28 june - 7 july
<< Why are you doing this? >> (Continued conversations with Jamie.)
(28 june. ~midnight.)
It's late, again. Once again, the Clinic is quiet. Flicker is having a harder time concentrating, tonight, a throb of headache and persistent scratchiness at his eyes a constant reminder of his sleep deprivation. He's just downed some painkillers with a large gulp of water from the bottle sitting on the guard station desk. Taking his seat again, he swivels his chair back and forth. Back and forth. Pulling a trade paperback of Serenity: Those Left Behind into his lap as his mind stretches outward.
Jamie is sitting up in his cot this time, the pillow propped against the wall meager padding for his back. A tattered copy of James Patterson's When the Wind Blows is open in his lap, the little reading light clipped to the bedframe with its long neck curving around to illuminate the page. At the brush of Flicker's mind he comes alert, not exactly surprised, though there's something kind of like amazement mingling with his relief.
(30 june. 11:05pm)
Though it's early yet, Jamie is already alert for his visitor, paying little mind to the book in his hands (Tom Clancy's Without Remorse). He's restless and still dressed in the buff-colored scrubs issued to the subjects at that facility. He's gotten better at sensing the weight of Flicker's attention, and shifts his own clumsily to meet it. << Why are you doing this? >> There's a profound disquiet threading through this thought, but not directed at Flicker, exactly. << I don't just mean reading...to me? For me? I mean, maintaining contact at all. >>
Flicker isn't in his work uniform tonight; in a soft white undershirt and khakis, his arm already removed for the night, he sits out on a fire escape in the cooling nighttime air. There's music not too distant, thumping and vibrant; its beat thrums through the railing where he rests his head. His eyes have just been fixed down on the comic book in his lap, but pull upwards at the question. His gaze fixes on the wall, watching the play of lights reflecting off of the apartment windows. << Getting out was complicated for us. Most of our lab wanted to leave my friend behind. Prometheus was awful, but things get pretty awful out here, too. I used to spend a lot of time wondering if we made the right choices. >> His fingers flick restlessly at the hard side of his phone case. << I thought if you were wondering too you -- might not have a lot of people in there. Who'd get it. >>
Jamie doesn't answer at once. His fingers curl into the loose weave of his blanket, and his eyes drift listlessly down the page, taking nothing in. << Your friend -- the telepath? He's still infamous, you know. >> There's no accusation there, no resentment. << Probably some of the others from my lab would have made some noise if you'd brought me along. Thought I made it simple for you by refusing to go. >> He rolls onto his side, closing the book. << Didn't think there was much for me, out there. >>
<< It's never simple. People who wanted to kill him back then work with us on our team now. Getting out has a way of helping your perspective change. >> Flicker turns his head to the side, looking through the bars of the stair railing towards the park and its crowd. << There might not have been much for you out here. At first. But you can build something. Can you, in there? >>
<< No. >> Jamie tries and fails to suppress the rest of the thought, << ...But she loves me. >> It comes with a dull ache, a distant echo of the nameless agonizing absence that seizes him sometimes. He closes his eyes and focuses on Flicker's senses. << I'm sorry. Can we just read? For a little while? >>
(2 july. 12:15pm.)
It's warm, sunny, enormous hibiscus blossoms and gigantic towering sunflowers overhead, marigolds knocking up against soft fuzzy Queen of the Prairie and stringy purple floss flower. Flicker is perched on a rock, a half-eaten pesto-tomato-mozzarella sandwich held in his matte black hand, watching a bumblebee buzz its way into an oleander. His labcoat is folded up beside him, neatly. << You know, there are people who do research at the Clinic I work at? They study mutation, too. Just... >>
Jamie is sitting by himself in the corner of a cafeteria that would have looked at home on a college campus or in an office building. His food -- eggplant parmesan and linguine with a side of stewed zucchini -- is overcooked and by turns limp and rubbery. << ...without the imprisonment and torture? >> His mind makes an abortive attempt to remember something, but the hitch passes quickly this time and Jamie barely seems to notice. << I'm sure Dr. Messer would prefer that, in a vacuum. But if she left, it'd be one less researcher here who treats us like people. >> He lifts his fork to poke at a slice of eggplant without enthusiasm. << I'd probably be dead if not for her. >>
<< No imprisonment or torture. You volunteer for research, go home when it's done, and they pay you for it. >> Flicker eats slowly, focusing on the fresh herby taste of the pesto. << Maybe you would be. But that wouldn't have been a worry at all if you weren't in a cage to begin with. >> He follows the sandwich with a swallow of lemonade, cold and sweet and basily. << ...I've seen the people we got out, though. I don't know that they all got treated -- like -- >> He hesitates. << Like you. >>
<< Yeah, I know but -- she's not like the rest of them. >> Jamie's grip tightens enough to warp the plastic fork's handle, though weirdly there's not much in the way of concrete thoughts or even emotions behind it -- the stress reaction is almost entirely physical. It fades slowly, though, as he leans into Flicker's senses and starts in on his own meal again. << There's something very wrong with me. >> The thought seems calm, matter-of-fact, but there's a swell of dread beneath it.
