No new chapter on Friday, Sept. 30. Life got in the way of writing. I’ll have a new chapter on Monday.
Archives for September 2016
Matt and Michelle head for Psi Corps, guided by Amir’s directions.
Michelle kept track of where we were going while I kept track of where we had been. We might need my map if we had to make a run for it. Also, I would include it in the time delayed message I sent to Psi Corps. Michelle had no trouble following the directions and, 20 minutes after we left Amir, we entered a dimly lit section of the tunnels.
“I don’t know if anyone is still down here,” Michelle said, “but we’re not going to take any chances. Keep your blaster’s targeting set to infrared and keeping checking behind us.”
“Roger that,” I said while surreptitiously switching my blaster to infrared targeting.
“You never changed your targeting system did you, babe?”
“What makes you say that, hon?”
“You never say ‘roger that’ or any other semi-military responses unless you’re covering something up. Usually, it means you didn’t do something you should have done.” Michelle grinned over her shoulder at me. “Daddy taught me that about you when I was thirteen.”
“And you’re just getting around to telling me this after we’ve been married for a year?”
“This is the first time it’s come up, babe. You’re usually very good at doing what I tell you to do.”
“What can I say? Your father taught me well.” An odd thought suddenly struck me. “Hey, since your father knew how I felt about you for all those years, you don’t think he was training me to be proper husband material for his little girl, do you?”
“Oh, probably. Daddy always had my back.”
“Just so we’re clear, I didn’t ignore your instructions. I was concentrating on setting up the mapping application on my pad.”
“So noted. Now that you have infrared targeting turned on, I want you to scan behind us and down passages we don’t take. You know, like I asked you to do twenty minutes ago.”
“Hey, I did look in all those directions. I just didn’t use infrared.
Every few meters, I spun around and scanned the tunnel behind us. Honestly, I felt like that unnamed guy in every adventure vid whose job it is to get shot instead of the hero. You know, the dorky rookie whose death hardens the hero’s resolve. Fortunately, the similarities ended there. I didn’t see anything on the infrared system and no one shot me in the back.
Michelle stopped at the first door we came to. “If there are stairs up to the surface on the other side of this door, we’ll go up far enough that we can get a signal with our pads. We can send a message to Foster and use the GPS to figure out exactly where we are. You can also set up that time delayed message with Amir’s location.”
“Don’t you think you ought to leave a message for your father, too? I assume the codeword you gave to Raneem will bring Jonas here as fast as possible.”
“I’ve been debating that with myself,” Michelle said. “Daddy can’t get here in time to do anything to help us and we already know he’ll help Raneem and her friends.”
“But he might also be able to help Foster and his family. And he’ll know what happened to us. He could probably guess anyway, but the more he knows about our plans the better the chances he can figure out a way to rescue us.”
“You’re right, babe. I’ll leave a message for Daddy, too.”
The door was locked, of course, but Michelle had an amazing assortment of lock picking tools in the very expensive backpack. I kept watch while she unlocked the door. In well under a minute, it softly slid aside and we quietly ascended the stairs. We went up at least twenty meters before we got a signal.
While I set up my delayed message to Psi Corps, Michelle dictated messages to both her father and Foster. I finished well before my wife, so used a locator application to overlay our position on a map of Cairo. As expected, we were under the Cairo Catastrophe Memorial but were still half a kilometer from the main Psi Corps building. I showed the map to Michelle when she finished leaving her messages.
“Is there any chance you can break into the city archives and maybe find a map of the tunnels?” Michelle asked.
“With this thing?” I asked, holding up my pad. “Not likely and it will take a while. You want me to try?”
“No, that’s what I expected, but wanted to make sure.”
We returned to the tunnels and once again Michelle led the way using Amir’s directions. I, on the other hand, went back to acting like the dorky rookie in an adventure vid.
“Are you sure we aren’t walking into some kind of elaborate trap. I mean, shouldn’t there be somebody else down here besides us, hon?”
“I hope most of their people are searching the tunnels behind us. With any luck, we won’t run into guards until we leave the tunnels. If we’re really lucky, we can avoid all of the guards—including the ones above ground.”
Our progress slowed considerably the closer we got to Psi Corps. We communicated entirely with hand signals, thoroughly checked every intersection before crossing it, and generally acted as paranoid as Jonas would have wanted us to.
