Chapter 3

 

The less his surroundings changed, the more Lucas seemed to petrify.

Under police custody, he was taken somewhere on the north side, into a high-rise, part of which had been allocated to the UN as an embassy.  Most major cities in the US had an embassy, though ones so close to the Midwest saw little action—nothing like a psychic.  When he arrived, the news of his discovery had clearly preceded him, because everyone was candid: guards with light armaments gathered around him the further he was escorted into the building, while some remained behind to presumably guard the way; meanwhile, office workers dropped their tasks in order to peak over cubicle walls and out of doorways.

Lucas was escorted to an interview room that consisted of one fluorescent light, a sleek pane of glass that he took to be a one-way mirror, and a table with two chairs.  He was sat in the chair facing the door, but no one else came to sit in the other.  And there he sat, in total silence, motionless for hours—or so it felt.  In reality, he had been left alone for about an hour.  Since leaving the platform with the authorities, he felt as if he was watching his body from a remote place, until he and that body were left to stare quietly at each other under the buzzing light of this interview room.

Occasionally he would drift back to the truck he had stopped, to the flabbergasted faces of the crowd—but he tried not to think of Sera.  Yet it was as if she was flickering in the corner of his eye, only to disappear when he looked over.  Attempting to eject her from his mind only seemed to strengthen her presence, and the more he tried to resist, the more she seemed to haunt him.

Eventually, the door creaked open.  A tall, balding man stepped inside, carrying a thin folder.  He closed the door behind himself, started to sit down, but then deviated to a corner of the room where a video camera stood on a tripod, angled toward Lucas.  The bald man made sure the camera was still filming; satisfied, he sat down in the chair opposite Lucas, then stared into the young man.  His eyes were methodical, analytic, scanning Lucas up and down, through and through.

“My name is Walter Beesley,” he said, slightly nasally, opening his folder.  “I’m the regional head of recruitment for NATO at this embassy.  For the record, would you please state your name and your status as a psychic, please?”

Still returning from his mindless state, Lucas didn’t quite process the question, though he attempted to comply.  “Um, my name’s Lucas Weir…”

“And your status as a psychic, please.”

“Uh… I’m a psychic.”

“No, no,” Walter said.  “State them together, please.  Name?”

“Still Lucas Weir.”

Together, please.”

Taking a deep breath, reminding himself that he was in no position to play, he complied.

“My name is Lucas Weir—and I’m a psychic.”

“Mister Weir, I suspect you have already been informed as to why you are here,” Walter went on.  “Is that correct?”

“I don’t think so,” Lucas said, half sardonic, half earnest.  “But I’m sure I can guess.”

“Earlier today you were confirmed psychic by numerous eye-witnesses,” Walter elaborated, not missing a beat.

“I know.  I was there.”

“Furthermore,” Walter continued, ignoring him, “we’ve done some research.  You’re a very interesting person.”  He spun the open folder around, then slid it to Lucas, narrating the contents.  “Lucas Weir; date of birth, tenth of September, 1998; Detroit, Michigan.  Your parents were Richard Weir, American, and Araceli Naphtali, a refugee from Veracruz.  You also had a younger sister, Seraphina—”

Lucas twitched at the name; Walter noticed, though he only paused for a half-second before continuing.  “Everything seems fine—that is, until 2010.”

Looking over the papers, Lucas quickly realized what he meant.  In the folder was a scan of his birth certificate, some documentation on vaccinations and school enrollment, and finally a police report from some time toward the end of 2010.  That was all.

“For some inexplicable reason,” Walter said, “your records suddenly end at about the age of twelve.  You pop up here and there in Indiana: employment records, spotty as they are; as well as a few arrest records—assault charges, drunken disorderly, weapons charges.  All minor incidents, but you disappear after every one.  And then, as if out of the blue, you show up in Illinois and stay put for three years.  None of these records were connected to the boy born in Detroit, of course—we had to dig to make those connections, but dig we did.”

Searching for words, Lucas wondered how guarded he should be and how much Walter already knew.  “I guess I made for greener pastures.”

“The police report there, from seven years ago, it says you went missing,” Walter corrected, quickly pushing up his glasses and leaning forward.  “More specifically, you vanished the night the bodies of your parents, sister, and a number of local residents were discovered.”

