First: Please comment! Yes, I sound desperate, but the whole purpose of this blog was to get feedback on my blog, and the only feedback I've manage to get is from my family! I don't care if it's random or on-topic, but if you stumble across this blog, please comment! THANK YOU!
Second: I forgot to do anything special for Hanukkah. My bad.
Third: New chapter time! this next chapter details the creation of the E.H.U.D.s, who they got their powers, who Allen is, why John kept having flashbacks to some guy talking as he ran from the helicopters. Answers are here!
As I said in the last chapter, this is a heavily expanded back story from what was in the second draft. Instead of saying "they did gene therapy and got super-powers," I say, "they did gene therapy and got super-powers, and this is how they felt about it." A much more interesting read.
Fourth: In terms of progress, I am on the fifth chapter of a currently six-chapter flashback, and estimate that there at least three chapters worth of information to go over. At this point, I am left with a dilemma as to the pacing of draft four: The back story is essential, but when it comes as a big clump like this, it detracts from the current story, and could potentially throw off readers. So, should I leave it in place, or break it up and reveal it as min-flashbacks prefacing each John-centric chapter? From the start, it's fairly obvious that John's an E.H.U.D. so the eventual reveal isn't too big of an issue; I can make it clear that these things really happened. But the point is that John is remembering these things, so if they stay where they are now, the reader finds out about John's past as he does. On the other hand, going back to a previous bit of evidence, the story is not all about John; there are other plots going on, and they tie together fairly regularly. Other than the presence of a select few characters, this part of the story doesn't tie in to the rest.
So, leave it alone or break it up throughout the book? I have to say, I haven't actually read the thing, so I don't know. And in fact, that's why I have this blog: to get reader input. So tell me, what do I do?
P.S. That means leave a comment!
And now, on with chapter 23!
Lights turned on overhead, brilliant and nearly blinding. John yelped and rolled out of bed, hitting the concrete floor and gasping as his arm twisted painfully underneath him.
A foot prodded him in the ribs. “Up, Donalson,” Udarian said in a cheery voice.
John slowly opened his eyes and was disappointed to see the small room around him, his little prison. He had hoped that the previous day had only been a dream.
“I get first shower.” Udarian stepped over John and went into the lavatory.
John gingerly extended his arm, flexed it a few times to make sure that it was unhurt, and then stood up. He looked around the room again, feeling an emptiness inside him, a hopelessness… he was still stuck—
The papers. John remembered the papers he had been reading the night before, the lists of everyone involved in the project, his plan to use it to expose all of this once he had escaped. There was still hope, still a reason to live… but where were the papers?
Making sure to appear calm and unhurried, just in case anyone was watching, John turned slowly around, scanning the floor for the papers. They weren’t there. Still, their absence from the floor was no reason to panic. John crossed to his cabinet and checked inside. There were clothes, shoes… no papers.
The hope that John had bee fostering quickly began to fade, being replaced by panic. John returned to the space between the beds, scanning the floor again. Nothing. Throwing out all caution, John dropped to his knees and bent to look under the beds. Still nothing. He stood up, moved methodically around the room, pulling at every piece of furniture, looking in every drawer, under every pillow, throwing both his and Udarian’s clothes around the room. Nothing, nothing, nothing—
The lavatory door opened. “What the **** are you doing?”
John spun around and grabbed Udarian by the shoulders. “Where are they?! Where are the papers?! Where—“
The heel of Udarian’s fist smashed into John’s nose, bending it sideways with a sickening crunch and flinging John to the floor.
“Don’t. You. Ever,” Udarian hissed, making each word its own sentence, “Touch. Me. Again.”
John gasped and squirted blood from his nose.
Udarian stepped over John and retrieved a fresh set of fatigues from a pile on the floor. “But to answer your question, they were confiscated last night. Do you really think Mistlethwakey would actually let a complete record of the program to get out? Every copy’s been destroyed.” He finished dressing and tossed a pair of white sneakers at John. “I don’t know why he even printed those things in the first place. But I’m sure he had his reasons. You better hurry up and get dressed, you know. We gather in fifteen minutes.”
And so, fifteen minutes later, John stood in the huge room that had been his home yesterday, the ninety-nine others around him, all dressed in identical white uniforms, each person shadowed by their personal guards.
Mistlethwakey paced back and forth in front of them, a computerized organizer in his hands, inspecting each of his patients. “What happened to you?” he asked John, noting the blood wiped on the hem of his shirt.
