“Madame President, can I ask you something?”

“Go ahead, Lana,” answered the woman’s voice through my wireless headset.

“I know that I said I was fine with sacrificing my night for the cause, but was this dress code really necessary? I mean, we aren’t the Men in Black!” Rebekah had insisted that members of the administration dress in what she deemed to be the proper security attire, and while I lacked any official standing, my role as Navigator meant I hadn’t much choice in the matter.

Standing along the far wall of the student union event hall, I concluded to myself that the inside temperature must have been approaching ninety degrees. I was dressed in black slacks and a matching suit jacket, and I found myself continuously having to shift against the thick fabric just to cool off. Our guests had all been smart enough to wear as little as possible, but even so, I could vaguely make out the beads of sweat dripping across their bodies as they rubbed up against each other.

Back in high school, school dances had always been something of a formality to me. I only ever participated in order to save face with my peers, and I thought that once I entered university, I’d be done with them forever. All I wanted was for the evening to go as smoothly as possible so I could return to my room and spend the rest of my weekend doing sweet F-A.

“Cynicism aside, what’s your status, Lana?”

“I’m not detecting any unusual psychic activity; however, I’m a bit concerned that Cassandra’s power is interfering with my sight.”

“How so?” Rebekah asked.

“You should see her in action. It’s no wonder people call her the Matron Saint.” Standing on a small podium to the left of the DJ, Cassandra was dressed in a flowing white dress, almost like an angel among man. The white stone around her neck now shimmered with an emerald light, and the aura surrounding her was a fiery orange, not unlike that of a Zero Wisp. Her presence, while mandatory for obvious reasons, would make detection of a targeted ESPer that much more difficult to spot.

One positive amid all the uncertainty was that we had been able to take down every student’s ID number prior to their entry into the hall. By matching our list against the student roster, we had a rough estimate of how many people might be at risk of infection. Finding them among the crowd was an altogether different story, though I was sure that the administration was merely happy to take what they could get – not that it made me feel any better.

Perhaps my biggest irritation of the night was that of our resident magical girl who could not sit still for any reason. She had transformed into her full regalia form – pink corset and matching red skirt; a black trenchcoat with gold diamonds along its sleeves; white, thigh high boots; and atop her head, a silver band in the shape of a floral wreath. It was stylish and sexy, so I wasn’t surprised when the crowd began to meander toward her, snapping pictures and practically begging her to dance. Not one to deny her adoring fans, she proceeded to engage in her usual routine of acrobatics, modified slightly to accommodate for the event hall’s low ceiling.

Cheers erupted each time a part of her body touched the top, and some of the men began catcalling whenever her skirt flipped in midair. If Rebekah were to walk in, I had no doubt in my mind that she would explode in anger. That said, it wasn’t like I was in any real hurry to put a stop to it. Doing so would simply be more of a headache for me. Closing my eyes, I allowed myself to get lost in the sound of electronic dance music. Cynicisms notwithstanding, I was at least able to have a bit of fun in my own way. I figured, Let Rhiannon have her fun. Ninety minutes of this, and we should be able to call it a night without incident.

Unfortunately, idealism and reality can be two rather distinct entities. Barely twenty minutes before I heard the voice of Megan Mata, our campus secretary. “Come in, President! We have a suspicious group heading up from… Hey, you’re not allowed to… No wait, don’t! Augh!”

“Secretary Mata, come in! What is your location!? Megan!” There was a brief pause on the line. “All personnel proceed to condition three! South team, converge on the lower floor and stand by for student evacuation!”

She’s being cautious again. Still, just what the hell did Megan witness? I slipped through the crowd and onto the podium where Cassandra was waiting. “The situation is at condition three.”

“I understand.” Clapping her hands together, she gestured for the DJ to kill the music. “Attention, valued guests! I have just received notice that a gas leak was discovered by security on the lower floor of this building. Please make your way through the food court to the second floor exit! We will reconvene shortly in front of the residence halls!”

Rhiannon made her way across the dance floor, moving to Cassandra’s left. “What’s the situation, Lana?”

“It sounded as if Megan had an altercation. We aren’t sure of her status.”

“Wasn’t she stationed on the north team?”

