Jon Moore was no stranger to fear. Growing up in the Empire, he had spent his entire life having to guard his every thought. He learned early on to nod and smile when the Overlord commanded, to cheer when his fellow rebels were condemned to death, and to always guard his emotions, lest they give him away. He kept these thoughts in mind as he fled into the alley of abandoned buildings and slums, which were scheduled for demolition and reconstruction in the coming months.
It had been nearly forty years since the Overlord had come to power. Since that time, war and poverty were things of the past. There had been virtually no crime, hunger, or want. From an outsider's point of view, society resembled a paradise. But under the overt affluence was an underlying current of fear. There was also no freedom of thought or opinion. Those who were good citizens were rewarded with peace and prosperity. Those who chose to harbor ill feelings or rebellion were dealt with harshly.
The Overlord had come to power using stolen technology and unspeakably destructive metahuman power amid a period of war and conflict. Entire cities were vaporized, governments and their armies were crushed and millions were killed in riots before the world had begged for peace at any price. Only a handful of people knew who the Overlord was and the circumstances that led to the conquest, but for the rest of society, the details didn't matter. After a painful period of rebuilding, things began to look better from a materialistic point of view. But the more prosperous society grew, the dimmer the chances the rebellion had to restoring freedom and things were looking grim.
Jon had grown up with all the trappings of material wealth that the aftermath had allowed. A bright child, he was spotted early on and cultivated to work in the bureaucracy to handle day-to-day affairs while the Overlord enforced the will of the Empire and continued the conquest. It was a chance encounter with a rebel leader that had changed his outlook on life and made him realize the cage that society had become. After a period of indoctrination, he was told to return to his position as a lowly bureaucrat so he could act as the rebellion's eyes and ears, as long as he remembered to guard his thoughts.
"Who comes in the name of the Overlord?" a voice asked as Jon approached the boarded up door.
"I'm here on Overlord business, to inspect for indigent population," Jon replied. The pass phrases were chosen specifically to sound innocuous in case the cell had been compromised.
The door opened and Jon was ushered in quickly. An older man led Jon into a private room as the other members of the cell kept an eye out for anyone following Jon here. "Do you have the item?"
Jon reached into his coat and pulled out a circuit board. "The last piece," he said. "Chronological navigation boards from the last factory inspection."
Donald Freeman led Jon down a set of stairs leading to a room with a large machine that was in the final stages of assembly. "I had hoped that it wouldn't come to this," he sighed. "But things have reached a point where we have no other choice. Are you ready?"
"Sir, are you sure? I mean, maybe I could do more good here, trying to help the rebellion from within the system."
"Jon," Donald said slowly, "there is no more rebellion. I just got word this morning that three more cells were discovered and crushed. The leaders were taken to the palace for interrogation, and you know that no one can resist the Overlord's interrogation for long. It's only a matter of time before they show up here. Even if we finish our moving preparations, it's only postponing the inevitable. Besides, you're one of only a few people left who knows the histories well enough to do any good in the past."
Jon looked down and grimaced. Everything he had known was now at stake. Part of him wished that he had never heard of the rebellion. So many people in society had all but given up freedom in exchange for safety and security. Had things turned out differently, he would have been one of them. Another drone; a cog in the system ruled by the Overlord with an iron fist.
But now there was no choice. Everything that meant anything to him now rested on his ability to go back in time and change what had happened. He had to try and stop the Overlord from ever coming to power in the first place. Against all odds, he would have to kill the Overlord.
"If you succeed, then everything will be different," Donald promised. "Be warned however, that once you go back, any history you remember should be considered suspect. Be careful about what you do and whom you interact with. If you interfere in the wrong way, you may end up bring about the very change we're trying to prevent."
"If you fail in your initial plan, then seek out the female telepath and her allies. You may need their help if the Overlord has already begun to ascend in power."
"It won't come to that," Jon promised. "One way or the other, I will carry out my mission. The Overlord must die."
Madelyn let out a whoop of joy as the Pacific Ocean disappeared in a blur of speed beneath her. "Screw driver's ed, I will never get tired of this!"
Ahead of her, Angelina smiled as she mentally guided their flight across the ocean and into the stratosphere. "Hang on; I want to give China a wide berth."
"Why? They can't hit you at this speed, can they?"
"Not likely, but a billion point three minds is loud to me, no matter how high up we are."
"How are we going so fast and still able to breathe and talk like this anyway?"
"I'm keeping a pocket of warm pressurized air around us at the same speed. I'm also protecting us from G-forces by keeping all our body molecules together."
Madelyn looked back down as snow-covered mountain ranges gave way to deserts and rugged hinterlands then turned back to Angelina. "So what's with the sunglasses anyway?"
Angelina shrugged. "Mr. McMiller pointed out that having my face exposed kind of ruins the point of having a secret identity."
"Maybe you should start wearing horn-rimmed glasses when you're Angie, so people won't connect you to being Mindshadow."
Angelina rolled her eyes. "That'll never work. People will see right through that."
"I think people trust you more if they can see your eyes, but whatever," Madelyn shrugged. "Speaking of Nova, what are they like anyway? Are they as bad as the media say they are?"
"Mr. McMiller seems like a nice guy," Angelina said. "The other two are pretty tough though. They both seem like very hardened people."
"I saw something on the Internet about Red Nova saving a family from a burning home, but a bunch of talking heads are trying to claim he's a bad guy."
"Yeah, well..." Angelina snorted, "the same talking heads say I'm the ringleader for Onyx and his crew and that I was Maelstrom's 'secret partner', whatever that means."
"Well, maybe you should hold a press conference or something?"
"Mr. McMiller promised that he would take care of that. He's got a lot more experience with the media, so I figured I'd just lay low for a few days and let things sort out."
"It sounds like you're getting close to them. So did they ask you to join them?"
"He mentioned something like that, but he said I'd have to give up my life here. I didn't want to walk away from you and everyone I know. He did leave me a cell phone that he said had a scrambler on it so people couldn't listen in on us."
Just then, Madelyn blinked at the familiar city skyline below her. "Whoa, was that Paris?"
Angelina glanced back and shrugged. "Looks like it. Wanna go buzz the Louvre?"
"No, I just... that is, we just flew across Asia in only a few minutes. Isn't flying this fast tiring to you?"
Angelina turned around in mid-air and smiled. "Not really. The first time I tried flying; I almost threw myself out of the atmosphere before I realized what I was doing. This is barely floating to me."
Madelyn shook her head. "You have got to teach me how to fly."
Angelina did a double take. "You're kidding, right?"
"I don't know... it seems like you can do almost anything you put your mind to it these days. Can't you give super powers? Maybe I could be your sidekick?" Madelyn said mirthfully.
"Maddie, this isn't like playing the saxophone. Scientifically speaking, I don't even know how my powers work. Everything I do, I do on instinct. Now you want me to crack your head open, rewire your brain like a switchboard and hope it all turns out OK?"
"Pooh... I guess it just seems like you're getting all the fun with this superhero stuff."
Angelina rolled her eyes. "OK, flying is fun. But a lot of what I go through isn't. You've seen what happens to me when I'm in a crowded room. I also can't really let myself loose emotionally any more. I've already had a few accidents whenever my mind wanders. Nothing serious yet, but..."
"I swear; you're becoming way too serious about this stuff."
"Um... hello? That's kind of the point?" Angelina shook her head, and then directed their flight towards the Atlantic Ocean. "Come on, we gotta get home. It's almost 8 am Chicago time. Your mom should be getting up right about..." She trailed off then looked worried. "Oh no...."
"Maddie, we're in trouble."
"...and finally, Dynamix Corp has agreed to our tender offer of $67.875 a share for their radio telescope division. The total costs are detailed on the report in section 4."
Rutherford McMiller nodded and made a note. "Try and get with our operations people to see how soon it would take for them to integrate their radio telescope array into our long-range transmitter project. Nicole, can your department handle the press announcement?"
"Sure," Nicole acknowledged without additional comment.
"OK, if there's nothing else, I guess let's get back to work," Rusty said as he wrapped the meeting. As the rest of the corporate board left the office, Nicole lagged behind until she and Rusty were alone. "Are you going to explain why you've been giving me the evil eye all afternoon?" he asked.
