Chapter 12

 

Sam invited Toth and Heinrich to his office on the western edge of the central terminal.  Sprawling, floor-to-ceiling windows granted them a view of the island and the expansive Ionian Sea.

After a number of preliminary details and a quick review of what they had already shared, Sam changed the conversation to Lucas.

“It’s been little more than a week,” he told Toth, “but he’s shown tremendous improvement since his first training session.  He’s gotten a grasp of his abilities with the Talos-skin, and the Master-at-arms feels that he’s now familiar with standard equipment.  It’s Lieutenant-Colonel Jackson’s opinion, and Logan seconds this, that Lucas should be ready for combat shortly.”

Though he relayed these details with confidence, Toth’s nose wrinkled with thought.

“Tell me, Doctor Walker,” she began, slowly at first, glancing down at an open file.  “Specialist Weir’s training aside, what’s your contact with him been like since you arrived?”

Covering his flinch with a pleasant smile, Sam said, “Regrettably, because of his training regimen, I’ve had little time to meet with Lucas.  When we do meet, he’s often exhausted, making it difficult to get an accurate grasp of his mental state…”  He chose his next words with some caution.  “Were we to perhaps dial back his training—”

“It’s more important to prepare him for the next Q, Doctor,” Toth stated.  “I understand your concern, but our priority is maintaining NATO’s frontline.”

“I agree,” Sam said, still selecting his words with care.  “But because Lucas is a new client, and because of how dramatic a change this is for him—compared to, say, Rashid—keeping a close eye on his mental health may in fact be more important now than ever.”

Rolling a pen between her fingers, Toth mulled this over.  “I’ll speak with the Master-at-arms about adjusting his schedule.  Perhaps we can find a way to have Weir meet with you before training.”

“I’d be very grateful,” Sam said, easing back as she jotted a note.  “In any case,” he added, “I plan to make up for lost time today.  I managed to schedule a meeting with him before he goes out.”

Less impressed, Toth asked, “Do you have anything else to report concerning Lucas Weir?”

After a moment’s hesitation, Sam said, “Nothing of import, no.”

Looking up from her file, fixing her eyes on Sam, Toth said, “How about anything that isn’t of ‘import’, Doctor?”

For a number of years, before the Esper Program had been subsumed into NATO, Sam had enjoyed the right to doctor-patient confidentiality.  After having become a subsidiary of the UN, however, that was now a luxury.

“I’m hoping to address certain traumatic events Lucas experienced as an adolescent,” Sam said in surrender, still choosing his words.  “Concerning the death of his family in Detroit, seven years ago…”

Toth stared quizzically.  “You don’t find this worth reporting now?”

“At this time, there’s nothing to report.”  Sam rested his hands on his desk.  “Everything I know is either contained in what I’ve given you already or in Lucas’ records from the American government.  However, I’m hoping to make progress—perhaps today.”

Toth made another note, leaving the topic at that.

“It seems Lucas is quite the center of attention these days,” Heinrich interjected.  “Major-General, you’ve already seen my psych eval on Rashid, but I believe there’s been a significant development since Iraq—”

Clearing her throat, Toth wordlessly indicated to Heinrich that he should speak carefully, even in a private conversation.

“Yes, right,” Heinrich continued, catching on instantly.  “Ever since we returned from Israel, Rashid has shown an unexpected attachment to Lucas.”

“In what way?” Toth said, showing less interest than Sam.

“In a way that he’s never shown before, not even to me,” Heinrich said, crossing one leg over the other.  “To date, I’ve been Rashid’s most-trusted confidant within NATO or the UN.  That relationship took years and great care to forge.  Lucas Weir, however, won his favor in an evening.”

“You’re concerned he’s making friends too quickly?” Toth asked.

Heinrich leaned forward, his eyes on Toth.  “There are two things you need to understand when dealing with Rashid,” he said.  “The first is that when it comes to people, he’s black and white; he trusts his own and his default setting with anyone else is caution and distance.  Life is simple for him: in-group altruism, out-group suspicion and even hostility.  The second point leads directly from the first: he operates quid pro quo; he only ever assisted the Kurds insofar as they assisted him or his people, and he fought IS only because they attacked his people—were none of these two groups ever to make contact with the Yazidis, Rashid would not involve himself.  He’s deviated from both these behavioral patterns since meeting Lucas.”

