Prolog: Previously on The Tomorrow People...
"Are they dead?" The nurse asked.
The guy with red hair looked back at her. "I don't know. It was all so confused towards the end. So when I'm lonely, I can convince myself they're still alive. Still out there, hiding, like me. It works, mostly. Stops me getting too depressed, stops me giving up. It used to be easy, but as the years go by, the delusions fade, and reality is all I have left."
"You were one of the victims? Somehow you escaped, you've been hiding all these years. And you think these new abductions, you think it's the same guy, and you think now you're tied up here, now you can't run any more, you think that means he gets his chance to finish the job. You don't trust anyone." She had been leaning further and further forward now she sat back.
"I know it. Time hasn't changed why they did it. As long as I could hide I was safe. Now, now I figure I'm about screwed.
Masters confronted his prisoner. "O that there would come a famine through all the world, that all might die, and I live alone! I really thought you were all dead. So by some freak chance did you alone survive against the odds, or did anyone else survive?"
"What, tell you so you can finish the job?"
"The objective wasn't to kill anyone. Just to make permanently sure that you couldn't become a weapon against us. The process was meant to make you safe."
"It made us dead."
"Unforeseen side effect. Unfortunate."
"So is that what you're doing. Trying to work out the kinks in the process? Six more victims to experiment on. Six more cases of unfortunate side effects?"
"Oh that? No, not me, not this time. No, I have no idea what that is all about. Although, I intend to find out. You survived, so there must be some kind of immunity factor. It's possible any of your lot born since then would have immunity, and it has been fifteen years, just long enough that we might expect to see this new generation of your lot starting to break out about now. Who knows, in this post-ideologically divisive society, they might even have more sense and reason than you did. I'll certainly give them a fair chance to consider their options before I resort to any extreme measures."
Damon's mother wasn't listening. "Right. And you want to try telling that to Adam Kennywell. Yes, listen to that name; Adam Kennywell. He thought it was fine to go out and visit his friends on Monday. Just five days ago. Fine, despite a story in THAT morning's newspaper about a girl called Lindsay Jameson. I am sure he told his mother exactly the same story about being careful that you are telling me right now. But did it help him? No. He's probably dead now is Adam Kennywell, buried in a shallow grave in the basement of a terraced house in Liverpool most likely, right next to the shallow grave of Lindsay Jameson. And you just want to take the same risk. And if you end up dead do you think it will console me that I will be able to say I told you so? Well, no it won't. Two children in five days. I don't think that is an acceptable risk."
"Things have gotten bad, they're saying this is the worst since that time fifteen years ago, nine disappeared that time, and oddly enough those were the same weird mix of boys and girls of all different backgrounds, very little in common other than their age, and of course the police aren't saying anything, but you know the newspapers they love their conspiracies, and no one was ever caught last time, and people are obviously bound to question the connections, and I'm sorry, but I don't for one minute believe the police being able to dismiss the parallels quite so readily, although I accept they know more about the case than we do." Jake's mother never kept her sentences simple.
"New watch? That to replace the one that got stolen?" Damon asked.
Jake was confused. "What do you mean, stolen?"
"Stolen. I got to watch that one. Lot of weird shit going on that time. Particularly the stuff about owls."
Jake nodded nervously, he was feeling more than a little uncomfortable at the revelation. "You know, it doesn't much bother me that you can read my mind, see things I wouldn't want most people seeing. Creeps me out that you saw stuff I don't even remember. Creeps me out that my watch was taken while I was just lying there unconscious."
Damon handed over the open file. "You weren't unconscious, if you'd been unconscious then there's no way I could have seen what happened."
"Right. Guy with red hair. I just don't remember." Jake was staring at the notes. "He took my watch, not my wallet, not the booze. The watch wasn't valuable or anything, why the hell did he take that and leave the rest?"
Stellman stared back at Damon. "We protect the crippled, the blind, the deformed. We pollute our own bloodline with the schizophrenics, the depressives, the gays, the religious freaks who cling on to outdated concepts of God. We face extinction because of people like you; the pacifists, the liberals, the weak minded. If the human race is to survive we need to accelerate evolution before the falling fertility rates kill us. That means we have to start to push the process, start aggressively weeding out those inferior, retrograde elements from the gene pool. Start to breed strength, not weakness."
Damon was contemplative. "The last thoughts going through Stellman's head were about friends in high places who could step in and get him out of any trouble, then a realization they were more likely to kill him to keep him quiet. I don't know, it was confused, none of his thoughts were that coherent by that point."
"And we know he was working with someone. Someone that the police in their infinite wisdom won't even believe exists." Jake noted.
"Stellman was the dangerous one though."
"You sure of that?" Jake asked.
Damon was acutely aware of how wrong he'd been about Stellman the last time he'd made any prediction. "No. Not completely."
"Anything?" Masters was asked as he got back in the car to leave.
"No. Unfortunately it seems Stellman took his secrets to the grave with him."
"And was he working alone?"
"Stellman was intellectually half baked, he couldn't have pulled all that off on his own. Plus there remains the matter of the disc and those prion samples missing from his house, someone had to be responsible for that, and it wasn't Stellman."
"What about our friend with the red hair?"
"It does not benefit us to jump to conclusions. He certainly has the means and motive to be connected with all this, the missing items could be his work. But that is idle speculation. For now it is important we keep an open mind."
"Keep them under discreet surveillance. And I mean discreet. If our red headed friend was involved he'll be going after them soon enough. And he really is dangerous, unlike that idiot Stellman."
"I recognize that face." Damon grabbed for the photograph.
"You know my therapist? Well, my ex-therapist who did a runner." Misako asked curiously.
"Jake does. That's the guy who stole his watch. The guy with the red hair."
Jake was worried. "How exactly did he end up as your therapist? And what exactly did you tell him?"
"I'm Masters. Colonel Masters."
"Military?" Misako asked suspiciously.
"Retired. Whitehall desk job these days."
"And what exactly do you want?"
"Suspicious aren't you?"
"No. And it doesn't matter. Hear me out. Unlike the police, I happen to believe you about Stellman having an accomplice. He has red hair, and he's been following you, and you've already worked most of that out, haven't you."
"We know about the guy with red hair," Damon observed.
Master smiled gently. "Then it seems we do have something to talk about."
Kristen started to lead the way down the hillside. The alien guy was following her, not talking much. This was her chance to start throwing more questions at him, starting with the one that was winding her up the most. ~So how about you start by telling me your name?~
~He of rare wisdom.~
"Kal-umun," she tried to say it out loud. She did a better job than he'd managed with her name. It was funny the way the telepathy translated the meaning of the name like that. Was that a conscious thing? The 'rare wisdom' thing sounded pretty cool. Kristen found herself wondering what her name sounded like in translation. ~I think my name means 'anointed one'.~
~Ahhhh. Okay. Good.~
~What?~ The guy's attitude to her had shifted quite abruptly there. He seemed a lot more relaxed now.