"I'm wanting to know when you're going to take care of it."
Rusty looked at Nicole with a bemused expression. "$67.875 too high for a company with a liquid value of $75.375?"
"No, you twit! I want to know when you're going to address the McGee situation."
Rusty sighed; sometimes he enjoyed yanking Nicole's chain just a little too much. "What am I supposed to do? She doesn't want to leave Chicago or her friends. It's not like I can make her leave."
Nicole pulled out a set of satellite photographs from a folder. "Take a look at this. Eddie got these from our surveillance sats this morning. I had him wash the prints through the computer a few times to make it clear."
Rusty looked at the photos and shrugged. "So she took her friend flying. What's wrong with that? Hell, sometimes I feel like a morning flight to loosen up."
"That's over Chicago." She produced another set of photographs and spread them over the desk. "Ten minutes later, they were passing over California. About thirty minutes later, they were shooting past Asia before giving Europe a couple extra passes. Total flight time before returning to Chicago, less than an hour."
Rusty whistled. "Talk about frequent-flyer miles..."
Nicole shook her head in exasperation. "This kind of power flaunting is exactly what I was talking about Rusty. If this is her idea of keeping a low profile, then she needs help more than I thought. She needs training, both in how to use her powers but more importantly, when not to use them. If she doesn't get help, she's going to be a danger to people that makes Maelstrom look like a third-rate bank robber."
Rusty looked at the photos and sighed. "I'll see what I can do. Maybe we can get together to do some training sessions, but again, I'm not going to force her to do something she doesn't want to."
"Fine," Nicole said with narrowed eyes. "I just hope she returns that courtesy to you and everyone around her."
"OK, who wants to go first?" Roger Packard asked.
Angelina and Madelyn looked at each other nervously. Next to Roger, Laura Packard looked at both girls with some degree of support. "Angie, Maddie, your father and I are just concerned about your safety."
"Mr. Packard," Angelina began with a resigned manner, "it's true. I started developing some abilities last month or so. That's how I was able to tell Mrs. Packard was hurting and how to heal her condition."
"What kind of abilities are we talking about?" Mr. Packard pressed.
Angelina sighed and looked down. May as well just come out with it. "I'm psychic Mr. Packard. I can read people's minds and move objects with my thoughts."
Roger grimaced as he considered what he was hearing. "And you knew about this Maddie?"
Madelyn looked downcast. "Yes Dad, I knew."
"And you didn't think it was worth bringing to our attention?"
"I didn't want you freaking out about it!" Madelyn retorted defensively.
"Now see here young lady..."
"Mr. Packard, it's my fault," Angelina offered. "I asked her to keep it secret because I didn't want people to worry."
"Really? And why should they worry? Just because you can read their minds? Maddie, don't you realize that Angie's probably heard everything you thought this last month?"
"We don't keep secrets Dad, even before this happened," Madelyn said firmly.
"Mr. Packard, I know it sounds scary. I was pretty scared myself. But I promise you that just because I have some abilities, I haven't changed who I am. I'm still the same person you took fishing every summer for the last six years. I'm the same person you trusted to baby-sit your brother's children last year."
Roger and Laura looked at each other with conflicted expressions. "Angie," Laura said, "We just don't want anyone to get hurt. Roger's worried that you might draw the attentions of some dangerous people."
"That's not going happen Mrs. Packard," Angelina promised. "I won't let anything happen to your family."
MSG Fred Fredrickson grimaced as he looked over the briefing intelligence the Project provided their forces. As Echo Force senior NCO, it was his job to make sure that the battle plans designed by his officers were carried out. But the more he heard about their intended opponent, the less he liked.
"...and unfortunately, we're still not seeing F67's full capabilities as of yet," Dr. Gruber said as he passed out his medical data to the men in the room. "We estimate that she's operating at between 40-50% of her potential at this time. The drugs that were keeping her from hitting her top potential are still active in her system, but they won't stay active indefinitely. The good news is that our intel suggests that she is no longer eating at normal schedules, which works for us because she's not metabolizing like a normal person anymore. Your intel packets also have computer records of what we've been able to obtain on her spending habits and satellite surveillance."
"What do you have from live surveillance?" Fredrickson asked.
"Unfortunately, we don't have much anymore," Raintree admitted. "Ever since her powers became active, it's become increasingly difficult to observe her without compromising our own agents. We have a handful of sources who still interact with her without direct knowledge of the Project, but because of that, we can't direct their activities without giving ourselves away."
"What about the Dark Saviors? Is she affiliated with them at this time?" Scott asked.
"We don't believe so, or she would have likely relocated to their location," Raintree stated.
The command staff looked at each other before Scott chimed in. "What metahuman assets do we have?"
"Dr. Gruber is developing a weapon system we believe can disable her, at least for a short time. The details you can find in your packets. If that system fails, then there is a team of agents that we are still training and preparing as a fallback."
Fredrickson flipped forward in his packet and shook his head. You've got to be kidding me...
"Yes, the assets look...irregular," Raintree said as he read the faces of the soldiers. "But unusual situations dictate unusual responses."
"Mr. Raintree, I think we need to discuss what you've given us and develop a plan," Scott said, ending the meeting.
"Of course, Colonel."
As the command staff left the room, Scott noted the amused expression on Fredrickson's face. "You don't like the situation Sergeant?"
Fredrickson smiled thinly at Scott. "Unreliable intel? A Class 1 multi-phase psi-class opponent? Residential neighborhood? What's not to like Colonel?"
Angelina sighed as the conversation earlier that morning remained fresh in her mind, even as the lunch crowd began. In her mind, she could feel a handful of minds she had quietly ensnared from the next table as she nudged them to eat the meals they were planning to eat anyway. Was her presence a danger to others, she wondered? Even now, to avoid losing her mind to the tidal wave of thoughts and emotions, she had taken control of half a dozen people's minds. That they weren't doing anything inappropriate or unusual was solely a matter of restraint on her part; had she wanted them to, she could have easily made them stand up and recite "The Barber of Seville" if it amused her to do so.
"So, I guess we got off easy," Madelyn said.
Angelina shrugged. "I really need to be more careful. If they figured it out, then it wouldn't take much for others to see it too."
"So who are you controlling right now?" Madelyn asked. "I know there's no way you could just sit here in the lunch room and not be going nuts without doing it."
Angelina glanced towards the table behind her shoulder. "Jim Bradley, Tom Kim and their friends over there."
"What're you going to make them do?" Madelyn asked with a smile.
"Nothing," Angelina said firmly. She then looked at Madelyn's amused expression and shook her head. "No, nothing! They're just eating lunch, nothing more."
Madelyn tapped her temple. "Uh, huh... I know better. I've been on the receiving end, and it's almost impossible for you to think of nothing."
Angelina closed her eyes and breathed slowly. "Lunch tastes good; that's all I'm feeding into their minds."
Madelyn glanced at the school lunch and snorted. "Now that would be a serious mental suggestion to pull off. And you wonder why Mom packs my lunch."
"Hey, psi-girls," Michael said as he came over towards their table.
"Yeah, I wish Mike," Madelyn said playfully. "Tell her to make me a psi-girl, and then we'll talk."
Michael looked warily at Angelina, then Madelyn. "Um... I really don't think you want Angie to be doing brain surgery on you."
"Hey Mike," Angelina said as she did her best to keep her concentration focused. "How was the academic decathlon?"
"You mean you aren't going to tell me?"
"Someone told me recently that it wasn't ladylike to pry."
Michael shrugged. "We placed third. Those guys from the Richardson district are tough to beat. By the way, I saw the news coverage about your recent exploits. The media really doesn't seem to be doing you any favors."
"Yeah, that sucks," Madelyn said. "Angie saves all of us and they call her a villain? Speaking of heroes, where's Pete? Isn't he going to join us?"
Michael shook his head. "He's hanging out with Cindi James today. Apparently he's her personal hero after saving her at that football game."
"Ohh... you've got some competition," Madelyn said in a playful singsong to Angelina.
"Shut up," Angelina said as she blushed.
"Eh?" Michael looked on with confusion.
"Angie's had a crush on Pete like since 6th grade."
"Shut up...!" Angelina whispered with an annoyed expression. "You don't see me blurting out all your secrets to everyone, do you?"
