Chapter 11

 

For the first time in days, Lucas truly slept.  Everything from Chicago to Kurdistan came down on him at once.

Passing through a dream, he recollected the cellar door.  He felt as if he was enveloped, softly yet snugly, warmly and securely.  The sense was beyond articulation, but he could grasp that he was beneath the cellar door.  And above it, he could sense more than the chapel this time.  He could sense Chicago, the library where he had met Harold, the skyscraper where he had met Sera, the camp where the retired-Professor Adrian Finn had taken his own life.  He could feel the breeze of Stockholm at night, and the artificially-warmed air of the UN’s main office.  Even more, he could feel the searing sunshine of Iraq at midday, and the bite of the sand he and Rashid had kicked into the air the following night.

These memories felt like scenery he had left behind, but which were still where he had left them.  The world above the cellar door—above him—continued, though it did not affect him.  No, it wasn’t him; that was someone else.  Immediately above him, above the door, was another.  A gentle impression, it took time to recognize it was there.  When he sensed this additional presence, someone seemingly other than himself, he began to realize he was dreaming.

Someone stood above him on the cellar door, holding it down.  The pressure of pressing himself against the door’s underside and that of whoever this was standing on its topside seemed to cause the wood to vibrate.  He considered the presence again, and at last realized he himself was standing on the cellar door.  Yet how could that be?  He was below the door, he knew; he had no purchase in that Lucas above himself, nowhere to call home within the young man standing upon the cellar door.  That could not be him, he reasoned.

That’s right, he could certainly not be the one standing upon the door.  No, he had bubbled up from below, and now he was bobbing against the cellar door, waiting for it to open.  Yet he could not recall what was below.  Turning his attention from above, he looked below for himself.

Pure obscurity of no description lay beneath him.  Yet in the miasma he could make out something approaching.  People—two, adrift.  Their heads lifted, blank eyes and plastered smiles aimed at him.  They were the faces of Adrian Finn, who appeared inhumanly giddy; and the Seraphina from the skyscraper in Chicago, statuesque, painted over with kitschy excuses for emotion.  They hovered like static, then, all at once, their eyes on him, they arose, rushing up to him like animals.

The moment the three of them collided, Lucas awoke.  He opened his eyes, staring at the ceiling of his new quarters on Argo.

Rolling over, he switched off the alarm blaring next to his head—another item he thought he had left in Chicago.  Holding the blocky alarm beneath his limp palm, he found Sera.  She was staring at him with the same expression as ever—that look of uncertainty, nothing like his dream.

“Morning,” he grumbled, rubbing the sleep from his eyes.

"Good morning,” she replied, appearing to brighten from his greeting.

***

A number of items had been taken from his previous home above the library, among them his old clothes.  Preferring them over the Argo uniform he had been left, Lucas also grabbed a few of the toiletries he had been given, then made his way down the hall to the showers.

A few people were still there, preparing for their day.  By Argo’s standards, it seemed, most military personnel should have already been at their posts.  These were likely stragglers, similar to Lucas, under no pressing obligations.

Preparing to enter one of the shower cubicles, he could feel people’s eyes on him, though in what spirit he couldn’t guess.  He decided to ignore them and focus on getting ready—after all, this was his first day on Argo, and the first day of his training.

The evening before, Logan—or, more likely, one of his poor lackeys—had shoved a folded paper in the jamb of Lucas’ door.  There was a time and location, a note to “prepare for training,” and a hasty signature which looked like it could feasibly be read as Logan Walker.

Having locked up his quarters, Lucas set out.  The note had indicated he should meet Logan on the northern side of the island.  He still remembered the general location of his lab from the day before; however, he soon realized Argo was not symmetrical, despite its heptagrammatic shape, and that mirroring to the west side the route he would have taken on the east would not work.

Eventually he found his way to a screen embedded in the wall of one of the halls he had passed several times already.  He compared his note with the map on the screen, panning in to see specific sections in greater detail, as Lieutenant Webber had done yesterday.