Lucas felt as if a hand was kneading his insides, pushing them against his lungs, though he tried not to let that show.  However, Walter didn’t seem to care.

“The church your family lived in,” Walter said, “it caught fire that night.  It was ruled as arson, and your family’s deaths were declared homicides—though there wasn’t much forensic evidence left to go on in the end...  Why don’t you tell me what happened that night, Mister Weir?”

Once more at a loss, Lucas stared down at the police report, which, mercifully did not include photos of the crime scene.  He didn’t bother to read the report itself; he didn’t need to, not even after all these years.  He tore himself from the report and laid his eyes heavily on Walter.

“I think you know what happens when psychics stay anywhere too long,” he said in little more than a whisper.

“These other men, the other bodies among those of your family,” Walter pressed further.  “Am I to presume they intended to do you harm?”  When he did not receive a response, Walter spun the police report around to read it.  “Their bodies were the only ones to survive the fire; they were not only burned, but mangled.  As one of the officers described, it was as if the men had been ‘thrown under a bus’ or ‘tossed from a plane.’  Not really the results of a typical home invasion.”

A raw impulse shot through Lucas, rising from his belly and up his spine, forcing his hands to twitch.  “Yeah, I…  I get it.  You don’t need…  You don’t need to…”

Walter set the report back on the desk.  “I have a question, Mister Weir,” he said.  “Did you kill those men?  They killed your family, and so you killed them.  Then you burned down that church to hide the evidence—is that what happened?”

Lucas squeezed his fingers into fists until they shook.  Though he tried to give it some thought, his mind refused to go near the subject, and for that he berated himself.  Seven years, he told himself, and he had done so well all that time not to revisit this—but now, with everything sitting right in the open, he couldn’t contain himself.

“No one blames you,” Walter finally said, breaking Lucas from his thoughts.  “We’re well aware of the prejudice most people have against psychics.  Besides…  You were only a child.  I can’t imagine what it must have been like.”

Lucas looked up in surprise, then slumped back into melancholy and nostalgia.

“I… did what I had to.”

“I see,” Walter said, resting his intertwined fingers on the folder.  “Why don’t you tell me what happened after that night, then?”

“I ran away.”

“And where did you go?”

“Anywhere I could, really.  Anywhere but Detroit.”

“You were afraid of reprisal, then?  A repeat attack perhaps?”

“What?  I don’t know…  I was just afraid.”  Fidgeting, Lucas continued to scold himself inwardly.  “I was afraid, so I ran away.  That’s all there is to it.”

“And when did you arrive in Chicago?”

Running a quick calculation, Lucas answered, “I was sixteen, so… 2014.”

“And what did you do between 2010 and 2014?”

“Moved from home to home.  I’d find a town, look for work, try to make enough to stay off the street—or at least to eat.  I tried to stay in Michigan, but I worked my way down to Indiana.  I worked a few cornfields there with some others, and…”  Trailing off, he rolled his shoulders, growing irritated.  “Look, can I go already?”

“You may not.”

“I don’t get what any of these questions have to do with why I’m here.”

“I am trying to create a more detailed record for—”

“Am I under arrest?”

“Certainly not.”

“But I can’t leave.”

“You’re being detained.”

“I want a phone call, then.”  Leaning back, Lucas folded his arms.  “That’s how this works, right?  You arrest me—oh, excuse me.  You ‘detain’ me, and I get to make a call.”

“And who would you like to call?” Walter asked, growing irritated himself.

“Harold Rosenberg.”

With a satisfied smile, Walter sat upright.  “Mister Rosenberg is already on his way.  We’re very interested to learn how much he knows about you, as well.”

Lucas shot forward.  “Harold doesn’t know anything.  He’s got nothing to do with this.”

“I don’t believe that for a second,” Walter said.  “You worked for him for three years, even lived in his library.  Moreover, one of the reasons we even thought to consider him was that virtually everyone who knows you also knows you have a close relationship with Mister Rosenberg.  And he doesn’t know you’re psychic?”

Though he remained quiet, Lucas wordlessly admitted defeat.

“Perhaps you don’t know,” Walter continued, “but aiding in draft evasion is an offense with severe penalties.”

“Oh, for God’s sake,” Lucas protested, rolling his eyes as Walter spoke.