We checked every door we came to and ascended every set of stairs to get a signal and open the message drops. Either Foster wasn’t checking for messages obsessively or he wasn’t in a position to check them discreetly. Michelle dutifully looked for a response from her father, too, despite having no expectation he could possibly send one. So you can imagine her surprise—and her suspicions—when she got a response from Jonas.
“Someone responded to the message I left for Daddy,” she said.
“What do you mean by ‘someone’? Who else could possibly know those drops that the two of you set up? Hell, you won’t even tell them to me and I’m your husband.”
“You’ve got your own message drops with Daddy, so stop whining.”
“I wasn’t whining, Michelle, I was simply using logic to show that no one but the two of you could possibly know about that message drop.”
“Says the techie who has broken into more systems than I can count.”
“Okay, hon, I’ll concede that point. And it’s not like Psi Corps won’t have access to some pretty talented slicers if they really want them. So what are you going to do?”
Michelle bit her lip while considering my question. Finally, she said, “I’m going to ask him a question only he will know the answer to.”
Michelle busied herself keying a response and then headed for the stairs. “Okay, let’s go.”
Hurrying after her, I said, “What question did you ask?”
“I’m not going to tell you. There’s always the chance these stairs are bugged and I’m not giving the answer to whoever is listening.”
I let the matter drop. It’s impossible to reason with Michelle when she’s in bodyguard mode. We slipped back into the tunnels and continued towards Psi Corps headquarters. Ten minutes later, we ascended another set of stairs and Michelle checked her messages again. As before, Foster had not responded. Her father—or whoever was pretending to be her father—had.
“Well?” I asked as soon as Michelle read the response.
“He knew the answer. It’s got to be Daddy. He’s here. In Cairo. And he brought the whole team.” Michelle looked up from her pad and met my eyes. “He wants us to come to the local GenCo offices so he can get us out of here.”
“We can’t just leave Foster hanging,” I said.
“No, we can’t.”
“Besides, he knows several of Psi Corps’ deep and very dark secrets. We need to get him and his family to safety so he can tell the galaxy his story. We’re never going to get a better chance than this. And Foster will never trust us again if we abandon him.”
“I know, babe,” Michelle said. “I’ll tell Daddy to prepare to take Foster’s wife and daughter to safety. Now, let’s go get Foster and the precog he’d like to adopt.”
She never once bit her lip during the discussion.
Are Matt and Michelle doing the right thing? Find out more in Chapter 35, coming Friday.
Hiding in an air vent, Matt gets some much-needed sleep.
Some time later, Michelle gently shook me awake. She had one hand gently covering my mouth so I assumed she wanted me to keep quiet. I raised both eyebrows in question. Michelle cupped one hand around her ear and use two fingers from her other hand to mimic someone walking. I nodded my understanding and turned my attention toward the tunnel at the end of our vent.
After a few seconds, I heard the sound of feet scuffing over a hard surface. Someone—probably several someones—was coming our way.
Suddenly remembering our ‘guest,’ I looked over my shoulder to make sure Amir was not making any sounds. I remembered Michelle taping his hands behind his back, his feet together, and his mouth shut but he still had enough freedom of movement to kick at the wall in an attempt to alert whoever was approaching. I needn’t have worried. While I was sleeping, Michelle hogtaped—it’s exactly like hogtying except you use tape—the man’s hands and feet together behind his back.
I smiled into Amir’s glare before turning my attention back to the tunnel. By now the sound of approaching footsteps was clearly audible. I could also hear snatches of quiet conversation between the people approaching. Michelle and I both strained to make out the words, hoping to learn something useful from their passing conversation.
In an adventure vid, the band of minions would have been discussing important details of their search or the layout of their hideout or something else useful to us. We had no such luck. The men were primarily griping about the local football team and its poor performance this season. In a way, their conversation did tell us something useful. The searchers obviously felt no sense of urgency, otherwise they wouldn’t waste time on casual conversation. I was left with the impression the men were performing one last sweep of the area before moving on. The voices and footsteps faded away but Michelle and I remained silent until a full minute passed.
“How long was I asleep?” I asked.
“Almost four hours.”
“And those guys were the first ones to search down this tunnel?”
