The Strange Power
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She looked around desperately for a weapon-and saw Mr. Zetes.
He was standing in the little hallway just in front of Joyce's room. The strange thing was that Kaitlyn hadn't seen him arrive-and she was sure he hadn't been there when she burst in. She'd been looking in that direction, because that was where the dogs had come from.
Even stranger, she would have sworn that no door had opened or closed over there. The door to the front lab, just behind him, was shut. So were the French doors to his left-the ones that opened on Joyce's room.
But there wasn't any other door-to Mr. Z's right was only a solid wall that supported the staircase. So he had to have come from the lab or Joyce's room.
Kait saw his mouth move, and the dogs shut up. He
gave her a courtly nod, his piercing dark eyes on her face.
"I forgot my sociology book," Kaitlyn said unsteadily. Her pulse was hammering, and for some reason she felt as if she were being caught in a lie.
"I see. Run up and get it," was all he said, but he waited until she came downstairs with it, and saw her out the door.
The drawing came, appropriately, during art studio class.
Kaitlyn had been thinking about Mr. Zetes all day, and had made the interesting discovery that it's quite possible to be miserable during lunch even though important people are being nice to you. Several cheerleaders and three or four attractive guys had sat down to talk to her group-but it didn't matter.
However Kaitlyn tried to listen to them, her mind kept drifting to Mr. Zetes standing in that cul-de-sac of a hallway. Like a magician appearing in a sealed cabinet.
In art class, Kaitlyn was supposed to be doing a project for her portfolio-that important collection of pictures that might get her college credit next year-but she couldn't focus. The busy, creative classroom around her was only a blur and a hum.
Almost mesmerized, she flipped to a blank page in her sketchbook and reached for her oil pastels.
She loved pastels because they made it so easy to get what she saw from her eyes to the paper. They were quick, fluid, vigorous-free. For a normal picture, she would start by rapidly sketching the major shapes, then layering on detail. But for the other kind of picture, the kind she didn't control. . .
She watched her hand dot tiny strokes of carmine and crimson lake in a rectangular shape. A tall rectangle. Around the rectangle, strokes of Van Dyke brown and burnt umber. The close dots of the browns gradually formed a shimmering pattern, with whorls and lines like wood grain.
Her hand hesitated over the box of pastels-what color next? After a moment she picked up black.
Black strokes clustered heavily inside the rectangle, forming a shape. A human silhouette, with broad shoulders and body lines that swept straight down. Like a coat. A man in a coat.
Kaitlyn sat back and looked at the drawing.
She recognized it. It was one of the images she'd seen in that visionary mosaic yesterday-the doorway.
Only now she could see the full picture.
A man in a coat in front of the rectangle of an open door. The red of the doorway gave an impression of energy around him. Framing the door was wood- wood paneling.
The solid wall across from Joyce's door was wood-paneled.
"Nice broken color technique," a voice above her said. "Do you need a squirt of fixative?"
Kaitlyn shook her head and the teacher moved on.
The limousine picked them up after school. Joyce was still at the hospital, Mr. Zetes told them when they got home. Marisol was still unconscious. There wouldn't be any testing today.
Kait waited until everyone had drifted upstairs, and then quietly, one by one, she began to gather them.
"We've got to talk. In the study," she said. Anna, Lewis, and Rob all came at once. Gabriel came when she stuck her head in his room and hissed at him.
When they were together in the study, she shut the door and turned the TV on. Then she showed them the picture and told them what she'd seen that morning.
"So you think, like . . . what? There's really a door there?" Lewis asked. "But what does that mean? I mean, so what?"
Kaitlyn looked at Rob, whose eyes were dark, dark gold.
"There's more," she said, and she told Anna and Lewis what she'd told Rob and Gabriel the night before.
All of it, about Marisol's warnings and the strange things that had been happening.
When she was through, there was no sound except the blaring of a music video on TV.
Anna sat with her head slightly tilted, her long braid falling into her lap, her eyes faraway and sad. Lewis rubbed his nose, forehead puckered. Rob's face was set, his fists resting on his knees. Kaitlyn herself gripped the sides of her sketchbook tensely.