“Draft evasion is a federal offense in this country, Mister Weir, punishable by a fine of two-hundred-fifty thousand dollars and up to five years in a federal penitentiary.  And those who knowingly aid and abet draft-dodgers don’t receive much less than that.”

Feeling trapped, Lucas’ head started to throb.  His exhaustion only then started to set in, and he dreaded having to go back and forth with Walter Beesley in this state.  Yet that didn’t seem to be the sole cause of the pounding in his skull.  Looking up, over Walter’s shoulder, he could see her.  Sera watched him with destitute eyes, as she had on the corner outside the skyscraper.  He met her gaze with a flash of surprise, then cast his eyes down, fixing them to the table.

Walter took this as a sign that Lucas was at last conceding.  “I’ll give you some more time to think about the situation you’re in.”  He then stood up, taking his folder with him, then left the room.

When the door shut, against the anxious hook tugging his stomach, Lucas risked taking another look back to Sera.  But she was gone.  He was alone.

***

A short distance from the interview room, where he had left his latest project, Walter met his assistant.  Noticeably antsier than usual, his aide informed him of two things: first, Harold Rosenberg had been taken into custody and was now en route.  For the second announcement, however, the assistant lowered his voice.  “And there’s a call waiting for you in your office.  It’s, um…  It’s on a secure line.”  They both knew what that meant: a scrambled call to an embassy virtually nowhere of import could only mean something highly classified.  Someone far up the chain from Walter himself wanted to speak, and they did not want to be overheard.

Spinning speculations, Walter hurried to his office, locking the door behind him.  Though his hands were already beginning to tremble, he assured himself that this was likely nothing.  After all, they had only just taken in a psychic, the first Walter had ever encountered in his career.  The very idea that someone would want to speak with him on such an occasion, even from so high up the ladder—it would be surprising if they were to not call.  He picked up the phone, selected the proper line, then dialed a sequence of numbers only he and two other regional officials knew.  In response, the line opened.  A static whoosh filled his ear, but the connection soon stabilized.  Growing excited, Walter concluded that with this much distortion that this must be a call from overseas.

He spoke a greeting into the receiver.  Another voice replied along the line, one he did not expect; it was polite, soft-spoken, not nearly as brusque as any of the other voices that spoke to Walter from other higher offices.  He knew this couldn’t be anyone from the Security Council, and had he not gone to such great lengths to access the line, he might have thought he was speaking with someone who had dialed the wrong number.  But the voice on the other end returned his greeting with an absolute sense of belonging.

“Excuse me,” Walter finally said, “but may I ask who this is?”

The answer was prompt, though pleasant.

“My name is Doctor Samuel Walker.  I’m the chief director of NATO’s Esper Program.”

Though the title meant little to him, Walter straightened up the moment he heard the doctor’s name and that he was with NATO.  He knew precisely who was on the other end of this call, and he quietly praised himself for having guessed correctly.

“Yes, Doctor Walker.  My name is Walter Beesley.  I suspect you’re calling about the psychic we detained this afternoon.”

“That’s right,” Doctor Walker replied, as if in appreciation of how forthcoming his conversation partner already was.  “In fact, I’m looking at the case file right now.”

Taken aback by how far the report had traveled in so short a time, Walter found himself unsure of what to say.  Instead, Sam Walker replied for him.

“I’m already on my way, actually,” he said.  “I’d very much like to meet this psychic for myself.”

“Y-you’re on your way?” Walter sputtered, struggling to hide his confusion.  He considered how distorted the call already was, then wondered aloud, “But you must be thousands of miles away.”

“Suffice it to say,” the doctor coolly replied, as if to circumvent the issue, “I’ll be landing in Chicago in about three hours.  In the meantime, I’d like for you to keep Lucas Weir in custody, please.”

“Y-yes, sir,” Walter said.

“Oh, ‘sir’ is unnecessary, Mister Beesley.  You can call me Sam.  I just wanted to inform you of my visit ahead of time.”

“Well, we eagerly await your arrival.”

“Actually, before I go, I have a quick question I’m hoping you can answer for me.”

“Certainly.”

“Mister Beesley…  Did he really stop a truck?”

