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The mind thieves the min.., p.13
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       The Mind Thieves (The Mind Readers), p.13

           Lori Brighton
 
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  I admit I felt more comfortable with Maddox than Jake. There was something about Jake I didn’t like. Maybe it was the cold look in his eyes, or the way he seemed to thrive on hurting people.

  “Stay away from him,” Maddox commanded.

  Yeah, I didn’t really trust Jake and planned to avoid him, but Maddox’s demand didn’t sit well. Instinctively, I wanted to rebel. I ignored the desire and instead focused on my mission…uncovering answers.

  “Where’s my dad?” I asked, crossing my arms over my chest and refusing to let him intimidate me.

  He paused for one long moment, his narrowed gaze piercing. Maybe he was still angry with me for abandoning him at that motel. But if he thought to scare me, it wouldn’t work. I’d been through too much crap in my short life.

  He finally sighed, reluctantly relaxing his stance, our battle of wills over…for now. “He’s in his office. Come on, I’ll take you to him.” He pressed his hand to my lower back and led me toward the large building that was half underground.

  It wasn’t exactly attractive. The front of the bunker was made of cement blocks, the top and sides covered with dirt and grass. I glanced around the area. Few people roamed the grounds and I wondered where everyone was hidden. The sun managed to warm the cleared space, but beyond those buildings was a fence made of iron bars, barbed wire curling along the top, making this place look more like a prison than a research center. And beyond that fence… dark woods.

  Maybe I didn’t want to be here. Maybe I didn’t want to know what my dad did. There was something seriously creepy about a place where you just knew you were being constantly watched. I could practically feel their eyes crawling over me, much like the spider scurrying across the gravel path in front of me.

  Of course there was no welcome sign on the steel doors that provided an entrance. But, no surprise, there was a camera mounted above that followed our every little move.

  Maddox pressed his hand to a black keypad and the door clicked open. “You want to know what your dad does? Here you go.”

  A long, white tunnel dissected the inside of the building. There were no pictures on the walls. No sofa or waiting room, only that long tunnel with the many closed doors on either side.

  “Someone could use an interior decorator,” I muttered.

  “We have more important things to worry about than décor.”

  “Joking,” I said.

  He didn’t bother to respond.

  We paused outside another steel door, the first on the left. Maddox pressed his hand to yet another key pad. The door hissed in protest, but finally popped open. A large room yawned before us, at least ten people working on computers or answering phones. They barely glanced our way, too busy doing whatever it was they were doing. Electronic maps hung on all four walls, red pinpoints of light marking cities and countries around the world. I felt like I’d just entered some James Bond movie.

  “Where the heck are we?” I whispered.

  “Command central.” He started into the room and I followed. The tap of our shoes against the linoleum flooring could barely be heard over the chatter of conversation and clicking of computer keys.

  “Command central to what?”

  “To your life. People like you.”

  There it was again…people like you. As if I was some freak of nature.

  This was where they studied mind readers? We paused outside an office with glass windows. I could see my dad sitting behind a desk, a phone pressed to his ear. They wore no suits, but jeans and polo shirts. It wasn’t a regular office, more like a police station.

  As if sensing me, my dad turned. He didn’t look surprised, but more resigned to the fact that I was there. After a few moments, he hung up and waved us in.

  Maddox pushed the door wide. “Your visitor.”

  I stepped into his office, quickly scanning the large room. He was important here, which was obvious by the large office. It wasn’t exactly decorated, but had a polished, wooden desk and two chairs across from it for visitors. No windows. Nothing on the white walls… but on his desk were three pictures. One of Charlie. One of Gemma. One of their entire family. My heart clenched painfully. No picture of me. No family vacations to reminisce over. No family dinners. No holidays. Nothing.

  He leaned down and pushed a button on his phone. “Tell Jake I want to talk to him before he leaves.”

  “Yes, sir,” a woman said.

  Someone was obviously in trouble and I couldn’t help but feel guilty. I flushed, tearing my gaze from those photos. Yep, dear ol’ Dad was definitely annoyed. But annoyed because Jake was here, or annoyed because I was here?