Gabriel was sitting back with one knee hooked over the arm of the couch. He was playing with a quarter, flipping it over and catching it. He seemed completely unconcerned.
Finally Anna said, "Something's going on. Any one of those things-like what Marisol said, or the cold thing on your forehead-any one of them could be explained. But when you put them all together, something's ..."
"Amiss," Rob supplied.
"Amiss," Anna said.
Lewis's face cleared. "But look. If you think there's a door down there, why don't we just go down and see?"
"We can't," Anna said. "Mr. Z's in the living room, and so are the dogs."
"He's got to leave sometime," Rob said.
Lewis squirmed. "Look-you're really saying that the Institute is, like, evil? You really think so?" He turned to Rob. "I thought you loved this place, the whole idea of it."
Gabriel snorted. Rob ignored him. "I do love the idea of it," he said. "But the reality ... I've just got a bad feeling about it. And Kait does, too."
Everyone looked at Kait, who hesitated. "I don't know about feelings," she said finally, looking down at the picture of a door. "I don't even know whether to trust my drawings. But there's only one way to find out about this one."
It took them half an hour to plan the burglary. Actually, it only took five minutes to do the planning. The other twenty-five were spent trying to force Gabriel to help.
"No, thanks. Include me out," he said.
"You wouldn't have to go inside," Kaitlyn said through her teeth. "All you need to do is sit in the alcove and watch for cars coming in the driveway."
Gabriel shook his head.
Anna tried gentle reasoning with him; Lewis tried bribery. None of it worked.
At last Rob stood up with an exclamation of disgust and turned toward the door. "Stop catering to him.
He's afraid. It doesn't matter; we can do it without him."
Gabriel's eyes went hard. "Afraid?"
Rob barely glanced back at him. "Yeah."
Gabriel stood up. "Care to say that again?"
This time Rob turned. He stood face-to-face with Gabriel and their eyes locked, silently fighting it out.
Kaitlyn watched them both without breathing. Thinking again that they were so different, such opposites.
Rob all gold, radiant energy, his waving hair tousled, his eyes blazing. And Gabriel darkness, his skin paler than usual, his hair looking black in contrast. His eyes bottomless and cold.
Like the sun and a black hole, side by side, Kait thought. In that moment the image was etched into her mind, a picture she would never draw. It was too frightening.
Once again, she was afraid for Rob. She knew what Gabriel could do-with or without a knife. If they started fighting . . .
"I'm going downstairs," she said abruptly. "To ask Mr. Z if we can order a pizza."
Everyone looked at her, startled. Then Kait saw understanding flash in Anna's eyes.
"That's a good idea. I'm sure nobody wants to cook dinner," Anna said, standing and gently taking Rob's elbow. She nudged Lewis with her foot.
"Uh, fine with me," Lewis said, putting his baseball cap on backward. He was still looking at Gabriel.
Slowly, to Kaitlyn's great relief, the two combatants broke their locked stare and stepped away from each other. Rob submitted to Anna's gentle tugging. Kaitlyn made sure he got out the door.
Then she looked back at Gabriel.
His eyes were still dark as black holes, but his mouth was mocking and sardonic. "You can put it off, but it's going to happen someday," he said. Before Kaitlyn could defiantly ask what was going to happen, he added, "I'll watch for cars up here. But that's all. I won't risk my neck to help you. If something goes wrong, you're on your own."
Kaitlyn shrugged. "I've always been on my own," she said, and went downstairs to order pizza.
Mr. Zetes didn't leave until eleven o'clock. Kaitlyn was afraid to have the group stay downstairs with him after dinner, afraid that one of them might give something away. They sat in the study, pretending to do homework, and all the time listening for a sign that Mr. Z was going.
When he finally did go, he called them to the staircase and said that Joyce would undoubtedly be coming soon.
"But you won't be alone until then. I'll leave Prince and Baron," he said.
Kaitlyn studied his face, wondering how much he suspected they suspected. Were those dark eyes fierce or just acute? Was there the shadow of a grim smile on his lips?
He can't know anything, she thought.