Just then, a commotion broke out from the next table. "Hey, don't you go telling people about my stuff!" James said to Thomas while the other members of their table began to grumble.
"Uh oh..." Madelyn said with concern.
"Great..." Angelina said as she gritted her teeth. It's OK...everything's fine... she whispered soothingly into their minds. As she did so, the commotion at the next table calmed back down.
"What just happened?" Michael asked.
"Angie's been having problems with crowds," Madelyn said, turning serious. "The only way she can avoid going nuts is to tap into people's minds, which makes her feel better. When she does that though, anything she thinks gets put into their minds."
"I was really hoping you got my email and maybe you might have found something," Angelina said as she kept an eye on the thoughts coming from James and Thomas to make sure things were back to normal.
"Well, from what you said you got from your doctor, there might not be much you can do. Beta-endorphins are generated naturally by the brain and it's powerful stuff; there's really no way to resist it per say, other than maybe those drugs you were taking before all this started."
"What? No historic references to telepathic villains who went straight to go on?" Madelyn asked.
Michael shrugged. "I looked. There weren't any. Most public references to high-powered telepaths describe them as either being villains, getting killed, or going loony before they could write any books."
"Well, that's comforting..." Angelina deadpanned.
"There are a handful of superheroes who are telepaths you might want to talk to if you get the chance. Jade from the European Freedom Force is supposed to be a telepath. Then there's Dark Fury, who you already met."
"Dark Fury thinks I need to be contained before I become a danger to everyone around me," Angelina said tiredly. "I don't know anything about Jade, but I doubt she'd give me the time of day."
"Maybe you just need to practice your telepathy. It looks like you're really getting better at molecule control, from what I've seen."
"Sure, that'll work," Angelina said sarcastically. "Want to be my next test subject?"
"That's the problem," Angelina sighed. "Practicing molecule powers was no big deal. Molecules don't have dignity or personalities to step on. Practicing telepathy means playing around with people's minds. I'm already crossing that boundary tapping into people's minds to avoid going nuts. If I start going further than that, then how does that make me any better than the bad guys?"
"Oh, it's not so bad," Madelyn said playfully. "Angie can make even the worst food taste just delish."
Michael sighed. "Well, I guess you could always practice on a bunch of supervillains. That or those media vultures who keep trying to drag you down."
Angelina snorted. "If I wanted to do that, I would have nailed Mr. Durant long time ago."
"Your social studies teacher?" Madelyn asked. "Why him in particular?"
"Well, you'd have to pick someone other than Mr. Durant," Michael said. "He just quit this morning."
"Mr. Durant's quitting?" Angelina asked with concern.
"Yeah, so?" Michael asked.
"What's wrong?" Madelyn asked with a worried expression.
Angelina paused, and then spoke in hushed tones. "He was working for the Project. He was assigned to make sure that I took my afternoon drug dose and to provide me a dose if I ever forgot to bring my pills to school."
"What?" Madelyn whispered with shock. "Then what's he been doing for the last month?"
"Nothing really," Angelina said. "I've been keeping track of him, and he's not even been giving them reports."
"Why didn't you confront him?" Michael asked.
"I thought about it, but... the truth is, the reason he was working for them was that they threatened his family if he didn't cooperate. I thought that if I just kept quiet and didn't rock the boat that they'd leave him and his family alone and just concentrate on me instead." Angelina sighed. "This is all my fault. I've got to find out what's going on."
"Um... you're kind of late," Michael said. "He's not even in school anymore."
Madelyn scoffed. "Trust me, these days, he could be in Australia and Angie could find him and be at his place faster than it'd take me to walk to my next class."
Angelina flew through the air as she looked down on the suburban neighborhood. She was wearing her costume; no sense having even more people see her fly while dressed as her normal clothing. She didn't know where Mr. Durant lived, but she did know his mental signature.
Just then, she felt the telephone Mr. McMiller had given her ringing in her high school locker. She couldn't explain how, but the distinctive warble of the electronic scrambler built into it was something she could sense. She reached out and concentrated on the phone, making a connection to circuitry. Mr. McMiller?
"Hey, you can drop the formality. People who help save a city get to call me Rusty. I hope I didn't catch you at a bad time?"
Well, kind of. I'm looking for one of my schoolteachers.
"Well, it's not something urgent, but I was wondering if you would be able to set aside some time this weekend for some training."
Well, that doesn't sound so bad I guess. I've been wondering about that myself.
"Good, look forward to seeing you again." Rusty paused. "Your voice sounds kind of funny. Are you telepathing?"
Kind of. You caught me away from the phone you gave me, so I'm projecting my thoughts into the phone circuitry.
"Um... well, OK, I'd really prefer you keep that phone closer to you..." Damn, is there anything this girl can't do? "Anyway, you'll need to dress warm."
I really don't get cold anymore these days.
"Really? OK, well, I'll pick you up at your school grounds this coming Saturday morning."
Roger Durant hurriedly packed the last of his belongings into his suburban. The rest of his belongings and his family were already gone. He had to sell off quite a bit of his possessions and retirement assets to move his family out of the country, but he still didn't feel safe. He had no idea how far the Project would pursue him; his hopes hinged on the possibility that they would be too busy pursuing their main target to worry about a small fish like him. With any luck, maybe they would kill each other.
Roger whirred around and pointed a gun at the voice. "Get back!"
Angelina looked at him with disbelief. She had sensed that he was nervous the last few days, but between her own difficulties and her problems with crowds, she hadn't realized it had come this far. "I'm not here to hurt you Mr. Durant."
"Oh yeah?" he said defiantly. "You killed twenty people downtown, what's one more?"
"I didn't kill anyone," Angelina insisted. "The Project has people working in the media trying to make me look bad."
"Yeah? Well, they don't have to work very hard, do they?"
"What's that supposed to mean?" Angelina asked with a hint of indignation.
"Do you have any idea how many government agents they have watching you? How dangerous they consider you?"
"Mr. Durant, the stuff they told you about me is all wrong. All I want is to be a normal person just like everyone else. I would never use my abilities to hurt people."
"How am I supposed to know that? You're supposed to be able to make people think whatever you want!" Roger said with fear rising in his voice.
"I..." Angelina trailed off as the denial died in her voice. After almost starting a fight in the school cafeteria, she really couldn't deny that, could she?
"For what it's worth, I didn't want to do what they told me to, but they didn't leave me any choice Angelina," Roger said as he slowly lowered his weapon and finished packing. "But after what happened downtown, I have to look out for my family."
"I...I hoped that if I just kept quiet about it, they would leave your family alone."
Roger shook his head. "It doesn't work that way Angelina. People like you don't get to live normal lives. Sooner or later, they're going to come after you with everything they've got. When that happens, I want my family far away from you. If you care about your friends and family, then you'll make sure they're far away before that happens too."
Rusty sat at the console of his shuttle. Next to him in the pilot's seat, a creature looking like a bug sat. Rusty could see the confusion on Angelina's and Madelyn's face. "Don't mind her, she's just here to fly the ship."
"Wow... this is like, so cool," Madelyn said as she looked out the window, then back at the pilot. "I'll bet Gene Roddenberry could have really used you," she added mirthfully.
The creature made a number of chirps and whistles and Rusty laughed. "She says she's more of a Star Wars fan because Trek was too biased to humans and that you're both too scrawny to eat. Have a seat. We have a lot to talk about and you have some choices you need to make."
"What choices? I thought this was about training," Angelina said.
"We'll get to that. For now, I'd like to keep things simple. This is just to do a few tests; it's important we get a baseline to evaluate before we do any kind of focused training," Rusty explained.
"Sort of like Olympic trials?" Madelyn asked.
"Kind of, but more important in this case." Rusty sighed. "I told you before that you're dangerous, and I still feel that way. The problem is I think you're dangerous to yourself as well. You're having difficulties now that the drugs are leaving your system. You never had a chance to build up the mental walls needed to keep outside influences out and your feelings in. I'm not the best teacher for mental powers, but I'd like to take some readings and get a feel for your personality."
"Oh that's easy," Madelyn chided. "She doesn't have any personality."
"Bobby Sherman..." Madelyn said smugly.
