The final part of that super long chapter. Sorry it took so long
In room 13D, the red haired girl bites her lip and jiggles her leg uncomfortably, striking her heel against the leg of her chair.
"What's up Becky?" A friend hisses from beside her. "Too much coffee this morning?" Becky jerks her head minutely from side to side. Guilt. The sensation of its hands, twisting her insides into knots, is unfamiliar and painful. True, Michael may only loose one GCSE, but the black mark in his record will follow him. She didn't even need to cheat, she was just too lazy to work.
The possibility of owning up to the crime is not lost of course, but Becky dismisses the thought without more than a moment's consideration. Of course, what will happen to Michael as a result of her actions is highly unfortunate, but not as much as it would be if it were to happen to her. It's his own fault, she reasons. If he hadn't pretended to be stupid, all for popularity's sake, they would have give him a fair chance. As it is, there could not have been any other outcome. Who but Becky could have known he could write a paper like that?
Michael's intelligence, she knows, is indisputable, but well hidden. His work in class, as far as Becky has been able to tell, has never betrayed even a hint of the ease with which he absorbs information. Only her unexplained ability, allowing her to reach into the minds of others and think their thoughts as if they are her own her own has allowed her to see it.
Her ability first manifested itself about five years ago. She'd seen a group of girls from her class talking with heads close together, the conversation whispered and broken off only when she came near. She watched them all the rest of that day, wondering what they were were thinking and what they had said. She reached out to them and somehow, she made a connection.
She went in blind that first time, lurching drunkenly around the unfamiliar twists and turns of an alien mind and alien thoughts. She emerged after seconds, dazed, confused, shaking and barely able to stand. Yet over the following months, she learnt what she could do and how to do it. She walked in those thoughts until they fit her almost as perfectly as her own, learnt secrets and knowledge and hopes and fears.
She has never know how or why she can do what she does. Only that revealing it would leave her feared, hated, or simply presumed insane. So she has kept silent and cultivated her skills without tuition. The confusion she felt once has long since become exhilaration. The power she holds! She's used it often enough. She's learnt the tricks required for popularity, the looks and the mannerisms. She's learnt from her teachers how to solve problems far beyond the expected ability for her age. She's learnt secrets and fears of people who have treated her badly and used them to put herself beyond harm. The girls who whispered about her in the hall never did so again, when their secrets were laid bare and old friends laughed to their faces. More recently, she has used her abilities to become a cheat. She has trained herself well.
So now, when the receptionist's cries and Felix's deranged laughter ring out through the school, when the class pile out into the hallway and see the despair in their faces, she does not ask what has happened. She simply reaches out to them... And finds three minds where there should be two.
Each person reacts differently. Becky, impressive as her abilities have become without guidance, is still clumsy touching the thoughts of others. Even the receptionist, unused as she is to feeling the presence of someone else in her head, feels the change and shivers. To Felix, as to Ana, who still lurks among his thoughts, it has no more subtlety than a cudgel blow. The probe, however, has as little strength as it does stealth. Unused as its user is to encountering opposition, it has only the strength of a feather. The strong barriers that Felix and Ana have built up to avoid such assaults repel it with a force that sends Becky reeling.
Staggering, her thoughts race. Never, in all the time she has used her abilities, has she felt something like this. The force that pushed her out was vast and the defences seemed to act with the practice of second nature. That alone would be enough to excite her curiosity, but as she rethinks what has just occurred, the brief flash of panic from the receptionist and the sudden surge of power from the other mind, she knows there was not one strike, but two. Two people in the same mind. Is it possible?
A few meters away, Felix scans the hall frantically for the source of the blow. Could it be Brown? Has he come back?"
"Don't be an idiot!" Ana snaps, her fading presence suddenly stronger in his thoughts again. "You think Brown's that weak? That was untrained, utterly. Someone who's never been taught to strike right."
"Who?" Felix asks. "The boy's gone, there are no other untrained mind readers here."