Michelle shook her head. “Three other groups came in the last few hours. They were all a lot quieter. I didn’t hear them until they were nearly at the entrance to the vent. You were sleeping quietly, so I decided not to risk startling you by waking you up.”
“I don’t understand why you didn’t wake me after the first group went by.”
“If you have to use your power, a few hours of sleep might mean the difference between freedom and capture. And, like I said, you were sleeping quietly. It wasn’t like we were going to get out of here while the search was going on, anyway.”
“Okay, hon,” I said. “What now?”
“By hiding in here, I think we’ve convinced Psi Corps and the boss that we’ve left the tunnels and returned to the city above.”
“Why do you say that?” I asked. “I mean, Shafira heard our full plan and someone in the boss’s group must have found her by now. She’ll have told them everything she overheard. So they know we wanted to sneak into Psi Corps. That means they’ve got to be waiting for us.”
“I’m sure they were waiting for us, but that group that just wandered by tells me they think we either never were going to Psi Corps or have given up. Between the boss’s people and Psi Corps’ people, they probably think they know everything about these tunnels. After spending four hours searching for us and not finding us, it’s reasonable for them to assume we’re not down here.”
“Yeah…What do you think your father would say to that line of reasoning?”
“Daddy would probably call it wishful thinking. But he also says to trust your gut—and my gut says we’ve got a mostly clear path to Psi Corps.” She looked over her shoulder at Amir and added, “That’s assuming Amir gives us the directions we need.”
Amir shook his head violently. That’s about the only movement he could make but his meaning was very clear. He wasn’t going to help us.
“Are you comfy, Amir?” Michelle asked. Amir’s glare intensified and my wife said, “I didn’t think so. Here’s the deal, you tell us how to safely sneak into Psi Corps headquarters and we’ll make sure someone finds you after we get back out. If we get caught, I don’t think we’re going to be quite so charitable. Imagine spending the last days of your life taped up like that while you die of thirst or hunger.”
“Um, Michelle? I don’t know about this.”
“I don’t like it either, babe, but I like the idea of spending the rest of our lives as slaves to Psi Corps even less.” Michelle matched Amir’s glare and said, “So, what’s it going to be, Amir? Will you give us directions that go around all of the guards and bypass any traps and sensors?”
Amir and Michelle held a staring contest for another half a minute before Amir’s head drooped and he nodded. Turning around, Michelle pulled out what was left of the tape she’d used to bind Amir and cut off a strip large enough to cover his mouth. She peeled back one corner of the strip over his mouth but paused before removing it.
“If you try shouting for help, I’ll kill you right now. Are we clear on that?”
Amir didn’t even bother glaring at Michelle, he just nodded.
Michelle ripped the tape off of Amir’s mouth. He grimaced in pain but he didn’t cry out or make any other noise Michelle might interpret as a call for help. Over the next several minutes, he gave detailed directions which my wife recorded in her pocket pad. After he finished answering all of her questions, his eyes widened in panic as she prepared to tape his mouth shut.
“Please, can’t you just stun me? That way I won’t be able to call for help until long after you have gotten to Psi Corps.”
“Sorry, Amir, you were only out for about 40 minutes the last time we stunned you,” Michelle responded. “That’s just not long enough for us to do what we need to do. Besides, I’m not willing to risk someone overhearing the blaster shot.”
Hope faded from Amir’s eyes as Michelle slapped the tape over his mouth. I pushed down the rising sympathy I felt for the man, reminding myself he was leading us into a trap.
“How long do we wait before we get moving?” I asked.
“Let’s give them another half an hour. Have you got any idea what you want to do when we get to Psi Corps?”
“Only in very vague terms—scope out the situation, find our friends, and get back out of there as fast as we can.”
“I don’t like going in there knowing as little as we do, babe. We have no idea how many guards there are, what the layout is, or even if our friend is there right now.”
“We could ask Amir,” I said.
Michelle shook her head. “The questions we’d have to ask would give Amir too much information about our friends. If we get caught and someone still finds him, that information could lead Psi Corps to them.”
“I hadn’t thought of that…Can your portable pad get a signal down here? We could send a message to them if it does.”
Michelle checked her pad and shook her head. “What about you? Have you got some cutting-edge, super-slicer pad GenCo hasn’t made available to the public yet? Something that can get a signal down here?”
