Forthcoming, Stories

Forthcoming, Chapter Nineteen: Answers

The voices were muffled.  I couldn’t tell if this was because they were whispering, or because half of my mind was still in the future.

     It wasn’t until I’d shaken my head a few times that I realized no one was whispering at all.  In fact, they were shouting.  This wasn’t an argument–this was a downright fight.

     My head was hurting–not from the vision (I inwardly cringed at the word)–but from the fact that I hadn’t eaten in so long I’d forgotten how food tasted.

     And the yelling was making my head pound even more harshly against my temple.  I pushed the notepad to the side, noticing a bag of potato chips on the table in front of me.

     I snatched at them greedily and crammed them into my mouth as quickly as I could without choking.  Grease and salt had never tasted so good.

     My headache was slowly subsiding, so I put the chips down and took a drink of the soda that had also been left for me.  It was a Coke, which was personally my favorite soda.  Dad had always liked Coke, too, but Mom had always insisted on drinking diet.

     I put the Coke down, and turned away from the kitchen, where Chay was now standing, yelling at someone I couldn’t see.  Derek was sitting at the table, watching Chay with both amusement and worry.

     Worry–my mom had to be worried sick about me.  I’d skipped school and then not come home.  She probably thought I’d been kidnaped or something. 

     That was the last thing I wanted Mom to be thinking about. 

     I didn’t want her pacing the kitchen, thinking that I was lying in a ditch somewhere.  She’d already lost Dad… I didn’t want her to lose me, too.

     “Would you sit down!”

     Chay’s voice shook me from my thoughts–for which I was grateful: the idea of Mom organizing a search party made me feel guilty–not that I had the choice to leave, or even to tell her that I was alright.

     “Chay, you need to listen to reason!”

     “You need to hear what you’re saying, Aislynn!”

     I sat straighter.

     So Aislynn was here.

And whatever she was saying was making Chay angry.  I thought of how little emotion Chay had shown–he was The Man In The Shadows, after all–and felt suddenly nervous.  Whatever was making Chay this upset couldn’t be good.

     I leaned closer to the kitchen, listening intently.

     “Right, Chay,” Aislynn began, “because suggesting that Todd is actually safe and that we can use his powers to their full potential is insane!”

     “More like inhumane, Aislynn!”

     I watched the kitchen as though it was a particularly interesting soap opera.  I could see all three of them now: Derek still looked uneasy, and Chay remained defiant.  Aislynn, however, had risen her fist and was standing on her toes. 

     She was even more beautiful than I’d ever written her to be: her dark red hair rolled across her angular face the same way fields roll across the earth. 

     “And what is that for, Aislynn?”  Chay snapped, pushing her fist to the side.

     “Give me a reason, Chay!”

     “Would saying that this isn’t your project and that you should keep out of my business be a reason?  Would telling you that I’ve seen vipers with more compassion than you be reason?  Would–”

     Chay fell backward, and I tried not to laugh. 

     “I said give me a reason, Chay!”  Aislynn whirled her fist in the air, not the least bit upset that she’d hit Chay.  Derek’s eyes had grown wide–where I was repressing laughter, he seemed ready to run from the room.

     Chay stood, his look furious.  His nose was bleeding and he was breathing heavily. 

     “Ooh, can’t Chay think of a good comeback?” Aislynn spat.  “Maybe he’ll actually listen to me.”

     “Maybe Aislynn can shut-up long enough to realize that she’s dealing with a human life, not some sort of stupid experiment!”  Chay yelled so loudly that his voice seemed to linger in the apartment long after he’d closed his mouth.

     “The precise reason why we should try to protect him in a way that is actually effective!”  Aislynn was yelling, too, her voice almost as loud as Chay’s. (It was certainly more shrill.) “Human life is sacred and should be preserved!”

     “Like bacteria in a petry dish?” Chay snapped.  “Poked and prodded and tested?  You think that’s best for Todd?”

     I fell into the cushions.

     For the first time, I felt grateful to have Chay on my side.

     “Maybe you,” Aislynn shouted, “should stop thinking about Todd and start thinking about what the world will be like if we don’t use him!”

     I could honestly feel my heart beating faster. I was very warm and wanted to run into the kitchen and punch Aislynn myself.

     Because to her, I was apparently nothing more than a tool.  Forget that I have only one life to live–I life I want to live as a person, not an experiment!

     “So you’re saying Todd doesn’t matter at all as long as we can use him?”

     You tell her, Chay!