“Could this be due to their mutual status as psychics?” Sam said, bringing a hand to his chin.  “Solidarity between minorities?”

“I considered that,” Heinrich said, “but I’ve seen Rashid’s interactions with Freya Alder, brief though they’ve been.  He’s never shown anything like hostility toward her or held any uniquely negative views about her, but he’s never stepped out of his typical patterns for her either—and she’s the only other psychic on earth who could relate to him through that identity.”  He leaned back, crossing his legs again.  “I had a few other theories, but I set them all aside after reading the reports Rashid and Lucas made after their—” he glanced back at Toth— “last ‘mission’ together.”

“The rescue,” Sam said, beginning to see his point.

Nodding, Heinrich continued, “Lucas seems to have redefined Rashid’s Weltanschauung— er, his world-view, how he sees people, maybe even himself.  As I said, Rashid thinks with tightly-defined boundaries; Kurds help Kurds, IS hates Yazidis, Yazidis help Kurds, Kurds fight IS, and so on.  The common denominator is reciprocity.  Rashid hates IS because they kill his people, he worked with the Kurds because they helped his people.  But nothing is free in that system.  If the Kurds help him, or the other way around, one party expects remuneration from the other.  Lucas defied that logic, and in no insignificant terms.”

“A rescue mission brought them closer together,” Toth concluded.  “That doesn’t seem unusual.”

With a sharp wave of his hand, Heinrich said, “Rashid doesn’t believe in camaraderie.  Either he has personal interest in a situation, as was the case in— er, our last mission, or he stands to gain something concrete from it.  When Rashid was on his last—  Lord!“  He tossed his attempts at secrecy aside.  “Lucas had no ties to the Yazidis and nothing to gain from helping them or Rashid—but he did it anyway!  And when it was all said and done, he didn’t treat it like a favor Rashid would have to repay.  In a manner of speaking, he gave Rashid a gift, and I believe that affected Rashid.”

Heinrich and Sam’s eyes met, both recollecting their conversations in Kurdistan and Iraq.  It was in that moment that Sam realized why Heinrich had been so leery before: Lucas and Rashid coming together was supposedly an unforeseen coincidence—he now sensed the absurdity.  The circumstances in rebel-held Iraq were precise, but he wondered if the Security Council could have really known, let alone orchestrated this result.  And if they had—then why?

“I understand,” Sam finally told Heinrich.  “It sounds like Rashid is also in something of a transition period.”  Hoping Heinrich would catch on, he added, “I’d like you to keep me apprised on the situation, please.”

With a hint of hesitation, Heinrich nodded.  “Certainly.”

“Whether we can explain it or not,” Sam said, “I think we can safely say it’s a good thing that Rashid has taken such a positive interest in Lucas.  In fact, it may give Lucas a greater sense of security.  Having a friend who has experienced combat against the Q already may help him adjust.”

“From the sound of things,” Toth said, “Weir should be ready for combat sooner rather than later, correct?”

“I believe so,” Sam said.  “Our hope is that Lucas’ previous experience with the Q in Chicago is an indication of his capabilities.”

Hearing this, Heinrich grunted.

“Do you have something to add, Doctor Rankin?” Toth asked, raising an eyebrow as she crossed her hands.

“Not to be rude,” Heinrich said, “but when Lucas fought that Q, he experienced an amygdala hijacking.  Fighting under a panic attack may not count for much in the long run.”

“A similar outburst was enough for us to approach Rashid,” Sam reminded him, attempting to hide his offense.  “That turned out well enough in the long run.”

Pursing his lips, Heinrich shrugged, conceding the point.

“Doctors, please speak plainly,” Toth cut back in.

Taking responsibility, Heinrich confessed, “Lucas experienced a few days ago exactly what Rashid underwent when he killed his first Q four years ago: under threat, his sympathetic nervous system put him into a state of fight-or-flight—he panicked.  In any other person, this would result in hyperventilation, palpitations, perspiration.  For a psychic, however, there are much more violent consequences; for Lucas and Rashid, potentially every mental process can have an outward, physical manifestation.”

