“All clear!” said the soldier, staring right at her, calling to the higher-up on the ground.
There’s no one in here, she thought, and like the dumb puppet he was, he repeated her, word for word, actually believing the lies she projected into his mind. His mind was so cluttered and unclean, he seemed to almost enjoy being under her control, seemed to enjoy the feeling of being completely reassured that everything he did was absolutely right.
An interesting effect, Crystal thought. I wonder how many others would actually enjoy having someone in control of their mind. She waved a hand towards the door, and he shuffled off, muttering her thoughts to himself.
It wasn’t like she was hiding, relaxing in the most comfortable part of the ship like a possessive cat. She didn’t need to, when she could just make all those around her see nothing or simply not glance in her direction. She held their minds in the palm of her hand. She owned them.
Of course, she would be missed. Most likely punished, as well. But Crystal had to see her. She had to make sure it was really her. Their minds had brushed briefly when she had given the girl her instructions, not enough to confirm anything, but enough to intrigue Crystal. And then she had picked up the girl’s name from the worker.
She couldn’t believe it. She wouldn’t believe it. So she had gotten in this plane to go see for herself.
There had been an initial risk, of course-the risk that some of the soldiers might be shielded. But she had gotten lucky-the only telepathically shielded one was the pilot. And it wasn’t like he was going to come in here. He had a plane to fly.
The cat curled up in the chair and sent one of her servants for a soda. This was why telepaths had ruled the world. No one could resist them.
By the time the plane set down, Crystal was so bored that she had managed to convince the men to juggle cans, even though they couldn’t have done so on their own. She left them to their juggling as the plane taxied to a stop, jumping out the fire escape onto a psychic platform of her own making. She wasn’t very good at telekinetics, though, and while it broke her fall it failed to stop her.
She got up angrily, brushing the dirt from her shining-white jacket. She shouldn’t have had to do this. She should have been flown in on a private jet plane, attended hand and foot by handsome flight attendants instead of in the back of a dingy, converted passenger plane. But there was no chance. She didn’t want anyone to suspect anything out of the ordinary until she had found Jessi. If this was the Jessi.
The prison was still a few miles away, across the secret, forested island. There was no way Crystal was going to walk that far. Not when there was a handy, unshielded driver to persuade.
She ducked as they drove past the gate, just in case the guards were shielded. Past that, there was wide, open ring of empty grass and then the prison itself. Low and grey, it seemed to crouch on the fertile ground like an alien spacecraft, unexpected in the sub-tropical environment. The driver drove into a small, paved square beside the entrance and parked his car, then walked around and opened the door for Crystal. She got out, tilted her head to the side, and asked, “Do you know where Jessi is?”
“What number is she…ma’m?”
She nodded at him, pleased that he was convinced she was that important. “JD52, I believe.”
“Uh…JD…that’ll be the third floor…and 52… room 367, I think,” he said.
“Thank you. Will you wait out here for me?” she commanded.
Crystal turned and walked to the doors, blurring his memories of her appearance just in case he woke up. On the ride here, she had convinced him to give her his passes, and she took them out now, knowing that the main door’s guards would be shielded. But even then, they were no trouble for the charismatic Crystal.
“Hello,” she said. “I’m here to see my sister.” Almost true, she thought. Too bad they don’t know.
“Where’s your escort?” one of the guards asked.
She smiled brightly at him. “He felt sick.”
“Was he well enough to give you his cards?” the other demanded.
“Of course!” said Crystal. “See?” She held them up, and the first guard took them and slipped them under a machine. “They’re authentic,” he said, sounding surprised, “and given willingly.”
Of course they are, thought Crystal, although she wondered how they knew that. She said, “So can I go in now?”
The first one nodded, but the second shook his head. “Who are you going to see?”
“Jessi…um, JD52. I think she’s on the third floor.”
“High-risk,” said the first, and the second nodded. “You’ll need an escort.” The second guard pressed a button on the wall next to him. “Sentry ST40 will be waiting for you on the third floor.”
One tapped a button on the wall and whispered something, and the heavy, small, surprisingly thick doors opened slowly, swinging inward without a noise. “The elevator’s on the left, the second door. Press the button on the left when you want to leave,” the second guard said helpfully. “And since you’re going to the laboratory level, please take care not to touch anything. If you do, it will leave an electronic tracer on you and you will be unable to open the doors.” Crystal stepped inside, feeling nervous for the first time. But there was no turning back now. She turned and watched the doors close, feeling a little claustrophobic. One of the guards waved jauntily as the doors ground closed, shutting off her only escape route.
No, she thought, I can’t think like that. They’ll let me out. She looked at the little red button, and saw that from this side, the doors looked exactly like the walls beside them. There were no handles, so they would have to be pushed open against their hinges if they were to be opened at all.
The elevator was ordinary enough, the normal brushed-metal plates, calling button, and carpeted interior. The only difference was that it was there immediately and completely empty. She stepped inside and pressed the “3” button, feeling lonely already. It was a little unexpected when the elevator started to fall instead of rise, although, she reminded herself, it would have made less sense if it rose, since it had nowhere to go. Before she knew it, it opened up and she stepped back onto the concrete floor. In front of her was room 300, and beside her was room 399. Next to the elevator’s open door was a blank-faced grey suited guard. Someone whistled, and Crystal scowled, trying to sending a quick mental attack their way. She was surprised when she couldn’t; they must have had the building itself shielded from telepathic attempts. Glancing left and right at the door numbers, she chose left and started in that direction, counting down the numbers. She barely noticed the silent guard walking next to her. 99, 98…80, 79, 78,…67!
