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Revision as of 00:01, 9 July 2019

Taken as Read
Dramatis Personae

Flicker, Number One


<< I had braced myself, but oof. >>


Lassiter Research Facility - Midland, Ohio

It's well past midnight, but Jamie Kelvin lies wide awake in his cot. The little battery-operated LED lamp by which he's reading John Grisham's The Litigators is one of the many luxuries that being a prominent researcher's favorite accords him, but at the moment he's cursing it inwardly. If he didn't have it, he could just suffer in the dark like a normal insomniac. Having the option available -- and, ultimately, preferable to being left alone with his anxieties -- has compelled him to read this hackneyed drivel to its bitter end. He flips the pages, reading quickly, mechanically, and without any pleasure.

It's well past midnight, and Flicker is wide awake as well, his attention alternating between a half-finished report written on his laptop and the panel of security monitors in front of him. They aren't showing very much right now; the Clinic is quiet, nearly empty, a couple of researchers still working in their offices, another guard reading in the lobby. His eyes fix on his computer screen blankly; after a few minutes of writing nothing at all, his mind reaches out across its network, stretching in a reflexive frustrated boredom for --

-- a presence who is currently asleep, in their apartment back home. The mental reach cuts off nearly as soon as it begins, halting itself neatly. But then, after a moment, stretching out again. Slower. Thoughtful.

It's a short while later that his quiet voice speaks up, in Jamie's mind. << Why is always just trash books? I read The King of Torts like. Ten times when I was in. It never got any better. >>

Jamie sucks in a sharp breath, his eyes unfocusing for a moment as he reflexively stretches out his powers -- the minimum-security cell block doesn't even have a suppression grid -- casting about in vain for the source of the psionic intrusion. << I guess he wouldn't be trying to chat me up about books if he wanted me dead. >> His initial surprise and fear subsides rapidly, and is replaced by cautious curiosity and an also cautious but terribly desperate desire for contact. << Wait... /when/ you were in? Who are you? >>

Flicker hesitates, his own eyes unfocusing in tandem with Jamie's. His palm presses against the surface of the desk, bracing as he leans back in his chair. There's a long stretch of consideration before he answers honestly: << Flicker. We met. A few weeks ago. Pennsylvania. I'm not anywhere nearby. I just -- >> The next hesitation is much briefer. << Wanted to see how you were doing. >> The book in Jamie's hand is pulled into sharper mental focus, turned over in briefly mind-numbing view. << I had braced myself, but oof. >>

Flicker's answer prompts a messy cascade of recollections in Jamie's mind, warped by a haze of anger, terror, and regret. Out of all this comes a single clear memory that Flicker might not have the mental capacity to fully interpret, as it registered from a sense he does not possess. It's a jangling series of flashes, like an agitated firefly, approaching him and then suddenly going dark. << He came back /for me/. Thank God he's alive. But /how/ are you talking to me? >> He bites his lip, hard, and sets the book down on his chest. << That telepath. Has he had me this entire time? >> Once he's reeled his relief back in, he remembers his caution again. << I'm alright. Just bored out of my mind. They've got tons of books here, but reading ten of them isn't much better than reading the same one ten times, if you ask me. >>

<< Yeah. Still alive. >> There's a flutter of fear that washes back from Flicker in reply; a brief memory-flash of pain that comes both in a sting of grief and a strong searing pulse of physical agony. It's only an instant -- there and brushed aside again just as quickly. << Sorry. Can you still feel him? Things got -- really hectic after the escape. When I noticed I still had a route to talk to you, I. >> Flicker's eyes refocus, settling on the ceiling. << It was kind of an accident, but I was glad. I'd been worried. I could shut it down, if you want. >> In the mental space there is more clarity than his words alone suggest, it being this strange mental telephone wire. He pushes absently against the desk, rocking at his chair. << ... what kind of books would you rather be reading? >>

Jamie winces. His lips start to move, but he catches himself and rolls over, pressing his face into his pillow. << I'm sorry. >> He props the book open on his bed beneath the reading light, though he's staring right through the words. << I could never feel him to begin with, not the way I do other telepaths. >> He huffs softly. << /Accident?/ But I guess if they wanted to use me for surveillance, it would have been pretty stupid to /tell/ me. >> The offer to sever the connection brings him up short, and he struggles for a long moment with a mass of conflicting emotions. Then finally, hesitantly, << Please don't go. >> He turns the page without having read a single word on it. << I like...adventure stories, I guess. One of the labs I was at had these oldass cowboy novels, and I've been trying to read all the Horatio Hornblower books for like -- >> Here his mind seizes up, some powerful conditioning or trauma preventing him from accurately assessing how long it has been. He blinks his eyes clear. << I don't know. A /while/. >> Some part of him is quietly unsettled, but he tries to shake it off. << You read anything good lately? >>

<< No. It's just a lot to keep track of. He got really caught up making sure people were okay after the rescue and forgot all the places he'd still left a connection, I think. >> The breath Flicker pulls in when Jamie's mind stutters is slow, and unsteady. He sits forward, plucking his phone off his desk. << Normally I read a lot of sci fi but honestly, school's turned my brain to mush lately. I think I've been reading the same page of A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe for two weeks. How far did you get in the Hornblower books? >>

<< I hope they are, or will be. As okay as they can be. >> Jamie closes his eyes for a moment; his guilt feels like an old, familiar companion. << Most of us came to Dr. Messer pretty messed up, but she didn't do that to us. >> He opens his eyes again and turns the page. << I like sci-fi, too -- read a bunch of Star Trek novels, and I used to love Firefly. The TV show, I mean, though there's probably books, too. >> He chuckles dryly, a wave of bitterness passing through him and is gone. << I didn't read them in any kind of order, but I'm pretty sure I'm only missing Hornblower and the Hotspur and Commodore Hornblower. >>

<< There's /Firefly/ comic books. There's novels, too, but they're not as good. >> Flicker is tapping at his phone, browsing through Kindle. << I don't get off shift for -- a while. If you're tired of Grisham -- >> The offer is implicit when he looks down -- /Commodore Hornblower/ by C.S. Forester, pulled up on his screen.

The surge of Jamie's nostalgia -- and grief -- at the mention of comic books, of all things, is strong enough to take his breath away. He presses his face harder into the pillow to stifle the noise trying to fight its way out of him. It feels like abruptly remembering some piece of him is missing, the wound still raw -- incomprehensible that it should be possible to forget the pain, and yet somehow he cannot actually think about what's causing it. He doesn't answer for a while, but when he does there's an odd, tremulous intensity in his mental voice. << Yes, please. I'm pretty sick of this. >>