Chapter One

 

As the focus of the government’s most frantically assembled response and the discoverer of staggering truths about human potential, no one would have ever guessed that it all began with the stale persona of Dr. Conley Chislom. Those who interacted with him closely did so only out of occupational obligation. It was Chislom’s pretentiousness that was most galling, and many found it implausible that such a contrived person could secure a position as department head for an affluent pharmaceutical company. In truth, Eckl Pharmaceuticals’ devotion to its disfavored employee ran deep for reasons undisclosed to the public.

A tall man, Chislom spoke in a booming voice that would escalate without particular need. Many of his underlings were reticent to converse with him in person, preferring the distant exchange of the interoffice phone. Chislom also had a tendency to open his mouth as wide as possible when talking. This odd manner of speaking had a way of accentuating the pomposity of his personality. A man of 60, Chislom never married and rarely met someone willing to date him, though for much of his 50s, he kept company with one of the governor of Georgia’s clerical staff – a curt woman with her own unique set of interpersonal foibles.

In 1959, on his 59th birthday, Chislom had accompanied his curt clerk to a holiday party at the governor’s mansion. After the festivities, his date’s long-standing impatience cracked, and the couple had their first (and last) honest conversation. During their discussion, the clerk had asked Chislom if he had any real intention of marrying her, and when Chislom said he did not, their relationship immediately concluded. He had been saddened at the breakup, but not because he lost the girl. Chislom had regretted losing the association with such a high and venerated office (as thin as it was).

By 1960, Chislom found himself living alone in his large antebellum home poised near the center of Decatur, outside the larger city of Atlanta. His elderly mother finally found it necessary to conclude her long haunt of the large estate and died at the beginning of that year, leaving her only son without the semblance of family life that had barely enchanted his adjourned clerk. He found prestige in his position as a biopharmaceutical researcher and assisted his employer during the unprecedented drug consumerism that got its start in the 1950s. In short order, he began administering as a department head in a very robust company and was eventually urged to take on an assistant. After what was probably an insufficient number of one-on-one interviews with potential assistants, Chislom saw past the awkward presentation of Reginald Seabolt and took the thin young man on as his research assistant. The consensus of Eckl Pharmaceuticals’ staff was that Seabolt’s own ineptitude at the art of society landed him with the position. After all, Chislom’s ostentation and Seabolt’s timidity related well to one another. Unlike Chislom, Seabolt’s sense of self did not benefit from any ill-placed conceit whatsoever, and the young man’s lack of confidence was painfully visible to all. Loneliness and the human requisite for companionship floundered the men together, and Chislom gradually fell into a fatherly role in the younger man’s life. By the conclusion of the year, the two were quite close outside of work, with Seabolt often spending his evenings at Chislom’s home for billiards and beer. Though their days were spent developing pharmaceuticals for use as medications, the two scientists’ personal interests, however, began to veer into completely unrelated research. This began when Chislom disclosed surprising and disquieting histories regarding their employer.

Over one of many familiar evenings at Chislom’s upmarket home, the imbibed host quietly displayed stored samples of a chemically manipulated grain fungus that he had helped develop for the war against the Reds. According to Chislom, Eckl Pharmaceuticals had once been commissioned by the government to develop psychotropic chemicals to manipulate the mental state and brain functions of people. Other privately owned institutions had developed different methodologies alongside their own efforts to exact similar results, methodologies which included the explorations and implementations of radiological and biological materials. Chislom had heard that hypnosis, sensory deprivation and even sordid forms of torture were explored – though these were only rumors. The purpose, Chislom explained, was for everyone to develop some form of effective mind control to be used against the Soviets. As he had understood it, the Russians were likely working on the same thing.

Unbeknownst to Chislom, the scope of the government’s objective had been much wider than the capability of mind manipulation. Other pharmaceutical companies, prisons, private hospitals and universities were working on materials to produce a wide range of mind altering outcomes. Eckl Pharmaceuticals was but a marginal participant in a greater concerted effort. After years of lackluster progress with this clandestine research, Chislom and his employer had been informed that their contribution to the “mind control” program was no longer required and that the program itself had come to a halt. Some time later, a US senator chaired a committee to investigate the broad illegalities committed by the commissioners of the project, but while Eckl Pharmaceuticals softly negotiated exoneration and distance, the surfaced scandal never once affected Chislom, who had considered the project (and his small role) a crucial part of the gallant protection of democracy.

Chislom had proudly served during the Second World War, but he was too old to be part of the magnanimous missions that canonized the participants. There was even a period following the war when his personality dwindled as a man ashamed, and he blamed his lack of conversation on his lack of war experiences. With the many distractions of doctoral study at Clemson University, followed by the laborious first years of the newborn pharmaceutical company, Chislom had forgotten about his search for greatness. When Eckl Pharmaceuticals received the nation’s call to be part of “crucial research to aid national security,” it all came flooding back. After a bright season of renewed importance, the collapsing vacuum of the project’s termination found Conley Chislom less resilient than in his youth. Bottling his disappointment, he had assisted his employer in the less heroic enterprise of developing common medicines for the aging – and he did so for years.

Chislom and his young guest stayed up much of the night looking over all of the dusty notations of the long-dead project. The older host was pleased to see such productive interest in the old formulas and the two men were soon busy at the highly technical chitter of their shared science. Over the ensuing weeks, the colleagues spent hours of their workday at the better-outfitted labs of Eckl Pharmaceuticals secretly reworking the formulas – almost as a hobby and without truly understanding the potential neuronal outcomes should the new psychotropics be introduced to human physiology. Seabolt, a chemist-in-training, was quite adept at the central sciences and brought a completely fresh take on many of the old compositions. Chislom (though he would never admit it), could hardly keep up with the younger man.

In the spring of 1963, Chislom surprised himself by taking samples of the new psychotropic compounds back to his home laboratory – without informing his young collaborator. At his home, he diluted the samples and began to test them for any biological responses – on himself. Chislom knew he did not benefit from, nor could he attain, the same test subjects that were affiliated with the government program of years past. Back then, he would send sample compounds off and any human criterion would take place under the government's second tier of researchers. Chislom did not know exactly what he was looking for or why he felt compelled to engage in his reckless method of experimentation. At first he told himself he was picking up his old sword against communism and his actions would somehow aid science and democracy, but he knew this was not true. Whether it was apathy, emptiness or a longing for greatness, Dr. Conley Chislom’s reason for his action was unknown to him – and it led to someplace completely unexpected.

On a rainy Sunday afternoon in 1963, unaided and quite secretly, Dr. Conley Chislom accidentally discovered a compound that he later christened “EPIPHANY 03” – and then “EPIPHANY”. After the span of the most extraordinary year of his life, he renamed it three different times before finally settling with PSIONICA, the Italian form of psionic. An italophile, Chislom had fallen in love with the country during his military deployment. He dismissed his previous christenings, settling on a name that – to him – conjured appropriate imagery and would perhaps describe the unprecedented parascience that seemed to typify his discovery.

Chislom concluded many things about the PSIONICA compound in the months after installing it into his person. He found that the compound’s curious side effect remained quite lasting and stable within his body – or perhaps – his brain. Additionally, the side effect is irreversible at the first threshold dose, which he calculated to be 8 mL. He self-experimented with higher and continued doses, but found that the increase brought on vertigo and a ringing of the ears without altering the bizarre initial reaction. He mounted brief studies to note the results should the compound be ingested or taken sublingually. Though not certain, Chislom suspected the compound disintegrated completely via digestion, and would only implant its extraordinary benefaction if introduced directly into the bloodstream. Aside from the drug’s byproduct, Chislom found it otherwise unremarkable. There was nothing extraordinary in its odor, taste, viscosity or water-like transparency. Indeed, the single unique property of Chislom's PSIONICA is its one side effect – a side effect of a person’s very consciousness. A side effect that Chislom easily calculated would change the world forever.

On that wet May morning, approximately two hours after intravenously self-administering the product of his private experimentations, Chislom suffered an "out-of-body” experience that he initially mistook as an elaborate hallucination. This he actually anticipated – after all, his formula did feature an array of complex psychoactive components. Quite suddenly, from some fixed position near the north wall of his basement laboratory, Chislom surveyed his body lying limply on the floor. Gripped by an immediate primal fear and a dread of having just expired, he yearned to be back with his body – and he was. Hours later and after dressing a cut to his ear he apparently received from falling to the floor, Chislom returned downstairs to study the area of the room his consciousness seemed to occupy. Just before his experience, Chislom had been looking at a recently purchased Jena Ng microscope, which sat on a small table in the manufacturer’s wooden box. The box was opened and the microscope was revealed. In the instant just before the fright of seeing himself on the floor overwhelmed him, Chislom recalled hearing the oddly distant slump of his collapsing body while smelling the strong lacquer of the microscope’s wood container. This all seemed to happen at once.

During the years he worked on the government’s secret mind control project, he had read countless accounts of illusory experiences with psychotropics and was versed in the varied distortions to perception, temperament and consciousness. He was also aware of dissociative symptoms that induced the semblance of perceiving one’s own physical body from someplace outside of it. Yet, Chislom was sure that his perception-based phenomena was like no chronicled side effect of any known phantasmagoria-inducing drug he had ever studied. His experience was completely lucid and real to his conscious being. Indeed, during his strange episode, he was unequivocally certain of being outside of his body.

Chislom stared intently at the expensive microscope, trying to recall every detail of his strange episode and straining to catch the slightest smell of the wooden container from several feet away – and then it happened again.

By the time Chislom settled on the name “PSIONICA,” his year-long self-analysis (as inexpert as it was) benefited him greatly. He had grown quite proficient with his out-of-body experiences and found that he could discharge from his human form as easily as walking through a door. More specifically, Chislom was purposefully placing his “self” into various objects around the room, leaving his physical body in a disconcerting (yet stabilized) comatose condition. He discovered that he could even hop from one object to a second object without having to return to his body, though he was mindful to limit his departures to an hour at a time. Early on, Chislom developed a concern that his body would die while he possessed items around the room – so he got in the habit of outfitting himself with a cardiac monitor prior to his "away" sessions. Always, Chislom would leave his body reclined in his mother’s favorite chair and his own favorite pillow.

During the ensuing excitable periods of this self-discovery, he tentatively made attempts to possess animals, particularly his neighbor’s beagle, who would often loiter on the cool bricks of his back patio. In the end, he found that he could not occupy anything that was composed of living organic matter – including plant life. Chislom considered the potentials of occupying dead tissue, but ultimately recoiled at the idea and never made the attempt. He discovered that once he occupied an inanimate object, he could “move” the object by degrees – though this effort typically resulted in the destination object simply toppling over. Quite oddly, Chislom retained faculties of sight (though somewhat narrowed) and hearing (though somewhat distorted). He even experienced a numbed sense of tactile perception. Odder still, his sense of smell was far more acute than that of his natural body. To his dismay, however, he found he had no means of speech once he occupied an object.

As he described in journals he later destroyed, the hardest part about existing outside his body was the alien proprioception he felt when away from his natural human shape. He described the sensation as being “perfectly locked up.” According to him, the hardest items to occupy were objects that were completely solid throughout. Though these far denser objects could be easily inhabited, garnering some movement was almost impossible and he often felt a sense of claustrophobia while dwelling in them. Machines, he found, did offer some freeing agency as he was able to manipulate their designed motions and functions. Being able to articulate motility and oscillation was extremely relieving. He would spin the hands of an occupied clock or change the channels of an occupied television set. Chislom found that if he occupied the same object frequently, he grew more accustomed to its potential movements and was quite comfortable existing within it. For a while, the focus of his “outings” were an old single-speaker radio. By fluctuating the device’s pitch, he was able to dispatch crudely formed words (that sounded nothing like his own voice). All of this locomotion Chislom achieved with nothing more than the power of his conscious being.

