He looked at each of the others in the room and spoke with genteel emphasis. "I want you all to witness this, because I want you to understand what happens when you break faith with me. Does anyone have any questions?"
The lab was silent. Dust motes hung in the slanting afternoon light. No one had a question.
"All right. John and Paul, take her in. Joyce will handle the equipment."
Fight, Kaitlyn thought. That was different than screaming. As Mac and Renny reached for her, she ducked sideways and tried to run, throwing a mule kick as she went.
But they were ready for her. Mac wasn't going to be faked out again. He simply tackled her as if she'd been a two-hundred-pound quarterback, knocking her to the floor. Kaitlyn saw stars and had a horrible sense of not enough air. She'd had the breath knocked out of her.
There was a confused time, and then she realized she was sitting up being whacked on the back. She whooped in air. Then, before she could really get her bearings, she was being hauled to her feet.
Fighting was no good. She was helpless.
Then she heard a voice, thin, high, and frightened. To her astonishment, she realized it was Lydia.
"Please don't do it. Please don't-Father."
Lydia was standing in front of Mr. Z. Her pale hands were clenched together at waist level, not as if she were praying, but as if she were trying to hold her guts in.
"She can't fight you anymore, and you know it. You could just send her away. She'd never tell anyone about us; she'd just go away and be quiet and live. Wouldn't you, Kaitlyn?" Lydia turned huge green eyes on Kait. Her lips were white, but there was a fierceness in those eyes that Kaitlyn admired.
Good for you, Lydia, she thought. You finally stood up to him. You spoke out, even when nobody else would.
But someone else was speaking.
"Lydia has a point, Emmanuel," Joyce said in a low, carefully controlled voice. "I really don't know if we have to go this far. I'm not entirely comfortable with this."
Kaitlyn stared at her. Joyce's hair was sleek as seal fur, her tanned face was smooth. Yet Kaitlyn caught a sense of inner agitation almost as great as Lydia's.
Thank you, Joyce. I knew it couldn't all be an act. There's something good in you, deep down.
Kaitlyn glanced at the others.
Bri was shifting from foot to foot, scratching her blue-streaked head. Her face was flushed; she looked as if there were something she wanted to say. Renny was scowling, seeming angry but uncertain.
Only Jackal Mac and Frost still looked eager and enthusiastic. Frost's eyes were shining with an almost romantic fervor, and Jackal Mac was licking his lips with his pierced tongue.
"Anyone else?" Mr. Z asked in a voice of terrible quiet. Then he turned on Joyce. "It's lucky for you that I know you aren't serious. You've managed to overcome your discomfort in much more squeamish situations than this. And you will now, of course- because you wouldn't want to join her in that tank. Or visit the room downstairs overnight."
A sort of shudder passed over Joyce's face. Her aquamarine eyes seemed to unfocus.
"And the same goes for the rest of you," Mr. Zetes said. "Including you." He was looking at Lydia. He hadn't raised a fist; he hadn't even raised his voice. But Lydia flinched, and everyone else went still. His very presence cowed them all.
"Every one of you would go to jail for years if the police found out what you've been doing these last weeks," Mr. Zetes said, his face composed and satanic. "But the police will never have to deal with you.
Because I will, if you cross me. Your old classmates downstairs will help. There is nowhere you can go to get away from us, nowhere you can hide that we can't find you. The power of the crystal can reach out across the globe and swat you like a fly."
Silence and stillness. The psychics watched the floor. Not even Frost was smirking now.
"Now," Mr. Z said in a grating whisper, "does anyone still have any objections?"
Some people shook their heads. Lydia, her shoulders hunched miserably, was one of them. Others just stayed still and quiet, as if hoping Mr. Z wouldn't look at them.
"Gabriel?" Mr. Zetes said.
Kaitlyn looked up in surprise. She hadn't realized Gabriel had arrived; she'd barely noticed his absence before.
He was frowning, looking like somebody who's arrived at a party to find it had started an hour earlier without him. "What's going on?" he said. He repeated it to Kaitlyn silently, his narrowed eyes on the black-and-white bathing suit. What's going on? What did you do?
"A disciplinary matter," Mr. Zetes said. "I hope there won't be any more like it in the future."
Kaitlyn didn't wait for him to finish, but spoke to Gabriel over his words. None of your business. I despise you. She threw the full weight of her contempt at him like someone throwing beer cans and rocks and bricks. And then, because Rob had taught her how to hurt him, she added, Jailbird. You'd better do everything he says or he'll send for the police.
She hadn't realized how much she hated him before this moment. All the loathing that she somehow hadn't felt toward Renny or even Jackal Mac and Frost, she felt for him. All the anger and betrayal. If she'd been closer, she would have tried to spit on him.
