With Psi Corps alerted to our heroes’ presence and nowhere to run, Raneem suddenly arrives and leads Matt and Michelle toward safety.
“Raneem, what are you doing here?” Michelle asked as we pelted after the girl.
“I’ll tell you when we’re safe,” Raneem said over her shoulder. “It’s not far.”
I stumbled as the fatigue from exercising such exacting control over my last psychic blast caught up with me. Michelle grabbed my arm and steadied me.
“Are you okay, babe?”
I nodded. “Just tired.”
She jerked her head toward the little girl leading us out of the square. In a low voice, she asked, “Too tired to check?”
“Already did.” I kept my voice low, as well. “There’s nothing in Raneem’s mind but an earnest desire to help us.”
Michelle’s deeply concerned expression eased a bit, but the easing stopped at seriously concerned. Trapped inside Psi Corps’ own little park and with Psi Corps headquarters alerted to our presence, who could blame her? And I had to add to her worries.
“If I get captured, promise me you’ll take Raneem and escape.”
“Not a chance, Matt,” Michelle snapped.
“You have to,” I said as we ran into an alley, finally leaving the wide open square behind us. “If Psi Corps holds you, they hold absolute power over me. You know I’ll do anything they want if they threaten you.”
“I’m not leaving you, babe, so just drop it.”
We exited the alley and followed Raneem to the left. She stopped and tried a door, flashing a fierce grin when it opened. “Come on, there’s a tunnel under this building.”
We slowed to a walk, making it easier for me to talk with Michelle. “What if Psi Corps tortures you? I won’t just see it, I’ll feel it through my connection to you. It won’t matter how tough you act or how hard you fight against screaming, I’ll know how bad it is for you. Jonas taught both of us that everyone breaks eventually. I’m pretty damned sure empaths break faster than most people—and the most powerful empath in four hundred years will break fastest.”
“Matt, I-” My wife’s voice faltered.
“Michelle, if you love me too much to leave me, then show me you love me enough to kill me.”
Raneem opened an unmarked door. “Be careful on the stairs. This building is real old and the lights don’t work.”
We followed the girl down the stairs. I shut the door behind us, cutting off the trickle of light from the outside. We groped for a few seconds before I heard Michelle fumbling with something. A weak light appeared in her hand as she turned her pocket pad on. It wasn’t much light, but it was a vast improvement over absolute darkness.
At the bottom of the stairs, Raneem paused, looking up and down the walls around us. “Let’s see, it should be here somewhere.”
“What should be here, honey?” Michelle asked.
“A yellow and black symbol painted on the wall. He said it would be hard to see.”
Michelle and I exchanged alarmed glances. I asked, “Who said?”
“The guy who commed me in that container you left me in,” Raneem replied, never taking her eyes from the wall. “Jonas.”
“My father commed you in the container?” Michelle asked, her voice incredulous. “Raneem, he was on a planet outside of the Federation a week ago.”
“So were you,” the girl said. “He said that answer ought to satisfy you.”
“But our families knew not to come to Earth,” Michelle objected.
Raneem suddenly pointed at a mark high up on the wall. I recognized it from my Earth history classes. It was a radiation symbol with an arrow pointing down the hallway to the left.
Michelle remembered her history lessons, too. “It’s showing the way to a fallout shelter.”
“Yeah, that’s what Jonas called it,” Raneem said. “And he said their precognitive told him it was okay to come to Earth.”
“The precog?” I asked as suspicion blossomed in my mind.
The girl nodded. “Cassandra.”
Michelle’s eyes widened. “No one calls her Cassandra.”
My eyes met Michelle’s and we both said, “It’s a trap.”
I felt fear rise up in Raneem. “No, no. He’s your father. He has to be.”
“Well, he’s not.” Michelle switched on the infrared sight on her blaster and I followed suit.
Tears welled up in Raneem’s eyes and her lip trembled. Swinging my gun in an arch overhead, I said, “It’s not your fault, Raneem. You didn’t know.”
“Crap,” Michelle muttered as her infrared sight picked up heat signatures from the floor above us. “How did Psi Corps know about the container, much less Raneem?”
“They’ve got precogs of their own, hon,” I said, watching red splotches appear on my own sight.
“How very perceptive of you, Mr. Connaught,” an amplified voice boomed from above. “We do, indeed, have precognitives of our own.”
“Th-that’s the voice I heard over the comm in the container!” Raneem said.
“Quite right, young lady,” the man said, his tone quite jovial. “You have been an enormous help to us. I might even let you go free—provided Mrs. Connaught has the good sense to surrender along with her husband.”
“No,” Michelle shouted. “Hell no.”
“I have over a dozen psychic nulls blocking the only way out of the building. My equipment lets me hear everything you say and see everywhere you go. My psychics know your every thought and emotion. Psi Corps spent the last two months preparing for this operation. We set a snare, baited it for your precognitive, and then waited until you ran into it.” The man’s tone shifted from triumphant to demanding. “There is no escape, Mr. Connaught. There are no options available to you. You can watch your wife and your little friend die or you can end this without bloodshed. Make the smart decision. Surrender to Psi Corps.”
Is Matt’s fugitive lifestyle at an end? Will he and Michelle surrender to Psi Corp? Find out in Chapter 19, coming Monday.