Like a bedroom from one of those abandoned buildings you see on the news. Across one wall the words
"NO FEAR" were spray-painted. Spray-painted. Most of the curtains were down and one of the windows in the alcove was broken. There was a large hole in the plaster of one wall and another in the door.
And the room was filthy. It wasn't just the motorcycle helmet and the traffic cones on the floor, or the stray bits of clothing draped over every piece of furniture, or the cups overflowing with cigarette butts.
There were cookie crumbs and ashes and potato chips mashed into the carpet, and mud on almost everything. Kaitlyn marveled at how they'd managed to get it so dirty in such a short time.
A boy wearing only boxer shorts was standing up. He was big and lanky, with hair so short it was almost nonexistent, and dark, evil, knowing eyes. A skinhead? Kaitlyn wondered. He looked like the kind of guy you would hire as an assassin, and his mind felt like the red-haired man's.
"Jackal Mac," Lydia whispered. "His real name's John MacCorkendale."
Jackal eyes, Kaitlyn thought. That's it.
The other boy was younger, Kaitlyn's age. He had skin the color of creamed coffee and a little, lean, quick body. His face was narrow, his features clean and sharp. The glasses perched on his nose did nothing to make him look less tough. A smart kid gone bad, Kait thought. The brains of the operation?
She couldn't get a clear feeling about his mood.
"That's Paul Renfrew, Renny," Lydia whispered- and ducked. Jackal Mac had thrown a size twelve combat boot at her.
Kaitlyn ducked, too. Then she stood frozen as the huge guy rushed toward them, all arms and legs.
"What are you doing here? What do you want?" he snarled, right in Kaitlyn's face.
Oh, Lord, she thought. His tongue is pierced. It was, with what looked like a metal bolt.
Renny had come, too, light as a sparrow, his eyes merry and malicious. He circled Kaitlyn, picked up a strand of her hair by the ends.
"Ouch! That burns!" he said. "But the curves are okay." He smoothed a hand over Kait's behind. "I like her better in the flesh."
Kaitlyn reacted without thinking. She whirled around and her hand made sharp contact with Renny's cheek. It knocked his glasses askew.
"You don't ever do that," she said through her teeth. It brought back every moment of loathing she'd ever felt for a boy. Boys, with their big meaty hands and their big sloppy grins . . . she pulled her arm back in preparation for another slap.
Jackal Mac caught her wrist from behind. "Hey, she fights! I like that."
Kaitlyn jerked her hand out of his grasp. "You haven't seen anything yet," she told them, and gave her best wolfish grin. It wasn't acting. This was genuine, from the heart.
They both laughed, although Renny was rubbing his cheek.
Kaitlyn turned on her heel. "Come on, Lydia. Let's meet the others."
Lydia had been crouching by the stairway. Now she straightened up slightly and hurried toward the second door Joyce had shouted at. It was the room Rob and Lewis had shared in the old days.
The door was ajar; Lydia pushed it open. Kaitlyn braced herself for more destruction.
She wasn't disappointed. Once again the curtains were down, although here they'd been replaced by black sheets. There was a black candle burning on the dresser, dripping wax, and an upside-down pentagram scrawled on the mirror in lipstick. Glamour magazines lay open on the floor, and there was the inevitable scattering of clothing and garbage.
There was a girl on each of the twin beds.
"Laurie Frost," Lydia said. She didn't seem quite so afraid of the girls. "Frost, this is Kaitlyn-"
"I know her," the girl said sharply, sitting up. She had blond hair even lighter than Joyce's, and much messier. Her face was beautiful, although the permanently flared nostrils gave it a look of perpetual disdain. She was wearing a red lace teddy and as she raised a hand to flick hair out of her eyes Kaitlyn saw that she had long silvery nails. They were pierced with tiny rings like earrings.
"She's one of them. The ones who ran away," Frost said in a menacing hiss.
"Hey, yeah," the other girl said.