John knew it would be better if he just gave a simple answer, claimed that he tripped, that he slipped in the shower, anything that would cause Mistlethwakey to nod and walk away. But John wasn’t in the mood for simple answers. All hope had left him, his life was empty. He almost felt like crying. The papers had just been a joke, a cruel little reminder that his life was utterly ruled by this petty little man that stood before him. So after a moment’s hesitation, John gave Mistlethwakey’s query a very creative answer.
Five minutes later, Mistlethwakey was near the far end of the line, and John was wiping fresh blood on his shirt.
“That probably wasn’t the best thing to say to him,” said the woman to John’s right.
“I don’t care.”
When Mistlethwakey had finished inspecting his patients, he returned to a place near the center of the line and stood at parade rest. “The time has come,” he called out, his voice calm and even, “to make you into E.H.U.D.s. What we do today will be what we do for the next year. You will wake up and assemble here, and then be taken, in groups of ten, to your clinical areas. There, you will begin your treatments. After that, you will return here for lunch, free time, and training. That will be your day. And no, there will be no breakfast, no dinner—“ One of the prisoners raised an arm. “—and no questions.” The arm lowered. “Do you all understand?”
No one responded.
“Good. You will now each be given a number, zero through nine. Remember what number you are given, and join up with others of your number.”
Each of the personal guards stepped forward and told a number to their charge. John was assigned the number five.
The line of prisoners began to disintegrate, each person calling out there number, and then forming up into groups as they found those with similar numbers. Before too long, everyone had found their group; but it struck John that it took too long. This could have been handled much more efficiently. The guards could have just split people away from the line in groups of ten, or taken them individually to the clinics, letting the prisoners find out their groupings when they reached their destinations. This disorderliness, Mistlethwakey giving out those papers to everyone… Mistlethwakey didn’t seem to be stupid; after all, he had organized a top-secret government program to kidnap people and hold them in some hidden facility. So he had to know what he was doing, had to know that he was acting stupid… what was the point? Was he trying to keep them all mentally off-balance, easier to control? Or… or was he trying to teach them something? To keep the prisoners disjointed from the guards, to make them self sufficient, to form them into their own little groups, to foment plans of escape, breed rebellion, make them into a truly ferocious fighting force?
John abandoned his current train of thought and looked up to see Vince, the electrical engineering student he had met yesterday, walking towards him.
“Oh, hey,” John called back half-heartedly. As his mouth opened, something popped inside his nose and it began to bleed again. “****.”
“Wow. Yeah, that’s pretty bad. Too bad Dr. Frease doesn’t have any tampons; they’d probably clear that right up.”
Dr. Frease came up behind Vince. “Just because I’m a gynecologist doesn’t mean I have any dealings with tampons.”
Vince was about to reply, but John held up his hands. “Cab we talk about subthig else?”
“Vince is right, that is pretty bad.”
“Fortunately we’re goig to a clinic.”
“Yes, quite fortunately.”
John took a brief moment to see who was in his group; he hadn’t been paying too much attention. There was Cyd, of course; she was the one whom John had followed while he was thinking about Mistlethwakey’s numeration plan. And there was Vince, Dr. Frease, Naomi, Merv, the former soldier who had confronted Mistlethwakey yesterday, Maria, one man and one woman whom John didn’t know… and then there was Allen.
“So,” Allen said, glancing around to make sure that none of the guards were nearby. “How many of you thought of using the papers in an escape plot?”
Everyone raised their hands.
“I thought so. If we seriously want to escape, we’ll need to get more creative. Mistlethwakey apparently expected us to think of escape. I don’t know why; my current guess is that he wants to mentally ear us down, make escape seem impossible.”
“Let me guess,” Dr. Frease said, his voice dripping with sarcasm, “you already have a plan for escaping this horrid little pit?”
Dr. Frease’s comment jogged something in John’s memory, something he had heard… no felt, thought about, the previous night. He remembered what the silent voice had said… Just give it time. Don’t resist; just play along with Mistlethwakey… the time will come to strike back, to escape. John followed the thought, took it to its logical conclusion.
“Of course he does,” John said. “He wants us to wait it out, to undergo the treatments.”
Allen smiled. “Bingo. You all read a little about the paranormal abilities. Think what could happen if we had those on our side.”
“Still can’t stop a gun,” Cyd sneered.
Naomi jumped into the conversation then. “It doesn’t matter. We’re also getting combat training. They fully intend to turn us into the world’s deadliest fighting force. Escape now is impossible; we’re a hundred frightened civilians—“ Merv noisily cleared his throat. “—ninety-nine frightened civilians, and over one hundred soldiers. But if we were an invincible fighting force? We could escape easily!”
