your new agents and disabled the combat specialist who was supposed to protect him.”
       Ferguson lowered his eyes. It was hard to accept, but the evidence against Michael was overwhelming. Despite what he would have preferred to believe, it appeared Michael was indeed the paranoid psychopath Peter had predicted. Shifting the blame from his own culpability, he asked, “Did you ever determine how Michael took out the team that found him?” asked Ferguson.
       Peter crossed his arms. “Apparently Michael ambushed them. The team leader, one of the special forces troops you’re so proud of, was immobilized first, probably with a telepathic blast. It’s the most powerful attack I’ve been able to teach your people. When he went down, the second man, one of your new telepaths, tried to fight Michael on his own. Apparently Michael isn’t taking any chances. Hendricks was shot with his own forty-five automatic at point blank range. The bullet entered beneath the chin and blew the top of his head off. Your favorite prima donna is a cold-blooded killer. “
       Peter smiled angrily. “You can’t say I didn’t warn you,” he continued, donning a smug expression. “Maybe next time you’ll listen to me. I do know what I’m talking about. That’s why I’m here after all. To teach you and your people what they need to know.”
       Dr. Ferguson sighed. “All right. What do you recommend now?”
       Peter shrugged. “You might as well pull in the teams. Too much time’s passed since he left the facility. The team he took out was combing the western end of the city, by the train station. Michael’s probably out of the city by now. Besides, it’s still raining out there. None of your people are going to find anything in this weather. They’re too tired to even think straight and Michael has probably found someplace to hide for the time being. Notify the local police and let them search for a while.”
       “We can’t do that,” said Ferguson. “Michael is a full telepath. If our teams can’t bring him in, what chance do the local police have of capturing him?”
       Peter shrugged. “If Michael’s smart, he’ll have stopped taking his medication, and would have lost all his abilities by now. Without his telepathic ability, he’d be indistinguishable from the million other normals in the city. In such a condition, he’d represent no particular danger to the local police.
       “Your trainee telepaths won’t be able to single him out unless they’re right on top of him. The local authorities have a much better chance of finding him now. They have more people and they’re organized for such manhunts. I’ve provided a description of Michael and even gave them photos from his records. Let them search for him. Besides, your trainees are all amateurs at this
       “Eventually, someone’s bound to see him. He’ll have to seek shelter somewhere. Even if the police can’t apprehend him, they’ll keep the pressure on him until our teams are ready to go out again.
       “If Michael is forced to run, he’ll get tired. Maybe then he’ll make a mistake and one of our teams of telepaths will be able to overpower him. Just in case, he’s till taking his medication, however, I do recommend that you change the composition of your teams and increase their size from two to four, two telepaths and two combat specialists. Michael’s already demonstrated he can take out a two-man team with little difficulty.”
       Ferguson nodded slightly and turned to his Executive Officer, Major Demming. While Ferguson held a commission, he was not regular army. His nominal role at this research facility was as acting Director of Research. Even though he was technically a Lieutenant Colonel, and therefore outranked the major. Ferguson had little command experience. He was a scientist, not a soldier.
       Major Demming, however, was a career army officer and was actually in charge of all base personnel.
       After a long pause, Ferguson said, “Major, call in the teams and have them stand down. Let them dry off and get something to eat at the canteen. After they’ve eaten, have them assemble in the main training room no later than 1500 for formal debriefing. Get your best people on this.”
        Demming nodded and frowned, but turned to the communications staff to send out a general recall of all the search teams. As he did so, Dr. Ferguson turned back to Peter and said, “We need to talk. You’re earlier assessment suggesting we weren’t ready for real operations has proven accurate. I won’t ignore you anymore. While we wait for the teams to return, I want to know more about your plans to finish training our new agents.”
        Peter smiled and as the Director left the ready room, he followed while the other regular Army personnel scampered out of their way.

*****

       The oblivion of sleep lightened and random fragments of dreams coalesced into memory as images of an indeterminately distant past replayed themselves in Michael’s mind. Without volition or full awareness, Michael’s broken psyche struggled to repair itself.
       
       Michael sat in an auditorium full of other students as two professors walked in through a side door and approached the podium.
       Signaling for attention, one of the men shouted, “If I can have your attention please, I can make this short.”
       Everyone turned to the front of the room and quieted down. Michael studied those around him, but didn’t see any other graduate students in the crowd. Only undergrads had come.
       When the noise settled down, the taller professor with glasses said, “My name is Dr. Daniel Sorenson and I’m the Dean of Neurology here at the Medical College. My colleague here is Dr. Eric Prentice and he heads up the Genetics lab. Since you’re here, I’ll assume you all came in response to the notices posted around campus soliciting participation in a research project, which begins in one week. The study is designed to examine the physical origins of schizophrenia. As part of the grant, we’re seeking test subjects from the student population and will accept two to three dozen candidates. The grant pays a small stipend to the participants, but we need to conduct a medical history pre-screening of all applicants before the research begins. Only a fraction of those who apply will be accepted, so we’re trying to get as many people to sign up as possible.
       “As part of the study, everyone who is accepted will take part in the clinical testing of an experimental drug, and undergo observation for a two or three day period. The grant pays $150 for each day in the program.”
       A murmur of approval swept across the assembled students.
       Dr. Sorenson held up a stack of forms in one hand and waved them at the assembled crowd. “If you’re interested in earning some extra money, fill out one of these questionnaires and we’ll contact you by the end of the week.”
       As he dropped the stack of forms on the desk in the front of the room, the mob rushed forward and surrounded the desk, scrambling for the forms.
       Michael waited for the frenzy to subside leaving it to fate to see if he should apply or not. As the last of the crowd backed away, he saw that a few unclaimed applications remained. Hesitantly, Michael took one and scanned the questions. With my medical background, they probably won’t take me, he thought. But I need the money. Taking a pen from his pocket, he took an empty seat in the front row and began filing out the questionnaire.

*****

       Michael woke abruptly with an urgent need to go to the bathroom. The images of the auditorium faded and he found himself sitting upright on a small cot in a darkened room. He felt like his bladder was going to explode and he struggled briefly with his blanket before successfully throwing it aside. As he stood, the urge to urinate increased and he hurried clumsily to his feet, almost falling, however, as the room slowly spun around him. Catching himself on a nearby wall, he paused and waited for the vertigo to subside. Keeping one hand on the wall, he staggered to an adjacent doorway to find a tiny bathroom, hardly larger than a closet and barely wide enough to crowd in a single toilet and a tiny sink. Half-awake he relieved himself for what seemed a very long time. When he was done, he felt tremendously better and looked at himself in the mirror over the old worn sink.
       He flinched at his reflection. He looked like a bum. There was at least a two days growth of beard on his face and a weather-beaten look to his eyes made him look like he had just climbed out of his deathbed. His nose wrinkled when he realized he hadn’t showered in several days
       As he grimaced at his image in the mirror, his stomach cramped in pain and hunger gnawed at him. He stepped out of the bathroom and found himself back in the room where he had awakened. Looking about, he didn’t see his clothes and found himself wearing nothing except a dirty undershirt and boxer shorts. Peeking out of the room’s only door, he discovered a narrow hallway, which extended both directions. Turning left, he walked to the end of the hall and opened the door. While he hadn’t expected anything in particular, he was quite surprised.
       Through the open door, he saw Maria at a counter overlooking a room full of people sitting patiently in chairs. Maria and everyone else in the room turned and stared at him. Michael blushed, as he found himself standing in his underwear in what appeared to be a doctor’s waiting room. Quickly jumping backwards into the hallway, he stepped back a few paces and let the door in front of him close.
       Seconds later, Maria appeared, wearing a traditional nurse’s uniform. Her hat, dress, even her shoes were white. Before he could speak, she said, “Michael, I’m so glad you’re awake. I was beginning to worry. Come on, I’ll show you where your clothes are, so you can get something to eat.” She talked, as she led Michael back to the way he’d come.
       “We have a small kitchen here at the clinic,” she said continuing her explanation without interruption. “Patrick is in our little dining hall now, serving food to some of the local transients we help here.”
       Entering the room where Michael had been sleeping, she opened the drawer to a tiny dresser near the head of his bed that he had not even noticed before. “Here are your clothes,” she said, handing him a stack of neatly folded laundry. “If you feel well enough to eat, you should dress and join Patrick.”
       As Maria gathered Michael’s shoes and socks, he continued. “I’m a registered nurse and work at St. Luke’s Hospital on the night shift. Mornings, however, I work here with Patrick. You go ahead and dress, or rest, whatever you prefer. If you want to eat, however, I’d suggest you dress first.” She grinned at her joke and tried to put Michael at ease.
       “I’m going to be busy for another hour or two. Patrick’s in the dining room at the other end of the hall. I’ll join you two as soon as I can.”
       With that, she hurried back down the hall and disappeared through the doorway where he’d found her. Michael carefully dressed and was amazed at how tired he was from the little exertion that accompanied the effort. He briefly considered sitting back down on the cot to rest, but his hunger bordered on actual pain, so he put on his shoes and cautiously made his way the other direction down the hallway. Reaching the door at the end, he peeked out before he stepped through it.
       On the other side, he found a medium sized room with a half dozen tiny tables. Several shabbily dressed people, mostly elderly, sat, eating at the tables. Across the room was a large open door, which led outside. Passersby on the sidewalk by the door and traffic on the street beyond revealed it was mid-morning on a bright sunny day.
       Stepping out into the room, Michael approached the entrance. From the light, he could tell it was late morning. The rain had lightened to a light drizzle and sunlight was peeking through the broken morning clouds. To one side of the door was a long serving counter where a half dozen people stood in line holding mismatched plastic trays waiting for food.
       Michael recognized the server behind the counter as Patrick, the man he’d seen briefly when he’d awakened earlier. His presences drew no attention except from Patrick, who smiled and beckoned him with a serving spoon. Walking cautiously toward the food line, Michael picked up a tray and took a position at the end of the queue. As he studied Patrick, Michael noticed that he wore a black shirt with a priest’s collar beneath his apron.
       With prompt efficiency Patrick served food to the others and then handed Michael a heaping plate of food as well.
       “I’m glad to see you up and about,” Patrick said. “If you hadn’t gotten up soon, I was going to have Maria call St. Luke’s to come fetch you.” Reaching over, he added a carton of milk to the Michael’s tray. “Go ahead and have a seat,” he said. “Your timing’s perfect. I’m just finishing up the morning rush and I’ll join you in a minute.”
       The meal was heavy on starch and lean on meat. It looked pretty bad, but it smelled good and Michael was hungry enough to eat anything. Searching briefly, he found an unoccupied table and sat meekly down on the folding chair beside it. He picked up the plastic utensils and stared at them for a second, then slowly began to eat. The creamed beef on toast looked awful, but smelled all right, and actually tasted pretty good. After a few tentative bites, Michael found himself greedily devouring the humble fare. It reminded him of the breakfasts his mother served him back when he was a child. Blinking in surprise, he was shocked to remember images of his childhood. For a moment, he could picture his house, the kitchen where his mother cooked, and even his mother’s face. As he tried to recall more, however, he found his memories blocked once more. Frustrated, Michael returned to his meal.
       As he examined the room, he found it shabby, but clean. Glancing around, Michael noticed religious decorations and pictures of saints adorning the walls. A large crucifix hung on the wall over the serving counter. Grimacing at the image of the dying Christ, Michael flinched a memories of the body he saw in the alley last night… No, that’s not right. Two nights ago.. He shuddered involuntarily. Am I a murderer? Did I really kill that man? Suddenly paranoid, he peered out the door half expecting police to walk in the door to arrest him, but passersby seemed innocently unaware of him and strode down the city street oblivious to his fears. Returning to his meal, Michael focused on finishing his food. By the time Patrick joined him, Michael was using his plastic fork to scrape the last remains off his plate.
       Patrick set two cups of coffee down on the table and stood for a moment wiping his hands on his apron. When he finally sat, he pushed one of the styrofoam cups to Michael, who took it eagerly. Michael couldn’t remember having coffee that ever tasted so good. Patrick laughed at the look on Michael’s face.
       Michael stared to apologize, but Patrick raised his hand. “Don’t say anything. No word of thanks could match the expression you just had on your face. I only wish others who came here appreciated it as much.” Smiling, Michael sipped his coffee again. Despite the modest portions he’d been given, he felt sated.
       Sensing Michael’s discomfort, Patrick said, “Don’t worry if you can’t eat much. You’ve had nothing for nearly two days. Take it easy. There’s plenty more food, when you decide you can handle more.”
       That’s not what’s bothering me, thought Michael.
        Michael nodded and returned to his coffee, savoring the taste, the smell and the warmth it provided. Patrick watched patiently. “So how are you feeling? Can you remember anything yet?”
       Michael grimaced. “Only a little. I’m getting flashes of memory back, but not much.”
       “Do you remember anything that happened to you at all? Were you in an accident? Were you mugged or something?” Closing his eyes, Michael recalled the scene in the alley, the body, and the gun. He remembered the terror and running blindly through the rain. Shaking his head, he said, “No. I don’t remember anything yet. Just running through the dark, images of my house as a kid, and my mom’s cooking.” He didn’t mention the dream about the University, because he didn’t know if it was real or not.
       “You’re in trouble, aren’t you?” asked Patrick gently.
       Michael did not answer, but the look of fear in his eyes must have given him away.
       Patrick reached out and patted Michael’s hand softly. “Well, don’t worry. You can stay here until you feel well enough to leave. Maria says you memories will all come back to you. And regarding your mother’s cooking, I’m probably no match for her, but I do the best I can.” He sat up proudly and gestured at the room. “My wife, Maria, and I run this mission. I serve up the food, and she manages the clinic. She gets doctors from St. Luke’s to donate their services here, when they’re not on duty. I get people to donate food. Between the two of us, we’re able to minister to some of the poorest here in the city. It’s not much, but we do what we can.”
       “Ahh,” said Michael. “With your collar and the crucifixes on the walls, I thought you were a Catholic priest. What denomination are you? Lutheran? Episcopal?”
       “No,” said Patrick politely. “You’re correct. Maria and I are both Catholic.”
       Michael furrowed his eyebrows. “But, I thought you said Maria was your wife?”
       “She is,” said Patrick, waiting quietly.
       Michael was confused. “Wait, I didn’t think Catholic priests were allowed to get married.”
       Smiling, Patrick nodded. “That’s right,” he said. “They’re not.”
        He finally realized Patrick was telling him something, but he was still too groggy to understand. Shaking his head, he tried to focus clearly, but his head felt like it was stuffed with cotton.
        Patrick set his own cup of coffee down and explained. “Michael, I am a Catholic priest. I went to seminary, a little later than most perhaps, but I was finally ordained and served as a pastor at a church out west for about eight years, until I met Maria.” He sighed loudly and a smile peeked out of the edges of his mouth that he couldn’t hide. “Long story short, I fell in love with her, and we eventually got married.”
        “You mean you’re a defrocked priest?” asked Michael.
        “No,” said Patrick laughing. “ I’m still a priest. A defrocked priest is a priest who’s been excommunicated and kicked out of the Church. I’m not excommunicated. I was ordained a priest and, with God’s blessing, I’ll remain a priest for the rest of my life. I just don’t have the permission of my order to practice the sacraments publicly anymore.”
        “You mean, because you committed the sin of marrying?” asked Michael.
        “No, no, marrying isn’t a sin. Living with someone and not marrying them is a sin. I’ve probably committed a lot more sins than I realize, but marrying Maria wasn’t one of them. She’s the best thing that ever happened to me.” Patrick smiled in a way that disturbed Michael. Patrick seemed to be totally and completely happy with his decision and his life.
        Shaking his head as if to dispel cobwebs there, Michael said, “I’m sorry. I…I didn’t understand. I thought it was a sin for priests to get married or something.”
        “I know,” replied Patrick. “Most people do.” Patrick nursed the half empty cup of coffee in his hands for a moment. “Look at it this way, Michael. If love is God’s greatest commandment, then how can loving Maria be a sin? I joined the priesthood to find God and found more godliness in Maria than I did in twelve years of seminary and priesthood. When I found out that I loved her, how could I in all honesty deny it? In my heart, that would have been a sin.”
        “But…if marrying her is okay, then why can’t you be a practicing priest anymore?”
        “Well,” said Patrick. “It’s like this. I didn’t commit a sin; I broke a vow. I didn’t offend God; I offended my order. Except by excommunicating me, they can’t take back the sacrament of holy orders. Once a priest, always a priest. I still practice the sacraments and perform the rite of the Eucharist every day. I’m just not allowed to do it publicly anymore.”
        Michael frowned. “Gee, it doesn’t seem fair.”
        “Look,” said Patrick. “Everyone in life has a mission, something they’re meant to do. Sometimes the task set before you isn’t easy, but you know in your heart what’s right and what’s wrong.” Gesturing about him, he said, “This is my mission. I do what I can, and God has given me Maria as a blessing to help make my time on Earth more bearable.”
       He shrugged. “I tried to be the priest I thought God wanted me to be and instead he taught me how marvelous and wonderful the gift of love truly is. Everything we do is based on choices we make. This was my choice. Who could ask for more?”
       Michael blinked in surprise. When he put it that way, it didn’t seem so unfair after all. It wasn’t punishment. It was Patrick and Maria’s chosen lifestyle.
       Before their conversation could continue, three people wandered in through the door from the street and Patrick rose to greet them. After he served them, Michael’s stomach grumbled, so he rose and approached the serving counter once more. Standing opposite Patrick, Michael timidly handed him his empty plate. Patrick grinned and scooped out more food onto the plate. Oddly, Michael had never felt so welcome before as he felt right then. So welcome indeed, that he now found himself reluctant to leave.
       Glancing over his shoulder at the open door once more, he wondered if anyone was looking for him.