Chislom delved deep into academic journals and position papers regarding anything that had to do topics widely considered parascience, including books on out-of-body (OBE) experiences, astral or telepathic projection and psychokinesis. He read books on “spirit walking,” “soul traversing” and similar belief-based proposals. From the beginning, he suspected that he was experiencing some form of psychic outcome, though the defining neuroscience was a field well outside of his own. Chislom spent the majority of 1964 experiencing his discovery alone, but in desperation he broke his silence and reached out to the only person he felt he could trust – Reginald Seabolt.

 

Chapter Two

 

Reginald Seabolt tottered upon taking the delicate hand of Dr. Joi Hashimoto. He was taken aback by her beauty and thought she could not have been much older than himself. Despite the large room’s long history with tobacco, he could distinctly note the jasmine that surrounded her.

“Hi, thanks for coming. I’m Reginald Seabolt, but you can call me Reg… Most of my friends call me Reg… uh… Because it’s shorter, but you don’t have to.”

Dr. Joi Hashimoto firmly accepted his limp hand, offered a bright girlish smile and said, "Hi. Reg is completely fine with me. I'm Joi. You really can't shorten Joi much more than that, can you?"

Seabolt agreed, though he already felt the pangs of being on the less clever and more subordinate side of the exchange. "Thank you for coming. Dr. Chislom is right this way."

Feeling somewhat better with his last dictum, which struck him as more of an instruction, he led the way toward the historic hotel’s lobby bar. Dr. Conley Chislom was already walking toward them. Though Seabolt’s older companion supplied a more confident introduction, the accompanying hard saccharine smile telegraphed the complete hauteur of his personality. The trio took a seat near the mostly uninhabited bar and Chislom launched them directly past the requisite small talk of a first meeting and headlong to the point.

"Dr. Hashimoto, thank you so much for coming," said Chislom. "My associate and I were lucky enough to be able to work out a trip up here to meet with Dr. Gaston. Now, did you drive here or do you think we should call a cab?"

"Dr. Chislom, uh… It's very nice to meet you in person, however, Dr. Gaston's condition has not changed since we last spoke. I'm sorry that you made this trip, but I cannot take you to him," she replied.

Chislom had assured Seabolt that they would be able to easily convince the young assistant to take them to Gaston – despite his health. She had been intercepting all of Chislom’s calls to Gaston over the past month. During these many phone conversations, Hashimoto assured Chislom that she could readily answer any questions he may have pertaining to Gaston’s work. Chislom being Chislom, he had dismissed her willingness to assist – either because of ethnicity, gender, age or all of the above.

Presently, Seabolt began to sense the awkwardness of Chislom’s arranged meeting and sudden appearance in Chicago. This awkwardness was affirmed further when Dr. Hashimoto clarified the actual condition of Gaston, which she had respectfully chosen not to detail over the phone. As it turned out, Gaston’s cruel and advancing cancer not only left him in a vegetative state, but would assuredly remove him from this world before the end of summer. Upon receiving this upset, Seabolt began to see the clear frustrations in his friend. They had driven from Atlanta to Chicago to meet with Dr. William Gaston, not some personal secretary. With no other options presented and in a rare moment of speechlessness, Chislom was left in a position more conducive to actually listening to the young woman. He learned that she studied neurology at New York University School of Medicine and was the sole curator to all of Gaston’s research. Seabolt could see Chislom’s mind turning over and he was embarrassed by the transparency of his companion. The older man’s aloof and curt regard toward Dr. Hashimoto melted, and he readily took up a prior invitation to call her Joi.

Seabolt silently listened to their exchange and began to consider the new dynamics presented. At once, a knot formed in his stomach. Though excited by the prospect of working closely with the attractive female, Seabolt knew her presence meant a sharp upsurge in his lifelong battle with anxiety. He instantly began to feel the familiar unease with his appearance, which was fixated on his hair that he had allowed to grow long. The hair was an attempt to fit in with his inspiring generation. He had even visited a few of Atlanta’s downtown desegregation rallies with his first cousin, an equally pale and unwieldy southern belle attending law school in Macon. The rallies were his latitudinarian uncle’s attempts at plugging the two of them into the great counterculture of the day, as well as providing them with some provision of a much needed social life.

1963 and 1964 had been tough years for Seabolt and anyone close to him could see it. His breezy invitations to tinker in Chislom’s home laboratory during the weekday evenings had abruptly stopped. Chislom had become more reclusive at Eckl Pharmaceuticals and got into the habit of keeping his office door closed. Seabolt even found himself relegated to managerial duties and was certain that drug samples were staged out of their department without so much as a second glance from Chislom, his direct supervisor. This cessation of friendship, an offense of fleeting displeasure to any other person, was Herculean to the young man. He was quite surprised when, just five days before Christmas, the older man asked if Seabolt would come to his Decatur home to “see some developments.” Chislom’s offer felt out of place to Seabolt, who had not been entreated to visit the Chislom House in almost a year. He accepted the invitation all the same.

Seabolt did well concealing his sense of betrayal while being escorted down to the project-filled home laboratory. Apparently, he wrongfully concluded that his host had lost interest in their pastime of secretly re-examining the exotic pharmaceuticals of the bygone government project that Chislom had been a part of. With no other choice but to follow the older man's indifference, Seabolt had returned to his lonely lifestyle and stemmed his own fascinations with the bizarre effects of the nation’s bizarre endeavor. Indeed, when Seabolt arrived at the Chislom House, he did not expect to find that the man had been earnestly working with the defunct project’s psychotropics – some of which he recalled modifying alongside Chislom a year ago during square hours at Eckl Pharmaceuticals. As bitter as the sting was, the irritation was short-lived. He quite liked Chislom’s new attentions and his apparent decision to share any discoveries with him alone, not only renewing their previous collaboration, but baring that Seabolt was valued as sole confidant. This proved to be a powerful balm to the perceived indignations.

On the evening of the visit, Seabolt was elated over the prepared presentation. Chislom retrieved his white lab coat from the lab’s closet and insisted Seabolt put on one as well, then began to orate from a written outline he specifically had assembled for Seabolt’s benefit. In the vernacular of the high science of their profession, Seabolt was told of the progressive chemical evolution of a compound Chislom called PSIONICA. His host lingered on the enunciation of the compound’s name, clearly intending to spur intrigue, but not offering any explanation or rationale for the choice. Continuing in an air most matter-of-fact, Chislom recounted his unsettling act of intravenously self-administering not only one, but multiple doses of the compound. This was an obvious alarm to Seabolt, whose face read clear agitation at the mention of self-injecting anything occupying the home laboratory. Self-experimentation was more than a peccadillo to men in their industry – and Chislom well knew it. In the thinnest veneer of caution, Chislom went over the results of periodic bloodwork and other various biological tests after his injection – seemingly to assure that he had not completely lost his mind.

With the framework for his looming crescendo relayed, he ushered Seabolt to a corner of the laboratory. There, positioned at equal intervals atop a cleared worktable and at its foot, were an array of random household appliances and common electronics. All were pulled away from the wall and gave the impression of an intended centerpiece. There were several radios, a child’s Jack-in-the-Box, a roll of Christmas lights, a disconnect telephone, a toaster oven, a blender, a television set and a few additional toys. The entire ridiculous display had been carefully arranged in front of an old lounge chair that looked to belong in more casual rooms of the house. Chislom provided a seat for Seabolt and then sat down in the lounge chair at the fore of the collection of objects.

“Now first – I am going to show you,” Chislom said.

•    

On Christmas Eve, Seabolt did not drive down to Macon to attend his uncle’s annual holiday dinner. Instead, he finished moving his belongings into an upstairs room of the Chislom House. On Christmas Day, he received his own injection of 8 mL of the PSIONICA compound. As with Chislom, the expectation was that he would attain the same psychogenic ability to project his conscious self into inanimate objects. This proved not to be the case.

The morning after his injection and from the cloistered backyard of Chislom’s antebellum home, Seabolt – from a secured seat – made several unsuccessful attempts at occupying an heirloom clock centered on a dried out birdbath. The PSIONICA compound had been in his body for 27 hours with no discernible manifestations – aside from an immediate short-lived episode of disequilibrium and a slight burning at the injection site.

Like a father teaching a frustrated child the kinesthesia of balance and bicycles, Chislom went on to describe the sensations he experienced when exiting his body and entering the contours of nonhuman shapes. Seabolt had received this same encouragement during the fatiguing sessions of the previous evening when they had stayed up late searching Seabolt for the same miracle that affected Chislom. And just as before, Seabolt began to tire and tuned out the coaxing of his guide. He stared intently at the clock. Midway through Chislom’s prosaic portrayals that went on and on, the clock burst into a white-hot flame that nearly disintegrated the antique completely. The device popped into small white embers that immediately cooled to a glowing orange. The combustion was immediate and quite unlike the natural ignition of fire or flame. The two men stared and stood silent for a long time.

That shocking flash of fire was the first revelation the PSIONICA compound had rendered to Seabolt. It changed the trajectory of his life in one searing instant. And now he was here – in Chicago – meeting a beautiful and floral scented woman who might offer some clarity to the marvelous powers of Dr. Conley Chislom – as well as himself.

•    

Dr. Joi Hashimoto studied the two men seated across from her at their loungy corner near the lobby bar of the Palmer House. She was not particularly surprised by either of them – especially Dr. Conley Chislom. She had limited experience with men from the southern states, but Chislom certainly fit the storied descriptions she had always heard. His boorish treatment, however, was not a new experience. Disrespect from men was something she was well accustomed to.

Joi had seen opportunities flit away to less deserving men all throughout her studies at university, often unsure whether the day’s particular discrimination sprang from being a Japanese-American, a beautiful woman or from being a woman in general. Joi was only half Japanese. Her mother was Hawaiian and she grew up in Hawaii, benefiting from a charmed childhood filled with magnificent beauty and the affirmations of a loving family. Youthful restlessness and the feeling that the islands were shrinking (not growing) motivated Joi to move and seek her academia within the larger cities of the country. A lifelong student, she easily took her education as far as it could go – certainly in the area of her interest, which was to probe the mysteries of consciousness and all of the potential of the human mind.

As a child, her great-grandmother had bewitched her with local folklore and tales of mystical abilities that sprang from the heart. There was the tale of her great-grandmother’s neighbor, a tall blind man who talked hundreds of beetles into flying circles around him while he sat in his garden, and the evil boy who floated out of the ocean to cast a spell on the high chief so that he would poison his wife. Joi could never tell if the old woman was dishing out a fiction or relaying some truth that she actually believed. That dichotomy made her stories all the more absorbing and all the more affecting. Her great-grandmother’s vivid imagination became one of her most cherished childhood memories.

The fantastic stories defined Joi, and a child’s intrigue of mystical possibilities blossomed into an adult’s calling to understand them. She devoted her studies to the biology of the human brain, its nervous system, and, eventually, the possibilities of psychic phenomena. Of course, she hid her enthusiasm over that which was largely classified as unscientific to maintain the respect of her peers. In time, her pursuit of this scorned niche of study led her to Dr. William Gaston, a psychologist, author, occasional professor at Duke University and a pioneer in the pseudoscientific field of parapsychology. Gaston became her mentor.

"Gentlemen, now that I think I have your confidence, which book brought you to speak with Dr. Gaston?" Joi sipped her coffee and tried to match Chislom’s new accommodating demeanor.

"My dear, it was not a book. Though I will say that he offered some hearty food for thought in the last chapter of Head Frontiers, but no it is not a book. It was a research paper I believe – for Spitler’s Association of Parapsychology."

“Oh… I see. You’re referring to the Spitler Research Institute for Parapsychology – yes. He mounted the research and produced the paper right before he became completely incapacitated – mentally, that is. I… I have to say that I didn’t expect that paper to be the reason you’re trying to get in touch with him.”

Joi reflected on the damnable paper that single-handedly decimated all of her mentor’s labors in getting the scientific community to consider the possibilities of psychic outcomes. It was the same paper that would most assuredly destroy Gaston’s legacy and leave him affirmed as a pseudo-scientist to all of his detractors. She considered the work to be the sad retrogression of a dying mind.

"You know, I’ve fielded several calls from people wanting to talk with Bill about ‘Your Mind, Your Doctor’ and I immediately assumed that book was the reason you were so insistent."