Little Maria grinned nastily. “Yeah, just look what the six inch rats did to the big scary human scientists.”
The three nearest Maria backed away a few steps when they saw the light filling her eyes.
“Only one problem.” The speaker was the man that John didn’t know. “If we get out, even if we have these powers, so what? We don’t have the papers, we don’t have anything.”
Allen’s smile matched Maria’s. “If the papers were correct in their estimates of these paranormal abilities, we won’t need the papers. We won’t really need anything. We can go wherever we want, with impunity, do whatever. We can expose this little conspiracy, ruin Mistlethwakey, whatever. And it doesn’t have to stop there.”
“What do you mean?” asked Naomi.
“Have you ever seen The Mouse that Roared?”
John thought he had; he only vaguely remembered it. “Is that the one with Peter Sellers?”
Allen nodded. “And Peter Sellers.”
Naomi rolled her eyes. “I say again: what do you mean?”
“We’ll be the most dangerous thing on the planet; the elite corps to prove America’s military strength. If we went rogue, freed ourselves from any governmental loyalty or control, we would be the Q-bomb, we would be that ultimate threat that can enforce global peace. Think about it; why just free ourselves from this prison? With our powers, we could save the whole world.”
No one knew how to respond to Allen, to the fierceness in his eyes, the fervor in his voice.
Finally, though, Vince laughed weakly, and tried to pass off Allen’s comments as a joke. “Yeah, but we better make sure that we actually get these powers first before saving the world, right?”
His words seemed to ease the tension in the group, and they all laughed nervously, all tried to forget about what had been said. All except Allen… and John.
What Allen said had struck a chord with John, had awakened thoughts, ideas, brilliant schemes inside of him. He suddenly saw potentials, saw what he might be able to do with the gifts that Mistlethwakey’s men were about to force on him…
“No saving the world today,” a new voice said. As one, the ten prisoners turned and saw one of the guards standing behind their huddle. The guard gestured towards the great door that led out of the room. “This way.”
Most of those in the group looked shocked and frightened as they followed, sure that there would be some sort of punishment for their plotting, their little rebellion. But John walked bravely, keeping stride with Allen, not even bothering to speak in a whisper. “I’m with you. Anything you want to do, you have my support. Just ask.”
The trace of a smile faded from Allen’s face. “That’s not the kind of pledge to give lightly. Terrible things might happen. You might have to do things that you could never forgive yourself for.”
It should have been easy for John to pass off Allen’s comments as mere hyperbole, an overstating of the danger. After all the rebellion, when it came, could very well happen easily and painlessly. But every time Allen said might, John had the sense that what Allen meant to say was will… and for some reason John was sure that Allen knew what he was talking about.
The group continued walking in silence, going down the long hall, past their barracks, past more, and more, and more… and then finally arriving at a crossroads. Their escort of Guards shifted the little group down the right-hand hallway, and soon they were standing in a small open area before three steel doors.
“This is your clinic,” Udarian announced. “The doors will be opened, and you will be called inside, one at a time. It is expected that you go. No discussion.”
The guards separated themselves from their prisoners and lined up along one wall, while the prisoners remained huddled in the middle of the room.
They were all silent for several long minutes, and then John said, “Yes. I’m sure. You have me.”
The look that crossed Allen’s face then was one of relief, of victory… of sorrow.
And then the doctors began to call them.
They went into the rooms, had measurements taken, were prodded, examined, searched thoroughly and completely; John was able to get a pair of glasses. And when the examinations were over, they were each given an injection. They were never told what the injection was for, but they were all assured that it was perfectly safe, and that it was essential for their transformations. Then they were sent back to the big room, had lunch, went to personal defense classes, went back to their rooms, slept, repeated, repeated, repeated, for a year…
And, according to John’s rough count, almost exactly one year later, he was sitting in the clinic, electrodes strapped to his head, his arms his chest, a Styrofoam cup of water sitting on a table about five feet away from him.
“This is stupid,” John complained, vaguely aware that he had said the same thing yesterday, the day before that, before that, before—
“Just give it a few more minutes,” said one of the doctors patiently.
