Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Fugitive Pair - Chapter 29

< Chapter 28                                                                                                       Chapter 30 >
Matt’s uncle suggests they create a real decompression on the station.

Uncle Gunther wanted to cause an actual decompression? Unbidden, images from school training vids came to mind—terrified people screaming wordlessly as they were sucked out into space to certain death. My head was shaking before I finally found my voice.

“Absolutely not!” The vehemence in my voice took my uncle aback. “We will not kill innocent people just to make our diversion more believable!”

“I’m entirely with Matt on this,” Michelle added, her tone equally forceful. “How could you even think we’d agree to something like that?”

“I’m not planning on killing anyone!” Gunther said once we gave him a chance to respond. “The man who suggested the idea makes quite a good living from insurance settlements for ‘accidents’ he stages. He’s pulled off decompression routines a dozen times all around the Federation and hasn’t lost anyone yet. I don’t know how he does this sort of thing, but his cons feature real holes in carefully secured areas, ensuring only his people get sucked out into space. He says he has teams waiting outside in spacesuits and the people playing the victim have vacuum harnesses worn under their clothes.”

Michelle and I exchanged glances. I shrugged and she said, “An actual hole in the station with people tumbling through it would really help convince people there was cause for alarm.”

“It might distract the navy, too,” I suggested. “Lord knows we’ll need all the help we can get escaping to a wormhole.”

“I thought you’d like it,” Uncle Gunther said. “And I’d like to add how deeply wounded I am that you thought I’d kill innocent people simply as a diversion.”

“Said the ex-pirate and kidnapper of my parents-in-law,” Michelle replied.

“Kidnapper, not murderer,” Gunther growled in response.

Michelle inclined her head slightly, “That’s a fair point. I apologize for suggesting you would cross that not-so-fine line.”

Gunther actually clicked his heels and bowed slightly. “And I accept your apology, fair lady, and beg you think nothing more of it.”

“Unless I’ve stumbled into one of those historical romances my mother enjoys reading so much, can we get on with the planning?” I asked. Without waiting for a reply, I continued, “How much does your insurance-scamming friend want in return for this service? I assume it won’t come cheap?”

“No, it won’t.” Gunther grimaced, “He wants five million credits. He claims it’s a reasonable fee for such a rush job.”

“Tell him he can have three and a half million,” Michelle responded immediately. “Be prepared to walk away if he doesn’t agree, but accept a counter offer of four million if he makes it.”

“Why bother?” I asked. “It’s not like a million and a half credits matters to us either way.”

“He won’t know that and it’s better for us if he doesn’t figure it out,” Michelle responded.  “If he realizes we aren’t budgeting our money, there’s a chance he might figure out who is behind this whole thing. Your name and background have been all over the station for the last day or two, so it’s not a big stretch.” She turned to Gunther. “Does he know you’re Matt’s uncle?”

“Not to the best of my knowledge, but I approve of your caution.” Gunther bestowed a smile on Michelle. “After all, the man could make quite a bit more than that turning us over to the authorities.”

“Can you trust him to go through with his end of the bargain?” I asked. “I’m assuming he’ll demand payment up front. Besides, we won’t have time to stop and pay him afterwards.”

“That’s why I’ll be supervising his operation,” Gunther said. “Once he actually blows out the bulkhead, I’ll run for the ship. It’s also why I came back to the ship—I need a credit stick with the right balance to give to him.”

We prepared two credit sticks, one with three and a half million on it and a second with half a million. Gunther took them and left to finalize the deal.

At Michelle’s insistence, I searched for a list of psychics assigned to the Piscain Station Psi Corps office. That proved much harder to find than the office’s emergency procedures, but I finally found it. As expected, they had a bunch of telepaths. Those are not only the most common psychics, they’re also generally the most useful. The office had several empaths, a few telekinetics, two healers, three pyrokinetics, an astral projectionist, and one whose ability was restricted only to those with Top Secret clearance.

“Why would you want a pyrokinetic in a space station?” Michelle asked. “Isn’t fire the last thing you’d want?”

Shrugging again, I said, “I don’t know much about pyros. Maybe they can put out fires as well as start them? That would be really useful in this kind of environment. But I’m more worried about the astral projectionist. If she’s on the station, they could send a message to another station without bothering with a messenger drone.”

“But they already tried a drone,” Michelle reminded me. “Why would they do that if the projectionist was in the office?”

“Maybe they’re being sneaky or maybe she was resting after an earlier sending. I read somewhere that sending interstellar messages really exhausts an astral projectionist.” I ran my hands through my hair in frustration. “There’s so much we don’t know and won’t have time to learn before we make our move—what if we missed something vital?”

“Then we’ll deal with it when we find it, babe.” Michelle went back to rubbing my shoulders.

Grinning, I went back to massaging Michelle’s chest. “Oh look, I think I found something vital! How should we deal with it?”

A soft moan escaped Michelle’s lips. “Is there anything more you can get from Psi Corps’ files?”

“Without taking some really big risks, no,” I said.

“Then I’d like to test a new theory of mine.” Michelle pulled me to my feet and toward one of the ship’s cabins. “I think we won’t get screwed during our rescue plan if we get well and truly screwed before the rescue.”

That sounded extremely reasonable to me.

Will our heroes prove Michelle’s theory? Find out more in Chapter 30 of The Fugitive Pair, coming Friday!

Monday, September 28, 2015

The Fugitive Pair - Chapter 28

< Chapter 27                                                                                                       Chapter 29 >
Matt’s uncle has an idea for rescuing Zav and the kids.

We spent the next hour discussing and refining my uncle’s idea. The idea was straight-forward—sound a decompression warning throughout the station and take advantage of the confusion to rescue Zav and the kids. Simple as the plan sounded, we had to figure out a lot of details before giving it a go.

I settled down in front of Gunther’s data pad to exercise my hacking skills. Gunther headed out to utilize his connections with the station underworld. He carried a credit stick with a comparatively small balance of a few hundred thousand credits, more than enough to hire help and purchase supplies. Michelle plotted sensor readings for the naval ships in the system, intent on finding the least dangerous route to a wormhole.

I tackled station security first since the plan fell apart if I couldn’t trigger the station’s breach warnings. Without the benefit of the backdoors I’d used when hacking the GenCo systems on Pegasus Station, I had to rely entirely on my wits. Fortunately, Jonas hadn’t let me rest on my laurels after we rescued Mom and Dad from the pirates. He drilled me all the harder, ensuring none of the systems I tried hacking had any connection to the GenCo system. He also brought in some very good network security experts to refine my existing skills and teach me new ones.

It took close to two hours for me to crack station security. I would have spent even more time working on it if one of the guys Jonas brought in hadn’t taught me about social engineering and masking comm codes. Adopting the persona of a harried naval ensign, I called an equally harried departmental assistant administrator in station security. My carefully spun story about synchronizing search team work shifts and our inability to connect to security’s shift roster yielded the assistant’s password to the timekeeping system. While giving me his password, the guy even said, “What the hell, it’s just the shift scheduling system.”

If the guy had any idea what I could do with any admin level password into their system, he’d have hung up on me immediately. But most people really don’t know how much damage a good hacker can do once they have access to the system. Rearranging the duty roster and changing schedules was just the beginning. Then I added Michelle and me to the navy security team, using images of our current disguises for the IDs. Finally, I used the assistant’s password as a stepping stone to far greater system access.

All of this took a lot of time. Gunther returned with purchases, checked on my progress, then went out again with an expanded list of skills we needed to pull off our plan. Michelle brought lunch to me at some point and even stood over me until I ate it. It took longer than I hoped, but I finally found information on our friends. As we’d feared, once station security made a close inspection of the false identities Zav established for the five of them, everything fell apart quickly. Within an hour, security established their true identities and alerted Psi Corps.