Gabriel's face hardened. She felt him pull away, felt the ice of his shields. He didn't say another word.
"All right," Mr. Z said. "You boys take her in; then we'll all go into the city for dinner. I think this calls for another celebration."
There was no point in fighting any longer. Mac and Renny dragged Kaitlyn into the back lab. She stood motionless in their grip while Joyce forced a mouthpiece into her mouth. It was connected to an air hose like a scuba diver's.
Now Joyce was pulling gloves over her hands and forcing her into a canvas jacket like the ones the creatures downstairs were wearing. Kaitlyn's arms were crossed, useless. Weights were being attached to a belt around her waist, and to her ankles.
She heard a voice behind her: Mr. Zetes. "Goodbye, my dear. Pleasant dreams."
And then Joyce was sticking something in her ears. Some kind of earplugs. Suddenly Kaitlyn was deaf.
They were pushing her forward.
The isolation tank still looked like a Dumpster. A lopsided Dumpster with a hurricane door. The door was open and they were forcing her inside.
She couldn't help it; she was going into this thing. This thing that they were going to close on her, that they were going to bury her in alive.
As the dark metal walls rose around her and the water came up to meet her, Kaitlyn's nerve broke. She did scream. Or at least, she tried. But the thing in her mouth muffled it like a gag and the earplugs dulled the rest of the sound. There was only silence as water enveloped her. And darkness.
She twisted, trying to get on her back, to see the door. To see the light for one last instant. . .
But all she saw was a rapidly diminishing rectangle of white. Then the metal door clanged shut. It was the last sound she was to hear.
Right from the beginning, it was very bad.
Remembering Bri's words ("Sure, it's cool. Cosmic, man!"), she had hoped that the tank might be pleasant at first. Or at least bearable. But it wasn't. It was a death trap, and from the first instant Kaitlyn felt a screaming inside her that wouldn't stop.
Maybe the difference was that she knew she was in here for good. They weren't going to let her out in an hour or a few hours or a day. They were going to keep
her in here for as long as it took, until she was a thing, a drooling, vacant-eyed lump of flesh with no mind.
Her first thought was to try and beat the system. She would make her own noise; she would make herself feel. But even the loudest humming was dim and soon her throat grew sore. After a while she wasn't sure whether she was humming or not.
It was very difficult to kick with the weights on her legs, and when she did manage, she found the tank was lined with something like rubber inside. Between the drag of weights and water and the give of the rubber padding, she couldn't feel much of anything.
She couldn't pinch with her fingers, either, the gloves prevented that and dulled all sensation. Her arms were immobilized. She couldn't even chew her lips-the mouthpiece prevented it..
More, all these exertions tired her out. After trying everything she could think of, she was exhausted, unable to do anything but float inertly. The weights were gauged to keep her floating right in the middle of the water, away from the top and bottom of the tank, and the water temperature was gauged so that she had no sensation of hot or cold.
It was then that she began to realize the true horror of her situation.
It was dark. She couldn't see. She couldn't see anything.
And she couldn't hear. The silence was so deep, so profound, that she began to wonder if she really remembered what sound was.
In the endless dark silence, her body began to dissolve.
Once, when she'd just turned thirteen, she'd had a nightmare of a disembodied arm in her bed. She had half-woken one night to find that she'd been lying with
her arms pressed together under her body, and that one of them had gone to sleep. She could feel it with her other hand: a cool, unnaturally limp arm. In her not-awake state, it seemed as if someone had put a severed dead arm in her bed. Her own arm was foreign to her.
After that, all her nightmares were of the cool blue arm snuggling up to her chin and then dragging her under the bed.
Now Kaitlyn felt as if all her limbs had gone to sleep. At first it seemed that her body had gone dead, and then she realized she didn't have a body anymore. At least, there was no way to prove she did.
If there were arms and legs in the tank, they weren't hers. They were dead, unholy, other peoples' limbs, floating around her, ready to kill her.
After a while, even the sense that there were other peoples' limbs around her faded. There was nothing around her.
She had no sense of being trapped inside the little Dumpster tank. She had no sense of being anywhere.
She was alone in pure space, and around her was nowhere, nothingness, absence, emptiness.
The world had disappeared because she couldn't sense it. She'd never realized it before, but the world was her senses. She had never known anything but her internal map of it, made up from what she saw and heard. And now there was no sight, no sound, no map, no world. She couldn't keep hold of the conviction that there was a world outside-or that there was an outside.
Did the word outside have meaning? Could something be outside the universe?
Maybe there had never really been anything except her.
Could she really remember what the color "yellow" was? Or the feeling of "silk"?
No. It had all been a joke or a dream. Neither of those things existed. These ideas of "touch" or "taste"
or "hearing"-she'd made them up to get away from the emptiness.
