“When will it develop in them?”
The man named Royer asked his question a second time. It was directed to Dr. Conley Chislom, who hung his head in a farcical, over-wrought display of misery. His blank stare into the point where the floor met the wall perfectly matched his tousled white hair, both completing his appearance of a man who had not seen sanity for years.
Dr. Joi Hashimoto, also detained, was seated beside Chislom at a table in a holding room and was compelled to break the great quiet, suppling some response, some answer to the government man.
They had met Royer right after he and his men delivered them to the vacant Atlanta office building – when he told them that he would not lie to them, that the building was just a stopgap where they could be interviewed until a flight to New York could be arranged, that at least five children had been injected with their compound, that the two of them were facing an untold expanse of trouble, and that Reginald Seabolt was dead.
Joi and Chislom had been led by a collection of well-ordered men through the building’s unadorned interiors into a large room on the third floor. They were seated at a long wooden table for a promised interview that was shaping up to be more like an interrogation. Building materials and buckets still sat in the corner, and the room bore the new smell of recent construction. Royer’s apparent second-in-command, a striking man with curly blond hair and icy blue eyes named Jason Cohen, gave a curt, unconvincing apology for their improv venue. He assured them that the location was most suited for the protection of the clandestine issue at hand.
Like Jason, all the crisp men under Royer’s charge seemed to sparkle with higher intelligence. Including Royer, Joi had counted nine of them since the morning’s first encounter when they were impelled into their company. They were diversely dressed, wearing everything from suits to striped mod shirts and trousers, seemingly fresh from a round at the East Lake golf course. Their too-specific and fashionable attire had an uncanny deliberative quality. All of them were armed, with body-worn weapons now conspicuously displayed within the confines of the building.
At first, Joi assumed them to be agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. It had been just under 24 hours since her discovery that Chislom’s home was being watched by a nondescript van parked down the street. Despite the throes of his apparent breakdown and the advance of alcoholism, Seabolt had been right, but Joi had known better than to place Russian agents inside the surveillance van; that had been Seabolt’s overblown paranoia at work. Out of concern for Chislom’s predictable irrationality at the news, she had kept her finding to herself, distressing over what to do next – then the choice was made for her.
Earlier that morning, Joi had awoken to Chislom’s loud calls and violent pounding at her bedroom door. As his baritone hysterics hastened down the stairs, she heard him yelling something about Seabolt burning everything and to hurry. When she caught up to the ranting man in the basement laboratory, she staggered at the loss before her.
All that was left of their earnest research was now a wet smoldering heap in the center of the room. This included the whole of Joi’s books on brain physiology, a year’s worth of toilsome analysis she had organized, and the broad chemistry-related groundwork completed by Chislom and Seabolt regarding PSIONICA. Most vexing was the loss of what represented the complete store of the compound itself. The locked door to the cabinet that had been PSIONICA’s home was opened and emptied. Bottles and broken glass lay scattered about the ruined room. Partially burned books, documents, and notebooks continued to churn out an acrid smoke that bled out the meager windows near the ceiling of a far wall. Chislom had been able to put out the blaze without having to alert the fire department, but he was certain that a neighbor’s concern would send them anyway.
They stood transfixed, as their eyes beheld the annihilation of what was the most amazing discovery in human history.
“Why? Why did he do this?” Chislom breathed out, his face flush with emotion.
Joi asked, “Where is he now?"
Suddenly, a reverberating slam was heard upstairs, followed by the muffled and indistinct calls of what sounded like men – many men. Chislom turned, scanned the room and bolted toward a tipped-over shelf, grabbing three small notebooks that managed to go unmolested by the destruction of the lab. These were his own reflections on placing his consciousness within inanimate objects and his written observations of how the late Dr. William Gaston’s theory of binary psychogenic emergence harmonized with the twin psionic powers that manifested in Conley Chislom, Joi Hashimoto, and Reginald Seabolt. The spent man looked pained as he tossed the precious accounts into dying embers, quickly reviving them to consume the paper.
They stared into the panic written on each other’s faces, and with their eyes locked on to each other, Joi called, “Down here! We’re down here!”