     “I’m saying that if Todd has something to contribute to the world then he should–”

     “Should what, Aislynn?  Give up living his life for everyone else?”

     “How is that different than what we did, Chay?”

     “We wanted to!  We didn’t have anything else!”  Chay was standing inches from Aislynn, his face now red.  “And last time I checked, he is contributing!”  Chay gestured to the side.  I saw my stories scattered across the table.

     “Oh yes, that’s working brilliantly, Chay!”  Aislynn snapped.  “Glimpses of the future that have ALREADY HAPPENED!”

     Chay looked as though he was about to speak, but Aislynn continued:

     “Face it, Chay, you don’t know any more about Todd’s powers than we do!  We need to send him to researchers who can figure out how to channel his visions for whenever we need them!”

     “He’s writing now, isn’t he?”

     “Oh yes–maybe he’s seeing that you and I are going to break up!”

     “I knew it!”

     Chay and Aislynn both rounded on Derek.  He shrunk back into his chair.  “I… uh,” he mumbled, “Knew you were dating.”  They continued to stare, Derek wringing his hands.  “Carry on–you were talking about psychic boy.”

     Chay turned back to Aislynn, his voice softer.  “Is that what you want?”

     “Yes, Chay.  I want Todd to be protected and–”

     “No.  You want to break-up?”

     I felt suddenly uncomfortable.  Derek seemed to think the same way I did, because he’d become very interested with the grains in the table.

     “Well, Chay, they say that you shouldn’t date people you work with.”

     “Yeah.”  Chay’s voice was heavy.

     “Okay, then.”  I heard a chair skid across the linoleum.  When I looked up, both Aislynn and Chay were sitting.

     “What are we going to do?”  Aislynn asked quietly.

     “Well,” Chay began, “We could always try eHarmony.com.”

     “Oh, shut-up, you big jerk!’

     “Wow, jerk–I am so offended.”

     “Chay–” Derek’s voice was stiff and forced.  “Now may not be the best time for sarcasm.

     Chay nodded.  Both he and Aislynn had their backs to the living room and I had to strain to hear what they said next.

     “Admit it, Chay, you’ve run out of leads.  Everything Todd’s written has already happened.”

     There wasn’t any response.  Aislynn breathed heavily, speaking slowly.  “Most of it’s ruined anyways.  But what isn’t… well, it’s not very important.”  Aislynn reached her hand out to touch Chay’s, but he moved it away quickly.

     “Chay, he’s written about you and me.  About Derek–”

     “So you’re saying we weren’t ever important?”

     “Chay, I didn’t say that!”

     “No, of course not, Aislynn.”

     “Chay–”

     “He wrote about me getting hurt, Aislynn.  He wrote about stealing the disc.  He wrote that Cyrus is just as confused about Todd’s powers as we are.”  Chay’s head snapped back to Aislynn.  Even from this angle I could see the emotionless shine that Chay’s eyes had adopted.  “The importance is in the details, Aislynn.  And I didn’t need research to tell me that.  I am perfectly capable of understanding Todd’s visions.”

     “So you knew that Henbane was going to come after you?”

     “I knew that something was going to happen to cause me to get hurt!  Why do you think I’ve been trying to get Todd out of Agenton as quickly as I could?”

     “Oh yes, smart, Chay.  You tried to get him away from Agenton, but you didn’t think of having a weapon with you?”

     “I had something with me!  I didn’t use it immediately because Todd would have probably breathed in the gas!  I only used it when I knew it would be safest for him!”  Chay’s voice was raising, his face growing more stern with each second.

     “Calm down, Chay.”

     “You stop mocking my abilities in protecting my project, Aislynn, and maybe I will.”

     “Letting Henbane anywhere near Todd at all means you’re not protecting him!”

     “He’s safe isn’t?  I brought him here–far from where Cyrus will think to look for him!”

     “You want him some place safe?  Why don’t you take him–”

     “I’m not letting The Department interfere with this, Aislynn!”

     “You’re lucky The Department hasn’t intervened!  They’re just letting you do this because you were at the warehouse!  You’ve been working against Cyrus longer than anyone–”

     “Anyone who’s lived to tell about it at least,” Derek muttered. 

     Chay didn’t respond immediately.  When he spoke, his voice was quiet.  “The Department’s too caught up in bureaucracy to even halfway understand the situation.”

     “The Department just wants what’s best for everyone.”

     “Except Todd,” Chay muttered.

     “Especially Todd.”