~It helps to know that. See, in my language it means 'she who is a mighty temple to pissing guys off'. I think I'd definitely stick with your language on that one,~ he grinned for the first time since they had met.
Well, she'd learned one thing. She liked his sense of humor.
"Hey, don't freak, it's just an owl," Kristen grabbed Kal's arm to steady him.
"Ua igi-gal nu-igi-gub," he muttered defensively, almost ritualistically.
Damon looked up, puzzled. "Why isn't the telepathy translating that properly? Sounded like 'You can look at the owls, but you cannot see them.' Which, if you don't mind me saying, is complete bollocks."
Kal-umun stared at them both quizzically. ~Owls are things of myth and legend. They aren't real.~
~They have pensioners in outer space?~
~Er, Damon, you might want to think that a little more quietly.~ Jake tried to nudge him.
~Why? Shit, they have telepathic pensioners in outer space?~
John disapproved coldly. "Typical. Youth of today have no respect. And for your information, I'm not from outer space, I'm from North London. Now, If you've quite finished I have very little time, and a great deal to tell you."
"We're doing very well on our own thank you very much." Jake objected.
~No we aren't.~ Damon pointed out.
~Shut up, we don't want him knowing that.~ Jake started, then realized his mistake.
Damon smiled. ~He does now.~
"I've seen what you can do, and I'm not all that impressed. Frankly if you plan to survive you are going to have to buck your ideas up."
Jake shook his head. "I knew this part was coming. Bloody adults always feel like they have to give advice."
John remained cool and composed. "That's because bloody kids always think they know everything when they don't. You've unlocked only a fraction of what you're capable of. You are the future of this world, but you need to put the brakes on the arrogance and embrace some humility. You have a lot still to learn. And, I'll make this blunt, right now you are too stupid and too juvenile to have much chance of surviving the dangers that lie ahead. You need to grow up, and fast."
"Come on, that is totally unfair."
"Maybe it is. But you're stuck with it. You have a responsibility to the future whether you like it or not. That is what being Tomorrow People is all about."
"We can do this." Misako stated matter-of-factly.
"You think?" Jake pondered.
"Once we learn how to use the power we've got properly..."
"They knew what they were doing. They had control of their abilities to a degree we can only dream of right now. There were hundreds of them. And what happened? They all had to flee the planet in a panic, those that didn't escape were wiped out. Seriously, what the hell chance do you think the four of us have without help?"
"Nick's been arrested. They'll bloody behead him or something unless we can help. He was there on a humanitarian aid mission, he was just trying to help people." Damon was upset.
Misako avoided catching his eye. "He's been accused of spying and treason in a foreign country we can't even get to. I know he's your friend. I want to help. But this is out of our league. Even if we knew how to jaunt that kind of distance reliably, which we don't, what are we supposed to do when we get there? Damon, this is just, I'm sorry."
Jake kept his mouth shut. Misako wasn't helping. She was right, but she wasn't helping.
There was a standoff.
"Maybe it's time we called in a favor." Kristen broke the silence.
"What?" Damon asked, confused.
Kristen stood up and walked over to stand by Damon, facing the other two. "Damon's right, we have to do something. Maybe it's time we got over our endless procrastination and just accept the invitation. At least lets try. Sit down and talk to him. How can that hurt? Masters just might be able to help."
Jake tried desperately to read what the guy was thinking, but the guy was so blank it was like he wasn't even there.
"I'm begging you. Please."
The ropes were tight. Jake could feel the circulation in his hands being cut off. It didn't matter, he could escape, he could just jaunt out of there. Four thousand miles away, Nick didn't have that option.
"Hand the scroll over to Masters, what does that matter to you? Do what you want with me, but I'm begging you, please don't take it out on Nick. He hasn't done anything to anyone, he was just trying to help."
The guy with the red hair looked down at Jake with a face that suggested more an air of disappointment than malice.
"I thought it was you I wanted, but I don't know any more. You'd hand me over to Masters in a heartbeat if you'd had your chance, wouldn't you?"
"Yes." Jake could see there was no point lying, the guy wasn't stupid.
"All the time I wasted coming after you. I really thought..." The guy hesitated, then shook his head and continued, "but it doesn't matter. You're getting in my way and I don't have time to deal with you right now. You should have enough air for about three hours. I'm sorry for forcing this on you, but I can't have you following me. Just, try and use the time wisely, if that's even possible for you."
Jake stared back, it was hopeless, there was no reasoning with the guy. He closed his eyes, defeated. "Why are you doing this?" He asked, not much expecting an answer.
"Because I have no choice. Looks like I'm on my own, but I still have a job to do," the guy replied as he he slammed the door closed.
"But why hurt Nick." Jake shouted back, unsure if the guy could even still hear him.
~Nick wouldn't even be in this mess if it hadn't been for you, you do realize that don't you? He's a pawn in the game, just like you, just like me. I doubt they'll hurt him. They have nothing to gain from his death, and everything to lose if the truth ever came out. They won't take that risk.~
"You can't know that for sure." Jake tried one last desperate attempt to prick the guy's conscience. If the guy had a conscience. Jake couldn't sense any emotions at all, so either the guy could block the telepathic probing, which wasn't very likely, or he was a total sociopath, in which case there wasn't a conscience there to prick.
~No nothing's certain. Let's face it, I might not be the monster you think I am. You might not be the loser I think you are. Sometimes the owls aren't what they seem, kid. I guess that's the only constant I've noticed in life, the owls are never what they seem.~
Jake felt the van lurch, seconds later it lurched again as it plowed into the river. Slowly water began to trickle through the cracks in the doors. To imagine there was enough air for three hours seemed a little overly optimistic.
Getting To Know You
Jake stumbled into his bedroom and closed the door quietly. He stood there silently for a moment, maybe three, trying to work out where he was and what he was supposed to do next. Something simple, something bleeding obvious. He suspected he was falling asleep already, but there was something he knew he desperately needed to do first. It didn't involve the bathroom because he had nearly dozed off to sleep sat in there a few minutes earlier. Splashing himself with ice cold water had helped him stay conscious long enough to get him back to the bedroom, now he had stalled again.
The ice cold water had not been pleasant, not when he was still freezing cold after being stood forever at the bus stop waiting to catch the bus home that night. Luke warm water would probably have had the same effect but there wasn't any, the hot water boiler was broken. That was also going to mean choosing between cold showers all weekend or staying dirty, Jake planned on staying dirty, it wasn't like he had any plans to leave the house the next couple of days.