But the several men who carefully poured into the room were not Chislom’s neighbors, they were not firemen, and they were not any of the construction laborers working down the street. Joi knew immediately that the armed men before her were there for the compound.
Earlier, Joi had asked one of Royer’s men if they were the FBI. He responded that the Federal Bureau of Investigation was no longer involved – a strange answer and one that had confused her. Now, as she and Chislom sat secured at their interim destination within the empty room at the hollow office building, Royer offered more details to her query.
“The FBI did start this party,” he said, “but because of my whitewashing, they probably no longer know you exist. It’s actually pretty funny. Somebody told them you were mixing up hallucinogenic tinder for hippies.”
As he talked, Joi was reminded of all the stereotypical depictions of the devil. Dark conscious eyes paired with dense black eyebrows, a tawny complexion, and a toothy smile that relayed that specific and effectual type of confidence of someone in the know.
“Dr. Chislom, you could probably work out that the tip came from the company you and Mr. Seabolt walked out on – and, yes, the FBI did place listening devices in your house. All of that is water under the bridge, my friend. It seems you weren’t getting into the LSD business at all.”
Chislom’s face was flush from a buried torrent his blank stare into the far wall could not hide.
Royer continued, stating that he was the assigned principal of a government-sponsored action they could thank only themselves for bringing into existence. He explained that corners of the highest echelon of the country handpicked a special think tank to address the “Georgia incident” right after the FBI’s surveillance stumbled upon it. These were minds that dealt with data concerning thermonuclear war scenarios, economic fallout, and a variety of long-range crisis plans to maintain social order.
“The name of the think tank is Brandywine. We do not have a handy little acronym,” chided Royer, “but the joke was made that our action should be called the Directorate of Emerging Adverse Liabilities – otherwise referred to as, D.E.A.L. You see, that’s essentially what we’re doing here; dealing with your discovery so that it will not wreck civilization. You don’t need me to tell you, Dr. Chislom, you’ve got the greatest game changer the world has ever known. My overseers are certain that just the mere knowledge of psi-powered potential would create a variety of destabilizing events across the globe, outside our country and within. That’s why our first order of business is absolute containment – even from the larger scope of our own government.”
Royer looked down at Chislom, focusing on him, leaning into him.
“Yes, we know exactly where you got started. That particular mess – I guarantee you – is going to bite this country in the ass. All the CIA’s shit is bound to bite us in the ass. That loose-lipped, lumbering Mickey Mouse house is another good reason for the extreme secrecy. But don’t be fooled – you both should know that I could cry and have every marshal entity within this country running blindly to my crib if need be. Even though they didn’t know exactly why, I had every cop in Atlanta looking for Mr. Seabolt.”
Joi looked down from Royer, past the shapeless designs within the wood grain of the tabletop. In it, she saw the timorous face of Seabolt, the pitiful man she had known for just over a year, and her eyes began to fill with tears. She thought about his sad downward spiral and the shocking events Royer shared right after their arrival – events that resulted in the tragedy of his death; death at the hands of Royer and his men.
Around 8:30 that morning, Royer’s posted surveillance had spotted Seabolt emerging from Chislom’s house with a suitcase and leather satchel. He walked two blocks south to the Druid Hill Children’s Home playground where he found Margaret Davies, a pre-senilic caregiver employed by the facility. At the time, she was watching over the home’s 6- to 7-year-old dependents, about 9 children total. Seabolt convinced Davies that he was a public health worker there to administer the children’s second vaccination against the poliovirus; a conspicuous falsity to anyone other than the strongly impressionable Davies. He had successfully “inoculated” five children before Royer’s team had reacted to this extremely odd behavior and precipitated an intervention, unveiling, once and for all, their covert observations to the unstable Seabolt. He was able to get away, but was quickly found at a bus terminal attempting to leave town. And that is where it happened – where they had to put him down. According to Royer, the only item on his person was a suitcase. The leather satchel suspected to contain whatever PSIONICA compound he had left was nowhere to be found.
Royer continued with his questioning, “Our focus now has to be on the children – and protecting everyone who comes into contact with them. Please… When will it develop in them?”