Angelina rolled her eyes. "That was over five years ago! Besides, that's not fair. That was around the first time those government jerks started jacking up my medication."
"Is this something I need to know about?" Rusty asked with a slightly amused expression.
"Third grade school play. Bobby was the kid she was paired with to do a Christmas recital speech and she kind of zoned out in front of the whole school. Everyone started calling her zombie girl for weeks after that."
"Don't make me paralyze your vocal chords Maddie," Angelina said tiredly.
Rusty watched the exchange with interest. Daughters were God's way of punishing fathers for their boyhood indiscretions he reminded himself. More to the point, he noted Madelyn showed no fear of tweaking Angelina, even after her apparently empty threat.
The pilot creature then made another set of chirps and whistles. Rusty checked his instruments. "We're here. Strap in for landing."
"We're in Antarctica," Madelyn said with wonder.
"Isn't this a little far to do some testing?" Angelina asked.
"Ordinarily yeah, we'd probably just do it in Providence. In your case though, we needed a place where no one will get hurt." After the ship touched down, Rusty stepped onto the snow-covered landscape; the black ship in striking contrast to the snow. The ship's interior temperature instantly plunged as he opened the hatch.
"Oh shit...!" Madelyn said as she began to shiver. "Um... non-meta human freezing her butt off?"
"Hold on," Angelina said as she began increasing the molecular speed in and around Madelyn's body.
"Wow... that's better than a bowl of soup," Madelyn said as she relaxed.
"Anyway," Rusty continued as he led Angelina and Madelyn into a concealed bunker, "I've been discussing your case discreetly with a number of specialists across the country and even a few abroad. Unfortunately, the consensus is that there isn't much that can be done. They do say though, before we can do anything, we need to know a little more about how your powers work. So first before we get started, I want to have you wear this headband. It's a passive device that will monitor your mental activity. Second, I want you to not hold back. I know you've probably spent most of your life holding yourself back because you don't want to hurt people and I commend that. But we need to know just what we're dealing with here if we're going to find a solution. Do you think you can do that?"
"I can try."
Emily Marshall sat at her console in Chicago as the encrypted data stream began to come in. As a trained physician and skilled psychologist, she was the best resource to evaluate the data and give her expertise in this matter.
"OK Rusty, I'm online and the data feed looks good."
"OK good. Keep me posted and enjoy the show."
Angelina looked out into the horizon as the Aurora Austalis flickered above in the dark skies. In her minds eye, she could see the air and ice molecules moving slower than she had ever seen before.
"OK, Angelina, we're ready whenever you are," Rusty said into the radio link.
"You said there wasn't going to be anyone here. But there are about a thousand people scattered around."
"Scattered around? How far?"
"There are several bases. The closest one's about a few hundred miles that way."
"You're picking up the folks in Leningradskaya station. Don't worry about it; it's a Russian meteorology station." Rusty paused. "Well, since you've already started, let's do the telepathy tests first. How far can you go?"
Angelina relaxed as her mind began to expand. "I can feel penguins and seals. They're hungry and skittish." She paused. "I'm hearing a lot of Spanish; I can smell sulfur and petrol fumes. I think it's Buenos Aires."
Argentina, Rusty said to himself. "Are you hitting your limits?"
"I... no but... it's getting really noisy in my head..." Angelina said, wincing with pain.
"Angie needs to take over someone's mind when she gets like that," Madelyn said to Rusty. "Holding onto people's minds helps her to relax."
Rusty looked at Madelyn with a dubious glance. "Are you volunteering?"
"I'll always trust Angie to take care of my mind. Just make sure my body doesn't do anything..." she paused and cringed, "undignified..."
"Your secret's safe with me," Rusty promised.
Emily watched the results coming in with awe. The energy being read from the headband was like nothing she had ever seen before. Most telepaths eventually hit a wall, which could be determined with their power usage began to affect their own metabolism, but so far Angelina's pulse and respiration didn't show any signs of that. If anything, the more power she used, the more relaxed she became.
"Oh my God...Rusty, are you seeing all this?"
"Yeah... pretty incredible, isn't it?"
"What just happened? Her telepathy just jumped another notch."
Rusty watched as Madelyn's eyes rolled and she passed out. He caught and held her. "She just took over her friend's mind, so she's probably getting a dose of those endorphins you talked about last time."
"Can you put another headband on her friend? I'd like to get a reading on her while Angelina controls someone's mind."
"I'll take care of that."
Madelyn opened her eyes and blinked with disbelief. She was standing on a pristine beach in the tropics dressed in a bikini. The smell of the ocean filled her nose as she felt the sand between her toes. Above her, sea gulls squawked and the crystal clear waters beckoned. In front of her was a dock and a set of jet skis and motor boats fully loaded and ready to go. Wow...Angie's really going all out on this one. She shrugged; may as well enjoy myself until they're done out there.
Rusty put Madelyn onto a couch and made sure her vitals were stable before returning to the bank of lab equipment. He heard her giggling softly and whispering something about scuba gear, beautiful beaches and sunshine. Instant virtual vacation, he thought. Probably an impossibly perfect paradise which put any real life beach to shame; she was going to be the first person to find Hawaii a disappointing letdown.
Rusty turned his attention back to the computer readings coming in from the headband. "How are you doing out there Angelina?"
"I'm good now," she said as her mind continued to expand. "I'm feeling Australia, Chile and New Zealand. I can feel millions of minds all over the world. I can taste the food they're eating, hear their voices and memories."
Rusty was suddenly struck with curiosity. "Angelina, could you show me what you're seeing?"
There was a brief pause. "I'll need you to open your mind. There's some kind of black hole in your head that's uncomfortable to get near."
Rusty concentrated a moment. "OK, I'm thinking of a pink door. Open that and go through there."
"You might want to sit down. It's really disorienting the first time."
Rusty nodded and steeled himself. "OK, go ahead." He blinked, and then gasped as he felt his mind beginning to open up and expand at unearthly speed. He tried looking around but his vision was becoming confusing. He wasn't sure if he was hearing or smelling people's minds. All around him, he could hear every atom and molecule vibrating and bouncing around like racquetballs in a court. The walls of the research lab began to turn translucent as he saw Angelina floating in the sky above. In the distance, he could hear thoughts and conversations from everyone from the lowliest of street people to the highest positions of governments around the world. "This... is what you see all the time?" he whispered with astonishment.
"Most of the time I try to hold it in or tune it out, but yeah, pretty much."
"What are we seeing? Are those...molecules?"
Angelina held her hand close as a sparkling cluster of dots gathered in her palm. "Yes. They talk to me and listen to what I tell them."
Rusty then looked as far as he could. "I think I can hear Chinese in the distance. Is this your limit?"
"I'm not sure." She tapped her temple. "There's something inside my head that feels like it's holding me back. I think I still have some of the drugs in my system."
Holy... Rusty gasped and shuddered. How deep does this girl's mind go? "If that's so, then why don't you try pulling those drugs out?"
Angelina visibly trembled. "I think you can answer that. I can't even handle what I have now. I can't imagine what I'd do if what I'm afraid of is true."
"Well, maybe you need to consider taking them out. I mean those drugs won't stay in your system indefinitely unless you're holding onto to them. And if that's the case, then all they're doing is slowing you down. You can't rely on a crutch your whole life. Sooner or later, you'll have to deal with it or it'll overwhelm you."
"I know," Angelina said softly. "Maybe someday, if I really need to. Just...not right now."
Rusty nodded. "Let's continue then. Let me see you lift something."
Angelina closed her eyes and focused her concentration. In the distance, Rusty could hear groaning and cracking of the ice sheet that covered the majority of the continent. Then an instant later, the sheet shattered into shards and flew into the air. Rusty watched with fascination as several thousand tons of ice comprised of millions of individual shards began to float in the air, forming complex geometric patterns.
"Does it tire you out to hold it?"
Angelina shook her head. "It doesn't seem to work that way. Like I said, I told the molecules what to do and they'll keep doing it. I have to tell them to go back to put them down."
"So if you wanted to, you could leave this sculpture in mid air indefinitely?"
Angelina shrugged. "Until someone comes around to melt it I guess."
"Well, I guess you'd better put it back then," before the global warming folks go crazy trying to figure out why the ice cap shattered into a million bits.