The Psi Corps office immediately restricted the information at the highest level of classification and did their best to keep the findings out of navy hands. That would have worked if not for the admiral on hand for the naval maneuvers going on when Michelle and I entered the Piscain system. The flag officer outranked the local Psi Corps office chief and, despite having been in the system for only a week or so, had better relations with station security.

Reading between the lines, I got the idea homeless bums living in repair tunnels had a better relationship with station security than Psi Corps had. And that level of friction helped us out a bit. The admiral offered to transport our friends to the nearest full Psi Corps facility in a fast courier under his command. The Psi Corps office chief, peeved he wasn’t able to contain the embarrassing revelation that Zav and the kids were living right under his nose, tried commandeering the fast courier from the navy. By the time the inter-service pissing contest was over, the admiral had trampled all over the hapless station chief, promising he’d let a Psi Corps message drone exit the system once he was certain the emergency situation was well contained enough to resume external communication with the rest of the Federation. The station chief tried launching a drone anyway, but the navy intercepted and destroyed it.

Reading the station security summary reminded me of reading the minutes of some of the GenCo board’s more contentious meetings. I’d seen preschoolers in mid-tantrum who were more reasonable than these high-ranking government officials. I relayed all of this to Michelle and we marveled at the behavior of these supposed adults. We also breathed sighs of relief. Our timetable was still tight, but not as tight as we had feared.

Finally, I turned my attention to Psi Corps. I didn’t even consider trying social engineering with Psi Corps. God only knew what kind of psychics they had in the office watching out for that kind of thing. I was hardly what you’d call an expert on the subject and had no idea if it was even possible to set up a psychic firewall against that sort of thing, but I refused to jeopardize the entire rescue operation to make my job a little easier. Besides, I just needed access to Psi Corps’ office procedures in case of station-wide emergencies. When the decompression alarm sounded, would they lock the office down or evacuate or do something else entirely different? Of course, the Psi Corps response was best summed up as ‘it depends on the situation’—not nearly as useful as I’d hoped for. Essentially, the response was whatever the station chief decided it should be. It was not a particularly helpful policy from my point of view though I’m sure the station chief loved it.

My groan of frustration brought Michelle over to me. “Your shoulders are hard as a rock, babe,” she said as her hands began kneading my tense muscles. “You need to take a break.”

“I’ll take a break when our friends are with us on this ship and we’re waving goodbye to the Piscain Hub.” Despite my words, I leaned back in the chair and let myself enjoy the shoulder massage. I even tilted my head back just in case Michelle felt like giving me a quick kiss.

She did feel like it though it wasn’t quick at all. Despite the situation—or maybe because of it—our kiss quickly turned passionate. Michelle’s hands wandered down from my shoulders and caressed my chest. My hands rose and returned the favor though I think I got a lot more out of caressing Michelle’s chest than she got caressing mine. Spinning around in the chair, I pulled Michelle into my lap and resumed our kiss.

“I suppose I should have known better than to leave young, horny newlyweds alone for so long.” Uncle Gunther’s voice startled us both though we didn’t jump apart like I think he hoped we would. “You know, children, we’ve got a deadline for rescuing your friends.”

Michelle spun the chair around so we both faced my uncle. “The deadline isn’t quite as pressing as we thought, Gunther. Besides, Matt and I were just taking a short break.”

“I remember being young and newly married, Michelle, and I saw where my nephew’s hands were headed. If they’d gotten there and he managed to stop short of bedding you, he’d be a stronger man than I was at his age.” A lascivious grin crossed my uncle’s face. “And if you’d let him get that far without bedding him… Let’s just say you never struck me as the teasing type.”

“Here’s an idea,” I said, “let’s stop talking about our sex life, Uncle, and start talking about what you’ve been doing for the last five hours.”

“Well, I can promise you it’s not been as interesting as what you were just doing, Matt!” In response to my glare, Uncle Gunther raised his hands in a placating manner. “Okay, I’ll drop that subject.”

“Good,” Michelle and I both said.

“I’ve managed to hire a collection of people with negotiable morals to help us with our distraction. One of them offered unexpected services.” Uncle Gunther’s expression turned serious. “How much more effective will our decompression alarm be if it’s accompanied by an actual decompression?”

What is Matt’s uncle suggesting? Find out in Chapter 29, coming Wednesday!

Friday, September 25, 2015

The Fugitive Pair - Chapter 27

< Chapter 26                                                                                                       Chapter 28 >
Matt’s uncle agrees to help our heroes rescue Zav and the kids.

“We get started on the rescue right now,” I reply to my uncle, “but I have no idea what I need you to do.”

Uncle Gunther’s eyes narrowed. “You don’t have a plan? Why the hell did you come to me, then?”

“I came to you because an eleven-year-old girl told me to,” I said. “I didn’t even know I needed help until four hours ago!”

Gunther nodded as if he comprehended the situation. He leaned against a bulkhead, folded his arms, and asked, “So what happened? Did these friends of yours get caught stealing from a shopkeeper?”

“You saw the kind of money we’ve got. Do you really think a friend of mine would have to steal? More, do you honestly think I’d pay you sixty million credits to break my friends out when they only faced a fine of a few hundred credits?” My uncle shrugged, conceding my point, so I continued, “Our friends are rogue psychics who have been on the run from Psi Corps for five or six years.”

That shocked Gunther out of his studied uncaring pose. “God in heaven, boy, are you out of your mind? Those friends of yours are already in the Psi Corps office on the station by now! That’s a whole different level of trouble you’re talking about!”

Michelle snorted in derision. “Yes, it’s a dangerous situation. No, we don’t have a rescue plan. Yes, we have to act very fast. All of this should have been obvious when Matt offered you sixty million credits to help us.”

“Psi Corps has an office on the station?” I asked.

“Yes, and it’s a big one with quite a few psychics assigned to it,” Gunther replied. “Psi Corps likes it in the Piscain Hub for the same reason shipping firms like it here—they can easily send psychics in a dozen different directions with minimal fuss.”

“Why weren’t those psychics assigned to the search teams?” I asked. All it would have taken was a telepath or maybe another empath joining the search team and they’d have found Michelle and me easily.

Gunther actually laughed in response to my question. “For one of the oldest reasons known to man—inter-service rivalry. You crossed the navy, first, so they got first shot at capturing you. They’d no more have asked Psi Corps for help than they would ask a pirate gang. And if your friends are as high-profile as you say they are, you can bet the naval brass will lord their discovery over Psi Corps for years to come. And you can bet Psi Corps administrators will be scrambling to explain how those rogue psychics could stay hidden in the same space station as one of their larger offices.”

“Thank God for small favors, I guess,” Michelle murmured. “But our rescue just got a lot harder.”

“Why even bother with the rescue?” Gunther asked. “Chances are the navy will be happy with their find. Sure, they’ll go through the motions of searching the rest of the station, but they’ve successfully deflected embarrassing attention from them and onto Psi Corps, but all you have to do is wait for them to lift the travel restrictions. I’ll take you out of here myself, once I’m free to leave.”

“Unlike your old pirate gang, Michelle and I don’t leave our friends behind just so we can get away safely,” I said, a hint of a sneer slipping into my tone.

“Really, lad? And have you asked the love of your life what she thinks about that?” Gunther drawled.

“He doesn’t have to ask me,” Michelle said. “Our friends risked everything to help us. There is no way in hell we’re going to abandon them when they need our help in return!”

“That’s very noble of you both,” Gunther replied, “but you still don’t have a plan and don’t have much time to come up with one.”