Royer lingered on Chislom, his red-faced seething outrage had morphed into a more ashen white of sickly remorse. Joi could see the fault lines in the man begin to widen.
“We’re not sure – possibly immediately,” Joi jumped in.
Upon finally hearing her timid voice, Royer spiritedly turned his attentions from the deflated Chislom, his sophisticated game of needling the soft spot cheated. He did not seem to want his answers from her – not yet.
“Okay, Dr. Hashimoto…,” Royer said, seeming to acquiesce to her tacit request to relent. “You don’t know why he did it, do you?” he asked, warming with a different question as he repositioned along the table’s edge nearer to her.
“Of course not. He had never mentioned anything indicating that he was planning that! You’ve overheard a lot of conversations at Dr. Chislom’s home, did you get any sense that he was going to inject it into children?”
Joi punctuated her assertiveness by looking Royer directly in his dark eyes, but something within his return gaze instantly broke her confidence and chilled her to the bone. She did not know what she saw – perhaps an eager willingness to dispatch Reginald Seabolt that he could not hide. She looked back down, feeling a heavy existential menace that suddenly radiated from the government man now that she had engaged him.
She could not let go of the growing concern that she and Chislom were not safe in the custody of Royer and his men. She suddenly felt helpless, with no way to run from her present circumstance, to divorce herself from the scandalous compound that was, for all she knew, forever alloyed to her mind. She felt claustrophobic, struck with the realization that she was trapped, unable to ever return to the life she had prior to last summer when she met the buffoonish old man and his stilted young associate. She would never see her friends in Chicago. She would never see her family in Hawaii. In the end, these men would kill her, and she was slowly becoming ever more certain of it. What could she do?
“Dr. Hashimoto,” warmed Royer, “This morning’s event with the unfortunate Mr. Seabolt has certainly cast a low timbre on this exchange. But I hope you can respect that I represent this nation’s endeavor to mitigate, not only this world-changing discovery, but also what horror Mr. Seabolt chose to do with it. Now, I don’t know if you are recognizing how transparent I have been regarding myself and, quite frankly, Brandywine. I told you a great deal that I could have strategically held on to. I am honest with you because I want honesty in return - I believe in its power. I’m going to tell you what we know from our transcripts, because it’s not as much as you’d think and we need your help.”
Joi offered an almost imperceptible nod and saw the man named Jason’s subtle discomfort with his superior’s candidness. Despite Royer’s lighter touch and sincerity, her fear of him remained unmoved. Chislom, almost disregarded now, kept staring down his empty corner of the room.
Royer continued. “The children are here. They’re in another room and are presently unconscious from about 20 mL of Lobrubital.” He glanced at Jason for confirmation, and it was given with simply a look. “We’re going to have to rouse them soon, and we need to know what to start to expect. You say that the effects of the compound could be immediate. Our transcripts from the surveillance seem to indicate – and it’s not a complete picture – that this drug gave you a pair of psychic powers. Mr. Seabolt could incinerate objects with his thoughts – this we saw. As I am to understand it, he was also some type of telepath. Dr. Hashimoto, you seem to be able to vibrate objects with your thoughts and, from what we’ve pieced together in the transcripts, you can calm people with your own type of telepathy; that’s two abilities. Our Dr. Chislom, here, is a bit of an enigma. We’re not sure what it is he can do, but it’s rather obvious that he himself took the drug. Can you refine any of this for me? Quickly?”
Joi suddenly was aware of Jason’s heightened attention near the door, waiting for her to offer clarity miracles their surveillance had only vaguely alluded to. She was certain there were other men pressing closer around the corner of the doorway, just out of view. They were there with Uzis in hand no doubt, poised to rush the room to kill them if necessary. She could feel the room’s anticipation.
She breathed in, closed her eyes for a half second, and relayed, “We refer to them as psionic abilities. We suspect that within the materialization of such phenomena, there exists a binary field of external control, or sway, or whatever.” She found her voice mousey and small.
A thin man in a brown suit emerged from his hidden place just outside the room. “Sir, I can get the recorder if…”
Royer held up a hand and said, “It’s okay, Gus. They’ll be time for that later. We’re just talking.”