“Both reported minimal control and cognizance during their respective altercations, and both devastated their target,” Sam added, turning to Toth.  “This means losing a number of mental barriers, and, in the process, losing control as well.  When mortal danger comes into contact with an unbridled drive for self-preservation, well… you get what we saw in Chicago.”

“A slaughter,” Toth concluded, recalling photos from the scene.  “Do these panicked outbursts always lead to increased ability, then?”

“In every case we’ve observed, yes,” Sam said.  “But that’s not necessarily a positive.  Despite the attendant force, like any panicked person, they lack reasoning skills.  They could become a danger to others, including themselves.  Theoretically these states could also have the opposite effect.  Instead of becoming violently extraverted, a psychic may become introverted, shutting down.”

“In other words, they might freeze up,” Heinrich said.

 “I believe Lucas will be fine,” Sam added, looking at Toth.  “Beyond the reactions one would expect from anyone in his position, there’s nothing to suggest he would be incapable of combat.”

“It’s not like I’m rooting against the kid,” Heinrich jumped in.  “I’m saying that it doesn’t really matter what a psychic can do when in such a state, because it’s infrequent and unreliable.  What really counts is what a psychic does when they’re in their right mind, when it’s really them and not their autonomic unconscious responding.”  He looked into Sam’s eyes, gaining his gaze for a moment more.  “Lucas has yet to get his feet wet in a real fight.”

A knock at the door dissipated the tension in the room.  Sam traded looks with Toth before calling for the person behind the door to enter—it was Lucas.

“Speak of the devil!” Heinrich announced, looking over his shoulder.

“Heinrich, Major-General,” Sam said, standing up from his desk, “my next appointment has arrived.”

“We’ll disband for now,” Toth said, also standing.  “We’ll meet at the same time next week.  I’ll expect more details from both of you.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Heinrich grunted with a halfhearted salute as he rose from his chair.  He led the way out of Sam’s office, with Toth behind him.

As the two of them passed Lucas, Heinrich sported an almost mischievous smile, as if peeking in on something he wasn’t supposed to see; Toth wore her same look of active indifference.

“I hope I wasn’t interrupting,” Lucas said, closing the door.

Making for the windows, Sam gestured for Lucas to follow him to two small armchairs facing each other at an angle.  “Not at all.  In fact, your timing is impeccable.”

Taking a seat, Lucas marveled at the view.  The sun was still only a few degrees over the horizon, causing the sea to shimmer in a pale yellow.

“I’m sorry to have brought you here on such short notice,” Sam said, enjoying the view as well.  “But with your schedule…”  Hurrying to fill the ensuing silence, he added, “How’s your training been?  Are things still going well?”

“Y-yeah,” Lucas said.  “Actually, it feels like it’s getting easier every day.  The Lieutenant-Colonel says I’m learning fast.”  He paused, something occurring to him.  “It’s funny, it kind of feels weird calling it ‘learning,’ you know?”

“How do you mean?” Sam asked, settling into his seat.

“It’s like I’m doing something I’ve done before,” Lucas answered, searching for words to dress the idea.  “But I know I’ve never done anything like this before.”

“It’s interesting you say that,” Sam said, smiling at the thought.  “Both Rashid and Freya expressed similar feelings when we began training them.  It appears to be a rather common phenomenon for psychics, even those whose abilities aren’t sufficient for combat.  In the Esper Program, we called it anamnesis.  We’re not certain about the neurology behind it, but most psychics’ abilities seem to be so innate that they experience them, even for the first time, in the same way one might experience riding a bike after years of not doing so.  For whatever reason, there’s proverbial muscle memory, but not from previous experience.  It’s really quite fascinating.”

Trailing off, Sam assumed he must be boring Lucas, considering terminating the thought altogether.  However, when he focused on Lucas himself, he found him sitting straight, listening attentively.  With another smile, he supposed it had been no accident he had found Lucas Weir living above the only functioning library in Chicago.

“So,” Lucas said when Sam said nothing, “was there something you wanted to see me about?  I mean, something beyond what we’ve been talking about already?”