The plumber was turning up Monday morning at 6:00 AM, that was the earliest Jake's mother had been able to schedule an appointment without escalating it to an emergency call out along with the exorbitant fees that would attract. So there was still an outside chance of Jake getting to shower before he headed to school, which he figured anyone who had to sit beside him in class would appreciate. Or he could just avoid people all day. He planned to avoid people all weekend, or at least he planned to avoid his mother as much as he could all weekend. She was kind of pissed off, their regular plumber hadn't been available so she'd had to go with this guy she knew nothing about and she was already convinced that he was going to be dishonest and overcharge her for the work. The concept of innocent until proven guilty didn't exactly mean all that much to her. Jake could attest to more than a little first hand experience there, like how she seemed to be blaming him for the boiler being broken, which was totally unfair because there was no way she could have known that it was his fault. Anyway, it had been entirely accidental, he'd been trying to use telekinesis to make the timer come on early so he could get a decent hot shower before he'd headed out earlier that evening. Only, well, he hadn't quite been sure what he was doing, and he might have done something wrong. He was pretty sure there was no serious damage, probably just a fuse blown somewhere. And alright, maybe he should try and be more careful about messing with things he didn't really understand like that, but if he didn't try then how the hell was he going to learn?
She was going to nag him about it all weekend, he knew she was. But he was too tired to worry too much about that right now. Tired. Sleep. Wasn't there something he needed to do first?
His Friday night out hadn't exactly ended the way he would have preferred it to either. Decent enough evening, they'd jaunted over to hang out with Kristen, gone to see a movie, chick flick, could have been worse. Then they'd headed for a kebab, Damon had managed to get into a conversation with someone who was obviously trying to chat him up, Misako was making telepathic jokes about that someone obviously being a transvestite, and Jake had to agree he or she was pretty suspicious. Damon, listening to the jokes, had been desperately trying to keep a straight face while attempting unsuccessfully to extricate himself from the unwanted attention. He'd finally had to resort to hiding in the toilets. After some pleading, Damon had convinced the rest of them to head out so that he could jaunt out of the toilet cubicle to join them somewhere away from the shop, and the four of them had sat on a park bench across the road eating the kebabs and wondering how long Damon's admirer would wait for him. The answer was not long, they'd spotted her leaving on the arm of some other poor guy who had gone in there after them, much to Damon's relief.
It had been a good laugh, and it was great going out and not having to deal with errant extra-terrestrials or shadowy government organizations or vengeful serial killers, or scary journeys into parallel dimensions, or... actually to get a quiet night out for once was a bloody miracle.
But ultimately they all had to head home. Heading home wasn't so easy. None of them were exactly in a hurry to risk jaunting anywhere they couldn't see, not after what had happened the last time they'd tried that. It was fine jaunting line of sight, fine jaunting to the location of one of the others, which made it really easy for them to meet up, it was getting back that was the problem. Getting back meant catching a late train. Missing a late train meant having to catch the night bus, and having to call his parents and apologize for making them stay up until 2:00 AM so they could pick him up from the bus stop. That certainly hadn't helped improve his mother's mood. He could easily have walked back from there, but his mother was still not dealing well with him having been nearly murdered by a serial killer, and she had this idea that he'd been kidnapped on his way back from the bus stop that day. It wasn't true, Jake had made that part of the story up to try and cover up what had really happened, and with hindsight throwing in that detail about how he'd been kidnapped had been a mistake, he got picked up from the bus stop every time now whether he liked it or not.
Jake stood there, the memories of the evening washing over him. Then he snapped to his senses. That was it! Jake had remembered what he needed to do before he fell asleep... he had to get undressed and get into bed. He knew it was something simple.
He glanced across at the clock; 1:45 AM it said. He wondered what time it really was. Not 3:01 AM. Maybe, probably not. He'd gotten so used to it being an hour and sixteen minutes wrong, then bloody Damon had gone and set it to the right time. They'd argued, and then both of them had set it back without telling the other, so the next morning when they had to be up and out to head to the final day of the inquest into Stellman, they'd slept in and been over an hour late. Jake had set it back again after that, but he wasn't sure, Damon might have done the same thing. So Jake had no clue what the hell time it was. And he didn't have a watch, his grandfather's watch had been stolen by the guy with the red hair, and the watch his sister had given him for his birthday had been borrowed by some weird old guy called John who was originally from North London but now lived in outer space. Which wasn't meant to be funny, unfortunately his entire life these days tended to sound a bit like a bad joke if he stopped to think about it too much. It also occurred to him that he really didn't have much luck with wrist watches either.
Anyway, sleep, didn't matter what time it was, Jake needed sleep. Which meant getting into bed. Right, he could do this. He just needed to wake up enough to make it happen. Which was going to be easier said than done.
He forced himself over to the bed and threw back the duvet to reveal a pile of dirty laundry hidden there. He'd forgotten about that. He'd been in a hurry to get out and his mother would have made him sort through it if she'd seen it, which would have made him at least half an hour late. So, as with most problems in life, he had dealt with it by avoiding it. Which is why there were more clothes hidden under the bedclothes than there were in the closet right now. A fact that was disproportionately true of his underwear, he had no clean underwear at all. That, he reminded himself, was why he was wearing his old Harry Potter boxer shorts right now. If he didn't get the laundry sorted by Monday he'd be going to school commando.
He didn't want to think about it. He pushed the dirty clothes onto the floor and fell forwards onto the bed, he could feel himself surrendering to the tiredness, he was so close to being asleep already. He managed to pull his socks and shoes off, his shirt off. He struggled with his pants, they didn't quite come off completely. He fell asleep lying sideways across the bed, his pants still hanging off one leg.
Moments later a shadow fell across the room, a figure stepped out from the darkness behind the bedroom door, walked slowly across the room and gently pulled the duvet over the sleeping Jake.
Jake yawned and stretched. He had no pants on, he couldn't quite remember taking them off, but they were gone, so he must have managed it somehow. He was happy, it felt like he'd slept particularly soundly, which was odd, because it was still pitch black outside. It didn't feel that early, felt more like 10:00 AM. Of course it couldn't be anywhere near 10:00 AM because his mother would have been in to wake him up with a cup of tea and a slice of toast long before that. She always did that on Saturday mornings, especially when he'd been out late on a Friday night. Either she was trying to be nice, or she was being very cleverly cruel in waking him up when she knew that all he really wanted to do was sleep late.
Today he could sleep late. Today he had no plans. This weekend he had no plans. This was a weekend for sloth. There was hardly any reason to get out of bed at all, although he would have to at some point if only for lunch.
Something didn't feel right. It felt drafty, like he'd left the window open, but that wasn't likely, it was still March, it was too bloody cold to have left the window open. And his bedroom was silent, too silent, way too silent. No sound of traffic on the road outside, no sound of birds singing. It had to be the middle of the night still. Jake glanced across at his alarm clock. He knew it wouldn't help him much with working out what time it was, but he could at least work out how long he had been asleep.
He couldn't see his alarm clock.