“Mine is just like yours, hon. I don’t need anything better on Ark’s Landing and I didn’t have time to arrange something better before we left.” I took Michelle’s pad, opened the messaging app’s settings, and made a few quick changes. Handing it back to my wife, I said, “Now, an alert will display on the screen as soon as the pad gets a signal. It’s the best I can do.”
“We’ll just have to hope our friend is checking the message drop I told him about regularly.”
The thirty minutes crawled by but eventually Michelle said, “All right, babe, time to go.”
I looked over my shoulder at Amir. “As soon as we have a signal, I’ll set up a time delayed message to Psi Corps telling them where you are. Even if we get caught, you won’t die down here. Michelle would’ve done the same thing, she just wouldn’t have told you about it.”
Michelle punched me lightly in the arm. “You’re going to ruin my reputation as a hard ass, babe.”
“I always thought your ass was sort of soft and shapely,” I said.
Michelle rolled her eyes. “You must be nervous if you’re already making corny sexual jokes.”
“Only an idiot wouldn’t be nervous sneaking into his enemy’s lair. And I’d like to think you didn’t marry an idiot.”
I scooted under the pipes and stood up in the tunnel. Reaching down, I helped Michelle to her feet.
“Which way, hon?”
Michelle pointed back the way we came and we set off to infiltrate Psi Corps headquarters.
Will Matt and Michelle find their way into Psi Corps HQ? Find out in Chapter 34, coming Wednesday.
Author’s note: I’ve added a bit to the end of Chapter 31. I’ll open with the new ending so you don’t have to go back and read it.
Amir’s eyes bored into mine as he said, “Yes because I am being completely honest with you.”
“Because you think that’s the best way to lure Matt into Psi Corps’ trap,” Michelle whispered.
Amir was so focused on me, I’m not sure he even consciously heard what Michelle said. His subconscious did, though, and it made him give a fractional nod in response. His eyes widened as he realized what just transpired, but it was way too late. Without hesitation, Michelle shot him.
“Don’t worry, babe, my blaster is still set to stun,” she said. “Now, help me stash our friend down a side tunnel.”
I was still catching up with the sudden turn of events, but knelt down and hoisted Amir up over my shoulder. “You keep a watch out for Psi Corps people. I’ll take care of our former friend.”
Standing at a four-way intersection, I discounted the tunnel that brought us here. I dismissed the two tunnels Amir claimed led to Psi Corps, too. That made my choice very simple.
“How far do you think the sound of the blaster shot carried?” I asked.
Michelle, backing down the tunnel behind me, said, “With all the hard surfaces down here to reflect sound, probably a very long way. For the same reason, it’ll be hard to figure out which direction the shot came from, but I expect Psi Corps can bring lots of people down here to search for us.”
I ignored the first three side tunnels we passed and almost ignored the fourth. If Amir’s limp bulk hadn’t made me look down slightly, I would have missed it entirely.
“Shine a light over here, hon,” I said.
Behind a row of pipes, a metal grating covered what looked like an air vent. Dropping Amir, I got down onto my stomach and scooted under the lowest pipe. The grating was hinged but also locked.
“Hurry up, Matt. I think I hear voices in the distance,” Michelle said.
“Are those little concealable blasters quiet enough that I can use one to blast a lock?”
“Probably?” Despite her uncertainty, Michelle put one of the small weapons into my outstretched hand. “Try using half-power.”
I turned the power dial with my thumb and then pressed the blaster against the lock. The shot sounded deafening to me, but I was both right next to it and desperate to keep noise to a minimum.
“I definitely hear voices now, babe,” Michelle said. “Did that work?”
The grating creaked open when I pushed on it, its hinges stiff with rust and disuse. “Yeah. Shove Amir to me and get down here, yourself. The vent looks wide enough for us to fit in next to each other.”
After a few minutes of wriggling and pushing Amir, we’d gotten several meters down the vent. Michelle even remembered to push the grating shut with her feet—something that slipped my mind entirely. As soon as we stopped, Michelle pulled a roll of heavy-duty tape out of the extremely expensive backpack she hadn’t let out of her possession since we left our hotel yesterday morning. It only took her a couple of minutes to bind and gag Amir with the tape.