“I think so, why- oh. Oh shit, the exit!” I could already hear the screams of panic by the time I reached the food court. One by one, a group of armed men in black combat fatigues marched toward me, herding me back toward the event hall. As security climbed the stairs from the lower floor, the intruders suddenly turned and opened fire, halting their advance and forcing them to take cover. Cassandra, Rhiannon and I were now completely isolated on the upper floor. Whoever these guys were, they had come for one of us.

I rejoined my friends on the podium, trying to remain calm in spite of the laser sights that were aimed in the general direction of my head and chest. Carefully, Rhiannon positioned herself in front of Cassandra, arms outstretched like a human shield. Was is possible for her magic to block bullets? I wasn’t sure I wanted to find out. Her fingers were twitching, gathering up the necessary magic. An eerie silence fell upon us, bodies frozen in a tense stalemate.

A moment later, my focus was diverted by a peculiar noise coming from outside the event hall. Is somebody… clapping? An older man – most likely in his fifties and wearing a white labcoat – waltzed through the throng of armed men as if they were nothing more than harmless mannequins. He continued to clap even as he ascended the podium, looking Rhiannon square in the eyes.

“You must be the infamous magic user.”

“So what if I am? Could it be that you are the one responsible for the recent ESPer attacks?”

“It is because of your meddling that my experiments have all become compromised. Your unique powers hold no scientific value to me. I would have you killed, but the amount of effort would be far too costly.”

“Then why are you here, you old fuck?” The tactless nature of Rhiannon’s question nearly threw me for a loop. This strange man, however, seemed to have expected something like this. His gaze moved to look at Cassandra – or rather, to look at the glowing stone at her neck.

“Yes, yes, I get it now. You use the crystal to amplify your psychic power…”
Rhiannon hissed, “If you so much as lay a finger on her…”

“That will depend entirely on your cooperation, little girl. I would suggest you quit while you’re behind. Now, as to this one,” he chuckled at me, “I see no amplifier on your person, yet it would stand to reason that you are an ESPer as well. Yes, yes, how very intriguing…”

“Why are you doing this?” I asked. “Why attack ESPers?”

The man smiled, stepping back and clapping his hands some more. “Allow me to ask a question of you. What is it that makes an ESPer? Do you know? Have you ever so much as considered this conundrum?”

“Well, I mean… It has a lot to do with the fifth dimension, right?”

“A naive answer befitting your youthful ignorance; frankly, it’s no surprise. Those blessed with talent always fail to reflect upon the myriad of circumstances which must come together to allow them their fruition.”

“Th-That’s not true! I’ve always respected my psychic power, and I’ve tried my best never to take it for granted!”

“You realize and understand nothing!” The back of his right hand slapped painfully against my face. “It is the Abstraction Sphere which shall provide humanity the Syntax, and through that, our transcendence shall be had!”

Syntax? What does he mean, exactly? Ouch! What did he…? When I glanced down at my hip, I could see a hypodermic needle sticking out of my exposed skin. Rhiannon lunged forward as if to deck the man, stopping short as the man’s subordinates adjusted their aim on Cassandra.

“You sick bastard! Just what the hell did you inject my friend with!?”

As if you need to ask, Rhi… My head… It’s going to burst…! This was the trigger for Patient Zero. From what I could discern, it was a powerful neurostimulant meant to induce synesthesia. The moment my sixth sense kicked in, it began to overlap with my other senses, sending me into a spiral of motion sickness. It disrupted my circadian rhythm, making it impossible to regulate my own power. Soon it would seek out other sources of energy, route it through my physical body, and render me unable to stay conscious.

I can’t… let that happen…! “The stone..! Throw the stone…!” As I fell to my knees, I could see the strange man eyeing me suspiciously. He then looked at Cassandra, who was equally confused. The moment it sunk in, however, she tore the pendant from her neck and tossed it toward the ceiling. “Rhi…!”

“Cyclone Shot!” Rhiannon clapped her hands together, and as she pulled them apart, her longbow began to materialize, already half drawn. She reached the maximum draw just as her arrow point was in line with the glimmering rock. It exploded on contact, fragments of light phasing through matter itself, and the shockwaves which followed shattered the windows of the dining hall. To the outside observer, it might as well have been a gas explosion.

