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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(unpublished)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.