Gus returned to his place just outside the room, but with a new angle so as to watch Joi as she spoke. Beside her, Joi thought she felt a broadening tension from Chislom. She could not help feeling that she was somehow betraying him, but she continued. “One field of control seems to extend to the direct manipulation of the tangible… world. It all seems to be various expressions of mind-over-matter playing itself out in unique ways. At least, that’s how it seems to be in each of us.”
Joi felt as though her very voice somehow stilled the air in the room, having its own power to leave the enrapt and attentive faces of Royer and his men frozen in time.
“And the other?” probed Royer.
“It’s more difficult to describe, but the other brings about varied control over what I can only explain as the ethereal dominion of our conscious self.”
“And it’s from that side that you can, let’s say, make Jason over there feel more sedate?”
Royer turned his head, placed the back of his forefinger over his lips and said, “Jason?”
The handsome man stepped from the doorway, glared at Joi and addressed Royer. “With all respect, I’m already pretty calm despite what I witnessed this morning.”
“That’s fair, Jason,” said Royer as he switched his gaze to Joi.
“Did Reg hurt someone… At the bus station? You never said,” she asked.
“Aside from the five children he injected with your drug, yes. He sent an Atlanta police officer to the hospital – with a burned up arm.”
“With no damn arm left!” barked Jason.
“Easy. I’ll handle that,” said Royer to the man.
Royer looked back at Joi, purposefully applying the room’s silence to her. When he did speak, he beamed the sounds of his voice toward the childish man Joi shared the table with.
“Truth? I wanted the surveillance to continue until we had a better lock on all the different mind tricks you three were playing – particularly you, Dr. Chislom. Unfortunately, Mr. Seabolt lost his mind and we had to reac...”
One of the agents attired more for a day of golf than the others bolted into the room. With profound anxiety he cried, “It’s the black boy, the one in the wheelchair. There’s something wrong.”
Royer shot up and told Gus to “stay with them.” Jason followed and they briskly disappeared from the room in a rush. Joi could see other men outside the room hurrying past the doorway to follow, but one or two stayed behind. Gus’s attentions were largely directed down the corridor toward the commotion, and he stood just outside the threshold of the room.
The golfer had mentioned trouble with the black boy in the wheelchair. Joi knew exactly who he was referring to. She had often seen him among the children during walks by the orphanage’s grounds. Benny was his name, and it had been quite clear that he suffered from a neurodevelopmental disability, one that impaired both his motor skills as well as his intellect.
My God, she thought, had Reg injected the compound into him?
She glanced over at Chislom, who seemed to have emerged from his irate exile and was a staring at her.
“Conley,” she whispered as she moved in close, wrapping her arms around his shoulders in a consolatory gesture for Gus at the door, who stole a look at them, but only briefly. Given Chislom’s emotional state since their detainment, Joi hoped the image of her tightly locked by his brooding form looked completely natural. She was right. Gus remained far more interested in the excitement that was taking place down the hall.
“Conley! Listen, I have real concerns about these people. I think they are very scared of us and I’m not sure what they’re going to do about it.”
“How dare they…,” mumbled Chislom. He returned his stare to the corner of the room, seemingly once again oblivious to Joi and what was said to him.
“Conley, Conley! You have to snap out of it. They don’t know what you can do, and I don’t think they have a full understanding of exactly what I can do. I think we need to downplay…”
“They’re going to regret talking to me that way. I fought for this damned country!”
“Conley, keep your voice down.”
“They’re not going to make me answer for what that boy did… Talk to me like some kind of common criminal.” With that, Chislom jerked his face toward Joi and she saw an unreachable and inconsolable rage reflected there. “I don’t have to be here for this!”
Joi whirled around to the voice and saw Jason standing at the doorway.
“Can you come with me, please?”
She carefully stood and walked out of the room, noticing another man that had returned with Jason whisper earnestly to Gus and the others that had remained posted at the door. She stole a glance back at Chislom and saw that he returned to his fixed glower into the unoccupied corner of the room, bitter tears now streaming down his face.