She had always been alone in the emptiness. Just her, just K-Who was she? For an instant there, she'd almost had a name, but now it was gone. She was nameless.
She didn't exist either.
There was no person thinking this. No "I" to make words about it.
There was no ... no ... no ...
A silent scream ripped outward. Then:
Gabriel was frightened.
Frost sat beside him during dinner-Mr. Z's orders, he was certain. She touched him every other minute, stoking his wrist, patting his shoulder. Again, he felt certain, on Mr. Z's orders.
They wanted to know if he would try and reach Kaitlyn with his mind.
But the restaurant in San Francisco was too far from the Institute. Kaitlyn was long out of range, as Joyce must have told Mr. Z. Gabriel didn't even try to stretch out his mind; instead he worked on convincing everyone that he didn't want to. That he hated Kaitlyn as much as Jackal Mac did.
He must have done a good job, because Lydia was looking at him with burning green hatred in her eyes-when her father's head was turned, of course.She wasn't the only one who looked unhappy. Bri had eaten almost none of her dinner. Renny kept swallowing as if he felt sick. And Joyce was holdingherself rigid and expressionless, her aquamarine eyes fixed on the candle in the center of the table.The club they went to next was also far away from San Carlos-but not quite as far. Frost left his side to dance with Mac. As soon as she was gone, Gabriel slipped the piece of crystal he had palmed out of his pocket.It should increase his range-but enough? He wasn't sure. The only time he'd managed a telepathic link over such a long distance was when he'd been in agonizing pain.He had to try.With Mr. Z smoking a cigar and smiling benevolently at the dancers on the floor, Gabriel clutched the tiny chip of crystal and sent out his mind.But the frightening thing was that even when he felt he'd stretched out far enough, he couldn't feel Kaitlyn.Her place in the web was filled with nothingness. Not even a wall, only blankness. Nobody nowhere.Desperate, he kept calling her name.There was a vision in her mind.Whose mind? It didn't matter. Maybe there wasn't a mind at all, but only the vision.A rose, full and blooming, with lush petals. The petals were a warm color that she had forgotten. At first it was a nice image, all those petals on one stem, separate but connected. It reminded her of something.But then the vision went bad. The petals turned black, the color of the emptiness. The rose began to drip blood. It was hurt, mortally wounded. The petals began to fall. . . and on each there was a face, and the face was screaming.Kaitlyn! Kaitlyn, can you hear me?Petals falling, dripping. Like tears.Kaitlyn! Oh God, please answer me. Please, Kaitlyn. Kaitlyn!There was desperation in the voice. Whose voice? And who was it talking to?I couldn't 't contact you before. He had Frost sitting by me, touching me. She would have known. But now I have them convinced I don't want to talk to you-oh, please, Kaitlyn; answer. It's Gabriel.Suddenly there was another vision. A hand dripping blood. Onto a floor. Gabriel's hand, cut by the crystal shard, dripping onto Marisol's floor.And she had seen it, she, Kaitlyn. She was Kaitlyn.She had a self again.Gabriel?His voice came back, at a volume that hurt her. Yes. Kaitlyn, talk to me.Gabriel, is it really you? I thought. . . you'd be mad. After I said. . .She wasn't sure what she'd said. Or even what "saying" was.Kaitlyn, don't be-don't even think about that. Are you all right?It was a stupid question. Kaitlyn had no way to answer it in words, so she sent along the thin, quivering strand of the web that connected them a vision of what the emptiness was like. Nothingness, void, absence. ..Stop. Please stop now. Oh God, Kait, what can I do?Kaitlyn could feel the black well trying to suck her back into it; all she had to hold on to was the slender connection with Gabriel, like a tiny shaft of light in a dungeon. It was keeping her sane at the moment, but it wasn't enough. She needed more, she neededYou need to see and hear, Gabriel said.I don't even remember what those things are like, Kaitlyn told him. She could feel hysteria bubbling in her, stealing her rationality.Gabriel said simply, I'll show you.And then he began to give her things, with his mind. Things he had seen and heard, things from his memory. He gave her everything."Remember what the sun's like? It's hot and yellow and so bright you can't look at it. Like this. See?" In her sense-starved condition his voice seemed like a real voice not like telepathy. He was giving her the sound of talking. And sending her a picture. As soon as Kaitlyn saw it she remembered. The sun.That's good, she said. It feels good."That's what it looks like in summer. I grew up in New York, and sometimes in the summer my mom would take me to this place by the ocean-remember the ocean?"Blue-green coolness. Hot sand between the toes, gritty sand in the bathing trunks. Water foaming and hissing, children shrieking. The smell and taste of salt.Kaitlyn drank it all in greedily, hungry for every nuance of sight or sound. More, please. More."We'd go up to the boardwalk, just her and me. She'd always buy me a hot dog and an ice cream. She