"Well, I certainly read it, Joi. Though it seems that most of the book is concerned with what is essentially meditation, I believe."

Joi looked down at her hands. "Yes. That’s probably correct. You know... Dr. Chislom, that book is probably Bill’s last… respected publication. It certainly represents a… a better time in his life."

Chislom fired on ahead. "Yes, but in the research paper, Dr. Gaston offered a theory to how psychic abilities would probably work in the mind. I believe he called it Binary Psychogenic Emergence. It would…"

"Dr. Chislom, I’m going to be frank with you. That research paper is the byproduct of a very unwell and fearful man staring down his own mortality. At one time, Bill was a brilliant theorist and researcher, but I know – first-hand – that he felt time was running out for him to make a difference. You have to understand that he was already getting confused."

"Yes, Joi I…"

"No, I’m not finished. Do you realize how he developed his – Binary Psychogenic Emergence theory? The paper clearly outlines it. He drove to the University of Chicago and acquired several tabs of LSD from some kid and then he locked himself up in his closet for two days – tripping on acid - contemplating the nature of psychic phenomena. And then he comes up with a theory. Does that sound like the scientific method to you, Dr. Chislom?" Immediately Joi sensed her heavy handedness and it was confirmed all the more when she looked over at the red-faced Reg, who could not find it within himself to return her gaze.

"Joi, Dr. Hashimoto, if you would not mind, I would like to confer with my associate," said Chislom. "We’re going to step away, right over here, just for a moment." The men stood and Chislom continued, "You have deep respect for Dr. Gaston – and that’s a wonderful thing, it really is." He then gestured to Seabolt, "You know, we both read the paper and we’re fully aware that he ingested lysergic acid diethylamide. As chemists, we have an interesting perspective with psychotropics. As for myself… I suppose I have an interesting perspective with needing to make a difference. Now we won’t be but a moment."

As the men stepped away, Joi began to wish the meeting would conclude. She was still intrigued by the Georgians’ fixation with Gaston’s Binary Psychogenic Emergence theory, though she was certain the theory itself was completely meaningless.

As she remembered it, Gaston theorized that should psychic abilities ever surface in a human being, the subject would exhibit one psychic agency over the physical, or tangible, and one psychic agency over the ethereal being-of-mind, or intangible. This binary manifestation was like two sides of a coin – you could not have one without the other. That was his theory, beheld in a drug-induced state of reorganized self-awareness, an amplified consciousness that he claimed temporarily allowed him to comprehend hidden truths to the mind’s real potential. Joi grew depressed when she thought of the paper.

She watched the two men as they mulled over some business and appeared to come to some decision. Chislom had mentioned over the phone that he retired from a large pharmaceutical research company and was about to start his own. She supposed Seabolt was his employee and seemed to recall Chislom mentioning him during one of their exchanges over the phone. The two men stood close together across the room, with Chislom talking and Seabolt nodding. She found the behavior uncharacteristic for employer and employee.

When they returned, they took their previous seats and Chislom, quite oddly, asked her about her coffee.

"It’s not strong enough, Dr. Chislom."

"Is it now? You know I can’t abide the stuff. I wind up creaming and sugaring it to the nth degree."

Joi was uncomfortable with the untimely switch in the conversation’s focus, especially right after seeing the earnest huddle they felt they needed to engage in across the room. She got the impression that the men were laying groundwork to spring some inconvenience. She desperately pondered some hospitable way to conclude the meeting without offending and said, "Gentlemen, listen, I…"

"Two cats walking along a log in the middle of the forest," said Chislom.

Joi took in both men’s stares with Seabolt baring an odd expression of focus, like he was feeling about for something under the table, yet she could see his hands before him. Chislom continued, "A little boy in a yellow rain jacket flying a red kite on a windy beach."

Joi’s eyes begin to widen and she squeezed her coffee cup. Every muscle in her body tightened.

"A solitary butterfly flitting across a lonely desert," uttered Chislom.

"How… How did you do that? How are you able to do that?"

Chislom looked over at Seabolt and appeared to motion to him. The younger man, who did not strike Joi as being tense before, suddenly wilted ever so slightly into his seat. "It’s okay, Dr. Hashimoto – that was me," he said.

Joi stood up and Chislom immediately arose to mitigate whatever reaction was coming. "What was that?" she said.

Chislom gave a wry smile and slowly sat back down. "My dear, I believe that is what they call – telepathy."

  •  

Joi walked into her small apartment, hung her pocketbook on its peg behind the door, and tossed her keys in the wooden dish on the table. She hovered to the window and stared into the street below. She did not remember anything about her trip home and was thankful her body knew the way, because her head was completely someplace else.

Sometime during the trip home, she had given up trying to shoot holes in the miracles she had witnessed and started to consider their legitimacy. After another hour of Seabolt placing images into her and Chislom’s head, and Chislom accurately calling out each mental picture, they located a vacant alley for a promised second demonstration. Seabolt produced a discarded milk carton from a nearby dumpster and placed it on the ground in the center of the alley. With no more than a look, he had set the entire carton off like it was fashioned out of flash paper.

Joi reached into her vacant bachelorette cupboards and found a half-full bottle of Irish whiskey an old boyfriend had left behind. She had slowly drained the bottle over the span of a year, but imagined she would make a hefty withdrawal from its contents tonight. She pulled out a cardboard box from the closet and thumbed through the few editions she owned of the Journal of the Spitler Research Institute for Parapsychology. One of these, of course, featured her mentor’s provocative research paper. She drank and she read.

According to her new friends from Georgia, their own psychic marvels fell in line with Gaston’s theory that the phenomena would emerge in the human brain by way of two distinct categories. Seabolt’s ability to telepathically transfer his thought fell under the first category – a psychic control of the nonphysical being-of-mind. His particular brand of white-hot and instant pyrokinesis (a name, upon providing, the men seemed satisfied to learn) would fall to the second category – a psychic control of the physical.

Joi looked into the last sip of her drink as she considered Chislom’s power. After a bit of fuss, she and Seabolt had successfully talked him into showing her his ability and they took a cab to a scantily populated park by the waterfront. After additional fuss, Chislom put on a pair of sunglasses, folded his sport jacket behind his head, and all but laid down on a park bench. His declared objective was to possess a parking meter several feet away. Joi watched him closely as he fell completely limp.

“Watch,” Seabolt said.

Suddenly, several coins fell from the parking meter and, one by one, coins fell from each successive meter right down the line. Joi drained the glass. If Gaston’s binary psychogenic emergence theory were applied to Chislom, then his ability to emit his consciousness to objects was the nonphysical, and his ensuing ability to kinetically manipulate those objects was the physical. Psychical excursion perfectly paired with psychokinesis.

Joi closed the journal, poured herself a smaller portion of whiskey and audibly offered a toast to her great-grandmother. She laughed at herself, wondering where that had come from. She then placed the telephone on the table. She had some business to handle before it got too late. She looked over to the diminished bottle of caramel-colored liquor, considered all of the packing she had to do, and decided to get stone drunk another day. Besides, she and the chemists from Atlanta would start their long drive to Georgia bright and early.

  •  

The man made his way to the back door of the beautiful antebellum home. He had been inside the residence for almost two hours, with most of his time spent inside the basement – where the laboratory was. He paused by the back door, recalling to make doubly sure that no trace of his presence had been left behind. He was not in a hurry. As he understood it, the occupants of the home were in Chicago, and though he was not sure exactly when they would return, he was fairly confident it would not be today.

As he walked on to the back patio, he noticed that the dog had not moved from its previous station by the back door. He reached down and again scratched the animal behind the ears. He quietly eased across the courtyard toward the wooden fence where he had entered and stopped to study the several small pits of char near the center of the terrace. He felt that it was strange to be building fires (even small ones) this time of year and wondered what Dr. Conley Chislom was burning. 

Though the man slipped away from the grounds with his hands free and empty, he was confident that he had obtained what he had come for.

 

Chapter Three

 
 
 

In the summer of 1965, Atlanta’s attention hung on an irascible restaurateur who had elected to stop serving his delicious pan-fried chicken to the city rather than have to serve it to people of color. Despite the near vicinity and sensation of this societal unrest, it managed to go unnoticed by the two co-owners of Atlanta-based Eckl Pharmaceuticals. Their focus was on something else entirely. 

One of the owners was Harold Bruner. At the brick serpentine office building of the pharmaceutical company, he quickened his pace to shorten the journey from accounting back to his office – where he kept his bourbon. Smalltalk prattled on after the overlong weekly financial meeting, and the slight quiver of his hands told him he was late for his ante meridiem drink. Tim Gaither was due for a closed-door meeting at any moment, and Bruner would rather not confront the urge to guzzle his liquor in front of him. 

Gaither had introduced him as an accomplished drinker a week ago at a client luncheon. Though the remark was delivered in all good-humor, it had managed to knock the wind out of his sails for a long time.  

Tim Gaither owned the other half of Eckl Pharmaceuticals and the two shared a unique relationship – perhaps it was even close. Bruner and Gaither purchased the promising new company from the estate of Henry James Eckl, an entrepreneurial chemist and developer of industrial fermentation processes. As businessmen and stewards of Eckl Pharmaceuticals, they were flawless.

Finally, Harold Bruner rounded the corner of his outer office door and found Tim Gaither standing behind his desk, pouring his bourbon into two of his glasses.

“Hello, Hal,” Gaither said from within the office, sliding the drink toward him. “I hope you don’t mind, but I thought I’d rummage through your liquor drawer. I’ve discovered I’m rather good at that… Rummaging, that is.” Gaither tilted his head, beaming a knowing mirth to his colleague. Bruner accepted the drink, keeping the great inward thankfulness far from his expression.

“Ah Hell, Tim. It’s a might early for hooch. You must have heavy news.”

 

Bruner took a seat in one of the small pair of boxlike chairs directly in front of his large mahogany desk. Gaither, still standing behind Bruner’s desk, continued the affable role reversal and sat down in the big chair of Italian leather. Bruner was always quick to apply these unspoken gestures of consociation to his partner. As fate would have it, he was afforded the larger office, the illicit attentions from a ravishing member of clerical, and – unlike Gaither – his black hair was not fading to a drab blanch of mousey gray.

Gaither gave a glance to the door that led to the outer office reception desk and said, “Are we going to leave it open?”

“Donna Sue is still on vacation.” Bruner nestled into his cramped seat, lit a cigarette and asked, “Well, let’s have it. What did you find out? They went to Chicago for a homosexual vacation, right?”

“I don’t know what they’re doing up there, but I do know that his basement is chock-full of company equipment.”

“I could’ve told you that, Tim. That was something that started back with Henry and it’s probably best that we let it go.” Bruner stared at Gaither and suddenly thought how elephantine the chair looked against the smaller frame of its occupant. The image of Gaither in his chair had a tone of whimsy. He wondered if people thought the same of him when they came into his office. Bruner took a long drag of his cigarette and slowly blew out curls of thick smoke. “Just tell me that Conley and that kid left because they fell madly in love and not because they’ve taken up with Thacker and Company… Did you see where they sleep?”

 

“I was not about to go upstairs,” said Gaither through an expression of aggravation. “Thacker would never abide Conley’s goof-ass personality, even if he was trying to peddle company secrets. No, I don’t think we have to worry about that – and I’m not 100% sold that Conley is queer – I’ve known the man for years.”

“Come on, Tim. That Seabolt boy quits right after Conley does and then moves in the big house with him. Conley’s probably held back all these years until his mother kicked the bucket.” 

Gaither sat forward. “Do you know what I found in his lab? Psychotropics. He’s tinkering around with psychotropics, Hal – definitely LSD. What are they calling it these days – acid? I guarantee you that that Seabolt boy is tying him to the hippies and the two of them are hopping onto the illicit manufacture and distribution of the stuff. Everybody knows the feds are about to take a hard stance on it. It’s a cinch that Conley is looking to get rich when it becomes a controlled drug.”

“Really?” said Harold Bruner in a genuine look of surprise.