Chapter 3

        Despite what most people think, the mind is not a single entity. It was only after I learned about my true nature that I recognized the importance of this fact.
        The mind is a collection of fragments that exist independently of one another, sometimes competing and sometimes cooperating. Some cognitive functions are associated with perception, others with memory, learning or problem solving. When enough of them focus together, the result is awareness and attention. Under such concerted direction, these disparate components of the mind are capable of feats that no individual elements could achieve alone. This is one of the miracles of consciousness. It gives rise to a continuity from which personality emerges and these threads of action and thought persist over time.
       However, as new knowledge is gained, intelligence grows and the nature of that awareness changes. It is dynamic and unstable.
        Should some pieces of this fractured and ever changing mind stop or pause, or should enough of them loose their linkages to one another, consciousness dissipates. The awareness vanishes and, while the individual components remain as active as they were before, that higher state of cognition disappears.
       What remains is active, but unaware. The consciousness that was, exists only as a potential, which may or may not manifest itself again. Its absence is not death, but a sleep in which the pieces of the mind function ineffectively and independently.
        Without awareness there cannot, of course, be personality. All that remains are dreams.

*****

       Michael was lying on a hospital bed. He struggled, but was strapped down. I shouldn’t have lied on the questionnaire, he thought. Something bad is going to happen. I know it.”
       Dr. Daniel Sorenson and Dr. Eric Prentice stood at the other end of the room talking to one another. Listening, Michael could barely make out their words. Prentice held a clipboard and was reporting something to Sorenson.
       “So far,” said Dr. Prentice, “All the tests are proceeding as expected. Of the eighty subjects treated so far with Prilozene have manifested the side effects of schizophrenia, which caused the failure of the drug’s clinical FDA tests. The subjects with the published symptoms report hearing voices and some are exhibiting signs of disassociative stress. Most are quite distracted and we’ve had to restrain several until the drug wears off.”
       Good, let’s keep processing applicants until we have about a dozen for the first phase of the study. Have you done any MRI scans yet?” asked Sorenson. “Now that we can consistently trigger the condition, I want to look for patterns of brain activity.”
       “Well,” said Prentice, flipping though the summaries. “The MRI scans of the nine primary subjects show increased activity of the frontal lobe similar to those suffering from a genetic defect called Landau’s syndrome.”
       “Landau’s Syndrome?” asked Sorenson. “What is that? A physical condition isn‘t it?”
        “Yes and no,” replied Dr. Prentice. “Actually it’s a genetic disorder with a strong predisposition for schizophrenia, but it’s quire rare. It only occurs in only about one of 10,000 people and is one of the few well documented genetic causes of schizophrenia. The people, we’ve tested so far, show normal brain scans before taking Prilozene, but heightened forebrain activity afterwards. That’s when they report hearing voices and start experiencing distress.”
       “Excellent,” commented Dr. Sorenson. “That might indicate that the genetic defect that causes Landau’s syndrome could produce Prilozene naturally in the body and thus induce the symptoms we’ve noted.”
       Dr. Prentice said, “That’s what I thought too. This could be one of the links we’ve been searching for. Unfortunately, Daniel, we have a problem. Look at this.”
       Dr. Sorenson took the printout Prentice offered and examined it. “What’s so special about this? It’s just like all the other subjects responding to Prilozene. The frontal lobe is atypically hyperactive.”
       “Right, but this MRI isn’t from a subject after the Prilozene treatments. This is the scan of a test subject before he took the drug.”
       Sorenson re-examined the chart. “But that would mean… “
       “Exactly,” said Prentice. “This subject already suffers from Landau’s syndrome.” Prentice turned and looked over at Michael, who cringed at the doctor’s glare.
       “The student apparently lied about his medical background and we’ve inadvertently admitted someone into the study who already suffers from the disorder.”
       Dr. Sorenson handed the MRI printout back to Prentice and said, “Well, it would be too risky to administer Prilozene to him. God knows what the drug would do to him. Drop him from the study.”
       Prentice shook his head. “It’s too late, Daniel. There was a delay processing the pre-test MRI reports and I didn’t get them until he’d already been administered Prilozene. Since we had no cause to question the medical history he provided, he was given a full dose. He’s already built up therapeutic levels of the neurotransmitter in his bloodstream and it could potentially stimulate his frontal lobe even more than it is already.”
       Sighing angrily, Sorenson said, “All right, where is he? We might as well conduct the post-treatment scans to see what effect the drug has on him. If he suffers permanent damage, though, it’s his own fault. After all, he falsified his application. What’s the subject’s name?”
       Reading the name from the MRI report, Prentice replied, “Cole. Michael Cole.” Prentice pointed at the bed where Michael was restrained. Dr. Sorenson faced him and scowled.
       Michael closed his eyes and fought back against the barrage of voices that assaulted him. It was far worse than anything he’d ever experienced as a boy.
       Oh my God, he thought. What have I done?

