5 – Captured

Pluto’s Helmet

Story Parts:

Chained by trust. Why, Tanner, why? The anger quickened her heartbeat. It seemed to make things clearer; it helped to keep the sickness at bay.

The lecture hall across from his main office was vacant. A glance out to the corridor confirmed that the way was clear. And once again submerged in total darkness, she hobbled along the wall. Halfway there, a door opened behind her. She stopped and quieted her breathing. The hardwood floors creaked under the steps of two men. One spoke like a guard, the other one had a strange accent. They walked together past her and stopped about five meters ahead of her. A knuckle rapped on a wooden door before pushing it open, and Tanner’s voice greeted the visitor.

The guard walked back out, but the door never swung shut. Leona limped across the corridor and inched her way to its edge. She knew Tanner’s office well. From their voices and the clink of ice on glass, she figured they were at the elaborate bar at the far corner, by the window. The pouring started. She stepped in. One glass was done. She slid her bad foot around the door and held on to the tall back of the first chair. The second glass rang full. The bottle dinged another one on its way back on the shelf and Leona slid to the floor, behind the old-fashioned psychoanalyst’s couch.

Her heart was pounding at her temples. Part of her mind kept shouting at her, “You idiot, you idiot, you won’t be able to hold on to the bubble.” But another part of her fought the panic with hope and clear reasoning: “They have to leave the office sometime. He always locks his office… Now I’m in. I’m in. I just have to hold on; lay still and hold on. I can do it.”

“I hear you’ve had some unexpected developments.” The man with the accent rolled his drink around as he paced the floor before Tanner’s desk.

“There’s been a slight delay.” Tanner sat down.

“That appears to be your trademark, Doctor.”

“You can’t schedule breakthroughs.”

“You had no problem with schedules when it came to the financing of your biocybernetics lab. By the way, my compliments to your architect, a very impressive structure.” The man finally sat down. “I hope there is some substance behind it.”

Tanner took the prodding without altering his posture or his voice. “I promise you, what we have now far, far, exceeds your uncle’s expectations. The biocyber labs will allow us to pinpoint the areas in the brain responsible for the activities. Once that is done, microelectrode stimulation will be able to duplicate the phenomena in any ordinary human.”

“My men will be most elated with the ability to move a feather with a single thought.”

Tanner didn’t reply. He stood up and inserted a video disk into the slot behind his chair. A wooden panel slid to reveal a monitor and the replay started.

“DO IT!”

Tanner’s shout startled her.

“I CAN’T, IT CAN’T BE DONE!”

The sound of her own voice drained all blood from Leona’s invisible face. The panic choked her throat as she saw in her mind again eyes that had lost all semblance of humanity. She curled herself up tight. She shut her eyes and ears inside the darkness but still she could hear and feel it all, again.

His hands shook her violently and threw her out of the chair. A kick sent the chair flying and he lifted her off the floor with one hand. She couldn’t control her sobs. She tried to speak, to tell him she’d try again, she’d try; but no sound would come out. His eyes flashed again in pure anger and the back of his hand sent her tumbling across the room. Her lips were burning, her eyes couldn’t focus… her heart tried to pry itself loose from her chest… and then: blackness, utter total blackness.

The sudden silence let Leona breathe again. She panted through hands clenched to her mouth. The man slid his chair back and Tanner froze the video frame.

“A trick; a movie trick.”

Tanner pulled the video disk out and tossed it at the man. “You examine it. Have any lab examine it. It’s real, real footage from a real test room.”

Leona rolled onto her stomach and pressed herself as far under the couch as she could. Her bubble was still holding, her heart was returning to normal. They hadn’t heard her; they hadn’t.

The man stood up and looked incredulously at the recording in his hand. “What happened?”

“Teleportation.” Tanner leaned forwards on his desk. “Think about it — the ability to transport objects outside the boundaries of space and time.”

The man just paced. Tanner stood up and continued. “Think about it. Forget kinetics, forget everything else… Just place a fraction of an ounce of poison directly into your target’s bloodstream. Hell, who needs poison? A well placed bubble of air in an artery, in the brain — and who will ever trace it?”

“Where is she now?”

“Temporarily out of our hands.”

“You lost her?”

“She will be back. Some of my men saw her last night. She has to come back. I’m all she has left in the world.”

The man gave a grunt of disgust.