Okay that wasn't just odd, that was wrong. He reached out his hand to where his bedside table should have been, there was nothing there. His hand brushed momentarily against the wall. Tiles, rough tiles. Dirty. Cold, hard, damp. That wasn't his bedroom wall. Something was very, very wrong here.
Jake sat up, looking wildly around and failing. He was disoriented, he couldn't even work out if his eyes were open or not. This was dark beyond dark, like he was in a cave, or down a mine. Could he have jaunted in his sleep? He was still in his bed. At least he was pretty sure the bed he was in was his. It was just, well, his bed didn't seem to be in his bedroom any more. Could he have jaunted and taken his bed with him? Could he have half jaunted and got stuck in hyperspace again? Well, if he had, at least this time he knew the way to get out.
~Damon, Misako, Kristen, any of you out there? I've got some real weird shit going on here.~
There was no response. He could sense them vaguely out there, they were all still asleep. Too bloody right, still asleep, like Jake was starting to figure he should still be. Maybe he still was, maybe this was just a nightmare.
"You look like you're pooping when you do that. Is that what telepathy looks like from the outside? You're calling for help telepathically?"
Jake froze. He recognized the voice. There was a sudden blinding light and Jake fought to cover his eyes. The guy had just turned on a flashlight. It took Jake's eyes a few moments to adjust before he could see well enough to make out the red hair of the figure standing over him.
"Shit," Jake observed coldly. This was not exactly what he'd wanted to wake up to on Saturday morning.
"What do you want?" Jake asked, trying to ignore the incongruity of asking the question while sitting up in what still felt like was his bed, but in a place that he could now see clearly wasn't his bedroom.
"You don't sound overjoyed at seeing me again."
"I'm not," Jake replied pointedly.
"I always thought I was pretty good company. Devastatingly sarcastic sense of humor, I can do intellectual, I can do hanging out with the guys. Your problem is you just don't know me socially. I'm not such a bad person really."
"What?" Jake was confused. Had the guy really just said that? The guy who tied him up and left him to slowly drown in the back of a sinking van, not such a bad person really? What the hell was the guy smoking?
"You always slow like this when you wake up in the morning?" The guy challenged rhetorically.
The draft Jake had noticed earlier was turning into a strong wind, a wind accompanied by a vibration that seemed to be coming up through the floor. The vibration turned into a rumbling and the rumbling grew louder. In the distance a dim light appeared, reflecting against the tiles of the curved wall in the distance. The curved walls made it look disturbingly like his bed was now situated in a passenger tunnel leading down to a tube station on the London Underground. For a moment it was too noisy to talk, then the noise subsided. The glare left Jake's eyes struggling to adjust to the dark again. He was forced to resort to the obvious question. "Where the hell am I?"
"Like it?" The guy with the red hair asked.
"No," Jake replied pointedly.
"Me neither. But it's convenient."
"Just, cut the crap and, this is nuts, how did I get here?"
The guy gently shook his head and stared patiently at Jake. "You ever been diagnosed as attention deficit, because you are, you know that?"
"You ever been diagnosed as a complete basket case, because you are, you know that?" Jake answered back contemptuously, not caring that it was a pretty stupid thing to say to a guy who actually might be a complete basket case. He wasn't thinking straight, he was still half asleep.
"You mind if I answer your questions in order?"
"I don't have to, doesn't bother me. Well, it does bother me a little. I like doing things in order. Kind of a little personality quirk. I try not to let it run my life. Thought about therapy once, but, not sure if there's much point. I have much worse emotional problems I ought to think about sorting first..."
Jake looked blankly back at the guy. If the guy meant to kill him then this was a really odd way of going about it. Jake tried to stare through the guy's eyes, see what thoughts were hiding behind them, but there was nothing. No surprise there, Jake hadn't had more any luck reading the guy on previous occasions, some people were just impossible to read.
"So, anyway. Where was I?" The guy continued. "Where I was was telling you where you are. That's kind of funny. You're on the London Underground, British Museum station."
"There is no British Museum station."
"It was abandoned in 1933, it's been sealed off since the late 1980s when they demolished the surface entrance, but down underneath the access tunnels are all still here. Most people don't even know it exists, it's perfect. You could hide down here for years and never be found. You could hide bodies down here for years and no one would ever find them."
"Is that supposed to be a threat?" Jake had been waiting for a threat. Actually, he'd been waiting for something a whole lot better than this threat, but for now he had to take what he could get.
"I don't know. Wasn't very good, was it? I can't get it right, the whole trying to sound menacing thing. I just come over sounding goofy, don't I. Personality flaw again."
Jake stared at the guy in curious disbelief. Either this was all part of some kind of deliberate disorientation tactic or the guy had completely and totally lost the plot. Jake tried to focus on staying grounded in reality. "So what's to stop me walking along the track to the next station?"
"Electrified rails are tough to walk on. Particularly when you didn't think to bring shoes. That and the fact that it takes about six minutes to walk to Holborn from here and the trains run every five minutes."
"Facts. Right. Let's try facts." Jake finally felt like he had something to fight back with. "Fact is, you don't want me making a run for it down the tunnel. Fact is, you'll tell any lies necessary to scare the crap out of me so I won't even try to escape. Fact is, this is all bullshit and and really there is no point in going on with this conversation."
"You want to die kid? I'm trying to stop you making a stupid decision here that''ll just get you killed."
"You're just trying to brainwash me into thinking the situation is hopeless. I'm not going to fall for it."
"That good at fighting it, are you? You get brainwashed often?"
Jake didn't answer.
"You wouldn't even know if you had been. You'd have been brainwashed not to notice. Makes it just about impossible to spot. If you didn't know the person before they got brainwashed then you don't have any baseline to compare against. You have to look for much more subtle effects, like whether someone's been programmed to miss obvious things that might mess with the conditioning. It's really tough to do, even if you can read minds it doesn't help."
"You sound like you know all about it." Jake observed pointedly.
"I know enough. But, I'm getting well off the point here."
"What IS the point here?" Jake barely concealed his frustration. Why couldn't the guy just rant and rave like a normal megalomaniac? At least Jake knew where he was when someone was ranting and raving at him.
"I admit I go on a bit, but, you know, I think you need to work on your patience a little bit. Let me finish at least one answer before you go asking any more questions, please?"
"Fine," Jake conceded angrily, he had no clue how else to react. If the guy with the red hair was trying to throw him off balance, he was succeeding totally.
"Right. So, where was I? London Underground station! Yeah. How you got here, I guess the answer to that is because I kidnapped you and dragged you down here. Why? So we can talk, talk without having to worry about being interrupted."
"So I'm your prisoner, or something like that." Jake felt like he was stating the obvious, but somehow it felt like it needed clarifying.
"Nothing like that. You can leave any time you want."
"What?" Jake was now completely confused.
"You use that word a lot. I just wanted to chat, that's all. But, if you don't want to chat, well, go."
