Monday, August 31, 2015

The Fugitive Pair - Chapter 16

< Chapter 15                                                                                                       Chapter 17 >
Matt and Michelle find a surprise waiting as they exit the airlock into Piscain Station.

Looking toward the voice, I saw a teenage boy about fifteen years old. He was slender and already as tall as I am. Bright brown eyes looked at us from under a head of brown hair and his clothes were typical for someone his age. The boy slouched in the corner of the room, attempting a casual air belied by the tension evident in his face.

“Who are you?” I asked.

“I’m the guy who unlocked the airlock and made sure Michelle noticed the hatch when you got close enough to see it,” he replied. The boy shoved off the wall and pointed to a row of lockers against the other wall. “You can put your spacesuits in lockers fourteen and fifteen. No one will disturb them before we can come back for them.”

“How do you know my name?” Michelle asked as the two of us began pulling off our suits.

“You and Matt are all Cassandra has been able to talk about for the last month! She insisted I case this airlock six times to make sure everything was in place for you.”

The boy opened locker fourteen and started stowing Michelle’s gear inside. With a half-shrug, Michelle accepted his help. The kid stacked the last of Michelle’s gear and immediately began helping me with mine.

Handing my helmet to him, I said, “Even in light of everything that’s happened to us lately, that makes no sense at all.”

“Yeah, welcome to my world,” the boy muttered.

“Okay…” I said, unsure what he meant by that.

The kid checked his chrono every fifteen seconds, telegraphing a need for haste. Or maybe he just wanted to give us that impression. Either way, it worked. Shutting locker fifteen, I said, “Let’s go.”

The kid led us out of the prep room without bothering to make sure the coast was clear. Exchanging puzzled looks, Michelle and I followed him. The guy set a fast pace like he really did want to get away from the airlock before a maintenance team showed up.

“What are you reading off of him?” Michelle whispered. At normal volume, she asked, “You know our names. Shouldn’t you tell us yours?”

“Oh yeah, sorry—Zav told me to do that. I’m Gene.”

“I’d return the favor, but it seems like you already know all about us,” I said. “Thanks for unlocking the airlock, though.”

We turned a corner and lost sight of the door to the airlock’s prep room. Seconds later, voices sounded from down that corridor. A group of men and women entered the hallway we’d just left. Their discussion was technical and left little doubt they were a maintenance team.

“The rest of the way should be clear until we reach the public part of the station.” Gene slowed to a normal walking pace. He looked over his shoulder at me. “You can stop trying to read me, Matt. Empaths and telepaths don’t mix well.”

My mind whirled, trying to figure out what question I wanted to ask first. Michelle beat me to it, asking, “You know Matt is an empath? And you’re admitting to us you’re a telepath?”

Gene nodded. “Zav said I should mention that at the same time I mentioned Matt’s ability. He said it would make you less anxious if you knew I was a rogue psychic, too.”

“Thank you. That’s pretty brave of you, telling that kind of thing to strangers,” Michelle said. “If you can’t read empaths, how did you know Matt was trying to read you?”

“It was an easy guess. I mean, I’ve been trying to read him,” Gene replied.

Michelle gave Gene an appraising look. “That’s reasonable, Gene, but it’s not the full truth, is it?”

The kid blushed. “Um, no.”

Michelle took my hand. “Did you read anything besides my surface thoughts?”

“No—I’d never do anything that rude!” A shocked expression came over Gene. “At least not to friends. I don’t blame you for holding hands with Matt, though.”

Michelle’s eyebrows rose. “So you know that lets Matt’s ability shield most of my thoughts from you? And why are you calling us friends? I mean, you seem like a nice enough guy, but we just met you.”

You just met me. I feel like I’ve known you for a year and a half—ever since Cassandra first told us about the two of you.” The corners of Gene’s mouth curled up into a smile. “She was really upset Zav wouldn’t take her to either of your weddings.”

“Okay, I’m completely confused, Gene,” I said. “Michelle and I weren’t even together as a couple a year and a half ago. How could this Cassandra—”

Stopping at a door, Gene interrupted me. “Through this door is one of the shopping districts. I know you’ve got a lot of questions, but the answers are going to have to wait until Zav can explain everything.”

Then Gene punched the door control. With a hiss, the door slid aside and a wall of sound rolled into the hallway. With a jerk of his head, Gene strolled out into the crowded shopping district. Seeing no other good options, we followed him.

The sights, sounds, and crowd in the shopping district shouldn’t have been jarring to me—I grew up on the second most populous planet in the Federation, after all—but Michelle and I spent most of the last three weeks together on the spaceship. Ex-spaceship, I realized, as the navy’s missiles had surely blasted the ship to atoms by now. But, other than an all-too-brief stop on sparsely settled Wolf, neither of us had been around other people in a while. I found myself jumping at unexpected sounds and unable to concentrate on much besides following Gene.

Michelle leaned in close and spoke in a low voice. “How are you doing, babe? Is my little ball of terror causing problems? If you need to release it, I’m pretty sure I can handle it now.”

I’d had the clump of emotion off in the corner of my mind long enough I no longer even thought about it. Prompted by Michelle’s words, I checked on it. “Um, it’s gone, hon.”

“Gone? Where did it go?” she asked.

“Damned if I know, Michelle,” I answered. “Maybe it just slowly leaked away while I wasn’t concentrating on it? Or maybe it vanished when we entered the airlock and your reason to be terrified disappeared. I don’t know a lot about this stuff.”

Gene drifted back to walk next to us during that exchange. At my last statement, he grinned. “Don’t worry, Zav knows all about it.” Pointing to a corridor on the right, he added, “We go that way.”

“You know, I’m getting tired of all of these veiled hints about people we’ve never met who seem to know a lot about us,” I said, my temper rising. “Why should we trust you?”

“Because I really do want to help!” Gene insisted.

Most public access space station corridors have regular alcoves so pedestrians can stop and chat without blocking foot traffic. I stepped into one, pulling Michelle along with me. Gene followed, refusing to wilt under my glare.

Before I could speak, Gene asked in a low voice, “Will it help if I let you read me?”

In surprise, I responded with a question of my own. “You can do that?”

“It’s not easy and I’m not real good at it,” Gene answered, “but I think I can let you in for a few seconds. Zav’s been working with me on it.”

“Let me guess,” Michelle said. “It’s because Cassandra told him we might not trust you?”

“It didn’t take a precog to figure out you might get suspicious,” Gene said. The boy closed his eyes and slowly his entire body relaxed. “Okay, try it now.”

I took Gene’s hand, pretending to examine it for some kind of injury. I struggled to calm my own mind. Michelle, obviously sensing my difficulties, gently rubbed my back. The simple normalcy of that helped. I established a tentative contact with Gene, but immediately ran into interference from his telepathy.

“I can’t get through, Gene,” I said

“I’m trying,” he hissed.

Without hesitation, Michelle used her free hand to start kneading one of Gene’s shoulders. The contact surprised him and his eyes flew open.

“I trust you will be a gentleman, Gene,” Michelle whispered, smiling her brightest smile, “and respect my privacy.”

Gene melted under her smile and the gentle massaging of his shoulder. As he smiled in response, his interference dropped away. It only lasted a few seconds, but it was enough. Michelle raised an eyebrow in question as I released Gene’s hand. I smiled and nodded.

“Thank you, Gene,” Michelle said. “Lead on.”

It took us another twenty minutes and half a dozen different turns before Gene stopped at a door. With a big grin, he keyed the door open.

“Matt, Michelle—welcome home!”

Who and what will Matt and Michelle find on the other side of the door? Find out in Chapter 17, coming Wednesday!