Angelina nodded and gestured. The ice shards floated back down and began reassembling the ice sheet. Rusty could almost hear Angelina's thoughts seem to soothe the atoms back into place. He then looked next to her; he could see a transparent copy of Madelyn being held in mid-air. "You're still keeping track of her?"
"I have to make sure she's doing OK in there. If she gets hurt in my fantasy, she gets hurt for real."
Rusty touched the transparent image and suddenly felt a rush of thoughts; several days worth of memories of imaginary beach parties, scuba trips and nature hikes blitzed his mind in an instant. "You're feeding her gourmet food in there?"
"Well, not for real of course. But her mind thinks she needs food, so I'm providing." There was a twinge of sadness that struck Rusty as meaningful.
"You don't eat anymore, do you?"
There was a long quiet silence. "When the government kept me drugged, everything tasted like ash because the drugs dulled my brain. The first and last decent meal I had was the breakfast I had at Maddie's house when the drugs were mostly worn off, but before the bulk of my powers really started to kick in. Now that they have, everything's changed. I haven't eaten or drank anything in four days. Just watching people's digestive systems chemically break down food makes me sick. I haven't slept for nearly as long. I don't get hot or cold anymore; even a hot shower doesn't do anything for me. I don't think I even sweat anymore. Mr. McMiller, I... I not even sure I'm human anymore."
"Angelina..." Rusty paused, and then continued, "Angie, you have incredible potential; more than you know. You're to a meta-human as a meta-human is to a normal person. You're so far evolved that I don't even know how to classify how powerful you are or can become."
"But I don't want to be 'evolved' Mr. McMiller. All I want out of life is to be normal. I want to finish high school, go to college and maybe become a writer or a fashion designer. I want to get married and have children." She stopped and shook her head. "But when I look at you, I don't see a person the way a normal person does. I see the molecules that make up those little machines in your body. I hear thought patterns clicking like gears whenever you talk, think or do anything."
"Angie, being human isn't just flesh and blood, especially these days with all the other metahumans running around. Being human is about making choices; that's what separates us from those penguins and seals you're sensing. We can choose to defy our instincts and make choices based on intellect and morals. We choose to be good or evil."
"It's not that simple. Even you don't believe that."
"True," Rusty admitted. "From what I've seen you do, I can see why Garner and the rest of the government and military want you so bad. The thing that has me concerned is that he may try and get you to do something by threatening the people you care about, and he won't be alone. Once people start hearing about what you can do, I'm can guarantee that every foreign government in the world is going to want to get their hands on you. I know I had some difficulties with several Chinese metahuman agents, who wouldn't take no for an answer. Eddie had to explain it to them, but in your case, I doubt even Eddie could dissuade them."
"So what are you telling me?"
Rusty sighed. "I know you're young, but I'm sure you watch the news from time to time. The world has a lot of problems. A lot of people are all trying to grab power in this world. Someone like you... well, could make their jobs a whole lot easier."
"You mean feed the hungry and give them housing and stuff like that?"
"Unfortunately no. That's not how the world works I'm afraid. People are starving in North Korea because of a totalitarian regime, not because of a lack of agro-science. There are wars in Africa and the Middle East, not because of hunger, but because too many people are trying to dominate. But now, from what I'm seeing, you could put an end to all that. You could make entire nations be more civilized to their own people. You could probably put an end to wars all over the world."
"You can't be serious," Angelina whispered gravely.
"OK, how about we start small then? Those Chinese super agents? Could you do something about them? Make them forget about me?"
Angelina looked at Rusty with incredulousness. "Are you really asking me to tamper with their minds?"
"Well could you?"
Angelina looked away for a moment. "I have them. They're currently in a jet over the Pacific Ocean. They've received orders to reestablish a base of operations in the New York area to try and draw you out. I can see their minds; hear their thoughts. I know who their US contact is and their battle plans. I can even taste the food they're eating." She turned to Rusty. "Yes, I could blot their minds as easy as wiping a chalkboard. I could make them do anything I want. Are you really asking me to do that?"
Rusty folded his arms and waited for a long pause. "Let's say I am. I mean, hell, it'd sure make my life a whole lot easier. It'd probably save lives in the long run since there wouldn't be a long ugly fight out on some public street or city block like Maelstrom. The real question though is, what do you want?" He paused again. "You see, I'm asking you do something that's... well, kind of questionable. I'm not going to be the last. Garner and his associates no doubt will do that, and they'll back those demands up with kidnapping if they have to. Once word gets out about you, everyone from governments to corporations with corrupt CEOs to grandmothers with chronic varicose veins will all come asking for you to do things for them. Some of those requests may be easy ones, but I suspect most are going to be asking you for favors or to have you use your power for their own agenda. If you really want to know what's the right thing to do, the most important thing I can tell you is to make up your own decision. Don't let anyone try to bully you into serving their agenda, and that includes me."
"This was just some test?" Angelina said with irritation.
"Everything in life is a test. I know this isn't easy for you to have these abilities without knowing much about them. I can offer advice and guidance, if you want it. If you want to be human, then be human. Finish school if that's what you want to do; learning's always a good thing. Just keep an eye out for anything suspicious; with your abilities, there's no way they can sneak up on you anyway."
Madelyn's eyes fluttered open as she slowly regained consciousness. She groaned and held her forehead. "That was a hell of a head trip." She stopped herself as she looked around the lab. "How long was I out?"
"Twenty-five minutes," Emily said over the radio. "According to your brain scan, your entire cerebral cortex and hippocampus regions were being dominated."
"Twenty-five minutes?" Madelyn looked in disbelief. "It felt like three weeks. I can still remember the whole trip. I could feel sand between my toes. I can still smell the ocean. I remember...oh God, I ate so much food."
"Not according to your blood sugars, so don't worry; your svelte figure isn't in jeopardy."
"Where is everyone else anyway?"
"Rusty stepped out for a moment. I think he's talking to Angelina right now."
"Oh right, so how did Angie do on her tests? Pretty amazing, right?"
Emily paused. "I see a lot of metahumans Madelyn. My specific ability is to evaluate metahuman powers. I've seen everyone from kids who can bend spoons to some pretty serious players like the Dark Saviors and a few of the EFF before they got gutted by Black Talon. Your friend Angelina is a whole different level from anyone else I've ever seen."
"So...she did good right?"
"Well, 'good' is a subjective term in this case. Power-wise, she's probably about the single most powerful person on the planet. Unfortunately, according to my scans, that power comes with several huge drawbacks to her psychiatric and mental state."
"What kind of drawbacks?"
"Angelina's on the fast-track for full-fledged psychotropic addiction. She's suffering symptoms suggesting psychological separation anxiety disorder."
"She has trouble with crowds," Madelyn shrugged. "I mean, I have trouble with public speaking too."
"It's not that simple young lady. She's also going to have to deal with the moral and ethical temptations that power like hers bring. You're her best friend, right? Can I ask you something privately?"
"Privately?" Madelyn asked with a smirk. "You're kidding, right?"
Emily groaned and almost smacked her own forehead. "OK, just between you, me and Angelina."
"What do you know about Angelina as a person? Is she honest?"
"Heck yes, she's honest," Madelyn insisted. "She's working a crappy minimum wage job to support herself because she's too honest to use her powers to make money out of thin air. What do you call that?"
Emily shrugged. "I suppose. So how long have you known her?"
Madelyn paused, then smiled. "I've known Angie since I first started elementary school. We grew up together. We spend almost all our spare time together. You see, Angie's parents were, well I guess now we know why, kind of cold and standoffish. So she ended up spending a lot of time with my folks. We almost kind of adopted her. In all that time, she never once let us down, or tried to cheat or forget her chores."
"You said that she didn't have powers then though," Emily pointed out. "Powers, especially to the degree she has, can change a person."
"My parents are worried about it. But you know what? The first thing she did when her powers started coming out when she was living at my house was fix my mom's arthritis. I mean, does that sound like someone who's gonna start taking over the world?"
"I think Rusty's more worried that she might lose control than any conscious decision for malice."
"Angie's getting better every day with her abilities," Madelyn assured. "You don't have to worry. And all that psychobabble stuff, we can help her through that, right?"