Acting for all she was worth, she said, "Oh, thank you, Mr. Zetes."
When the front door shut behind him, Kaitlyn looked at Anna, who looked back helplessly.
"Prince and Baron?" Kait said.
Anna sighed, fingering the end of her black braid. In anyone else it would have been a nervous gesture. "I don't know. I will try, but they look very hard to influence."
"You'd better go if you're going," Gabriel said curtly.
"You just go hide-I mean stand guard-in the dark," Rob said. Kaitlyn grabbed his wrist and dragged him a step or two down the stairs. Dearly as she loved Rob, there were times when she wanted to bash his head in.
Gabriel retreated into the darkened study, his handsome face inscrutable.
"You first, Anna," Kaitlyn said. Anna walked down the stairs, so slowly and gracefully that she might have been drifting. Rob and Kait followed, with Lewis behind.
"Careful. Easy," Anna said as she reached the bottom. A low growl sounded from somewhere behind the staircase.
One dog was in the paneled hallway, Kaitlyn saw as they rounded the corner. The other was in the darkened living room, almost blending into the shadows. Both were watching Anna intently.
"Easy," Anna breathed, and that was the last word she said. She stood perfectly still, looking at the dog in the living room, her left hand raised toward the dog in the hallway, the way you'd gesture to a person to wait.
The growl died away. Anna's upraised hand slowly closed, as if she'd caught something in her fist. She turned, smoothly and without haste, to look at the dog in the hallway.
"Look out!" Rob yelled, jumping forward.
In absolute silence, with its lips peeled back and the hair on its back bristling, the dog in the living room was stalking toward Anna.
Everything happened too quickly for Kaitlyn to take in. She only knew that she grabbed desperately for Rob's arm to hold him back, thinking that only Anna could deal with the dog, and anyone else was likely to distract her. And then Anna was holding up her hand in a commanding gesture-stop-but the dog was still coming. Moving eerily, as if on oiled machinery, every tooth showing.
"No!" Anna said sharply, and added some words in a language Kaitlyn didn't know. "Hwhee, Sokwa!
Brother Wolf-go to sleep! It's not hunting time now. Rest and sleep."
Then, without showing the slightest sign of fear, she reached for the snarling muzzle. She locked one hand over it, grabbing the hair at the dog's neck with the other. Her eyes gazed straight into the animal's, unflinching and unwavering.
"I'm the pack leader here," she said clearly. "This is not your territory. I am dominant." Kaitlyn had the feeling that the words were only part of the communication. Something unspoken was passing between the graceful girl and the animal.
And the dog was responding. His lips slid down to cover his teeth again. The hair on his back flattened.
More-his entire back flattened, drooped, until his belly almost touched the floor. His tail tucked between his legs. His eyes shifted. His entire attitude was one of submission.
Anna held out a hand to the other dog, which moved toward her slowly, tail down, almost crawling on its elbows. She clamped a hand over its muzzle, clearly establishing dominance.
Rob's eyebrows were up. "How long can you sustain that?"
"I don't know," Anna said without turning. "I'll try to keep them right here-but you guys had better work fast." She tilted her head and, still looking at the dogs, began chanting something softly. Kaitlyn didn't understand the words, but the rhythm was soothing. The dogs seemed mesmerized, cringing a little, pushing at her gently with their noses.
"Let's go," Rob said.
The paneling in the hallway was dark-walnut or mahogany, Kaitlyn thought vaguely. She and Rob both scanned it intently, while Lewis squinted doubtfully.
"There," she said, pointing to the middle panel. "That looks like a crack, doesn't it? It could be the top of a door."
"That means there must be a release somewhere around here," Rob said, running his fingers over the smooth wood and into the grooves between panels.
"But we'll probably never find it by accident. You may have to push more than one place, and do it in a certain sequence or something."
"Okay, Lewis," Kait said. "Do your stuff."
Lewis edged between them, muttering, "But I don't know what to do. I don't know anything about secret doors."
"You don't know exactly what you're doing when you use PK on the random number machine, either, do you?" Kaitlyn demanded. "So how do you manage that?"