     Chay was about to open his mouth, when Derek cut across him.  “Listen, you two, Todd’s been in there writing.  Maybe he has something fairly decent for us–if he does than maybe we can leave research out this for a little while.”

     “That still leaves his protection–”

     That was it.

     I’d had enough of three of them planning my life as though it were a game of chess–as if I was piece for them to move around a board.  Heck, I wasn’t even anything decent, like a knight or a king.  No, I was a pawn: I didn’t get to know anything–the game plan, the next move, nothing!

     I glanced to the side, my head spinning from the fury that had leapt into my veins.  The notepad stared back at me, each carefully written word reminding me of a future I wanted nothing to do with–a future I

wished I was oblivious to.

     A future that Chay was oblivious to.

     A future that no one knew except me.

     I licked my lips at the very thought–I had a bargaining chip.  For once, I was actually in control of this situation.

     And I could get some answers.

     I grinned, standing and grabbing at the notepad so quickly that it nearly slipped from my hands.

     “Listen.”  Aislynn was speaking again.  Her voice was strained as she tried to keep it level.  Chay was watching her carefully. “Even if Todd’s latest prophecy is important–”

     “I have something.”  I was surprised by how forceful my voice sounded. 

     Chay was standing at the island instantly.  I couldn’t help but see a moment of relief on his face before it disappeared into nonchalance.  “What is it, Todd?”

     “Let me show you.”

     Chay nodded, and sat back down.  I noticed how tense he was, and regretted for a moment what I’d decided to do.  But now was not the time for me to feel sympathetic.

     When I came into the kitchen, Aislynn smiled up at me.  “Hi, Todd.  You and I haven’t technically met.  Nice to meet you.”

     She held out her hand, but I stood where I was. Aislynn was the last person I wanted to be friendly to right now. 

     But–more importantly–I wanted as much distance between the secret agents and myself as possible.

     Especially with what I was going to do.

     “Todd, what did you write?”  Chay’s voice was incredibly calm–almost uncaring.

     “I heard you guys talking,” I said.  My voice was very casual as I moved across the kitchen, staring ruefully at the three of them.

     “Todd, you have to understand that this is a very delicate situation.”

     “Why can’t you three understand that this is my life!”  I snapped.  I was proud of how much teenage angst I’d managed to cram into that sentence–it was the perfect distraction.

     “Todd,” Chay began, “You need to understand that there are some things that need to be discussed.”

     “Yeah, at least you’re on my side, Chay!” I spat.

     “Todd, we’re all on your side!” Aislynn retorted, sitting straighter.

     “You sure have a strange way of showing it!”  I moved to the opposite edge of the kitchen, between the stove and the refrigerator.  I stared at them, hoping that my eyes displayed the anger that they should.  (Not that this was hard–I was doing very little acting.)

     “Todd,” Chay began, glancing toward Aislynn and Derek.  I noticed that his nose had stopped bleeding from Aislynn’s punch; he’d cleared the blood onto his sleeve.  “I think you’re overreacting.”

     “Overreacting?”  My voice became high-pitched.  I leaned nonchalantly against the stove, saying, “Chay, you and Aislynn broke-up over me!  This isn’t something simple–I should be overreacting!”

     I watched Chay carefully.  No one else was speaking; it was evident they’d decided Chay was the best negotiator among them.

     “Todd, how much did you hear?”  Chay asked quickly.

     “I heard enough.”  I straightened.  “I don’t know what you guys are planning on doing with me, but–”

     “Todd,” Aislynn cut across Chay, who had opened his mouth to speak.  “We’re only concerned with keeping you safe.”

     “No, you’re concerned with using me.”  I spat.

     “Aislynn, will you let me handle this!”  Chay snapped.

     “Yes, Chay because you’re doing such a brilliant job.”

     I didn’t let my eyes leave the pair of them.  They were arguing again, though I’d stopped listening to the fracas.  What was important was getting answers–

     I reached carefully behind me, turning the knob on the stove.  I felt the heat of a blue flame, inches from my back.

     “Would you two be quiet long enough to answer my questions!” I spat.

     Chay and Aislynn whirled around.  They were both standing again, faces red.  “Todd, I’ve explained that I can’t tell you everything.”

     “Good to see we’re on the same page, Chay,” I said slowly.

     “What are you talking about, Todd?” Chay tensed, watching me carefully.