“He should be out for a good while, yet, but Daddy says never take unnecessary chances.” Michelle kissed me lightly on the nose. “Why don’t you get some sleep. I’ll keep watch and try to figure out what we should do next.”
“Promise me you’ll wake me if anyone comes close. If it’s not a psychic null, I can probably broadcast indifference at them and keep them from noticing this vent.”
“Unless they have the plans for this place, I don’t think anyone will notice it even without your help,” Michelle said.
“Maybe, but I have it on very good authority that my father-in-law says we should never take unnecessary chances.”
“Very good, babe! You passed my ‘do you listen to your wife’ test.”
“Aren’t I supposed to get a better reward than a verbal pat on the head?”
Michelle leaned in and kissed me very thoroughly. “Anything else is going to have to wait for a proper bed.”
I folded my arms and laid my head on them. “It’s always good to have something to look forward to.”
I closed my eyes and, unexpectedly, fell asleep quickly.
An extremely busy work week cut into my writing time this week. That’s why today’s chapter is so short. I promise something longer for Chapter 33, coming Monday.
Amir leads our heroes toward Psi Corps.
With the exception of Amir’s softly called directions, we walked in silence for twenty minutes. At a four-way intersection, Amir broke the silence.
“From here, which way we go depends on why you want to get into Psi Corps.”
I looked past the man to Michelle. “How much do you think we can trust him?”
“I’m just the brawn, babe. I leave all that thinking and trust stuff to you and your psychic ability.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Who are you and what have you done with Michelle?”
Michelle’s lips turned down in a slight frown. “I’m not entirely kidding, Matt. I’m pretty sure you’re better at reading body language than I am. You’re observant and an empath, so my best guess is that you’ve built up a pretty extensive physical vocabulary by both watching and reading people.”
I scratched the back of my head, working through Michelle’s meaning. “I think I can follow that logic. Let’s say you’re right, what makes you think I can read body language without using my ability as a lens?”
“I don’t know, Matt,” Michelle said, shrugging. “Maybe because you have to?”
“Might I make a suggestion?” Amir asked. “It is, after all, my brain poised above the mush maker.”
“Sure,” I said.
“I could tell you more about myself so you’ll have more to go on when judging my trustworthiness.”
“That’s a great idea,” Michelle said, “except how will we know if you’re telling the truth?”
It was Amir’s turn to shrug. “If I wanted to lie to gain your trust, would I start out by admitting I work for Psi Corps?”
Michelle raised her blaster so fast I almost missed it. My own hand twitched toward my holster, but I stopped short of drawing the gun. Amir never moved, never even flinched, at my wife’s reaction.
“Thank you for not shooting me, Mrs. Connaught,” Amir said. “I trust I have your attention and belief?”
“Attention, yes,” Michelle said. “I’m still not sure I believe you.”
“I do,” I said.
Without taking her eyes off of Amir, Michelle asked, “Why do you believe him, babe?”
“I don’t know. His tone of voice, maybe? His overall nonchalance? I can’t really point to any one thing, but do believe he works for Psi Corps. Maybe you were right about me and body language,” I said. Then uncertainty caught up with me as I realized how little I understood my reaction to Amir. “Or maybe I just want to believe him. If that’s the case-”
“Stop doubting yourself so much, Matt. You’ve lived your whole life afraid Psi Corps would find out about your empathic ability. Your brain is programmed to distrust anything those people say to you but your gut is telling you something else about Amir.” Michelle’s eyes caught mine for a second. “I’m sure you remember what Daddy taught you about instincts.”
“They’re our subconscious sending us a message after processing data we aren’t even aware we know.”
“Exactly. So don’t let your brain get in the way of your instincts.” Michelle’s eyes returned to Amir and she lowered her blaster. “Okay, you’ve got our attention and our tentative belief. Please explain why I shouldn’t shoot you right now.”
“Put yourself in my position,” Amir said. “My superiors at Psi Corps are obviously willing to leave me to the boss’s not-so-tender mercies if it means capturing your husband. Would you willingly sacrifice yourself for your employer?”
“Uh, yeah,” Michelle replied. “That’s pretty much the definition of a bodyguard.”