“That’s not the worst of it, and I’m glad you’re sitting down. He’s been batching and playing around with some of the stuff we produced during ‘Uncle’s Gig’. I’m fairly sure he’s building off our proprietaries from the whole affair – with our labels affixed to just about every damn thing lying around the place.” 

The wind once again left Harold Bruner’s sails. He began to feel all the various effects that sweeping anxiety has on the human body. He took a deep drink almost as a reflex. “I thought we purged all of that stuff.”

“Well, Conley would have been the one to purge it, wouldn’t he?” said Gaither with a wince.

“Uncle’s Gig” was their codename for the government contract they received in 1950. Its undertaking was to manipulate human behavior through psychotropic pharma, and Conley Chislom had been knee-deep into it. Bruner was never completely comfortable with the unspecified human testing that must be taking place on the government’s end of the appointment. He was relieved when it was eventually pulled from them. It was his decision to ensure that there remained no scrap of paper anywhere within the whole of their office that referenced any aspect of the project. Gaither whitewashed all of the financials and Dr. Conley Chislom was to destroy the actual notes and work product.

“That’s just not going to do,” said Bruner. “All we need is to have Conley and Seabolt peddling American’s new public enemy number one after they cooked it up here.”

“What do you propose we do?” asked Gaither.

“Well, we take the initiative.” Bruner extinguished his cigarette in the ashtray and leaned back in the small chair. “We alert the feds to Conley’s operation and put them onto the jackass immediately.” 

  •  

In the summer of 1966, the Georgia heat was relentless and the rain scarce. Joi Hashimoto wheeled Conley Chislom’s Ford off of the highway and under a row of pecan trees by a modest produce stand. She had another two hours remaining in her journey back to Decatur. Since it was the end of September and peaches were in season, Chislom insisted that she bring back two sacks of the less acidic white variety as she traveled through the veins of the state. That was his only condition for allowing her to use his car to drive the ashes of Dr. William Gaston to his estranged wife’s home in North Carolina.

The funeral home had forwarded Gaston’s ashes to Joi, and she had held on to them since his passing in July of the previous year – right after she had followed Dr. Conley Chislom and Reginald Seabolt from her home in Chicago to research alongside them at their home in Georgia. Back then, the two men had initially sought the aid of Gaston, but were ultimately thankful to recruit her instead. It has been just over a year that she has been living alongside the quirky personalities of the two, and the delivery of Gaston’s ashes offered a chance for Joi to rightly consign his remains, as well as get a much-needed reprieve from her housemates. 

Joi’s trip to North Carolina was the second time she had borrowed Chislom’s Ford Fairlane. The first loan of the vehicle took place a year ago, right after she moved in – when she preferred private self-analysis to communal discovery with two men of recent acquaintance with whom she had precious little in common. Piloted less by an obligation to sound scientific praxis and more by her precocious sense of adventure, Joi found herself engaged in the inevitable, and allowed herself to be injected with 8 mL of PSIONICA. The very drug that had turned Dr. Conley Chislom and Reginald Seabolt into miracles of science and had inspired her to uproot her life in Chicago. Despite all his dispirited contentions (of which there were many), Joi persuaded Chislom that it would be best if she… experienced herself by herself and traveled alone to coastal Georgia in his car. After a cathartic (and at one point, harrowing) week of walking the historic avenues of downtown Savannah, she returned and knew exactly what the drug had done to her.  

After picking out Chislom’s peaches at the produce stand, Joi paid a very old woman for the produce. Watching her squinting down at the money, Joi considered the pain that was so perceptible in the woman’s tanned and haggard face. Clearly, the origin of the woman’s hardship was her swollen and very conspicuous arthritic hands. As the woman pawed the bills for the peaches, Joi thought of the long, hard history that had settled into the wretch before her – a portrait painted by years of misfortune and disappointment. Joi thought the hands were beautiful. Beautiful and voluminously sad. Sad beyond any one exposition or any one reason. Sad as a life run aground so long ago.   

She tipped the old woman a noticeable amount, thanked her and briskly carried her produce back to the Ford before a protest of the gift could be made.  Sitting in the Ford and deliberating on the pitiful woman, Joi realized she could do nothing to alleviate the affliction or the long years of pain assured by the unique severity of the old woman’s disease, just as her generous gratuity could not relieve the woman’s burden of having to sell peaches, tomatoes and red plum jam amid the irritation of flies and the heat of the Georgia highway. What she could do, however, was fix the sadness.

An old truck that was turning around by the stand took the old woman’s attention. She smiled at the truck’s driver, and her gentle pleasantness somehow broke Joi’s heart. With hardly no effort at all, Joi reached her thoughts to the woman and found her, somehow perceiving the old woman’s mind with an ineffable certainty as reliable as Joi’s other five senses. She lost count of how many times she had linked with someone. She was getting good at it. 

The truck left and the woman was looking down now. She became still. Slowly, her frail arms folded to her chest, which began to heave, and she smiled – smiled until the small laughter burbled from her expression. Joi had seen the same gesture on everyone she directed this particular emotion to. Like all the rest, the old woman’s response was to embrace herself. Happiness moistened her eyes, though no tears rolled down her cheeks, as happened with some. The rich emotional experience Joi was causing would not last long, but, perhaps, it would rekindle a happiness that the poor woman may have long forgotten to even hope for. That was Joi’s intention, sitting there in Chislom’s Ford, near the produce stand, under the row of pecan trees. 

Joi had settled on defining her amazing ability as empathic manipulation, and it took her a while to figure it out. During the previous summer’s unaccompanied trip of self-seeking appraisal following the PSIONICA injection, she had tried exhaustively to telepathically connect with people sauntering through the parks of Savannah. She tried to read their thoughts or to extend her own, as achieved by Reginald Seabolt. She even enlisted several children playing in Forsyth Park to guess what yummy food she was thinking about. At length, she found that she was not a telepath and certainly did not have the strange conveyance ability that PSIONICA had granted to Seabolt. But it was with the eldest child amid the throng that something did happen. Joi could feel a definitive… connection. Instinctively, she knew that the alien sensation came from Chislom’s compound. For the rest of the day, she tirelessly pursued her discovery, quietly “connecting” to the minds of people as they walked by her park bench. She could tell nothing about them, could not read their thoughts or determine anything about their personality whatsoever. She could just “see” the definitive presence of their minds before her. 

On her third morning, while staring into her black coffee, Joi circumnavigated her new talent in turn to each hungry local and tourist alike in a crowded diner near her motel. As she moved from one mind to the next, she thought of how she could see a patron, hear them clinking their forks on their plates, smell their cologne or perspiration, and reach out to touch or taste them, if she were so bold. Now, her mind experienced a completely new impression of these people – a new sense – a sixth sense. As impressive as this power was, Joi was about to discover the scope of what she was actually capable of. 

While linked to an exhaustively unhappy toddler with blonde pigtails and a piercing wail, Joi (like everyone else in the restaurant) wanted the child to stop crying. The poignant misery written on the child’s face had affected Joi stronger than just a moment before, and she found that in her desire for the child to be content, it actually began to happen.

She discovered there was more to her “sixth sense” than she initially thought. The connection she experienced with other minds was just the interfacing phase of a far greater capability to override and control the emotional state of people. As a scientist of neurophysiology, Joi had realized that emotions where somehow controlled in a convoluted labyrinth of chemicals washing over the brain and stimuli triggering very specific formations of neurons – a field of study that was still in its infancy in the mid-1960s. By whatever complex and mystifying means the human brain churns the irresistible sea of emotion, Joi was apparently its master. 

She continued her explorations and eventually tinkered with emotions that fell to the unfavorable spectrum. Meandering through the streets, she vacillated over which unwitting urbanite would receive a dose of resentment, nervousness or apprehension. In her reticence, she only encouraged the slightest bend to these more negative dispositions. Thanks to her rich and especial field of study, Joi benefited from a robust understanding of the nature of emotions. She quickly learned she could solidify a general pleasure of dignity to create the more specific feeling of self-assurance, could mold irresolute hesitancy over to displeasure and right down to anger. The key with these nuanced emotions, she found, was to begin with root feelings and cascade them to the complex. 

The mental connection Joi first discovered allowed her to comprehend the forming and efficacy of each emotion she caused. Despite the stoniest of poker faces, she knew her subjects were receiving her changes. Though, try as she might, her connection did not allow her to detect people’s native feelings, only those she introduced and modulated. She was thankful to find that her influence seemed to dissipate fairly soon after she broke connection. 

Always the scientist, Joi wrote down theories and consulted academic texts that she had brought along. At length, she came to an unsettling possibility regarding her newfound dominative tinkering. She suspected that if she happened upon a subject with a problem predisposition to an emotion, there was a risk that her sway would cause near-unsurpassable behavioral complications – for the rest of their lives. It was this concern that caused Joi to stop her quiet experiments on the denizens of Savannah – but not completely. The one emotion she was willing to extend was one she defined as a gift – and she was generous with it. It was a fleeting mosaic of contentment that melted into elation. The feeling then solidified to an existential peace and fulfillment. She passed this opulent happiness to the flustered street sweeper, the ill-looking gas attendant, and the sad-eyed mother of four at a bus stop. Joi was dispirited at the number of unhappy people she found once the effort was made to find them, but chuckled when she considered that she was probably the first person in history to take literal action on the phrase, “…And goodwill to all.”

Chislom had reminded her to look for the second ability – the one that granted her psychogenic control over the physical. She almost forgot about it. Chislom was particularly eager to learn if she had the ability to extend her consciousness outside her body like himself. From her motel room telephone, she had told him that she had stayed up much of her first night in town travailing to possess objects around her room until sleep overcame her. She even had taken a few empty milk cartons to a vacant lot behind the motel to see if she could ignite them in a similar manner as Seabolt. Nothing had ever happened, and she had told him an inconvenient breeze would always end up knocking the cartons over while she experimented.  

…Knocking the cartons over, she thought.

Joi got off the phone with Chislom when he began to lean into a reinvigorated insistence that she come back. He so wanted to witness this empathic manipulation she spoke of. He had also repeated his dissidence of a young woman renting rooms alone. Failing to resist the urge and before she rang off, she had made a secret attempt to connect with his mind. Alas, her ability to link with another consciousness did not seem to work over the phone. 

“A breeze… Knocking them over.” She gave a reflective voice to her previous thought as she sat on the edge of one of two twin beds. Her newfound ability had taken most of her attention and she forgot about Dr. Gaston’s theory that there should be a pair of abilities. Chislom, in his long reasoning with the theory, had even come up with a name for the two – psycho-psionic and physio-psionic. They could easily categorize bedeviling people’s emotions as an example of the psycho-psionic side of her newly arranged psi-powered mind. Successfully immolating pieces of trash like Seabolt represented the physio-psionic side, and she had not even come close to that. 

Joi walked out into the night air and back to the vacant lot behind the motel. She placed an empty soda can on the same cinderblock she used for the milk cartons. Unlike before, there was no wind and no apparent threat to the can’s stability, but, Was there wind before? she considered.

At 11:30 PM, Joi suspected there was no real concern of someone walking from the closed service station just around the brick corner, like there had been before. Instantly, Joi considered that she may have been holding back earlier when she could hear people milling about the station. She supposed that earlier she could have been nervous that she might actually incite one of Seabolt’s combustions during her attempts with the milk cartons. What if someone walked around the corner and saw what she did? What would she say? Now, however, she was all alone. The service station was closed. It was clearly just her and the can.

She remembered Seabolt’s inarticulate account of the “mounting connectedness” he claimed to feel with the objects he set ablaze. She focused on the can and was soon lost in a sharp fixation. The world around her grew ever quieter and was soon nonexistent. Slowly, the can began to produce a tinny whine and gave a spastic jolt, which flung it off the cinderblock onto the dewy grass below.

“How about it there, China doll?”

Joi nearly came out of her skin. A pale and desperate-looking woman walked toward her, with glaring and glazed eyes that beamed a contrived friendliness that, at once, sent chills down her spine. 

“We seen you. You’re in 203 right? What you doing out here, China doll”?