     I smirked.  “Everything I write is on a ‘need to know’ basis, Chay.  And right now, I don’t think you need to know.”  I spun around quickly, facing the stove and throwing the notepad on the white-hot flame as quickly as I could.  The paper caught immediately, curling and burning to ashes: first brown with purple tipped edges as the ink bled into the flame, then black, the crumbling pieces of my story falling into the stove.

     Chay was at the stove in an instant, pushing me to the ground.  He grabbed at the notepad, dropping it quickly against the heat.

     “Smart, Chay!” Aislynn snapped, pushing him to the side.  “Let me handle this.”  She turned the knob harshly, the stove creaking as the flame died.  The notepad still sizzled slightly, light smoke lifting into the air and filling the kitchen.

     “Derek, open a window!” Chay snapped, scooping the sad remains of my latest chapter into an oven mitt.

     Aislynn walked over where Chay was staring at the mess in his hands, and huffed.  “Nice going, Chay!”

     “This is my fault!”

     “If you’d just had a bit more control over your project–”

     “Well, if you hadn’t been distracting me–”

     “Would you shut up!”

     Everyone turned back to me.  Derek frowned from the window, his head cocked to the side.  Chay rounded on me quickly, fuming.  “Todd, do you have any idea what you have done!” he spat, throwing the ashes into my face.  “This was the last lead we had!  It was our only–no, Todd–you’re only chance!  Don’t you understand that!” He grabbed me by the shoulders, throwing me into a chair.  “Do you have any idea what you’ve gotten yourself into?” he whispered, his voice so low that I was the only person who could hear.

     “I know exactly what I did,” I said, my voice equally as quiet.  “I’ve gotten myself some answers.”

     I rose, sliding past Chay so that I was in the dead center of the kitchen.  “I just destroyed the only clue The Department had into the future.”

     “Nice thinking, Todd,” Derek mused, his lips twitching arrogantly.  “What are you going to do now?”

     “I’m going to ask you what’s on that stupid disc.  The disc I knew about before anyone did–before Chay stole it.”  I walked carefully toward Aislynn.  “For all you know, that pile of ash over there was the key to stopping Cyrus.”

     “For all I know, you’re bluffing,” Aislynn said, her voice curving around each syllable.  She leaned downward, her dark hair falling across her shoulder.

     “You’re right, it could’ve been your next date with Chay.”

     “We’re through,” Aislynn snapped, her voice icy.

     “You don’t know what the future holds.”  I smirked.

     “No one likes a smartalec, Todd,” Chay snapped from the corner, where he still stood, leaning against the wall so that he was mostly covered by shadows.

     “Yeah, Todd,” Aislynn began, looking at Chay rather than at me, “You’d better watch your mouth–you might end up like Chay over there.”

     “The point is,” I continued, “I know what was in my… vision.”  I gulped slightly.  “And you don’t.  If you even want a hope of finding out, you’ll answer my questions.”

     “You don’t think,” Aislynn began, “That The Department has methods for extracting information?”

     Chay was suddenly behind me.  “Don’t even think about it, Aislynn.”  I felt his hand on my shoulder; he was gripping me so harshly that his touch seemed to reach to the bone.

     “Chay, I honestly do think you’re going soft.”

     “You want to destroy his gift?  Want him to sustain so much pain that we lose all insight into the future until the next one?”

     “Next one?”

     Chay looked at me carefully.  “There is one prophet per generation, Todd.”  He eyes snapped back to Aislynn.  “And with Cyrus on the move, we can’t afford to wait.”

     For what seemed like an eternity, Chay and Aislynn stared at each other: Chay’s features were unchanging, his grip upon me tightening with each second.  Aislynn pursed her lips, her eyes on fire.

     She was the first to look away.

     Chay smirked, his eyes not leaving Aislynn’s form as she crossed her arms, staring resolutely at the floor.

     “What are your questions, Todd?”

     I sighed.  My heart had been beating at what seemed like one-hundred miles per hour.  I’d never been more nervous in my life, but apparently it hadn’t shown.  I swallowed, hoping to ease my racing heart and collect my thoughts.  “I want to talk about my stories.”

     Chay frowned.  “Todd, you’re seeing the future.”  He clapped his hands in would-be-jubilance.  “Well, that was easy.  Now, moving on to more pressing matters–what did you write?”

     I shook my head.  “You said all that stuff that I wrote has already happened?”

     “Which is why it’s so important for you to tell us what you wrote,” Chay implored, his eyebrows raised.

     “I want to know more about it.  I mean, my writing’s so vague.  I always come in right in the middle of the action.  I don’t really see the whole future–just a snippet.”