"Right, I will."
There was silence.
"Which way is out?" Jake asked. There had to be a catch.
"Oh, you have to teleport out."
"What?" Jake was getting uncomfortable. he really didn't like where this conversation was headed. The guy was talking about teleportation like it was a matter of fact, which, Jake conceded, it was, but no one else was supposed to know about that. They hadn't even told Colonel Masters about the teleportation thing.
"There you go again. 'What'. Is that all you can say?"
"Okay, okay, no more 'what'. You said I could leave. How do I get out?" Jake tried to play dumb, it was all he could think of, the only way he could buy the time he needed to work out what the hell going on.
"You teleport. Be here, then just be somewhere else. Let's face it I couldn't keep you here even if I wanted to, which I don't. So go on, go."
"You trying to be facetious?" Jake kept up the clueless act, but the guy knew, somehow the guy knew all of it. Jake knew he had to remain composed. He felt backed into a corner, his mind going round in circles. Denial, that was the only course of action he could think of. "Those are impossible options. What do you really want?"
"I want to talk. About teleportation. About telepathy. About Masters. About why you would sell out to someone like that.""That's a bunch of junk pseudo-science crap. You can't seriously expect me to listen to this. You might as well say I'm free to leave if I can hail a passing flying carpet, or if the Seven Dwarfs tunnel in here looking for diamonds and decide to carry me off to replace Snow White, or..." Jake was rambling. He needed to keep his mouth going randomly while he tried to think. What did the guy know? How did the guy know? What the hell was Jake supposed to say to convince him otherwise?
"The Seven Dwarfs?"
"You know what I mean."
"No. Really no. The Seven Dwarfs finding you more attractive than Snow White? Not going to happen. Sorry."
"Forget the bloody Seven Dwarfs." Jake didn't handle being out-confused very well.
"You mentioned them first."
"I don't believe I'm having this conversation. You're completely batshit insane."
"I'm not the one deluded about how attractive the Seven Dwarfs would find him."
"But you are deluded about teleportation and that other thing you said."
"So none of those things exist?"
"You told me you weren't going to say that again!"
"This is a madhouse." Jake exploded.
"Then teleport yourself out of here"
"I already said. That's not possible."
"Then you have a real problem," the guy observed calmly. "Because that is your one and only way out of here."
Confronting The Facts
Jake lay back down in his bed, well, assuming it really was his bed, which under the circumstances didn't seem very likely, and tried to reflect on his situation. The guy with the red hair might be acting like a bit of a goofball but that was the last thing he was. Somehow the guy had managed to elude a nationwide manhunt for four months and still seemed to be able to casually come and go as he pleased. Somehow the guy had managed to kidnap Jake from his bed in the dead of night and drag him hell knows where without even waking him up. The guy was definitely not to be underestimated.
At the same time, Jake didn't feel in any immediate danger, which was just as well; sure he could jaunt away any time he wanted, but that seemed to be exactly what the guy wanted him to do. That attached a whole bunch of complexity to what should have been the simplest solution. And how the hell did the guy know about that anyway? Was it possible he was just guessing? But that wasn't the kind of thing you just guess, only someone delusional would guess at something that improbable.
If there was any chance at all Jake could convince the guy it wasn't true then he had to try. That meant he had to deny everything, deny it consistently, deny it absolutely and not stop denying it, not for one second. Which meant jaunting out of there had to be his last resort.
How 'last resort' was not really something Jake wanted to think about just yet. The guy had had tied him up, thrown him in the back of a van, crashed the van into a river and left him to drown the last time they had met. This time, on the other hand, the guy appeared to have gone to extraordinary lengths to take him alive. There had to be a reason, and Jake was sure as hell sure it wasn't just for a chat.
Jake broke the silence; "They'll come after me."
"When though? You left your mom a note saying you were staying over with Damon, you left Damon a note saying to cover for you. Sure, they'll work out it was all a set up eventually, but that could take days."
"You just use people like that? You don't give a shit about anything or anyone. Certainly don't give a shit about me, do you? Left me to die when I got in your way as I remember it." Jake fired back angrily. He didn't see any point trying to pretend like he wasn't totally pissed off with the guy.
"Back off kid, you don't know what I do or don't give a shit about. And for the record, I didn't leave you to die. I went back for you, but you were already gone."
Jake was unsettled. He hadn't expected a response anything like that, the guy was seriously unpredictable. He desperately wanted to believe the guy was just screwing with his head, but it wasn't as simple as that. There for a moment Jake could swear he'd caught just a flash of frustration, of conflict. Barely a moment, then the guy had regained control and it was gone, but the lapse had lasted long enough for Jake to be able to sense through the words that the guy was telling the truth. Sure, bad people were quite capable of telling the truth when it suited them, but the guy really hadn't meant to kill him. Jake didn't know what to think any more.
The realization hit Jake. There for a moment he'd been able to sense a fragment of what the guy was thinking... The guy had a weakness, if Jake could somehow work out how to exploit it. It wasn't much, but it was the first real step forward Jake had made since waking up that morning. He had to keep pushing.
"You left me tied up in the back of the van, it was filling with water. There was no way I could have survived long enough for you to come back, you're talking bollocks." It sounded logical, even if Jake didn't entirely believe it any more.
"No way you could have survived?"
"Except you did, didn't you. You teleported out."
"I don't know what you're talking about." Jake didn't like the way this was being turned around on him.
"You want to explain to me exactly how you did escape then?"
Yeah, that one was going to be kind of tough to explain away. Jake wasn't sure there was any point trying. He opted for being flippant. "A wizard did it."
"Seriously, a wizard did it."
"You expect me to believe that?"
"You expect me to believe teleportation?"
"Difference is, you know that one of those is possible."
"A wizard did it."
"Not the Seven Dwarfs then?"
Jake didn't smile. "This isn't funny."
"Tell me about it. I met this girl, nurse, seriously cute. I mean, she even laughs at my jokes, and that's saying something. So we've been dating on and off for six months now. That's a long time for me. Actually, getting to a second date is a long relationship for me. She saved my life once, I think she feels sorry for me, but hey, that's fine, I'm okay with her going out with me because she feels sorry for me..."
"Is there a point to this story?" The guy had jumped tracks abruptly and that had thrown Jake completely off balance again. What the hell was the guy up to now?
"Patience, young padawan, you must learn patience."
Jake smiled despite himself. It was a pretty good Yoda impersonation. The guy sure knew how to mess with his head, make him feel sympathetic.
"So I invited her to spend her vacation with me on my yacht off the island of Formentera, and she said yes. I didn't even have to plead and use my irresistible puppy eyes on her."
"The yacht part might have won her over," Jake felt the need to point out, even though this was really not a conversation he wanted to get drawn into.
"It would encourage me to say yes."
"You'd totally put out for any guy who invited you to hang out on his yacht, I need to make a mental note of that."