When the woman said we, Joi glanced up to see the partial shape of a large man with disheveled brown hair and a long unkempt beard. With his plaid shirt, Joi thought he looked like a lumberjack. The man stood by the brick corner that led to the closed service station and the unpopulated street beyond. Something about his stance and peculiar placement by the corner told her that he was the lookout. The woman, now much closer, caught Joi’s cognizance of the situation, dispensed with all pretense and produced an automatic knife. With a click, she had it open and pointed low at Joi’s torso.

“Hey, damn you!” the woman hissed, “Run us up to your room or I’ll cut open your damn belly!”

 

Joi could see the woman’s sparse and yellowed teeth brandished in a hate-fueled grimace. As the woman’s sinister figure drew closer, the sour stink of beer and body odor hit Joi like a wave. Joi stared at the woman’s face and head, and without fully realizing her intention to do so, applied the same psionic outflow that she must have achieved moments ago. Whatever happened to the empty soda can, was now happening to the woman’s head.

The machinelike quality to the woman’s angry shriek gave Joi her first hint at the invisible effect she was causing. The sound was almost inhuman – a juddering bark of a scream that was cut short by her immediate lack of consciousness. The horrible sound indicated the same thing that the dance of the falling soda can did – vibration.

Joi was registering this when she saw the loom of the descending lumberjack, closing on her quickly despite the obvious inebriation of his step.

“Brenda! What the hell did you do, you bitch?!”

Joi wasted no time. She did not know what damage she caused to “Brenda,” nor was she eager to make another attempt at the just-discovered physio-psionic side of her new self. Instead, she called down the power she had been practicing with all week and filled the lumberjack with a swelling fear that she cultivated from his root emotion of hesitation. As he reached for her, she was already connected to him. The large man stopped dead in his tracks and his face took on the expression of having been flung from a great height to an assured death. He felt the sinking sick of losing control of one’s bowels – a sensation he had not felt since early childhood.

“YAAAAAAAAAAAA,” screamed the man as he scrambled away for dear life. The man flung himself forward, running fast and far – far from their motel, far from Joi and far from Brenda.

After grabbing her things from her room, Joi raced Chislom’s Ford through the dark and encroaching rain all the way to Statesboro – not so far from Savannah. She spent the remainder of the night sleeping in the backseat, parked in the far quiet corner of a diner’s parking lot. She was still close enough to Savannah for any sensational events – like a discovered body – to make the local news. She spent the next day exploring her second ability while intently listening to the radio for any mention of the fate of Brenda. She heard nothing. 

As she discovered, her physio-psionic gift turned out to be telekinesis – but not like one would infer from fictional depictions. Indeed, she could move matter with the power of her mind – but the movement was limited to a complete rapid vibration to the items of her focus. Smaller objects reverberate as though they were sitting atop a machine. Larger objects, particularly cars and trucks, would start with multiple irregular micro-vibrations and then ease into a harmonized shimmy as though a cadre of ghost pranksters were bobbing the vehicle about. By the time she left the city limits of Statesboro, half the town was gibbering about the day’s earthquake.

That was a little over a year ago, and Joi was thinking of that first trip in Chislom’s Ford as she returned from her second. She pulled into the driveway and found the vehicle’s owner weeding a bed of pansies and red slipper azaleas. She stopped the Ford alongside him, all smiles.

Chislom said, “I’ll go in and get a pitcher of sweet tea, be a dear and hang those ferns back up when you pull under the carport. They should be drained by now.”

Joi hung the four baskets of wet ferns back along the side of the carport. Leaving her luggage for later, she walked Chislom’s peaches around to the front porch and sat them down on a small table between a pair of rocking chairs. She looked around the large porch, appreciating the history of the beautiful antebellum home.

“Take a seat, Joi,” said Chislom, red-faced and clammy from the exertions of the yardwork. He was carrying a pitcher of tea in one hand and two glasses in the other. He pinched the glasses between his dirt-stained thumb and forefinger, and Joi fought hard to keep revulsion from her expression. 

“Thanks, Conley, but I’ve been sitting long enough, I think I may stand for the rest of the evening.”

“Siler City, North Carolina to Decatur, Georgia is a hell of a haul, that’s for sure. I trust the Ford held up all right. That car has sure seen more road since you’ve been around,” Chislom frowned. “I still can’t get used to a woman of your age traveling alone. You are lucky some hoodlum hasn’t deprived you of your valuables – or worse.”

Joi’s mind ran to the makeshift Bonnie and Clyde back in Savannah, certain that she would never hear the end of it if Chislom ever found out.

“Now let’s have a look at these peaches. Just look at that. Two bags of babies’ butts, that’s what mama used to call them in a bag like that. Bag of babies’ butts. Did I ever tell you that we had the governor over for peach cobbler?”

“Not peach cobbler, but you did tell me that he came over for tomato sandwiches once.”

“Oh, well after the tomato sandwiches we had peach cobbler – I believe that’s right…”

Joi looked down and gave a grin. If she was not careful, Chislom would drive the conversation from the governor, to the prerequisite for politicians to serve in the military and then to his own military service. 
“Conley, where’s Reg?”

At once, the cheerfulness fell from Chislom’s face, and he nodded in the direction of the city park Seabolt had begun to frequent.

“Is he getting any better?”

“No. All the booze is making him beat himself up more than usual. The only reason he leaves the house is because I told him I didn’t want him drinking under this roof anymore. I guess he keeps gin hidden somewhere in the park. The boy needs some help.” Chislom’s expression as he looked up at Joi told her exactly what he was going to ask before asking it. 

“No, Conley, No. Not again.”

“Joi, I believe it makes a difference in him and we need to—”

“I’m more concerned about possible lasting effects, Conley. The artificial self-assurance does not last and he, above anyone else, would certainly be aware that I’m tweaking him. He could become – heaven forbid – dependent.”

“We need to… stabilize him, Joi. He’s become fixated on his physio-psionic side of the ability, and it’s scaring him. He’s insisted we stop with the combustion experiments in the backyard. On the day after you left for North Carolina, I was able to talk him into a burger at the Milford’s. You should’ve seen him. He was a nervous wreck, kept wanting to shut his eyes. Everyone in the place probably thought he was an absolute loon. Told me he was scared he’d accidentally burn up some poor mother’s baby.”

“Do you think he’s capable of that?”

“No… But… I know that he is not rational. He thinks that the Russians are trying to kidnap us and my work. He thought the waitress had a Russian accent, kept saying she was taking notes on us. I told him her name was Berta, she’s Polish and she’s just taking orders! He thinks half of those trucks on that work site have a team of Russian spies ready to hop out of them.” Chislom pointed to a long row of work trucks and vans that were parked near a construction site a block down the street. Crews of men and their heavy-duty construction vehicles had been littering the area for months, and she had been impressed at their progress when she drove by earlier. An array of large swarthy men, clearly engaged in the erection of a towering office building, were milling about. 

Chislom glowered sharply at Joi. “He’s going to shine a very bright, very negative light on his whole damn thing before I’m ready. I’ve worked with Uncle Sam, child. They will take it from us if we don’t position ourselves as reliable experts regarding PSIONICA.”

Joi wanted to tell Chislom that they would probably take it from them anyway, but she knew it would only invite another long debate-heavy deliberation with a very bull-headed man over an increasingly nagging question that loomed over the three of them – what exactly are they going to do with PSIONICA? Since they had brought her in, Joi had successfully talked Chislom out of revealing the discovery to his ex-girlfriend, a source he claimed to know in the CIA and his purportedly good friend – the governor of Georgia. Seabolt was unstable and Chislom was full of bad ideas.
“I’ll talk to him,” said Joi. “But that’s all. I’m not going to make any attempts at his mood.”

Joi rounded a corner in the park and saw Seabolt placing a clear bottle under a large flat rock by shrubs near his bench. As she drew near she said, “You’re going to wind up getting dirt in that.” 

 

The thin man jumped, suddenly looking aggravated, and stared back down at his refreshed paper cup.   
“I thought you were those kids.”

“Well, if they happen to see what I just saw, I guarantee your stash gets raided.”

“When did you get in?”

“Just now.”

Seabolt maintained his routine of looking down as she talked, a habit that made Joi uncomfortable. A habit that made everyone uncomfortable.  

“Conley says you’re drinking too much. I don’t think that’s wise.”

“Why do you have to talk to me like that?” Seabolt frowned in a look of contemplative hurt. His uncharacteristic brassy tone told Joi he was already pretty drunk. She took a seat beside him on his bench.

“Reg, I think you can appreciate how important it is for us to keep a low profile. You getting drunk in the park is not going to help. Conley says you’re worried, particularly about your ability to incinerate things, that you may have an accident?”

“Do you know how much the world is going to want this? What are we even doing, Joi?” 

“Conley and I have made a list of potential people to approach. I’m not certain, but there may be viable ownership issues with regard to your previous empl…”

“You and Conley didn’t make a list, you made a list! I can tell you don’t even listen to Dr. Chislom. You think we’re just dumb hicks and you’re trying to figure out how get PSIONICA from us. Get it from the dumb hicks! You’re just biding your time… Right, Joi?”

“Reg, that’s not true. I… Listen. Conley is way out of his depth here and despite himself, I think he knows it. You know how Conley can be, and both of us work around his personality. You do the same thing. In your own way, you do the exact same thing, right?” Joi felt she was being dishonest, knowing that Seabolt held no shrewd touch in dealing with Chislom or anyone else. She was capitalizing on Seabolt’s recent assertive confrontations with the older man. She felt like a sister talking to a lesser sibling about their doddering patriarch.

“We’re talking about Conley Chislom here, Reg.” His troubled expression yielded only slightly and Joi continued. “Yes, I feel that you and Conley are in way over your heads with this, but I’m over my head, too. I promise you that we three are in this together. Look at me, Reg.”

Joi touched Seabolt on the shoulder and, despite his renowned timidity, he looked her right in the eyes. Something she saw in his relayed resolve and warning. A warning of a man who is beginning to tire from pacing along the ledge. At that very moment, she briefly entertained Chislom’s wish for her to connect and bring him to a more sedate state. But this would only serve as a stopgap, and she strongly suspected that any emotional nudge would be noticed by someone who knew full well what she was capable of. She did not want to destroy what little trust her had in her.  “I promise you, Reg. We are in this together.”

Joi held his gaze and began to feel that she was getting through when it happened. He connected with her. Seabolt used the psycho-psionic side of his power to place a picture in her mind. A picture of the two of them locked in gaudy passion akin to the covers of cheap novels. In the mental image, Joi was wearing a taffeta gown with a low decollete neckline, a shirtless Seabolt gripping her shoulders tightly and ravishing her laid bare neck. Seabolt’s scene reflected fall, with orange and red leaves blowing about the vision. Joi instantly recalled the lively dinner conversation where Chislom insisted through her chortles and Seabolt’s enrapt expression that it was best to conceive children in the autumn of the year. 
As unwanted and repulsive the mental image was to her generally, the shock of its unanticipated arrival coupled with its uncanny clarity moved her to the dawn of excitement – and she was enraged.  

“Stop it!”

“I’m… I’m sorry, Joi. I didn’t mean to – I really didn’t mean to.”

Joi closed her eyes. It was all that she could do not to slap Seabolt across the face. She wanted to threaten him. She wanted him to see her fury. She breathed out and considered all that was at stake. As offensive as his assault was – and it was an assault – she was simply not going to lose control of this situation – or the deteriorating man in front of her. There was too much on the line.

“Reg...” started Joi.

Seabolt was beaming his broken dignity across a wide pond that fell in the center of the park. Joi noticed his expression change and she followed his gaze across the water to a slim man in brown slacks and a striped shirt. The man was smoking a pipe and was watching them.

“HEY!” shouted Seabolt and he shot up from the bench to bolt the circumference of the pond toward the stranger. Joi rushed after him and as they neared the onlooker a little boy with a remote-controlled boat crested the slope behind him. 

“Reg, wait! What are you doing? It’s just some guy and his kid.”