“A fully-loaded, class seven, heavy duty semi-truck,” Walter said, his breath leaking from his lungs, as if his entire frame might deflate.  “He nearly ripped the tractor from the trailer.”  As he said this, he found his eyes wandering the walls, until they pointed in the direction of the room where Lucas remained seated and waiting.  In that instant, he felt something like a sense of imminent danger.  He marveled at the absurdity of it all, of him and his people somehow detaining the boy.

“I see,” Sam replied when Walter went silent.  “Thank you, Mister Beesley.  I’ll see you shortly.”

The line disconnected, but Walter kept the phone to his ear, captivated still by a single thought—a secret he wondered if anyone else knew.  Not realizing that Doctor Walker had already hung up, he muttered a “certainly” into the phone, then placed it back on the receiver.

***

Another length of time passed, leaving Lucas alone.  Rather than shutting down, as he had done before, he found his mind quite active, ceaselessly running through one possibility after another.  He thought about what he had done, and about Harold, and what these people might do to him.  And he thought about Sera, the apparition; gratefully, she had not appeared to him while he was alone.  He wasn’t sure how he might have handled that.

Gradually, he grew stir-crazy after a while, wondering when he might be able to leave this room.  About the time he was considering whether to throw the tripod across the room, the door opened, and Walter peaked inside.

“Mister Weir,” he said, “please come with me.”

Without a word, Lucas followed Walter out into the hall.  Walter navigated them to a conference room at the edge of the building.  Stepping through the double-doors, Lucas had his first view of the outside world in what he thought could have been a day: the sun had already set, and Near North Side was basking in orange-yellow streetlights.  Two guards manned the only way in or out of the room, and further into the room was Harold Rosenberg.  Appearing entirely like an old man who had been pulled out of bed at an ungodly hour, and looking as pleased as one might expect, his frown flipped to smile when he saw Lucas.

To Lucas’ surprise, Harold embraced him, patting him firmly on the back before pulling away to get a good look at him.  He flashed Lucas a reassuring smile, and Lucas responded with a smile of his own, yet their expressions were both weighted, worn down.

“Sorry I didn’t make it back,” Lucas said.  “I got a little sidetracked.”

“I realized,” Harold replied, lighthearted, even then.  “Seems you’ve managed to pull me in, as well.”

Eyeing his watch in an obvious gesture, Walter chimed in.  “If you both are finished catching up after perhaps twelve hours of being apart—we have some matters to discuss.  Despite your blatant attempt at perjury, Mister Weir, Mister Rosenberg has informed us of his involvement with you, as well as his knowledge of your abilities.”

Eyes wide, Lucas looked at Harold.  In a near-sagely voice, befitting a man of his age and background, Harold said, “I wouldn’t dare let you suffer this ordeal alone.  Certainly not.”

“Yes, that’s touching,” Walter interrupted, “but there’s still the matter of that ‘ordeal.’  Mister Weir has knowingly evaded military conscription policies pertaining to all individuals with psychic abilities.  And, Mister Rosenberg, you have knowingly withheld him.  These are very serious crimes.”

Despite the threats, empty or sincere, neither Lucas nor Harold were intimidated.  There they stood, two partners in crime, who seemed to have nothing better to do than to take the fall together.

With a spark of confidence, Lucas said, “You know, military service sounds great and all, but if your plan is to send me to prison, then that might be a problem.  I guess you could try again in five years, though, once I’m out.”

Walter paused, appearing perturbed by what he was about to say.  “We are well aware of the complications, as we are aware of your reluctance to follow along with military service, Mister Weir.”  Pausing once more, he attempted to swallow his agitation.

The longer he took to reply, however, the more easily Harold caught on.  “You’d like to strike a deal,” he said, the hint of a smile in the corner of his mouth.

Annoyed by such a colloquial diminution of reasonable jurisprudence, Walter clarified.  “I’ve been instructed to extend an offer to Mister Weir specifically.”  He turned to Lucas, heaving a sigh.  “In exchange for your cooperation, all charges against both you and Mister Rosenberg will be dropped.  Mister Rosenberg can go on living his life as a librarian, and you can aid in the fight against the Q.”  Pausing for a moment, allowing Lucas and Harold to trade looks, he concluded, “Of course, you can have some time to discuss your options.  However, I must warn you: I’m uncertain as to why such a proposal would be extended at all, but I can assure you both, it’s not likely to last long.”

With that, Walter left Harold and Lucas with the guards.