He found Argo as a whole was organized into eight general sectors—seven equidistant piers.  Pier 1, pointing north, was dedicated to research and development, as well as miscellaneous scientific pursuits.  Pier 2 was for storage and testing grounds.  Pier 3 was for air-traffic.  Pier 4 was for hydroponics and agriculture, experimental and practical.  Pier 5 contained secondary power generators, primary generators being beneath the central terminal, cooled by the sea.  Pier 6 was another dedicated loading-and-offloading zone, specifically for larger supply boats.  And Pier 7, where Lucas stood, was personnel housing and common areas.  Nestled at the crux of these seven piers was the central terminal, administration and command—where Major-General Toth was likely already at work.

Lucas received a tap on the shoulder, calling him from his hopes of never meeting Toth again.  He turned to find Rashid.

“Good morning,” Lucas said.  “Uh, are you on your way to Logan’s, too?”

Rashid lifted a folded piece of paper of his own.  “I am.”

With a relieved grin, Lucas said, “That’s perfect.  I was a little lost, but if you happen to know the way—”

“You can find the way,” Rashid said.  He then waited quietly, presumably for Lucas to continue navigating.  Slightly taken aback, Lucas turned back to the map.

“Don’t take it personally,” Sera said from his other side.  “He’s not scolding you.  He knows you can take care of yourself.  In a place like this, you’ll have to.”

After quiet consideration, Lucas decided to take up the challenge.  He worked out a route to Logan’s new lab, then led the way.

They walked to the central terminal’s northern edge, then took a small bus up Pier 1, arriving at a compound of tightly clustered buildings.  They entered one of the largest, which bore the serial number written on both their notes.

Occupying most of the inside were what Lucas immediately recognized as the remains of the Q from Chicago.  Clearing his throat, he tried not to look.  Instead, they found Aguirre, whose attention was stapled to a tablet computer in the crook of his arm; he quickly pointed them to a room, telling them to suit up and meet Logan in the lab.

In their apparent dressing room two men in white coats and two containers awaited them.  One man asked for Lucas, sitting him down, asking him to roll up his sleeve to draw blood.  The other took a saliva sample with a cotton swab.  The two doctors then departed, leaving Lucas and Rashid to change.

Each container was marked with their call sign.  Inside were their respective Talos-skins.  They quickly dressed, having no uniforms to wear over their lithe armor.  With their helmets hanging by a clip from their napes, they proceeded out to the main laboratory.  Wandering amid several men and women in white coats, they earned strange looks, until they spotted Logan, who waved them over.

“Did you stop for breakfast?” Logan said, pecking swiftly at a laptop.

Lucas decided to ignore him, despite his empty stomach.  “We got held up.  It’s a big island.”

“Yes, yes,” Logan said.  He pointed his pen at a couple of chairs.  “Sit…  I’m pleased to see you both found your notes…”

Resisting a scowl, Lucas wondered if Rashid was equally as irked at Logan’s glibness.  He took a look around the busy lab.

“You said we were going to train today,” Lucas replied, scanning over numerous desks and computers, manned by Argo’s science team.  “But this doesn’t seem like a great place to…”

As if Lucas had arrived only then, Logan said, “No, of course, no combat training.  Not right now.  Actually, I was hoping to begin with a little orientation before throwing you into the thick of things.”  Looking at Rashid, he added, “This part won’t directly involve you, but feel free to chime in if you have anything to say.”  Rashid did not respond, and Logan held back a sigh.  “Which I’m sure you will…  Anyway…”

Circling behind Lucas, who had found a seat, Logan unclipped the helmet from his neck.  He carried it to his laptop, carefully prying open a panel on the back of the helmet.  He then plugged some cables in under the panel, connecting to the laptop before handing it back to Lucas.  “Put that on, please,” he said, returning to his computer.

Slipping the helmet on, Lucas listened to the hiss of pressurization as the HUD snapped on.  An indistinguishably real display of his surroundings spread before his eyes, overlaid with a frame and reticle as the Talos-skin gathered data on its immediate surroundings.