There was no need for Lydia to introduce her. Kaitlyn recognized her from a picture on a file folder in Mr. Z's office. Except that the picture had been of a pretty, wholesome girl with dark hair and a vivid face. Now she was still pretty-in a bizarre way. There were streaks of cerulean blue in her hair, and black smudges of makeup surrounding her eyes. Her face was hard, her jaw belligerent.
Sabrina Jessica Gallo, Kaitlyn thought. We meet at last.
"I know you, too," Kaitlyn said. She kept her voice cool and returned Bri's stare boldly. "And I'm not running away now. I came back."
Bri and Frost looked at each other, then back at Kait. They burst into nasty laughter, Bri barking, Frost tittering.
"Right back into the mousetrap," Frost said, flicking her long, silvery nails. "It's Kaitlyn, right? What do they call you, Kaitlyn? Kaitykins? Kitty? Kit Cat?"
Bri took it up. "Kit Kat? Pretty Kitty? Pretty Pretty?"
They dissolved into laughter again.
"We'll have to make the Kitty Kat welcome," Frost said. Her wide, pale blue eyes were spiteful but slightly unfocused. Kaitlyn wondered if she were hung over from something-or maybe that was just the way these people were. The Fellowship had sensed insanity in them, and what Kaitlyn sensed now was that each of them was a little bit off Aggressive, malicious-but not very focused. As if there were an inner fogginess in each of them. They weren't even properly suspicious; they weren't asking the right questions.
And Kait wasn't sure what to do with them while they were pointing and giggling at her like kindergartners.
"Sabrina and Frost, I said now!" Joyce's voice came from the corridor, cracking like a whip. The girls kept giggling. Joyce pushed past Kaitlyn like a blond meteor and began yelling at them, picking clothes up off the floor.
Kaitlyn shook her head, putting on an expression of genteel astonishment for Joyce's benefit. Then she turned to Lydia.
"I think I've seen enough," she said, and made an exit.
A few minutes later Joyce came into Lydia's room. Her sleek hair was ruffled and she was flushed, but her aquamarine eyes were still hard.
"You can stay in this room today," she said to Kaitlyn. "I don't want you going downstairs while I'm doing testing."
"That's fine with me. I didn't get any sleep last night."
"Good luck napping," Joyce said grimly.
But in a surprisingly short time, the upper floor was still. Lydia, Renny, and Bri had departed for school; Jackal Mac and Frost were presumably being tested. Gabriel's door was locked.
Kaitlyn lay down on her old familiar bed-and realized how tired she really was. She felt wrung out, drained not only of energy, but of emotion. She'd
meant to lie awake and make a plan, but she fell asleep almost instantly.
She woke a long time later. Warm, diffuse afternoon light filled the room. Silence filled her ears.
She got up and grabbed for the headboard as a wave of giddiness swept her. Breathing slowly, she held her head down until she felt steadier.
Then she crept in stocking feet to the door.
Still silence. She went to the stairway and turned her head, ear pointed downstairs. No sound. She descended quietly.
If Joyce saw her, she'd say she was hungry, and when was dinnertime anyway?
But Joyce didn't appear. The lower floor seemed deserted. Kaitlyn was alone in the house.
Okay, don't panic. This is terrific, the perfect opportunity. What do you want to look at first?
If I were a big ugly crystal, where would I be?
One obvious place was the secret room in the basement. But Kaitlyn couldn't get in that; Lewis had always used PK to find the hidden spring in the panel. Another place was in Mr. Z's house in San Francisco, where he'd kept it before. But Kaitlyn couldn't do anything about that today. Sometime she'd have to find a way to get to San Francisco.
For now . . . well, Joyce hadn't wanted her to see the testing. So Kait would start with the labs.
The front lab was as she remembered it, weird machines, a folding screen with seashells appliquéd on it, chairs and couches, bookcases, a stereo. There was no graffiti. Kaitlyn looked briefly into each of the study carrels that lined the walls, but she knew already that the crystal could never fit into something so small. She found only more equipment.
I wonder what their powers are? she thought, envisioning each of the students she'd met. I forgot to ask Lydia. Gabriel said something about Frost being clairvoyant, but the others-I'll bet they do something bizarre.