Crystal stopped and looked into the little window. There was no glass in it, but it was barred so that there was no way anyone could squeeze through. The girl lying inside looked nothing like Crystal, except for the blonde hair they all shared. Despite all her time in the cell, the tips of her pigtails were still pink, a result of her abilities rather than hair dye.
This was her half-sister. Her illegitimate half-sister. It could only be her.
She remembered when she had first heard of Jessi. It was one of her earliest memories. She was four years old, and it was past her bedtime, but she had been unable to get to sleep. So little Kristin had tiptoed downstairs, where her parents were talking, to get one of them to put her back to sleep.
She had never made it quite down the stairs. The novelty of eavesdropping on her parents delighting her, and she knelt on the stairs to listen to their “grown-up” conversation.
“You promised me, Kelly, you said he was just an accident, that you were young. But now you’ve done it again. I’m not dead. You could have gone to me. I’m still here. Kelly, I still love you.”
Her mother sobbed in the darkness, muttering something imperceptible. Her father, who she could just see the back of, shook his head. “Why? All my friends told me I couldn’t trust you. Why didn’t I believe them?” He cursed. “Now I’m going to have to prove them all right. Do you know how bad that’ll hurt me? How bad it already hurt me? I lost my best friend over you, my parents have practically disowned me, and now it’s too late to do anything. “
“John, I…I wasn’t thinking…”
“No you weren’t. You weren’t thinking of me, your reputation, us…What about Kristin? Did you think about her? Now she’s going to be teased, all because of your little selfish…act. Kelly, I really don’t…”
Some sense had caused her father to look up, right into the corner where Kristin was crouching, petrified. The look on his face had gone from shocked to scared to surprised before he had managed to fake a smile on top of it all. “Come down, Kristy.”
She had shaken her head. “What’s wrong? What did mommy do?”
“Nothing, Kristy, just a little mommy-daddy discussion. Come on down to daddy, now, it’s all right.”
She had started to cry, and her mother had walked around her dad and climbed up the stairs, wiping away her own tears. “It’s okay, Kristy, just a little argument.” Her mother had reached down to pick her up, but Kristin had batted her arms away. “No!” She’d run away, down the stairs to daddy, crying her eyes out. “What did mommy do? What did she do?”
“Shhh, shhh, it’s all right, honey. Nothing’s wrong. It’s just a nightmare. I’ll take you upstairs now, and in the morning, it’ll be all better, okay?”
“Okay,” she’d said, trying to stop crying, and relaxed in his arms as her carried her upstairs. But in the morning, her mother was gone. And from there, everything had gone downhill.
Her father divorced her mother, now well-pregnant with her second illegitimate child, her third child total, counting Kristin, and shortly thereafter lost his job. She didn’t remember many of the details, but it hadn’t been important to young Kristy. Her father had started taking anti-depressants, and took a job as a janitor at what was soon to be her elementary school. Things had started to look up, and her mother and the child were soon forgotten. Until The Christmas, three years after her mother’s departure. Kristin had just discovered her telepathic powers, an unusually young age for them to develop. Her father had learned about them first, and although he’d been surprised, he’d also been very supportive.
Kristin had gone to bring in the mail, dancing down the cold driveway in her new boots. There had been a lot of mail, greetings and Christmas cards from all their relatives, and she’d had to use both hands. Her father had opened the door for her and taken it from her to put it on the table. And then he’d frozen, half in and half out of the door. On the top of the pile, hidden beneath an innocent smile and blonde-and-pink hair, was the Christmas card that made him lose his mind.
He’d almost killed himself right then and there, but Kristin had intercepted the thought and quickly took over his mind to save the man inside. She’d tried to erase the memory, but it seemed impossible to do so without erasing all of his memories. So she’d kept him under at least peripheral control since then, unable to let him go for the fear that he’d kill himself. On that day, her childhood ended.
On that day, she had become Crystal.
The little girl curled up within the cell stirred and started to wake up, blinking her eyes and yawning. She looked around, searching, perhaps, for the disturbance that had woken her. Behind the cell door, Crystal stood frozen, the object of her hate no longer just a picture in a card and a vague concept but a living, breathing human. Strangely, this made her hatred even more intense. If she could have, she would have killed the girl without a second thought; but the prison was completely shielded, and she couldn’t do a thing.
Now the girl-Crystal refused to give her a name and make her human- had focused on her face, eyes as innocent as ever, and Crystal knew she was going to speak.
“I know you.”
Not at all what Crystal had expected. Perhaps a “Who are you?” or “Go away!” would have been appropriate, but not “I know you.” After all, the girl couldn’t have seen her before.
Not that she hated the girl any less.
“You’re the middle child, aren’t you? The legitimate one of us?” the girl asked.
“Mother was very proud of you. She always loved you and your father, you know. She just… I don’t know. But I’m not going to apologize for her. You already know what happened.”
“I hate you,” said Crystal, pouring every ounce of anger she had ever felt into those three words. “You destroyed my life. From the first moment I ever knew of you, I hated you.”
The girl nodded sadly, as though she had been expecting this. “I know. And I wouldn’t expect anything else. I know that if…I…happened to me, I’d hate myself until the end of time, no matter what. And…and I’m really sorry. I don’t know what else to say, and I know that doesn’t come close to covering it. But…Kristin, I’m so sorry. I wish I could have met your father. My father. Our older brother’s father. I guess I’m just looking for someone else to blame, but is it really my fault?”
“Yes. You ruined my only chance at a normal life.”
The girl nodded again, the same aggravating sad-yet-understanding look on her face, and Crystal turned and walked away, the silent guard right on her heels. There was nothing she could do now. While the girl was in the jail, she was in the care of the state. But the instant the girl escaped from the jail, she was Crystal’s.
And that would be the end of her.