Logan sat in front of Lucas, taking a closer look at the visor, then leaned back.

“On our last mission, I attempted to explain to you one vital fact,” he said to his captive audience, “I believe I failed to convey it effectively, however, and I’d like to try again.”

“What do you have in mind?” Lucas said, his voice faintly echoing in his helmet.

“I didn’t create the Talos-skin to make combat against the Q possible,” Logan said.  “In a way, that was already in hand.  Psychics like yourself and Rashid can use your abilities in devastating ways without body armor.  My primary objective for the Talos-skin was to allow the wearer to fully utilize those abilities without fear of physical harm.  Combat with the Q is not like conventional warfare—but you know that.”

Returning to his laptop, Logan added, “I want you to think back to the Q in Chicago.  Go ahead and close your eyes.  Just think of the experience.”

“All right,” Lucas said.  As Logan had asked, he closed his eyes and recollected the night the Q attacked Chicago.  He could still hear the screams when the embassy collapsed, their own voices contested by the Q’s vibrato.  Then they were swallowed by dust, and the street caved into the sewer, separating him from Harold.

“Take a deep breath,” Logan advised in a surprisingly kind tone.  “Your heart-rate is rising a little.  All you need to do is remember the moment you fought the Q, what it was like when it attacked you, what it felt like to fight back…”

Behind his eyelids, Lucas could see that same red light that had encompassed him on the street that night—he was trapped, he and Sera both.  He tried not to think about the church; the harder he tried, however, the more difficult it became.  He thought of how the Q had warped their surroundings, folding them in impossible patterns.  He then envisioned himself and Sera lifting that red light, turning it on the Q.

“You can open your eyes now.”

Returning to the lab, Lucas found a square display floating in his field of vision.  It contained a multi-colored, rippling image of red, orange, yellow, and green in two symmetrical blooms.

“What am I looking at?” Lucas asked.

“That,” Logan said, “is your brain.  I just took this through your helmet’s tomography scanner.”

“A CAT scan.  You can image my brain…”

“It’s one of the Talos-skin’s several biometric monitors.  As for the scan you’re looking at, this is what your brain looked like while you were thinking of the Q in Chicago.”

Lucas’ heart pounded, and he drew a sharp breath.

“Not to worry,” Logan said, “neuroimaging is perfectly safe.”

But Lucas was already focused on the scan, as well as the girl beside it, whom only he had ever seen.  Having his brain plumbed like this had caused a fear to resurface, one which had haunted him since she had first appeared.  He wondered once again if she might be an illusion, and if such a thing could be caused by something like a tumor.

Looking unalarmed, Logan stepped back into Lucas’ view.  Seeing his rather neutral response, Lucas relaxed, though not entirely.  The thought still lingered; Sera could sense it, too.

Several new markers decorated the scan on his heads-up display, flagged by explanatory notes.  The scan panned in to an area toward the back of Lucas’ brain, near the top.

“This is your parietal lobe,” Logan said.  “Notice the lower portion of cortex.”

At first unsure what he was supposed to see, Lucas then noticed the anomaly.  The same colors swelled over his brain in concentric circles, with the darkest reds focused at the center, while the lighter yellows and greens fluttered at the edges.  But in the area to which Logan had directed his attention, the wash of colors broke, a portion severing from the whole.

“That part,” Lucas said, captivated by the odd sight, “it looks like it’s cut off from everything else.”

“This is a weaker instance of your brain state while fighting a Q,” Logan said.  “It’s a brain state we call synchronicity—which is to say, using your psychic abilities to any considerable degree.”

“When I move things, parts of my brain… shut down?”

“Not quite.  In all, your thalamus lights up like a Christmas tree, but your cerebellum diminishes in activity and your hippocampal theta waves go way down.  A few other portions of your limbic system relax, too.  But the parietal lobe seems to be the key,” Logan said.  “The lower part of your parietal lobe is responsible for mapping your surroundings, locating you as a defined object with boundaries.  It grants you proprioception, the sense that you’re distinct from the world around you.  Normally, the parietal lobe gathers sensory data from the rest of the brain.  However, when you remembered the Q from Chicago, and undoubtedly when you fought it, your parietal lobe isolated itself.  Yet it was still attempting to give you a sense of partitioned selfhood, while simultaneously attempting to locate you.  Bottom line, in synchronicity your brain is caught between losing its sense of selfhood and attempting to locate that self.”