“I thou… I thought he was looking over at us. He looked like he was staring… Like he’d been staring.”

“Reg, go back to the house. You need to get back to the house right now, okay. Just go.”

Like a rebuked child, Seabolt folded and started to head in the direction of the Chislom house. As he sauntered off, he paused to turn slightly and said, “They are watching us, Joi. They’re in the van. Just connect.”

Joi did not immediately walk back to the Chislom house. The uncomfortable exchange with Seabolt put her on edge and she walked to Milford’s for a vanilla milkshake. Passing pleasantries with Berta, she found it hard to believe how Seabolt could consider her a Russian spy. What if he becomes completely unhinged? she thought. Joi suddenly became concerned that perhaps PSIONICA was to blame for Seabolt’s instability. Maybe, for some, the compound caused an increasing state of paranoia. Perhaps Seabolt’s mania was in her future. She contemplated over Reginald Seabolt and all of the people that she had met in her life like him and began to relax. In all likelihood, his current condition was the result of a very insufficient person dealing with being a central part in what the annals of time will define as the most consequential discovery in human history. All things considered, Seabolt was probably the worst candidate to receive the PSIONICA compound. But that could not be helped now.

When she left the diner, Joi passed the large construction zone on her way back to Chislom’s house. A much smaller collection of work vehicles remained. Most of the construction crew had packed up their equipment and had gone home to their dinners and easy chairs. Along with a few work trucks that remained was one lone van. She supposed it had been there earlier, but with the larger assemblage of work vehicles, it did not stand out. Now it seemed to be positioned a little too far from the construction site. With this more singled-out stance, she could see how an unreasonably suspicious imagination could easily place a team of surveillance operators inside. As she walked up the steps of Chislom’s house, she thought of what Seabolt said – “… Just connect.”

“Just connect…” she said under her breath. “Conley!”

Chislom quickly emerged from the kitchen, his hands in soapy dish gloves held up like a surgeon. “What, child, what?”

“Do we have a dog leash?”

“My dear, we do not have a dog.”

“No. I want to take Whistle out for a walk.”

“Whistle is not our dog; he belongs to the Turners next door.”

“Yes, well I don’t think Whistle knows that and he’s probably sitting by your back door right now. I need to use him for a moment.”

Chislom rifled through a nearby closet and produced a piece of rope. “How did it go with Reginald and what’s this all about?”

Joi took the rope and said, “I’ll tell you later and this is probably nothing, Conley.” 

“Now, don’t you bring that dog through mama’s house, girl. You walk around.”

Joi and a very-pleased-with-all-of-the-sudden-attention Whistle emerged from the side of Chislom’s residence, approached the sidewalk and headed toward the expansive construction site. The van was still parked in its previous position. This time, there were no other service vehicles in the vicinity, just a few dump trucks that were parked within the chain-link fence enclosing the site itself. The van was parked along the curb outside of the fence. Joi studied the white nondescript vehicle as she and Whistle meandered toward it. She looked back at Chislom’s statuesque home and noticed that the van happened to benefit from a direct line of sight to the residence. 

“Just connect…” she murmured. 

When Seabolt said it as he was leaving the park, Joi thought he said “disconnect.” When she put together that he said “just connect,” it came to her at once what he intended for her to do. Seabolt knew that her psycho-psionic ability worked similarly to his. They both had to establish a link with another person’s mind – a one-way telepathic connection where Joi could manipulate emotions and Seabolt could relay mental imagery. This connection offered a unique ability in and of itself. It was what Joi had defined as her sixth sense during the first days of her trip to Savannah, when she would sit on her bench and experience the certainty of another human mind near her. 

Joi walked alongside the van and Whistle, like a willing and fully versed co-conspirator, paused his trot and sniffed for a place to void his bladder. Visually, there was nothing in her proximity to the van that would warrant suspicion – just a young lady walking a dog. As she expected, no one was seated behind the wheel or in the passenger seat. She stepped closer to the large flat side of the vehicle and closed her eyes, reaching out with her gift.

At once, she felt the unmistakable link to two minds hidden within.
 

 

Chapter Four

 

In the summer of 1965, Atlanta’s attention hung on an irascible restaurateur who had elected to stop serving his delicious pan-fried chicken to the city rather than have to serve it to people of color. Despite the near vicinity and sensation of this societal unrest, it managed to go unnoticed by the two co-owners of Atlanta-based Eckl Pharmaceuticals. Their focus was on something else entirely. 

One of the owners was Harold Bruner. At the brick serpentine office building of the pharmaceutical company, he quickened his pace to shorten the journey from accounting back to his office – where he kept his bourbon. Smalltalk prattled on after the overlong weekly financial meeting, and the slight quiver of his hands told him he was late for his ante meridiem drink. Tim Gaither was due for a closed-door meeting at any moment, and Bruner would rather not confront the urge to guzzle his liquor in front of him. 

Gaither had introduced him as an accomplished drinker a week ago at a client luncheon. Though the remark was delivered in all good-humor, it had managed to knock the wind out of his sails for a long time.  

Tim Gaither owned the other half of Eckl Pharmaceuticals and the two shared a unique relationship – perhaps it was even close. Bruner and Gaither purchased the promising new company from the estate of Henry James Eckl, an entrepreneurial chemist and developer of industrial fermentation processes. As businessmen and stewards of Eckl Pharmaceuticals, they were flawless.

Finally, Harold Bruner rounded the corner of his outer office door and found Tim Gaither standing behind his desk, pouring his bourbon into two of his glasses.

“Hello, Hal,” Gaither said from within the office, sliding the drink toward him. “I hope you don’t mind, but I thought I’d rummage through your liquor drawer. I’ve discovered I’m rather good at that… Rummaging, that is.” Gaither tilted his head, beaming a knowing mirth to his colleague. Bruner accepted the drink, keeping the great inward thankfulness far from his expression.

“Ah Hell, Tim. It’s a might early for hooch. You must have heavy news.”

Bruner took a seat in one of the small pair of boxlike chairs directly in front of his large mahogany desk. Gaither, still standing behind Bruner’s desk, continued the affable role reversal and sat down in the big chair of Italian leather. Bruner was always quick to apply these unspoken gestures of consociation to his partner. As fate would have it, he was afforded the larger office, the illicit attentions from a ravishing member of clerical, and – unlike Gaither – his black hair was not fading to a drab blanch of mousey gray.

Gaither gave a glance to the door that led to the outer office reception desk and said, “Are we going to leave it open?”

“Donna Sue is still on vacation.” Bruner nestled into his cramped seat, lit a cigarette and asked, “Well, let’s have it. What did you find out? They went to Chicago for a homosexual vacation, right?”

“I don’t know what they’re doing up there, but I do know that his basement is chock-full of company equipment.”

“I could’ve told you that, Tim. That was something that started back with Henry and it’s probably best that we let it go.” Bruner stared at Gaither and suddenly thought how elephantine the chair looked against the smaller frame of its occupant. The image of Gaither in his chair had a tone of whimsy. He wondered if people thought the same of him when they came into his office. Bruner took a long drag of his cigarette and slowly blew out curls of thick smoke. “Just tell me that Conley and that kid left because they fell madly in love and not because they’ve taken up with Thacker and Company… Did you see where they sleep?”

“I was not about to go upstairs,” said Gaither through an expression of aggravation. “Thacker would never abide Conley’s goof-ass personality, even if he was trying to peddle company secrets. No, I don’t think we have to worry about that – and I’m not 100% sold that Conley is queer – I’ve known the man for years.”

“Come on, Tim. That Seabolt boy quits right after Conley does and then moves in the big house with him. Conley’s probably held back all these years until his mother kicked the bucket.” 

Gaither sat forward. “Do you know what I found in his lab? Psychotropics. He’s tinkering around with psychotropics, Hal – definitely LSD. What are they calling it these days – acid? I guarantee you that that Seabolt boy is tying him to the hippies and the two of them are hopping onto the illicit manufacture and distribution of the stuff. Everybody knows the feds are about to take a hard stance on it. It’s a cinch that Conley is looking to get rich when it becomes a controlled drug.”

“Really?” said Harold Bruner in a genuine look of surprise.

“That’s not the worst of it, and I’m glad you’re sitting down. He’s been batching and playing around with some of the stuff we produced during ‘Uncle’s Gig’. I’m fairly sure he’s building off our proprietaries from the whole affair – with our labels affixed to just about every damn thing lying around the place.” 

The wind once again left Harold Bruner’s sails. He began to feel all the various effects that sweeping anxiety has on the human body. He took a deep drink almost as a reflex. “I thought we purged all of that stuff.”

“Well, Conley would have been the one to purge it, wouldn’t he?” said Gaither with a wince.

“Uncle’s Gig” was their codename for the government contract they received in 1950. Its undertaking was to manipulate human behavior through psychotropic pharma, and Conley Chislom had been knee-deep into it. Bruner was never completely comfortable with the unspecified human testing that must be taking place on the government’s end of the appointment. He was relieved when it was eventually pulled from them. It was his decision to ensure that there remained no scrap of paper anywhere within the whole of their office that referenced any aspect of the project. Gaither whitewashed all of the financials and Dr. Conley Chislom was to destroy the actual notes and work product.

“That’s just not going to do,” said Bruner. “All we need is to have Conley and Seabolt peddling American’s new public enemy number one after they cooked it up here.”

“What do you propose we do?” asked Gaither.

“Well, we take the initiative.” Bruner extinguished his cigarette in the ashtray and leaned back in the small chair. “We alert the feds to Conley’s operation and put them onto the jackass immediately.” 

  •  

In the summer of 1966, the Georgia heat was relentless and the rain scarce. Joi Hashimoto wheeled Conley Chislom’s Ford off of the highway and under a row of pecan trees by a modest produce stand. She had another two hours remaining in her journey back to Decatur. Since it was the end of September and peaches were in season, Chislom insisted that she bring back two sacks of the less acidic white variety as she traveled through the veins of the state. That was his only condition for allowing her to use his car to drive the ashes of Dr. William Gaston to his estranged wife’s home in North Carolina.

The funeral home had forwarded Gaston’s ashes to Joi, and she had held on to them since his passing in July of the previous year – right after she had followed Dr. Conley Chislom and Reginald Seabolt from her home in Chicago to research alongside them at their home in Georgia. Back then, the two men had initially sought the aid of Gaston, but were ultimately thankful to recruit her instead. It has been just over a year that she has been living alongside the quirky personalities of the two, and the delivery of Gaston’s ashes offered a chance for Joi to rightly consign his remains, as well as get a much-needed reprieve from her housemates. 

Joi’s trip to North Carolina was the second time she had borrowed Chislom’s Ford Fairlane. The first loan of the vehicle took place a year ago, right after she moved in – when she preferred private self-analysis to communal discovery with two men of recent acquaintance with whom she had precious little in common. Piloted less by an obligation to sound scientific praxis and more by her precocious sense of adventure, Joi found herself engaged in the inevitable, and allowed herself to be injected with 8 mL of PSIONICA. The very drug that had turned Dr. Conley Chislom and Reginald Seabolt into miracles of science and had inspired her to uproot her life in Chicago. Despite all his dispirited contentions (of which there were many), Joi persuaded Chislom that it would be best if she… experienced herself by herself and traveled alone to coastal Georgia in his car. After a cathartic (and at one point, harrowing) week of walking the historic avenues of downtown Savannah, she returned and knew exactly what the drug had done to her.  

After picking out Chislom’s peaches at the produce stand, Joi paid a very old woman for the produce. Watching her squinting down at the money, Joi considered the pain that was so perceptible in the woman’s tanned and haggard face. Clearly, the origin of the woman’s hardship was her swollen and very conspicuous arthritic hands. As the woman pawed the bills for the peaches, Joi thought of the long, hard history that had settled into the wretch before her – a portrait painted by years of misfortune and disappointment. Joi thought the hands were beautiful. Beautiful and voluminously sad. Sad beyond any one exposition or any one reason. Sad as a life run aground so long ago.   

