The Strange Power
Chapter 12

 L.J. Smith

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Bed, she thought firmly. That other place is too cold.
And then she was turning over, and she was in bed, pulling up the covers. Her brain was too foggy to think of calling to the others, of finding out if it really had been a shared dream. She just wanted to sleep.
The next morning she woke up to: Oh, no.
Lewis? she thought hazily.
Hi, Kaitlyn. Hi, Rob.
G'way, Lewis. I'm sleeping, Rob said indistinctly. Only, of course, he didn't say it, not with his voice. He was in his own bedroom, and so was Lewis. Kait could feel them there.
She looked up over hummocks of sheets and blankets, to see Anna looking at her from the other bed.
Anna looked flushed with sleep, sweet, and resigned.
Hi, Anna, Kaitlyn said, feeling somewhat resigned herself.
Hi, Kait.
Hi, Anna, Lewis said chirpily.
And good night, John-boy! Gabriel shouted from across the house. Shut the hell up, all of you!
Anna and Kaitlyn shared a look. He's crabby when he wakes up, Kaitlyn observed.
All boys are, Anna told her serenely. At least he seems to have got his strength back.
I thought, Rob said, his mental voice seeming more awake, that you said it would be gone by this morning.
Thunderous silence from Gabriel.
We might as well get dressed, Kaitlyn said at last when the silence went on. It's almost seven.
She found that if she concentrated on herself, the others receded into the background-which was just as well, she thought as she showered and dressed. There were some things you needed to be alone for.
But no matter what she did, they were there. Lurking around the edges of her mind like friends just within earshot and shouting range. Paying attention to any one of them brought that one closer.
Except Gabriel, who seemed to have locked himself off in a corner. Paying attention to him was like bouncing off the smoothness of his steely walls.
It wasn't until she was dressed that Kaitlyn remembered her dream.
"Anna-last night-did you dream anything in particular?"
Anna looked up from beneath the glistening raven's wing of her dark hair. "You mean about that place by the ocean?" she said, brushing vigorously. She seemed quite undisturbed.
Kaitlyn sat down. "Then it was real. I mean, you were really there." You guys were all in my dream, she added silently, so the others could hear it.
Well, it's not really that surprising, is it? Rob asked from his room. If our minds are linked telepathically, and one of us has a dream, maybe the others get dragged in.
Kaitlyn shook her head. There's more to it than that,
she told Rob-but what more, she didn't know. Just then Lewis interrupted anyway, from the stairway.
Hey, I think Joyce is home! I hear somebody in the kitchen. Come on down!
All thoughts of the dream vanished. Kaitlyn and Anna ran out and met Rob on their way to the staircase.
"Joyce!" Lewis was saying when they got to the kitchen. He was also saying Joyce! but Joyce didn't seem to notice.
"Are you all right?" Kaitlyn asked. Joyce looked very pale, and there were huge dark circles under her eyes. She looked . . . young, somehow, like a kid with a short haircut that's turned out wrong.
Kaitlyn swallowed, but couldn't manage the next words. Anna said them for her. "Is Marisol. . . ?"
Joyce put down a box of Shredded Wheat as if it were heavy. "Marisol is ... stable." Then her adult control seemed to desert her and she blurted, lips trembling, "She's in a coma."
"Oh, God," Kaitlyn whispered.
"The doctors are watching her. I stayed with her family at the hospital last night, but I didn't get to see her." Joyce fished in her purse, found a tissue, and blew her nose. She picked up the Shredded Wheat box and looked at it blankly.
"Now, you just let go of that and sit down," Rob said gently. "We'll take care of everything."
"That's right," Kaitlyn said, glad for the guidance. She herself felt sick and terrified. But doing something made her feel better, and in a few minutes they had Joyce sitting at the kitchen table, with Anna stroking her hand, Kaitlyn making coffee, and Rob and Lewis setting out bowls and spoons.
"It's all so confusing," Joyce said, wiping her eyes and crumpling the tissue in her fist. "Marisol's family didn't know she was on medication. They didn't even know she'd been seeing a psychiatrist. I had to tell them."
Kaitlyn looked at Rob, who, shielded by the pantry door, returned the look with grim significance. Then, carefully measuring scoops of ground coffee, she asked Joyce, "Who told you she was seeing a shrink?"
"Who? Mr. Zetes." Joyce passed a hand over her forehead. "By the way, he said you kids behaved really well last night. Went to bed early and all,"
Anna smiled. "We're not children." She was the only one who could talk; the others were all engaged in a torrent of silent communication.