"I just kind of... nudge at the thing with my mind. It's not conscious. I just nudge and see what happens, and if something works, I keep doing it."
"Like biofeedback," Rob said. "People don't know how they slow down their heart rate, but they do."
"Well, nudge this panel and see what happens," Kait told Lewis. "We've got to find that door-if there is a door."
Lewis began, stroking the panel lightly with outspread fingers. Every so often he would stop and push on the wood, his entire body tense. Kaitlyn knew he was pushing with his mind, too.
"Come on, where are you?" he muttered. "Open, open."
"Got it!" Lewis said, sounding more astonished than triumphant.
Kaitlyn stared, her knees going weak.
There was a door. Or a passage, anyway. The middle panel had recessed and slid smoothly behind the panel on the left. There was a gaping hole in the formerly solid wall.
It looked just like Kaitlyn's drawing, except that there was no figure in the doorway. There were only stairs leading downward, faintly illuminated by half-covered reddish lights at foot level. They seemed to have been activated by the door opening.
Lewis breathed one word. "Jeeeeeez."
"Why is it so dark?" Kait murmured. "Why not put some real lights in?"
Rob nodded toward the French doors to Joyce's room just opposite. "Maybe because she's there. This way, you could walk into this place without being seen, even at night."
Kaitlyn frowned, then shrugged. There was no time to wonder about it. "Lewis, you stay up here. If Gabriel yells that he sees lights coming up the driveway, tell us. We'll come up fast, and you can close the door."
"If I can close the door," Lewis said. "It's like trying to learn how to wiggle your ears-you don't know how until you do it." But he stationed himself by the panel like a resolute soldier.
"I'll go first," Rob said, and began cautiously making his way down the stairs. Kaitlyn followed, wishing that she'd brought a flashlight. She didn't at all like this journey into red-hazed dimness-although the lights illuminated the steps themselves, they showed nothing around them. The stairway seemed suspended in an abyss.
"Here's the bottom," Rob said. "It feels like another hallway-wait, here's a switch."
Light blossomed, cool, greenish fluorescent light. They were in a short hallway. The only door was at the end.
"We may need Lewis again," Kaitlyn said, but the door opened when Rob turned the handle.
Kaitlyn didn't know what she expected to see, but it certainly wasn't what she saw. An ordinary office, with a corner desk and a computer and filing cabinets. After the sliding panel and the dark staircase, it was something of a letdown.
She looked at Rob. "You don't think ... I mean, what if we're completely wrong here? What if he just has a hidden room because he's eccentric? It's possible."
"Anything's possible," Rob said, so shortly that she knew he wondered, too. He went to the filing cabinet and pulled out a drawer with a sliding rattle.
The sound made Kaitlyn's skin jump. If they were wrong, they had no business poking into things.
Defiantly she went over to the desk and thumbed through some papers from the letter tray. They were business letters, mostly from important-sounding people, addressed to Mr. Zetes. They all seemed to be photocopies, duplicates. Big deal.
"You know what?" she asked grimly, still pawing. "I just realized. If Mr. Z was trying to hide something, he'd never hide it here. Why should he? He's got to have better places. He's got a house, doesn't he?
He's got a corporation, somewhere-"
"I think you should look at this." Rob was holding a file from the cabinet. There was a photograph of Kait clipped on the jacket, and in bold letters: kaitlyn
BRADY FAIRCHILD, PROJECT BLACK LIGHTNING.
"What's Project Black Lightning?"
"I don't know. There's a file like that for each of us. Inside there's just a bunch of papers-all kinds of information. Did you know they have your birth certificate?"
"The lawyers told Dad they needed stuff. . .. What's that?"
"A graph about your testing, I think." Rob's tanned finger traced the bottom axis. "Look, this is dated yesterday. It says First Testing with-and then there's a word I can't read."
"First testing with something," Kaitlyn repeated slowly. She touched her forehead. "But what does it mean?"
Rob shook his head. "There's another set of files here, with other names." He held up a file jacket with a photo of a smiling girl with dark brown hair. It was labeled sabrina jessica gallo, black lightning pilot STUDY.
Running diagonally across the label, in thick red ink, the word terminated was scrawled.