“You’re his bodyguard?” Amir asked, his eyes widening in surprise. “My apologies. When Mr. Connaught showed up with a woman his own age, I just assumed you were his wife.”
“Michelle is my wife,” I said. “She used to be my bodyguard and her training is never far from the surface.”
“Let me try another analogy,” Amir said. “If you worked in a GenCo manufacturing facility, would you sacrifice yourself so the company could get their hands on a new product design?”
“Do you hear that, Matt? Psi Corps wants you to be their new product.”
“You know what I meant, Mrs. Connaught.”
“Yes, I do. But Psi Corps goes to great lengths to convince the galaxy that they exist only to serve and protect the Federation.” Michelle cocked her head to one side. “If that’s true, wouldn’t you do anything—even sacrifice yourself—to get a powerful psychic like Matt off the streets and under Psi Corps’ control?”
“Yes, if that was true. Tell me, Mrs. Connaught, have you spent much time dealing with government agencies?” When Michelle and I both nodded, Amir continued, “Then you have some vague idea what Psi Corps is really like. Surely, you’ve spoken of its inner workings with your friend Zavier Gordon and the psychics you took from Piscain Station, as well? Do you truly harbor any illusions that Psi Corps is anything but a large government agency dedicated to increasing its power within the Federation government?”
“No, we don’t. That’s one reason we’re working to bring Psi Corps down,” I said. “I’m still surprised you’re admitting as much to us.”
“You may remember I was being held as a sacrificial lamb so you would drain your strength, Mr. Connaught. I happen to like my brain just the way it is and will do much to avoid the same fate as your previous victim, Mr. Toma.”
“What do you mean by that?” I asked. “I was told Toma is recovering.”
“Who told you that?”
“The boss,” I muttered, reddening in chagrin. “Obviously, I shouldn’t have believed him.”
“We shouldn’t have believed him,” Michelle said.
“You two can’t be blamed for accepting his word when he told you what you wanted to hear.”
“I assume you know the truth?” I asked. At Amir’s nod, I said, “Tell me.”
“Toma has not regained consciousness since you attacked him. I’m told telepaths have detected brain activity, but there’s no evidence he’s dreaming or even thinking.” Amir looked directly into my eyes. “There are two healers assigned to Earth and neither of them can do anything for him. They aren’t even sure what’s wrong with Toma.”
Numbly, I asked, “Do they think he’s going to die?”
“I don’t know, but I’ll bet the director is hoping he will. All the better to scare the public and squeeze more funding and a broader mandate from parliament. You know, whip them into a panic over Matt Connaught by claiming you can kill them with your mind.”
“Hell, if Toma dies the director won’t even be exaggerating,” I said.
“You do remember that Toma wanted to capture the two of us and use me to force you to do Psi Corps’ bidding?” Michelle asked. “Would you feel this guilty if you’d shot the man in a gun battle and that was the reason we got away?”
“I…don’t think so,” I said.
“Psi Corps set a trap for you, Mr. Connaught,” Amir said. “They sent me to negotiate the whole thing with the boss. He was in on the whole plan, as were the rest of his psychics. Except for Shafira, that is. No one trusted her to keep the secret.”
“Even Sabah, the woman he executed?” Michelle asked.
“Yes, though that part of his story was true. I did arrange for her to attack you before the others were ready. I was observing from a nearby building and when I saw the little girl running toward you, I gave Sabah the order to attack. The timing had to be just right or you might have left before the girl could lure you deeper into the trap.” Amir met my eyes again. “You aren’t the only one who has blood on his hands, Mr. Connaught.”
“And this is the story that’s supposed to make us trust you?” Michelle asked.
Amir’s eyes bored into mine as he said, “Yes, because I am being completely honest with you.”
That’s when Michelle shot him.
Why did Michelle shoot Amir? Find out in Chapter 32, coming Friday.
Matt and Michelle descend into the boss’s escape tunnel.
Michelle and I descended into the darkened tunnel. As the light from the room above faded, Michelle dug into the backpack and pulled out a flashlight. The light showed another trapdoor a few meters below us. Michelle climbed the rest of the way down to the door, waited for me to join her, and flicked off the light.
“Keep quiet while I check out what’s on the other side of the door,” Michelle said.
“I kind of figured that out myself, hon,” I said.