“Is… every psychic like this?”

“Every psychic exhibits the same kind of brain activity, yes.  They only differ in degree.  But out of thousands of psychics, only three produced readings this remarkable.”

Looking past the scan, Lucas said, “I still don’t understand what this has to do with the Talos-skin.”

Pulling up a seat, Logan leaned toward Lucas.  “For anyone else, brain activity like this would result in a vague, mystical experience, feeling ‘one with the universe’—or something to that effect.  They would have little sense of where they were or where they ended, without entirely losing their borders.  But for a psychic, this has dramatically different results.”

Before Lucas could ask, Logan tapped at his laptop.  In an instant, Lucas’ visual feedback system changed; Logan, Rashid, and the lab disappeared, replaced by somewhere else entirely.  A strong wind whistled in his ears, and dark clouds dimmed the sun.  Waves of windows lay between him and the street below.  He then realized he was standing on the side of a high-rise.

A crash sounded from the foot of the building.  His field of view involuntarily shifted, and he watched in shock as a Q crawled up the glossy facade, sinking thick legs deep into the crumbling frame.  He had seen this Q before—the scorpion from the NATO recruitment ads.

The hulk lunged with its invisibly-linked legs, throwing its barbed tail straight at him.  Before Lucas could consider a countermeasure, he was moving—or, rather, the person to whom this combat data belonged was moving.  This person—a psychic—leapt to the next building over, landing on a strip of granite.  In response, the scorpion pulled its tail from where the psychic had been, swinging it again, the stinger narrowly missing its target.  The tail was tangled in the steel frame of the other building, despite the creature’s desperate tugs.  Taking advantage, the psychic jumped from their perch and landed feet-first on the scorpion’s thorax.  Lucas thought this psychic might be moving in for close combat—instead, when they landed, the Q’s hold instantly gave out, as if struck by a meteorite.  Before the scorpion and the psychic met the street, the scene ended, and Lucas returned to the lab.

His stomach reeled, and he realized he had been holding his breath.  Removing his helmet, he tried to balance himself on his seat.

“Do you get the idea?” Logan asked.

“I was on the side of a building—standing!”  Lucas put his hands on his legs, reminding himself that he had not really been dangling off the side of a skyscraper.

“That’s what I wanted to impress upon you,” Logan said, looking satisfied.  “Under any other circumstances, anything like that would be foolish.  But with the Talos-skin, you’re virtually invincible—at least within reason.  What you saw is what it looks like when a psychic leverages their own brain activity.”

“But I— I’ve never done anything like that.”

“No, you haven’t.  Like I said, that’s what the Talos-skin is for.”  Arms folded, Logan appeared pensive.  “There are a lot of questions about psychics we haven’t been able to answer yet, many of them extensions of questions we were already asking about human neurophysiology and cognitive science.  I can’t explain it entirely, but I want you to know what you’re capable of.  That’s what we’re going to focus on today.”

***

Logan led Lucas and Rashid out of the lab and to where Piers 1 and 2 converged.  Already awaiting their arrival, there stood a gruff man in a navy blue uniform, periodically checking his wristwatch with a chiseled stare.  Only a glance would tell a person that this man had spent most of his life in NATO, and that service had aged him far faster than time ever could.

“You’re late,” he declared at a volume one or two decibels louder than necessary.  He looked at Lucas and Rashid.  “I take it these are your two latest science projects.”

Extending his hand to the serviceman, Logan told Lucas and Rashid, “This is Lieutenant-Colonel Jackson, Master-at-arms over Argo’s marine contingent.”

“And chaperone of this little get-together,” Jackson added.  “Now, if you’re all ready, I say we get moving.”