*****

       Michael woke shivering from his dreams of Sorenson and Prentice. No one was around, so he dressed and washed. Then he made his way to the mission dining room and peeked through the door. Patrick was at his normal position behind the counter, tending to a line of mendicants waiting for the free food. Without ceremony, Michael walked behind the counter, put on an apron and began helping Patrick.
       Patrick glanced over at him, and made no reply, but smiled acknowledgement of Michael’s offer to help. With both of them serving, they served the people in the line in record time. When they finished, the small dining room was crowded with transients who eagerly consumed the mission’s humble fare, but the line was gone.
        Leaning back and wiping his hands on his apron, Patrick asked, “Did you have a good afternoon nap?”
        “Sorta,” replied Michael. He was still quite weak from his ordeal. “I had some disturbing dreams, tough.”
        “Your memory coming back yet?”
       Michael shrugged, “A little… I think. I had some nightmares, but some things are returning.”
       “Good,” he said, turning to Patrick. “See? Maria said your memory loss would be temporary. In any case, your timing’s perfect. The evening crowd is bigger than the morning rush. But we’re not done yet. We’ll get another batch in soon. They seem to come in shifts.” His laugh made it sound like something to look forward to.
        Before he could say more, a half dozen ragged looking people wandered in the door and headed toward the counter.
        “You start serving. I’ll go get more meat and potatoes from the kitchen. We can talk later. Maria is working the four to midnight shift at the St. Luke’s and phoned in a while ago that she found out something for you.”
       With that, he disappeared through the kitchen doors and left Michael to man the counter. Turning to the crowd, Michael watched the people in line as they stood passively waiting for dinner. Rolling up his sleeves, he began dishing out ample servings of meat potatoes and mixed vegetables.
       The evening passed in a blur of work. Michael served food to nameless faces that appeared and left usually without so much as a word. Patrick kept the food coming, though the meat finally ran out and latecomers only got potatoes, vegetables and bread. Finally, Patrick closed the doors to the street and Michael began cleaning the dining area.
       Maria arrived from her job at the hospital just after midnight. Patrick had just finished cleaning the mission’s dining room and kitchen. Michael was amazed at how much effort was involved in running this tiny facility and found it difficult to believe that Patrick handled all this work alone every night. Patrick, however, seemed to take Michael’s help for granted, neither thanking him nor commenting on his assistance. He seemed to expect nothing less.
       Maria led the way to the small apartment that adjoined the clinic and seemed exhausted. Patrick and Michael followed. Michael didn’t know how the two of them could manage to work so hard all the time.
       As Maria set her purse and papers down, Patrick bent over and kissed her on the cheek. The corners of her mouth rose in response and a gentle gleam of appreciation glowed in her eyes as she touched his cheek softly in reply.
       As she took off her hat, she reached out and placed her hand on Michael’s. “How are you, dear? Did you sleep well?”
       “Yes,” he said blushing. “I don’t know how to thank the two of you for your hospitality.”
       Patrick chuckled. “Son,” he said, “you spent the evening expressing your thanks. You never once asked if you could help or sought any praise for your efforts. You gave as good as you got. You did what needed to be done and helped where help was needed. What more could anyone ask?”
       Maria and Patrick looked knowingly at one another and Michael blushed once more. He was amazed. He’d never seen two people so close or so much in love. While his parents had loved one another, theirs had been a passive love. Maria and Patrick’s love manifested itself in every gesture and every unspoken word. It was active and showed every time they even looked in each other’s direction.
       Patrick pulled up a chair opposite the small wooden table in their one room apartment and gestured for Michael to sit as well. “So what did you find out?” he said.
       Maria’s lower lip tightened. “I found out several things. First, Michael, you seem to be in some sort of trouble.”
       Raising his eyes in surprise, Michael looked furtively at Patrick.
       She took a piece of paper from a folder and pushed it toward him. As Michael read, Maria explained. “This was posted at the hospital. It’s a police bulletin for someone named Michael Cole. He’s wanted for murder.”
       Terror filled Michael as the memory of the man in the alley came to mind. He sat in stunned silence, uncertain how to respond. Maria, however, reached out and patted his hand. “It’s all right, Michael. I know you don’t remember, but we’re not the police and we’re not going to turn you in.”
       “But…but how do you know I’m not dangerous? I don’t even know if I’ve really killed anyone.”
       “Oh, Maria and I are pretty good judges of character,” Maria said, looking askance at Patrick. “In our jobs, you have to be. Don’t worry, Michael. You’re safe here for as long as you want to stay and you’re free to leave whenever you want to go.”
       Sudden relief left him cold. He wasn’t even sure who he was and these strangers believed in him more than he did himself.
       “There’s more,” said Maria. “Michael, do you remember anything about your past?”
       He struggled with his thoughts momentarily. “I remember being a student at the University. I’m a graduate student majoring in Chemistry. I also remember a Dr. Sorenson and someone named Dr. Prentice.”
       Maria nodded. “When I found the police bulletin on you, I looked you up on a computer they have at the hospital. I did manage to confirm that you were at Mid-Town University, but you haven’t been enrolled there in more than five semesters.”
       My God, he thought. I’m missing two years of my life. “I… don’t know understand. The last thing I remember is going to school there.”
       “Don’t worry, dear,” Maria said. “Your memory will come back. It just takes time. I’ll check the names of those doctors, when I go back to the hospital tomorrow. If they’re medical doctors, I should be able to get information on their professional backgrounds from the medical database there.”
       Next, she reached into her purse and pulled out two small vials of pills. “Now, do either of these look familiar? You had them in your pockets when Patrick and I found you.”
       Michael took the pills and examined them. One was a prescription in his name for a drug called Netrocine. The other was simply labeled TP-1. “I remember this one,” he said holding up the first bottle. “It’s a prescription for medication I’ve taken since I was a boy. It’s for a condition called…”
       “Laudau’s Syndrome,” Maria said. “I know, I looked it up.” Facing Patrick, she added, “It’s a genetic disorder for a type of schizophrenia that causes people to hear voices. It’s completely treatable, though, so long as you continue taking your medication.”
       Patrick’s eyebrows rose in curiosity. “So you have this disorder?” he asked.
       “Yes, I’ve had it since I was small. If I stop taking my medication, I constantly hear whispers and voices.”
       “Have you been hearing voices since you’ve been here?” Patrick asked.
       “”No,” replied Michael. “I haven’t. That stopped when I started taking my medication when I was ten.”
       “But you haven’t been taking your pills, have you?”
       Michael looked puzzled and stared at Patrick as if he just lost half the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. “Uh, no. I haven’t.”
       “Then shouldn’t you be hearing voices if you suffer form this condition?”
       “I… I don’t know.”
       Maria stared at Michael with great pity in her eyes. “What about the other bottle then?” she added.
       Michael studied it and closed his eyes. “I don’t remember. It doesn’t ring a bell at all.” Then he remembered his dream. “Wait, it might be a drug called Prilozene.”
       “But it says TP-1,” said Maria.
       “I know. It’s just a hunch, something I just remembered. I can’t quite recall it all though.”
       Nodding, Maria gave him both sets of pills. “Okay. Here. These are yours anyway. I took the liberty of dropping off one of the pills in the second bottle at the lab in the hospital. They often screen pills on patients who come into the hospital with drug overdoses. I’ll have the results tomorrow.”
       Michael stared at the pills and was suddenly weary. Two years! What had happened in those two years? Had he really murdered someone? The images of the man in black fatigues in the rain-soaked alley came to mind and he shivered with fear.
        “Why don’t you turn in Michael,” said Patrick. “You’re still recovering and you put in a pretty active day since you woke up from your afternoon sleep.”
       Exhaustion seemed to settle on Michael with unexpected suddenness. He rose, muttered thanks to them both and made his way back to his cot in the tiny storage room. Before he could worry more, he was fast asleep.
       

Chapter 4

        You’re not always who you think you are. We all wear masks. We try to be what others expect, but most of all we try to be what we think we should be. Sometimes, however, we use these masks to hide ourselves from others and deny who we really are. Sometimes we even try to hide from ourselves. Unfortunately, the roles we play limit us and shape who we become. If you wear the mask long enough, you become someone else. In time, you even forget there was ever a mask at all.
        As a man thinketh, so shall he become.

       Dave Richards entered the barracks exhausted. As if the battery of new psychological tests last week weren’t enough, the new training Peter Morton had set up at the research facility was grueling. Dave moaned audibly. As with all the other apprentice telepaths in the unit, he had spent hours alternately attacking and defending other’s telepathic assaults. While these new techniques undoubtedly made them all more powerful, he didn’t trust Peter.
       Like Michael Cole, Richards questioned Peter’s sincerity and his underlying motives. Michael had frequently and publicly questioned Peter’s advice and proposed different training methods. However, since Michael’s sudden disappearance, Peter had full control of all training and Richard’s had learned to guard his thoughts even more closely than before. Look what happened to Michael, he thought.
       The official story was that Michael had experienced a paranoid-psychotic episode and attacked Peter and two armed guards before fleeing the base and disappearing into the nearby city. Later, when one of the other telepaths searching for Michael was found dead, Dr. Ferguson briefed them all that Michael had murdered their comrade.
       Richards didn’t believe it. Something else is going on. It doesn’t make sense. Michael wasn’t the violent type. I can’t see him deliberately hurting anyone. Anyway, I agree with his position on our training. Why do we spend so much time learning defense, when we’re the only telepaths in the world? These skills aren’t needed against non-telepaths. No, something else is definitely going on.
       Over the past year since the new Telepath Corps had been formed, he and Michael had become close friends. Michael had always been honest and considerate. As the first telepath discovered by Drs. Sorenson and Prentice, Michael had held a position of honor and respect amongst the other new telepaths. The new telepaths were almost like family. After all, they had all grown up sharing the stigma of the same genetic disorder, Landau’s syndrome. All of them had grown up believing they had an incurable, albeit treatable, form of brain damage. When they discovered their malady was really a latent genetic trait for telepathy that was activated by the new drug, TP-1, their lives were transformed.
       It was something of a turnabout. All their lives, they had to take their medication or they would slip into schizophrenia and suffer from constant whispers of voices just at the threshold of their perception. How could any of them have known that they were really hearing other people’s thoughts and internalizing them as their own?
       Now, of course, if they took their medication, the whispers turned into clear voices of their comrades. The knowledge that they weren’t crazy after all helped them to cope with the constant chatter of those other thoughts. Nevertheless, decades of self-doubting and the belief that you were damaged goods was difficult to overcome.
       After nearly a year, half of them were still learning how to build basic mental shields that could block those same intruding thoughts. It was a technique Peter said took years and only about half of the new telepaths had mastered the technique.
       Working his way to his bunk, Richards collapsed and moaned. His head pounded with an ache that threatened to deny him the sleep he so desperately craved. After unsuccessfully trying to ignore it, he rose and stumbled into the bathroom that was attached to their small four-bunk room. As he rummaged through the medicine cabinet for aspirin, one of his roommates, Jeremy Strand, arrived and came up behind him. Turning, Dave saw the pain of his own headache reflected in Jeremy’s eyes and offered him some pain pills, as well.
        came Jeremy’s unspoken reply. Jeremy’s mental shields were pitiful. Despite all Peter’s efforts to train him, his thoughts could be heard as clearly as a voice across a room. “I’m never gonna survive this,” he said swallowing the pills without waiting for water. “I got hammered so much today, I swear my brain’s bruised.”
       Richards laughed, because he knew exactly what Jeremy meant.
       Jeremy held his head and ambled back to his own bed and moaned. “How do you do it, Dave? Your shields are better than anyone else’s. How did you learn it?”
       Dave Richards looked about making sure no one else was around. “Do you really want to know?” he asked. Jeremy stopped whining and nodded eagerly.
       “Michael showed me how.”
       Jeremy squinted at him suspiciously. “What do you mean he showed you?”
       Richards took a seat next to Jeremy on his bunk. “Lower your shields,” he whispered.
       Jeremy’s eyes grew wide. “You’ve got to be kidding. The one thing that’s been drilled into us more than anything else is to never drop your shields, even as bad as mine are. Peter says we have to learn to block out as much as we can or we’ll slowly go crazy. It’s the constant barrage of other thoughts that what made most of us borderline psychos back when we were latents. Everyone knows if you lower your shields you’re defenseless.”
       Shaking his head, Richards argued. “I know, that’s what we’ve been told, but trust me for a second. Really, if you drop your shields I can show you.”
       Richards wasn’t sure if he could help Jeremy the way Michael had helped him, but it was worth a try. Jeremy hesitated, but finally nodded slightly and forced his mental shields down.
       <Ok, now can you hear me?> asked ;Richards.
       <Yes, but won’t we get into trouble. Mind-to-mind contact between full telepaths isn’t allowed. It’s forbidden and it‘s supposed to be very dangerous. Remember what happened to the Baxter twins.>
       Richards nodded. Two months after training began, the Baxter brothers were discovered dead in their bunks. Peter had warned everyone not to experiment with direct mind-to-mind links, but they hadn’t listened.
       Peter had explained that when two full telepaths link minds a dangerous resonance can form, like feedback between a microphone and speakers in a public address system. When a direct mind-link is established, each telepath can see the other’s mind, but inside that image they see their own mind reflected, and in that reflection they can see the other’s mind again. He warned that if telepaths are in direct-mind contact the reflections could become overwhelming, like images in two mirrors facing one another. The infinite series of minds could supposedly lock the telepaths in an unbreakable loop from which they’d never escape.
       As the only natural telepath on the project, Peter had more knowledge of telepathy than anyone else. That’s why he was promoted and put in charge of training, replacing Michael’s earlier role. He was the only telepath who didn’t need TP-1 to maintain his abilities and he was stronger than anyone else, too.
       While Peter had instructed everyone not to experiment with direct mind-to-mind contact, the Baxter brothers had apparently ignored his warnings and ended up dead, just as Peter had warned. Reading the minds of normals was safe, but linking with other telepaths was now strictly forbidden.
       Trust me thought Richards. This isn’t a direct mind link. Don’t enter my mind. Just relax and I’ll enter yours.
       Jeremy took a deep breath and gradually relaxed.
       <Good> whispered Richards <Now don’t do anything, just pay attention to what I do and try not to react.> Richards closed his eyes and remembered what it felt like when he built his own shields. <You relax as much as you can except for tension here and here. Got it?> he asked.
       

<I think so> answered Jeremy.
       <Okay, then. Do it!>
       Jeremy did like he’d been shown. Rather than tensing up mentally everywhere, he relaxed and tensed up only …here and there.
       The contact between them snapped like a taut string had been cut and both of them blinked in surprise. Richards smiled. He couldn’t hear a thing from Jeremy. His shields were tight as armor-plate.
       “Wow,” said Jeremy. “This is great. For the first time, it’s completely silent. I can’t hear anybody. And it’s so much less effort.” He gloated silently for a second.
       “Okay,” said Richards, “but drop them again and I’ll show you something else.”
       Jeremy hesitated and then did as instructed.
       <Can you hear me?> whispered Richards.
       <Yeah, but you don’t sound normal. What are you doing different?>
       <It’s because we’re using a different way to mindspeak. Once you’ve established a direct-link with someone, you can talk to them privately, instead of broadcasting to everyone the way we’ve been taught. No one else can hear us. Understand?>
       His roommate nodded. Then he paused and glared. <Hey, if it’s this simple to learn, how come Peter has never shown us?>
       <Because I don’t think Peter really wants us to know,> thought Richards.
       <But I don’t understand. Why wouldn’t Peter want us to know this? He’s been training us for months>
        <That’s the question Michael was asking just before he disappeared. He was suspicious that Peter was deliberately teaching us some things wrong. Michael suspected something, but didn’t tell me what it was. He said he had to check it out first. But then, the incident with Peter occurred and now Michael’s gone.>
       <That doesn’t make sense. Peter’s the only natural telepath among us. He knows more than any of us. That’s why he’s in charge of training now.>
       <Instead of Michael, that is.> countered Richards. <I think something more is going on. I don’t think what they’re telling us about Michael is true.>
       <But you saw the security camera videos of Michael in the med lab. He drugged Peter, tied him to a chair and was going to kill him.>
       Richards shook his head. <It still doesn’t make sense. Why would he tie him to a chair if he was going to kill him?>
       <Who knows? But if he didn’t do anything wrong, then why did he run when the guards barged in on them? Michael zapped ‘em both and took off. If you don’t buy the official story, what do you think happened?>
       <I’m not sure, but don’t let on what we suspect anything. We could disappear like Michael or be found dead like the Baxter brothers.> He cut the link and left Jeremy to ponder the implications of his warning.
       Weary once more, Richards hopped over to his own bunk and reached over to the nearby nightstand where a small bowl sat with two blue pills in it. He took the pills and swallowed them. Then he lay back, closed his eyes and tried to will himself to sleep.
       Medical personnel dispensed these pills every night, two for each trainee. Unlike their other medications, these were powerful prescription sleeping pills and the medical staff didn’t trust any of them more than a single night’s dosage. Maybe they’re afraid someone will try to overdose on them, he thought.
       Exhausted from the day’s lessons, the sedative soon dragged him down into oblivion. As much as he hated the dreamless sleep the tranquilizers forced on him, it was infinitely better than sharing the nightmares of fifty other telepaths. Sleep came swiftly, but somehow the nagging worry in the back of Richard’s mind remained.