     “That’s typical,” Derek supplied, sitting straighter.  “The future is a confusing, questionable thing–it’s impossible to see everything.”

     “The key,” Aislynn began, her voice so sharp I half-expected her tongue to slither out of her mouth like a snake.  “Is interpreting what a person is able to see.”

     “I want to know more about what I have seen, like the warehouse fire, and–”

     “Todd, those things are in the past.”  Chay’s voice sounded so heavy that it caught me off guard.  When I looked at him though, his face was stern.  I wondered if I’d imagined the emotion.

     “But it could be important,” I began.  “And besides, if you don’t answer my questions, then I won’t answer yours.”

     “Todd, none of that matters.  What’s important is what we can avoid now.”

     Chay’s voice was so definite that I didn’t press the matter.  I couldn’t help but notice how quiet the room had become.

     “Do you have any more questions, Todd?”  Chay’s voice was again harsh.  He was standing–as far from Aislynn as was possible in the small kitchen–watching me expectantly.

     “What’s on the disc?”

     “That isn’t something that you should know about, Todd,” Aislynn demanded.

     “Aislynn, I think he has a right to know.”

     She didn’t turn her head towards him, but when she spoke again, it was through gritted teeth.  “Chay, I think you’re getting confused.”

     “Listen, even Derek can’t make sense of what’s on the disc,” Chay’s voice was reasonable, as though commenting that dark clouds must mean rain.  “Between his latest vision and what’s on the disc, Todd may be able to filll in the blanks.”

     No response.  I was beginning to miss the awkward mornings with Mom after a fight with Virgil.  They would be far more welcome than the menace that was playing between Chay and Aislynn.

     “In fact,” Chay began, “Todd is probably the only person who can fill in the blanks.”

     Aislynn turned toward him, her voice grim.  “Do what you want, Chay.”

     She turned and took a seat at the table, crossing her arms and legs.  “But I won’t be a part of going directly against The Department’s orders.”  She turned her nose to the air, looking at the wall.

     “Congratulations, Todd, I think I’ve found someone with your same maturity level.”

     “I don’t pout!”  I shouted, but Aislynn seemed unperturbed.

     Chay laughed.  “Oh no, of course not!  ‘They’re not real, they’re stories!’” he said in a high-squeaky voice.  “‘Stop bugging me big, scary spy-man!’”

     “You’re not big and scary!” I spat.  “And I don’t sound like that!”

     “If you two ladies are done fighting,” Derek said slowly from the living room.  “The disc is loaded and waiting for examination.”

     Chay’s face suddenly became serious. “You better understand this, Todd.”  He turned toward the living room, leaving me alone with Aislynn, still glaring at the wall.

     I followed him quickly, watching as Derek began to click on files.  “I have no idea what any of this means.”

     “Like a piece is missing from the puzzle,” Chay explained as I sat down. 

     “What is it?” I asked.  The screen was blank, save for a single folder. 

     “That’s just it,” Derek said, scowling.  “Watch.”  Derek clicked the file, then rolled away from the screen so that I could have a better view.  At first, nothing happened: the screen remained completely black. 

     “Do you hear that?” I asked, looking from Chay to Derek.

     “Hear what?” Chay asked, still watching the screen.

     I turned back to the computer.  I couldn’t take my eyes away from it: a small, white light was growing in the background.  I squinted my eyes, listening to the quiet voice that was steadily growing louder.

     “That!  Don’t you hear that?”

     “Todd, are you feeling alright?”  Chay instinctively put a hand to my forehead, but I pushed him away.  The white light had grown into a clear image:  at first I could hardly make out what I was staring at.  But the louder the voice became (because there was a voice–it was echoing clearly in my ears), the larger the image grew.

     It took me several moments before I realized that I was staring at a pattern that moved with the voice–the louder the voice was, the more pronounced the lines became.  The higher the voice, the higher the bars reached.  It looked very similar to the program that played whenever I put a CD into my computer.

     “Is it a CD?” I asked; I knew the question was stupid, but I received an answer nonetheless.

     “It’s a program of some sort, Todd.  Derek is certain of that much.”

     (–a disc that contained blueprints for a new product that IMPOS was planning for release in early 2010.)

     “It’s a blueprint for a program,” I said suddenly, staring at the screen. The lines had turned into blotches–as though someone was dripping milk on a black background. The voice was the same–more pronounced than before, yet its message was still unclear.  “It’s a blueprint,” I repeated.  “I read about it in the news.”