“I don’t know, we’re in better shape than Michelle and I were when we set off to rescue my parents,” I said. “Then we only knew they were alive somewhere in the galaxy. Hell, we don’t even have to search Piscain Station to find our friends! And even when we found my parents and your hidden pirate base, we didn’t have a plan. We just made it up as we went along.”

“But if outside help hadn’t shown up, you’d have been captured or killed by those same pirates,” my uncle countered. “No one on Piscain Station is going to lift a finger to help you.”

Michelle and I exchanged looks and it didn’t take my empathic powers to read her resignation. I nodded in agreement and the two of us turned away from Gunther and headed up the corridor toward the airlock.

“I trust you won’t turn us in, Uncle,” I called over my shoulder, “because we’ll return the favor if we’re picked up. Leave us alone and we’ll leave you alone.”

“And just where do you think you’re going, young man?” Gunther demanded.

I didn’t even bother turning around. “That worked when I was a minor living with you, but it won’t work now.”

“We’re not going to concoct some hare-brained scheme to rescue your friends?” Gunther asked.

Michelle fielded this question. “You’ve made your position very clear. We won’t trouble you again.”

“You’ve got it wrong. I’ve gotten you to make your position very clear,” Gunther said. “I don’t have psychic powers and must rely on words and wit to learn these things. And you have convinced me that you are definitely going through with this rescue attempt.”

I stopped and turned back to face my uncle. “Are you saying you were simply testing our resolve with your negative attitude?”


“And you’re telling us you’re actually willing to help us?”

“Yes—though I still want the sixty million credits.” My uncle tilted his head slightly. “Couldn’t you read that with those amazing psychic powers?”

“I could, but I didn’t. Everyone deserves privacy in their own mind.”

“You truly are an exceptional young man, Matt.” Gunther smiled sheepishly, “Perhaps I have no reason to lay claim to pride, but I am quite proud of the man you’ve become.” His sheepish smile transformed into a grin. “Also, while we were talking I had an idea or two for rescuing your friends!”

What ideas does Gunther have? Find out in Chapter 28, coming Monday!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Fugitive Pair - Chapter 26

< Chapter 25                                                                                                       Chapter 27 >
Matt and Michelle discover the ‘help’ Cassie told them about is Matt’s ex-pirate uncle.

Give credit to my uncle, he recovered quickly. “I’m impressed you found me, Matt. I’m even more impressed you’ve managed to evade the navy search teams who’ve been combing the station for you and your lovely wife.”

“I could say the same about you,” I responded. Then, because I was still really pissed off at him for all the years he kept my parents prisoner in his hidden pirate base, I added, “Except for the wife bit, of course. That didn’t work out so well for you.”

Gunther’s expression hardened at my gibe. Michelle immediately started our way, her eyes going cold even as she still worked her hips. Gunther saw her, as well, and let his features soften. It didn’t stop Michelle, but it did slow down her advance.

“I’m surprised you went for such a low blow. You never were a cruel child growing up,” my uncle said to me as he shook his head as if in sorrow. “I’m disappointed in you, lad.”

“Said the kidnapper uncle to the nephew he all but orphaned.” It was my turn for a set jaw and steely eyes. Seeing that, Michelle quickened her pace. I shook my head in disgust. “Your disappointment in me pales in comparison to the vast, yawning cavern of disgust I feel for you!”

Gunther leaned toward me, anger flaring to life in his eyes. Just as he opened his mouth to let me have it, Michelle grabbed both of us around the neck and pretended to hug us. When she’d pulled us close, Michelle hissed, “Are the two of you trying to draw station security’s attention. In case the two of you have forgotten, the Feds are hunting both of you!”

Michelle gave us both one of those near-the-cheek false kisses exchanged by women the galaxy over. She smiled brightly at the two of us and said, “Dearest Uncle, is there someplace private where we can talk?”

“Of course, child,” Gunther responded in kind. “Why don’t you come aboard my ship?”

I didn’t say ‘oh hell no’ but my face must have telegraphed it to my uncle. “I’m no longer with my old shipping firm, lad. These days, all I’ve got is a small freighter with a small crew—just me, in fact.”

Michelle and I exchanged a glance. She arched her eyebrows, essentially asking if we should trust Gunther. I gave him a quick surface check with my ability and felt no deception in Gunther. I shrugged and nodded. “Lead on, Uncle.”

Michelle linked arms with Gunther—ensuring he couldn’t just bolt away from us—and filled the air with inane chatter about shoes, fashion, shopping, and how I refused to let her spend any money without Gunther’s approval. For a woman who abhorred small talk, Michelle was very good at faking it.

A few minutes of walking brought us to a small docking bay in which a smaller-than-expected freighter sat. Gunther coded open the hatch and we all entered the ship. I’d like to say I felt better hidden from Piscain Station’s sensors, but I’d just traded one source of stress for another.

“How about a tour of the ship, Uncle-by-marriage?” Michelle asked as soon as the hatch slid shut again. “We can start at the front of the ship and work our way backwards in a very careful and systematic way.”

Despite himself, Gunther gave a brief smile. “Your father taught you well, young lady. I must say, I was rather relieved when I read you and Matt got married. He’s a talented young man, but he always had his head in the clouds. Matt needs someone practical to keep him pointed in the right direction.”

“Have you ever considered what it must have been like for my husband after you kidnapped his parents?” Michelle asked icily. “Can you imagine knowing your parents are alive but being unable to tell anyone why you know that or convince anyone to even give a damn?”

“No, I never thought of it that way,” my uncle admitted. “Matt has found quite an adamant defender in you, Michelle.”

“Damn right he has.”

“No doubt you’d do anything for him, too,” Gunther said, showing us into the cargo compartment and completing his tour of the ship. “Even break the law.”

“I see where you’re going with this, Gunther, and it’s a false equivalence,” Michelle admonished. “You kidnapping Matt’s parents is not the same as me helping Matt avoid capture by Psi Corps.”

“Federation law says otherwise, Michelle,” Gunther replied, crossing his arms. “But let’s be honest with each other. If you thought it was in Matt’s best interests to shove me out an airlock, I’d be breathing vacuum right now.”

“If I thought it was in my best interests, maybe I’d help her do it,” I interrupted the discussion. “But let’s cut to the chase—are you trying to blame my parents’ kidnapping on Aunt Tess while casting yourself as the reluctant-but-supportive husband?”

“Yes, because it’s true.” Seeing the skeptical looks on our faces, Gunther continued, “I was born into piracy and had my whole career path laid out in front of me. I never enjoyed the life and was always looking for a way out of it. I thought I’d found that way out when your aunt and I fell in love, figuring the Brotherhood couldn’t touch a Connaught son-in-law. I didn’t count on Tess loving my career more than she loved me.”

“And you expect me to believe that?” Even as I asked the question, I remembered my last conversation with Aunt Tess and her willingness to sacrifice me if I gave her too much trouble.

“You already do believe me, Matt,” Gunther said, “but why stop with mere belief? You’re the empath—read me and see if I’m being honest.”

“I think you should do it, babe,” Michelle said. “The sooner we know if we can trust your uncle, the better.”

After all of my recent training and experience, it didn’t take me very long. I sifted through his deepest emotions, verifying his truthfulness and discovering one other thing. “After everything she’s put you through, you still love Aunt Tess?”

“Of course I do. Love isn’t rational and it’s not something you can turn on and off like a light.” Gunther smiled ruefully and gestured all around him. “This ship is perfect for smuggling, which I’m doing to raise bribe money. Once I have enough money, I can bribe her way out of prison.”

Michelle considered this. “Tess doesn’t strike me as a ‘life on the run’ type of woman. Are you sure she’ll thank you?”

“Life on the run must be better than life in prison,” Gunther countered. “Even if she leaves me, I’ll have the satisfaction of knowing she’s free.”