“Where are we going?” Lucas asked, watching the Lieutenant-Colonel approach the pier’s edge.

Jackson climbed down a chain ladder over the edge.  When Logan and Rashid followed suit, Lucas followed them in turn.  Down several meters was a makeshift dock, consisting of a scaffold suspended by high-tension cables.  And tottering on the water was a rigid-hull patrol boat, no more than twelve meters long, manned and awaiting them.  Once everyone was securely aboard, the engine whirred up and the raft worked its way out onto the open sea.

Holding onto the side of the raft, staring out over the sea, Lucas asked Logan, “Are you going to tell me what you have in mind, or should I just guess?”

Having no need to hold on as the raft rocked under his feet, Jackson said, “Doctor Walker here wanted an opportunity to introduce you to the finer points of psychic combat.  Truth be told, we may have gotten a little too excited at the prospect of training a genuine psychic.”

“Of course the Lieutenant-Colonel’s presence is purely according to regulation,” Logan added sourly.  “Isn’t that right?”

With an unabashed laugh, Jackson said, “I wouldn’t miss seeing this up close and personal for the world!”

“Great, but…”  Lucas guessed that sighing at a superior officer would be a poor decision.  “Can either of you tell me what this ‘exercise’ is?”

The motor lulled and the raft curved to stop.  Jackson pointed out farther, nodding for Lucas to see for himself.  He could make out a dark shape ahead, beneath the water.  Looking closely, he realized the underwater shape reached as far as he could see to both the left and right.

Jackson signaled a comm officer.  “Contact command.  Tell them to raise it.”

The officer got on the radio with Argo’s command information center.  “CIC, this is Richter-one.  Requesting you raise panel thirteen—over.”

The water ahead rippled with a jolt from the dark object beneath the surface.  The water stirred, then a thick slab of metal ascended from its depths.  By appearances alone, the slab appeared dense enough to withstand high explosives.  The slab was perhaps ten meters wide, four or five thick, and it rose to a height of forty meters before stopping.

The sight left everyone but the Lieutenant-Colonel in shock.

“This is just part of Argo’s perimeter,” Jackson explained proudly, looking up at the top of the slab.  “The island is surrounded by plates just like this.  Only certain ships can cross it, mostly supply boats and the like, but nothing can get through when it’s raised.  In that case, the only way on or off the island is by air.”

Reclaiming his composure, Logan turned to Lucas.  “This is what I had planned for today.”  He aimed a finger at the slab.  “You’re going to climb this all the way to the top.”

Trying not to stammer, Lucas looked back and forth between him and the slab.  “But that thing must be over a hundred feet high!”

“Now you’re getting the picture,” Logan said.

Trying not to slump, Lucas said, “Wouldn’t it be easier to start with something else, like weapons or something?”

“You gotta learn to walk before you run, kid,” Jackson barked back over Logan.

“Yes, well,” Logan cut in, “the Lieutenant-Colonel is right.  Soldiers fire guns, pilots fly planes, sailors man ships, but psychics contribute in a way all their own.  You’ll learn a good deal before we’re through—equipment, tactics, the works—but before all that you need to master the most fundamental tool of a NATO psychic.”

Before Lucas could raise another protest, Jackson roared, “Specialist!”  Recognizing his rank, motivated by the unforgiving tone of his superior officer, Lucas shot upright.  Having gained his attention, Jackson jabbed his finger at the slab.  “Get your ass in the water and climb that wall.  While we’re still young, Weir!”

“R-right!” was all Lucas could shout.  He slipped his helmet on, as did Rashid.  From the unstable edge, they both dove into the water, swam up to the surface, then started toward the metal monolith.

The water was not nearly as cold as Lucas had expected, and though the Talos-skin surely added weight, he found it easier than ever to keep his head above the water—though it was unnecessary with the suit’s contained air system.  He guessed this was an example of the Talos-skin’s augmented strength, its smart-muscle composition contracting and expanding with his movements, multiplying whatever force he applied in proportion to his own vigor.