     “I read that article, too, Todd.  Do you think that Cyrus would hint that publicly?”

     “I think he’d find it romantic,” I continued,

watching as the lines continued to spread and contort.  They didn’t lose rhythm with the voice.  “Winning despite foreshadowing his own conspiracy….urgh!”  I groaned, reaching for the volume and turning it to full blast.  “There is no way you can’t hear that!”
     “Todd, we don’t hear anything,” Chay said, he leaned in closer as though he was trying to hear, but just continued to shake his head.  “Nothing–”

     “Shush!”

     Chay was livid for a moment, but it passed.  The noise was finally clear; I could hear each word distinctly.  They were crisp and clear and seemed to engrave themselves in my brain:

“The time is nigh for death

And you are its keeper.”

     “What?” I asked aloud.

     “Todd?”

     “What does ‘nigh’ mean?”

     Chay frowned.  “Imminent, coming, on the horizon.”

     I leaned closer to the screen.  “It’s almost poetic.”
     “What is, Todd?”

     The voice was replaying so rapidly that I could hardly tell where one word ended and the other began; I wasn’t using my ears for listening.  Instead, I was using my memory.  My brain played each word over and over, as though it had turned into a giant tape-recorder.

     “’The time is nigh for death and you are its keeper.’”  I nearly laughed. “Sounds like something Poe would write, doesn’t it?”

     Chay frowned. “Todd, there isn’t any voice at all.”

     “Yeah there is.” My tone was faint.  I had become far too interested in that voice.  It sounded as though someone was whispering in my ear (someone who had sucked helium, that is.)

     I shook my head.  “Turn it off,” I muttered.  My head was aching.  The image on the screen was beginning to look less and less like something I recognized.  The lines were floating like wisps, darting further along the screen as the voice become more crazed and more high-pitched.

     “Hold on, Todd.”

     “Chay, there’s something wrong with this!”

     “Well, obviously, Todd!  If there was something right with it, then The Department wouldn’t waste their time.”

     “Chay!”

     “Todd!”

     I shook my head, still staring at the computer, and bit my lip.  The voice wasn’t simply an undertone–it was strong as it repeated the same message.  Any sort of poetry was lost; it had turned into a string of shrill screeches.

      I couldn’t look away–the image (though meaningless) was hypnotizing.  It filled the screen the same way a gypsy danced in front of a fire.  It was mystifying and impossible to ignore–even Chay was watching it carefully.

     Derek was suddenly reaching across from me, turning the volume down.

     “What’re you doing?” I spat.

     “Listen,” he muttered.

     I heard it first–it was the sound of weeping and gunfire.  It was also the sound screaming guitars and smashing drums.  It was country twang and steady rap.

     My brain felt as though it was going into overload–it sounded as though every station on the radio was being played at once.  It was like some sort of strange musical collage–every once in a while, news reports would be thrown in.  It was impossible to distinguish one thing from another–

     Except for that voice–that stupid voice.

     It was crisp.

     “Turn it off,” I practically yelled.  My hands were balled into fists.  The image on the screen was bouncing rapidly, contorting with each new sound.

     “Todd, we need to see if anything reminds you of something you’ve seen!”
     “I get it!  I get it!  Just shut it off!” I was screaming.  I couldn’t turn away–the lines had spread out against the black.  As the noises continued, they seemed to form a shape around the rhythm–they were beginning to look like a face melting into the computer.  As I stared at it, I began to see the cavities where eyes should have been.  It was as though a ghost had been sucked into the computer and was trying to get out.  Its mouth was open and sagging, like a zombie, and the voice continued to chant the same phrase again and again:

“The time is nigh for death

And you are its keeper.”

     “Turn it off!”

     “Get it, Derek,” Chay shouted; he had to be very loud to be heard over me.

     “But if there’s more, Chay–”

     “TURN IT OFF!”  I reached for the computer, pressing the button on the monitor.  The computer buzzed; the image disappearing into a single white line before it faded.

     “Don’t touch!” Derek shouted, far too late.  “She’s very delicate!”

     “Your computer has a gender now?”

     I was breathing heavily, barely recognizing Aislynn’s voice behind me.  The voice was still echoing in my ear, and I if I closed my eyes I could still see that strange image.

     “I’m sorry, are you looking for something?” Chay spat.  His face was directly in front of mine, though his features had turned hard.

     “What does he think?” Aislynn asked quickly.

     “I thought you weren’t going to deliberately go against The Department.”