"Piss off," Jake tried not to make the expletive sound as light hearted as it felt. He didn't want to feel light hearted, he wanted to be angry, defensive. The interrogation was going seriously weird shit on him, he was finding it funny, he was kind of enjoying it. That was wrong.
"So this morning she's going shopping. For bikinis and swim suits. Very, very, very small bikinis. And I don't have to go shopping with her, but I could. I could be there right now. Well, not quite right now, but you know how close Oxford Street is? So, my point is that I have much better things I could be doing with my time than sitting here talking to you."
"Then why don't you go?"
"Maybe I will."
Jake was starting to get exasperated. Whatever they guy had planned, Jake wished he would just get on with it. "What do you really want?"
"For you to escape. So I can go bikini shopping."
"And what if I can't escape?"
"Then I don't get to go bikini shopping. And that would be a bummer."
"A bummer?" Jake asked disbelievingly. "Is that all?" Was the guy totally off his rocker?
"You know. Now I think about it, you're right. Nothing is worth missing cute bikini shopping for."
Jake needed to bring the guy back down to reality. "I don't know anything about you coming back, as far as I'm concerned you tried to kill me. Why would I even give you the time of day?"
"Why would I want to know the time of day from someone with your timekeeping abilities. How late were you for the inquest?"
"That was Damon's fault."
"Does he know you slag him off behind his back like this?"
"I slag him off to his face. We're friends, we can do that."
"And I didn't try to kill you. You weren't in any danger in the back of that van, you were quite capable of teleporting out of there any time you wanted."
"We can't teleport. How many times..."
"Then how come you're not dead right now. You want to tell me how you survived?"
"I already did."
"Tell me again."
"A wizard did it."
"Jake, I know the facts. You're telepathic, telekinetic, you can teleport. What do call it, jaunting? And you've sold out to Colonel Masters. Did I miss anything?"
"What's Masters got to do with this?"
"He needs people like you working for him, just imagine abilities like yours applied to the world of espionage."
Jake tried to keep a blank face. He didn't need to be able to read minds to see that the guy was pretty sure of himself. Confidence that wasn't misplaced because other than the bit about espionage, the guy was actually right. "You've got it all wrong."
"All of it." Jake hated lying, but he could see no alternative. The old guy, the telepathic pensioner John had warned them of the consequences of anyone finding out about who they were. It was bad enough that Colonel Masters knew. Just as well that Masters had turned out to be someone they could trust. The guy with the red hair on the other hand was clearly anything but trustworthy.
"Sorry, kid, but I know that at least half of that is true. So you deny it all, and I know for sure you're lying. You want to try again?"
The logic was inescapable, he had no answer. Instead he tried to deflect the conversation. "Why are you doing this?"
"I just want you to admit the truth. I want to know why you're helping a cold blooded killer like Masters. I want to know how we ended up as enemies when we should have ended up as friends."
"Friends, you and me? What planet are you from?" Jake was trying not to lose his cool at the stupidity of the argument. "The only cold blooded killer around here is you. Look, I don't know how you got things so wrong, but you have to believe me, I can't do the things you think I can. If I could leave, I would. And for the record we aren't on anybody's side, we haven't sold out to Masters." Jake paused for a breath. What was the guy's obsession with Masters anyway? "And you know, what if we had? Masters is patriotic to a fault, but he doesn't come across as a cold blooded killer."
"You tried reading his mind?"
Jake kept his mouth tightly shut for a moment. The guy had almost caught him off guard there. "I can't do that."
"Then you can't know what he's capable of."
"Right." There was no doubt about it, the guy had a point there. They had reached an impasse.
The guy looked momentarily discouraged, then seemed to snap back to his blank penetrating stare. "I'm going shopping."
"I'll be here when you get back."
The guy appeared disappointed. He handed Jake the flashlight. "Watch the steps down to the platform, they end abruptly and there's a big drop. The platform itself got demolished. And you really don't want to be down there when a train passes."
The guy turned and headed out through an archway that looked like it led up a short flight of stairs. Jake slipped out of bed and tried to follow but he couldn't see much in the darkness. By the time he found his way to the top of the stairs the guy with the red hair was gone. The way was blocked by steel mesh gates. Locked ones. Not exactly anything that would stop him under normal circumstances, but Jake couldn't afford to be caught on the wrong side of the gates. Dwarfs and wizards weren't going to help him explain his way out of that one. It was useful to know, though. Somewhere beyond those gates there had to be another way out of the tunnels.
He cautiously reached out with his mind. He could sense the guy in the distance, getting more and more feint, until finally Jake was alone.
Jake headed back to his bed. He avoided looking down at the ground too much, it felt dusty and just a little bit sticky, he really didn't want to know what he was walking on. Still, could have been worse, he was kind of glad that he'd fallen asleep before he'd finished undressing or he'd be walking around naked right now.
He used the flashlight to get an idea of his immediate surroundings. The light picked out the not altogether incongruous sight of his bed stood up against the ticket window of the abandoned booking hall. It really did look like his bed. How was that possible? How the hell had anyone got his bed down there? Jake sat back down and brushed the crap off of his feet. It was his duvet, he was completely sure of that, sadly enough there were stains on there that he recognized. Which, thinking of stains, gave him an idea. He pulled back the mattress he was lying on and tried to pull out the fourth slat that was supporting it, the one he'd drilled out for stashing his USB drives of questionable content in. It wasn't coming loose, it was still screwed into place. So he had his answer, it wasn't his bed, it just looked like it. That was cool. That was one problem solved. Pity it wasn't one of the more pressing problems he was faced with right now.
The walls were all tiled, but the tiles were incredibly dirty, almost black with what looked like soot. Some parts were painted, but the paint was badly peeled and coming off in patches. Decay was everywhere. It certainly looked like a passenger tunnel to get down to a tube station, one that hadn't been used in a long, long time. So it looked like there was at least some truth to what the guy had been saying.
There was a noise, a rattle, the gate. Jake spun round and flashed the light up towards the gate. Nothing, no movement. Only there was something, a sudden drop in temperature, a sense of foreboding. Jake listened hard, trying to make out anything in the silence, a clinking noise, growing louder. He couldn't work out which direction. Then the breeze started to build, a wind blowing. Jake smiled, unsettling as it was, that was the sign of a tube train approaching. This would be a seriously freaky place for someone of a nervous disposition to get stuck.
Alright, he figured it was time to explore his surroundings. Not that he expected to get far without shoes. He wasn't sure how extensive the tunnels were either, he didn't want to get lost, that was an additional complication he could well do without.
He shone the light down the passage in the opposite direction from the one his captor had headed in. There was a bend in the tunnel, and beyond that were stairs that headed down somewhere, it was as good a direction to take as any. Jake mentally shrugged and set off. More than anything what he really wanted right now was the cup of tea and slice of toast his mother brought him in bed. This was not exactly how he'd planned to spend his Saturday morning.