John bit off a rude response. He had learned long months ago that antagonizing the doctors was not a smart thing to do. But he hated them so much… it was strange, he thought, that these men and women had such power over him, had such an intimate knowledge of his body, and yet he didn’t even know their names. They were just the doctors, completely interchangeable, each one different form the next only in physical appearance. This one for instance, staring down at John, glancing at his digital notepad, was tall, thin, with bulging eyes, a pinched, birdlike face. He actually looked something like a chicken, John thought idly. One of those Japanese show roosters…
“Focus, Mr. Donalson.”
John’s right arm spasmed as a jolt of electricity shot through it. Angrily, he swept out his left arm and knocked over a thin lamp standing nearby. Again, a spasming jolt of pain shot through him, but stronger this time.
“**** it, I’ve had enough!” John stood up, began ripping the electrodes off his body.
“Mr. Donalson, you will sit—“
John swung out his hand, open-and blade shaped, drove it into the doctor’s throat. The doctor gurgled and fell backwards, coughing and spitting.
Udarian was instantly standing, advancing on John—John saw him, thrust a fist towards Udarian’s throat. Udarian jerked his upper body back, became unbalanced. John drooped to one knee and shot his other leg out and around, catching Udarian’s lower leg, sending him to the floor. He rolled forward, bringing his leg underneath himself, springing up and onto Udarian, pinning him to the ground, swinging at his head with poorly controlled blows, his anger washing away the combat training that had been drilled into him over the past year.
Two more guards burst into the room and wrapped themselves around John’s arms, pulling him off Udarian, pushing him back into the chair. He jerked his body, tried to kick at him, but they were too strong. The doctor made brief hand gestures to the guards and they changed positions. One pulled his arms behind his back and pinned them against the chair, the other grabbed his head and twisted it around, forcing it in the direction of the cup on the table. The guard reached down and jabbed his fingers into John’s eyes, pulling the lids back and forcing John to look at nothing but the cup.
The doctor came up beside him and struck him violently on the ear. “I am the cup!” he yelled.
John didn’t know what the man meant, and he didn’t much care. He put another burst of energy into his arms, trying to tear them free, but the man on his arms was too heavy.
The doctor struck him again. “I am the cup!”
John gritted his teeth, feeling unstoppable rage building up deep inside—
The doctor struck again. “I am the cup!”
Why wouldn’t he shut up? John resolved to kill the man as soon as—
Again. “I am the cup!” Again. “I am the cup!” Again. “I am—“
John focused all of his anger on the cup, imagined it as the doctor, poured his hate into it, imagined every way for it to die, to burn, to writhe in agony. John let the anger bubble up into his throat, out through his mind. He yelled, everything within him yelled—
And the cup fell over.
It was nothing spectacular. It rocked gently, tipped, and fell, spilling its water and rolling slightly. That was all.
The guards instantly released John and backed away, leaving the doctor unprotected. John instantly surged to his feet—and stumbled to the floor, gasping. He felt so tired, so weak…
“You did it,” the doctor said, his voice suffused with pride. “The first one of the batch. Just over a year, too. Good timing, considering how low the dosages were.”
There was no way for John to reply. He gasped for breath, feeling every cell in his body cry out for oxygen. He was tired, so tired…
The doctor, syringe in hand, bent over John and began to take samples from John’s outstretched arm. “Don’t worry, it’ll get easier as you practice more. The mind is a muscle like any other; the more you exercise it, the stronger it’ll get.” He stood up and walked out of John’s field of vision, and then addressed himself to the guards. “Take him back to his room, make sure he gets lots of food and rest. And of course he’s excused from today’s training. I’ll personally inform Mistlethwakey of our breakthrough. And how are you doing, Lieutenant? Is your nose alright?”
The doctor probably said more, but John lost consciousness then. He awoke minutes later, ceiling tiles flying by overhead, guards holding his legs and arms as they carried him through the facility.
He could feel his strength slowly returning, his body slowly rebuilding itself, his consciousness slowly refocusing itself… he still didn’t know exactly what he had done with the cup; he had just stared at it, focused on it, hated it. And then there was a feeling of release, of energy leaving his body…
The strange thing was, now that the energy was gone, had left him, he could still feel it hanging in the air around him. He couldn’t see the guards holding him, yet he could somehow feel them, perceive them as voids in the energy that used to be in him. The same was true of the building around him: each door they passed was a slight expansion of his personal field, each stretch of blank wall a contraction, each juncture with another hall a great emptiness stretching out into infinity.
They reached his room, opened his door. John could feel it as a new emptiness yawning wide before him; as the entered the room, he could feel the emptiness take shape, gain edges, dimension. Even with his eyes closed, he could tell by the closeness of his field under his back that he was suspended over his bed. Then he was down, sinking into the mattress.