Arriving at the monolith’s foot, Lucas rested a hand on the convex surface.  It was startlingly taller than it appeared on the raft.

A transmission came in, playing in Lucas’ helmet—Logan.  “Oh, Lucas, please be certain to begin sometime this year, will you?”

Cycling through a number of responses, few of them appropriate, Lucas said, “I’m on it!”  He then focused and made his first attempt.

He laid his hands on the wall, telling himself this was not the first time he had grappled onto something.  As a psychic, over the years, he had found he could not only move things, but he could move himself—which was helpful whenever he needed to get away from anyone.  Putting one of his feet against the wall, he felt it stick, holding his weight along with his hands.  He lifted his other foot, then began to crawl.  Reminding himself of the fire escape he had vaulted onto less than a week ago, back in Chicago, he continued to climb.  He replayed the emotions of running from Eddy and his boys, hoping that might help him get into the right mind.

The Talos-skin lacked the ability to convey many tactile senses to its wearer, and in many cases that was a good thing, but it still swelled, among other sensory cues, to indicate external pressure—in this case, the water.  He could feel when he had entirely lifted himself from the sea, then realized he was hanging onto the slab by nothing but his palms and soles.  He made it about a meter out of the water, then fell back into the sea.  Humming, he made his second attempt, then promptly fell again.

Lifting his head out of the water, his AR display correcting for the droplets on his visor, he found Rashid already about five meters up.  He stood straight, his arms folded, watching Lucas in silence.  In such an unnatural position Rashid was like a mirage to Lucas.

Rashid’s voice came through Lucas’ comm.  “Clear your mind.  You already know how to do this, you just need to allow yourself to do it.”

Taking a deep breath, Lucas swam back to the slab.

From the bow of the raft, Logan and Jackson watched patiently.

“Doctor,” Jackson spoke up, “answer me an honest question.  Do you think Weir can actually be trained?”  Breathing through his nose, his lips thinned.  “Qasim was trained by the Kurds and experience, and Alder was trained by the Brits.  Both of them came to NATO from military backgrounds.  But Weir…  He doesn’t have a warrior’s bone in his body, does he?”

Logan drew a deep breath of his own.  “I confess, I find the idea of training such young people for this kind of combat deplorable.  Asking a child to face humanity’s greatest threat to date, and alone.”

Jackson added, “I wasn’t much older than Weir when NATO started drafting, back when we were first learning about the Q…  But I guess I gotta admit, too, there’s something completely different about giving a boy a rifle and sending him off to fight an enemy his size, on the one hand, and throwing him at an enemy that’s countered just about everything else.”

“It’s distasteful,” Logan said, “but there aren’t many options left to us.  Since psychics only started appearing after the singularities, there’s bound to be an age limitation.  The consequence is that we send very young people off to fight.”

“To fight titans,” Jackson said.

“Lucas will be a challenge,” Logan conceded, leaving on a guardrail, “but his age—as it was for Rashid and Freya—may be his greatest asset.  If nothing else, he’s eager to learn, and I’m sure he’ll learn fast.”

They turned back to Lucas, finding him not in the water, but nearly fifteen meters up the slab.  Though he was on all-fours, he had already made significant progress in only a few minutes.  Through the radio in Jackson’s hand, they listened to Rashid and Lucas as they traded ideas, all to help Lucas understand.

Having climbed about twenty meters up the slab, Lucas attempted to stand.  Peeling his hands off the slab, he felt his weight shift to his feet and knees.  Lifting his chin, his visor darkening against the sun, he looked at the world up-side down.  The sky was the below, the sea above, extending without end, and the raft appeared farther away than ever.  Closing his eyes was all he could do to keep his stomach from flipping.

Standing upright beside him, Rashid said, “Pay attention to your breath.”

“This might be obvious,” Lucas said, opening his eyes, “but I’ve never done this before.  I’m not sure how much higher I can go.”

“This is only difficult because it’s new.”

“Yeah, well, the height isn’t helping either.  I mean, if I wasn’t wearing this suit, one fall and I’d…”

“Your error,” Rashid said, “is that you’re thinking of this like climbing.”