I knew it, Kaitlyn was telling Rob. Joyce doesn't know anything about Marisol except what comes from Mr. Z. Don't you remember-when I asked about Marisol's medication, she told me, "He said a psychiatrist prescribed it." It was Mr. Zetes who told her that. For all we know, Marisol wasn't on any medication at all.
Rob's face was tight. And now she's in a coma because-
Because she knew too much about what was going on here. What was really going on, Kait finished.
Which you guys still haven't told us, Lewis reminded her. But look, why don't we tell Joyce what's going on? I mean, what's going on with us. She might know how this telepathy thing works-NO!
The thought came like a clap of thunder from upstairs. Kaitlyn involuntarily glanced upward.
Gabriel's mental voice was icily furious. We can't tell anyone-and especially not Joyce.
"Why not?" Lewis said. It took Kaitlyn a moment to realize he'd said it aloud. Anna was casting alarmed glances from the table.
"Uh, anybody want sugar or Equal or anything on their cereal?" Rob interjected. Lewis, be careful! he added silently.
"Sugar," Lewis said, subdued. But why can't we tell Joyce? Don't you trust her? he added in what came across as a mental stage whisper.
"Equal," Kaitlyn said, to Rob. I do trust her-I think. I don't believe she knows anything-You idiot! You can't trust anyone, Gabriel snarled from upstairs. The volume of his thoughts was giving Kaitlyn a headache.
Looking pained, Rob and Lewis sat down at the table. Kaitlyn poured Joyce a cup of coffee and joined them. The spoken and unspoken conversations formed an eerie counterpoint to each other.
I hate to say this, but I think he's right, Rob said silently, when the echoes of Gabriel's forceful message had died. I want to trust Joyce, too-but she tells Mr. Zetes everything. She told him about Marisol, and look what happened.
"Everything's going to be all right," Anna told Joyce. She's very upset over Marisol. That's genuine, she told the others.
She's an adult, Gabriel said flatly. You can't trust any adult, ever.
And if she's innocent, she could get hurt, Rob added.
"If there's anything we can do to help Marisol, let us know," Kaitlyn said to Joyce. All right. We won't tell her, she conceded. But we need to get information about telepathy from somewhere. And we need to talk about what Rob and I found in that hidden room.
Rob nodded, and covered it with a violent spasm of coughing. We'd better meet at school-alone.
Otherwise talking like this is going to drive me crazy.
Kaitlyn felt agreement from everywhere, except upstairs.
That means you, too, Gabriel, Rob said grimly. You're the one who started this. You're going to be there, boy.
Aloud he said, "Could somebody pass that orange juice, please?"
They met at lunch, and Kaitlyn and Rob told about everything they'd found in Mr. Zetes's hidden office below the stairs. Anna and Lewis were as puzzled as Kait had been over the various files and papers.
"Psychoactive weaponry," Gabriel said, seeming to relish the words. By unanimous agreement they were all talking out loud, and Kaitlyn couldn't tell what Gabriel was thinking behind his barriers.
"Do you know what it means?" Rob asked. His attitude toward Gabriel had changed overnight. There was a new tolerance in him-and a new combative-ness. Kaitlyn had the slightly alarmed feeling that he meant to push and challenge Gabriel whenever he thought it was good for Gabriel.
"Well, psychoactive should be obvious even to a moron," Gabriel said. "It means something activated by psychics."
As opposed to something activated by psychos?
"Lewis!" Kaitlyn, Anna, and Rob all said. Gabriel contented himself with a withering look.
"I couldn't help it. I'm sorry. I'm not saying anything, see?" Lewis took a desperate chug of milk.
"Something . . . activated ... by psychic power," Gabriel repeated coldly, one eye on Lewis. When there was no interruption, he turned to Rob. "Do I have to explain weaponry, or can you manage that alone?"
Rob leaned forward. "Why . . . would NASA ... want him ... to develop weaponry?"
Kaitlyn slammed a fork on the table between them to get their attention. "Maybe NASA didn't want him to actually develop it-but to find out if somebody else could be developing it. Eighty-six was the year the Challenger shuttlecraft exploded, right? Well, what if NASA thought the explosion was, like, sabotage?
Psychic sabotage?"
"Sabotage by who?" Rob asked quietly.