The guards left.
In the final instances before he fell asleep, John focused on the field around him, the bits of himself floating through the air. He focused felt, gathered it; with a sudden burst of energy, a draining of the last few free calories within him, he pulled, felt himself come together, return totally.
And then there was just him: exhausted, near death, but together, whole.
And he slept…
Another year passed. Another year of unending combat practice, another year of losing himself into his new role as a soldier. But there were differences this year: this year, they went from being prisoners to being E.H.U.D.s. After John’s first breakthrough with the Styrofoam cup, it was only three days until the next prisoner passed from one state to the next. And then only two days from the second to the third. In the weeks following John’s sudden change all of the prisoners went through the transition; going to sleep as mortals, awakening as gods. It took most of them by surprise, to find themselves able of performing what could only be called miracles, to bend the laws of nature to there wills. But they soon grew to accept their newfound abilities, to love their power, to devise ways to use it to escape.
There was only one person among them who didn’t receive his change with any special fanfare, who didn’t try to show off to the others what he could do with his powers after every training session. He was the last of them to change, but the first to encourage others to use their powers wisely. He was Allen.
It surprised John, a little, watching Allen’s reactions to all of this. Once John had been strong enough to use his powers again, to tap into that place in his mind that let him manipulate objects far away from himself, he had almost forgotten that he was a prisoner, that his life was hell. He had actually enjoyed himself, moving small objects, pushing aside the foam training darts as they flew towards him, feeding himself hands-free during feeding times. The others did the same, acting like little children with new toys.
Not Allen. Allen took it all in stride, only gave as much of himself as was necessary during training sessions, never played around with his powers. While everyone else was marveling at the fact that Naomi had lifted her guard six inches into the air, Allen was scratching his arm and looking distractedly at the ceiling. While everyone else sat in a large circle, focusing on the thin cuts on their hands that the guards had given them that morning, trying to heal them, to wash the pain away, Allen was staring at the floor between his legs and humming softly to himself.
It was after this healing exercise that the first E.H.U.D. insurrection began. By John’s rough calculation they had been prisoners for about eighteen months, and the E.H.U.D.s, as they were now calling themselves, were dividing into two groups: those who had become used to the captivity, who were tired of fighting and were willing to live day by day, training, eating sleeping, repeating, and those who were ready to fight, to escape, to use their new powers against their captors. And it was believed among the fighters that their leader was Allen. The reasoning behind the belief was sound; Allen’s plan of becoming a government-less peacekeeping force had become widely dispersed amongst the E.H.U.D.s, and all agreed it was the plan they would follow once they escaped.
So it came as something of a shock to everyone gathered in the great room when news spread that Lemlin had urged Allen to declare an open revolt, and that Allen had refused. John arrived in time to hear the end of their argument.
“We’ve been at this too long,” Lemlin whispered vehemently, trying to keep his voice below the guard’s range of hearing. “We have the powers, we have the training, we can do it! The guards are complacent!”
Allen didn’t look at Lemlin when he responded; he looked at John. “We have only the barest of training. There’s more we could use our powers for, things we need to learn before we move.”
“Like what? How to wipe our ***es without getting dirty?”
Without warning, Allen shot out his hand and grabbed John’s arm, twisting it in an awkward direction and digging in his fingernails to the point of drawing blood. John fought down the impulse to move away; he knew the grip he was in could very well break his arm if he moved too forcefully.
Allen shifted his attention to Lemlin. “Do you feel that?”
Lemlin, crouched in a fighting stance and eying Allen warily, took a half step away. “What?”
“I said, do you feel that? Do you feel the pain in his arm?”
“Of course not, I—“
Allen sighed. “Stop worrying about yourself for a minute and focus on John. Feel the shape of his mind, feel what he feels. There’s more to what you can do than knock over cups and dodge Nerfs.”
“I hate to interrupt,” John grunted, “but I never volunteered to be an object lesson.”
“You never volunteered for any of this,” Allen said, releasing John’s arm. He turned back to Lemlin. “While you’ve been planning for the instant gratification of escape, I’ve used my free time to find out what I can do, what I have to offer when we make our escape.”
“And what do you have to offer?” John asked, intrigued.
“I can offer the guards, I think. I stated on all of you, sensing you, feeling your minds. Then I switched my experiments to the guards. I’ve been through their minds, seen hat they’ve seen, experienced their memories.”
“Mind reading.” Lemlin seemed skeptical.
