"Okay. Let's try that again."
Michael sat cross-legged on the beach, the exposed spire of the Ship shading him from the tropical sun. Adam had placed a soccer ball, a baseball, a softball, and a racquet ball in the sand about three feet away. The ragged remains of a tennis ball littered the area like fuzzy shrapnel. Adam stood behind Michael, coaching him.
"This time, concentrate on feeling the object first. Touch it. Let your mind run over its surface. Treat it delicately, like petting a puppy."
Megabyte cringed, picturing a puppy in place of the tennis ball from Michael's first attempt at telekinetically moving an object. He glanced over at Reggie, who made an exploding motion with his hands and whispered, "Boom." This caused both of them to break into uncontrollable fits of laughter.
At their chuckles, Ami glared at the pair and shushed them. Adam rolled his eyes in their direction, but Michael was grinning.
"It's okay, Ami. I think we all need to relax. If I'm too tense, we'll probably end up running out of sporting goods. And you," he said, looking sternly at Reggie with the faintest trace of a grin on his face, "need to stop being such an enabler. Don't you have a shotgun to clean or something?"
"Just trying to lighten the mood, kiddo," Reggie said, standing. "C'mon, Marmabyte, let's let Captain Killjoy and the Bringdowns practice their Vegas magic act. You can show me this spaceship of yours."
"It's Megabyte," said the redhead, leading Reggie back towards the alien landmark buried in the sand.
"Megaduke?" Reggie teased, prompting Megabyte to box him on the arm. The pair disappeared behind the dunes, leaving Adam, Ami, and Michael to concentrate on the objects in the sand.
"Try the baseball," suggested Adam. "Picture it in your mind. Feel the leather, the stitching…feel its weight. Its presence."
Michael stared at the ball. He didn't strain this time, like he had before. Before, he had concentrated all of his thoughts on the tennis ball in one sharp spike of force. Like a dam breaking and releasing all of its water in one massive wave, Michael's thoughts had impacted the tennis ball and blew it to pieces. This time, he forced himself to be calm, taking slow, measured breaths as he did so. He closed his eyes and conjured up a mental image of the baseball.
It was there, suspended in the void of his thoughts. Michael visualized every stitch on its surface; every scar on the leather. He tried to rotate the image in his head to study the orb from every angle, but the image refused to move. Michael's brow creased as he began to force himself to concentrate, and still the baseball remained stubbornly static.
I can't do this, he thought. I can't make this work. What the hell was Jody thinking, sending me to these kids? They can't teach me a damn thing!
Come to me, Boy. The familiar voice intruding on Michael's thoughts sent a cold spike of terror down his spine. As he focused on the baseball image, he was alarmed to see a skin of silver slipping over its leather surface like mercury.
I can teach you things these primitive children cannot even begin to imagine.
The image of the baseball was now completely enclosed in the silver sheen. The familiar musical hum was echoing in Michael's mind. The Tall Man congealed himself from the shadows, grabbing the sphere from where it hung.
This war has started, Boy. Are you sure you are on the correct side?
Michael gasped. He knew he was on the beach with Adam and Ami, sitting on the sand in the shadow of the Ship. He tried to force his eyes to open, but he was trapped in another nightmare from which he couldn't escape. He felt as if he were being pulled towards the Tall Man; caught in gravity that was dragging him through his own mind. Even though he struggled to release himself and regain control of his subconscious, Michael found himself being drawn inexorably towards the unearthly undertaker.
It was Ami. Her voice punched laser-like through the darkness, giving Michael a beacon on which to focus. The Tall Man's face contorted with demon-like rage as he crushed the sphere in his hand, causing it to explode with nuclear brilliance. Michael felt himself spiraling down into a void, his thoughts sucked up into the maelstrom of the sphere's detonation. There was nothing to cling to; no safe harbor or shelter in which to ride out the storm. As the blackness threatened to claim him, he again heard Ami's voice.
Listen to me, Michael. Concentrate.
Michael did as he was told. He focused all of his being on her voice. His descent into oblivion halted.
Relax. Imagine that your mind is a fist. A great fist, clenched tight. Now…let it open. Slowly. Open slowly. Like a flower. Opening. Break out of your mental restraints. See with your mind, Michael. Feel with it. Look inside yourself. See the forces that exist inside. See it!
Ami's voice was there; cool, crisp air for Michael's overworked mind. But was it just Ami's voice? Michael felt her voice, layered with others. Many voices in chorus, guiding him. He breathed a deep mental breath and found that he could see it. The sphere inside him was opening up and he could see the minute inner workings of it. He marveled at the combination of sinister, complex technology and pure, unfettered simplicity. He gasped as he realized the possibilities inherent in being almost completely unencumbered by physical limitations. Space and time travel were not theory any more, but a simple progression of steps made outside dimensions by manipulating the sound waves generated by the beautifully resonating shell.
Like a film rolling backwards, Michael could see the sphere's history. A race of beings, torn apart by war, placing the remains of their radiation-riddled physical forms in lumbering armored shells. Moving out into space, xenophobically destroying anything different from themselves; adapting increasingly sophisticated technology to perfect their tank-like enclosures until at last they developed the ultimate lethal form and swarmed through time and dimensions alike, hell-bent on exterminating all other life.