     She huffed. “The dark deed is done,” she said dramatically, pushing Chay and sitting in front of me.  “I might as well enjoy its spoils.”  Aislynn turned back to me, her expression stiff.  “What do you think, Todd?”

     I breathed slowly, regaining myself.  “Did you hear it?”

     “I heard the music.”

     “No, the voice before it,” I explained.  I was certain that I’d hard something.

     Aislynn frowned, shaking her head.  “What is he talking about, Chay?”

     “He claims to have heard something we couldn’t.”

     Derek snorted.  “Like some sort of secret code.”

     I sat, bolt upright.

     “I know something you don’t!”  I exclaimed.

     “Well, obviously, Todd,” Chay began. “None of us was born with an inner eye.”

     I threw a pillow at Chay, surprised that he didn’t react with some sort of karate.

     “No,” I explained, watching Chay closely.  “No one else could hear it because I’m the only teenager.”

     Chay seemed about to retort, but Aislynn shushed him.  “Go on, Todd.”

     “Teens are getting this new ringtone–its high-pitched, and for some reason only other teens can hear it.”

     Derek sat straighter.  “I know about that.”

     “Congrats,” Chay drawled, “you get a gold star.”

     Derek glowered, spinning in his chair.

     “What’s your point, Todd?”

     “My point is what Cyrus is planning.” I paused.  “You guys don’t have any idea, do you?”

     “Our insight is your writing and that disc, Todd,” Aislynn continued.

     Chay nodded. “The government has been interested in Cyrus for years, but he’s stayed under the radar enough to make it impossible for the CIA or FBI to act.”

     “He’s not actually broken any laws,” Aislynn explained.  “Everything he’s done is theoretical.  There’s not really any proof.”

     “And he’s good at buying silence,” Chay continued.  “Which is why you are such an asset to The Department.  We’re the only ones who can watch him, because we don’t technically exist.”

     I sat straighter.  “What do you mean by that?”

     The room had grown silent.  “Tell us about Cyrus’ plan if you know it, Todd,” Aislynn said quietly.

     “How can you not exist?”

     “Todd,” Chay was looking at me strangely.  “I wasn’t born ‘Chay,’ but that person died a long time ago.”

     “According to official record,” Landon mumbled.

     “Todd, you need to tell us about Cyrus.” Aislynn was leaning toward me.

     “I think,” I began, “that Cyrus is planning to kill a lot of important people.”

     “Tell us something we don’t know, Todd.”

     I turned to Chay.  “Okay, he’s planning on tricking them into doing it–that program holds some sort of message.  He’s planning on sending signals telling people to kill.”  I paused.  “I don’t know how he’s going to do it, but I know he’s getting close to a success….  I’ve seen it.”

     Everyone was quiet.  Chay’s expression didn’t change, but Aislynn’s lips were pressed into a hard line.  Derek’s head was cocked to the side and he was tapping his fingers impatiently.

     “Todd,” Chay began, “that doesn’t sound… plausible.”

     “Alright, fine,” I said.  “When there are all sorts of crazed people ripping each other a part, then I guess you’ll know I was right.”

     “You saw that?”  Aislynn’s tone was disgusted.

     I nodded.  “There’s just one thing I don’t understand.”
     “What’s that?”  Aislynn was asking the questions now; Chay had subsided into quiet contemplation.  He was watching me, his forehead creased in concentration.

     “I was the only one who could hear any of this because I’m a teenager.  In my… vision–” (I nearly choked on the word) “–there weren’t any teenagers, especially the people who were being tested.”

     “Obviously Cyrus isn’t just interested in teenagers,” Aislynn supplied.  “He wants to do a lot of damage.  If he really wants widespread damage, then he would target more than one group with this subliminal messaging.”

     Derek nodded.  “He’s probably planning on transmitting this signal through any sort of audio media.” He sounded as though he was reciting information from a text book.  “Radio, MP3s, IPods, television–anything that has sound.”

     “The question is how he’s going to get it there,” Aislynn agreed.

     “I didn’t see that.”  I leaned back in my chair.  “I saw him successfully operate an experiment.”

     “So he’s getting close.”  Aislynn cast a sideways glance to Chay, who didn’t turn away from me.  His gaze was beginning to make my skin crawl; I wished that he would look away.  Aislynn was still talking:

     “Todd, you’re visions seem to happen within a weeks of when they’re written.”

     Derek nodded.  “Poor little prophet boy is still in training,” he smirked.

     “What?”