She tipped the old woman a noticeable amount, thanked her and briskly carried her produce back to the Ford before a protest of the gift could be made.  Sitting in the Ford and deliberating on the pitiful woman, Joi realized she could do nothing to alleviate the affliction or the long years of pain assured by the unique severity of the old woman’s disease, just as her generous gratuity could not relieve the woman’s burden of having to sell peaches, tomatoes and red plum jam amid the irritation of flies and the heat of the Georgia highway. What she could do, however, was fix the sadness.

An old truck that was turning around by the stand took the old woman’s attention. She smiled at the truck’s driver, and her gentle pleasantness somehow broke Joi’s heart. With hardly no effort at all, Joi reached her thoughts to the woman and found her, somehow perceiving the old woman’s mind with an ineffable certainty as reliable as Joi’s other five senses. She lost count of how many times she had linked with someone. She was getting good at it. 

The truck left and the woman was looking down now. She became still. Slowly, her frail arms folded to her chest, which began to heave, and she smiled – smiled until the small laughter burbled from her expression. Joi had seen the same gesture on everyone she directed this particular emotion to. Like all the rest, the old woman’s response was to embrace herself. Happiness moistened her eyes, though no tears rolled down her cheeks, as happened with some. The rich emotional experience Joi was causing would not last long, but, perhaps, it would rekindle a happiness that the poor woman may have long forgotten to even hope for. That was Joi’s intention, sitting there in Chislom’s Ford, near the produce stand, under the row of pecan trees. 

Joi had settled on defining her amazing ability as empathic manipulation, and it took her a while to figure it out. During the previous summer’s unaccompanied trip of self-seeking appraisal following the PSIONICA injection, she had tried exhaustively to telepathically connect with people sauntering through the parks of Savannah. She tried to read their thoughts or to extend her own, as achieved by Reginald Seabolt. She even enlisted several children playing in Forsyth Park to guess what yummy food she was thinking about. At length, she found that she was not a telepath and certainly did not have the strange conveyance ability that PSIONICA had granted to Seabolt. But it was with the eldest child amid the throng that something did happen. Joi could feel a definitive… connection. Instinctively, she knew that the alien sensation came from Chislom’s compound. For the rest of the day, she tirelessly pursued her discovery, quietly “connecting” to the minds of people as they walked by her park bench. She could tell nothing about them, could not read their thoughts or determine anything about their personality whatsoever. She could just “see” the definitive presence of their minds before her. 

On her third morning, while staring into her black coffee, Joi circumnavigated her new talent in turn to each hungry local and tourist alike in a crowded diner near her motel. As she moved from one mind to the next, she thought of how she could see a patron, hear them clinking their forks on their plates, smell their cologne or perspiration, and reach out to touch or taste them, if she were so bold. Now, her mind experienced a completely new impression of these people – a new sense – a sixth sense. As impressive as this power was, Joi was about to discover the scope of what she was actually capable of. 

While linked to an exhaustively unhappy toddler with blonde pigtails and a piercing wail, Joi (like everyone else in the restaurant) wanted the child to stop crying. The poignant misery written on the child’s face had affected Joi stronger than just a moment before, and she found that in her desire for the child to be content, it actually began to happen.

She discovered there was more to her “sixth sense” than she initially thought. The connection she experienced with other minds was just the interfacing phase of a far greater capability to override and control the emotional state of people. As a scientist of neurophysiology, Joi had realized that emotions where somehow controlled in a convoluted labyrinth of chemicals washing over the brain and stimuli triggering very specific formations of neurons – a field of study that was still in its infancy in the mid-1960s. By whatever complex and mystifying means the human brain churns the irresistible sea of emotion, Joi was apparently its master. 

She continued her explorations and eventually tinkered with emotions that fell to the unfavorable spectrum. Meandering through the streets, she vacillated over which unwitting urbanite would receive a dose of resentment, nervousness or apprehension. In her reticence, she only encouraged the slightest bend to these more negative dispositions. Thanks to her rich and especial field of study, Joi benefited from a robust understanding of the nature of emotions. She quickly learned she could solidify a general pleasure of dignity to create the more specific feeling of self-assurance, could mold irresolute hesitancy over to displeasure and right down to anger. The key with these nuanced emotions, she found, was to begin with root feelings and cascade them to the complex. 

The mental connection Joi first discovered allowed her to comprehend the forming and efficacy of each emotion she caused. Despite the stoniest of poker faces, she knew her subjects were receiving her changes. Though, try as she might, her connection did not allow her to detect people’s native feelings, only those she introduced and modulated. She was thankful to find that her influence seemed to dissipate fairly soon after she broke connection. 

Always the scientist, Joi wrote down theories and consulted academic texts that she had brought along. At length, she came to an unsettling possibility regarding her newfound dominative tinkering. She suspected that if she happened upon a subject with a problem predisposition to an emotion, there was a risk that her sway would cause near-unsurpassable behavioral complications – for the rest of their lives. It was this concern that caused Joi to stop her quiet experiments on the denizens of Savannah – but not completely. The one emotion she was willing to extend was one she defined as a gift – and she was generous with it. It was a fleeting mosaic of contentment that melted into elation. The feeling then solidified to an existential peace and fulfillment. She passed this opulent happiness to the flustered street sweeper, the ill-looking gas attendant, and the sad-eyed mother of four at a bus stop. Joi was dispirited at the number of unhappy people she found once the effort was made to find them, but chuckled when she considered that she was probably the first person in history to take literal action on the phrase, “…And goodwill to all.”

Chislom had reminded her to look for the second ability – the one that granted her psychogenic control over the physical. She almost forgot about it. Chislom was particularly eager to learn if she had the ability to extend her consciousness outside her body like himself. From her motel room telephone, she had told him that she had stayed up much of her first night in town travailing to possess objects around her room until sleep overcame her. She even had taken a few empty milk cartons to a vacant lot behind the motel to see if she could ignite them in a similar manner as Seabolt. Nothing had ever happened, and she had told him an inconvenient breeze would always end up knocking the cartons over while she experimented.  

…Knocking the cartons over, she thought.

Joi got off the phone with Chislom when he began to lean into a reinvigorated insistence that she come back. He so wanted to witness this empathic manipulation she spoke of. He had also repeated his dissidence of a young woman renting rooms alone. Failing to resist the urge and before she rang off, she had made a secret attempt to connect with his mind. Alas, her ability to link with another consciousness did not seem to work over the phone. 

“A breeze… Knocking them over.” She gave a reflective voice to her previous thought as she sat on the edge of one of two twin beds. Her newfound ability had taken most of her attention and she forgot about Dr. Gaston’s theory that there should be a pair of abilities. Chislom, in his long reasoning with the theory, had even come up with a name for the two – psycho-psionic and physio-psionic. They could easily categorize bedeviling people’s emotions as an example of the psycho-psionic side of her newly arranged psi-powered mind. Successfully immolating pieces of trash like Seabolt represented the physio-psionic side, and she had not even come close to that. 

Joi walked out into the night air and back to the vacant lot behind the motel. She placed an empty soda can on the same cinderblock she used for the milk cartons. Unlike before, there was no wind and no apparent threat to the can’s stability, but, Was there wind before? she considered.

At 11:30 PM, Joi suspected there was no real concern of someone walking from the closed service station just around the brick corner, like there had been before. Instantly, Joi considered that she may have been holding back earlier when she could hear people milling about the station. She supposed that earlier she could have been nervous that she might actually incite one of Seabolt’s combustions during her attempts with the milk cartons. What if someone walked around the corner and saw what she did? What would she say? Now, however, she was all alone. The service station was closed. It was clearly just her and the can.

She remembered Seabolt’s inarticulate account of the “mounting connectedness” he claimed to feel with the objects he set ablaze. She focused on the can and was soon lost in a sharp fixation. The world around her grew ever quieter and was soon nonexistent. Slowly, the can began to produce a tinny whine and gave a spastic jolt, which flung it off the cinderblock onto the dewy grass below.

“How about it there, China doll?”

Joi nearly came out of her skin. A pale and desperate-looking woman walked toward her, with glaring and glazed eyes that beamed a contrived friendliness that, at once, sent chills down her spine. 

“We seen you. You’re in 203 right? What you doing out here, China doll”?

When the woman said we, Joi glanced up to see the partial shape of a large man with disheveled brown hair and a long unkempt beard. With his plaid shirt, Joi thought he looked like a lumberjack. The man stood by the brick corner that led to the closed service station and the unpopulated street beyond. Something about his stance and peculiar placement by the corner told her that he was the lookout. The woman, now much closer, caught Joi’s cognizance of the situation, dispensed with all pretense and produced an automatic knife. With a click, she had it open and pointed low at Joi’s torso.

“Hey, damn you!” the woman hissed, “Run us up to your room or I’ll cut open your damn belly!”

Joi could see the woman’s sparse and yellowed teeth brandished in a hate-fueled grimace. As the woman’s sinister figure drew closer, the sour stink of beer and body odor hit Joi like a wave. Joi stared at the woman’s face and head, and without fully realizing her intention to do so, applied the same psionic outflow that she must have achieved moments ago. Whatever happened to the empty soda can, was now happening to the woman’s head.

The machinelike quality to the woman’s angry shriek gave Joi her first hint at the invisible effect she was causing. The sound was almost inhuman – a juddering bark of a scream that was cut short by her immediate lack of consciousness. The horrible sound indicated the same thing that the dance of the falling soda can did – vibration.

Joi was registering this when she saw the loom of the descending lumberjack, closing on her quickly despite the obvious inebriation of his step.

“Brenda! What the hell did you do, you bitch?!”

Joi wasted no time. She did not know what damage she caused to “Brenda,” nor was she eager to make another attempt at the just-discovered physio-psionic side of her new self. Instead, she called down the power she had been practicing with all week and filled the lumberjack with a swelling fear that she cultivated from his root emotion of hesitation. As he reached for her, she was already connected to him. The large man stopped dead in his tracks and his face took on the expression of having been flung from a great height to an assured death. He felt the sinking sick of losing control of one’s bowels – a sensation he had not felt since early childhood.

“YAAAAAAAAAAAA,” screamed the man as he scrambled away for dear life. The man flung himself forward, running fast and far – far from their motel, far from Joi and far from Brenda.

After grabbing her things from her room, Joi raced Chislom’s Ford through the dark and encroaching rain all the way to Statesboro – not so far from Savannah. She spent the remainder of the night sleeping in the backseat, parked in the far quiet corner of a diner’s parking lot. She was still close enough to Savannah for any sensational events – like a discovered body – to make the local news. She spent the next day exploring her second ability while intently listening to the radio for any mention of the fate of Brenda. She heard nothing. 

As she discovered, her physio-psionic gift turned out to be telekinesis – but not like one would infer from fictional depictions. Indeed, she could move matter with the power of her mind – but the movement was limited to a complete rapid vibration to the items of her focus. Smaller objects reverberate as though they were sitting atop a machine. Larger objects, particularly cars and trucks, would start with multiple irregular micro-vibrations and then ease into a harmonized shimmy as though a cadre of ghost pranksters were bobbing the vehicle about. By the time she left the city limits of Statesboro, half the town was gibbering about the day’s earthquake.

That was a little over a year ago, and Joi was thinking of that first trip in Chislom’s Ford as she returned from her second. She pulled into the driveway and found the vehicle’s owner weeding a bed of pansies and red slipper azaleas. She stopped the Ford alongside him, all smiles.

Chislom said, “I’ll go in and get a pitcher of sweet tea, be a dear and hang those ferns back up when you pull under the carport. They should be drained by now.”

Joi hung the four baskets of wet ferns back along the side of the carport. Leaving her luggage for later, she walked Chislom’s peaches around to the front porch and sat them down on a small table between a pair of rocking chairs. She looked around the large porch, appreciating the history of the beautiful antebellum home.

“Take a seat, Joi,” said Chislom, red-faced and clammy from the exertions of the yardwork. He was carrying a pitcher of tea in one hand and two glasses in the other. He pinched the glasses between his dirt-stained thumb and forefinger, and Joi fought hard to keep revulsion from her expression. 