As she walked with Jason, her fears began to peak and she imagined the men left with Chislom were, at that very moment, producing silenced handguns, shooting down on Conley Chislom as he sat bent over at the table. She looked at the back of Jason as he led her down the hallway. She wondered if he was guiding her to her own bullet-riddled euthanasia.
She followed her escort to another third-floor room at the far end of the symmetrically designed building. It was a mirror of the room she just left. When she entered, she saw two large mattresses near its center with the five children horizontally dispersed on them. All seemed to be asleep. One of the children was Benny, with his wheelchair parked at hand. Due to the handguns drawn and lowly directed at him, he was clearly the cause for the disruption.
Royer stepped forward, “Dr. Hashimoto. Our nurse says that he just had a seizure. I need for you to confirm this.”
Everyone stared at Joi. Saliva was dripping from the child’s gaping mouth and emotionless tears from his partially open eyes. He did not appear to be conscious. Joi suddenly heard the voice of a woman.
“Dr. Hashimoto, he clearly had a seizure, but we need to know if it is natural to him or if it is a side effect of your compound.”
Joi was taken aback by the woman’s unexpected British accent. She was clearly their nurse; fair-skinned, around 30, professionally dressed, with bright red hair. Most noticeable was her distraught and intense expression. An expression of someone very likely steeling themselves for the prospect of armed men filling a seven-year-old disabled child with lead propelled at dire velocity.
“You… You gave them lobrubital?” said Joi to the nurse.
“20 mL each,” answered the ash-white woman.
“That’s a methyl-barbiturate, right? I believe that is a proconvulsant… I mean, if he is prone to seizures….” Joi looked at Royer. “It’s not from the compound. But, Conley would know for sure… He’s a chemist.”
Royer rebuked the nurse with a look that the whole room felt and stepped closer to Joi. “I think I would rather ask you.”
The guns in the room slowly began disappearing into men’s jackets and trousers and the tension slackened.
Gus, in his brown suit, tentatively stepped into the room and, for Joi, everything changed.
“Sir, it’s Dr. Chislom. There something wrong with him. He’s out cold… We can’t even rouse him.”
It was at that moment that Joi realized she was completely alone.
It was 2 AM when they touched down at a very dark and unpopulated airfield in upstate New York. Joi awoke from a turbulent, semi-conscious sleep, greatly surprised that it had managed to find her in the first place.
They had come to the decision to temporarily house the comatose Chislom at a small hospital south of Atlanta – at least that is what Jason Cohen told her. Royer and his men did not seem suspicious of Chislom’s sudden inert condition, confirming that they were oblivious to the idea of him self-jettisoning his immaterial self from their custody. From Royer’s perspective, Chislom’s outlandish display of deep distress, either at the news of Seabolt’s death, having his house bugged, or being detained like a criminal, made sense of his apparent malady and certainly fit the depiction of a milksop who could not handle the turn his life took. Joi could see that Royer thought little of the man. She feared they would euthanize him at the earliest opportunity and could not free her mind from the horror of what would happen to him if they did. Wherever Chislom had banished himself to – he would suddenly be no more in a single instant. She wondered if he even knew where his body was, if he had attempted to follow it as they drove it away. She imagined him possessing scattered bits of trash along the roadside and in ditches, desperately trying to keep pace, or if his body-deprived spirit was, by this point, beginning to break apart like fog to an ascending sun; an invisible vapor yielding to oblivion.
Joi hoped Chislom knew that she lied for him. That before they left the Atlanta office building, as they scrambled over his unresponsive form, from some inanimate object he happened to possess nearby, he had overheard Royer grill her over what power the compound gave him. And her intrepid lie, her understating deception that his first power was mild telekinesis and his second power was a similar thought transference like Seabolt’s. She hoped that Chislom knew she had done this for him – but she wished he knew how Royer’s apparent acceptance of her lie made her feel like a wretch.