With a nod, Sam reached for the table between them and the windows, picking up a tablet computer.  “Yes, well…  You see, though we haven’t visited much these past few days, I’ve been doing a great deal of research.”

“On what?”

“I’ve been thinking about the conversation we shared in Stockholm… about your desire to recover your repressed memories.”  When Lucas remained silent, he added, “Truth be told, I haven’t had a client with repressed memories, but I’m not entirely inexperienced, and I’ve done everything I can to equip myself.  I’ve even gone so far as contacting old colleagues—former professors, classmates of mine who went on to become clinicians—but…”  He glanced up at Lucas.  “There’s something that keeps popping up.”

“What is it?” Lucas asked, growing uneasy.

Folding his hands over his tablet, Sam said, “Initially, going off what you told me in Stockholm, I assumed you had somehow consciously suppressed these memories.  This isn’t unheard of among children, but it’s less common among adolescents.  You were twelve when it happened, correct?”

“That’s right.”

“It would be easier to assume you forced yourself to forget what happened had it occurred when you were younger, but by age twelve, your memory retention is developed enough to make repression… well, far more difficult.  You said you can’t remember that night at all, yes?”

“It’s hard to explain, but I know I’ve remembered it before.”  Lucas thought of the night he encountered the Q in Chicago, when he had been pulled between reality and that chapel in Detroit.

“Repression isn’t so easy for adults or even adolescents; it requires greater effort, so to speak,” Sam continued.  “They must consciously push their traumatic memory away, to deliberately bury it.  From what you’ve described, you can’t remember what happened that night, even when you want to.  Does that sound accurate?”

Growing more uncertain with every question, Lucas nodded, his mind racing.

“I see,” Sam said, turning back to his tablet, flicking its screen to life.  “In that case, there may be another reason for your memory loss.  It’s only a theory, but take a look at this.”

Taking the tablet from Sam, Lucas scanned the screen—a brain scan.

“Logan scanned your brain a few days ago,” Sam said as he studied the image.  “Since then, he’s performed several additional scans, reading your brain activity as you trained.  He… believes he’s discovered something.”

Eyes glued to the swirling image, Lucas recollected when Logan had performed the first brain scan.  He thought of the hypothetical tumor, of Sera, of being outed by an empirical diagnosis.

Swallowing, Lucas ventured to ask, “What did he see?”

Leaning toward the tablet, Sam said, “It’s a wonder Logan even caught it.”  He glanced at Lucas, who appeared to be desperate for an answer.  “Because it’s so subtle, and because we’ve interacted with you so much now, Logan and I feel it’s not an issue… but it may have to do with your memory.”

Focusing on the tablet, Lucas noticed a portion of the top-down scan was highlighted.  Pecking at the screen, he expanded the image.  Looking like the core of a shriveled apple, Lucas found himself staring at a deep scan of his brain.

“You’re looking at your limbic system,” Sam explained, “surrounding the thalamus.  The limbic system correlates with functions like passion, emotion, and many of our primal instincts.  It also has to do with memory.”

“I don’t understand why you’re telling me this…”

“According to Logan’s scans, your limbic system exhibits signs of pre-existing physical trauma.”

Lucas set the tablet down, looking at the floor.

“As I said, Logan and I both agree you seem to be entirely unaffected—“

“Brain damage.”  Lucas looked up at Sam, his eyes wider.

“Yes and no,” Sam said hastily.  “Were it severe, it would result in behavioral or mental issues.  However, you’re clearly capable of reasoned decision-making, your emotional stability is within normal ranges—there’s nothing to indicate that this has caused any—  Hey, now…”  He rested a hand firmly on Lucas’ shoulder.  “I promise, I would tell you if this was something to be alarmed about.”

Taking a glass of water from the table, Sam offered it to Lucas.  Sitting back, he waited for him to take a drink and to calm himself.  As Lucas did so, Sam injected short bits of advice, encouraging him to take deep breaths, to pay attention to them, reminding him that there was nothing to worry about.

Regaining his composure, Lucas set down the glass.  “What does this mean, then?  Something roughed up my limbic system?”