“Thanks, Conley, but I’ve been sitting long enough, I think I may stand for the rest of the evening.”

“Siler City, North Carolina to Decatur, Georgia is a hell of a haul, that’s for sure. I trust the Ford held up all right. That car has sure seen more road since you’ve been around,” Chislom frowned. “I still can’t get used to a woman of your age traveling alone. You are lucky some hoodlum hasn’t deprived you of your valuables – or worse.”

Joi’s mind ran to the makeshift Bonnie and Clyde back in Savannah, certain that she would never hear the end of it if Chislom ever found out.

“Now let’s have a look at these peaches. Just look at that. Two bags of babies’ butts, that’s what mama used to call them in a bag like that. Bag of babies’ butts. Did I ever tell you that we had the governor over for peach cobbler?”

“Not peach cobbler, but you did tell me that he came over for tomato sandwiches once.”

“Oh, well after the tomato sandwiches we had peach cobbler – I believe that’s right…”

Joi looked down and gave a grin. If she was not careful, Chislom would drive the conversation from the governor, to the prerequisite for politicians to serve in the military and then to his own military service. 
“Conley, where’s Reg?”

At once, the cheerfulness fell from Chislom’s face, and he nodded in the direction of the city park Seabolt had begun to frequent.

“Is he getting any better?”

“No. All the booze is making him beat himself up more than usual. The only reason he leaves the house is because I told him I didn’t want him drinking under this roof anymore. I guess he keeps gin hidden somewhere in the park. The boy needs some help.” Chislom’s expression as he looked up at Joi told her exactly what he was going to ask before asking it. 

“No, Conley, No. Not again.”

“Joi, I believe it makes a difference in him and we need to—”

“I’m more concerned about possible lasting effects, Conley. The artificial self-assurance does not last and he, above anyone else, would certainly be aware that I’m tweaking him. He could become – heaven forbid – dependent.”

“We need to… stabilize him, Joi. He’s become fixated on his physio-psionic side of the ability, and it’s scaring him. He’s insisted we stop with the combustion experiments in the backyard. On the day after you left for North Carolina, I was able to talk him into a burger at the Milford’s. You should’ve seen him. He was a nervous wreck, kept wanting to shut his eyes. Everyone in the place probably thought he was an absolute loon. Told me he was scared he’d accidentally burn up some poor mother’s baby.”

“Do you think he’s capable of that?”

“No… But… I know that he is not rational. He thinks that the Russians are trying to kidnap us and my work. He thought the waitress had a Russian accent, kept saying she was taking notes on us. I told him her name was Berta, she’s Polish and she’s just taking orders! He thinks half of those trucks on that work site have a team of Russian spies ready to hop out of them.” Chislom pointed to a long row of work trucks and vans that were parked near a construction site a block down the street. Crews of men and their heavy-duty construction vehicles had been littering the area for months, and she had been impressed at their progress when she drove by earlier. An array of large swarthy men, clearly engaged in the erection of a towering office building, were milling about. 

Chislom glowered sharply at Joi. “He’s going to shine a very bright, very negative light on his whole damn thing before I’m ready. I’ve worked with Uncle Sam, child. They will take it from us if we don’t position ourselves as reliable experts regarding PSIONICA.”

Joi wanted to tell Chislom that they would probably take it from them anyway, but she knew it would only invite another long debate-heavy deliberation with a very bull-headed man over an increasingly nagging question that loomed over the three of them – what exactly are they going to do with PSIONICA? Since they had brought her in, Joi had successfully talked Chislom out of revealing the discovery to his ex-girlfriend, a source he claimed to know in the CIA and his purportedly good friend – the governor of Georgia. Seabolt was unstable and Chislom was full of bad ideas.
“I’ll talk to him,” said Joi. “But that’s all. I’m not going to make any attempts at his mood.”

Joi rounded a corner in the park and saw Seabolt placing a clear bottle under a large flat rock by shrubs near his bench. As she drew near she said, “You’re going to wind up getting dirt in that.” 

The thin man jumped, suddenly looking aggravated, and stared back down at his refreshed paper cup.   
“I thought you were those kids.”

“Well, if they happen to see what I just saw, I guarantee your stash gets raided.”

“When did you get in?”

“Just now.”

Seabolt maintained his routine of looking down as she talked, a habit that made Joi uncomfortable. A habit that made everyone uncomfortable.  

“Conley says you’re drinking too much. I don’t think that’s wise.”

“Why do you have to talk to me like that?” Seabolt frowned in a look of contemplative hurt. His uncharacteristic brassy tone told Joi he was already pretty drunk. She took a seat beside him on his bench.

“Reg, I think you can appreciate how important it is for us to keep a low profile. You getting drunk in the park is not going to help. Conley says you’re worried, particularly about your ability to incinerate things, that you may have an accident?”

“Do you know how much the world is going to want this? What are we even doing, Joi?” 

“Conley and I have made a list of potential people to approach. I’m not certain, but there may be viable ownership issues with regard to your previous empl…”

“You and Conley didn’t make a list, you made a list! I can tell you don’t even listen to Dr. Chislom. You think we’re just dumb hicks and you’re trying to figure out how get PSIONICA from us. Get it from the dumb hicks! You’re just biding your time… Right, Joi?”

“Reg, that’s not true. I… Listen. Conley is way out of his depth here and despite himself, I think he knows it. You know how Conley can be, and both of us work around his personality. You do the same thing. In your own way, you do the exact same thing, right?” Joi felt she was being dishonest, knowing that Seabolt held no shrewd touch in dealing with Chislom or anyone else. She was capitalizing on Seabolt’s recent assertive confrontations with the older man. She felt like a sister talking to a lesser sibling about their doddering patriarch.

“We’re talking about Conley Chislom here, Reg.” His troubled expression yielded only slightly and Joi continued. “Yes, I feel that you and Conley are in way over your heads with this, but I’m over my head, too. I promise you that we three are in this together. Look at me, Reg.”

Joi touched Seabolt on the shoulder and, despite his renowned timidity, he looked her right in the eyes. Something she saw in his relayed resolve and warning. A warning of a man who is beginning to tire from pacing along the ledge. At that very moment, she briefly entertained Chislom’s wish for her to connect and bring him to a more sedate state. But this would only serve as a stopgap, and she strongly suspected that any emotional nudge would be noticed by someone who knew full well what she was capable of. She did not want to destroy what little trust her had in her.  “I promise you, Reg. We are in this together.”

Joi held his gaze and began to feel that she was getting through when it happened. He connected with her. Seabolt used the psycho-psionic side of his power to place a picture in her mind. A picture of the two of them locked in gaudy passion akin to the covers of cheap novels. In the mental image, Joi was wearing a taffeta gown with a low decollete neckline, a shirtless Seabolt gripping her shoulders tightly and ravishing her laid bare neck. Seabolt’s scene reflected fall, with orange and red leaves blowing about the vision. Joi instantly recalled the lively dinner conversation where Chislom insisted through her chortles and Seabolt’s enrapt expression that it was best to conceive children in the autumn of the year. 
As unwanted and repulsive the mental image was to her generally, the shock of its unanticipated arrival coupled with its uncanny clarity moved her to the dawn of excitement – and she was enraged.  

“Stop it!”

“I’m… I’m sorry, Joi. I didn’t mean to – I really didn’t mean to.”

Joi closed her eyes. It was all that she could do not to slap Seabolt across the face. She wanted to threaten him. She wanted him to see her fury. She breathed out and considered all that was at stake. As offensive as his assault was – and it was an assault – she was simply not going to lose control of this situation – or the deteriorating man in front of her. There was too much on the line.

“Reg...” started Joi.

Seabolt was beaming his broken dignity across a wide pond that fell in the center of the park. Joi noticed his expression change and she followed his gaze across the water to a slim man in brown slacks and a striped shirt. The man was smoking a pipe and was watching them.

“HEY!” shouted Seabolt and he shot up from the bench to bolt the circumference of the pond toward the stranger. Joi rushed after him and as they neared the onlooker a little boy with a remote-controlled boat crested the slope behind him. 

“Reg, wait! What are you doing? It’s just some guy and his kid.”

“I thou… I thought he was looking over at us. He looked like he was staring… Like he’d been staring.”

“Reg, go back to the house. You need to get back to the house right now, okay. Just go.”

Like a rebuked child, Seabolt folded and started to head in the direction of the Chislom house. As he sauntered off, he paused to turn slightly and said, “They are watching us, Joi. They’re in the van. Just connect.”

Joi did not immediately walk back to the Chislom house. The uncomfortable exchange with Seabolt put her on edge and she walked to Milford’s for a vanilla milkshake. Passing pleasantries with Berta, she found it hard to believe how Seabolt could consider her a Russian spy. What if he becomes completely unhinged? she thought. Joi suddenly became concerned that perhaps PSIONICA was to blame for Seabolt’s instability. Maybe, for some, the compound caused an increasing state of paranoia. Perhaps Seabolt’s mania was in her future. She contemplated over Reginald Seabolt and all of the people that she had met in her life like him and began to relax. In all likelihood, his current condition was the result of a very insufficient person dealing with being a central part in what the annals of time will define as the most consequential discovery in human history. All things considered, Seabolt was probably the worst candidate to receive the PSIONICA compound. But that could not be helped now.

When she left the diner, Joi passed the large construction zone on her way back to Chislom’s house. A much smaller collection of work vehicles remained. Most of the construction crew had packed up their equipment and had gone home to their dinners and easy chairs. Along with a few work trucks that remained was one lone van. She supposed it had been there earlier, but with the larger assemblage of work vehicles, it did not stand out. Now it seemed to be positioned a little too far from the construction site. With this more singled-out stance, she could see how an unreasonably suspicious imagination could easily place a team of surveillance operators inside. As she walked up the steps of Chislom’s house, she thought of what Seabolt said – “… Just connect.”

“Just connect…” she said under her breath. “Conley!”

Chislom quickly emerged from the kitchen, his hands in soapy dish gloves held up like a surgeon. “What, child, what?”

“Do we have a dog leash?”

“My dear, we do not have a dog.”

“No. I want to take Whistle out for a walk.”

“Whistle is not our dog; he belongs to the Turners next door.”

“Yes, well I don’t think Whistle knows that and he’s probably sitting by your back door right now. I need to use him for a moment.”

Chislom rifled through a nearby closet and produced a piece of rope. “How did it go with Reginald and what’s this all about?”

Joi took the rope and said, “I’ll tell you later and this is probably nothing, Conley.” 

“Now, don’t you bring that dog through mama’s house, girl. You walk around.”

Joi and a very-pleased-with-all-of-the-sudden-attention Whistle emerged from the side of Chislom’s residence, approached the sidewalk and headed toward the expansive construction site. The van was still parked in its previous position. This time, there were no other service vehicles in the vicinity, just a few dump trucks that were parked within the chain-link fence enclosing the site itself. The van was parked along the curb outside of the fence. Joi studied the white nondescript vehicle as she and Whistle meandered toward it. She looked back at Chislom’s statuesque home and noticed that the van happened to benefit from a direct line of sight to the residence. 

“Just connect…” she murmured. 

When Seabolt said it as he was leaving the park, Joi thought he said “disconnect.” When she put together that he said “just connect,” it came to her at once what he intended for her to do. Seabolt knew that her psycho-psionic ability worked similarly to his. They both had to establish a link with another person’s mind – a one-way telepathic connection where Joi could manipulate emotions and Seabolt could relay mental imagery. This connection offered a unique ability in and of itself. It was what Joi had defined as her sixth sense during the first days of her trip to Savannah, when she would sit on her bench and experience the certainty of another human mind near her. 

Joi walked alongside the van and Whistle, like a willing and fully versed co-conspirator, paused his trot and sniffed for a place to void his bladder. Visually, there was nothing in her proximity to the van that would warrant suspicion – just a young lady walking a dog. As she expected, no one was seated behind the wheel or in the passenger seat. She stepped closer to the large flat side of the vehicle and closed her eyes, reaching out with her gift.

At once, she felt the unmistakable link to two minds hidden within.