“Yes, exactly. And I think, over time, I may be able to directly access their minds, control their nervous functions. Control them.”
Allen nodded. “Over time.”
Lemlin suddenly leaned in close, grabbing by the shoulders and shaking him. “Over time, my daughter’s going to get older! Over time, she’s going to be sent to a foster home, or get adopted. Over time, she won’t remember me!”
Allen didn’t react to Lemlin’s physical attack. He merely looked Lemlin in the eye and said, “Over time, she will have the chance to get her father back, safe and sound. If her father does anything rash, he might died, and where would she be then.”
Lemlin released Allen and backed away. “I’m attacking Mistlethwakey tomorrow, with or without you. One way or another, something will happen tomorrow.” He jabbed his finger to emphasize the last four words. Then he turned and quietly strode away to a group of his co-conspirators.
The few people who had gathered around to hear the argument soon lost interest and left as well, leaving only John to speak to Allen. “Can you really hear them? Their thoughts I mean?”
Allen shook himself and blinked a few times, his attention seeming to have been called from some unfathomably distant place. “Oh, yes, of course. That’s the easiest part, really. The memories are just like the thoughts, only compressed. But no, you don’t usually hear them; they’re usually images, or feelings of desire or intent.” Something flickered across Allen’s face and he smiled slightly. “That reminds me, next time you see Udarian looking at little Maria, kick him in the balls, will you?”
John was going to respond, but Allen seemed to float off to that distant place again. Reluctantly, John left him alone.
The next day, they performed another healing exercise. Each E.H.U.D. had a finger nicked, and five hours of concentration in which to heal the wound. So far, few of them were making progress. John knew this, because he was studying their minds. What Allen had told him had opened up a whole new world of possibilities to John. In addition to being able to manipulate matter from a distance, the E.H.U.D.s would be able to function perfectly as a team, seeing what the others saw, instantly communicating vital information that could be the difference between life and death on the field.
So instead of healing his wound, John was experimenting, letting his mind float out and touch others. He felt the pain, the persistent throbbing sting on everyone’s right index finger; he felt the anger towards the guards for putting them through this yet again. In some people’s minds he felt quiet acceptance, surrender to life spent in this pit. And in other minds—
John felt a sudden hatred, a sudden desire to escape, to avenge himself on the guards and to bring this place down, one brick at a time. He dropped his hand and was rising to his feet when he realized that the impulse had not come from his own mind, but from Lemlin’s.
Off to John’s left, Lemlin surged unexpectedly to his feet, followed by about fifteen others. They each targeted a guard, lashed out wildly with their minds. The guards fell, chocking and wheezing, their bodies spasming wildly.
Lemlin and his men rushed forward, grabbed up fallen rifles, flailed out at more of the guards—
John, half crouched and unsure of what to do, glanced instinctively towards Allen.
Slowly, Allen shook his head. He wasn’t answering the question plain in John’s eyes; he was weary, and disappointed in Lemlin’s actions.
Lemlin and his crew had disabled about half of the guards when a sudden buzzing split the air. Lemlin stumbled; fell to one knee, his teeth exposed in a wide grimace. Around the circle, the E.H.U.D.s suddenly gasped, or screamed, or fell over and began to weep.
John felt his own mind disconnect from the others, felt himself as alone and isolated as he had that first day in this room…
He looked to see Allen’s reaction to the noise. At first glance, Allen seemed completely unaffected; he sat up straight and his head still moved slowly back and forth. But when John looked closer he saw Allen’s teeth chattering, his jaw muscles moving rapidly, a vein on his forehead pulsing.
The remaining guards rushed forward to disarm the insurgent E.H.U.D.s, and then turned to help their fallen comrades out of the room.
From above the room, in the little walkway that surrounded it, Mistlethwakey spoke, his voice amplified and echoing over the terrible buzzing. “That sound you hear is made by a device we call the scrambler. It produces a high-pitched buzzing which interferes with certain brain functions, namely those associated with your paranormal abilities. As some of you no doubt have noticed, the device causes a different reaction in each of you. The one constant however, is that when the scrambler is running, each of you is merely a well-trained soldier. Remember that. The scanner will be used when necessary; your resistance will not be tolerated. Now, I’m going to turn the scanner off, and I expect you all to be mature about this, and behave from now on. Am I understood?”
The only reply was a pained shriek from Lemlin.
The buzzing stopped, and John felt the world around him began to drift back, to fill his mind with the sounds of other minds.