  I waited until Maddox closed the door behind us before I started in on the questions. “So, Jake’s like us?”

  He nodded. I knew, yet was still surprised. I rubbed the back of my head, my skull throbbing. Dad had taken in a teenage mind reader.

  “We adopted him when the orphanage started wondering about his odd behavior.”

  Dad had no problem taking in others, while he’d left me to my own devices. No problem having a home, another family, while I was left alone. “How long has he lived with you?”

  Dad pushed away from his desk and stood. “Since he was ten, so seven years.”

  Unbelievable.

  “Cameron demands answers,” Maddox said, resting his hands on his hips and smirking at me.

  I glared at him. I hadn’t demanded anything. Ugh, had I really thought I preferred Maddox over Jake?

  Dad sighed. “All right. Let’s go then.”

  That easy? I was actually startled when my dad and Maddox headed toward the door. No arguments, he was actually going to tell me what I’d been desperately wondering for years? I raced after them. We traveled back out of the office and I couldn’t help but notice that this time those fellow coworkers gave us quick glances. They were curious about me, but I hadn’t read it from their minds. No thoughts came from their brains and I wondered if they had a chip like Maddox, or if they were mind readers who could block their thoughts.

  Dad pushed open the door and we moved back outside. “I wanted you to know what I do and there’s no better time to show you than now.”

  I grew oddly nervous as we followed a path around the building. Maddox and my dad walked like soldiers, silent and determined. I didn’t even see a bird in the trees along the perimeter of the yard. It was eerily quiet. As my dad’s office building ended, another mound of earth rose up from the ground.

  “This is the experimental building,” my dad explained.

  That sounded creepy. I had a feeling they weren’t making baking soda volcanoes. “Experimental?”

  The façade was as bland as the other building. Maddox pressed his hand to the keypad and the door slid wide. Another hallway, but this time a woman sat at a desk and behind her a barred gate blocked the hall from entrance.

  “Morning, sir.” The woman wore khaki pants and a white blouse. Her hair was pulled tightly into a bun and no makeup marred her plain face.

  “Morning, Ellen.”

  We moved quickly passed her and it was as I swept by that I noticed the pistol attached to her belt. So, she wasn’t just some typical receptionist. I should have known better. Dad pressed his hand to a keypad and that barred gate opened allowing us access to the hall. Up and down the corridor, steel doors with windows interrupted the walls.

  “These are rooms where we test mind readers,” Dad explained.

  A shiver of unease raced over my skin. “Test them for what?”

  “Their abilities.” He smiled. “They’re not lab rats. We don’t infect them or anything.”

  I nodded, but for some reason I didn’t feel any better. If they were merely testing them, why all the security? Were they keeping someone in or keeping someone out?

  We paused at one of those doors and peeked through the window.

  “Don’t worry, they can’t see us,” Dad explained.

  I was pressed between my dad and Maddox and felt trapped. Just being in
this building was making me uncomfortable, too dizzy, too hot. In the cell, a woman sat at a desk, some sort of machine in front of her. A man sat across from her, wire probes attached to his head and the machine.

  Fascinated, I studied the man. Dark scruff ran along the lower half of his face. His dark eyes were pinned to the woman across from him. He wore some sort of uniform; gray pants and gray shirt. But he wasn’t the one who really caught my attention. No, in the corner of the room stood a man with a gun.

  “Wait a minute,” I whispered. “Why the guard?”

  My dad sighed. “Cameron, these aren’t your typical mind readers. These are mind readers from other countries. Mind readers who were sent to the U.S. to spy.”

  My gaze went to that man sitting so calmly behind that table. His skin had a tanned look and his dark hair was black. Spanish, maybe? He was a spy? He looked so… normal.

  “We aren’t hurting them, sweetheart,” Maddox said, leaning against the wall, arms crossed. He looked amused by my obvious unease. “We’re merely seeing what they’re capable of and attempting to persuade them to join our side.”

  “And if they aren’t persuaded?”

  Maddox merely grinned.

