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The mind thieves the min.., p.14
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       The Mind Thieves (The Mind Readers), p.14

           Lori Brighton
 
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  “No!” I heard myself scream, the words slipping from my lips unheeded. Darkness tempted, but I forced my eyes to remain open. “Please, Lewis!”

  Lewis surged forward, his right arm free. He slammed his fist into the face of the man holding him.

  Hearing the guard’s cry of pain, Aaron stood and the pain in my head ease. “What the hell are you doing?”

  Lewis faced Aaron. “What I’d been planning to do all along.”

  “Keep going,” Aaron demanded of the woman I knew was named Deborah.

  Lewis hit Aaron full force, sending them toppling backwards. I froze, watching, taking it all in. I knew this was the moment when my memory had disappeared, but I would not close my eyes, I would not give into the temptation and faint.

  “Did you really think I’d let you do this to her?”

  “We’re taking her memory for her own good!” Aaron ducked as Lewis threw his fist forward. Not soon enough. Lewis’ fist hit Aaron’s jaw and the man stumbled back into the wall.

  “Enough!” Lewis demanded. “She can be trusted to keep this a secret, and you know it.”

  Darkness taunted the edges of my vision, sleep pulling me under. But I wouldn’t let go, I couldn’t.

  “How can you know?” Aaron asked, rubbing his jaw. “Will you bet your life on it, because that’s what you’ll be doing.”

  The flashback wavered, threatening to slip from my memory forever. I couldn’t let it. Early morning birds were chirping outside my window, calling out to me to wake. I ignored the sound and delved back into the darkness.

  Someone knelt before me but it wasn’t Lewis. No, it was Maddox. “Open your eyes. Come on, Sweetheart.”

  I wanted to tell him my eyes were already open, but the sudden coppery taste of blood seeped down my throat, making me panic. I couldn’t feel my body, could barely hear their words.

  “You’ll be all right.” Maddox lifted me, cradling me to his chest.

  My lashes were fluttering closed, I couldn’t resist the darkness any longer…its boney fingers clawing at me, pulling me under.

  And then there was only silence. Darkness.

  I hovered there, between night and day, afraid to wake fully for fear the memory would vanish. But as tears slipped from my eyes, trailing down my cheeks, I came awake with a start.

  My room was dark, the blinds closed, the house silent. Vaguely, I was aware of the birds chirping outside, but their call grated. My pillow was damp with sweat and tears. I lay on my side, afraid to move, clinging, grasping to the dream. Lewis had tried to help me. What had happened to him?

  Slowly, I sat up.

  The world tilted, my head thumped as if only moments ago Aaron had erased my memory.

  It didn’t make sense.

  I pressed my feet into the soft, white carpet and stood. My body buzzed with lack of sleep and too many memories. I moved to the windows that overlooked the backyard, and opened the curtains. A garden where in the summer, there would be plenty of blooming flowers. A tree-house was in an elm in the back corner. While a little pink playhouse sat at the opposite side of the yard. It was almost like a war zone, Charlie and Gemma divided to their prospective sides of the yard. They had no idea what war really lurked out there.

  I rested my forehead to the cool glass. They had everything I’d ever wanted as a child. But they still lacked one important thing… a father. Yeah, my dad was here, but he wasn’t honest with them. They had no idea of the dangers that awaited, should they show signs of mind reading. With a sigh that fogged up the glass, I closed my eyes.

  Lewis.

  Where was he?

  Lewis.

  What had happened that day in Maine?

  A soft knock sounded on the door, startling me.

  I turned just as the door opened and my Dad peeked inside. “Morning. Did you sleep well?”

  “Yeah.” Although it was obvious I hadn’t, or I wouldn’t be up this early. He, on the other hand, looked completely well-rested in his wrinkle-free jeans and dark polo shirt which made his eyes look more blue than hazel.

  “I wasn’t going to wake you, but heard your footsteps from downstairs. I need to get to work early and wanted to see if you’d like to come along.”