For the most part the tunnels had been bricked up or had ended in iron or steel gates that Jake had decided he wasn't going to jaunt through. There was no knowing what he was getting himself into if he did that. A way out, possibly, but right now that wasn't what he was looking for. He already had a much easier way out if he wanted it.
He tried tuning in on Damon. The guy was having breakfast, or brunch, more likely brunch. Jake had reached out gently, not wanting to disturb the guy, but it would have taken almost nothing to get his attention and four seconds later Jake could have been a few hundred miles away. So why the hell was he taking the risk of sticking around?
Escape didn't solve his problem. Even if he did get away he wasn't going to be safe for very long, not from a guy who could kidnap him that easily from his bedroom while he slept. He wasn't going to be safe until the police had the guy locked up and they threw away the key. And as incompetently as the manhunt was being handled right now, that wasn't likely to happen very soon.
The best thing Jake figured he could do right now was to use the opportunity to find out as much information as he could. Everything he could find out about what the guy was up to. Anything he could find out that might help get the guy caught.
Finding out how he knew about telepathy and teleportation might be a start. And what the hell was the guy's obsession with Masters? Twice he'd accused Jake of selling out. Accused Masters of being a cold blooded killer. What was all that about?
The guy had every reason to want to discredit Masters. It was Masters after all who was behind the manhunt that was out to get him. But what did he expect to achieve by trying to convince Jake that Masters was some kind of monster? Was this some crude attempt at divide and conquer? Well, he'd failed there. If being kidnapped in the middle of the night had convinced Jake of anything, it was that Masters was right, they needed protection.
Yeah, and Jake had been the skeptic there, he was the one who'd convinced them not to tell Masters about the teleportation thing. Not that Masters was the problem, Jake just didn't trust the rest of the government machine. He was paranoid there would be a secret departmental memo about them that some whitehall idiot would go and leave on a train for the whole bloody world to find. John was right, the risks of telling anyone were just too great, even someone they trusted as much as Masters.
And how long was the guy with red hair going to let Jake live when it became apparent he was never going to convince him about Masters? Jake shivered, he had talked himself into sticking around long enough to find out what he could to use against the guy, now he was getting cold feet again.
Actually, his feet were kind of cold. The stone tiled floor was a little on the chilly side. At least it was when he was stood still and didn't keep moving. Jake smiled and got back to the exploration. The platform area had actually turned out to be the most interesting. The platforms themselves had been removed as he had been warned, but it hadn't been difficult to climb down. The ground had been much more rough down there, and it was a lot more risky walking there, if only because he could hear the squeaking sound of what he figured were rats running about down there. He didn't want to think about that. That and he didn't want to risk going too far, he needed to be able to get back in the passenger access tunnels if he heard a train approaching. He had been half tempted to try and hail a train, but a dirty half naked guy waving at a train from a disused station was more likely to inspire urban legends than it was to get him rescued.
As experiences went though, it was really neat down there, like a time capsule. The walls were still covered in posters warning about loose lips sinking ships, and a really amusing one requesting that people behave with respect when in a public air raid shelter citing some lucky dude who'd been fined for disorderly conduct with four women. Lucky bloody bastard. From a certain point of view Jake had to concede it was an incredibly interesting place to get stuck.
He also came across where the name of the station was tiled into the wall. The guy had been honest about that much, this had once been the British Museum tube station.
Jake wasn't sure how long he'd been exploring, he'd counted over twenty trains passing, a couple of hours maybe. He was alerted by the sensation of a presence in the distance. Actually, he could sense one presence and one something else. He wasn't sure at all what that something else was. No time to think about it though, he could hear the sound of footsteps in the adjoining access tunnel and he figured he had to get back. He could also distinctly detect a smell of greasy fast food which reminded him he hadn't had anything to eat or drink all morning and he was starving. He headed ravenously back towards the booking office area to discover a folding table had been set up next to the bed where his host was unpacking an assortment of burgers and fries, along with drinks and other indeterminate containers of stuff. Jake also noticed there were several lava lamps now set up on the floor around the place, actually they were bloody difficult to miss, a chaotic swirl of patterns and psychedelic colors reflected across the tiled walls giving the place an almost surreal ambience.
"Mood lighting?" Jake asked incredulously.
"Plain lights make this place seem, well, nasty."
"And those give it more class?"
"This place sorely needs some class right now."
"What?" Jake couldn't help but feel the comment had been a slight at him.
"Harry Potter boxer shorts? Please tell me I'm having a mental aberration and those are not Harry Potter boxer shorts."
"It's not an arrestable offense."
"Really though, it ought to be."
Developing A Theme
"I brought barbecue sauce and regular. Didn't know which you would prefer," the guy waved the sauce at him.
It was disconcerting. Why the hell did the guy come across as so damn genuine? Jake tried to remind himself that this was all some kind of mind game. He had to stay focussed, he had his mission. So far he'd struggled to get any straight answers out of the guy, but he had to keep on trying.
Jake headed across to the table and picked up a napkin to use to try and clean as much of the black dust off of his hands as he could. He contemplated for a moment. "I'll take the barbecue," he answered as he was handed the burger. He liked both but somehow being stuck in a disused underground station felt like a reason to have barbecue.
Jake's host pulled out a handful of packets of sauce and tossed them over. "Nasty stuff that dust. Keeps this place from being a real home from home. I try to vacuum it up occasionally, but it really is tough to keep on top of things like that down here."
"Definitely not the nicest crap to be walking around on barefoot." Jake agreed. "I'm kind of surprised there's that much of it around, didn't think you'd get smoke or anything from electric trains, where the hell does that much dust come from sealed up down here?"
"Blows in along the tunnels from the tube stations. It's about eighty percent flakes of dead skin and bits of hair from passengers on the tube," the guy grinned maliciously.
Jake had been about to bite into the burger and stopped. "I suppose I asked for that, didn't I?"
"Great." Jake sat back down on the bed and took a bite from the burger. It was kind of on the not very hot side, but there didn't seem much point complaining.
His host was clearly not bothered by the hygiene of the place, or the temperature of the food. He had set his fries up on the table and was squeezing tomato sauce onto them. "I have to admit, I was disappointed to see you here still."
"Sorry. There was a wizard, but he saw my boxer shorts and got totally the wrong idea. Then the Seven Dwarfs turned up, but they got into a fight over who was going to rescue me. It turned really nasty."
"Sorry to hear that."
"Don't be, they only wanted me as a sex slave anyway." he explained flippantly.
"That's funny. Enjoy your burger. You know, I think I would actually like you. You'd get my jokes. Not many people get my jokes."
"They that bad?"