Chapter 5

       Memory does not exist so much to record the past as it does to justify current perception. And since memory is malleable, it can change over time.
       From one moment to the next, the mind strives for self- consistency and is merely the totality of the memories and experiences that it holds and keeps. Personality is the dynamic leading edge of perception and, as experiences accumulate, the persona changes as well.
       Regardless of how massive the intellect, all minds face a limit to their cognitive abilities. They simply cannot embrace the totality of the pieces, which comprise it. The mind therefore grasps what it can and ignores or forgets the rest. Awareness is a precarious balancing act of facts and illusions somewhere between what was and what is.
       The mind is…conscious and unconscious, thinking and feeling, dreaming and coping, remembering and forgetting. Personality is merely the growing edge of our past.

       

       Michael struggled as orderlies rolled him down a hallway to the scanning room, but the straps that restrained him were strong and secure. Drs. Sorenson and Prentice walked along side him and him and spoke about him as if he weren’t there. “If his frontal lobe was already hyperactive active, what effect do you think the Prilozene will have on him?” asked Prentice.
       “It’s hard to say,” said Sorenson. “A cascade effect could occur and he could go experience seizures. Then again, if there’s a corresponding increase in sub-dermal blood flow, he could even conceivably have an aneurysm. When I get him in the scanner, you’d better get a nurse and get some sedatives and anti-clotting agents ready.”
       There were other test subjects waiting for examination, but Michael was hurried to the front of the line and taken directly into the magnetic resonance imaging chamber. A technician covered his eyes with an opaque cloth. Michael called out, “Wait, why are you doing that. I can’t see.”
       Dr. Sorenson patted him on the shoulder and said, “It’s all right, Michael. We do that to prevent stimulation of the optic nerves to avoid transient activation of the occipital lobes. Just relax and try to stay motionless. The MRI will only take about fifteen minutes.”
       Michael tried to obey and fought briefly against the deluge of voices that threatened to overwhelm him. Then he gave up and succumbed to the wave of noise. To his surprise, the din abated and the myriad of whispers vanished. Instead he heard people around him in the room talking in normal tones.
       Maybe the Prilozene is finally taking affect, he thought and sighed in relief. Gee this stuff is almost as good as Netrocine. All the whispering has stopped. Indeed, all he heard now were the voices of the other nurses and doctors in the room.
       He relaxed and let his arms and legs go limp until he felt like he was floating. The straps on the gurney didn’t seem nearly as tight when he wasn’t all tensed up.
       On the other side of the room Dr. Sorenson was muttering softly to himself. “Damn, I hope this kid doesn’t die on me. All I need is a lawsuit on my hands. This grant was hard enough to get and I don’t need any of these kinds of complications. Maybe I’d better start documenting everything that’s happened in case he does have seizures, convulsions or a stroke.”
       “It’s all right, Dr. Sorenson. I won’t sue you. I just needed the money and thought I could make a little participating in this study.”
       “What did you say?” asked Sorenson.
       “I said I wasn’t going to sue you. I realize I shouldn’t have lied about my medical condition. I didn’t mean to cause any trouble.”
       “Who ever said anything about suing?”
       “You did,” Michael answered. “You were just talking about it.”
       “No, I wasn’t,” replied the doctor. “I’ve been here alone and wasn’t saying anything.”
       Michael listened to all the other voices. “That’s ridiculous, I can hear everyone else in the room.”
       “Michael, there’s no one here but you and me.”
       “But they’re right here. I can hear them all.”
       “I assure you, we’re alone in here.” He paused and then added. “He’s hallucinating.”
       “No, I’m not hallucinating. I can hear you as clear as a bell.”
       “I didn’t say you were, Michael.”
       “Yes, you did. Stop playing mind games with me. I tell you I’m perfectly all right and I’m not going to sue.”
       “This is incredible,” said Sorenson clearly. “This can’t be happening.”
       Michael heard the doctor walk over to the gurney and say, “Michael, can you hear me now?”
       “Yes, you’re standing right next to me. I’m not deaf.”
       The cloth covering Michael’s eyes was pulled off and he blinked up at Dr. Sorenson’s face. While still beneath the MRI scanner and still strapped down, he looked up a the doctor who had a troubled look on his face.
        “I believe you, Michael. As unusual as it seems, I really do believe you can hear me.”
       “So what’s so unusual about that,” said Michael, as he focused on the doctor’s face.
       “Because I’m not saying anything out loud, Michael. I’m only thinking words to myself… yet somehow, you’re hearing me.”
       Michael gasped. The doctor’s words were as clear as if he were talking aloud, but his lips weren’t moving at all. It was only then that Michael realized he wasn’t hearing with his ears.
       “If I’m right, Michael,” thought the doctor silently, his face as unmoving as stone. “I think you’re hearing me telepathically.”

*****

       Michael woke with a start and sat bolt upright on his cot. Oh my God, he thought. I remember. Dear God, I remember it all. He jumped out of his cot and ran to the door to find Maria and Patrick, but as he dashed through the door, he almost ran over Maria.
       “For land’s sake, what is it, Michael?” she asked. “You woke us both out of a sound sleep. Is something wrong?” Patrick then appeared from behind Maria and looked down at the two of them.
       “Yes, yes,” Michael said. “I’m okay. I just remember, that’s all. I remember everything.” He couldn’t contain his excitement.
       Maria peered at him suspiciously. “Are you sure, Michael?”
       He stopped himself and scanned his new memories. “Yes, I remember Dr. Sorenson and Dr. Prentice. I remember the University experiments and our search for other people suffering from Landau’s syndrome. I remember helping Dr. Prentice work out the manufacturing process for Prilozene, that’s what TP-1 is, it’s Prilozene. I even remember the initial tests that verified I was telepathic.”
       Maria looked up at Patrick with a sudden expression of concern on her face. “Telepathic?” she asked. “You’re saying you’re a telepath? Can you read my thoughts then?”
       Michael tried, but he heard nothing. Then he remembered. “Well, not right now I can’t. I need to take Prilozene for a few hours before my abilities kick in. Then, when I’ve built up therapeutic levels of the neurotransmitter in my blood, I can read other people’s thoughts.”
       “I think you’d better lie down, Michael,” said Maria gently coaxing him back to his cot. “You’ve probably just had a bad dream. Memory is a funny thing. Sometimes not all the pieces come back properly and you can misinterpret them.”
       “No,” he said struggling to stand his ground. “I tell you I have my memory back.”
       Maria glared at him for a moment and asked. “Do you remember then why the police want you for murder?”
       Michael stopped, stunned. He thought back, but the last thing he could remember was working at the research facility the government had set up for him and the other victims of Landau’s syndrome, who were going to be the first batch of chemically induced telepaths. Try as he might, he couldn’t recall why he had been running the night of the storm or who the dead man was who had been at his feet.
       His face went white and he didn’t resist as Maria pushed him back down on his cot.
       “You just rest some more, Michael,” she said. “Don’t try so hard. Just relax and your memories will all come back in time.”
       Without further protest, he let her tuck him back in. Patrick stood silently by the door watching the two of them. His stern face showed concern and uneasiness, but he let Maria minister to her patient without interruption.
       Michael clenched his eyes and tried to find the edges of his missing memories, but couldn’t seem to find any holes. He knew there were things he couldn’t recall, but couldn’t tell what they were.
       Maria rose and walked back to the door. She paused and stood by his door watching him for a few minutes before she turning off the lights. Then she headed back down the hall with Patrick to their apartment.
       As Michael stared up at the ceiling in the darkness of his room, he went over his new memories over and over again. Then he jumped up out of his bed and hurried over to his clothes. Digging in the pockets of his jacket, he pulled out the vial labeled TP-1 and took one of the pills. He worried momentarily about whether he was doing the right thing, taking the medication. Then he returned to bed, but he did not sleep; neither did he dream.