She turned to the back lab ... and found it locked.
It had never been locked before. Kaitlyn found it extremely suspicious that it should be locked now.
But her jubilation changed to despair a minute later as she realized a basic truth. If it was locked, she couldn't get in.
But wait, wait. Joyce had always kept a house key on top of the bulletin board in the kitchen, for anybody to grab when they were leaving the house. Sometimes people had the same locks on the inside doors of a house as the outside. If that key were still there ... and if it fit...
In a moment she was in the quiet, darkening kitchen, fingers searching anxiously on the top of the bulletin board's frame. She found some dust, a dead fly ... and a key.
Eureka! Praying all the way, Kaitlyn hurried back to the lab. She held key to lock, almost dropping it in her nervousness.
It's got to work, it's got to work. . . .The key slipped in. It fit! She waggled it. It turned!The doorknob turned, too. Kait pushed and the door was open. She stepped in and shut the door behind her.The back lab was dim-it had been a garage and had only a small window. Kaitlyn blinked, trying to make out shapes. She didn't dare turn on a light.There were bookcases here, too, and more equipment. And a steel room like a bank vault.A Faraday cage.Kaitlyn remembered Joyce telling her about it. It was for complete isolation in testing. Soundproof, electronically shielded. They had put Gabriel in there.Kait remembered herself begging Joyce to promise she'd never have to go in.Her mouth was dry. She tried to swallow, but her throat seemed to stick together. She walked toward the gray bulk of the steel vault, one hand lifted as if she were blind.Cool metal met her fingers.If I were a crystal, I'd be somewhere like this. Shielded, enclosed. With enough room for everybody to get in and crowd around me.Kaitlyn's fingers slid over the metal. Her former tranquility in the face of danger was gone, and her heart wasn't just pounding, it was thundering. If the crystal was really in there, she had to see it. But she didn't really want to see it-and to be alone with that obscene thing ... in the dark. . . .Kaitlyn's skin was crawling and her knees felt unsteady. But her fingers kept searching. She found something like a handle.You can do it. You can do it.She pulled.At first, she thought the sound she heard was the vault door clicking. Then she realized it was somebody opening the lab door behind her.What does a spy do when she's caught?Kait's stomach plummeted. She recognized the voice, even before she whirled around to see the figure silhouetted in the door.Light shone behind him. Broad shoulders, then body lines that swept straight down. A man wearing a greatcoat."Are you finding anything to interest you?" Mr. Zetes asked, his gold-headed cane swinging in his hand.Oh, God. The buzzing was back in Kaitlyn's ears and she couldn't answer. Couldn't move, either, although her heart was shaking her body."Would you like to see what's inside there?"Say something, idiot. Say anything, anything.Her dry lips moved. "I-no. I-I was just-"Mr. Zetes stepped forward, snapped on the overhead light. "Go on, take a closer look," he said.But Kaitlyn couldn't look away from his face. The first time she'd seen this man, she'd thought him courtly and aristocratic. His white hair, aquiline nose, and piercing dark eyes made him look like some English earl. And if an occasional grim smile flashed across his face, she was sure that he had a heart of gold underneath.She'd found out differently.Now, his eyes held her with an almost hypnotic power. Boring into her mind, gnawing. He looked more telepathic than Gabriel. His measured, imperious voice seemed to resound in her blood."Of course you want to see it," he said, and Kaitlyn's throat closed on her protests. He advanced on her slowly and steadily. "Look at it, Kaitlyn. It's a very sturdy Faraday cage. Look."Against her will, Kaitlyn's head turned."It's natural that you would be interested in it- and in what's inside. Have you seen that yet?"Kaitlyn shook her head. Now that she wasn't looking into those eyes, she found she could speak-a little."Mr. Zetes-I wasn't-""Joyce told me that you had come back to join us." Mr. Z's voice was rhythmic . . . almost soothing. "I was very pleased. You have great talents, you know, Kaitlyn. And a keen, inquiring mind."As he spoke he unlocked the vault with a key, grasped