A few rows back, Joi saw two of the children awake and looking out the window of the plane – a thin white boy, Marc Dally, and a giggling black girl, Rita Sturgis. Though it was mostly dark outside, they were spellbound by the new and exciting experience of flying. Joi was touched by the innocence of the scene; But only momentarily, as she noticed a very awake agent sitting just behind them, surveying them closely. His striking absence of warmth at the endearing sight of the children made her blood run cold and brought her tensions back into focus.
The disabled boy, Benny Maxwell, and the twins, Kathy and Jack Pettis, remained asleep in rows beyond Rita and Marc. The dozing flinty faces of the government agents peppered the remaining seats. Joi was told that because of the sensitive arrangements required in housing Chislom’s delicate and sudden infirmity, Royer would remain behind, but would be along on a later flight.
Sitting alongside Joi for the flight was Royer’s fair-skinned and fire-haired nurse, who had introduced herself as Barbara. She confided to Joi that, so far, there had been no sign of psionic anomaly with any of the children and that they had been vigilantly watching for it. Barbara shared what little background information the agents had been able to collect from the Druid Hill Children’s Home. Benny was abandoned as an infant, probably because of his condition. Marc and Rita’s parents either died or were jailed for drug-related crimes, all tales one would expect to hear regarding the unfortunate wards of an orphanage. But it was the terrible history of the Pettis twins that had affected her the most. When they were still toddlers, their parents had been struck by lightning while hiking in the North Georgia mountains, and their only living relative, their paternal grandmother, had been given custody of them. The two had been living with their grandmother for a year when she suffered a stroke while placing a box of mason jars in small shed behind her home. Unable to move from her debilitated condition, the winter evening fell and she froze to death. The desperate and pitiful scene was discovered two days later by a neighbor.
It was the detail of the children’s father, James Pettis – promising associate at an equally promising law firm in Tucker – that haunted Joi. It became toxic in her mind. How unsafe this world truly is. See what became of an orderly man and his entire all-American family, engulfed by the calamity that perchances us all. How fitting that the next chapter in the Pettis story was that the children were bizarrely victimized by a madman and possibly neutralized by the cold authority of the state. She felt as if she were now a first-hand bystander to the final act of their tragedy.
“What will become of them?”
“That’s not your concern, Dr. Hashimoto,” replied an eavesdropping Jason, who was sitting nearby. “I’m sure they’ll do everything they can for them,” he said.
Joi looked over at the vexation written on Barbara’s face.
“They will do everything they can,” repeated Jason, now directing his words to the nurse.
“You’ll be fine, Joi,” said Barbara.
Joi sat motionless, feeling the plane wheeling to whatever position was required to offload the passengers. Barbara stared ahead and Jason began to straighten in his seat.
“You’re scared of me,” said Joi, “but you’re really scared of them, aren’t you?”
Jason looked over into Joi’s dark brown eyes.
“Yes. Because I don’t know if this will be something they can control. Do you?”
She deeply wanted to have a response, but no words were there. Because he was right. He was absolutely right.
At such an hour, the tarmac’s vast shadows stretched into pockets of infinity between the ineffectual lights that surrounded the airfield. The smell of rain was thick in the air. Bursts of wind whipped their clothing and hair, and the first drops of an assured and prolonged deluge prickled Joi’s skin.
They began walking in a somber column from the plane to waiting cars. The mood had changed a bit and Joi could tell that the children were becoming scared; she could hear Rita begin to whimper softly somewhere behind her. Jack Pettis, still deep asleep and nestled securely in her arms, was the only child not stimulated to extreme wakefulness by the unfamiliar company and the exotic experience of the plane ride. She had picked up the sleeping child while two of the agents deliberated over whether the airfield had a wheelchair on hand at the uncommon hour.
She walked with her head tilted down, unconsciously holding Jack Pettis too tight and staring ahead at the silhouettes of new and unfamiliar agents. They were waiting by the opened doors and lit interiors of several sedans. Strangely, the complete blanket of brilliant illumination that shined on the men and the darkened airfield around them did not immediately surprise her. Rather, it was the cries from Barbara and the children, the loud calls to action by Jason and some of the men behind her that startled her. She turned around and saw that it was little Kathy Pettis. It was instantly clear that PSIONICA’s effect had found her.
End of Chapter Four