Michelle and I exchanged calculating glances, then I asked, “How much money do you need, Gunther?”

“Tess is a high-profile prisoner. I’ll need at least fifty million credits.”

I smiled for the first time. “If you help us rescue our friends from station security and get somewhere safe, I’ll pay you sixty million.”

Gunther barked a laugh. “Do you expect me to believe you’re on the run and have that kind of money?”

“Do you really believe my father and Jonas wouldn’t stock an escape ship with everything Michelle and I would need to get away, including money?” I countered.

That brought him up short. “Show me.”

I pulled out the credit sticks I’d taken with us when we left our spaceship and thumbed the balance displays. Gunther gave the numbers a quick look and asked, “What do you want me to do and when do we start?”

Does Matt have a plan? Find out in Chapter 27, coming Friday.

Monday, September 21, 2015

The Fugitive Pair - Chapter 25

< Chapter 24                                                                                                       Chapter 26 >
Matt declares he and Michelle will rescue Zav and the kids.

Left to myself, I’d have spent too much time worrying about our friends and too little time preparing for the moment when we could leave the apartment. Fortunately, Jonas trained his daughter far better than that.

“Let’s see what clothing options we’ve got for you, Matt,” Michelle said in response to my rescue declaration.

Distracted by the first stages of worry, my wife’s statement didn’t really register. “What?”

“Clothes, Matt. You heard that sergeant—they have a brief vid shot of us crossing that shopping district when we first came onto the station.” She plucked at my shirt. “The recognition software in the sensors will pick us out in a matter of seconds if we go out wearing these clothes.”

“Right. Good idea, Michelle. I’m too big to wear Gene’s or Mark’s clothes,” I replied, starting down the hall. “Let’s see what Zav’s got. What about you?”

“We already know I can wear Kristin’s clothes. Her shirts are a bit tight in the chest, but that will just ensure guys don’t spend much time looking at my face.”

I could not think of a response to that line—Lord knows she was right—so I just left it alone. “What about hair color and things like that?”

“We’re kind of limited in what’s available in the apartment,” Michelle said, “but there’s enough for me to work with.”

My father would have approved of Zav’s wardrobe. It was much too staid for my tastes, but Michelle liked the options. She selected a conservatively cut suit which fit reasonably well when worn over my own clothes. I recognized the value of having the option to change my appearance somewhat by simply peeling off a shirt or pair of pants, but that didn’t make the double layers any more comfortable.

Michelle selected a stylish skirt and blouse. As promised, the blouse emphasized her breasts. The skirt showed Michelle’s legs to good effect and shifted enticingly with the swing of her hips. She selected more sensible shoes though also stayed away from entirely flat heels, ensuring a change in her height.

Next, she went to work on me with makeup and improvised hair coloring. “We’re going to age you a bit, babe. A little gray in the temples, a little shadow added to some of your laugh lines, and you’ll look like a forty-year-old.”

Once she finished with me, Michelle colored her own hair and eyebrows red. Next, she did…something…with eye liner, a lash brush, rouge, and lipstick. When she was done, she looked a few years older than her actual age of twenty-one and considerably more sexually available. She watched my reaction with a sly, sophisticated smile.

“When all of this is over, do you want me to do myself up like this for you one night?” she asked.

“It’s a nice package, hon, but if I wanted to score with someone like Jayna I’d have done it back in high school.” Michelle’s eyebrows rose in surprise, so I added, “You look really hot, but it’s like the makeup is designed to hide something—like you don’t really care about me beyond getting another notch on your bedpost. You know, the lay ‘em and leave ‘em type of girl mothers always warned their sons about.”

“Huh,” Michelle said, obviously surprised at my reaction.

“Rich guys have hot girls throwing themselves at them so often it actually gets boring. I never wanted that kind of thing, Michelle. I wanted a woman who would stay with me forever, one who was even more beautiful on the inside than she was on the outside. That’s why I held out for you.” 

“Dammit, Matt, don’t you know you’re not supposed to make a girl cry right after she puts on makeup?” Michelle blinked her eyes rapidly. “I was expecting a simple ‘Hell, yeah, baby’ from you. What made you get all serious?”

I shrugged. “What we’re about to do is dangerous, hon. If we fail, the best result we can hope for is that Psy Corps takes me away from you forever. I don’t want you ever doubting just how important you are to me.”

“Then we’d better make damn sure we don’t fail, babe,” Michelle said with vehemence.

Half an hour later, station security gave the all clear for our sector, releasing the occupants to go about their day. Michelle and I waited another thirty minutes, giving time for normal traffic patterns to form, then headed for the loading bay on level eighty-four.

The recognition software was looking for a couple, so Michelle and I kept our distance from each other. That was really nerve-wracking—if anything went wrong, neither of us could reach the other in time to help. It was equally difficult watching men of all ages surreptitiously watching my wife stride confidently down corridors and through shopping and office districts.

Some of the men looking at her made no attempt to hide their interest, and one even tried chatting her up. Michelle laughed at something he said, touched his arm in a way which promised intimacy might be in the cards later, and made an entry in her pad. She waggled her fingers enticingly as she walked away and even added a bit more swing to her hips. The guy bumped forearms with a companion and walked away grinning widely. Even knowing Michelle was acting, it wasn’t an easy scene to watch. On the other hand, it was certain Michelle wasn’t acting like your typical fugitive.

Eventually, I reached an elevator which could take me to the loading bay on level eighty-four. Trying to appear casual, I hoped for a slow-arriving elevator as I waited for Michelle to catch up. That meant the elevator arrived within seconds. I shuffled slowly toward the car. It filled up quickly, giving me a brief hope that I’d have to wait for the next elevator. Unfortunately, there was room for me when I reached the door. Looking over my shoulder as I entered the car, I saw Michelle hurrying to catch the elevator. I stabbed a finger onto the Door Open button, drawing a few irritated looks from other passengers. Then Michelle, announced by the enticing aroma of perfume, wedged her way into the car.

The irritation on the faces of the men faded quickly though the other women in the elevator were less forgiving. Michelle breathlessly thanked whoever held the elevator for her and a man older than Jonas—one who couldn’t even reach the button—took credit by saying, “You’re most welcome, young lady.”

Michelle bestowed a bright smile on him and spent the short elevator ride chatting amiably about nothing much with the men crowded around her. I listened to the other conversations and heard two men discussing the lock-down in Zav’s sector and the news that the search teams had found the people they were looking for.

“It seems like a lot of trouble to put everyone through just to find some psychic,” one man said. “Whoever they are, they’re obviously not hurting anyone.”

“They abandoned a spaceship running at high speed when they were close to the station,” the second man replied. “That was incredibly dangerous.”

“It wasn’t really that dangerous. There’s a hell of a lot more empty space than there is occupied space—even this close to the station,” the first man said. “I spent twenty years in the navy and can promise you the odds of them hitting anything were pretty low. Besides, they wouldn’t have tried that if the Feds weren’t after them.”

“Maybe so, but do you want unregulated psychics wandering around free to use their powers on us?” the other countered.

The first dismissed this claim with a wave of his hand. “Do you honestly think Psy Corps finds anything close to all of the psychics out there? I read that something like one out of every hundred thousand people has some latent psychic abilities. In the Terran Federation alone, that’s at least twenty million psychics. They’re not bothering me, so why should we bother them?”

The conversation drifted off into sports scores after that, but I found myself heartened by it. Perhaps the citizens of the Federation were open to changing the laws concerning psychics.

Our elevator finally reached level eighty-four and Michelle and I got off. Once again, we kept our distance as we wandered through the loading bay. Michelle didn’t stand out as badly as she had back on Rockport Station, but she still drew more than a few stares from the men working in the bay—and more than a few glares from the women working alongside the men. This time, though, I had little trouble ignoring the looks she drew since I kept my eyes roving over the faces of the people in the loading bay.