I hope so, Emily said to herself. For all our sakes, I pray she can be helped.
Rusty packed the plane back for the return trip as the insect pilot checked the instrumentation and fuel levels. "Are you coming back with me?"
Angelina shook her head. "I have to get us back home before Maddie's parents ground us both. They think we're at the mall and they're already nervous about me being psychic."
"You're worried about being grounded?" Rusty asked with surprise.
"Yeah, it sucks having a CG Chief Petty Officer as a dad," Madelyn confirmed with a smirk. "He scares away a lot of boys too."
Good luck to them trying to enforce that disciplinary action Rusty thought before stopping himself. He glanced back at Angelina, whose eyes told him she heard him. "Sorry, I didn't mean it that way."
Angelina looked down. "Mr. McMiller... you said I have to make my own choices. For me, part of being human means living like one. Part of that means getting grounded when I screw up."
Rusty nodded. "If you ever need advice, or help or just want to talk, you know how to call me. Don't be shy about calling either; your mental well-being is a pretty high priority for me these days. I also want you to start attending therapy sessions with Emily on a regular basis. I've scheduled a set of appointments for you."
"I don't think BurgerMart gives health insurance to part-timers," Angelina said lightheartedly.
"I'm serious Angie; don't think of it as charity either," Rusty said. "I'm not going to pretend you didn't hear everything we've been saying about you, so you know we're worried about your mental health."
"I appreciate that." Angelina then turned to Madelyn. "Ready to go Maddie?"
"I'm gonna miss Hawaii...or where ever that was you plugged into my brain," Madelyn mused.
"I figured you would, so here," Angelina said as a pulsing glow of light coalesced around her fingers, which solidified into a stack of photos and a pair of seashells. "I was kind of surprised to see you as such a party girl."
Madelyn took the souvenirs with a knowing smile, leafed through the stack of photos and shook her head. "You know, sooner or later, I'm going to stop being astonished every time you do something like this. And those Red Stripes and cocktails don't count. I was under your spell."
Angelina shook her head. "Nuh-uh...all I did was put you in a hypno-illusion. Any choices you made were entirely yours."
Madelyn shrugged. "Well, who can resist a chance at guilt-free partying. You know; if I didn't actually know that trip was a figment of my imagination, I'd swear it actually happened. The only thing I'm missing is the tropical tan."
"Do you want a tan?" Angelina asked as the two of them lifted off the ground and began to accelerate north.
"No way; then I'd have to explain it to the Chief. If he finds out that you're tweaking my mind, he'll really go nuts."
Rusty watched as the two disappeared over the horizon in a burst of speed. He frowned as the event of the past few hours went through his mind. All that power, with all those problems, and the only thing holding her mental state together was her lifelong friendship with a flighty teenage girl and her family. And if Garner and his goons tried to interfere...what then?
"...and the next thing I know, my character is running around the corridor and he sees the biggest beholder ever. I whip out my sword and take a swing, but the DM tells me that it bounces off! So Jerry, our mage, starts a spell..."
Angelina sighed and did her best to feign interest as William Peterson continued his recollection of the previous weekend. Of course she knew what she was getting into when she finally agreed to William's date request. His seventh attempt, if she hadn't miscounted. Although she didn't have the slightest interest in tabletop board gaming, she couldn't help but understand why William would indulge in such activities, given the troubles he had to deal with in school and his always-disappointed father. If she thought escaping into a fantasy world would alleviate her troubles, she might have done the same.
William and Angelina walked into the Horizon downtown mall. Just a few blocks over, there were a string of nightclubs that, ironically, Angelina remembered were where she was when her whole life seemed to turn upside down. Even a few blocks away, she could feel the pounding and thrashing of emotions and thoughts that bordered on violent. She didn't want to start tapping into people's minds, so she made it a point to agree to meet William here instead of the club.
"...so anyway, there we were facing an entire angry monsters and our cleric's down," William continued, oblivious to Angelina's lack of interest as he walked to the food court. "I pull out my magical rod..."
"...and you blew the monster up by canceling his enchanted nature with your one-shot disenchanting rod," Angelina continued tiredly.
"No, it...um... yeah, that's what happened. Did you talk to Jerry?"
"No, I'm...a good guesser," she said. What am I doing here anyway? she wondered before answering her own question. She just wanted to try and be human. Even if being human meant being bored by spending time with someone, anyone, who didn't consider her at a threat to all mankind. Even Peter and Michael had doubts and reservations, admittingly so deep they probably weren't aware of them, but they were there nonetheless. Only Madelyn really had no fears or doubts about Angelina, and her own parents were dressing her down for that unconditional support.
"Leave me alone Ronnie, you're boring the hell out of me," Michelle Johns said as she got out of the taxi.
"Hey baby, you're driving me crazy!" Ronald Kruchten said with frustration. "You know you like this stuff!" He quickly turned around to settle his fair and got out of the cab to follow her.
The taxi driver sighed as he dropped the bickering couple off at the Horizon downtown mall. By his count, that was the tenth couple that was having problems getting along tonight. He wasn't exactly having excitement in his life, but being bored was a cabby's lot, so he ignored his feelings of discontentment. Something was in the air though, and it sure wasn't Cupid. More like Eris or whoever it was with the gold apples.
"You don't like pizza?" William asked as he started eating a slice of pepperoni and cheese.
Angelina shuddered as she did her best to not get sick as she felt everyone around her eating their dinner. Molecules after molecule of organics, along with the unmistakable tang of impurities were being taken apart inside people's digestive systems and converted into simpler sugars and proteins. She had similar visions when she worked at BurgerMart, but thankfully she mostly worked nights recently and could try and overlook the few who stopped for late-night eating. The mall food court was far larger and impossible to ignore. She knew she was being unfair; people had to eat. Not everyone could keep their body chemistries in balance by force of will. "S-sorry... I'm trying to lose weight."
"You're kidding, right? You've got a great body."
"I'm sorry Willie, I'm just... not feeling well."
"Well maybe we should go by the drug store and get you some..."
"No, I'll be fine. Maybe I'll feel better when we get to the theater."
"You're not having a good time, are you?"
"No...I mean...yes I am. I just have a lot on my mind, that's all."
"Look, I know I'm not a big-time football player or some other big man on campus. It's just that, when I saw you coming to help me that day, it was like you were the first person who ever seemed to give a damn about someone other than themselves at that school."
Angelina sighed. She was having mixed feelings about the whole evening. William's fantasies were getting stronger; he had visions of being married to her and having a perfect relationship of love and support. The problem was the fantasy version of herself had almost nothing in common with her real self. The image was built around William's hobbies and interests and his lack of understanding about girls in general.
"Willie, it's not you, I swear. I just...I have this problem with being in crowded places."
"Migraines or something like that?"
"Something like that, yeah."
Candice Modis looked at the Horizon mall food court from behind her workstation at one of the restaurants. For some reason, people seemed to be getting sick, leaving full plates of food on their plates. Even the food her restaurant was serving wasn't doing her any favors. Was it the smell? Normally, she liked the fish and chips her restaurant served, but tonight the very thought of eating was making her sick. She looked to the other cooks and servers at the other restaurants and she noted the same reactions. What was going on tonight?
Oh no... Angelina sighed to herself as she and William stood in line to get tickets to the theater. Of all the places for them to go, they had to pick this theater. Now I know how Rick Blaine felt. "Willie, could we go to some other theater?"
"Eh? Why? What's wrong with this one?"
"Hey Angie, I didn't know you were here tonight," Peter said as he and Cindi James came over to them from across the ticket plaza.
"Oh, hey Pete," Angelina said, doing her best to conceal her disappointment.
"Angie," Cindi acknowledged as she hung on Peter's arm.
"So Angie, you're going out with...William, is it?" Peter asked.
"Yes she is," William acknowledged as he pulled Angelina closer.
Angelina struggled as emotions began to ramp out between all of them. Cindi's gratitude to Peter was real enough, though she clearly saw Angelina as a threat for Peter's feelings. Peter's feelings were conflicted; he liked Angelina, though there was that platonic overtone to his feelings that really bothered her more than she wanted to admit. William's feelings were unambiguous, but Peter's appearance had caused feelings of jealousy fueled by his own insecurities to erupt in his mind.