  “Come along.” My dad gripped my upper arm and led me back through the gate. The woman at the desk smiled pleasantly as we left. I wondered how in the world she could sit there day after day. Outside the air felt chill against my heated skin. I took in a deep breath, attempting to calm my racing heart. It wasn’t right; something just wasn’t right about all of this. It reminded me too much of Aaron’s place and what I’d done to Maddox.

  “There.” My dad pointed to a mound of earth about half a football field away. “The last building.”

  Why was it so far away from the others? I paused for a moment before asking, “What is it?”

  “The prison,” Maddox said bluntly.

  My father slid him a look of annoyance. “We like to call it the correctional facility.”

  I wasn’t stupid. It was obvious it was a prison. Falling silent, we stood there staring at the building. They made no move to take me that way and I could see by the many guards standing outside that I would never be able to waltz in and take a peek. Not that I wanted to. But I couldn’t help but wonder how they treated their prisoners.

  “Cameron,” my father said. “You need to understand that these people were sent to hurt us.”

  I didn’t respond. He was justifying this place. I wasn’t sure if I was taking the bait or not.

  “We don’t harm then in any way.”

  I nodded, knowing better than to try and argue when I barely knew him and barely knew this world of his. Best to keep my thoughts to myself…for now. Maybe it was true, maybe they were evil. “So, why is everything underground?”

  “Best way to silence a mind reader,” Jake said from behind us. “Is to bury them alive.”

  I spun around, surprised by his sudden appearance, more surprised by his words.

  “We are not burying them alive,” my father drawled out. “Having our buildings underground is a way to protect ourselves, draw less notice from above.”

  “And to silence mind readers,” Jake added, smirking.

  Maddox sighed. “The chemicals in the dirt and rocks have properties that can insulate mind reading. Nothing more nefarious than that.”

  I hadn’t a clue that dirt and rocks could silence mind reading. What else didn’t I know about myself? “Is everyone here a mind reader?”

  “No,” Dad explained, starting back toward the main building and forcing us all to follow. “But those who aren’t have—”

  “Chips, I know.” I glanced at Maddox who walked beside me.

  “We all have them,” Maddox said. “That is…those of us who aren’t mind readers.”

  I’d wanted answers and I was slowly getting them. But it was hard to have a deep conversation with an audience. I glanced at my dad, wondering if I should try talking to him with my thoughts. Grandma had taught me how to communicate with my mind… or had that been Lewis? I frowned, confused.

  “So, John, have you told her yet?” Jake asked.

  We paused outside the entrance to the main building. The morning was quickly warming. It was a beautiful day, really. In the distance I could hear birds chirping. But there were no other sounds, no airplanes or cars, only nature. A beautiful morning, yet I felt oddly ill at ease.

  “Told me what?” I finally asked.

  My dad gave me a half smile. “Well, considering we don’t know what you’re capable of…” He paused, as if unsure how to proceed.

  “They want to do experiments on you,” Jake explained. His gaze was mocking, as if he knew how uncomfortable the truth would make me and he enjoyed every moment.

  Of course I was uncomfortable. The word experiment brought to mind all sorts of sickening things. The air was cold again, that ache throbbing at the back of my skull. I parted my lips to respond when the world around me disappeared.

  I was inside a room… a library of sorts. Aaron stood in front of me and some woman I didn’t know.

  She swept forward, a small metal case dangling from her manicured fingertips. Aaron scooted a chair closer, sitting directly in front of me, the spicy scent of his cologne nauseating.

  “I’m sorry. I’m not going to enjoy this, Cameron. It’s necessary.” As I looked into his blue eyes, so close that I could see the black flecks around the irises, I almost believed he was sincere in his apology.

  “Try to relax. Open your mind and it will be less painful.”

  Painful. I jerked forward, but my wrists and ankles were bound to the chair. Panic wrapped its icy fingers around me.

  “Deborah.” Aaron nodded at the woman before me.

  Confused, I glanced up at her as she stopped beside me. She tapped a needle like some crazy scientist out to do an experiment. A needle. A needle.