"I don't know-the old Soviet Union? Somebody else who didn't want the space program to go ahead? If you got psychics to develop PK that could work over really long distances, you could have them throw switches in the shuttlecraft while they were sitting here on earth. I know it's not a nice idea, but it's possible."
"We're not dealing with nice people," Anna said.
"Look, what about all the other things in that room?" Lewis asked. "The pilot study stuff, and the letter from the judge-"
"Forget it. All of it," Gabriel said sharply, and when several people turned to protest, he added, Forget it!
We've got something else to worry about first. Understand?
Kaitlyn nodded slowly. "You're right. If this... web ... that connects us gets unstable ..."
"Even if it doesn't, we've got to get rid of it," Gabriel said brutally. "And the only place to get information about telepathy-hard information, in detail-is the Institute."
"That's right, Joyce has a bunch of books and journals and things in the lab," Lewis said. "But she's going to think it's weird that we're suddenly interested."
"Not if we go now," Gabriel said. "She's probably asleep."
"She might be asleep," Kaitlyn said cautiously. "And she might not be-and Mr. Zetes might be there____"
"And pigs might fly. We'll never find out unless we go see." Gabriel stood, as if everything were decided.
Jeez, he's sure active all of a sudden. Now that he's got a stake in things.
"Lewis," Kaitlyn said mildly. But Lewis was right.
Joyce was asleep, with the French doors to her room wide open. Kaitlyn glanced at Rob, and what otherwise would have been just a meaningful look took on words.
Too bad, she told him. I was hoping we might get a chance to go back into that hidden room-but it's too risky. She'd hear us.
He nodded. It would have been too risky anyway. Those doors are mostly glass-and if she woke up, she'd be looking straight out at that panel.
Lewis was screwing his face into an unaccustomed frown. I thought we were supposed to be talking out loud.
Not when we're standing outside Joyce's door, Kaitlyn said. This thing is useful when we need to be quiet. She moved stealthily away.
They found Gabriel already in the front lab, kneeling by a bookcase, scanning the journals inside. Kaitlyn went to help him.
"There are more bookcases in the back," Anna said, and she and Lewis went through the door. Rob joined Kaitlyn. He didn't need to say anything-she could feel his watchful protectiveness. He meant to keep an eye on her when Gabriel was around.
There's no need, Kaitlyn thought, and then wondered if anyone had heard her. Oh, she didn't like this-this exposure. Not being sure if your own thoughts were private. She reached crossly for a book.
We've got to get rid of this thing.
On either side of her, Rob and Gabriel were radiating agreement.
They looked for what seemed like hours. Kaitlyn scanned journals with names like Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research and Research in Parapsychology. Some were translations of foreign journals with tongue-twisting names like Sdelovaci Technika.
There were articles about telepathy, thought projection, suggestibility. But nothing that looked remotely helpful to their situation.
At last, when Kaitlyn was beginning to worry that Joyce had to wake up soon, Anna called excitedly from the other room.
People, I've found something!
They all hurried to the back lab and gathered around her.
" 'On stability in telepathic linkage as a function of equilibrium in self-sustaining geometric constructs,'" she said, holding a journal with a red cover. "It's about groups in telepathic links-groups like its."
"What on earth is a self-sustaining geometric construct?" Kaitlyn asked, very calmly.
Anna flashed a smile. "It's a web. You said it yourself, Kaitlyn-we're like five points that are joined to form a geometrical shape. And the point is that it's stable-that's what this article is saying. Two minds connected aren't stable. Three or four minds connected aren't stable. But five minds connected are. They form a-a sort of stable shape, and the whole thing stays in balance after that. That's why we're still linked."
Rob glanced at Gabriel. "So it's your fault. You shouldn't have connected all five of us."
Gabriel ignored him, reaching for the journal. "What I want to know is how to get unconnected."
"I'm getting there," Anna said, holding it away from him. "I haven't read that part yet, but it's got a section here about how to disrupt the stability and break the connection." Her eyes scanned down the page as she continued to hold the journal away from Gabriel.
The others waited impatiently.
"This says that it's all theoretical, that nobody's ever really gotten five minds linked together.... Wait ...
then it says that some larger groups may be stable, too.... Okay, here. Got it." Anna began to read aloud. '"Breaking the link would be harder than initiating it, would require a far greater amount of power....' But wait, it says there is one certain way of breaking it-" Anna stopped abruptly, eyes fixed on the page. Kaitlyn could feel her shock and dismay.