  “Yeah.” Definitely. I’d so rather go with my father and get possible answers, than stay here. “Give me fifteen minutes.”

  He nodded. “I’ll be downstairs.”

  But as he started to turn I couldn’t quite help myself and blurted out, “Dad?” I cringed, for the title still felt weird on my lips.

  He paused and glanced back. “Yes?”

  “How well did you know Aaron?”

  He paused for a long moment, but I could read nothing in his gaze. I wondered if he was going to respond, or scurry off, ignoring me like normal. Finally, he stepped into my room and closed the door. “I knew him very well. We were best friends.”

  He grew silent once more, his gaze taking on a far-off hazy look that told me he was trapped in some memory. I took my lower lip between my teeth. Maybe I shouldn’t have brought up the subject after all.

  “Is he evil?” I blurted out, needing to know the truth.

  My dad sighed long and loud. “Cameron, here’s the thing.” He started toward me, his steps slow and soft. He moved as if approaching a wild animal he worried would frighten easily. “Everyone in this world has their own beliefs about what’s right and wrong.” He settled on the edge of my bed. “Is he evil?” He shrugged. “I don’t know.”

  “How can you not know?” My voice sounded slightly shrill. I wanted answers, I wanted to know who I could trust and who not to trust. How could I protect myself otherwise?

  “Aaron thinks what he’s doing is right. It’s as simple as that.”

  So, he wasn’t going to condemn his former best friend. Why, after what Aaron had done to me? I felt almost betrayed by my father’s calm rationality.

  “And is it? Is it right what he’s doing?” I asked.

  He shrugged. “It depends on your beliefs. I won’t make that choice for you.”

  His words were confusing and shocking. He wouldn’t judge, yet he would keep others imprisoned. But then again…he did what he felt was right, obviously. The question was, what did I think was right?

  Dad stood and rested his hand on my shoulder, his way of showing affection. “I believe adults need to prepare and train in a safe, controlled environment. I believe children should be left with their parents, not forced into some commune where they’re trained in guerilla warfare. It’s why I left you with your grandma; I wanted you to have a childhood.”

  But deep down I understood what he was truly saying. He couldn’t give up his cause, so he’d given up me. The ironic twist was that I hadn’t had a childhood. I’d been on the run, no time to play when you were constantly looking over your shoulder. But obviously my dad thought it was better to be on the run than in a commune with others like me. Thinking back to Aaron’s home, I realized, with a start, that maybe my dad was right. Yeah, living with Grandma hadn’t been ideal, but maybe it had been better than being with Aaron, or even my dad.

  He started toward the door, leaving me with my thoughts.

  “Was Nora right,” he asked, pausing, his back to me. “Are your memories coming back?”

  The weight of the world was in that question. I hesitated, although why, I wasn’t sure. “Yeah.”

  He was silent for a moment, his hand resting on the door handle. I wondered what he thought of my revelation. Was it good or bad that my memory was returning? Hell, I didn’t know what was good or bad anymore.

  “It’s nothing important… I mean nothing that can help your cause,” I quickly explained.

  “No, it’s not that. There’s nothing you can uncover about Aaron that we don’t already know.” He shook his head and turned toward me. There was an odd look in his eyes…a look I’d never seen before. A look of bewilderment, of awe. “The thing is...”

  “What is it?” I was starting to get nervous.
<
br />   “You shouldn’t be regaining your memory.” He released a wry laugh. “It should have been destroyed. Never before has someone ever regained their memory.”

  I crossed my arms over my chest, nervous, unsure. “What does it mean?”

  “It means you’re much more powerful than even I’d expected.”

  ****

  The drive to Alcatraz, as I’d dubbed it, was silent and awkward. For me, anyway. My dad didn’t seem to care about making small talk, he was too invested in his own thrilling thoughts to speak to me. His eyes sparkled, he smiled, not a care in the world. And I knew the reason for his happy mood…me.

  “It means you’re much more powerful than even I’d expected.”