"Who says the reader is the boy?" Ana counters. "We've only got the blind assumption that the girl is too smart to have had any need to cheat in an exam to indicate the boy. Well maybe she didn't need to cheat, maybe she just wanted to. You've been using your abilities for years, even though you knew they'd get you caught. The power's addictive, maybe the girl just wanted the chance to use it. Or who knows, maybe she was stupid all along. Maybe she's been stupid the whole time and the boy was the smart one, maybe she's been copying from day one."
"You said it yourself," Felix replies, "Brown's no untrained idiot. You think he'd take the boy if he wasn't certain he was the right one?"
"He was in a hurry!" Ana snaps back. "No doubt he had to leave before he had time to check, it isn't important. What matters is there's an untrained mind reader here and you have to pick her up."
Engrossed in the exchange, Felix has been oblivious to the goings on around him. He is suddenly brought back to the scene, as he feels all eyes turn to him. The receptionist is pointing a shaking finger at him, screaming hysterically.
"Ask him what happened, he'll know. He says he's the man's partner!"
"Is this true?" A teacher asks. "Sir?"
"I... I..." Felix's voice dies in his throat. Shit. He thinks. Shit.
"Felix." Ana mutters. "On any other day I'd leave you to dig yourself into a hole, but I need you to get the girl, so think of how you're going to get out of this and think of it fast." Felix only shakes his head. Shit.
"Felix." Ana shouts, the echoes battering around his skull. "Wake up! Help yourself!" Felix doesn't listen. He only watches his hands shake more and more wildly, his teeth chattering together uncontrollably in panic. The teachers glance at each other. One pulls a phone from his pocket and presses the same key, three times. Ana groans, what now? In the end, there is only one thing she can think to do. Slowly, she reaches out...
Leaning against the wall, still breathing hard, Becky feels something brush her mind. At the touch, she jumps as if electricity has entered her veins. Blood rushing in her ears, she waits for a moment for the touch to return. When it does it is gentler and, now prepared for it, it is not the shock that it first was. With it, however, comes a soft, female voice, barely louder than a whisper. "May I come in?"
For a moment, Becky can only think that she means to ask for admittance to the building. Stupidly, she is halfway through thinking "you'll have to ask the receptionist" before she realises that the woman does not mean the building. She is requesting access to her mind. "Yes." Becky whispers back. "Yes... You can come in." Is it possible to stutter in your thoughts? She thinks. I thought not, but now I'm not sure. She can't blame me though, can she? There's someone else out there, capable of doing what I can do, it's unthinkable!
"Who are you?" She whispers.
"My name is Ana." Comes the reply.
"Where are you?" Becky asks. If she was speaking aloud her voice would catch in her throat.
"Not here." The woman named Ana answers. "I've come with my colleague." A picture of the sweaty faced man currently slumped on the floor against the wall under the receptionist and teachers' accusing glare forms in her head. "As you can see, he's got himself into some, ah, difficulties."
"Your colleague took Michael?" Becky queries.
"No!" Ana shouts, forgetting in the moment that Becky is unused to talking mind to mind. The volume and the strength of the thought send Becky reeling, white hot pain shooting to her temples and black spots dancing a waltz at the edges of her field of vision. "No." Ana repeats again, at a barely audible whisper. "My colleague came to save your friend."
"He's not my friend." Becky mutters, her still-aching head buried in her hands. An image of a hand, lazily waving her point away, forms in her head.
"Your classmate then. My colleague had some advance warning of what was going to happen to him. He came to try and prevent it.
"But she" Becky jerks her thumb at the receptionist and wondering as she does if the woman can see it as Becky saw the wave "the receptionist says your colleague claimed to be the partner of the man who took Michael."
"As he did." Ana acquiesces. "But it is not the case. He merely planned the measure to get him into the school. As you can see, it backfired a little."
She's lying, Becky thinks, or she's not. How can I be sure? Yet as this thought washes over her, it occurs to her that she doesn't care. In the end, she has to work with these people. They can do what she can do. She wants to, she must find out what they know and what they can do. This mind to mind communication for one is something Becky has never tried. Could she do it?
In the cafe, Ana listens to these thoughts with interest. The fact that the girl would be prepared to work with kidnappers to find the extent of her abilities is... Interesting. The knowledge may come in useful later. The girl has one last question, however.