*****

               The next morning as Dr. Ferguson sat in his office reviewing the results of the recent psychological evaluations of the telepaths under his care, he was interrupted by a knock on his door.
       A corporal stuck his head in the door and said, “Uh, excuse me, sir. There is a Colonel Harrison to see you. I told him you were busy, but he said it was quite urgent.”
       The colonel pushed his way past the aide, walked to Dr. Ferguson’s desk, and stared silently at him.
       The doctor frowned. “What’s all of this about, colonel? I’m the Director of this installation and I am conducting important business here. I left specific instructions not to be disturbed.”
       The colonel smiled smugly and reached into a small folder that he carried. He pulled out an envelope and handed it to the Director. “Sorry, to bother you Dr. Ferguson, but I’ve been instructed to give you these new orders.”
       The doctor opened the envelope and perused its contents.
       “As of this moment, I’m assuming control of this installation and Project Mindguard. By the authority of General Hammel, acting on the behalf of the Joint Chiefs, you are officially relieved of command.” The colonel paused to let that statement register.
       “The Joint Chiefs aren’t particularly pleased with how activities have been progressing here. With the accident that took the lives of Doctors Sorenson and Prentice, and the unfortunate training related deaths of two of your telepaths, there was already considerable discussion about whether this research station should be reorganized into a formal military unit. However, with the report that one of your telepaths has gone rogue and murdered of one of your military specialists, it has become clear that changes needed to be made immediately. From what I understand, you’ve run this complex more like a hospital than a military organization. That’s about to change.”
       Dr. Ferguson’s eyes grew wide. “But, this isn’t necessary. Everything is under control. Why, I’ve just been reviewing changes to our security policy…”
       “Good to hear it, doctor,” the colonel said. “As the new Commanding Officer, I’m quite open to any suggestions you might have and, while you’ll no longer be in the official chain of command, you’re more than welcome to stay on as an advisor on my staff.”
       Turning his back on the doctor, the colonel spoke to the corporal who still stood at the door. “Corporal, please fetch Major Demming and the civilian training consultant, Peter Morton. I want them both here in my office as soon as possible.”
       The corporal saluted sharply and dashed off to find the two.
       The Research Director stood and said, “Wait a minute, Colonel. This is my office and I protest this unwarranted interference.”
       Turning back to Dr. Ferguson, Colonel Harrison’s face grew tight and drawn. He smiled but it was more like that of a hungry cat staring down at a mouse. There was nothing friendly in it. “Protest all you want, doctor, but you’d best read those orders again. This action hasn’t been taken lightly. For a year and a half, you’ve had absolute authority on how to research this new opportunity for the Department of the Army. Unfortunately, it’s become apparent that you haven’t run this facility in accordance with Army regulations. If you had, none of the unfortunate occurrences that plagued this project would’ve happened.
       “I’m here by the direct orders of the Joint Chiefs and I expect you to cooperate with this transition of command or I’ll have you arrested and escorted to your quarters where you can take all the time you need to adjust to these changes.”
       Dr. Ferguson stared at the papers in his hand and his shoulders slumped, as his confidence dissipated.
       The colonel walked behind the desk, shouldering the doctor to one side and took the seat that a moment before had been Ferguson’s. Ignoring the doctor, he opened a briefcase and spread papers out before him.
       Before further comment was made, footsteps from the hallway outside the office heralded the approach of Major Demming and Peter Morton. The major entered and saluted the Colonel saying, “Major Demming reporting as ordered, sir.” Peter simply smiled and stood with his hands behind his back.
       “Thank you for coming so quickly, gentlemen. My name is Colonel Harrison and I’ve just given Dr. Ferguson new orders transferring the command of this facility to my control. The former Director will remain on my staff for the time being as an advisor, but he will not longer function in a command role. Is that clear?”
       “Yes sir,” replied Major Demming. Peter Morton smiled. Dr. Ferguson nodded impotently.
       “Good. Now I want a formal briefing later this morning with the other officers in this unit. An additional company of special operations personnel will arrive later today under the command of a Major Leonard Grady. They will reinforce the staff already assigned here. They’re to be assigned quarters and billeted as soon as they arrive. Major Grady will be acting security officer from this moment on. Demming, you’ll remain in charge of all other personnel for the time being.” Major Demming remained at attention, but nodded acknowledgement.
       Finally Colonel Harrison addressed Peter. “Unfortunately, Mr. Morton, I’m afraid there will no longer be any place at this facility for a civilian consultant.” The colonel stared at Peter looking for a reaction, but saw none. Then, slowly, instead of acting surprised, Peter grinned.
       “I am, however, authorized to offer you a commission as a captain in the U.S. Army, if you wish to remain in your current role as training officer.” The colonel paused again waiting for Peter’s response.
       Peter nodded his grin growing to a full-fledged smile. “I’d be glad to accept the offer, colonel. I’ve been wondering why it took so long to be made.”
       The colonel nodded once. “Well, it took some time to check out your background. As you told us when you first showed up, you’d led something of a secluded life. However, your places of residence and educational credentials checked out and you’ve now been given a security clearance suitable for your role. We’ll do all the official business at a swearing in later, but congratulations, Captain Morton.”
       The colonel stood and offered his hand to Peter. Peter shook it, stepped back and saluted smartly. His smug expression made Doctor Ferguson’s face grow red.
       “Oh, by the way,” added the colonel. “I’d like a little demonstration of your trainees’ abilities this afternoon, if that’s possible. While I’ve read all your reports, I’d like to see them in action, if that’s possible.”
       “That would be no problem,” Peter said. “They’d probably all like an opportunity to show off a little.”
       “Is there anything else you’d like to address before the briefing with the other officers, then?” asked the colonel.
       “Actually, sir, there is,” said Peter. “It’s a matter of great concern. There are two recommendations that I submitted to Dr. Ferguson, which he has failed to respond to.”
       The colonel glanced at Ferguson, but the doctor lowered his eyes and shook his head. “Recommendations? I didn’t read any mention of them in Dr. Ferguson’s reports. Are they important?” The colonel returned his attention to Peter.
       “Yes, sir. I feel they’re critical. The first is to further restrict access of the trainees to the drug, TP-1. The second is to permit psychological reconditioning of the new telepaths.”
       Dr. Ferguson sighed and said, “Colonel, I didn’t pass them along because they’re extreme measures that are totally uncalled for. We recently completed psychological re-screening of all our new telepaths after the Michael Cole incident and, despite Peter Morton’s concerns, everyone passed with flying colors. No one on the team is exhibiting any unusual signs of mental instability. I don’t understand why he thinks such additional reconditioning is warranted. He’s suggested this before and I explained that it’s not acceptable. What he proposes borders on mind control.”
       The colonel’s eyes narrowed and he asked Peter, “Perhaps you can explain your suggestions in more detail, Captain?”
       “As I said, I’m proposing that all trainees be given a telepathic suggestion to ensure their loyalty to prevent a reoccurrence of the incident like the one with Michael Cole. These new telepaths are all unstable. Virtually every one of them was recruited based upon long medical histories of mental problems. Without exception, they all have a history of schizophrenia or psychosis associated with the disorder that has given them these abilities.
       “As Dr. Prentice noted when this project first started, telepathy was once common in the early human species, but when social evolution became a significant factor in human affairs and such things as language and social hierarchies developed, it became a liability. Where telepathy was an advantage for hunters, for detecting predators and prey, it disrupted early societies that built villages and developed agriculture. With the development of language, telepathy became unecessary. Eventually, the genes for telepathy were weeded out of the population. Over hundreds of generations, those with these genes were hunted down and killed as witches, warlocks, or demons.
       “The stories from my own family go back centuries. By the fall of the Roman Empire, telepathy was restricted to a few isolated families who maintained bloodlines where these genes bred true. However, in order to survive, they remained reclusive, cut off from outsiders. As much as I hate to admit it, I’m afraid Dr. Prentice’s theories were correct. Over time, the genes for telepathy and the genes predisposing individuals to paranoia have become very closely associated with one another. In other words, if you were a telepath and you weren’t paranoid, normal people would discover you and kill you. The natural telepaths that are out there, if there are any others, may be powerful sociopaths. Of course, I don’t mean me…but from family stories that I heard growing up, I’ve always been afraid to look for others.”
       Peter looked over at Dr. Ferguson. The Doctor remained silent but his jaw clenched as he ground his teeth.
       “Look, Michael Cole’s behavior proves I’m right,” continued Peter. “When I grew up, my father, mother and brothers were all full telepaths, but they were also all neurotic. They grew up almost completely xenophobic and were terrified of outsiders. Somehow, I grew up without most of these paranoid tendencies. As a result, I got kicked out of my family in my teens and have lived most of my life on my own. Their paranoia, however, didn’t help them when the ethnic purging in Eastern Europe reached the town where they lived. Without friends, allies and community, they were defenseless and they all died.
       “To my knowledge no other Families still survive. You can imagine my surprise when I discovered Dr. Sorenson’s little group of chemically induced telepaths.
       “Colonel, your telepaths are a fluke of nature. While testing a rejected FDA drug, Dr. Sorenson realized the genetic disorder, Landau’s syndrome, was actually a recessive genetic trait for telepathy. The drug Prilozene activated their latent abilities, unleashing abilities almost bred out of the human genome.
       “Dr. Prentice, the geneticist, confirmed the discovery and calculated that there might be as many as 20,000 latent telepaths in the US. Since these studies were conducted using government grants, the US now has exclusive control over a drug that could create telepaths. Unfortunately, he also recognized this ability was closely linked to genes that can cause paranoid psychosis. Think about it, over several thousand years of human history, if you were telepathic and you weren’t paranoid, you died young.
       “The point I’m making is that you have something new here, something that’s never existed before. Natural telepaths are one thing; they’ve been around for thousands of years, albeit in smaller and smaller numbers over the years. With all the Families gone now, I may even be the last natural telepath.
       “Artificially enabled telepaths, however, are altogether different. No one knows what the long-term affects of Prilozine are. If Michael Cole is an example, your subjects may become increasingly paranoid over time and eventually become completely psychotic.
       “Just before Dr. Sorenson’s death, he experimented with different doses and found that high levels of Prilozine have toxic effects. It seems each person has a different sensitivity to the drug. A safe dosage for one person can be lethal to another. No one really knows what we’re dealing with here; not me, not you, no one.
       “Colonel, the two recommendations I’ve made are both very simple. First, lock down the production of Prilozene under strict control. None of your new agents should carry any quantities of drugs around with them. The drug should only be administered here on site. Not only does the drug itself represent a threat to national security, it may have side effects no one knows about yet. While you think you’re creating a small elite corps of telepaths for your army, you may, unknowingly, be creating paranoid super-commandos who will someday turn on you.
       “My second recommendation can help you prevent that outcome. As I train your telepaths, I can give them deep telepathic suggestions. These suggestions can help instill a higher level of loyalty than would otherwise be achieved.”
       The doctor finally broke his silence. “Suggestion?” he said mockingly. “The way you described it, it’s a compulsion that’s all but unbreakable.”
       Peter shrugged. “Well, that’s correct. Any attempt to break that suggestion would result in long-term unconsciousness, like a coma. I learned it from my father before I left my family. It’s one of many things I still need to teach here. My father applied the suggestion to my brother and me to prevent us from accidentally disclosing information about our family to others. It doesn’t matter now, of course, since they’re all dead. What I propose to do is simply do the same thing to the telepaths here. It won’t affect their abilities; it’ll merely help ensure their loyalty.”
       He leaned on the desk and his voice grew insistent.
       “Sir, this compulsion is not coercion. It is entirely voluntary. You can’t put a suggestion on a telepath unless they willingly accept it. What I’m recommending is that, instead of giving them a deep hypnotic suggestion, if you will, to keep them quiet, we give them one to make them loyal instead. That way, they’ll never even consider turning on you, the way Michael Cole did.”
       “But that’s mind control,” said Dr. Ferguson. “We can’t justify that. It’s not ethical? Hell, it’s not legal.”
       Peter’s leaned back and his eyebrows rose. “Isn’t it the same thing the Army does when they put people though boot camp? They’re trying to condition recruits to change the way they think, so they’ll be more effective soldiers. What I’m suggesting is hardly any different. The conditioning I’ve recommended is just as little more thorough and considerably more effective. But remember, it’s a voluntary choice.”
       The doctor frowned and looked unconvinced, but the Major nodded slightly.
       “Look, no one will have the conditioning procedure performed unless they want it. You can’t coerce a telepath. You can fry their minds, but you can’t get deep enough into their psyches to establish a binding suggestion unless they willingly drop all their mental barriers and actually assist with the procedure. Creating this suggestion requires a close rapport that none of your people have yet learned to perform.”
       The doctor started to argue more, but the colonel silenced him with a glare. Addressing Peter he asked, “So Captain Morton, what do you suggest that we do with any telepaths who won’t submit to this loyalty conditioning?”
       “Why the same thing you’d do to anyone who isn’t willing to sign a loyalty oath or a security oath when they enlisted. You kick them out.”
       The colonel frowned, “But we’d be releasing telepaths out into the general public. We can’t do that.”
       Peter smiled. “Ah, but you’re not releasing telepaths. Once you take your elite troops off their daily does of Prilozene, they’ll lose their telepathic abilities within forty-eight hours. Indeed, most would redevelop symptoms of Landau’s syndrome within a few weeks unless they resume their old medication. All you’d be doing is releasing potentially disloyal soldiers from the Service. Hell, technically you’d be justified to release any of them on medical grounds whenever you want. Landau’s Syndrome is a well documented genetically based metal disorder.”
       “But they’re a security risk,” said the colonel blinking in surprise.
       Peter shrugged again, “So is every individual who’s ever had a Top Secret clearance. It’s no different. Anyway, only a handful of people know the real secret. Most of your new telepaths only know the drug’s name by the code TP-1. Few people know of the drug Prilozene and only the doctor here and few technicians know its chemical formula or the process to create it. If people don’t want to submit to the conditioning, let them go.”
       The colonel considered the recommendation. Dr. Ferguson stood quietly for a moment and then hesitantly said, “Sir, Michael Cole was the graduate student working for Dr. Sorenson when the discovery of Prilozene was made. He was the first telepath Sorenson created, even if it was accidental.”
       “What’s your point?” asked the Colonel.
       “Michael Cole knows about our operations and our plans to build a government telepath corps. He also knows the chemical formula for Prilozine and how to synthesize it. Hell, he was the grad student on Sorenson’s team who worked out the process to mass produce it.”
       The mood in the room grew grim, but then Peter smiled. “There you go, then. That’s my first recommendation and my second all rolled into one. We already have a security leak of unknown magnitude with Michael on the loose. If you let me perform voluntary telepathic conditioning and let me put new security on the drugs, I can ensure that, not only will no one turn on you should adverse side effects appear, I’ll guarantee no one producing the drug will be able to divulge details on its nature or manufacture. Without the telepathic conditioning, your operations here are at risk at several levels.”
        The Colonel nodded but remained noncommittal. “Thank you, Captain. I’ll take your suggestions under advisement and let you know about my decision later. That will be all for now. You all have your assignments. I will expect the all-officer meeting at 1300 and the training demonstration at 1500.”
       Peter glanced over at Dr. Ferguson, who was staring blankly at the orders in his hands. Peter grinned and gloated, knowing that all his recommendations would now be endorsed. From his brief telepathic scan of the new commanding officer, it was clear the colonel was not troubled with the same ethical problems that bothered the doctor. With Michael Cole gone and the doctor neutralized, there was no one left to oppose him. He had dispatched the meddlesome discoverers of the telepathic drug and planted serious doubts about the safety of the drug and the overall program. Everything was proceeding perfectly according to plan. Except, that is, for Michael, and he could be dealt with later.

Chapter 6

       I remember a story from long ago about the legendary meeting between King Richard the Lionhearted and Saladin the Saracen. While these two men had fought one another for years during the Crusades, they only met once for the purpose of arranging a prisoner exchange involving a large number of hostages and neither of them could resist the opportunity to impress the other.
       Richard wore a suit of shining mail that shone like silver and was adorned with a breastplate that could have ransomed a city. His sword hung in a scabbard of solid gold and diamonds and sapphires covered its hilt. The cape he wore was adorned with gems and jewels worth enough to feed his entire army for a year, but he sweated uncomfortably in the hot afternoon heat.
       Saladin wore expensive silks and a shirt of mail with links so small it resembled silver cloth. He had a scabbard made from a single piece of intricately carved ivory inlayed with rubies and emeralds and his scimitar was made of the finest Damascan steel.
        After concluding their business, they glanced at each other’s swords. Saladin smirked and commented that Richard’s heavy, bulky blade would be useless in battle. Richard looked at Saladin’s thin, delicate scimitar and said the same. Rising, Richard drew his four-foot blade and bid an aide to fetch a bar of steel. While two of Richard’s entourage held the bar, Richard swung his sword and cut it cleanly in two with a single stroke. Holding his blade out before him, he showed his enemy that the edge was still sharp and unblemished.
       In response, Saladin rose and drew his own blade. Turning its single edge so it faced up, he plucked a silk kerchief from his belt and tossed it up over his head. As the nearly transparent piece of silk drifted slowly down through the air, it crossed the edge of the scimitar and separated into two pieces, which floated to the ground. The weight of the silk alone across the blade was sufficient to cut it in half.
       Both leaders sheathed their weapons. No words were spoken and they soon returned to their respective camps, each man confident that his was the sharpest sword.
       Power is like that, whether physical or mental. There are many different kinds of power and who can say for sure which is the strongest, the sharpest, or the best?