The loading bay was huge, so it took me forty minutes to wend my way through the crowds and traverse it from one end to another. A couple of hundred meters from the back end of the docking bay—the place where smaller ships docked and the crowd was considerably thinner—I finally spotted a familiar face. The sight surprised me so much I simply stopped walking and stared openly for a few seconds. Rousing myself, I looked toward Michelle who was thirty meters away and watching me closely.

Our eyes met and I jerked my head toward the familiar face. Better prepared and far better trained at hiding reactions than I am, Michelle simply nodded when she spotted the face. With a smile, Michelle started working her walk and drew a lot of looks. With so much attention directed at her, I had no trouble stealing up behind the oh-so-familiar man.

Stopping next to him, I spoke quietly. “You know, in most cultures it’s wrong for a man to openly leer at his nephew’s wife.”

The man looked at me for the first time, his eyes going wide in surprised recognition.

I met his gaze impassively and said, “Hello, Uncle Gunther.”

Can Matt trust his piratical uncle to help him rescue his friends? Find out more in Chapter 26, coming Wednesday!

Friday, September 18, 2015

The Fugitive Pair - Chapter 24

< Chapter 23                                                                                                       Chapter 25 >
The Federation search team is outside the door to Zav’s apartment.

Michelle and I hurried down the hall toward Mark’s room. Just as we reached the door, Cassie dashed out of her room.

“They’re already here? Why didn’t you wake me up?” Before anyone could respond, she caught Michelle’s hand. “If anything happens to us, you can find help in the loading bay on deck eighty-four.”

Surprised, Michelle only managed a quick nod to Cassie before I bustled her through Mark’s door and into his closet. She caught Cassie’s gaze just before I pulled the closet door shut and whispered, “I love you, Cassie.”

Zav opened the door as I hurried to hide Michelle among the smelly clothes littering the closet floor. I feared Zav would try to stall the search team and get himself hurt in the process. Fortunately, he was much smarter than that.

“Is this everyone who lives here?” an officious voice demanded loudly enough to carry through walls and doors easily.

“Yes, sir.” Zav’s much quieter voice barely made it to us. “Do you want us all to stay out here in the living room?”

The officious voice backed off a bit when he realized Zav was cooperating. “Yes, please. How many rooms are there besides this one?”

“Five, sir,” Mark piped up, his voice perky and helpful. “That doesn’t include the bathroom, but you probably don’t want to look in there.”

“Why not?” The voice held simple curiosity rather than the suspicion such a comment might normally arouse. Mark was obviously using his psychic ability to charm the team and, I hoped, dull any zeal they might have for the search.

“We’ve got girls using it and they’ve got so much stuff it’s ridiculous! It’s gross and it smells!”

“It smells all right,” Kristin sounded just like she was having a snit fit, “but that’s because you and Gene stink!”

With Michelle finally hidden in a corner, I stood before her and cleared my mind. It took a lot of effort, but I shut out the voices from the living room and carefully drew forth feelings of isolation and the desire to be left alone.

Distantly, I heard many feet coming down the hallway as the team spread out to perform their search. One pair of feet veered into Mark’s room and I threw all of my concentration into projecting my ‘go away and leave me alone’ feelings.

I can’t say how long I stood in the corner of the closet before the door opened. It couldn’t have been very long, but keeping my full concentration on projecting emotions really screwed up my time sense. A man close to my own age stared into the closet, his eyes sweeping over the piles of clothes. His nose wrinkled as the smell of Mark’s socks hit him.

“Damn, the girl really was right about the smell,” he muttered, kicking at the clothes closest to the door. His gaze swept around the closet, passing right over me before concentrating on the floor. Waving his hand in front of his nose, the man backed out of the closet and shut the door.

I carefully checked the surge of elation I felt as darkness closed over us again and kept projecting emotions as the man poked around for a little longer.

“Hey Sarge?” a voice called from one of the other rooms. “Come look at this.”

A set of heavy footsteps marched down the hall. The man searching Mark’s room headed toward the voice, as well. A low-voiced conversation took place, then the whole search team returned to the living room.

“Sir, could you explain this?” The sergeant’s tone was officious once again.

A few seconds passed, then Zav said, “It’s just a drawing my youngest did. She’s quite good, don’t you think?”

“Real good,” the sergeant agreed. “Would you care to tell me why she’s drawn herself holding hands with the two people we’re searching for?”

Oh, hell! How had we missed one of Cassie’s drawings of Michelle and me? We cleared the walls entirely, but we only cleared the walls. Where else would Cassie have a drawing, though? Then it hit me—we never looked in her sketchbook!

“Cassie, can you answer the man’s question?” Zav asked.

Cassie replied, sounding on the verge of tears. “I… I j-just saw their pictures on the vid and they looked so nice and all…”

“There you have it, Sergeant,” Zav said. “It can’t be too surprising that an artistically inclined girl took her inspiration from the images you’ve been broadcasting.”

“If that’s the case, sir,” the Sergeant responded, his voice stern, “why didn’t she draw them in the clothing they were wearing in those images?”

For the first time, Zav’s voice took on an edge of exasperation. “Do you have any experience with females, Sergeant? Many of them, especially ones Cassie’s age, are quite fascinated with clothes. So what if she drew different clothing?”

“That’s a pretty good argument, sir,” the Sergeant replied. “But station security found a brief image of the couple as they passed through one of the shopping districts. Can you explain how your girl just happened to draw them in the clothes they were wearing at the time?”

“Perhaps she saw them in the shopping district and subconsciously remembered what they were wearing,” Zav suggested.

“That could be,” the sergeant allowed, “but until we can get to the bottom of this I’m going to have to take all of you to station security.”

“I must protest, Sergeant!” Zav said with vehemence. “We have rights, damn you!”

“Not with the station under martial law, you don’t,” the sergeant snarled. “Now, are you going to come along quietly or will you force my men to be rough?”

“We’ll go quietly,” Zav sighed, defeat evident in his tone. “Come along, children.”

I heard the apartment door slide open and, several seconds later, slide shut again.

Clothing stirred as Michelle sat up. “Dear God, Matt, if station security follows normal intake procedure, it won’t take long for them to discover who Zav and the kids really are!”

“I know.” I pulled Michelle to her feet and opened the door. “This must be what Cassie saw in her dreams.”

“So we wait for the search to end and then go to the loading bay on deck eighty-four?” Michelle asked.

“I don’t have a better idea right now,” I said. “Besides, we’re going to need all the help we can get if we’re going to rescue Zav and the kids!”

What will Matt and Michelle find at the loading bay on deck eighty-four? Find out in Chapter 25, coming Monday!

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Fugitive Pair - Chapter 23

< Chapter 22                                                                                                       Chapter 24 >
Matt is unable to extend his power and keep people from noticing Michelle.

Before Michelle or Cassie could offer hollow words in reply, we heard the apartment door open.

“Cassie?” Zav avoided calling my name or Michelle’s, no doubt to ensure some sensor out in the corridor didn’t record the words and trigger an alert with security.

“I’m in my room,” Cassie replied.

Seconds later, Zav took in the look on my face. “You weren’t able to reproduce that first success, Matt?”

“Just the opposite, actually,” I said with a heavy sigh. “The problem is I can’t expand it to include Michelle.”

“Yeah, I couldn’t see Daddy unless he let me,” Cassie added. “But I saw Mom every time.”

Michelle started, surprised but pleased at how naturally Cassie used her soon-to-be title. Zav nodded his understanding, scratched his chin absently, and stared off into nowhere.