(4 july. 10:57pm)
It's dark in Jamie's cell tonight, and he is curled on his side in the cot, both blankets wrapped tight around himself against the runaway air conditioning. If there are fireworks anywhere nearby, he can neither see nor hear them. His reaching is surer, this time. << Are you there? >> Quiet, plaintive. << Flicker? >>
There is a different stirring that answers Jamie, first. Slow and immense, more remote and vast than Flicker's quick sharp mental presence. Jamie's reaching doesn't immediately find any one person at the other end, but the feeling that he awakens is gradually pulling together a thread from here, from there, starting to stitch together a more coherent --
-- nothing. It unravels in moment, displaced far more clearly and presently by a sudden flutter of anxiety, of queasily twisting guilt. Flicker is shoving those down as best he can, though the anxiety isn't helped along by the fireworks in the city, constant and window rattling. The spike of panic each sends through him is mostly outwardly kept in check, where he's currently curled up on a couch tucked snug against the side of a bony young man who seems to be entirely ignoring the computer in his lap.
Flicker is looking very intently at his own computer, pulling his mind away from those unraveling threads or the constant crack of explosions or the tremble of his hand where it rests over Hive's. When he does answer it's just with his usual quiet warmth: << I'm here. >>
Jamie shrinks instinctively from the slow awakening of consciousness that his fumbling had wrought. His relief when he senses Flicker is palpable, immediate. << Sorry, I didn't mean to... >> He curls up tighter into himself, swallowing down a surge of envy for the man beside Flicker, a process assisted now by a much stronger wash of concern. << Are you okay? >>
He doesn't wait for a response, but focuses intently on his own senses: the smell of clean laundry from his bedding and aftershave lingering from an earlier shower, the touch of fabric warm against his skin, the foam mattress yielding and conforming to his weight, the darkness broken only by a thin rectangular frame of light around his door, the faint whoosh of the air through the vent and distant, indistinct speech. "The world is quiet here," he whispers.
(7 july. ~3:30am.)
The Clinic lobby is deserted. Dimly lit, quiet, a few soft lights on to illuminate the Mendel Clinic logo, the guard station welcome desk, the elevator bank, the entryway. They're low, though, everything overall muted. Flicker is far from muted, a frenetic nervous energy to him that is not being calmed by the cold bottle of Coca-cola he's drinking from. He flits in restless orbit around the lobby, returning at intervals to the desk to work that he hasn't touched in some time. The touch of his mind is choppier than usual, crackling staticky where it's mildly distorted by his jumpy movement. He does, at least, settle long enough to actually talk in unbroken words: << Sorry -- I know it's late -- I just -- please be up. >>
Jamie sits up from where he has been slumped into a corner on his cot, an extra blanket added to his pile since last time against the chill of the air conditioning. He throws himself into Flicker's presence as best his extremely limited psionic awareness allows. << Are you alright? Where have you been? >> The intensity of his relief is breathtaking and brief, as he takes in Flicker's agitation. << I'm here, >> he tries again, more calmly. << What's going on? >>
Flicker relaxes, initially, leaning back into the psionic contact. Meeting that intensity with a fierce rush of his own strong warm mental presence, far more assured at navigating this shared space when his mind curls back up against Jamie's. << I'm sorry. Hive's been -- more himself, it's been harder to find time when he won't -- >> For a moment he fumbles, fighting back a conflicting surge of relief, thankfulness, mingling with anxiety and guilt. << He still doesn't know you're here, but I think he will, soon, and then we might not be able to -- >> He stops, taking a gulp of soda and perching on the edge of the desk. << I could come get you. You could come with me. Out here. >>
Jamie's mind eases against Flicker's, and his body presses harder into the corner. << I'm kind of surprised you haven't told him. >> There's some intensity behind that, too, but even he can't fully identify it, as it vanishes beneath the crush of abject terror at Flicker's suggestion. His body starts hyperventilating, but his mind is dissociating at the same time and he pays it little attention. His thoughts lose coherence, coming across in short, panicked snatches. << That's impossible -- but I want -- don't deserve -- what about Dr. Messer -- it's suicide -- >> That last fragment of a thought makes his mind clench up and cease functioning properly, though it has the unintended benefit this time of interrupting the panic attack in progress. << I want to go with you, >> he manages, at last, fear wrenching his insides, tears streaking his face, << but this place -- it's like a fortress. It's too dangerous. >>
Flicker's answering << (me too) >> doesn't come across entirely as a fully-formed thought so much as a (confused) (guilt-wracked) flash of feeling, entangled with an intense and briefly overwhelming flare of protective love as he thinks of Hive. Tries not to think of Hive. << He has a lot on his plate, and I -- >> He cuts this thought off sharply, fights down the choking feeling that is trying to steal his breath. Focuses, instead, on actually breathing, slow and steady and deep through Jamie's panic. << Hey. I know it's dangerous. But you know I've done this a dozen -- >> He breaks off, his mind curling tighter, for a moment, around Jamie's, and then tentatively easing. There's a sudden cautious care with which he is disentangling himself, his words already more muted. << Please. You don't need to stay there. >>
The source of this sudden caution is easier to feel, this time. The web of Hive's mind is already surrounding them, but today his presence is a more coherent thing, a firm and solid undercurrent that bolsters all of the interactions they have. The sudden sting of Flicker's pain pulls him -- not together, he already is that. But -- inching towards wakefulness with a reflexive pang of concern. In this shared space he moves effortlessly, can be felt effortlessly; the blanketing presence around them still hovers somewhere on the brink between sleep and consciousness even as he reaches out, coils soft and gentle around Flicker to fold him back close.