*****

       Michael washed down the serving counter after the morning meal, enjoying the brief lull before lunch. Patrick was back in the kitchen, turning leftovers and food donations into the next meal. The pills Michael had started taking weren’t working yet. Although he’d taken another this morning, try as he might, his telepathic abilities had not returned. He was beginning to worry that there was still more he had forgotten or worse that everything he remembered was part of some delusion.
       When the door to the dining room opened and slammed, he looked up and was surprised to see Maria approaching him.
       “Get Patrick,” she said in an uncharacteristically curt tone. “I just got back from the hospital where I was checking out those names you mentioned yesterday.”
       He wiped his hands on a towel and turned toward the kitchen, but Patrick emerged with concern showing on his face.
       “What is it?” Patrick asked.
       Maria sighed and her lips tightened. “After I finished with the morning’s patients at the clinic, I went into the hospital early and looked up those doctors Michael told me about last night.”
       Michael nodded. “Yeah, Sorenson and Prentice.”
       “Well,” replied Maria. “You’re right. They did work at the University where you were enrolled and they both took sabbaticals about the time you dropped out. But I have bad news for you. They’re dead.”
       Michael flinched like he’d been hit. “What? But how? When?” It was impossible. The memory of working with the doctors, training and testing new telepaths, was as clear and as fresh as yesterday. They couldn’t be dead.
       Maria shook her head. “I don’t have any details. All I know is that they both died about nine months ago. Their obituaries were published in the University newspaper, but the article didn’t list the cause. It merely said they died in an accident of some sort. They must have died together, though, because the dates of their deaths were the same.”
       Michael stood stunned at the news.
       Maria reached out her and touched his arm. “I’m sorry, but I have even worse news.”
       Looking at her, he was afraid to ask what it might be.
       “You remember, I told you the police had issued fliers looking for you? Well, they posted several at the hospital and, while I was there this morning, I overheard a walk-in patient comment on your picture. He was telling a nurse that he’d seen you.
       “I think the patient was one of the homeless we’ve served here. As much as I hate to admit it, some of them would sell their own mothers for a bottle of rotgut wine. The transient was pretty adamant with the nurse he spoke to, but he wanted to know if there was a reward for turning you in. None was listed on the flyer and the old fellow might hold out until they offer him some money for details, but I’d be surprised if someone isn’t here in a few hours to follow up on his report.”
       “That’s when I left,” she said sadly. Her look of concern seemed to border on grief. “You haven’t much time.”
       Michael’s heart sank. He had been anticipating something like this, but had hoped for more time. He was so close to remembering everything and he almost had all the pieces to the puzzle. As it was though, he didn’t know whether he should run or hide, since he still didn’t know what he’d done or why the police wanted him.
       Patrick put his hand on Michael’s shoulder and said, “You’d better pack and get out of here while you have the chance, Michael. Come with me. I’ll get you some things.”
       Maria went over to the street door, closed it and locked it, as Patrick led Michael into the tiny room where he’d been staying the last few days. With an amazing economy of motion, Patrick pulled out an over-sized backpack and dug through a bin of donated clothing. He selected shirts, sweaters, socks and pants and stuffed them into the pack.
       A sense of helplessness settled over Michael, as if everything around him was totally out of his control. Patrick, on the other hand, showed no hesitation or doubt as he packed. He found a warm pair of gloves and a wool pullover hat. Both disappeared into the pack. Then Patrick picked out some sweaters and socks that Michael would need. When he finished, Patrick zipped the pack shut and handed it to Michael along with a dark green windbreaker.
       Taking both, Michael wormed his way into the jacket with one arm, while holding the knapsack with the other. “I don’t know how to thank both of you. I don’t even know if you’re doing the right thing. I still can’t remember what happened to me and I might actually be a murderer.”
       Patrick looked down at him with a serious scowl that bordered on a glare. “We told you we weren’t the police and we wouldn’t turn you in. Maria and I are pretty good judges of character. I don’t know what you’ve done, but I’m willing to bet it wasn’t murder. You’re not the type. Whatever trouble you’re in, you need time to remember before you make a decision like turning yourself in.”
       “But I don’t know even know where to go,” Michael protested.
       Maria appeared around the edge of the doorway and stopped at the entryway holding a small tin box. She exchanged a worried look with Patrick who nodded silently. “Patrick and I talked about this last night while you slept,” she said to Michael. “Here, take this.” She handed him the box along with a small piece of paper
       He read it, but didn’t know what to make of it. It was merely a street number and name in a town somewhere in Colorado.
       “This is the address of my family near Denver. I called them and asked if they’d be willing to put up someone in need. While I haven’t been home for years, they’re very kind people and were quite open to helping someone I sent their way.”
       Michael felt awkward beyond words. He really didn’t know these two people, and Maria and Patrick didn’t know him either. Yet, they were helping him and sending him off to seek shelter with distant relatives. They were putting more faith in him than he had in himself. He started to refuse, but couldn’t. He knew it would just hurt Maria’s feelings.
       “Here, you’ll also need this,” she said opening the top of the small metal box. Reaching in, she pulled out a wad of bills rolled and bound with a rubber band. She handed it to Michael and pressed it into his hand, closing his fingers gently around the roll. “It’s something Patrick and I saved up in case of an emergency. It’s nearly a thousand dollars. You should be able to make your way to Denver with that.”
       “I… I couldn’t take this,” he said. “I’ve already imposed too much and don’t have any way to repay you.” He felt a firm hand descend gently onto his shoulder and turned to look up at Patrick.
       “Don’t argue, Michael,” said Patrick. “Trust me, it won’t do any good. Besides, there isn’t any time. Right now, you need it more than we do and you know it. When things get straightened out, you’ll know where to find us and can repay us then.”
       The resolve in Patrick’s voice was as firm as his grip on Michael’s shoulder. Michael knew further discussion would be futile and merely bring offense to this incredibly generous couple. Turning, he impulsively hugged Patrick. In turn, he was rewarded with a brief strong embrace.
       A tap on his shoulder made him turn and as he turned around Maria hugged him as well. She stepped back and the tender look of concern in her eyes nearly brought tears to his own. He didn’t want to go. More than anything else, he just wanted to hide here and continue to work with Maria and Patrick in the mission. The thought of leaving brought back the memory of running through dark rain-washed streets fleeing from a nameless terror. Some terrible danger lurked outside and he didn’t want to face it. He wasn’t even sure what it was.
       “You have to go Michael,” said Maria softly.
       Before Michael could voice an objection, Patrick said, “Take 67th avenue south until you come to railroad tracks. Follow them west for about a half-mile and you’ll come to a train station. You should be able to get connections west from there. Just keep a low profile and stay out of trouble until you’re away from here.”
       Michael nodded as Patrick gently guided him to the door. Once outside, Patrick shook Michael’s hand and pounded him on the back. “We’ll pray for you, son,” Patrick said.
       Maria stood on her toes and gave Michael a peck on the cheek. “Go with God,” she echoed. Then, one hand rose and covered her own mouth in a gesture of worry, as she waved goodbye.
       Tugging the shoulder strap of the heavy pack, Michael turned and walked down the sidewalk in the direction Patrick had indicated. He didn’t look back, but felt their eyes follow him until he was out of sight.
       Buried in his own thoughts, he didn’t notice when the whispering began. When the voices grew louder, however, he decided the Prilozene was starting to take effect. Reaching into his pocket, he opened the vial of medication and took another pill, swallowing it down without water.
       He wasn’t worried about taking too much of the drug; he was worried about getting caught, though he still couldn’t quite remember why. In any case, whatever was going to happen, he was going to need whatever advantage he could get.