“Yes, you’re very smart.” Michelle’s voice came out of the darkness from below me.
“Need help with the door?” I asked.
“Seriously, babe?” Michelle replied as I heard the trapdoor swing up. “Be quiet so I can listen.”
“Yes, ma’am,” I whispered.
We both strained our ears, probing the darkness for any sound out of the ordinary. After a few seconds of listening to water dripping, Michelle turned her light on again. The bright light stung my eyes for a few seconds, but they quickly adjusted.
Michelle, silhouetted against the light shining into the tunnel, stuck her head through the trapdoor and looked in all directions. “It’s clear. The floor is about three meters below the door.”
Without waiting for any response from me, Michelle dropped down into the tunnel below. She landed softly and moved to one side.
“Come on down, babe,” she called quietly.
A couple of seconds later I was crouching next to her in the tunnel. Make that tunnels. We were at the intersection of six of them. Michelle shined the light down each one, looking for some indication of which way we should go.
“I have no idea which one we should take,”she said. “Can you figure something out using your ability, Matt?”
Cautiously, I reached out with my empathic ability. To my right, I readily detected Psi Corps. It wasn’t very close, but it had a huge emotional footprint. To my left, and a lot closer, I picked up the boss’s little gang. Most of them were not familiar, but Shafira was easy to pick out.
I waved one hand in an arc encompassing three of the tunnels on the right, “Psi Corps is somewhere over there. The boss and his people are in the opposite direction. Shafira is close by. I’m pretty sure I could find her—especially since she’s doing something with her power—anything else is a total crapshoot.”
Michelle bit her lip, something I hadn’t seen her do much lately, and considered what I said. After a few seconds, she pointed back toward the boss’s territory and said, “I think we’re going to need a native guide. Let’s go get Shafira.”
“Do you think that’s such a good idea, hon?”
“No, I think it’s a really stupid idea. But unless you’ve got a better one, I don’t think we have any choice.” Michelle motioned for me to lead the way, and said, “You can keep her power in check, can’t you?”
I gave Michelle an incredulous look as I walked past her, “Please tell me you’re kidding.”
“Just being cautious, babe, Just like Daddy taught me,” my wife said.
I raised one wrist dramatically to my forehead and said, “Still, your doubt has cut me to the quick. I don’t know how I can go on, now.”
“I suppose I’m going to have to find some way to make this up to you,” Michelle sighed, matching my dramatic tone.
“Oh, good, I’ve got something in mind already.”
“Let me guess,” Michelle said, “does it involve a bed?”
“I was thinking of something more like a blanket, a jug of wine-”
“A loaf of bread, and thou,” Michelle interrupted. “What, no Book of Verses? No singing in the wilderness?”
“You’ve heard me sing, hon, do you think I’d really subject you to that?” I asked. “Talk about ruining the mood…”
“In the poem, I’m pretty sure it’s the woman doing the singing.”
“In that case,” I said, “we’ll have some singing, too. You sing like an angel.”
“That’s very sweet of you to say, babe,” Michelle said. “Now, can we get back to the task at hand? Shafira won’t find herself.”
“Oh, I’ve been keeping track of Shafira. She’s not very far away.” We came to another intersection and I immediately took the tunnel to the right. “In fact, she’s right down here.”
Michelle shined the flashlight down the tunnel, illuminating several doors on both sides of it. We were both relieved no one was posted at any of the doors.
“Nice of the boss to leave her unguarded,” Michelle said.
“If the door locks from the outside, I can’t see why he would need anybody guarding it,” I said. “I mean, we are talking about Shafira here. She’s not exactly a master criminal.”
“Yeah, but wasn’t she supposed to be in with Amir? From what Thoth and the boss had to say, I got the idea he was not an idiot.”
“Probably not, but he is a psychic null. It’s not like I can easily pick him up,” I said.
“I wasn’t asking if you detected him with your ability, Matt. I know he’s a null, but I thought he might be worthy of a guard.”
“Maybe Amir is sort of like a middle manager criminal?” I asked. “Not an idiot, but not someone you put in charge of anything really important, either.”
I stopped next to the third door on the left. “She’s in here.”
Michelle examined the door, and said, “There’s just a simple external locking mechanism. It’s impossible to open from the inside, but as easy as flipping a switch on the outside. Are you ready to contain Shafira?”