“I know how to handle people, Vinier. Right now she’s hiding somewhere in the complex, scared. If your people weren’t coming tonight, we could concentrate on recovering her. The sight of more strangers is not going to help.

The man stepped over to the window, fingering the disk eagerly. “My uncle needs assurances.”

“Then give them to him and get out of here.”

“Ah, Doctor Tanner, you have nothing to worry about. My uncle Camarin likes to look his partners in the eye. He is a good judge of character. All you have to do is convince him as you have convinced me. Then, maybe, we’ll even give you some help in finding this wonder girl.”

The gasp that escaped Leona’s throat got drowned out by the beeping of the intercom.

“Tanner here.”

“Condon, Sir. There’s a woman here at the gate.”

“We are not interviewing today.”

“Sir, she says to tell you that she’s Semiano’s sister.”

Tanner held off his reply. The other man set the disk down. “Semiano has no sisters.”

“Escort her in, Condon.”

As the intercom button went off, each man stared at the other with suspicion. Tanner was the first to speak again. “Semiano is too close a link. I thought you kept tight reins on your hired help.”

“We do. If he’s trying to free load, he won’t be for long. Of course, someone else could have slipped.”

The opening of the corridor’s main entrance door cut the accusations short. The man with the accent stepped around the couch to stand behind the door, his shoes barely missing Leona’s face.

Condon introduced the visitor and left.

Zeta recognized Tanner from the photograph in the paper. In the greeting handshake she read his pulse and the conductivity of his skin. Neither betrayed any surprise or vestige of nervousness. Zeta ramped up the frequency of her bioelectric field and discreetly glanced around herself as she started to sit down. A quick mental subtraction of the visual cues from the electric images revealed the source of Tanner’s confidence. There were two other pieces on the board.

The one behind the door was clearly a large man. The magnetic echo from her high frequency harmonics suggested the presence of a weapon somewhere on his upper torso. However, the image behind the couch was the puzzling one — unless there really was a sweaty dwarf hidden under there.

Let’s transpose to the Queen’s side. “I’ll get right to the point, Doctor. I am not Momé Semiano’s sister.”

“Indeed.” Tanner sat back in his chair.

“I had to get your attention somehow —” she allowed her voice to break. “I h-had to see you. You are the only person who can help me. You see, I’m clairvoyant.” Even if his face did not betray it, there was a subtle change in his heart rate.

Thank heaven for muscle potentials. OK, Bishop to Kt2. Zeta moistened her lips nervously. “I have visions. I can’t control them… I — I know you. I know who Semiano is.” She stood up. “I know there’s someone behind that door with a gun!”

Tanner did not say a word, but she was close enough to feel the change in conductivity of his palms against the surface of the desk. “Well, say something!” She gave her voice a desperate edge. “Say something or tell him to shoot!” She hid her face as the door swung closed and the man stepped forward.

“Hold it, Vinier.” Tanner stood up.

“You’ve got to be kidding.”

In their moment of hesitation she had two choices: either move in and attack or Knight to Rook 5… a clumsy move, but her only choice, given the uncertainty behind the couch. She retreated toward the window. The man drew his gun. Tanner stepped in his way and Zeta got a clean look, visual and electrical, behind the couch. And the incongruity turned the board upside down. All her eyes could see was a wooden couch, with fabric cushions, standing on a hardwood floor.

But her whole body swore there were thirty odd kilos worth of body tissue pressed tightly against its underside, covered in sweat. In the middle of it was a young heart beating in a severely distorted rhythm; and somewhere in the EEG bands there was a storm of activity unlike anything she had ever felt before.

The shock visibly showed in her face. When in doubt, faint. Zeta toppled over. Tanner almost caught her.

“Now what?”

The Doctor checked for a pulse. Its beat was barely discernible. “She’s soaked. She’s gone into some sort of shock.” He started to lift her up, but Zeta made herself limper than a cat. “Help me get her on the couch.”

“You are insane!”

“You fool, don’t you realize it’s to find people like this that my Institute exists? Any Talent is untapped gold.”

It was a gambit but, if she had read Tanner right, he wouldn’t let a specimen like this get shot. She was right. Tanner switched on the intercom and asked Condon to bring the medic. Then the other man started to help. As expected, Tanner took both her arms, the other man took both her legs. And as they lifted her off the floor, she said, “Hi,” and switched on 600 volts, from left to right.