It's not fair Angelina despaired. Things were so much better when she didn't know everyone's thoughts, their feelings and emotions. Even when she was kept hazy from the drugs, she was still happier being kept in blissful ignorance, not having to know the doubts and petty jealousies. Her head throbbed. Even now, she could feel the thoughts of everyone around her at her fingertips; a simple mental twitch and she could make all those bad feelings go away. And all it would cost her was her conscience and her soul.
Angelina shook her head in denial and ran away in tears. Behind her, William and Peter called out as she ran into the crowd. As she disappeared, the crowd began to get increasingly hostile and tense.
"What's going on?" Cindi asked as people around her began to argue and push amongst themselves.
"Angie, come back!" William called out.
Peter turned back to Cindi and pulled her to relative safety, then looked around. He hadn't noticed until now, but the mob was getting ugly. Screw the movie, he thought. "Cindi, let's do this another night. Willie, where'd Angie go?"
William turned around and pushed Peter away. "Get away from me! This is all your fault! If you hadn't been here, Angie wouldn't have run off!" He then bolted and disappeared into the crowd.
Where the hell did that come from? Peter wondered in shock. And where did Angelina go? If the crowd got any uglier, they may need her to do something...unless she's already doing something... Peter shuddered as the last thought dawned on him. He knew she wouldn't do anything like this, at least not on purpose. But with her powers, even accidental could be disastrous.
Police Sergeant Allen Powell snarled as he shoved a struggling rioter into his squad car. His partner Detective Bruce Atherton looked at the building surge of people shoving each other and sparking fights and altercations all over the area. A fifteen-year veteran, Detective Atherton had thought he had seen everything, but this one was a new one for him. There wasn't any incident that he had heard sparking the strife; no controversial video of a police beating or any racially charged issue burning the streets. It was as if everyone's petty feelings and discontentment were boiling to the surface all at once. As each person lashed out, the chain reaction threatened to spin out of control.
"Get your ugly ass in there!" Powell said as he closed the back door and got into the passenger seat. "Dispatch, this is Unit 15-Baker! We're at the Horizon mall on 12th and Main, 10-34 in progress!"
"Roger that, 10-34, units en route to your position," the radio replied.
"Any word from the station?" Atherton asked as he tried to pull the squad car out of the parking lot as the riot continued to build around them.
"Not a goddamn thing!" Powell said. "What the fuck was going on? It's like the LA riots out there!"
"Shit!" Atherton shouted as a mob of people swarmed around the patrol car and began rocking it back and forth. The throng had trapped them; unless they were prepared to start running people over or using lethal force, which neither man was prepared to do. Powell reached for a taser but Atherton shook his head. "All that's gonna do is piss 'em off even more!"
"I don't see how they can get any more pissed," Powell said, as fear began to creep into his voice. Training could only take a man so far. Then abruptly, the car windshield cracked from impacts, with only the safety feature preventing a complete shattering. "Dispatch, 15-Baker, where's that backup? They're throwing bricks now!"
"15-Baker, backup is en route, ETA fifteen minutes."
We ain't gonna be here in fifteen minutes! both men didn't say out loud. Atherton tried to coax the squad car forward slowly to avoid actually hurting anyone, but both men knew that wouldn't get them out of the mob. It was going to take a miracle to get out of this one.
Angelina tried to leave the mall, but got pushed back inside by the crowd. For the first time, she was shaken from her emotional turmoil. Her mind burned with the feeling of turmoil and confusing that was surging through the crowd. Ahead of her, she could see cars being assaulted and fights breaking out. It was only a matter of time before some tragic happened.
Oh my God, what's going on? In the back of her mind, a deep suspicion began to emerge, but she shoved it aside. People's lives were at stake and this had to be brought under control before things went too far. She ducked back inside the mall and headed to an alcove between two stores.
Sergeant Powell and Detective Atherton fought as they both struggled with flaying arms that reached through the broken squad car windows. Powell tried spraying some Mace at the first wave of attackers to fend them off, but the close-quarters of the car made that impractical as he found out the hard way. Atherton tried to push his assailants, but the numbers made that a futile effort.
Then without warning, both policemen suddenly flew straight up through their car roof and out of reach of the rioters. They both looked around with surprise at the few dozen other floating people along with their rescuer.
"Shit...you're the one who trashed the Sears Tower!" Atherton said.
"I thought she saved the tower?" Powell asked frantically.
Angelina groaned inwardly at the accusations and doubts. She was high above the riot, and even still it was taking all her concentration not to let their boiling emotions drive her insane. "Is there some place I can put you? I have to put out those fires before they spread."
Atherton hesitated, but Powell gestured towards the connecting highway. "Police backup's supposed to be en route. Put us over there," he pointed.
Angelina nodded and willed the people she had levitated to drift briskly to the indicated street corner away from the main part of the riot. She then turned her attention to the rioter themselves as she ordered the oxygen in the area to cease bonding with hydrocarbons. As the fires quickly flickered out, she tried to broadcast a soothing calming voice into the crowd.
Please calm down everyone...everything's all right now...
As she did so, the tempo of the chaos began to slow, but Angelina's anxiety continued to climb. She could definitely sense her own emotions boiling inside the majority of the people down below. So it was her fault, she realized. She cringed and began to tear up; all this chaos and pain was on her shoulders because she had allowed herself to wallow in her own petty emotional conflict over a meaningless date that she didn't even want to go to. Furthermore, the policeman's comments stung her even more...You're the one who trashed the Sears Tower. She tried her best and that was the thanks she got? She didn't expect a ticker-tape parade, but was it so wrong to want at least a little understanding?
Just then, her thoughts were interrupted by the crack of a high-powered rifle. A second before, Angelina's molecular empathy could sense the familiar sensation of the high-speed motion of bullets whizzing through the air. What the hell was that? She instinctively froze the bullets in mid-air and tried to find who fired it, but the sound of the shots instantly started another wave of panic. She cringed in pain as the emotional tidal wave blinded her and hit her mind like a sledgehammer.
Stop it, please... she beseeched to the crowd as they all scattered in random directions, threatening to trample any who didn't make it to safety.
Another set of shots rang out. It was taking all the concentration she could muster to track and stop the bullets from hurting anyone and each time the guns fired, the panic continued to escalate.
All of you, stop! Angelina mentally screamed and instantly the entire crowd and surrounding area went completely quiet. Even their minds were silent and she could sense they were waiting for her commands. She blinked away the tears and just stared at the enthralled crowd for a few terrifying seconds. In her mind, she could feel a surge of pure joy. It felt like a starving person getting their first bite to eat in weeks. Most of all, she could feel the minds of the assembled masses in her grip. They were puppets, waiting to be commanded. If she didn't do something, they'd be there until they dropped from dehydration, she realized. Just... go home all of you! she commanded shakily. Get your families together and go home as...as safe as you can...!
Angelina watched the enslaved public turn and proceed to their homes in quiet orderly groups as tears of shame streaked down her face. In her mind, she could still feel the ecstasy of her own power flowing through her mind, along with a growing hunger for more. Oh my God...what have I done...?
Madelyn clicked the television off in the living room as she looked at the clock. Her parents were already in bed and she was wondering what was keeping Angelina. Surely William wasn't that good a date to keep her occupied this late. If so, then he was really hiding something; he sure didn't seem like the Casanova type.
She yawned and turned out the lights. She wasn't worried. Angelina was a big girl; if anyone could take care of themselves, she could. As she headed upstairs however, a powerful surge of emotion began to hit her. She suddenly felt a wave of panic and fear and...hunger. She began to pant and her eyes began to flow with tears. What was going on? She trotted the rest of the way upstairs and walked into her room where she saw Angelina curled up and huddled in the corner, crying her eyes out.
"Angie?" Madelyn whispered fearfully. "What's going on? What's wrong?"
"I did it," Angelina whispered between tears. "They're all gone and it's all my fault..."
Gone? Madelyn thought as a fearful image seized her mind.
Angelina shook her head. Not like that...but it's just as bad...and it's all my fault...
"Angie, stop," Madelyn beseeched as she felt her mind being overwhelmed with emotions that she realized Angelina must have been inadvertently broadcasting. If they got any more intense, she'd lose control completely and start crying in the corner herself. She grabbed Angelina and pulled her close. "Start from the beginning. What happened?"
