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[Fiction] Ptesan-Wi - Alone


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The door was carved of solid redwood, stained and lacquered to a perfect sheen. Set into the frame were gold-plated numbers, denoting it as door number six. There was a doorknob, and next to the doorknob was a seasshell-like device with an LCD touchscreen set in.

The hallway was empty - it was three in the morning, the middle of the week, and off-tourist season, so even San Francisco's famous Highlands Hotel was having a quiet night.

The elevator door opened, and a man stepped out. He had deep red hair and eyes hidden behind sunglasses, and was dressed in jeans and a baggy jacket. He sucked in a deep breath, and walked towards door number six.

He was unshaven, and looked nervous. Twice his pace slowed as he had second thoughts, only to reaffirm himself as he picked up the pace again.

He walked to door number six, and breathed out softly, thinking back to the note, handwritten in controlled, cursive script. It was written on the back of a photocopy that sent chills down his spine - a copy of four sales receipts, lined up in a row, with the dates circled. It had said that there was no way he could know it wasn't a trick, but the fact that this note had found its way onto his dresser yet he was still unharmed meant something. It promised answers, once he reached the hotel.

He'd burnt it in his sink, as it had requested. He could still remember every word.

He knocked on the door. A moment later, he felt the hair on the back of his neck stand up, as he felt a tingle run through his brain. There was a ripple - a sound - maybe imagined, maybe not.

He'd heard about this, during his research kick. How the psiads called this 'attentuation' - sensing the ebb, flow and pooling of noetic energy. It had never worked for him, and he'd never figured out why...

The door swung open. He stared at the sight that awaited him inside. Three dining room tables laid end to end, covered with a nine-course meal filled with every kind of food he could imagine. Standing on the opposite side of the spread was a young woman - younger than his twenty-five - a caucasian, with black hair and brown eyes.

She smiled at him. "Hello. Come on in. I wasn't sure what you'd want so I ordered some of everything."

"You said you'd be alone - "

"We are. This is for the two of us. You brought an appetite, I hope."

He slowly entered the room, shutting the door behind him with a soft click. "I - how did you know?"

"How did I know you eat four times as much as a normal person? I used to eat six. I found a way around that problem, but I know exactly what it's like. Have a seat. We can talk more after your stomach is full."

"How do I know there's no drugs...?"

"One, if I wanted to drug you I could have done so in your apartment. Two, you don't really feel drugs any more, do you? Alcohol doesn't get you buzzed and cigarettes don't calm your nerves. Three... pick anything you want and I'll take a bite, if you're not satisfied."

"No. No, thank you, that's not necessary." He sat down, scooping out some peas and corn. "Sorry if I'm nervous."

"I understand completely."

"I guess you already know my name...?"

"I know you're calling yourself Issac now. I suspect what your original name was. If you don't want to tell me - "

"It's Jean-Marc. Jean-Marc Rosseau."

"Pleased to meet you, Jean-Marc. My name's Melinda Harris."

"Is that your real name?"

"It's the one I'm giving you." She smiled, pouring herself some wine. "I apologize for the way I contacted you, but I had to let you know I was serious."

"I thought I was being careful this time - "

"You were. A normal level of grocery shopping for a single man in his mid-twenties, bought four times at four different shops, and not using any retail incentives that track identity? It worked, for a long time. You were that careful with almost everything else. But a slip here, a mistake there... they add up. Don't feel bad."

Jean-Marc nodded, and sighed. "So what now? You said you could help - "

"I can. We can, to be more precise."

"Who's we?"

"Can't tell you just yet. So I know it'll sound as flimsy as a soap bubble when I say that you can trust us. But secrecy is paramount. The world isn't ready for us yet."

"Who's 'we?' What am I? Am I a - "

"You're not a psiad, no."

"Then how can I do what I do?"

"Let me ask you something. Firstly - what can you do?"

"I can make things float."

"Make things float... would you be partial to a demonstration?"

"Uh..." He looked uncertain. "I - I wouldn't mind, it's just been so long...! Yes, sorry. Give me a minute."

He took off his sunglasses, revealing eyes that were bright yellow - almost sparkling. They flared slightly as he stared at the peas in front of them.

One by one, they rose from the plate, floating as if they were standing in for stars in a stellar map. "I can do several things at once, but they just float - they don't move as I'd like them to."

"Fascinating..." Melinda leaned closer, her hair rising as if she were in freefall. "Gravity manipulation. I've never personally seen it before."

"I - I always thought it was telekinesis. Like the psychokinetics."

"It's not. It's not using a crude noetic glove to manipulate objects - it's tapping gravity itself. One of the fundamental forces of the universe." She leaned back as Jean-Marc set the peas back down. "I hate to sound rude, but - "

"My eyes turned this color a few months ago. Contacts help, but I hate wearing them. And when I use my powers my eyes get hot."

She nodded. "I know only bits and pieces of your background, so let me make my best guess. You had some kind of traumatic or emotional experience - a car accident, someone mugging you, or maybe you aced your finals or broke up with someone."

"I... " He exhaled and nodded. "It was a ski accident."

"You felt a stabbing pain in your forehead like someone has shoved a white-hot icepick through your skull, instead of the feeling of universal harmony that typically accompanies becoming psi-active."

He nodded.

"You got thinner and healthier, maybe after throwing up a bit. And you just knew, intuitively, how your abilities worked. When you went to the Rashoud clinic, you didn't register on any kind of psionic scan."

He nodded.

"And rather than demonstrate your abilities, you lied - and you ran, when you realized there were people taking an interest in you."

"That's it, exactly."

"Jean-Marc, you're not a psiad. You're a different kind of individual called an eximorph. You don't use noetics to read minds or lift objects or manipulate heat and cold and electricity - you access the building blocks of the universe directly, thanks to a new brain structure that's opened up right here." She pointed to her forehead. "There's thousands of psiads out there, but only a few dozen of us that we're aware of. The people I work with have decided to keep us a secret at this point - we're unlikely to make the same impact that psiads have since Galatea."

"I - " He rubbed his temple. "This is a lot to take in."

"I'd give you a pamphlet, but I'm fresh out."

He laughed. "You have pamphlets?"

"No - we don't write any of this down unless we can dispose of it properly. I took a risk with you, Jean-Marc. I hope you burnt the letter."

"I did. Burnt it, washed the ashes down my sink. Set off my fire alarm by accident..."

It was her turn to laugh. "I did that too, when they found me."

"So - okay. I'm an eximorph. What now?"

"Now, you finish your supper, you head back home, and I start doing background checks. Eximorphic abilities are random - anyone can get them, including people who don't care for our goals. If I'm satisfied, I will contact you again. If not... sorry."

"What are your goals?"

"Can't tell you. That need for secrecy again. But between you and me...

Between you and me, I already rooted through your memories when I visited you and everything seems to check out. I hate doing that, but I had no choice, because I can't very well advertise Project Pandora tryouts in the paper...

"Between you and me, I think you'll check out." She raised her glass. "A toast?"

"To what?"

"To the greatest of all life's pleasures - to not being alone."

He smiled, and took his glass in hand. "I'll drink to that."

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