“I thought this could be an issue,” Zav said after half a minute. “I puzzled over it while finding a place to store Cassie’s box and might have an answer—or the start of one.”

“I’m all ears,” I said, feeling a small spark of hope.

“Cassie, go down the hall and stay there until I call you,” Zav instructed the girl.

Once Cassie was gone, Zav pointed toward one corner of the room. In low tones, he said, “Michelle, wedge yourself into that corner as tightly as you can. Matt, you stand directly in front of her once she’s in place. Block as much of her from view as possible.”

Understanding dawned on both of us and we quickly positioned ourselves. Zav had me reposition myself slightly before declaring himself satisfied.

“Once you’re ready, Matt, I’ll call Cassie.”

I closed my eyes for a few seconds, clearing my mind, then nodded at Zav. As he called for the young precognitive, I projected disinterest. Zav kept his back to us, not turning around until Cassie entered the room. With bated breath, I waited for Cassie to come straight to Michelle. Instead, her gaze swept right past our corner of the room. My celebratory grin was just forming when Cassie’s eyes swung back to our position. With some obvious force of will, she stared right at us.

“Are they in the corner, Zav?” she asked.

Deflated, I stopped broadcasting and Cassie’s eyes focused fully on me. Stepping aside so Michelle could get out of the corner, I asked, “What did I do wrong?”

“Nothing,” Cassie replied. “But I saw a little bit of Michelle’s shirt. That blue she’s wearing caught my attention.”

“Good work, Cassie,” Michelle said. “Now I’ll know to wear a color that matches the wall.”

“That should help,” I said, “but I don’t like the idea of just hanging out in the corner of the room. Can we both fit into one of the closets so a searcher won’t simply trip over us?”

“Of course, Matt. This was just an experiment to see if this approach had any hope of working. Obviously, it does!” Zav assured me.

We worked for a while longer with similar success. Then Zav had me try walking about the apartment while broadcasting disinterest. That was a complete failure on my part. I was a long way from walking and broadcasting at the same time and never managed to take even a single step without losing focus.

“It would have been handy to walk around the station invisible,” I said, “but I’ll settle for staying hidden from the search team when they arrive.”

“You know you’re not truly invisible even if people can’t see you, right babe?” Michelle asked.

“What do you mean? That sounds just like being invisible to me!” Cassie said.

“Matt’s ability only works on a person’s mind,” Michelle replied.

“Yeah, I know that,” Cassie rolled her eyes, giving us a mild taste of pubescent insolence.

Arching an eyebrow, Michelle crossed her arms. “And?”

“And what?” Cassie deflected.

“If you know how Matt’s power works, tell me why he’s not really invisible,” Michelle sent the question right back to the girl.

A look of annoyance flashed briefly on Cassie’s face, but that vanished as she considered the question properly. After a few seconds, her face cleared and she nodded. “Oh, I get it! People around Daddy might not see him, but sensors will. And so will anyone watching him on a camera.”

“Exactly! I guess you are just that smart!” Michelle said, bestowing a smile on Cassie.

The girl beamed and, just as the door opened to admit Gene and Mark, said, “Thanks, Mom!”

The two boys just stared at Cassie, leaving the door open behind them. Several people walked past the door, casually glancing inside in the incurious way people tend to do. Zav quickly stepped in between Michelle and the door. Taking a cue from him, I turned my back to the door.

“Boys, how many times must I tell you to close the door!” Zav said in a loud and stern voice.

A knowing laugh sounded from outside as Gene jumped to obey. We didn’t relax until it slid completely shut.

Anger lacing his voice, Zav said, “You both know an alert is out for Matt and Michelle, yet you just left the door wide open so any passerby could see them! Explain yourselves.”

“We were surprised when Cassie called Michelle ‘Mom’,”Gene said with a shrug. “Why did she do that?”

Unable to contain herself, Cassie blurted, “Because they’re going to adopt all of us when we get away from here!”

The two boys stared at Cassie for a second, then transferred their gazes to us. Finally, Gene turned to Zav and asked, “What do you think about this, Zav?”

“Matt has made it very clear that I’m welcome, too. And I must say it will be much easier keeping you four safe with the resources available to one of the richest families on Draconis.”

Mark’s eyes widened. “Do you mean Matt really is as rich as Cassie says?”

Zav’s eyebrows drew down. “Obviously you never read those news stories I told you to read, Mark.” He shifted his glare to Gene. “Did you read them?”

“I skimmed them,” Gene replied. “So, if Matt and Michelle adopt us, does that mean I can get a hot car?”

“Tell you what,” Michelle said. “let’s get out of this first.”

Gene shrugged acceptance. “Man, this is going to blow Kristin’s mind!”
“What about my mind?” Kristin asked, stepping through the apartment door just as Gene finished speaking. Unlike the boys, she quickly closed the door behind her.

Almost in unison, Cassie, Mark, and Gene told Kristin the adoption news. Zav added his blessing for the idea, answering Kristin’s first question before she asked it.

Kristin processed the idea for a few seconds before asking, “I can still be me after the adoption, right? We don’t have to become stuffy rich kids or anything? I don’t have to go to a debutante ball, do I?”

Michelle passed that question to me, saying, “Heck if I know. I married into money but didn’t grow up with it. Care to take her question, Matt?”

“Have I acted like a stuffy rich kid?” I asked.

Kristin grinned, “Nah, you’re pretty tolerable.”

“Now that we’ve settled that pressing question,” Zav interjected, “perhaps Gene and Mark will deign to tell us what they discovered?”

Gene grimaced. “The station already has guards around our sector. They’re letting people in, but no one can go out.”

Zav nodded, checking his watch. “I assume that means they’ll begin the search first thing tomorrow morning?”

“At seven,” Mark confirmed. He looked carefully at Zav, Michelle, and me. “You don’t look real scared—does that mean we’re not all going to die?”

Cassie jumped in with an account of my progress. By the time she finished her story, the others wore hopeful smiles. Kristin offered her closet for our hiding place, but Gene had a more compelling idea.

“Use Mark’s closet. He hardly ever hangs anything up, so there’s plenty of stuff Michelle can hide under. That should make it easier for Matt.” Gene flashed an evil grin. “If we toss Mark’s unwashed socks in there, it’ll be even easier to convince the searcher to go away!”

Kristin joined in the fun. “But the stench might kill Matt and Michelle!”

Michelle and I laughed, breaking off when we realized the others were seriously considering the socks might kill us. Looking to Zav, Michelle asked, “They aren’t really that bad, are they?”

“Of course not,” Zav said. Then he added, “You’ll probably want to burn your clothes afterward, though.”

Everyone but Mark, Michelle, and me laughed at that. Then it was time to fix dinner and formulate plans for the next morning. Tired from the stress of waiting and from my mental exertions during the day, I was ready for sleep earlier than normal. Michelle came to bed with me but had ideas other than sleep. Properly motivated, I had no trouble staying awake a while longer.

All of us except Cassie were up early the next morning. We set up Michelle’s burrow under Mark’s clothes and discovered Zav and Gene weren’t kidding about Mark’s socks. As Cassie slept on, Zav got a pensive look and glanced at her door often.

“What’s on your mind, Zav? Why do you keep looking toward Cassie’s room?” I asked.

“When Cassie sleeps this deeply, it usually means she’s seeing a potential future.”

That was definitely unsettling news, especially when seven came and went. The search was on and our precog was out. What was she seeing? Would her vision bear on our situation? Could it guide our actions? Would we receive any warnings in time to act on them?

A few minutes later, we got the answer to my last question. A fist pounded on the apartment door. A loud voice called, “In the name of the Federation, you are ordered to open the door and submit to a search!”