"What?" Gabriel demanded. "What does it say?"
Anna looked up at him. "It says the only certain way of breaking the connection is for one of the group to die."
Everyone stared at her, stunned. There was no sound, either mental or vocal.
"You mean," Lewis said shakily, at last, "that the web won't kill us-but that the only way to get rid of it is for one of us to be killed?"
Anna shook her head-not a negative, merely a helpless gesture. "That's what the article says. But- it's only a theory. Nobody can really know-"
Gabriel snatched the journal from her. He read rapidly, then stood for a moment very still. Then, with a furious gesture, he threw the journal at a wall.
"It's permanent," he said flatly, turning to stare at the wall himself.
Kaitlyn shivered. His anger frightened her, and it mixed with her own feelings of shock and fear.
In a lot of ways she'd enjoyed the connection. It was interesting, excising. Different. But to never be able to break it... to know you'd be stuck in a web until one of them died . ..
My whole life has changed, she thought. Forever. Something . . . irrevocable . .. has happened, and there's no way to undo it.
I will never be alone, unconnected, again.
"At least we know it's not going to kill any of us," Anna said in a quiet voice.
Kaitlyn said slowly, "Like you said, that article might be wrong. There might be some other way to break it-we can read other books, other journals, and see."
"There is a way. There has to be," Gabriel said, in a cracked, almost unrecognizable voice.
He's the most desperate of all of us, Kait realized with something like dispassion. He can't stand being this close-having us all this close to him.
Until we find it, you all stay away from me, Gabriel's mental voice said, as if in answer to Kaitlyn's thought. Had he heard her?
"Meanwhile," Rob said in a quiet, level voice, "we might work on learning how to control it-"
Just stay away! Gabriel shouted, and he strode out of the room.
Lewis, Anna, Rob, and Kaitlyn were left staring after him.
"Why's he so mad at us?" Lewis asked. "If it's anyone's fault, it's his."
Rob smiled faintly. "That's why he's mad," he said in a dry voice. "He doesn't like being wrong."
"It's more than that," Kaitlyn said. "He helped us-and look where it got him. So it just confirms what he thought in the first place, that you should never help."
There was another silence, while everyone just stood. We still haven't taken it all in, Kaitlyn thought.
We're in shock.
Then she gave herself a mental shake. "Those bookcases look pretty bad. We'd better clean things up quick. We can look for other articles about breaking the web later, when we know Joyce won't be around."
They straightened the books and the rows of plastic journal holders in both labs. It was as she was putting on the final touches that Kaitlyn found another article that intrigued her.
Someone had marked the page with a red plastic Post-it flag. The title was simply "Chi and Crystals."
You guys? What's chi? she asked, scarcely aware that she wasn't asking it out loud.
"It's a Chinese word for your life energy," Lewis said, coming to her. "It flows all through your body in different channels, sort of like blood-or electricity. Everybody has it, and psychics have more of it."
"So chi is what Rob channels?" Kaitlyn said.
"That's one name for it," Rob said. "At the other center they told me lots of others-like in India they call it prana, and the ancient Egyptians used to call it sekhem. It's all the same thing. All living things have it."
"Well, according to this article, crystals store it," Kaitlyn said.
Rob frowned. "Crystals aren't alive. . .."
"I know, but this says that theoretically a crystalline structure could store it up, kind of like a charged battery," Kaitlyn said. She was still looking at the article thoughtfully. Something was tugging at her, whispering significance, demanding that she pay attention to it. But she didn't know what.
The article looked as if it had been read a lot....
"She's up," Rob said. Kaitlyn could hear it, too-
water running in the single downstairs bathroom. Joyce was awake and washing.
Anna checked her watch. It's three-thirty. We can just tell her that we walked home from school.
Kaitlyn nodded and she felt agreement from the others. She straightened her back, kept her head high, and went to face Joyce.
The week that followed was hectic. There was school to go to during the days, and testing with Joyce in the afternoons. Any leisure time was filled with two things: trying to find a way to break the web, and trying to find out more about Mr. Zetes's plans. The problem was that they didn't make much progress with either.
They didn't get into the hidden room again. Although Kait and Rob waited for a chance, Joyce never left the Institute again and she slept with her doors open.
Kaitlyn lived in a perpetual state of astonishment and nervousness. It was hard to be constantly on her guard with Joyce, to keep from talking about the only two things that were now important in her life. But somehow she managed it-they all managed it.