Mistlethwakey spoke again. “I think we’re done with training today; you all may stay here and talk for a few hours, work out the implications of a device such as the scrambler. And remember, we didn’t enter this plan half-cocked. Everything that can go wrong, we have already planned for. We’re in charge. It would be good for you to remember that.”
They could hear Mistlethwakey’s feet clicking on the concrete as he left the walkway.
Below in the room, the nameless doctors filed in through the massive loading door, pushing gurneys in front of them and standing patiently by as the injured guards were loaded on and then carted away. Soon only the E.H.U.D.s and twenty guards remained.
Lemlin stood shakily to his feet and walked over to Allen. “You knew,” he hissed.
Allen sat, legs folded, and looked up at Lemlin. “I don’t know what you mean.”
“You told me not to attack. You knew they had the scramblers, that they were going to use them, and you tried to stop me!”
“And yet you didn’t listen to the warning.”
“That’s not the point! The point is that you had inside information! You had to have!”
Allen didn’t respond for a long moment. “I didn’t know specifically about the scramblers, no, but I suspected that they would have some kind of weapon to stop us. We are the best of the best, the undefeatable super soldiers. Did you really think they were stupid enough to try to control us with a hundred guards armed with conventional weapons? That’s something akin to having soldiers firing rifles at an incoming missile.”
Lemlin’s jaw moved, as if he wanted to say something, but all he did was glare at Allen. “You knew,” he eventually repeated, although this time it lacked conviction.
“I would suggest that next time you listen to the people who are trying to counsel you. We’re up against very smart people here, and we need to be smarter than them. I would also suggest that you arm yourself better before you make your next move. For instance, learn to read minds. Who knows, it may turn out that you have other abilities, such as being able to project your own thoughts onto others. Make the guards willingly surrender to you. Better yet, make them fight for you.”
“And all the while, we just play along with all of this?”
Allen nodded gravely. “We have no other choice.”
Lemlin snorted and turned away.
The E.H.U.D.s all broke into little groups then, forming clusters of threes and fours, talking about what had happened that day, about ways to get around the scramblers, about ways to escape.
John found himself sitting with Allen and Naomi. They all remained silent for some time until Naomi spoke up.
“Who are you, Allen?”
“You said that you were an electrician.”
Allen smiled. “That I was. My last job was on a luxury apartment building in Philly.”
John became interested at the mention of buildings. “Was it Sky Crest?”
“Oh, you’ve heard about it?”
John nodded excitedly. “I was studying it right before… before all this. Designed by Julian Cohen himself, one of America’s best architects.”
“Oh, very interesting, I’m sure,” Naomi interjected, “but back to my question. Who are you? You’re an electrician, but the first day here, you started getting everyone organized. We had a career military man, and he didn’t do anything. But you managed to get us to make an organized effort to work through this, to figure out where the **** we were. You found out people’s specialties, you used them—and don’t forget that you came up with the best escape program, you were the one who figured out mind reading, you were the one who guessed that they’d have scramblers. That’s some pretty good guesswork for someone who installs light bulbs for a living.”
Allen made show of being offended. “Oh, it’s much harder than that! Any monkey can install a light bulb, but it takes hard work and years of practice to become an electrician!”
“You know what I mean.”
“Alright, yes, fine, I know what you mean. Let’s just say that ‘electrician’ is what I do, not who I am.”
“And that’s Naomi’s question; who are you?” John was remembering other things Allen had done, other times when he had easily taken charge, had kept them all from panicking. “With what I’ve seen you do, you could easily become president. ****, you could get electing king for life.”
“Who do you think I am?”
“I would think maybe one of those insanely cool high-school teachers that everybody loves, but who only ever show up in movies,” Naomi said thoughtfully.
“Outside of being an electrician, my only jobs have been in fast food.”
“Look, just end the suspense and tell us your secret.”
“You think I have a secret?”
Naomi grunted and buried her face in her hands. “You’re being evasive! That just proves it!”
Allen smiled. “I’ll say this. I’m very well read in a variety of subjects, and in fact I’m a self-taught physicist and social-philosopher.”
“And what exactly is a social-philosopher?” John asked.
“It means I study people, see how they work, look at trends through history and apply my theories to them.”
“And some of those theories would be…?” Naomi prompted, lifting her eyes above the level of her fingers.
“Well, take my thoughts about The Mouse that Roared. In the 1960’s, the idea of one nation with a powerful weapon forcing its will on others was a very real threat. Or to take it a step farther, the concept of using weapons to prevent wars. Do you realize that the nuclear bomb has done more for stopping wars than just about any other single factor?”