In that shining moment of clarity, Michael understood the depth of the Tall Man's perversion. Technology that could provide an almost utopian existence had been appropriated and bent to achieve…what? Conquest? Power? Dominion over the dimensions? Was he even the one in control? Michael couldn't even begin to guess the answer to those questions. Perhaps the Tall Man's motives were something beyond such simple three-dimensional concepts. Michael suspected that he didn't have the luxury of time to discover the Tall Man's ultimate goal.
Opening his eyes, he found Ami and Adam in the sand on either side of him, looking like a pair of concerned parents fussing over a scraped knee. The image was so absurd given the circumstances, he had to laugh. The pair of telepaths grinned in response.
"How do you feel?" asked Ami.
Michael mulled over the question, asking himself the same thing. "Fine, I think," he said, and as he said it, he realized it was true. He glanced over at the sporting equipment, still lined up in the sand. As he looked at it, the baseball rose several feet into the air and hung rock-steady over the beach.
"I think," he said, with a grim smile on his face, "I may just have the hang of this." Ami and Adam watched as the other three balls joined the baseball above the sand. Michael raised his brow slightly, and all four objects began to chase each other in a tight circle, as if manipulated by an extremely adept but invisible juggler.
Adam whistled softly. "Wow," he said. "It took most of us several weeks of hard training just to skillfully manipulate one object at a time."
Michael shrugged, allowing the balls to drop to the sand. He had refrained from telling any of the Tomorrow People what he knew to be encased inside his head, and he sure didn't want Reggie finding out. That was something he could deal with at the appropriate time, but now was not it. It was better to allow them to think the telekinesis was an inherent ability.
"That's pretty impressive, buddy."
Reggie and Megabyte had teleported to the beach, the redhead deciding it would be more prudent than erupting abruptly from the earth, as usually happened when using the Ship's physical exit.
"Do you think all that mental hocus-pocus will really help fight him?
"I don't know Reggie," Michael replied. "But we've been trying to fight this war on our terms. It might be time to fight this war on his terms."
"You'll have to be ready to take the war to him."
The group turned to face the new voice. Standing near the water's edge was Jody Pearson. No dimensional gateway, no hyperspatial pyrotechnics; he simply wasn't there one moment and there the next.
Michael's voice was totally devoid of emotion, making the utterance of his brother's name a statement, not a greeting. Adam noticed the lack of any fraternal sentiment on Michael's part.
"Little brother," Jody replied, his voice as monotone as Michael's.
"So let's do it," Michael said. "Let's go. Let's find him and take him out."
Jody looked at his feet for several heartbeats before answering. "It's not that simple. You have to know where to look. He may not even be in the same time or the same dimensional plane. He has all of time and space in which to hide. When you're running blind, that's a lot of territory."
"You've been there," said Michael, his voice low and even. "You know where he is. You know how all of this works. You're a part of it."
Jody's expression didn't change, but he managed to look resigned. "Okay. If you feel like you're ready, I'll take you to him."
"Don't worry, Mike," Reggie added. "I've got your back."
"I'll go too," offered Adam. "You'll need help."
"If Adam goes, we're going too," Ami added. Megabyte nodded.
"I don't think you understand," Jody replied. "This is not about you. This is Michael's journey. Michael's responsibility. This is for him alone."
"Wait a minute," Reggie protested. "Mike can't do this by himself. He'll need help. He'll need us."
"I really don't think that Michael will be ready to face down the Tall Man on his own after only one practice session moving balls around on the beach," Adam added. "He'll need some kind of telekinetic backup. Isn't that why you sent him to us in the first place?"
Ami didn't need telepathy to sense Adam's distrust of Jody. It was palpable; it hung in the air like sea spray and peppered Adam's words. She turned her thoughts outward, reaching towards Jody in an effort to understand his motives. Used to getting a reading from just about everyone she encountered, Ami was startled to feel nothing. Her probing thoughts didn't meet resistance…they slipped around Jody's presence like water around river rock. It was like Jody was covered in psychic Teflon, preventing Ami's mental inquiries from finding purchase. The sensation was eerily familiar, and her eyes widened at the realization that trying to make telepathic contact with Jody felt exactly like trying to telekinetically grab the sphere that had, so recently, threatened Adam's life during their midnight visit to the mausoleum.
Focusing outward, Ami was startled to realize that Jody was staring at her. His face was expressionless, but his eyes bored into hers as if to tell her that she should really be minding her own business. Undeterred, she met his gaze and stared back, standing her mental ground. For an instant, it appeared as if Jody was melting; his features became plastic and shifted. Ami found herself staring into a cruel, yellowing face surrounded by stringy white hair pushed back from the temples. The Tall Man's eyes narrowed at Ami's scrutiny, his thin mouth pulled down at the corners. In the next instant, the undertaker's face was gone.
Having lost her composure, Ami was unable to even send a rudimentary warning to Adam and Megabyte before the tell-tale hum from a hyperspatial gateway crossed into their range of conscious hearing. A twin flash of silver from the tide line announced the impending arrival of the enemy.