  It left me feeling nervous, worried about what would happen next. He obviously expected a lot from me and it wasn’t the first time someone had expected me to do miracles.

  “There are so many things I want to show you. So many things you’ll be capable of, I just know it. If you’re anything like your dad,” Aaron had said while we were in his car the first day I’d arrived on the island.

  Not a flash, but a memory that came softly, as if it had always been there. And I’d felt uneasy. Worried I wouldn’t live up to his expectations. Just like now.

  Startled by the sudden return of my mind, I glanced at my father to see if he’d noticed the change in my mood. He was humming under his breath as he waited for the facial scan that would allow us access to the second gate. He was completely oblivious.

  Oh God, my memory truly was coming back.

  Lewis…

  I remembered Lewis at Lakeside restaurant the day we’d found Savannah’s body. I remembered Lewis in school the next day. He was a new student who had instantly befriended me. As my dad pulled into the parking lot, I remembered Lewis telling me to meet him at the coffee shop the day before we’d left for Aaron’s. Lewis, who had told me my dad was dead. Had he lied, or did Aaron really not know my father still lived? How I wished Grandma was here. She might be able to fill in the questions, but would she tell me the truth? She hadn’t before.

  “What’s wrong? You’re so quiet.”

  “Grandma,” I blurted out. “Are you searching for her?”

  “Of course,” he said, turning off the car. “We have people out looking for her even now. Don’t worry.” He opened the door. “We’ll find her.”

  How I wished I could believe him, but there was something in the way he’d spoken the words that made me uneasy. He was calm…too calm. My dad got out of the car and I knew I needed to follow, but I couldn’t seem to move, frozen within the past.

  “You will not leave this house! Until you’re eighteen, I control you!” My grandmother’s words whispered through my memory.

  She hadn’t wanted me to go. But I’d gone anyway. I pushed the door open and stepped into the cool, morning air. I’d never disobeyed my grandmother on anything major.

  “I want you to try your powers today, Cameron,” Dad said.

  Still focused on my past, I barely heard what my father said. “Yeah, sure.” We started across the parking lot. Already there were a good dozen vehicles here. What did everyone do behind these brick walls?

  “Maddox has set up a room. We figured we’d work on your abilities now, when the place is less crowded.”

  In other words, fewer witnesses. “Abilities?”

  “Breaking into minds.”

  Like I was some super thief. We didn’t head to the main office, but moved toward the back building where the testing rooms were located. I steeled myself, preparing for battle. We’d barely had time to get to know each other. So much for a father and daughter dance. Hell, I would have taken a ten minute conversation. But nope, apparently it was straight to work.

  The door opened.

  Ellen glanced up from her computer. “Morning, sir.”

  Christ, did the woman sleep here?

  “Ellen,” my father called out in greeting.

  She barely glanced at me; I was of no significance.

  Dad opened the gate and we continued down the hall, silent, steady, no conversation. No pep talk. No need, apparently. At the end of the hall, we paused outside the last door. What, exactly, did good ol’ dad want me to accomplish? I glanced through the window. A man was seated behind the table. His hair dark, his skin tanned. He glanced our way. Instinct had me stumbling back.

  My dad smiled. “Don’t worry, they can’t see through the glass. Yes, he might sense us here, but he can’t see or hear us.”

  I gave him a hesitant smile back, feeling like a super wimp, and stepped toward the window once more. He was probably my dad’s age, around forty, maybe younger. Dark scruff grew along his jaw and the gray jump suit he wore made him look sickly. Shackles that were bolted to the floor, wrapped around his ankles and wrists.

  “See the far wall?”

  I glanced toward the wall with the huge tinted window.

  “We’ll be watching you from there.”

  “I’ll be alone in the room with him?”

  “Yes. There’s only so much information we can get with the computers. We want you to try with your powers. He’s low risk.”

  Whatever that meant.

  Powers. There it was again, making me feel like some sort of superhero. The problem with being a superhero was that people expected you to do things, like be super.

  Save for the table and two chairs, one occupied by the prisoner, the room was rather empty. “So, try for what?”

