Chapter 22

“Mary Smith, daughter of William and Rebecca Smith. Diagnosed with abilities at age two when she was discovered telepathically lifting her blocks. Confirmed to be Powered at age five when training and coaching left her unable to block out others’ thoughts. Several more years of attempts to gain control ended in failure and validated the diagnosis. Left home at the age of ten to live in the woodlands her grandfather had willed her mother. Maintains contact with family when she goes into town for supplies, usually semi-annually,” Mr. Transport read from the top paper stuffed into the manila folder.

“If she still sees her parents shouldn’t she remember her name?” Mr. Numbers pointed out.

“Apparently she never really learned it,” Mr. Transport explained as he flipped through her file. “Since her telepathy was always active she could sense when people’s thoughts were directed at her. The name wasn’t reinforced and eventually the few people who interacted with her lost the habit of using it.”

“That makes sense, I suppose. What it doesn’t do, though, is explain why she can tolerate a range of five miles if she’s been out of civilization for seven years. Her focus should have atrophied, not evolved,” Mr. Numbers said nervously. He rose from the table in the living room of his and Mr. Transport’s apartment and went to the fridge to get a bottle of water.

“I’ve been digging on that,” Mr. Transport replied. “It seems that even in the forest she never got silence. Animals still have thoughts; they’re just more primordial than humans. From the telepaths I’ve talked with, they describe it as hearing a conversation in a foreign language. It might be loud, but because it’s gibberish, it’s easier to ignore. That’s why she was able to live there and hold onto at least some of her sanity.”

“Some of her sanity,” Mr. Numbers mumbled. “For all the pity people keep showing her, the girl seems to be adjusting fine. The bear thing is a bit odd, but otherwise she’s doing as well as the others and better than some.”

“She’s a telepath. She knows what normal people are thinking, so she emulates those thoughts and the actions that follow. Just because she can fake societal adaptation doesn’t mean there aren’t some scars on her from her years as a Powered,” Mr. Transport said.

“Yes, except those scars have turned out to be riverbeds that send her abilities gushing forth in blasts far beyond what her experience should warrant,” Mr. Numbers said.

“I don’t know about that,” Mr. Transport retorted. “What is experience if not the accumulation of scars and lessons that allow us to use our mind, bodies, and powers more effectively?”

“I’m not getting into a philosophy or semantics argument with you. I’m just laying the facts out on the table. You and I recommended a girl whose experience as a Powered has likely made her one of the strongest, if not the strongest, Supers of her generation,” Mr. Numbers said with as much control as he had available at hand. Opening his water he retook his seat and began looking through the files on his side of the table.

“You’re worrying too much,” Mr. Transport said. “The only reason the dean even looked twice at her is because he knew about her past, which is why I lobbied not to divulge that information to staff. Aside from that, we both know she isn’t the strongest. You watched the combat tapes with me and read the files.”

“True,” Mr. Numbers agreed. “I daresay the only reason this hasn’t fallen down on our heads is because compared to that boy even Mary would have one hell of a fight.”

“Exactly. It doesn’t matter if she is near the top; hell, Roy was fifth and Vince was eighth so she has company. The only thing that cannot happen is Mary becoming the undisputed strongest in her grade. It would be troublesome with any of them, really, but with her we would have to own up to the oversight,” Mr. Transport said.

“Who would have ever thought spending all those years without any control would actually help her so much?” Mr. Numbers asked with no expectation of an answer.

“It’s my fault,” Mr. Transport said. “I handle research. If I had only looked into telepathic training methods I might have discovered this.”

“It’s no one’s fault or it’s both of our fault. Neither of us goes down alone, you know that,” Mr. Numbers corrected immediately. “Besides which, I think it might be a good thing in the long run.”

“How do you mean?” Mr. Transport asked.

“What would be worse to deal with: a tremendously powerful telepath who can control her abilities or one that has no say whatsoever in what she does?” Mr. Numbers asked.

Mr. Transport was silent for a few moments, imagining each encounter realistically rather than snapping off the obvious acceptable answer. There were several things about Mr. Transport that Mr. Numbers didn’t always care for, but his tendency to take each question posed to him with seriousness and analysis was not one of them.

“Well,” Mr. Transport said at last. “I think that would depend on the context of dealing with them. If they are on our side, then control is preferable; however, if they’ve gone rogue, then I’d rather have them lacking any real influence on what their power does.”

“A good answer,” Mr. Numbers said honestly. “So that means we should worry less about precisely where we might have gone wrong, and focus on ensuring that Mary Smith and every other subject we recommended into the program stays on the straight and narrow path. That’s the best way we demonstrate the sound judgment of our selections.”

“Very good plan,” Mr. Transport commented. “That leaves us with the meat of the matter. How exactly do we do that?”