Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The Fugitive Pair - Chapter 20

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Michelle reports there are vids of Matt and her all over Piscain Station.

The four young psychics began talking at once. Cassie, Gene, and Mark threw rapid fire questions at Kristin. In between randomly answering some of their questions, Kristin launched into a breathless description of her trip with Michelle. My mind spun, searching for a way we could escape from the Federation net closing around the station. Michelle bit her lip, showing she was also searching for some solution to our problem.

“That’s enough! All of you, be silent!” Zav’s raised voice cut through the babble, which immediately ceased. “Thank you. Cassie, Gene, please serve dinner.”

“But Zav,” Cassie implored, “this is—”

A sharp glance from Zav cut her off in mid-sentence. “What is the rule of the household, Cassandra?”

Upon hearing Zav use her full first name, Cassie’s impatience faded to resignation. “We don’t discuss problems at the dinner table.”

“Right—and there are no exceptions to that rule.” Zav’s eyes met the gazes of each of his charges. “Is that clear?”

“Yes, Zav,” all four intoned.

“What a lovely idea!” Michelle said brightly. Pulling away from me, she added, “I’m going to change out of this too-short skirt, so save me a seat next to you, babe.”

Gene and Mark looked decidedly disappointed at Michelle’s announcement while Zav appeared relieved. All three pairs of eyes watched as she walked down the hall to Kristin’s room. Okay, my eyes tracked her gently swaying backside and long legs, too.

At the door, Michelle gave a quick glance at us, smiled knowingly, and said, “Do you see what I mean about men, Kristin?”

Kristin’s wide eyes swept back and forth among the four males in the room. “Yep. You’re right!”

“What is she right about?” Cassie asked.

In a stage whisper, Kristin said, “I’ll tell you when you’re a little older.”

“I think we’ll discuss this now, young lady,” Zav said.

Michelle’s voice drifted down the hall, “We don’t discuss problems at the dinner table, Zav. No exceptions!”

Zav’s eyebrows climbed so high they vanished under his hairline, causing all four of the young psychics to burst out laughing. A rueful smile spread across his lips. “Ah, the ignominy of having my own words turned against me in my own home. All right, you rapscallions, let’s eat.”

Cassie pointed to a chair for me, left an empty seat next to it for Michelle, then sat down on the other side of the empty chair. The others took their own seats, with Michelle joining us just as Zav sat at the head of the table. Zav rapped his knuckles twice on the table and all talk ceased. Mark said a quick blessing, ending with the request, “And please keep our family and our guests safe.”

The others all said, “Amen.”

Released from the pre-meal ritual, the four kids directed a barrage of questions at Michelle and me, all the while spooning food onto plates and passing serving dishes around the table.

“Children, let our guests eat!” Zav said, his voice rising over the hubbub.

“But we want to learn how they got here!” Mark said, a little teenage whine entering his voice.

“That’s fair,” I replied, “but only if you guys tell us your story after we tell ours.”

Michelle and I took turns telling the story of our flight from Draconis and then Wolf, finishing with the long space-suited flight to Piscain Station. The four kids were suitably impressed when Michelle told them how I drew the fear right out of her. When we got to the point where we met Gene, we wrapped it up.

“Your turn,” Michelle said to the others.

Their tale proved as harrowing as you might expect, with hair’s breadth escapes and many different homes, and began when Cassie’s parents brought her to the Psy Corps offices. Already disillusioned with his employer, Zav patiently formulated an escape, taking the best psychics in his facility at the time.

“I hated leaving any children behind,” Zav said, pain etched on his face.

“He did it ‘cause I warned him,” Cassie said around a mouthful of food. “I had dreams about him and we all got killed if he tried to take anyone else.”

“That she did,” Zav continued. “You can imagine how surprised I was when this five-year-old girl told me she knew what I was planning and what would happen if I overreached—though she didn’t use that word. Utilizing their unique talents, we were able to procure passage on a spaceliner and, for the most part, stay off the Federation’s scanners ever since.”

“We know about Cassie’s, Kristin’s, and Gene’s abilities,” Michelle said. “What about you, Mark?”

In response, Mark just grinned widely at Michelle. To my considerable surprise, my wife’s voice filled with chagrin. “Oh, that was so rude of me to suspect anything from such a fine young man. Can you ever forgive me, Mark?”

I looked at Michelle and grabbed her hand. “Are you okay, hon?”

Michelle’s eyes widened just as Gene smacked Mark on the back of the head. “We don’t use our powers on friends, dumbass!”

“Ow!” Mark said, rubbing his head. But he also lowered his eyes and muttered, “I’m sorry. I just thought it would be easier if I showed her.”

“What did you do to her?” I demanded.

“I’m a charismatic. I can make people like me and sort of get them to do what I want,” Mark said. “I can’t make anyone do anything that they’re really opposed to—like make a good person kill someone, for instance. But I bet I could get Michelle to bend over again while she was wearing that short skirt!” This time it was Kristin who smacked Mark on the back of the head. “How did you stop my ability from working on Michelle?”

I shrugged. “I just took her hand. Empaths tend to screw up telepathic powers. I assume your ability is just a specialized form of telepathy?”

“It is,” Zav said. “And Mark, you get kitchen duty for a week for using your abilities on Michelle.”

The boy nodded his head and his shoulders drooped. “I really am sorry!”

“I believe you and I forgive you,” Michelle said. “But aren’t you also the solution to all our problems? Can’t we just have Mark use his abilities on whoever comes to search the apartment and make them go away?”

“I wish it were that simple,” Zav said. “His ability is extremely useful, but it won’t deter someone who is following specific orders. The searchers will feel badly when they insist on performing the search, but they’ll still do it. No, we need some other way to get around this.”

“What if Matt and I go hide in service tunnels or get in with the vagrant population?” Michelle asked.

“What vagrant population?” Gene asked.

“Pegasus Station had a pretty large one,” Michelle replied. “I just assumed…”

“Piscain Station authorities don’t allow that kind of thing,” Gene said. “That’s one reason why there are so many sensors all around the station—including in the service tunnels.”

Michelle blew out an exasperated breath and gave me a lopsided grin. “Well, babe, can you maybe suck out the searchers’ curiosity or something equally crazy?”

I surprised Michelle by giving her suggestion serious consideration. “You might actually have something, hon. If we hide in one of the bedrooms—under a bed or in a closet—I might only have one searcher to deal with. If he’s not curious while he’s searching the room, maybe he’ll just give it a quick look and move on.”

I looked at Zav. “What do you think? Can you help me enhance that ability to the exclusion of anything else?”

Zav gave the idea careful thought before finally nodding. “I think it’s worth trying though projecting impatience in conjunction might improve the odds.”

Cassie leaned across Michelle and hugged me. “I knew one of you would save the day!”

“He hasn’t saved the day yet, Cassie,” Zav said. “And while I get started with his training, you need to do the dishes.”

“If you don’t mind,” Michelle said, “I’ll help.”

Cassie brightened at the prospect of doing the dishes with the most beautiful girl in the galaxy. I was worn out but insisted Zav start immediately because I kept seeing Cassie’s drawing of the living room. It served as a stark reminder of the cost of failure.

Can Matt learn to control that one aspect of his power in time to save everyone? Find out more in Chapter 21, coming Friday!