*****

       A large converted gymnasium served as the main training area for the new telepaths. Colonel Harrison, Dr. Ferguson and the recently arrived Major Grady sat on folding chairs on a platform at one end of the gym. Major Demming and Captain Peter Morton were organizing the trainees at the other end of the large room. All one hundred and eleven trainees were standing in smartly aligned rows as the new captain gave them their instructions.
       Several squads of Major Grady’s new security personnel were stationed around the edges of the room. All were dressed in combat fatigues and carried loaded M-16’s. After a few minutes, the major and the captain finished with the trainees and approached the platform across the open center of the room.
       “Sir,” said Major Demming. “We’re ready to begin.”
       “Excellent,” said Colonel Harrison. “I’m looking forward to this.”
       “Captain Morton,” said Major Demming. “The men are yours.”
       Addressing the colonel, Peter said, “Sir, when Dr. Sorenson and Dr. Prentice first discovered how to chemically induce telepathy, they didn’t know the extent or nature of these new abilities. Telepathy was originally developed in early human tribes as a tool for hunting. It allowed hunters to sense the presence of other animals, predators and prey, and gave human beings a very significant advantage. When human beings developed higher cognitive abilities and as their brains grew, other abilities manifested themselves, but these weren’t always beneficial. That’s one reason telepathy has remained rare in the human species.
       “You see, a telepath can sense and hear the thoughts of others around him. It’s basically an electromagnetic phenomenon that allows one individual to pick up on the patterns in another’s nervous system. The fields that are generated, however, are quite low level and it takes the hundreds of miles of nerves in the human body to be sensitive enough to detect those signals. Also the information is transmitted in an extremely wide band of frequencies and encoded in such a manner that a neural network as complex has the human brain can hope to interpret it.
       “Telepaths are simply individuals who are sensitive to these electromagnetic fields and can interpret them. Apparently, the brains of telepaths function differently than normal humans, due to the influence of neurotransmitters that are not present in the general population. While we’re studying these effects in the lab, we can barely detect these fields under carefully controlled environments and cannot duplicate these abilities at all.
       “While it is relatively safe for a telepath to monitor the mind of a non-telepath, it is extremely dangerous for telepaths to enter each other’s minds. If deep rapport occurs, the telepaths can see their own minds in each other’s and a resonant effect can occur which can kill all those involved. Some experimentation along these lines was underway when I first arrived and I warned Dr. Ferguson and the others, but it took the deaths of several trainees before anyone believed me and such experimentation stopped.”
       Peter’s glare at Dr. Ferguson conveyed an unspoken accusation. Colonel Harrison was no telepath, but it was clear even to him that Peter held Ferguson accountable for those deaths.
       “Let me first give you a demonstration of some elementary abilities.” He turned and gestured toward the trainees. A squad leader stepped forward with another recruit and placed a blindfold around the second man’s eyes.
       The blindfolded man was a tall, lanky looking fellow with light brown hair. The squad leader led him to the center of the room and spun him around. With a silent gesture from the squad leader, six other soldiers hurriedly left their positions in the formation, and formed a circle around the frail looking victim. In moments, they surrounded the blindfolded man, each man in the circle standing about fifteen feet from the others.
       “I want to assure you, sir, this is no trick. The men surrounding the trainee aren’t telepaths. They are members of Major Demming’s special ops unit. They’ve been conducting physical and combat training for our new recruits. The telepath in the blindfolded cannot see, but he can sense the presence of the others around him. This demonstration shows what we believe was the primary function of telepathy in early humans. Watch.”
       At a nod from Peter, the squad leader walked past the circle of men and extended a small handgun to the blindfolded telepath in the center. The man in the center smiled as he took hold of the weapon.
       “The gun,” explained Peter, “shoots paintballs and is only used for practice. Consider, however, that it could be a real gun with real bullets.”
       The blindfolded man took the pistol as the squad leader walked back out of the circle. When he was clear, he stopped and issued a silent command. The blind telepath then raised his pistol and promptly started shooting the soldier in the circle around him. In the space of five seconds, he shot five times and each of his targets was hit once, squarely in the chest. A harmless splatter of red appeared on each of the men at the edge of the circle. All were shot, except for the last man.
       As the blind gunman turned to his last target, the soldier jumped aside, rolled and came to stop in a low crouch a dozen feet away. The shooter paused and corrected his aim, but before the evasive target could move again, the gun barked and a splotch of red paint appeared on his side.
       The telepath then lowered his gun and all the soldiers resumed their original positions around the blindfolded trainee.
       Colonel Harrison blinked with surprise and nodded with approval. “Can all the trainees do that?” he asked.
       Peter shook his head. “No sir, I’m sorry. They can’t. Despite dozens of hours training at the pistol range, I’m afraid many of the trainees are simply lousy shots. A few of them couldn’t duplicate these actions even with their eyes open.”
       The Colonel chuckled.
       “They can, however, sense the presence and location of others around them with great accuracy.”
       “So this ability is flawless then. People can’t hide from a telepath?”
       Peter nodded. “That’s right, sir. Normal people can’t hide from a telepath. The only way to thwart this ability is if you are a telepath yourself. I’ll demonstrate.”
       Peter waved the others away with a gesture and approached the blindfolded man. Shouting loudly, he said, “Corporal, try to shoot me once.”
       The man in the blindfold moved his pistol in the direction of Peter’s voice, but before he could fire, Peter took a single step to one side. The paintball flew past him, through the place he’d just been standing, but it clearly missed and left a splatter of red paint on the wall of gymnasium beyond.
       Peter smiled up at the colonel. “He couldn’t tell where I was, sir, because I have mental shields in place that hide my thoughts from him. While he can try to locate me with his other senses, he is mind-blind to me when I have my shields in place.”
       “Now watch this,” said Peter who turned once more to the blind shooter. “All right, Corporal, try to shoot me one more time.”
       Peter again took a step to one side again, but then he squinted his eyes in effort. The shooter moved his weapon left and then right. He paused, aimed carefully, and finally fired a round, hitting one of the soldiers standing a dozen feet to Peter’s left. The man yelped and jumped with surprise. Everyone laughed.
       Peter shouted, “That will be all, Corporal.” Facing the colonel again, he explained. “What I did that last time was to use my telepathic ability to make it appear that I was somewhere else. I dropped my mental shields, but projected the impression that I was standing a few feet away. The trainee with the gun perceived this illusory target and fired. Essentially, I tricked him into shooting the wrong target.”
       “While the telepathic ability to sense others is quite useful, it can be thwarted by other telepaths.” Peter shrugged nonchalantly, “Unfortunately, none of your trainees have learned this trick yet. They are still learning to master creating and maintaining shields. Projecting is still beyond their skill. That’s part of what I have been trying to teach these men; how to defend against other telepaths.”
       The colonel whispered to Major Brady who nodded and wrote down some notes on a pad of paper. “What else can you show me, Captain?” asked the colonel.
       The telepath who had been the focus of the demonstration took off his blindfold, walked to the other trainees and handed it to a different telepath at the end of the first row. The new telepath was a short brawny looking Hispanic with dark hair. He took the blindfold, tied it around his eyes, and walked to the center of the room, assuming the position of the former recruit.
       “Corporal Mason was our best trainee with a pistol. Lance Corporal Bartell here has a black belt in karate and is the most proficient telepath we have in the martial arts.” Stepping back, Peter gave the command. “You may begin, gentlemen.”
       The blindfolded telepath dropped into a crouch, as did the combat specialists around him. The six men slowly began circling their victim, but for a second no one attacked. Then, in a flurry of activity, one soldier attacked the blindfolded fighter from behind. He was met with a back kick, which struck him squarely and solidly in the chest. As the attacker crumbled to the ground, two others dashed in, but their target evaded them. The telepath dodged the punch of the first and blocked a kick launched by the second man. Catching his opponent’s leg, the blind telepath raised it high over his head and swept the other leg out from under him. As the man fell to the ground, the first attacker struck again, but his attack was deflected once more and he was himself struck twice in return, once in the solar plexus and once in the throat. He too went down.
       The blindfolded telepath now faced only three standing opponents. As the downed men scrambled out of the way, the remaining three soldiers positioned themselves equidistantly around the telepath, forming a triangle. At a nod from one of the combat specialists, they all rushed their target.
       The telepath, however, ducked and threw himself at the legs of one of the attackers, knocking his feet out from under him. As he rolled clear, he rose and turned to another assailant. The attacker started to rush the telepath again, but stopped unexpectedly, raised his hands to his head and uttered a short high-pitched scream. Without apparent reason, his body went slack and he collapsed to the ground, unconscious.
       Turning, the telepath faced his final attacker and lowered his hands. The final combatants simply faced one another for several seconds, then the last combat specialist took a faltering step toward his blindfolded opponent. As he took another step, he began trembling uncontrollably. As he attempted a third step, he fell to his hands and knees, but even then tried to continue his advance. After a brief, vain attempt to crawl, however, he collapsed.
       The telepath calmly removed his blindfold and came to attention facing the officers on the platform. Nearby, the conscious combatants hurried to their immobile comrades.
       “The trainee,” explained Peter, “used his telepathic abilities to sense those around him. A telepath, even blindfolded, cannot be surprised by non-telepaths. The first four attackers were disabled using normal martial arts techniques. The final two were neutralized using special telepathic abilities.
       “The Lance Corporal Bartell stunned one opponent with a telepathic attack. It’s basically a brute force attack that stimulates the neural network in non-telepaths. While not fatal, it causes significant distress and is similar to being hit on the head with a hammer. Victims experience transient pain, disorientation and momentarily lose consciousness. Essentially, they temporarily develop symptoms of a full concussion without any physical trauma.
       “The technique is nearly 100% effective against anyone who does not have mental shields in place. That’s one reason I’ve taught the trainees to always maintain their shields. It also builds up their mental abilities. Like muscles, mental abilities develop and strengthen with practice.
        “The last fighter was disabled using a new technique the telepaths are just beginning to learn. It involves the deliberate interface with another person’s mind. When telepath and the attacker are linked, the telepath attempts to take over the other person’s neural pathways. Unless there is a very special rapport, such domination is impossible. When imposed involuntarily, this attack wrecks havoc with the victim’s nervous system. Control of voluntary and autonomic functions in the body is disrupted.
       “It’s as if two people were typing on one computer keyboard at the same time. Commands from the brain to the rest of the body are scrambled and the victim loses virtually all muscle control. Under such an assault, it’s impossible to move and difficult even to stand. If the telepath is sufficiently powerful, he can interrupt breathing and heartbeat long enough to induce unconsciousness.”
       “Can telepaths use this ability to kill others?” asked the Colonel.
       “No,” said Peter. “When the victim passes out, the linkage, which allowed the attack, is broken. Besides, no telepath would dare kill in this manner. Being inside another person’s mind when they die can prove fatal. It can permanently cripple the attacker and leave him in a coma for the rest of his life.”
       “Then how did Michael Cole kill that combat specialist when he escaped?”
       Peter sighed. “Michael was a particularly strong telepath. He had been conducting experiments of his own with other trainees, including those that died in training. He used both of these attacks together and held his target paralyzed while he blasted him telepathically. The specialist experienced a stroke and died. It was a fluke and would be a difficult feat to repeat intentionally. The other he shot with a gun. Nevertheless, Michael Cole is extremely dangerous.”
        “I see,” said the Colonel. “Please continue.”
       Peter nodded to Major Demming, who then walked up onto the platform and offered a small notebook to the new commanding officer. “Sir, please write something down without telling me what it is. Then fold it in quarters and give it to me.”
       The colonel thought for a moment and scrawled something down. Tearing off the page, he folded it and handed it to the major.
       Leaving the stage, the major walked back out to the demonstration area and handed the note to the squad leader, who opened it and read it. The telepath across the room shouted, “Tactics win battles. Strategy wins wars.”
       Peter looked up and smiled. “Is that what you wrote down, Colonel?”
       “Yes,” replied the CO. “It’s one of my favorite quotes from Sun Tsu.”
       Nodding, Peter explained. “The squad leader read the note and the trainee across the gym read the words as they appeared in the squad leader’s mind. While it’s very difficult to probe another person’s mind, it’s relatively easy to listen as people think words to themselves. It is essentially eavesdropping on another’s thoughts. Your telepaths here can overhear what others nearby are thinking, saying or reading. They would thus be consummate spies.
       “You cannot lie to a telepath. In the same way they can sense another’s presence, they can sense a falsehood or deception. Telepaths can also communicate with each other silently in a manner normal people cannot overhear.”
       Peter directed his attention to the others. For a moment no one moved. Then, without warning, the telepaths in formation snapped to attention and executed an about face. They marched for several steps, turned in unison to the right and stepped off in a new direction.
       “While you cannot hear, I am giving your trainees commands that would otherwise be shouted out loud.” Peter had the four platoons of telepaths march around the gym in silence. Finally, they all stopped abruptly and returned to parade rest.
       “Over what distances can such communication be maintained?” asked the colonel.
       “A telepath can hear the thoughts of normal people about the same range that normal speech can be heard. Communication between telepaths, however, is highly directional and extends over much greater distance than sound. Telepaths can talk to one another up to about a half mile is as easy as normal speech and it doesn’t matter how much matter is between those who are communicating. The effectiveness drops of over greater distances and, unless the sender is very powerful, it disappears completely over more than about ten miles or so.”
       “Can a telepath communicate with more than one other person at a time?”
       Peter nodded. “Yes, even with shields in place, telepaths can broadcast commands. One can command and control dozens of others with the ease of thought. In fact, … ”
       Pausing, Peter didn’t finish his sentence. Instead, he turned toward the gymnasium doors and waited for a moment. Without warning, a sergeant burst though the doors and hurried toward the podium. Before he took more than a couple steps, armed security guards blocked his way. There was a short urgent discussion and one of the guards escorted the soldier to the officers on the platform.
       “Sir,” said the sergeant. “I’m sorry to interrupt, but we just got an urgent call from the local police. They think they’ve located Michael Cole. Someone positively identified him and pinpointed the location where he was seen less than two hours ago. The police and FBI are on their way to there. They called us to let us know.”
       The Colonel barked, “Major Grady, get your teams mobilized now. If possible, I want to get there before the police do. Use the base helicopters. Demming, organize the best of your trainees and meet us there, too.”
       Major Grady stood and bounded off the platform heading for his unit leaders. Major Demming turned to Peter Morton, but the captain simply smiled and said, “I’m on it. The orders have already been given.”
       As Grady’s security personnel were being briefed, the telepaths were already moving and headed out the door. Peter’s lip tightened as he thought, Michael won’t get away this time.

*****

       Michael Cole stood on the train platform, a wool hat pulled down over his ears. He hunched down, trying to hide his face, as he strained to listen to the thoughts of those around him. Most were other travelers who muttered to themselves, worrying about their own schedules and problems. A few were railway workers, but they too were focused on their own tasks. No one seemed to notice anyone else in their busy daily routine.
       He looked nervously at the station clock and then leaned over the tracks to see if his train was in sight. It was late.
       Sensing curiosity in the crowd, he looked up and saw what drew their attention. High overhead, two helicopters converged over distant buildings to the northeast. In the distance, he could hear approaching sirens. Noting that the activity was in the direction of Maria and Patrick’s mission, he strengthened his mental shields and prayed that the train would hurry.
       As if in answer to his plea, the distant whistle of an approaching train sounded and joined the shrill cry of the police sirens that grew louder and seemed to be drawing closer. The people around him stirred and crowded the edge of the train platform, craning their necks to watch the approaching train. The distraction of the far-off sirens was forgotten, as the train screeched to a noisy halt.
       A chaos of activity ensued as departing passengers struggled in silent conflict with others who simultaneously fought to board. After dozens of brief battles between the two armies of travelers, peace was negotiated and Michael maneuvered his way onto the nearest car.
       Grabbing a window seat, he took off his pack and rested it in his lap. As others filled the remaining nearby seats, he stared out the window amazed at the number of flashing lights on the side streets so many blocks away. He counted at least six helicopters circling overhead like high-tech vultures scrutinizing distant prey. Some had police markings, but others were definitely military craft.
       Michael was slammed backwards into his seat as the train lurched into motion and began to accelerate down the track. He watched until he station disappeared behind him, then he once again tried to adopt an air of obscurity and disappear from the view of others around him.
       For a time he worried about Maria and Patrick. After all their help, he had gotten them into trouble. He muttered a brief prayer on their behalf and hoped that they would be all right. Then he extended his senses and eavesdropped on his fellow passengers.
       There was a mother with a baby, hoping it would sleep long enough that she wouldn’t have to nurse it on the train. Across the aisle was a businessman angry that he had missed an earlier train and the appointment he would miss. Further down the car was a girl traveling to a distant town to visit relatives. An old man drifted on the edge of sleep dreaming about a son he hadn’t seen in years. The only one who noticed him was a small boy about six year old several rows away, who wondered why a man would wear a ski hat when it wasn’t cold enough to snow. Fortunately, his attention span was short and the boy noticed the shiny buckles on an attractive woman’s shoes nearby. Fascinated by the odd accoutrements, his attention turned away from Michael.
       Wrapping his hands in the straps of his pack, Michael decided that sleep might be the best way to pass his time. His transfer to a different train wasn’t due for more than six hours. By then it would be dark and it would be safer to move freely so that he could find someplace to eat.
       The rhythmic pounding of metal wheels on steel tracks and the rocking of the car soon lulled Michael to sleep, but his dreams were troubled with his own problems and the worries of those around him.
       