“It could mean a number of things,” Sam said, “though it is a unique injury.  From what Logan can tell, it appears the tissue was damaged years ago.  Do you recall receiving a head injury the night your family died?”

“No, I… I don’t think so.  Do you think this is what’s keeping me from remembering that night?”

“If you haven’t consciously suppressed the memory, and you really can’t recall it, then it’s possible that either on the night in question or shortly thereafter you experienced a significant brain injury.  This could have caused post-traumatic amnesia, resulting in psychological repression.”

With a timid smile, Lucas found himself remembering the campy telenovelas he would see some of the field workers watching when he lived in Indiana.  “I have amnesia…  Like on TV, then?”

Sharing his smile, grateful he had not thrown Lucas into a meltdown, Sam said, “It’s a bit more complicated.  There are different kinds of amnesia.  Initially, I assumed you had psychogenic amnesia, which results from deliberate memory repression.  Then there’s anterograde amnesia, which affects a person’s ability to learn new information, to convert short-term memories to long-term memory.  However, you don’t show signs of a learning disability, you’re fully cognizant, and you’ve demonstrated that you can remember events from even the distant past.”

Lucas recalled a few recent conversations they had shared during their brief meetings through the week.  More recently, Sam had focused on questions about Lucas’ early childhood, asking him about his home in Detroit, about his parents, about his younger sister—all of which he answered, though at times with discomfort.  He could only guess what Sam took that to mean, but in reality it was simply strange for him to discuss Seraphina when someone who looked exactly as she would, were she still alive, resided in the corner of his eye.

“Our past few conversations, then,” Lucas said.  “You were testing me for these other types of amnesia.”

“That’s right,” Sam said, looking pleased.  “I also tested you for retrograde amnesia, which causes one to lose the ability to remember anything from before the cause of the amnesia occurred.  However, I’ve determined from our visits, short though they were, that none of these diagnoses fit.”

“Then what’s going on with me?”

“I mentioned earlier,” Sam said, settling in his chair, “that I believe the damage to your limbic system may have caused what’s called post-traumatic amnesia, which can result from a brain injury.  Though I’m unsure how your limbic system was damaged without additional issue.  If I may say so, it’s actually quite astounding.  It’s almost surgical, really.  I mean, the chances of receiving an injury like this with no other repercussions are astronomical.”

“So this is keeping me from remembering?” Lucas asked.

As Sam explained further, Lucas’ eyes wandered to the window, where he found Sera.  He looked at her as if she could provide an answer to all this.  Yet she looked as uncertain as him, lost in thoughts of her own.

“So what does this mean for me, then?” he finally asked Sam, unintentionally interrupting him as he returned to their conversation.

“Well, if I’m correct,” Sam said, “then there may be no way for you to recover the memory of what happened that night.”

Lucas’ skin prickled, yet not from fear.  It was like an awkward fit, though he was unsure what that could mean.

“It may be hard to believe,” Sam continued, “but this may be good news in disguise.  If we know why you can’t access that memory, then it means we can create a plan to help you.  Instead of focusing on recovering the memory, we can help you learn to live with this condition.”

But Lucas was not listening.  His eyes had wandered back to Sera, who was looking at him in turn, mirroring his anxiety.  “Are you absolutely sure that’s what this is?”

“Well, I have no way of being absolutely certain, but it’s my best theory thus far.”  Tracing Lucas’ line of sight, Sam looking in the same direction, finding only the window.  “That is, unless we find something to disprove it…  Lucas, is there anything you haven’t told me?  No matter how small, anything could help.”

By then, Lucas’ attention belonged solely to Sera.  She had blanched, staring into him.

“Please,” she whispered.  “Please—don’t tell him.  You can’t.  Please…”

Something twisted in Lucas’ chest.  With a sidelong glance at Sam, he said, “No, that’s everything.  Sorry.”

“It’s nothing to apologize for,” Sam said, still tracking his eyes.  “But if you think of anything, let me know.  I’m not putting all our eggs in one basket, but if we don’t have any other…”

At last, Lucas returned his attention to Sam, though he appeared exhausted.