The man stepped off the podium, his hands shaking and eyes wide in shock. “You little fools… How dare you stand in the way of human evolution!?”

Rhiannon drew her bow a second time. “Damned if I’m going to let you treat my closest friends as acceptable losses for the sake of your precious science! Leave now before I decide to eviscerate you here and now.”

“Tch – very well, then. We shall take our leave, but this is only the beginning! Take warning, for Durham Anthony is the name of the man who shall haunt your reality forevermore!” With that, the man known as Durham turned on his heel and walked back into the hall, surrounded by his armed escort. There was a ruckus, what I could only assume to be a standoff with security or the local police.

Of course by then, I was finding it almost impossible to focus on the world around me. My legs buckled quickly, sending me to the floor. The last thing I could remember was the sound of someone calling out to me. Whether it was Cassandra or Rhiannon or both, I had no way of knowing. Come what may, I was in their care for now.

*_*_*

As a child, I never truly gave much thought to the implications of psychic power. The first time I attempted to read a person’s aura, I assumed it to be something that almost anyone could do if they tried. Yet by the sixth grade, it became quite apparent that wasn’t the case at all. I was one of a select few who the heavens had randomly blessed with talent.

Then, during middle school, I was discovered by other ESPers who like me were trying to understand the strengths and limitations that come with having a sixth sense. I volunteered myself as a kind of human litmus test for them, calling upon my aura detection skill to provide an accurate measurement of their own powers at work. For a while, I felt almost special.

Things like that never last. Once my friends got what they needed, they would leave me behind as they went on to further develop their potential. I might as well have been a normal girl for all they really cared. I guess that after a while, I started getting discouraged and resenting my talent. So when I entered high school, I decided not to mention my ability to anyone. If I allowed myself to forget, then it would be like my powers never existed or so I wanted to believe.

Had I never met Rhiannon, perhaps my life would have continued to go in that direction…

I was awoken by the sound of beeping from an overhead monitor. A heated blanket had been laid over my body, and an intravenous drip flowed lazily into my left arm. Outside, the sky was blanketed in the dim glow of twilight, a clear indicator that my condition had left me practically comatose for several hours. I turned to my right, and sure enough, Rebekah was sitting in a chair beside the bed, documenting my vitals in real time.

“Blood pressure is one hundred twenty-nine over seventy-seven, with a pulse of eighty-two. Oxygen is at ninety-nine percent. Can you tell me your name and date of birth?”

“Yeah, this is getting old, Rebekah.” Attempting to sit up caused a painful throb inside of my left eye, so I rolled onto my side instead. “Where’s Rhi? Is Cassandra safe?”

“Try to relax, Lana. I had an RA unlock the door to your room. We figured it would be a good place for them to lay low, seeing as you’re right here. Security has also been stepped up for the weekend, though a second attack is not likely.”

“That’s a relief.” That’s when I remembered, “Oh, what about Megan? What happened with her?”

Rebekah frowned. “We found her knocked out behind a dumpster. She’s a little bit traumatized, though the bruising should heal in a couple of days. I… ordered her off duty for a while.”

“President?”

“I never anticipated that Megan could be a target. The same obviously goes for Eileen. Yet of the two, Eileen would have been more resilient against this type of threat. When you’re in a position of leadership, you spend a lot of time worrying about the wellbeing of those under your care. What I’m doing might seem harsh to you, but it is necessary in order to prevent her from shouldering a weight she has no responsibility to carry. It matters not if she believes herself willing and able to carry it.”

“I see…” I wasn’t really sure what to say to that, for I had never truly been in a position of leadership before. What authority had I to determine whether her actions were right or wrong? For now, the important thing was to maintain a relationship of trust and cohesion between all parties involved. I had a feeling her reasons for opening up to me hedged strongly on that principle.

“I’m afraid I’m going to have to take my leave, Lana. These long nights are a bit much for someone like me.”

“I understand. Have a good night.”

“You as well.”

“Oh, and President?”

“Yes, what is it?”

“Thank you for caring about me, about all of us.”

Rebekah tapped the side of her cheek and smiled. “You’re most certainly welcome.” With that, she stepped from the room, leaving me alone in my thoughts as the dawn began to break over the horizon.

TO BE CONTINUED…

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