Chapter 7

        Michael’s amnesia, while ill timed, was fortunate. While he had gained new abilities, he had accepted them and assimilated them in such a way that they had minimal impact on his life. When he lost his memories, his perceptions became unconstrained by what he had learned before and he unknowingly circumvented some of the unquestioned assumptions, which had limited him.
        Freed from his previous misconceptions and preconceptions, he discovered things about himself and his abilities he would have otherwise never learned.
        Indeed, it was his awakening that eventually led to mine. <

*****

       Peter stormed out of the tiny mission and out into the street where he could get some fresh air. This is a waste of time, he thought. Michael’s gone, but the police and FBI are focusing all their people on the one place where they’re certain he’s not at anymore.
       He shoved past police officers and military security seeking an open space where he could find some peace, but there were just too many people. A crowd had gathered, curious about all the police cars crowding the streets and the helicopters hovering overhead. So many onlookers had gathered that teams of patrolmen had blocked off the nearby streets to traffic and they had set up a police line to keep locals and reporters away from the neighborhood shelter.
       Damn, I hate this city. There are just too many damned noisy, grubby little minds, all shouting at once. Peter relaxed his normally impenetrable mental shields and deliberately radiated his hatred and disgust for these messy, undisciplined minds. As he did so, the crowd assembled at a barricades backed away from him in horror and fear. As he approached, people hurried out of his path. One or two turned and ran.
       Stopping himself, he clenched his fists and tightened his shields once more. Looking up at the sky, which quickly faded from twilight to night, he tried to find any stars in the heavens, but the smog and light from the city hid them all from view. For a moment he longed the quiet and solitude of his home in the mountains of the Ukraine and wished that anyone else could have been sent on this mission instead of him.
       Pausing, he looked around and saw the silent, frightened faces of the curious spectators nearby. Peons, he thought with disgust. Peasants. Dumb, blind beasts. They looked so afraid and scared. For a second, he considered really giving them something to be afraid of, but he stopped himself and struggled to contain his emotions. No, I’m not here to attract attention, at least not to me.
       As Peter spun on his heal and walked back toward the mission, he broadcast a loud non-verbal command to the crowd. <Go home. All of you, go home!>
       Blinking in surprise, the gathered onlookers promptly forgot what they had been afraid of and most of them decided nothing interesting was happening here after all. In less than two minutes the crowd had dissipated and simply wandered away.
       Indeed, it was later discovered that several police officers manning the street barricades were missing too. A quick check revealed that they had apparently abandoned their posts without permission and returned to their residences to spend an evening with their families.
       Peter telepathically summoned his trainees and found Major Demming. “We’re getting nowhere with this.” he said. “No one here knows anything. The priest and his wife openly admit Michael stayed here, but insist he was just another transient in need. I probed both of them as they were questioned and they’re not lying or hiding anything. They’ve merely verified what we already know. Michael’s gone.”
       Major Demming nodded. “The woman mentioned something about him going to find relatives. The FBI thinks there might be more leads.”
       Peter’s eyebrows furrowed. “That doesn’t make sense. Michael Cole doesn’t have any relatives. His parents died when he was in his teens and he was designated as a ward of the state until he turned eighteen.”
       The major shrugged. “Maybe there are relatives we don’t know about; cousins or a lost uncle somewhere. We’ve already got people digging into his background. We’ll find something.”
       For a moment Peter wondered if the woman, Maria, could have lied. He hadn’t conducted a deep scan on the woman. All he had done was monitor her surface thoughts. Walking to the door of the shelter, he looked across the room at the table where the police and FBI still questioned the O’Hara’s. Probing gently, he listened for any sign of deception or evasion in her thoughts. Pushing deeper, he eased into her mind to find what she might not be telling. Pry as he might, there was nothing there, just the soft, sickeningly sweet compassion of a mind-blind, bleeding heart who wasted her time caring for the useless, unwanted, and unwashed.
       Then for a fraction of a second, Peter touched something in her mind as hard as steel and as cold as ice. Recoiling from it, he reached out again to find out what it was, but before he could do so, she raised her eyes and looked into his own. For an instant they locked eyes and her gaze was as firm and unshakable as stone. Then her eyes softened and all he felt from her was a wave of condescending, compassion for people like him. She radiated, not fear or deception, but rather pity.
       He broke contact with her as abruptly as he could. It was unimaginable; it was intolerable that one such as her should pity him.
       “Enough,” shouted Peter, spinning away and heading back out to the street. “Put me in contact with whoever’s coordinating the outbound search teams and get him on the radio, now. We know when Michael left and can assume he’s on the run. We should be able to plot how far he could have gone since then. Have as many four-man teams assigned to regional law enforcement agencies as you need to cover that perimeter before it expands too far. I want every man on base on alert and ready to move at a moment’s notice.”
       The trainees near him stood blinking in surprise. “I said MOVE!” he shouted and they scattered like frightened mice. The major stood nearby somewhat taken aback.
       Walking away from him Peter called over his shoulder, “I’ll coordinate things from a mobile OP until something turns up.”
       Peter didn’t wait for any comment or response from Major Demming. He wasn’t in the mood to explain or argue and didn’t care whether the army officer’s feelings of propriety and authority were hurt. Storming across the street, Peter headed toward a vacant lot where a sleek, black military helicopter waited. Gesturing with his hand to start up the craft, Peter climbed on board and strapped himself in the copilot’s seat.
       Closing his eyes, he concentrated and spread his awareness as far as he could. Where are you, Michael? You can’t hide from me forever. We have business to settle, you and I. Come back and we can finish what you started.
       The blades of the chopper accelerated and a lifting wind arose, which scattered papers and debris in a storm of fury. As the helicopter climbed into the sky, a cloud of dust exploded beneath it and billowed out in a circle that expanded in all directions, just as the hunter spread his mind to search for his prey.

*****

       Michael heard Doctor Sorenson coming down the hall long before the sounds of his footsteps were audible. His mind was loud and active and he radiated his presence like a siren on a still night. Michael genuinely liked the man. Despite his degrees and his position in the University, he wasn’t self absorbed and proud like many of the other professors. Sorenson was one of those people whose curiosity dominated every thought and it was refreshing and exciting to just be with him.
       As the doctor drew nearer, however, Michael realized that something different was exciting him. He put down the book on psychology he was reading, stood up and headed for the door.
       He waited for the doctor to knock and then said, “Come in.” Dr. Sorenson hated it when Michael opened the door before he could knock. It was like flaunting his prescience and it unsettled the old man.
       When the door opened, however, it was Michael who was surprised for Dr. Sorenson was not alone. Michael blinked in amazement. He hadn’t sensed anyone else in the hallway. The second man was completely unexpected.
       “Michael, I have someone I want to introduce to you,” said the doctor. “He’s going to be an important new member of our team. I’d like you to meet, Peter Morton, our newest telepath.”
       Continuing the introductions, the doctor added, “Peter Morton, this is Michael Cole.”
       Michael extended his hand in greeting and was met with the stranger’s firm strong grip. The new arrival was slightly taller than Michael and was as dark as Michael was fair. He had long hair tied back in a short ponytail and dark, penetrating eyes. He smiled, but Michael could read no sense of warmth or amiability to verify its authenticity.
       “Glad to meet you,” said the stranger cordially.
       Michael nodded mutely and then commented. “This is amazing, Dr. Sorenson. I can’t read him at all. Where’d you find him? At another mental hospital?” Michael flinched and glanced back at Peter. He hadn’t meant that to sound the way it had come out. It was just that Doctors Sorenson and Prentice had been scouring every psychiatric hospital in the country looking for people with Landau’s syndrome so they could recruit them to the project and turn them into telepaths for their studies.
       Peter glared at Michael silently, but his expression was as unreadable as his thoughts.
       Michael stammered, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean…”
       “I know,” said Peter. “But Dr. Sorenson didn’t find me. I found him.”
       A look of confusion crossed Michael’s face and he turned to Dr. Sorenson.
       “It’s true,” said the doctor. “Peter found us. He isn’t like the other recruits. Michael, he’s a natural telepath.”
       Michael blinked in surprise and Sorenson paused to let the sentence sink in.
       “That’s right. Peter doesn’t need to take Prilozene like everyone else. He’s a full telepath on his own without the drug. Dr. Prentice verified that he has two recessive genes for telepathy, not just one like everyone else here.”
       Michael was still amazed, but remembered Dr. Prentices’ prediction that natural telepaths had to exist in the normal population, even though they would be very rare. If people with Landau’s syndrome had one recessive gene for telepathy, there would bound to be people with two genes. They would, of course, be full, natural telepaths.
       “You mean… ?” started Michael.
       “Yes,” said Peter. “I was born telepathic and don’t require the pills you and the others need. My abilities are natural, not chemically induced.”
       “But how…?”
       “It should be obvious,” Peter interrupted. “Your people have been working with this drug, what is it…Prilozene? …for more nearly a year now and you’ve recruited nearly a hundred people into your fledgling telepath corps here at… what did you call it?”
       “Project Mindguard,” replied Dr. Sorenson. “That’s what the military has started calling the research program since they started sending in technical and administrative support.”
       Nodding, Peter continued. “As I was saying, you should have realized that if there were real telepaths out in the real world, they’d eventually notice you. If natural telepaths existed, it would be inevitable that they’d find you before you found them.”
       “Uh, I suppose so. I guess, I hadn’t thought of that,” responded Michael. “What amazes me, though, is that I can’t read your thoughts at all. You’re completely closed. How do you do that?”
       “That’s one of the things I’m going to try to teach the rest of you. I’ve just negotiated a special role here with your little group. As a natural telepath, I’ve grown up accustomed to abilities that you and the others are still discovering and fumbling around trying to learn. From now on, I’ll be in charge of training and one of the first things I’ll try to teach you all is how to erect and maintain mental shields.”
       Michael was taken aback. As the first telepath discovered, he had always been the strongest and most experienced. He had always had a special role and was the nominal leader of the fledgling new telepaths. As a matter of course, he had assumed a role that was both half researcher and half trainee and he had even helped design and direct the indoctrination for new recruits as they arrived. Now, with the arrival of this stranger, his role had abruptly changed.
       “Uh… that would be wonderful,” he said politely, if not sincerely. While he tried to sound enthusiastic, he was having difficulty adjusting to his sudden loss of position. It made sense, of course, that someone like Peter should be in charge of training, but it seemed wrong somehow, too.
       “It’s all right, Michael,” Dr. Sorenson said. “This is a wonderful opportunity for us all. Peter’s presence here could accelerate our research by years. Who knows what will result?”
       Dr. Sorenson’s enthusiasm was genuine and infectious. Michael nodded and patted Peter on the shoulder. Peter smiled once more with his cold hollow grin.
       “If you’ll excuse us now, Michael,” said Sorenson, “I have to introduce Peter to the rest of the team. We’re going to have a meeting in the gymnasium at lunch and I’d like all the other recruits to be there. Could you handle that for me?”
       Michael nodded as the doctor turned and headed down the hallway with his new charge. Waiting in the doorway, Michael watched the two walk away, but a nagging worry stuck in the back of his mind like something was wrong, something was deadly wrong.

*****

       Michael woke with a start as the train jerked to a halt. He had been traveling for two days and would soon reach the Mississippi river, if he remembered the itinerary properly. Checking his watch he found it was 3:00am. That doesn’t make sense, he thought. We’re not due to stop for at least another couple hours.
       Shifting in his seat to see out the window better, he expected to see lights of a train station or at least a town nearby. All he saw, however, was the moon low in the sky, empty fields of grain and corn, and a line of trees in the distance. For some reason the train had stopped in the middle of nowhere.
       What are we doing here? thought Michael. Could there be a mechanical problem?
       <No, Michael> came the telepathic reply. <Your dreams have betrayed you. You called to me while you slept and I’ve come for you.>
       <Peter> cried Michael, then he slammed his shields in place. It was true. He’d been dreaming of Peter. In his sleep, he must have dropped his shields and broadcast his thoughts. Damn, he thought. What do I do now?
       Jumping from his seat, he grabbed his pack and bolted for the car exit. Most of the other passengers slept peacefully. One or two looked around, curious about why the train wasn’t moving. At the end of the car, a conductor blocked the door.
       “It’s all right, sir,” said the train agent. “Please go back to your seat. There’s just a signal light up ahead that needs to be checked. There’s no problem and we’ll be back on schedule in no time.”
       He sounded soothing and sincere, but Michael listened carefully and heard his unspoken thoughts. “The engineer said we only had to keep everyone on board for a few minutes and that the police would be right here. If there is a murderer on board, they’ll find him soon enough. Wonder what’s keeping ‘em? Could we have stopped short of where we were supposed to”?
       “Damn, they’re on their way and close”, thought Michael. “I’ve got to get away”.
       He tried to shove his way past the conductor, but the wiry little man held onto him. “I’m sorry , sir. You’re not supposed to change cars right now. The train could start up again any moment. I’m afraid I’ll have to ask you to return to your seat… “
       Wrestling with the old man for a second, Michael lost his temper. Lowering his shields briefly, he looked deep into the man’s mind and grabbed the fear that lurked at the in the hidden recesses where forgotten dreams reside. Staring deep into the conductor’s eyes, Michael took an image, a fragment of a lost nightmare, amplified it and blasted it back at him.
       The old man let go of him and jumped back, his eyes wide with horror. Michael touched the man’s mind and beheld the fear he had triggered there. In Michael’s place, the conductor saw a huge monster of a man, towering over him holding a long knife that dripped with blood. Glancing around, the old man saw blood everywhere and perceived all the passengers scattered about the car slashed to pieces.
       Michael felt a rush of adrenaline surge through the old man’s body and tasted the acrid tang of unspeakable terror. When Michael took a step forward, the old man screamed and ran. Nearby passengers woke wondering what the commotion was and Michael decided he needed a diversion.
       Lowering his shields completely, he closed his eyes and broadcast the nameless senseless fear from the old man, radiating it out in all directions. In an instant everyone on train car started screaming. Those sleeping woke to find their worst nightmares come true. Those awake perceived whatever horror terrified them the most.
       One woman shouted, “Fire!” and raced for her life down the aisle knocking everyone aside. Another passenger cowered in his seat and pleaded at the empty air, “Please don’t kill me.”
       Michael made his way to the car exit and jumped off the train onto the gravel adjoining the tracks. Turning he witnessed other passengers disembarking, as well. Some people raced down the rail line and disappeared into the cold night air. Others climbed out windows and fled into the fields nearby.
       Even through raised shields, the mental echoes of terror and anguish from the others almost overwhelmed him. Michael tightened his shields to quiet their silent screams, but he still heard many cry aloud.
       One woman cried a little girl’s name over an over again. Nearby the terrified shrieks of children sounded helplessly from terror that had no words.
       Guilt tore at him, as he gripped his pack and ran across an open field of short, dried up, corn stalks that were left after the fall harvest. Hurrying into the darkness toward distant woods, he looked back and saw chaos on the train. As he ran, he cringed at the wailing behind him and felt the pain in the minds of his unintended victims that he had caused, but he ran nonetheless. He had to get away.

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