     Aislynn straightened.  “A mature prophet should be able to predict things on a global scale, both in the near future and the far future.  Don’t worry, Todd, The Department has methods for helping you to get there.”  She grinned in a way that she must have thought was motherly; I thought she looked vampire advancing for a kill.

     I shifted so that I was looking at Chay; his stance hadn’t changed.

     “Anyways, Cyrus is getting close.  Something needs to be done, right?”  I asked.

     Aislynn nodded. “Yes, absolutely.  If Cyrus already has this blueprint for teenagers, and its evidently only a matter of time before he gets success with adults–according to Todd–then we need to start taking action.”

     “I still don’t understand why he would waste time on this program for teens when he’s planning on using adults, too–wouldn’t they cause more damage than the average high school cheerleader?” Derek laughed at his own joke, sneering.

     “He thinks the youth is very easy to manipulate,” I argued; I felt suddenly irate as Chay raised his eyebrows in what was–unmistakably–agreement.  “He said so in what I just wrote, and they were young adults.  If Cyrus thinks he can manipulate them, then teenagers would be simple–according to him,” I added as an afterthought.

     Aislynn grinned cheekily.  “Sounds like someone else I know.”

     Chay glanced at her; he didn’t appear to be angry, but when he spoke his words were terse.  “That still leaves the main problem:  what are we doing about it?”

     Aislynn opened her mouth, but didn’t respond. 

     “We’ll never be able to get into IMPOS after I broke in.  Security has to’ve increased tenfold.”

     “Chay,” I began, “in my vision Cyrus was somewhere else.  He wasn’t at his main headquarters.”

     Chay frowned. “You were seeing into the future, Todd.  When I broke in I was at the hub of this blueprint–where all the planning’s going on.  Cyrus isn’t ready to start experimenting yet–what you saw is probably somewhere he’s going to be going soon, but not yet.”   

  I nodded.  “Then how do we get in.”    

Chay sighed.  “As far as I can see, we don’t.  Breaking in is pointless if the odds of getting caught outweigh our chances of success.”

     “And if we can’t get in, we can’t do anything,” Aislynn said slowly.

      Everyone was silent.  I felt as though I’d jumped off a cliff–everything that I’d seen was terrible, yet we’d run into a dead-end.  There was simply nothing we could do.  It didn’t seem fair.

     My blood was pulsing more quickly than it ever had–both from anger, and–somehow–excitement.  For once in my life, everything actually made sense.  For once, I could actually be in control.  I knew exactly how to fix this unfair situation.

     “I can get in,” I said, shocked by how quickly all three of them turned to stare at me.

     “What?” Derek exclaimed.

     “You heard me.  Cyrus and Henbane want me as badly as The Department does–I could get in.”

     “Todd, I’m not using you as bait,” Chay voice was deep and guttural like a growl.

     “Chay, I won’t get hurt.  That’s the last thing that Cyrus and Henbane want.”  I smiled encouragingly.  “They’d be really stupid to hurt me.”

     “Chay, he has a point,” Derek agreed.

     Chay seemed as though he was holding his breath; his chest was puffed before him, his cheeks flushed.

     “Chay, he may be the only way to get in there.”

     “I think it would be best for us to use The Department,” Chay said stiffly.

     “Chay,” Aislynn implored, “If we bring The Department into this, you know what will happen.”

     Chay continued to stare at her. “I’m not using Todd as bait.”

     “You know what will happen to Todd the moment we let The Department in, Chay.”

     “I thought that’s what you wanted, Aislynn,” Chay snapped.

     “The situation has changed,” she turned back to me and grinned.  “We have the upper hand as it is, and changing things could be detrimental.”

     “Chay, it’s not big deal,” I began.  Chay’s eyes flared as he said:

     “It is a big deal.”

     “We’ll play it smarter, Chay,” Derek said from his chair. 

     “Yeah,” I agreed, “smarter than Cyrus.”

     Chay acted as though he was cornered: he didn’t speak; his hands reflexively balled into fists.  It was a long while before he spoke, and when he did, it was forced.  He said only one word, before sitting, scowling in a corner: “Fine.”

     Aislynn grinned.  “Very well, then.”

     “I think I know what to do,” Derek said, his eyes shining beneath his glasses.

     I watched Chay closely.  His expression was dark, his arms crossed as he watched and listened.

     “Todd?”

     “What?”  I turned my attention back to the other two.  They nodded for me to sit, so I obliged.

     “Okay,” Derek began, “Here’s the plan.”


Copyright Sarah Davidson 2020

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