Can Matt conceal Michelle? Is Cassie seeing visions of our heroes’ future? Find out in Chapter 24, coming Friday!

Monday, September 14, 2015

The Fugitive Pair - Chapter 22

< Chapter 21                                                                                                       Chapter 23 >
Quite by accident, Matt learned his power could allow him to remain unseen even when in plain sight.

I patted Cassie’s head and said, “I wouldn’t say I’m ready for the search team yet. I’ve only pulled this off once and that was by accident.”

“Quite right, Matt,” Zav said. “Now we have to see if you can do it on purpose. Ladies, let’s go back down the hall and try again.”

Michelle, Cassie, and Kristin left the room. As Zav turned to go, he added, “Remember, if you fail it will probably end up costing all of us our lives.”

“Gee, that helps ever so much, Zav.” My voice dripped with irritated sarcasm. “There’s nothing like doubling down on the pressure to make a guy feel relaxed.”

“Good, because it’s evident your abilities work much better when you’re overwhelmed with negative emotions.” Zav looked down the hall after the retreating girls and a grin split his face. “Or, in certain cases involving Michelle, extremely positive emotions. But somehow I think it would be best if you and she were clothed and less…active…when the search team arrives.”

I couldn’t help laughing but quickly sobered again as Zav followed after the others. Over the next hour, he sent the girls down the hall in ones and twos. At first, success was fleeting. Sometimes I simply failed. Sometimes, I succeeded in making whoever came into the room look around in disinterest for a few seconds before my exultation at success ruined my concentration and they saw me. Still, my success rate increased and I found myself able to maintain the right frame of mind longer than a few seconds.

Zav called a welcome break and took the opportunity to send the boys out into the station to see what was going on. He also sent Kristin off on her daily sensor sabotage mission.

As the others cleared out, Michelle said to Cassie, “This is as good a time as any to clear off the walls in your room.”

Zav’s eyebrows shot up. “My God, I’d completely forgotten about that!”

Cassie asked, “What’s wrong with my walls?”

Michelle tousled Cassie’s hair. “They’re covered in sketches of the two people those search teams will be looking for, silly.”

“Oh yeah,” Cassie said. In a small voice, she asked, “We don’t have to throw them away, do we? They’re my first real connection with you and Da- Um, with you and Matt.”

Michelle stared at Cassie for a second, an odd expression on her face, before asking, “Did you almost call Matt ‘Dad’?”

Abashed, Cassie looked down at the floor and fidgeted as she answered, “I… That is… Well-”

Cassie’s face clouded up and she dashed down the hall and slammed her bedroom door.

Zav shook his head in dismay. “I’m sorry, but I told you how heavy her emotional investment is with you two.”

Michelle hugged me, blinking rapidly in an attempt to stem the flow of tears. Her emotions blazed brightly to my empathic ability though I’d have known what she was feeling even without my ability. Pulling her tight, I said, “Of course.”

My wife leaned her head back and looked into my eyes. “Of course, what?”

“Sometimes emotions speak far more clearly than words, hon, and yours are shouting so loudly I don’t even need empathic abilities to understand you.” I kissed her gently. “Why don’t you go tell Cassie?”

“We should tell her together,” Michelle said.

“Cassie’s emotions are fragile right now. It will be easier for her if just one of us goes down there.” I turned her toward the hallway. “And who better to talk to her than the most beautiful girl in the galaxy?”

Michelle headed down the hall, her steps lightening as she went. She knocked gently on Cassie’s door, exchanged a few quiet words through the door, then opened it and went inside. Looking back at Zav, I found him staring at me with incomprehension written all over his face.

“I fully trust you and Michelle will not purposefully do anything to hurt Cassie,” he said, “but please tell me what the two of you are planning.”

“It wasn’t clear?” I asked, surprised.

“Young man, I am neither an empath nor your wife,” Zav declared. “Your exchange with Michelle might as well have been gibberish as far as I’m concerned.”

“Oh, right. Sorry about that, Zav.” I took a deep breath and said, “When all of this is over, Michelle and I are going to adopt Cassie. We’ll adopt all four of the kids if the other three are willing.”

Zav’s mouth opened and closed several times as if he couldn’t quite find the right words to express what he was feeling. Finally, he said, “My boy, you and Michelle are so young! Are you ready for the financial burden—”

I ruined his speech by laughing out loud. “God above, Zav, I’m a billionaire! None of these kids could ever be a financial burden. And don’t worry, we have more than enough room for a beloved uncle, too!”

A high pitched shriek sounded from down the hall, followed by a wave of emotion so strong it briefly swamped my empathic senses. A few seconds later, Cassie’s door flew open and the girl charged down the hall at me. Her brown eyes shone with tears and her brunette hair flew behind her as she ran. Realizing she wasn’t slowing down, I braced myself and caught her as she leapt at me. Cassie’s arms wrapped tightly around my neck and held on with such ferocity I wondered if she’d ever let go. Down the hall, Michelle leaned against the wall, her arms crossed and grinning at me.

I grinned back. “I take it Cassie was amenable to the idea?”

“Does amenable mean I want you to adopt me?” Cassie asked through her tears.

“It does.”

“Then yeah, I’m amenable.” She kissed my cheek then laid her head on my shoulder. “Am I too old to call you Daddy?”

“Honey, you can call me Daddy until you’re a hundred and three.” Still carrying Cassie, I started down the hall toward Michelle. “Now, let’s get your room cleaned up. We don’t want company finding a messy room, do we?”

“No, Daddy,” Cassie murmured.

We took our time clearing the walls, removing the drawings carefully so none of them tore. I sorted the drawings meticulously, making sure each timeline’s drawings were arranged in chronological order, and then gathered the timeline stacks so they were also in the proper order. Michelle carefully stayed out of my way, sometimes shaking her head as she watched me. Cassie looked back and forth between the two of us, a bemused expression on her young face.

Finally, she turned to Michelle. Jerking her thumb in my direction, she asked, “What’s his deal?”

“Your soon-to-be father can be very…particular…about how some things are arranged,” Michelle replied.

“Ask your soon-to-be mother about organizing her blasters, power packs, and hand-to-hand weapons,” I said. “And don’t even get me started on arranging the furniture for optimal lines of fire!”

“Those things you disparage could save your life someday!” Michelle retorted.

“And my organization methods can save time, which means having more time to spend living life,” I shot back.

“Wow, you two are so weird I’m going to seem like the normal one in the family!” Cassie exclaimed, her eyes dancing.

I put Cassie’s drawings into a box and asked Zav where we could hide it. Telling us he had a place outside of the apartment which would be perfect, Zav took the box.

“Keep practicing while I’m gone, Matt,” Zav said, then left.

I absolutely nailed my ‘ignore me’ broadcasts once we started up again. Perhaps the break helped me concentrate better or maybe it was the euphoria I felt about having Cassie join the family—I prefer crediting the latter—but Michelle and Cassie only noticed me when I wanted them to do so. After I remained unnoticed for five minutes while both of them were in the room, Michelle declared me ready for the next step—keeping her hidden as well.

And that’s where it all fell apart. No matter what I tried, I could not extend my power to cover Michelle. Time after time, Cassie came into the room and immediately focused on Michelle. Cassie couldn’t see me standing right next to my wife, but Michelle was always right there. After thirty minutes of continuous failure, I was even having trouble masking my presence from Cassie.

I finally called a halt to it and, dejected, dropped onto Cassie’s bed. Cassie and Michelle settled on either side of me, offering supportive hugs. I pulled them both close and whispered, “I’m sorry. You’ve put your faith in the wrong man.”

How can Matt keep everyone safe if he can only hide himself? Find out in Chapter 23, coming Wednesday!