Neither Naomi nor John responded.
“In the 1970’s and 80’s, both America and the then Soviet Union were at the brink of starting World War III, with each power bloc ruling a large portion of the world and ordering around vast forces, severely destabilizing the world system, and costing millions of lives. However, each side had a massive nuclear arsenal, enough to completely wipe out the other side, and much of the rest of the world as well. If either side struck, the other would launch weapons, and both sides would be wiped out. Mutually assured-destruction. No matter who moved first, they would both die. Thus, no one moved, and thus we’re not living on a lifeless ball of radioactive dust today.”
“So,” John ventured, “we would step in and assure destruction to anyone who made an attempt at war?”
“Yes; we’d take the whole world hostage, as it were, and shoot anyone who moved.”
“But things always end badly for hostage takers,” Naomi added.
“Look at Israel; surrounded on all sides by hostile nations. Yet somehow, small as it is, it’s still around. Why? It has the bomb. It’s holding the countries surrounding it hostage.”
“So no one could mount a serious assault against Israel without getting wiped out.”
Allen smiled. “Exactly. Hostages aren’t always a bad thing, you see. It all depends on who you take, why you take them, and the likelihood that they will survive.”
John felt uncomfortable. “That sounds a bit… morally questionable.”
Allen’s smile remained, but his eyes grew distant. “In war, there is no morality. There is only your survival, and the survival of your family, your community, your nation. Hit them before they hit you.”
“You sound like you’ve been through war before.”
Allen shook his head. “No, but I think that before this thing is done, we will go through war. And we have to win by any means possible.”
They grew silent again, contemplative.
“You know,” John said, “even after all that you said yesterday, Naomi and I are the only ones who’ve tried to read minds.”
“You saw my mind just like I saw yours; don’t act so innocent. The point is, we two are listening to you Allen. You have a plan, that’s obvious; an idea to live through this, to make a better world afterwards. Teach us. Teach us some more social-philosophy, teach us how to stand against Mistlethwakey.”
“I don’t want to be involved with this,” Naomi said quickly.
“Allen and I both know you’re lying.”
Naomi drew up her legs and folded her arms around herself. “Sure, fine, whatever, be our guru.”
Allen sighed and stared up at the ceiling. “I’m not a professional; all I have are ideas. I don’t want to be some sort of revolutionary leader. But yes, I’ll teach you, I’ll get you ready to get out of this place. But you can’t rely on me. You have to think for yourselves.”
“I told you more than a year ago that anything you need me for, I’m there. If you need me to move past you one day, I’ll do it.”
Allen nodded and turned towards Naomi. “And you? Are you ready to do whatever it takes?”
“Whatever it takes to do what?”
“Does it matter?”
Naomi didn’t respond for several minutes, and the two men didn’t try to rush her decision. Finally, with a sigh of resignation, she held up her right hand. “Teach me, o great master, so that I too may become enlightened.”
“Good. Meet me tomorrow during lunch for some theories on the uses of telepathic abilities and for a bit of social-philosophy. Bring anyone who’ll listen. And now, if you don’t mind,” Allen stood up and stretched, “I’m feeling tired, and I think I’ll be off to bed now.”
He walked swiftly to the massive door, paused briefly to talk with the guards stationed there, and then disappeared into the hallway.
As soon as Allen was gone, Naomi also stood and walked towards a group of women clustered around Cyd and sat down with them.
John sat alone, thinking over the things Allen had said and stretching out his mind to touch the others in the room. There were feelings of fear, of compliance… but now, floating up amongst the minds, moving like a virus that jumped from consciousness to conciseness, was a new feeling—defiance. More and more, resentment towards Mistlethwakey and his scramblers spread, and soon the E.H.U.D.s were of one mind. They would not merely escape; they would defy Mistlethwakey, would destroy all he had built.
And, starting with the group that Naomi had joined, and spreading to others as it dissipated and the members moved off to other groups, was the knowledge that no matter what form this final vengeance took, Allen would be the one to made them ready for it…
The next day, four people arrived to hear Allen’s lecture and better learn how to use their powers: John and Naomi, of course, and Dr. Frease and little Maria, who had taken to following the old man as if she were his daughter.
The day after that, five more E.H.U.D.s joined the group including, to everyone’s surprise, Cyd, who was still having a hard time getting along with others.
By the time a week had passed since the founding of the little group, all ninety nine of the E.H.U.D.s were studying at Allen’s feet.