Lucas’ first impression was that this was absurd—of course he would think of it like that, that was what he was doing.  But he listened carefully to Rashid.

“Your mind will hold you to the wall on its own,” he explained.  “You don’t need to keep telling it to.  You just need to will yourself to be where you are.”

Glancing back at him, Lucas asked, “I don’t understand.”

“Instead of thinking about climbing,” Rashid said, “try imagining yourself standing and walking.  Those are natural, you’ve done them countless times before.  You don’t need to hold on, because you’re not climbing—you’re walking.  So stand, walk.”

Lucas risked another look at the top of the slab.  Over its edge, he could see nothing but blue sky and white clouds.  He winced, his stomach rolling again.

He started by focusing on his breath, trying not to think about how he was dangling off this slab sixty feet above the water.  The longer he did this, the more his mind seemed to clear.  He considered the faint tickle at the end of his nose as the filtered atmosphere under in artificial skin filled his expanding chest, escaping from between his lips.

As if of its own accord, a train of thought came to him.  It took him back to Chicago and to Harold, to the library.  That life had ended only a few days ago, but the memories felt eons old, when all he was responsible for was currying books and dodging thugs.

From there, he was taken to his dream from the previous night.  He had been under the heel of a stranger who looked like him, beneath that cellar door, having bubbled up from that ineffable—that indescribable blank.

All at once, a new sensation rushed through him, similar to what he had felt his last night in Chicago, when he stared into the four faces of that Q.  He reopened his eyes.  Slowly lifting himself from the slab, he stood, looking at his destination in wonder.  He could see Sera up ahead, standing effortlessly at the monolith’s lip, her white summer dress rolling in the wind.  It was as if she was really there, waiting for him.  She beckoned to him, and he started to walk.

Before he realized what was happening, he reached her, took her hand, and felt her pull him up.  In an instant, Sera vanished, and he stumbled onto the wide top of the slab.  Catching himself, he stared over the edge, finding Rashid down the slab, and Logan and Jackson watching from the raft, both stunned.

Joining him at the top, Rashid said, “You mustn’t think with average limitations anymore.  Everyone has limits, yes, but ours are far beyond.  If you can imagine it, you may be able to make it happen.”

Together, both Rashid and Lucas walked to the edge, then leaned forward.  They sprinted back down the slab, a vertical forty meters, as if it were an open field.  Along the way, Lucas could feel the same rush from before.  He grinned behind his visor.  As they neared the bottom, Rashid slowed down, but Lucas ran faster.

He dove headlong into the sea, still moving from more than gravity alone—rather than sinking, he simply willed himself deeper and deeper.  Before reaching the sea-floor, he threw his feet below himself, landing upright.  Until only a moment ago this had seemed impossible, but standing at the bottom of the Ionian Sea, it all felt like second nature, like curling his fingers or moving his feet.

Through the dense sea, the sun was only a white blur, partially eclipsed by the raft.  The visor’s visual feedback system marked Rashid and the others.  He smiled at the view, reveling at how deep he had gone.

In another instant, he revisited his dream from the night before.  He recalled staring down into the unknown.  Before, it had seemed so indescribable, and even now he wondered if he might be misremembering it.  However, if he were to describe it then, he thought it might feel much like this—being entirely submerged in this sea.  Allowing his feet to leave the sea-floor, he drifted upward, caught between freefall and zero-G.  Yes, he thought, it felt just like this.

A tinny voice from his headset interrupted his reverie.  “Do you plan to join us,” Logan asked, “or have you drowned?”

Returning to reality with a laugh, Lucas said, “I’ll be right up.”

With a swoop of his arms, he broke through the surface.  Rashid grabbed him by the hand, helping him to his feet.  Lucas thought he had boarded the raft—then he found the raft a couple of meters away.  Looking down at his feet, he and Rashid stood on the water.

Bewildered, though still enlivened, Lucas turned to Rashid.  Neither could see the other’s face, but Rashid patted him firmly on the shoulder.

“Well done.”