“Yep, just give the word.”
“Do it, babe,” Michelle said as she reached for the locking mechanism.
I blocked Shafira’s empathic power just as Michelle slid the door open. Beyond the door, was a small room with no furniture and two people sitting on the floor. One of them was our old friend Shafira while the other was a man we had never seen before. He was short, very pale, and maybe thirty years old. I’ve got to admit, he looked exactly like I think a middle manager should look.
A nasty grin split Shafira’s face when Michelle stepped through the door. She turned the grin on Amir. “You know who that is don’t you? Are you ready to get your brain turned to mush!”
Amir turned a resigned gaze on me. “I suppose it’s time?”
Shafira glanced my way and said, “I’ve been using my power to tenderize his mind for you.”
Michelle gave Shafira an incredulous look. “You do know Amir is a psychic null, right? Your power has no effect on him.”
“Just take a look at him,” Shafira crowed. “Have you seen anybody look more depressed than him? He got that way because I was broadcasting depression at him. I must be more powerful than people think.”
Michelle looked at me and said, “Good God, I think she actually believes that.”
A wry smile crossed Amir’s lips. “Never underestimate the power of Shafira’s stupidity.”
“Hey! Just for that, I’m going to hit you with my full power,” Shafira said.
Whatever else you can say about the woman, Shafira was very determined to prove just how stupid she really was. Her weak little attempts to broadcast depression and fear at Amir hit my power and were immediately routed into my brain. I stored them along with what little I’d absorbed while we were in the boss’s room.
Amir climbed to his feet and said, “Let’s get this over with.”
“We’re not here to do anything to you, Amir,” Michelle said. “We came to get Shafira so she could guide us through the tunnels to Psi Corps. Of course, looking at her right now, I’m having second thoughts about the wisdom of that plan.”
“You should listen to those second thoughts,” Amir said. “Shafira will betray you at the first opportunity.”
“I knew that,” Michelle said. “But she’s the only one I know who can get us through these tunnels to Psi Corps who isn’t also upstairs with the boss.”
“I can get you through the tunnels,” Amir said. “I’m the one who taught her which way to go.”
Michelle looked at me and said, “Is there any way you can figure out whether he’s telling the truth or not?”
“Not without turning his brain to mush, alerting Psi Corps where we are, and bringing everybody that works for the boss down on us,” I said. “On the other hand, why don’t you just ask Shafira?”
A look of comprehension crossed Michelle’s face and she turned toward Shafira. “So, is it true? Did Amir teach you the way through the tunnels to Psi Corps?”
“No, he didn’t!” Shafira said. “I figured it out all by myself.”
Shafira is a very good liar, as long as she’s not lying to another psychic. Deception shone out of her mind as bright as the sun.
“She’s lying,” I said.
Michelle nodded and looked at Amir. “Are you willing to help us?”
“It beats waiting around to get my brain turned to mush,” Amir responded.
“You realize that’s what is going to happen to you if you try to turn us over to Psi Corps?” Michelle said.
“Yes, I figured that out all by myself,” the criminal middle manager said. “But you know Shafira is going to sound the alarm as soon as we leave, and even your husband can’t block her power forever.”
Michelle reached into her backpack and pulled out one of the new blasters her father gave us for our anniversary. Holding it so Shafira could see it, Michelle flipped the setting to stun and pointed it at Shafira.
“I’m way ahead of you, Amir,” Michelle said and pulled the trigger.
Even on stun setting, the blaster report was loud in the small room. Shafira slumped to the floor and Michelle motioned us out the door. Eyes wide in surprise, Amir fell in behind me.
“Don’t do anything unexpected, Amir,” Michelle said. “I’ll shoot you without a second thought.”
I looked over my shoulder at the man, “Believe her. At least you know it’s on stun.”
“If he’s stunned, will it be easier for you to break through his shield?” Michelle asked me.
Amir held his hands up in mock surrender. “You’ve made your point, Mrs. Connaught. Only a suicidal moron would risk your wrath. I am neither suicidal nor a moron.”
“Good,” Michelle purred. “I’m glad we understand each other. Now, which way to Psi Corps?”
Will Amir lead Matt and Michelle to Psi Corps? Find out in Chapter 31, coming Wednesday.