Kaitlyn and Rob looked at each other.
"Which was terminated?" Kait breathed. "The study or the girl?"
Silently, with one impulse, they turned back to their search.
"Okay, I've got a letter," Kait said after a moment. "It's from the Honorable Susan Baldwin-a judge. It says, 'Enclosed is a list of potential clients who might be interested in the project.' The project." Kaitlyn's eyes scanned down the list. " 'Max Lawrence-up for sentencing May first. TRI-Tech, Inc.-settlement conference with Clifford Electronics Limited, June twenty-fourth.' It's all like that, names and trial dates and stuff."
"Here's another file," Rob said. "It's hard to figure out, but I think it's an old grant from NASA. Yeah, a grant from NASA for half a million, back in eighty-six. For"-he paused and read carefully- "investigation into the feasibility of the development of psychoactive weaponry."
"What of the what?" Kaitlyn said hopelessly. "Psycho-what?"
Rob's eyes were dark gold and bleak.
"I don't know what it all adds up to. But it's not good. There's a lot Mr. Z didn't tell us."
" 'This place is different than you think,'" Kaitlyn quoted. "And there was a pilot study before us-so Marisol told the truth. But what happened to those kids? What happened to Sabrina?"
"And what's going to happen to-" Rob broke off. "Did you hear that? A noise up there?"
Kaitlyn listened, but she didn't hear anything.
Upstairs, Gabriel was seething.
The whole plan was stupid, of course. Why did they want to go meddling in what was obviously not their business? The time to worry about Zetes was when he was trying to do something to you, not before.
Then fight-kill him, if necessary. He was only an old man. But why ruin what had so far proved to be a very comfortable deal?
It was all his idea, Gabriel felt sure. Kessler's. Rob the Virtuous probably felt there was something unspiritual about coming into so much money. He had to wreck it somehow.
And Kaitlyn was just as bad these days. Completely under Kessler's spell. Why should Gabriel care about her, a girl who was in love with a guy he hated? A girl who only disturbed him .. .
A girl with hair like fire and witch eyes, his mind whispered.
A girl who hounded him, badgered him ...
Who challenges you, his mind whispered. Who could be your equal.
A girl who interfered with him, trying to get inside his guard .. .
Whose spirit is like yours.
Oh, shut up, Gabriel told his brain, and stared broodingly into the darkness beyond the study window.
The street in front of the Institute was silent and deserted. Naturally, it was midnight-and here in the suburbs that meant everyone was tucked nice and snug in their beds.
Nevertheless, Gabriel felt uneasy. Little sounds seemed to be nagging at his subconscious. Cars on the streets behind the Institute, probably.
Cars . . . Suddenly Gabriel stiffened. Eyes narrowed, he listened for a moment, then he left the alcove.
Nothing out the west window of the study. With the silent steps of a housebreaker he headed for the back of the house, to Rob and Lewis's bedroom. He looked out the back window, the one facing north.
And there it was. The limo. It had obviously come up the narrow dirt road in back. Now the only question was whether Zetes was just about to get out, or-Directly beneath him, in the kitchen, Gabriel heard a door open.
The back door, he thought. And those idiots downstairs are all waiting for him to come from the front.
There wasn't any time to go down and warn them- and Zetes would hear a shout.
Gabriel's lip curled. Tough. Kaitlyn knew the truth. He'd told her he wouldn't risk his neck for her. Not that there was anything he could do anyway, except. .
He shook his head slightly. Not that. In the darkened window his reflected eyes were cold and hard.
Below, the kitchen door slammed.
No, he told himself. He wouldn't. He wouldn't...
On the bottom of the letter tray was a scribbled page like something you might doodle while on the telephone. Kaitlyn could make out the scrawled words "Operation Lightning Strike" and "psychic strike team."
"This is weird-" she began. She never finished the sentence because it hit her.
Just what it was, she couldn't tell at first. Like Rob's healing transfusion of energy, it wasn't something you could see or hear or taste. But while Rob's energy flow had been wonderful, invigorating, an intense pleasure, this was like being hit by a runaway train. Kaitlyn had the feeling of being violated.