  “Relax,” Aaron said softly, leaning forward so that I could only focus on him. He was staring hard at me, peering into my eyes, attempting to delve into my brain. Vaguely, I was aware of the slight sting of a needle piercing my arm, but I couldn’t seem to look away from Aaron, mesmerized by the odd glow of his eyes. I felt the slightest nudge on my mind and I knew it was Aaron invading but I couldn’t seem to care. Someone, or something, was holding me captive.

  Fight back. The words whispered through my mind, but I wasn’t sure where they had come from. Maddox? No. Frantic, for answers, I jerked my head left and that’s when I saw Lewis.

  “Don’t worry, Sweetheart,” Maddox said.

  I blinked them into focus. The sunlight overly harsh, the chirping birds too loud. I flinched. My dad was watching me closely. As much as I tried to prevent it, I could feel the heat of a blush making its way to my face.

  “They aren’t going to dissect your brain,” Maddox reassured me.

  I nodded, pretending interest in their conversation. All three were watching me. Three guys I barely knew. To say I felt pressured would be an understatement. “What will you do then?”

  Dad rested his hand on my shoulder, the warmth of his touch comforting. “Merely tests to see what you’re capable of. We already know you can inflict pain.” He grinned, as if proud of that fact.

  “Thanks to me,” Maddox muttered.

  I crossed my arms over my chest, growing uneasy. It wasn’t exactly a power I wanted to exploit. Why couldn’t I create money with my mind?

  We moved closer to the door and my dad pressed his hand to the key pad. The door opened easily and I wondered if it would open for me.

  “We want to know exactly what you can do,” Dad explained as we moved into the hall.

  Will it hurt? I asked him.

  He didn’t look back as we moved into his office and I feared he hadn’t received my thought.

  No, of course not. I would never hurt you, he finally said as we moved by the rows of desks and curious faces.

  But that wasn’t exactly true, was it? He’d hurt me so much more than he could ever
understand. Mentally and emotionally.

  We paused outside the office door. Finally, my dad looked at me, a mixture of hope and excitement in his hazel gaze. “So what do you think?”

  What choice did I have? I forced myself to smile and shrugged, feigning a nonchalance I didn’t at all feel. “Yeah, sure. Why not.”

  Chapter 14

  That night I could barely sleep. My dreams were fragmented pictures of reality and imagination that I couldn’t quite connect. What was real? What was fiction? I wasn’t sure how many times I woke up only to toss and turn, before once again falling into a fitful sleep.

  But if there was one plus to my restless night, it was that I remembered my dreams. The odd disjointed dreams I tossed aside, but the dream I had closer to morning…that dream that brought me fully awake, stayed with me for days after.

  In the early morning, when the sky held just the tiniest tinge of pink…I dreamt of Lewis.

  The dream started out much like the flash of memory I’d had the day before. In an all too familiar nightmare, I was tied to a chair. Aaron hovered over me, trying to break into my brain. That gorgeous woman came at me with a needle in hand…closer… closer…

  My mind didn’t know the difference between real life and dreams. Fear coursed through my body. I wanted to wake…knew I needed to wake, but for some reason, I couldn’t escape this past reality. Frantically, I tried to imagine those steel walls. But the images slipped away as quickly as they came. Gone, like ghostly memories and I was left standing in darkness, the pain roaring through my body like fire. Pain I knew was only a memory, but it felt real…so real. The fire increased, twisting, slicing through my mind like a corkscrew.

  “Enough,” I heard someone demand, the voice achingly familiar.

  Who? Who had said the words? I forced myself to open my eyes, forced myself to lift my head. There stood Lewis… his face flushed with anger. The muscles in his chest and arms strained under his t-shirt as he twisted away from the guards, preventing him from coming to me.

  Lewis. Lewis had tried to stop Aaron.

  My body shuddered as the pain increased. Memories were fading, being torn from my mind. As much as I wanted to grasp onto those memories, to stop them from disappearing, I forced myself to focus on Lewis. I had to see Lewis.

 
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