didn't have much money, because the old man drank it all, but sometimes she'd make him give her a dollar to fix something he really liked for dinner. Then she'd get me the ice cream-remember ice cream?"Creamy, blobby coldness. Stickiness on her chin. Rich, dark taste of chocolate.I remember. Thank you, Gabriel.He gave her more. All his best memories, everything he could think of that was good. Every golden afternoon, every skateboard ride, every moment with his mother when he was seven years old and sick with the fever that gave him his power.Everything he was, he gave to her.Kaitlyn devoured the sensations, filling herself with the reality of the world outside. She was drenched in sunshine and cool wind and the smell of burning leaves and the taste of Halloween candy. And music; she hadn't realized how Gabriel loved music. At fourteen, he'd wanted to play in a garage band. He was jamming with the drummer one night, trying to get more in sync-and then the drummer was lying on the floor, clutching his head. Pierced by Gabriel's mind. When Gabriel tried to help him up, he ran screaming.A week later, Gabriel was on his way to the psychic research center in Durham, where his principal and his mother and the social worker hoped someone could teach him control. His father's last word to him had been: "Freak.""Never mind about that," Gabriel said. He was giving her only good things, nothing depressing. She could feel that he didn't want her to see his father's stubbly face with the bleary red eyes. Or feel the burning hot shock of his father's belt.It's all right, Kaitlyn said. I mean, I won't look at anything you don't want me to, but you don't have to worry about me . . . and I won't ever tell anyone, and I'm so sorry. Oh, Gabriel, I'm so sorry. And. ..She wanted to tell him that she understood him now, in a way she'd never understood anyone before.Because she was with him. It wasn't even like being in the web; it was much closer than that, much deeper. He'd torn down all the barriers and put his soul into her hands.I love you, she told him."I love you, Kaitlyn. From the very beginning."She got a sense then, of how he saw her. Bits and pieces from his memories of her. Her eyes, smoky blue, with the strange dark rings in them, framed by heavy black lashes. Her skin tasting like peaches.Her hair crackling when she brushed it, flame-colored, silky but full of electricity.She could sense, too, scraps of what he'd thought about her over the weeks. Lines from their lives together. That kind of girl might be too interesting, might tempt you to get involved. . . A girl who challenged him, who could be his equal. . . Her mind was a place of blue pools and blazing meteors.. .She stood slim and proud as some medieval witch princess against the dawn."And then I thought you'd betrayed me," he said. "But you really came to protect me, didn't you?"With that, Kaitlyn realized that he'd seen as deeply into her mind as she'd seen into his. She had thought he was the one giving, while she had only received . . . but of course, he'd had to join with her completely in order to share his life with her.He knew everything, now.And then he came on something that sent shock waves through Kaitlyn."Jackal Mac said-what?"Kaitlyn could feel the memory he was looking at. He said you told him to check me out.Gabriel's cold anger filled the universe."I never said that. I never talked to him about you at all."I know, Gabriel. She did know, she was certain."But Lydia knew how you gave me energy on the trip to Canada She must have told him-"Gabriel, forget about it. His fury was hurting her, filling her with images of death, of Jackal Mac spitting up bone splinters. Please think me something nice.So he did. All that night, he thought her beautiful music and hillsides of wild mustard flowers and the smell of fresh pencil shavings and the taste of banana marshmallow candies. And the touch of his hands, the way he would do it if she ever got back in the world again.Rob stared at the edges of the afghan that served Tony's friend for a window curtain. He didn't move, because he didn't want to disturb the others; Anna and Lewis and Tamsin on the floor. Even the black kitten Tony had given Anna was lying curled and still. But Rob couldn't sleep.Light was showing around the blanket edges. Morning. And Kaitlyn hadn't called last night.He had a very bad feeling.There was no good reason for it. Kaitlyn had told them she might have to wait and watch her chance.That was probably what she was doing.But Rob was empty and sick with fear.Rob?He turned to see Anna looking up at him. There was no sign of drowsiness in her face or her dark eyes.I couldn't 't sleep, either. She put a hand on his arm and he put his hand over it. Just the feel of her warmth gave him some comfort.You want to go and look for her now, don't you?Rob turned from the window again. Her steady gaze, her calm face, and her gentle presence in the web all strengthened him."Yes" he whispered.Then we'll go. I think we should, too. Let's wake up Lewis and Tamsin.Kaitlyn knew it was morning because Gabriel said so."I think they're going to take you out soon. Mr. Zetes drove up a little while ago, and now Joyce is knocking on all the doors upstairs."