Within a few minutes, they finished their conversation, bid each other goodbye, and parted ways.

Lucas walked back to Pier 7 in perfect silence.  He could feel Sera trailing him, not daring to come closer.  Eventually, they reached his quarters.  He closed the door behind him, and locked it.

The moment they were alone, he turned back to her.

“What the hell was that?” he demanded, struggling to keep his voice down.

“I’m sorry, I’m…”  She appeared as afraid as she had been in Sam’s office, her words slipping into unintelligibility.

“Why did you tell me not to say anything?” he pressed, managing to bring his voice down.  “If he knew about you, he might…  Sam might be able to help us figure this out—whatever the hell’s going on with us!  With me…  Whoever, whatever!  Damn it!”

Sera was now on the verge of tears.  They took opposite corners of the room to let their nerves settle—if only for a moment.

“Why?” he tried again, unable to look at her.

Wiping away tears with her bare arm, Sera said, “I can’t explain it…  It’s just like when you asked me where I came from, or why I know what I know.”

“No,” Lucas stated, turning back to her, “that’s not good enough, not now.  There’s a difference between explaining yourself and stopping me from figuring out what’s wrong with me—”  He caught himself, then paused.  “Sorry…”

Still, he wondered if he should bother apologizing.  Speaking with her like this felt natural.  But he wondered if it might not be a mistake to scold himself for questioning that, for considering it abnormal to speak with his dead sister.  Had she been anyone else, even one of his parents—had she been someone he didn’t recognize—would he have tried to be this accommodating?

He hissed a curse, then said, “I’m scared, too…  But I want to figure this out.”

“Sorry,” she whispered, curled up on the edge of his bed.  She trembled, still at risk of slipping back into tears.

“Can you tell me anything?” Lucas said, trying to at least sound sympathetic.  “Anything at all that might help us understand why you… why you reacted that way?”

“In the moment, I…”  Her words tumbled, dropping with her distant gaze.  “I felt as if that wasn’t how it was supposed to happen…  That if you said anything, then it would… change something.”

“Change what?”

“I still don’t know.  I’m sorry…”

Lucas leaned against his desk.  He was reminded of something Harold had once said, shortly after Lucas began working for him.

According to Harold, there were three ways to see life: as it should be, which led to anger and resentment; as it could be, which only dealt in the realm of possibilities; and as simply is, which Harold insisted was the only genuine way.  Seeing things as they should be was delusional, seeing things as they could be was visionary, and seeing things as they are was reality.  He had shared this with Lucas because he had apparently perceived in his young friend a tendency to see things only as they should be, which only ever disappointed Lucas.

Looking at Sera now, he was at a loss.  Her reaction had not been one of frustration, but terror, less as if he had simply said something rude and more like he was about to walk them both into the ocean.

Sighing, Lucas sat beside her.  Sera kept her head down, still trying to stave off tears.  It was then that he really saw that she was as confused as him.  He was still unsure of what to make of this, but on a seemingly instinctual level, her tears felt real—not those of a hallucination.  He then wondered if this might be what it felt like to make his little sister cry, had they had the chance to grow up together.

“I’m sorry, too,” he finally said.

Sera looked back at him, eyes glistening, red from rubbing away her tears.  They shared a look, both of them intuiting what the other was feeling—that they were both lost.

A droning ring punched the air—an alarm, sounding throughout the island.  The alarm rose and fell three times, then a voice came through the PA system.

 “Attention: command information center has entered orange alert state.  General quarters are declared.  Echo-Unaone and Echo-Terrathree, report to CIC at once.”

As the message repeated itself, Lucas looked back at Sera.

Attempting to smile, Sera said, “I’ll be all right.”  She sniffed, then rubbed her arm against her cheeks.  “They’ll need you.  I’ll be okay—I’ll be with you.”

Lucas headed for the door, then looked back at her one more time.  She was gone.

The alert repeated itself over the speakers as he bolted out of his room.  The alarm continued to rise and fall between repeats of the message, as if to coax him, to push him to keep running to the central terminal.

On the way, he found Rashid.

“What’s going on?” Lucas huffed.

Rashid kept his eyes forward and his answer brief.

“It’s a Q.”