the handle. Kaitlyn was speechless again with fear. Please, she was thinking. Please, I don't want to see, just let me go."And now your curiosity can be satisfied. Go in, Kaitlyn."He pulled the steel door open. There was a single lamp inside, the battery-driven kind that clamps on walls. It gave enough light for Kaitlyn to see the object below.Not the crystal. A sort of tank, made of dark metal.Bewildered, forgetting herself, Kaitlyn took a step forward. The tank was almost like a Dumpster trash can, except that instead of being rectangular it had one side which slanted steeply. A door was set in that steeply slanting side. It looked like the door to a hurricane cellar, leading down.There were all sorts of pipes, cables, and hoses attached to the tank. One machine beside it looked like the electroencephalograph Joyce had used to measure Kaitlyn's brain waves. There were other machines Kaitlyn didn't recognize.The tank itself felt like a giant economy-size coffin."What ... is it?" Kaitlyn whispered. Dread was clogging her chest like ice. The thing gave off an aura of pure evil."Just a piece of testing equipment, my dear," Mr. Zetes said. "It's called an isolation tank. The ultimate Ganzfeld cocoon. Put a subject inside, and she is surrounded by perfect darkness and perfect silence.No light or sound can penetrate. It's filled with water, so she can't feel the effects of gravity or her own body. There is no sensory stimulation of any kind. Under those conditions, a person-"Would go insane, Kaitlyn thought. She recoiled from the tank violently, turning away. Just the idea of it, to be abandoned in utter darkness and silence, was making her physically sick.Mr. Z's hand caught her, holding her lightly but firmly. "Would be undistracted by outside influences, free to extend her psychic powers to the fullest. Just as you did when Joyce blindfolded you, my dear. Do you remember that?"He had turned to look at her, holding her terrified gaze with his. She hadn't missed his use of personal pronouns. Put a subject inside and she can't feel her own body."As I said earlier, you have very great talents, Kaitlyn. Which I would like to see developed to their fullest."He was pulling her toward the tank.And she couldn't resist. That measured voice, that precise grip . . . she had no will of her own."Have you heard of the Greek concept of arete, my dear?" He had put aside his cane and was opening the hurricane-cellar door. "Self-actualization, becoming all you can be." He was pushing her toward the open door. "What do you think you can be, Kaitlyn?"A black hole gaped in front of her. Kaitlyn was going into it."Mr. Zetes!"The voice was thin and distant in Kaitlyn's ears. All she could see was the hole."Mr. Zetes, I didn't realize you were here. What are you doing?"The pressure on Kait's neck eased and she could move of her own volition again. She turned and saw Joyce in the doorway. Gabriel and Lydia were behind her.Then Kaitlyn simply stood, blinking and trying to breathe. Mr. Z was going over to Joyce, talking to her in an undertone. Kaitlyn saw Joyce look up at her in surprise, then shake her head."I'm sorry, but there's no help for it," Mr. Z said, with mild regret, as if saying "I'm sorry, but we'll have to cut expenses."He's talking about my imminent demise, Kaitlyn realized, and suddenly she was talking, gabbling."Joyce, I'm sorry. I know I shouldn't have gone inside here, but I wanted to see what changes you'd made, and there was nobody around to ask, and-I'm sorry. I didn't mean anything by it."Joyce looked at her, hesitated, then nodded. She beckoned Mr. Z into the front lab and began talking to him. Kaitlyn followed slowly, warily.She couldn't hear everything, but what she heard stopped her breath. Joyce was defending her, championing her to Mr. Z."The Institute can use her," Joyce said, her tanned face earnest-and strained with what looked like repressed desperation. "She's well-balanced, conscientious, reliable. Unlike the rest of-" She broke off."She'll be an asset."And Gabriel was agreeing."I can vouch for her," he said. Kaitlyn felt a surge of gratitude-and admiration for his level, dispassionate gray eyes. "I've probed her mind and she's sincere."Even Lydia was chiming in-after everyone else, of course."She wants to be here-and I want her for my roommate. Please let her stay."Listening to it, Kaitlyn was almost convinced herself. They all sounded so sure.