"Why would someone want to kidnap Michael?" She asks. Ana lets out a delicate chuckle.
"An excellent question. They were under the mistaken impression that he was you.
"How?" Becky asks suspiciously. "We don't exactly look alike." Ana laughs again.
"You think we go by faces? It's your minds, or rather, your abilities that were confused. They think he can do what you can do." Becky's mind races with this new information. So if they think Michael is her then when they find out their mistake...
"They'll come back for you, Becky." Ana answers her question before she has time to think it. "They don't like people with your powers operating outside of their jurisdiction. You'll never walk free if they get to you. No one'll ever come looking for you. These people are official, the supernatural secret service."
"So?" Becky asks, the voice in her head trembling with pent up fear "what do I do?"
"You come to us."
"People like you. People like me. A whole group of us, all with the same abilities, all working to avoid the fate we'd fall into if we were caught."
"And that is?" Becky asks, though she suspects the answer.
"Death." Ana answers hollowly. "Pain. The particularly immoral ones work for the people who capture them and do the same thing to others. You know half the people they capture aren't even fully aware of what they can do? They give medals to the agents who kill the most people. They're sick. Do you want to work for them, Becky?"
Becky shakes her head emphatically. "No."
"You want to die then, for refusing?"
"So come with us." Ana says, as in other places she conducts other conversations, already making arrangements. "It's no fun. You're always running and you're always in danger, you'll never see your friends, your family, your home; but you'll be as safe as you can be. You won't wind up dead in a back ally."
Leaving home, leaving her life. It's never a choice Becky would make willingly, but what can she do? "How do I get to you?"
"I've got people coming." Says Ana. She has. "Already, at points all across the city, people are getting into cars and speeding towards the school, horns blaring and warning the traffic away. How can they know how long it will be, before Brown finds out he has the wrong child and comes rushing back for Becky? They cannot waste time. "You just need to get out of here. We'll have someone find you?"
"Just me?" Becky asks, thinking of the man on the floor. "You're not going to help your colleague?" Felix is lying helpless on the floor now, passed out in his panic. Around him, people swarm, staring, shouting into phones. One of Michael's friends even directs a kick his way.
"That's for my friend, jerk." He yells.
"Leave him." A teacher at his side hisses sharply. "The police will be here soon, they'll deal with him.
"Felix?" Ana asks, her tone condescending and full of contempt. "You're worried about him?"
"Yes." Becky answers defiantly. "Shouldn't I be? He'll go to jail if we leave him here, for a crime he didn't commit!"
"Oh, he'll go through much worse than that." Ana observes dispassionately. "The people who took Michael, they're official, remember? They can get into any sell they want. He'll be a sitting target for them in jail, he'll be dead in a week."
"No!" Becky shakes her head. Allowing someone else to take the blame for cheating was one thing, but this is another. To leave the man to die, just for having abilities like hers, without attempting to save him is quite another.
Ana, hearing these thoughts, moans in frustration. "Becky, you can't save him. With all these people here, you can get out now or have them stop you and if they slow you down you're both dead. It's him or you!" Still the girl hesitates and with growing anxiety, Ana plays her last card.
"Becky." She entreats "Felix is nothing. A washed up has-been who failed to follow orders. You're young, your bright and you've only skimmed the surface of what you can do! You have no idea the sort of things you can do with your power. We can teach you to tap every scrap, we can make you strong and brilliant. That's something Felix will never be. For god's sake get out of there while there's still time."
Of all the reasons to leave, this should be the least potent. A mere play on Becky's arrogance should have nothing on a fear for her life. Ana, however, has seen enough of the girl's character to know that misplaced vanity will go a long way. Becky too knows that to leave for a chance of power would be immoral, but the possibilities are tantalising.
Ana has always prided herself on judging character with little prior acquaintance. It is, therefore, with no small satisfaction that she senses the red haired girl dodge round the crowds gathered around Felix, sprint into the abandoned interview room and away through the still open fire escape. Abandoned, Felix lies unconscious and alone. Any hope of his escaping has fled down the metal stairs with Ana's newest recruit.