***

Having completed its puddle jump in low orbit, the XAR-04 Hermes trans-atmospheric skip-jet descended.  As air pressure and gravity returned, the pilot called back into the cabin to the only passenger on board, announcing that they were now entering the stratosphere and would arrive at their destination within the hour.

Strapped into his seat in the rear cabin, Sam Walker felt gravity tug at him once more.  Once he was again in one G, he reached for the briefcase secured beneath his seat.  Unlocking the case, he perused the file inside for what must have been the hundredth time since he had received it a few hours prior.  He reread the description of the incident, of the truck speeding through a green light, only to be stopped without so much as a skid.  According to the eye-witness reports, the driver was lucky not to have been thrown through the windshield by the sudden stop.  Under the papers, there was a printed photo of the young man in question, one Lucas Weir.  There were no other recent photos of him, so along with the report the Illinois embassy had emailed Sam a mug shot, taken after Weir had been detained.

The first time Sam had seen the photo, he was struck by some abnormal, unintelligible aura emanating from it.  Despite his young age, one could already see the hints of what could have been wrinkles in Lucas’ face.  His lips were tightly bound, his mouth straight but for the slightest hint of a downward curl.  But his eyes were what captivated Sam; deep blue in sharp contrast to the rest of his face, they stared directly into the camera, wide and attentive.  As if he were looking at the boy himself, Sam felt like he was being watched by those two navy eyes.  This was the kind of look someone acquired only after having a predatory nature beaten into them.  They belonged to someone who had been made acutely aware of the potential viciousness lurking within every human being.

Rubbing at two days of stubble on his face, which he had not bothered to shave in his rush, Sam wondered to himself that this record—this Lucas Weir—was much more enigmatic than he had first presumed.  And, though he didn’t identify as a religious person—though psychology had a place for spirituality, properly understood, he believed—Sam found himself wondering something like, Why him, here, now?  Reorganizing the dossier and case file, he reminded himself that any sense of “too good to be true” was unfounded at this point; the photos and independent witnesses left no other conclusion.  Out of the thousands of cases that had come to him in the past, of various psychics appearing all around the developed world, he had seen so few cases like this one.

Yes, he told himself, this deserved attention, perhaps urgency.

Knocking him from his ruminations, the jet rocked with turbulence.  The shaking gradually grew more unruly.  Securing his briefcase back beneath his seat, he then checked his harness, preparing for what he guessed was the difficulty of reentry.  When a distinct jolt knocked the aircraft far more than he had expected, he called to the pilot through the open cockpit door.  The pilot yelled back that they had just received instructions to deviate from their present course.  However, Sam could only hear a few of the pilot’s words over the rattling of the plane:

“Chicago has just been declared a no-fly zone.”

***

The windows of the conference room shook in their frames as a storm formed in the night sky.  Both Harold and Lucas watched through the window, though they could only see the darkened offices in the building across the street.  For some time neither of them spoke, until Harold at last broke the silence.

“You know,” he said in a tart though friendly tone, “I don’t need you to throw yourself on the sword for my sake.  Despite what you may think, I can handle whatever these people can muster.”  Growing more earnest, he added, “Please, try not to do anything rash.”

Lucas listened to his old friend, and even made eye contact, but no words of his own came.  When the room was silent once more, Harold spoke the obvious.

“You’re afraid—aren’t you?”

These words managed to shock Lucas more deeply, causing him to revisit his experience at the skyscraper.  He thought of the girl with borrowed eyes—Sera.  Glancing around, he wondered if he might see her now, but she was not there—only Harold.

Gently, Harold said, “It’s been some time since I’ve seen you at such a loss.  Come to think of it, this may be the first time I’ve seen you so indecisive.  Not even on the night I first met you have you looked so stiff.”

“I was scared out of my mind back then, too,” Lucas finally said.  “I had no idea.”

“I disagree,” Harold said flatly.  “You were not then as you are now, that much is certain.  The only question is, what’s the difference?  What were you like at that moment, three years back, compared to now?”

Shrugging, Lucas returned to the window.  “I don’t know.”

“The difference between the boy I found in that dumpster three years ago and the man sitting next to me right now,” Harold answered for him, “is that the latter’s gone passive.  And the former—the former was filled with something.  Something raw, acidic.”