The gunman slammed against the window, Tanner flew over the chair, and Zeta dropped to the floor with a thud.

The screams and racket of falling bodies made the image behind the couch cringe and whimper with a girl’s voice. “Leona, is that you?” In one leap, Zeta was beside the image. It was half-standing. She reached for it and her arm vanished, and a girl’s voice gasped at the touch of her invisible hand. “Whittaker sent me.”

The sound of that name vanquished the bubble. Kneeling before Leona was a beautiful stranger with eyes deeper than the sea. Those eyes scanned her ashen face, her bruised body and wavered at the swollen lips… and, for a moment, they welled up with tears. The stranger suddenly scooped her up in an embrace of relief and reassurance. Before Zeta could ask any questions, the sound of running feet echoed up the corridor. “The intercom — Tanner called security – they must have heard.”

There was no other way out of the office. The men slammed the door open, swung their guns at them and then, total darkness. The combination of sudden blindness and the roar of the brainstorm within the girl’s mind almost spun Zeta to the floor. Her electric field spiked instinctively into the high kilohertz and the room and the men reappeared in her electric sense. She swallowed hard. Leona pressed a cold hand against her mouth and they stood perfectly still and perfectly silent.

“They are gone!” The Condon image spun around, the sparkling aura of his gun tracing an angry arc. “Are they…?”

“Doctor Tanner’s alive.” The other image stepped over to the gunman. “He’s OK too, just knocked out.”

With the child in her arms, Zeta started to weave her way around the furniture. They almost made it past the tall chair. Leona shuddered, “I – I can’t.” Zeta felt her heartbeat flutter. Every muscle potential spike in the child’s body got distorted almost beyond recognition and the light was back.

Their sudden reappearance made Condon react by instinct. The first bullet missed Zeta’s head by an inch, and she dropped Leona. The second would have hit her heart except Condon’s head abruptly vanished. The window exploded into a shower of glass. The sight and the headless scream sent the other man scrambling for the door. Condon fired again and hit the wall. Zeta leaped over the couch, every pore on her body oozing electrolyte, and she discharged on contact, nearly 500 volts from shoulder to shoulder. As the man dropped to the ground, his head came out of the nothingness.

Hanging on to the back of the couch, Leona managed to smile in between short panting breaths.

“Don’t do that anymore. You are killing yourself.”

“His head was small… Small is easier. I just couldn’t hold us both.”

“Let’s get out of -“

“No,” Tanner rolled over, “you don’t.” And he grabbed Condon’s gun from the floor. It took both aching arms to lift it and aim it at the stranger’s head. “You make one move, child, and she’s dead.”

A flash of defiance crossed Leona’s face and Tanner squeezed the trigger. The bullet ripped through Zeta’s right shoulder, throwing her against the desk.

“No, NO, NO.”

“I mean it. You vanish and she’s dead.” Tanner managed to stand himself up against the wall and keep the gun on the stranger.

“Don’t, don’t. Please don’t. I’m no use to you anyway. I’m not—” She swallowed and pushed back the tears. “I can’t teleport. I just become invisible.”

The slight color that had started to return to Tanner’s face, fled again. “Liar!” He held the gun straight out and took a step toward the bleeding stranger. “Liar!”

“It’s true. It’s true.” She almost tried to make his head vanish, but it was too far away; there was no strength left; and if he squeezed the trigger… “Please, please, look.” She pushed with all her might and her right hand vanished for a moment. “See? That’s all I can do. Let me go. Let us go. Please.”

Tanner considered shooting them both but the groan of the gunman Vinier, the nephew of Camarin, waking up, reminded him of other commitments, other promises. Five of his guards burst in the door and he gave them hasty instructions.

Zeta and Leona were taken to the storeroom in the basement. Vinier was taken to the first aid station and administered a sedative. And Tanner shut himself in his office. He needed time to think before the others arrived.

The prospect of meeting Camarin empty-handed was a dismal one. Half of the money spent on the biocyber labs could be raised – if he sold most of the land. The Tanner Institute still had some wealthy friends. Maybe he could — “And lose it all? NO! Camarin won’t take it back.” He wasn’t coming here for money. He wanted power, an undefeatable weapon, and Tanner had offered that to him. If he tried to go back on the deal… Tanner knew what Camarin would do. “There has to be a way.”

Pluto’s Helmet

Story Parts:

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