Friday, September 11, 2015

The Fugitive Pair - Chapter 21

< Chapter 20                                                                                                       Chapter 22 >
Zav begins Matt’s training.

Zav worked with me for several hours after dinner, taking me through exercises designed to clear my mind and give me easy access to my empathic abilities. I thought I’d learned how to do this from my mother, but the methods she taught me were only the beginning. From my point of view, Zav’s training was revolutionary. In just the few hours we worked together, I advanced farther than I’d managed working on my own after rescuing my parents.

By the time the four children went off to bed, I was exhausted yet kept pushing Zav to teach me more and myself to master his teaching as quickly as possible. The fourth time I refused Zav's suggestion to get some sleep, Michelle intervened.

“All right, babe, that’s enough for tonight.” Michelle took my hands and pulled me out of my chair. “You’re barely able to keep your head up as it is.”

“But I’ve got to be ready when the searchers come!” I mumbled even as I rose to my feet.

“You won’t do us any good if you’re too worn out to think straight, much less use your powers,” Michelle replied. “Besides, Zav needs sleep, too.”

“Bless you, child.” Zav’s knees popped as he stood, providing an audible reminder that he was considerably older than me. “Michelle, did I overhear you making arrangements for a room and a bed?”

“Yes, Zav, though the kids cooperated fully. The girls are doubling up in Cassie’s room and we’re sleeping in Kristin’s room.” Michelle kissed Zav on the cheek. “Thank you for making us feel welcome and thank you for helping us.”

Zav smiled gently at my wife. “Thank you for accepting my little family, oddities and all. Now scoot. I’m sure a young married couple can think of better things to do than listen to an old man blather on.”

Michelle steered me into Kristin’s room and helped me get ready for bed. I managed to find the strength to kiss Michelle goodnight before falling into a deep sleep.

I awoke to strange sounds—laughter and the clatter of pots and pans. Deciding to put my training to the test, I cleared my mind—easy to do so soon after waking up—and reached out with my ability. I picked up three people happily involved in something, one of them obviously Michelle. There were two others whose feelings were muddled as if something was interfering with my power. From my training, I realized I could determine the sex of the person generating the emotions. The other two happy ones were female so must be Cassie and Kristin. The muddled ones had to be Gene and Mark, with their telepathic abilities interfering with my incompatible empathic abilities. I didn’t pick up anyone who might be Zav, so you can imagine my surprise when I found him sitting at his data pad when I came out.

Michelle met me with a quick kiss. “Good morning, sleepyhead.”

Grinning mischievously, Cassie came up as Michelle returned to serving breakfast. She pulled my head down and kissed my cheek. “Good morning, sleepyhead.”

My suspicions were aroused when a giggling Kristin followed Cassie and confirmed when Gene and Mark, both smirking, approached after Kristin.

“If Zav tries to kiss me, I’m leaving!” I announced with a laugh.

“Perish the thought, my boy!” Zav commented. “Mind you, if we were all kissing Michelle, I believe I’d find a way to overcome my reticence.”

Eying the plates of eggs, bacon, and waffles the kids were carrying to the table, I asked, “How long have you all been awake?”

“An hour or so,” Michelle replied. “But you were so tired we decided to let you sleep late. Besides, you’ve got a busy day of training ahead of you and will need the extra sleep.”

“She’s right, Matt,” Zav said. “Mentioning training, have you tried exercising your powers yet?”

I described what I picked up from the crowd and how easy it all had been for me. “But that brings up a really big question, Zav.”

“You want to know why you couldn’t read me.” It wasn’t a question, but Zav waited until I nodded before continuing, “I’m a psychic null—I have no powers nor can I be affected by any mental or emotional powers. Psy Corps actively searches for people like me to work as trainers because we won’t fall prey to our charges’ powers. Kristin’s telekinesis can affect me because she could hurl something at me, but the rest of you have no more effect on me than Michelle does.” Zav gave a wry grin, “Less, really, since Michelle is a lovely young woman.”

Kristin and Cassie crossed their arms, canted their hips, and glared at Zav. Kristin demanded, “Aren’t we lovely young women, too?”

“You are lovely too-young women,” Zav replied.

The two girls exchanged glances, nodded at each other, and relaxed their stances. Cassie spoke for both of them. “Just as long as you recognize that we’re lovely.”

Settling down to breakfast, Michelle told me how Kristin uses her ability to sabotage scanners around the space station. In preparation for our arrival, she’d psychically pulled chips from sockets, loosened connections, and otherwise made sure no scanners were working anywhere near the route we took from the airlock to the apartment.

“If they hadn’t done that, station security could have simply fed our images into recognition software and run it against the recordings from yesterday,” Michelle said.

“Won’t that spark suspicions and narrow down their search to this general area?” I asked. “I mean, how often do the scanners go out?”

“All the time,” Kristin said, a grin lighting up her face. “Every day, I go out and sabotage scanners all over the station. Station authorities have run system checks, replaced equipment, and even brought in expensive experts to examine the system. For some reason, they never find anything to explain the failures.”

Michelle bestowed a smile on our host. “Zav runs a tight ship. Daddy would approve.”

“Wait,” I said, “why can’t Kristin sabotage a few sensors in the service tunnels during the search? Michelle and I can just hide there until the search moves on.”

Michelle shook her head. “I already considered that, babe. Security sends out repair teams within an hour or two—much more quickly than the search of this area will take. Even if we evaded the search and got to the tunnels, a repair crew would come along and find us.”

“Can’t we just take Kristin with us and keep moving?” I asked.

Zav shook his head. “Residents are ordered to stay in their homes during a search. If Kristin isn’t here when they reach us, it will trigger an alarm and a more intensive search until she’s found.”

From there, conversation tapered off as we busied ourselves eating. After breakfast, Zav and I returned to training. He worked me hard until we broke for lunch. After that, he suggested we run a few experiments.

I sat in Cassie’s room and waited for Zav to send one of the three girls to the room to fetch something. My task was to absorb the curiosity for the search from whoever came down the hall. He sent them one at a time and each time I failed to do anything to dissuade them from finding whatever Zav asked them to find. He mixed up the rotation, sent two girls at once, and tried everything he could think of to spark my ability.

After an hour and a half of abject failure, I was irritable and tiring and very much afraid my failure would doom us all. From down the hall, I heard Zav quietly tell the others it was time to try something else.

“Michelle, go comfort Matt,” Zav said. “I’m sure he’s taking this harder than anyone else.”

I sank deeper into misery and found myself thinking everyone else would be far better off if I simply wasn’t here. In my dejection, I embraced that thought and let it envelope me. Michelle came into the room, concern written on her face. Then her concern changed to puzzlement. She looked around the room, shook her head, and left.

“Where’s Matt?” Zav asked.

“Huh?” Michelle responded.

“I sent you to comfort Matt,” Zav said. “Did he send you away?”

“I…didn’t notice him,” she replied, uncertainty creeping into her voice.

“You didn’t notice your husband?”

Feet pounded down the hallway. As the three girls crowded into the room behind him, Zav asked, “Matt, what did you do?”

All three of the girls looked around and I realized their eyes just sort of slid past me. It was as if they tried to focus on me and then lost interest. Comprehension dawned on me and I gave a whoop. The girls all jumped, their eyes bugging out at me.

“How did you do that, babe?” Michelle asked, her startled expression transforming into an excited one.

“I just felt so depressed at my failure that I just sort of wished I wasn’t here,” I replied. “I guess I was broadcasting ‘leave me alone’ hard enough that you couldn’t focus on me.”

Michelle and Cassie hugged me at the same time and Cassie said, “I knew you wouldn’t let us all die in the living room! Bring on those searchers because you’re ready for them!”

Has Matt stumbled on the secret to their survival? Find out in Chapter 22, coming Monday!