“And what’s that?” Lucas asked, turning back to him.

Harold met his eyes.  “Rage,” he answered.  “I still remember that night, you know.  Thought I’d clean the library, then visit the dumpster in the rain—seemed like a fine evening.  Only, instead of rubbish in the bin, I find you huddled up, face beaten to a swollen pulp, covered in bruises and blood, not all of it yours.”

“I remember,” Lucas mused.

“Yes, well,” Harold nearly sputtered, “you better ruddy well, because you nearly cracked my skull against the wall, you did.”

Lucas couldn’t help but smirk.  “I was pretty shaken up.”

“Shaken up!” Harold exclaimed.  “That’s not the half of it.  You were crazed!  Overcome, ferocious…”  He calmed himself, sinking into a chair around the conference table.  “Do you remember what you told me that night?  You told me you had come all the way from Michigan City!  I didn’t believe you at the start; a boy your age, all soaked through from the rain, tells me over a bowl of hot soup he’s run all the way from Michigan City, down the highway!”

Though Lucas’ smile grew a little, in a single thought it sank.  “I still don’t remember most of that night, actually.”

“Oh, you did when you told me,” Harold assured him.  “Then you told me why you ran, and suddenly that angry teenage boy was speaking as if he were dictating his autobiography to me!  Working in Michigan City, the wrong people found you’re psychic, and…  Well, you know the rest.”  They both fell silent for another moment, then Harold spoke up again.  “That was the night you asked me never to reveal to anyone who you were, or what you could do—and now look at us.  Much the same roles we play, but someone’s gone and redacted the script!”

“You know,” Lucas said, “I think you’ve got it wrong.  When you found me, I was angry, yeah.  But before that…”  Taking a seat across from Harold, he lifted his legs, as if he might curl up and hide.  “What drove me from one state to the next—it wasn’t rage.  No, it was…  It was fear.  Nothing more.  It may have been rage when you found me, but before that, I was just afraid.  I was afraid, and yeah…  Yeah, I’m afraid now.”

Harold eyed Lucas for some time, then turned back to the window.  “No, you’re not afraid—not like before,” he said, catching Lucas off guard.  “You don’t feel the way you felt that night, not at all.  The difference between what you feel now and what you felt then is this: three years ago, something else drove you to go nearly sixty miles on foot, something deeper than fear or rage—something you lack at this time.”

“And what’s that?”

“You ran from bad men in Indiana and you nearly brained an old man in Illinois for one reason: you had decided, no matter what the circumstances were, that you were going to live.  That you were going to survive.”  He turned and locked eyes with Lucas.  “So what is it, then?  What’s your raison d'être now?”

Lucas opened his mouth, but before he could reply, the windows rattled and the lights flickered.  Rising from their seats, Harold and Lucas thought they could feel a tremor running through the floor, though it was faint.

Before either of them could speak, Walter returned with more guards.

“We have a situation,” he said.

***

The skip-jet touched down on a tarmac at Palwaukee Municipal Airport, roughly thirteen miles north of O’Hare International, its original destination.  O’Hare International Airport had been repurposed years ago to serve as an international midway station for traveling UN officials, despite how little international travel occurred this close to the singularity in the Midwest.  Palwaukee was still an exclusively civilian airport, however.  A number of commercial liners had already landed, only to be hastily directed to hangars before another wave was to be grounded.

Unbuckled from his seat, Sam looked out one of the jet’s windows.  The pilot explained that the radio waves were too garbled to get a response, but he was sure he was getting through.  As the pilot sent his call sign and clearance code through the secure channel, receiving mostly static and an indiscernible voice in response, Sam looked southeast, toward Chicago.  Even in the night, he could see thick clouds consuming the city, slashed by bolts of lightning.  Then, abruptly, the lightning disappeared and the clouds began to dissipate.  And as the storm dissolved, the radio began to clear.  Then an automated broadcast came through: a series of coordinates, marking a location off Lake Michigan’s Chicago coastline, with one final report—“Repeat: one Quebec confirmed.”

Sam and the pilot shared a look as the transmission repeated itself.  Then, breaking away from the pilot, Sam looked back out the window.  Once more, he found himself wondering, Why him, here, now?  And as he wondered, he stared into the far-off city of Chicago, where a Q had emerged.