Angelina coughed, sniffed, and then wiped her tears. "I was with Willie at the mall. I wasn't feeling all that good..." She trailed off and shook her head. "No, nothing he did. I was just...out of sorts...the little things. Then we ran into Pete and Cindi. I got...jealous...upset. I...must have let my concentration slip and before I knew it, there was a riot downtown."
"Oh my God..." Madelyn whispered. "Did anyone get hurt?"
"I changed and started rescuing people," Angelina continued between tears. "I didn't want to believe it was my fault. I figured I would try and stop it before it got worse." She paused and cringed. "Then it happened..."
"What?" Madelyn asked with anticipation.
Angelina sighed slowly and painfully. "Someone started firing a gun into the crowd. People started to panic, this time, for real. I stopped the bullets right as they got near me but..." she shook her head before continuing, "then I lost it. All the emotions from the crowd hammering into my head...all the media lies...the feeling of...helplessness that I couldn't even go on one lousy date without someone shooting at me...so I snapped. I...took over the entire crowd. It was the first time I've ever used my powers to actually...enslave a whole bunch of people like that."
Madelyn whispered, "How many are we talking about? A few hundred?"
"27,386 people. Men...women...children..." Angelina shook her head in disbelief, "pets even... I...commanded them like puppets. I made them all go home and stay there. While I was doing that, all I could remember was...how quiet it got. Even their thoughts went silent. It was like they were...gone. And worst of all... the other thing I remember... was just how... " she trembled, "how good it felt...in my head... it was like pure joy... it was ecstasy like nothing I've ever felt." She then looked at Madelyn with equal parts fear and lust. "And all I could think of was how much I wanted to feel that rush again."
"Um..." Madelyn swallowed, "this goes beyond carrots, doesn't it?"
"Maddie, you're my best friend... for years, back when I was too drugged to think, you were my only friend. You're closer to me than anyone else I know." Angelina trembled as she stared into Madelyn's eyes. "And yet, when I look at you, all I can think about is how desperately I want to take control of your mind just so I can feel that rush again." She looked away from Madelyn. "Your dad's right; I am a menace. I should leave and never come back."
"Angie, this isn't about you. You were trying to save lives and now you need help. If you weren't the good person that you are... the kind of person I let into my mind any time you need... then you wouldn't be tearing yourself up about all this."
"Don't you get it?" Angelina said with tears of frustration. "I'm a loaded weapon that can't turn off! Any second now, I could lose control again and turn you into a slave or worse! I could accidentally destroy your mind as easy as dropping a kitchen plate!"
"And yet we still carry kitchen plates to the dinner table," Madelyn deadpanned. "OK, my mind's worth more than a plate, or at least according to five of my six high school teachers," she added in an attempt at levity. She then turned serious. "Our friendship goes both ways. When we first moved to Chicago, I was so shy I couldn't even say hello to my first grade homeroom teacher. Then we met in the playground. You were the only person in school who wasn't trying to pick on 'the new kid'. You were the only one who didn't go out of her way to try and remind me I wasn't part of their clique. OK, maybe you could say that was the drugs talking. But I was six-years old! I didn't know. I didn't care! All I knew was that someone was going to be my friend! Over the years, you helped me open up and find myself as a person. If you just take off like this and I leave you out in the cold, then all that becomes meaningless. It'd mean that I didn't do everything I could to help the person who's helped me all these years! It'd mean that I let my fear of the off-chance of what might happen run my life and I swore long ago that I wouldn't live my life in fear."
"How do you do that?" Angelina whispered. "Just turn off fear?"
Madelyn shrugged. "I don't know; you're the psychic. You tell me. Maybe that's my super power."
Rusty unbuckled his seat as the jet came to a vertical landing in Providence. On the tarmac, Eddie waited in the loading area.
"Sorry I'm late," Rusty apologized. "Tailwinds weren't in our favor."
"Maybe you should have had Miss McGee move a few jet streams for you then," Eddie said sarcastically.
"You read my report, huh?" Rusty said as he got his personal bag off the plane.
Eddie shook his head. "And here I thought trashing a mid-sized stadium was pretty impressive." He lifted the report and flipped through the printed pages. "Mentally contacting the entire southern hemisphere, you say? Levitating over a hundred thousand individual shards of ice simultaneously with a total mass in the thousands of tons?"
"Those are best guesses, based on observation. I was in her mind half the time, so my perceptions might have been skewed," Rusty hedged. "I'll have to go over the data telemetry to get precise readings."
"Let's assume the worst and say that what you saw was for real. Exactly how do we stop her?"
"Who says we have to? She's a nice girl. She's not threatening anyone."
"Oh my God..." Eddie said harshly, "I hope to hell you aren't basing the team's combat survival chances, not to mention the entire world's security on her being 'a nice girl'."
"Not everyone has to be an enemy Eddie. We could do a whole lot more good if we would just give her a little help."
"A little help?" Eddie retorted sarcastically. "Did you even read Dr. Marshall's evaluation?" He flipped to another set of pages. "Because this just gets better and better...'Displays onset signs of psychotropic addiction...suffers from psychological separation disorder...shows risk signs for psychiatric neurotic breakdown...'" He shook his head. "So not only is she a nigh-omnipotent teenager, she's a walking emotional basket case too."
"If I remember another one of Dr. Marshall's reports correctly, she said that you suffered from 'generalized anxiety disorder, psychiatric paranoia and sociopathic aggression syndrome' and you turned out OK."
"Yeah? Well, if I ever pop my cork for real, people like you and Nicole can bring me down if it comes to that. What happens if she loses it? Do you have a battle plan to take her down? Can we take her down or not?"
"If we had to?" Rusty sighed. "I doubt it. Not with just the core team. If it came down to that, it'd probably take every ally we had, and even then I'm not sure we'd win. Maybe we can try to develop some technology to help even the odds, but if she was really motivated, then I'm not sure anything could stop her."
"Well, then maybe you'd better get started on that technology because there's been a development." Eddie led Rusty down to the lounge and unmuted the television.
"...and authorities are still at a loss to explain the outbreak of the riot at the Horizon mall here in Chicago. Witnesses and even some participants were unable to account for their behavior, which led to many reports of property damage. Although no fatalities were reported, there were numerous injuries and signs of vandalism. But the riot itself seemed to dissolve after the known supervillainess from the Maelstrom incident arrived and appeared to enslave the crowd and send them off to an unknown location..."
"She stopped a riot?" Rusty asked.
"With a wave of her hand, figuratively speaking," Eddie said. "Yeah, the reporting's still slanted negative against her. My sources say that all the rioters have been found safe and sound in their own homes, but unable to leave. The real question is, who started it?"
"You think she started a riot on purpose just so she could stop it?"
"We don't know yet. Nicole was the first one to bring it up. She took one of the transports down there to kick the tires and light the fires. She said she wanted to mentally examine some of the arrested rioters for signs of mental tampering, but with the riot dissolved and all the participants back in their homes, we're not sure what we can do to follow up."
Rusty looked at the television with concern. "What possible motive would she have to start a riot?"
"Who says she did it on purpose? Maybe she slipped up?"
"Wait, hold up, what's that about stray shots?"
"According to the media, someone in the crowd started firing off guns. It looks like Miss McGee stopped the bullets, then turned her attention to the crowd to stop the riot."
"Who were they shooting at?"
"I checked the surveillance cameras and I can't find the shooter."
"What about the target?"
"I haven't checked," Eddie admitted. "I assumed they were randomly fired into the crowd."
"Computer, scroll to frame 33752 and step forward. Enhance image, track for high-speed projectiles." Eddie and Rusty watched as the images scrolled forward frame by frame. Rusty paid particular attention as the bullets, enhanced by a glowing computer image tracked from the crowd and into the air. "Computer, freeze frame."
Eddie looked with the frame with interest. "Two shots, forehead, three shots, center mass. McGee was the target?"
"I thought Garner wanted her working for him, not dead," Rusty said. "And there's no way a bullet was going to hurt her; Garner knows that."
"Then maybe it wasn't Garner," Eddie said darkly. "I think another player just joined the game."