  “Try to get any information from him you can.”

  “How?”

  My father gripped my shoulders, forcing me to face him. “You know how. You were able to break into Maddox’s mind while at Aaron’s.”

  I cringed over the memory. “The blood,” I whispered. “I’d had an image of him with blood coming from his mouth and…”

  Dad nodded. “You were able to break through the chip in Maddox’s brain. You can do it again.”

  “You feel it,” Aaron’s voice whispered through my head, a memory that was seeping through my brain slow and steady. “That’s the chip that’s keeping you out. You have to push against that blockade, Cameron.”

  And just like that my dad was gone. I was in front of Maddox. Maddox, who was tied to a chair, a gag over his mouth, his eyes narrowed on me…glaring. Suddenly a river of color flooded around me…memories that burst into full bloom.

  People swept through my mind in a whirlwind of emotion; laughing, arguing, talking, hugging. I tried to grasp onto them, but they were gone before I had a chance. Christmas trees, presents, birthday cakes, a mother and father beaming down at me. I saw teachers and then college professors, I saw grades, sports…. Then suddenly it switched to men in suits coming to my apartment, talking about recruiting me…

  Maddox’s memories.

  Everything went so fast I could barely hold onto a single thought. I felt like I was spinning in space, attempting to latch onto anything that might help. But it was all too quick, too confusing. And then I was looking at a girl…a girl with dark hair and a wide smile. The girl Maddox loved, I realized.

  I’m Maddox, a voice inside my head explained.

  Nora, the girl said softly and then in a flash she was gone.

  “Cameron?” My father’s soft touch startled me. “Another memory?”

  I ignored my father’s voice, too stunned to speak. Nora.

  Oh God. She was blonde now, but I knew that smile… that smirk.

  Nora. I’d known they dated, but hadn’t known Maddox had been in love with her for years. What had happened between them?

  My father’s dark brows drew together over his hazel eyes. “Are you okay?”

  I nodded. Maddox had told me he had a personal interest, hadn’t he? Still, he’d left out one major fact…they’d been in love. The realization annoyed me much more than it probably should have.

  “Ready then?” Dad prompted.

  I took in a deep breath and pushed aside thoughts of Maddox and Nora together. “So,
the guy in the room isn’t a mind reader then?” I glanced toward the window once more.

  “No. He’s an agent like Maddox, and like Maddox, he has a chip.”

  But obviously not on our side, whatever our side was.

  “You’re sure you’re ready for this?” my father asked, showing genuine concern for the first time since we’d arrived. The emotion in his voice brought me back into the present. I realized, deep down, I still wanted to show him I was worth having around. The realization left me slightly sickened. Of course I would break into this man’s thoughts, because I wanted to make Dad proud.

  “Yeah, I’m ready. Like you said, I’ve done it before.”

  He smiled, his relief apparent. “Go on then. He’s chained. He can’t harm you and we’ll be just on the other side of that glass.”

  “We?”

  “Yes, I’ll be there, as well as Maddox.”

  I glanced at that window again. Maddox would be watching. For some reason I felt even more pressure to prove myself useful.

  “Ready then?”

  I nodded.

  “Here.” He handed me a small ear bud. “Place this in your ear so you can hear us.”

  I slipped the tiny plastic oval into my ear. It was my first mission, and I knew I had to show them that I was capable of being what they needed.

  Dad opened the door. Without looking back, I moved inside the small space. I admit, my legs were trembling and my heart was threatening to break through my ribcage. The man’s eyes were cold, so like Maddox had looked that night when I’d broken into his memories. The door closed and I stiffened, realizing I was alone with the prisoner. This is what I’d become and what I would be for the rest of my life? Someone who tortured people, who broke into their minds and stole their thoughts.

  Slowly, I sat on the chair across from him, the steel table the only thing between us. The man smelled like sweat. Was he nervous?

  The ear bud crackled. “Can you hear me?” my father asked. “Give a slight nod.”

  I inched my chin toward my chest.

 
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