Jake tried to keep a straight face, but it was difficult. The guy was actually funny. Sure he was an evil sociopath, but he seemed like a genuinely nice evil sociopath. Normally Jake trusted his instincts when it came to judging people, right now those instincts clearly weren't working, he was going to have to watch himself.
The guy with the red hair was standing there eating his burger, and the only thing about him that was unconscionable was the excessive speed with which he was eating it. Jake tried to work out if it was a bad idea to play along, fake being friendly back. "Alright, who are you? At least tell me your name. We've been running into you for months and half the time we still call you the guy with the red hair."
"I like that, it has a ring to it. States the obvious, but, it works. What do you call me the rest of the time?"
Jake wasn't sure he wanted to answer, but figured under the circumstances he could hardly worry about pissing the guy off any more. "The bastard who was helping Stellman, mostly."
"You're kidding me?" The guy managed to sound puzzled. "What makes you think I had anything to do with Stellman?"
"That's what Masters told us."
The guy laughed out loud. "Right. And you believed that, obviously. So what does Masters call me then?"
"He doesn't know your name."
"Said something about you making up names. Never using a real name."
"Half true, I guess. I keep making up nicknames for myself. Usually ones that sound really cool at first, until I realize they were even more dorky than my real name. I got issues there, I blame my parents."
"Right." The guy was getting oddly introspective and Jake had to no clue how to react to that. He also noticed that the guy had completely avoided the original question. He tried again. "So what is your real name? Seriously."
"Seriously and my name don't fit in the same sentence. They don't fit in the same quadrant of the universe. Sorry."
Jake smiled despite himself. It was tough, the guy was just so self deprecating, it wasn't what he was expecting. It was crazy. "You kidnap me, then joke with me like we're best friends. It just, it doesn't work."
"You're not kidnapped," the guy reminded him.
"So, you're my host, not my kidnapper."
"Right. Hey, who bought lunch?"
Jake tried to follow the logic. "So, you're my host, but I can't leave."
"You're free to leave any time. I thought we'd already got past that."
Jake was strangely reassured. The guy might go off at tangents, but somehow always managed to swing it back to that one issue in the end. It was feeling like an interrogation again. "We got past that then very quickly got stuck on my means of escape. On account of you clinging on to some strange delusions. You know, okay, tell me. Why telepathy, why teleportation. Why pick something that crazy?"
"Watch who you're calling deluded kid. I may be many things, but I'm also the one with the ice cream. If you want to share my ice cream, you better start being nice. You mind if I sit on your bed to eat?"
Jake stared for a moment then shrugged. There was ice cream. He hadn't noticed the ice cream before, but he could see it there now. Ice cream was good. There was no need to suffer not getting ice cream. "Alright, sure, sit."
The guy sat on the opposite end of the bed, and continued to munch on his fries. "You believe the ends justify the means?"
Jake couldn't work out where that question had come from but he was starting to get used to his host's tendency to go off at complete tangents. He wondered how deliberate the change of direction was. "This part of the interrogation?"
"A bit of philosophy. While we eat."
"You expect me to believe that?"
"Believe what you want. You don't have to answer. We can sit here and eat in silence."
Jake didn't answer and silently continued to eat his burger.
"So," the guy continued, "Do you believe the ends justify the means?"
"You don't shut up do you?"
"I talk too much, I know. Another personality flaw."
Jake contemplated continuing to ignore the question, but he could see the guy wasn't going to shut up. Like his mother. Actually, the guy reminded him a lot of his mother in a vaguely disturbing, and slightly worrying way. "No I don't believe the ends justify the means."
"Integrity, I like that. So you wake up one morning, you have all these incredible abilities no one else has. You feel like a freak, Masters offers you a way to help, a way to make the world a better place. You want that, you want to make the world a better place. You agree with his ends, you have no reason to doubt his means, why wouldn't you listen to him? Why wouldn't you agree to work with him?"
"Except that's bullshit. The only thing he's offered us is protection." Jake figured it was safe to give that much away.
"Protection? From what? From me? If I were you, I'd be wanting a refund right now."
"I'm planning on having a few words with him about that."
"So he offered you protection?"
"In return for what?"
"There were no strings attached." Well, not yet anyway, the cynic in Jake figured there would be a price to pay further down the road, but that was still open to negotiation, they hadn't committed themselves to anything up front. Plus, he had a strong suspicion he knew what Masters was after, he was after help nailing the guy with the red hair. And right now that seemed like a pretty fair deal to Jake.
"You really believe that?"
"You obviously have some kind of problem with Masters but I don't. Masters hasn't given us a single reason to question his motives."
"Then why didn't he tell you up front what the cost of the protection would be?"
Jake remained silent for a moment. Again he had no answer. All he could do was repeat a denial that he knew was starting to wear thin. "I don't know. Maybe you should be asking Masters that."
"Not a good idea. Last time I ran into him he was trying to kill me."
Jake laughed out loud. Masters wasn't exactly personable, but to suggest he was the murderous type, that was just paranoid. The guy had an obsession with Masters that clearly bordered on the unhealthy. Masters on the other hand had given no indication of knowing anything about the guy with the red hair. One of them had to be lying. "You two have a history then?"
"You could say that."
"Any point asking?" Jake didn't need telepathy to know what the reply would be. It was all bullshit, the guy didn't have an answer to give.
"So you won't talk about you and Masters but you expect me to tell you all about me and Masters? Wouldn't you say that's totally unreasonable?"
"Life is unreasonable. Anyone who tells you otherwise is selling something."
Jake weighed his options. He had to keep the guy talking if he was going to find out anything useful. At the same time he wanted to avoid any outright accusations that might get the guy too angry. "Alright, you want to know what my guess is? Masters is trying to track down the people Stellman was working with. It just might be that we can help him there, on account of how three of us were captured and tortured by the bastard. And you know, after what happened, if that's what he wants, I have to say we would be pretty strongly motivated to cooperate. Good enough reason for me why he might want to talk to us. Nothing magical, nothing mystical."
"Did he tell you why he wanted Stellman's associates? Was it a very convincing explanation?"
"I was convinced, yes."
"Masters offered you something you wanted, in return you're happy to help him. Sounds like selling out to me."
"It didn't happen like..."
"So where does it cross the line? When is it the means no longer manage to justify the ends? How do you stop yourselves getting in so deep that you can't get out, or are you so blinded by the hope of doing good deeds that you've already lost your objectivity."
"No, none of it was..."
"And how exactly did a search for Stellman's crowd turn into Masters trying to track me down?"
"Oh come on. You pretending you weren't mixed up with Stellman? That's bollocks, Masters said..."
"And you just believed him? So would you put that down to naïvety or stupidity? What exactly do you think I was helping Stellman do?"
"You were there, we saw you..." Jake bit his tongue, only Damon had seen the guy with red hair and that had been in a telepathic vision. He prayed the guy wouldn't challenge him on that one.
"Yes I was there. Oh, and that makes me guilty does it? Magical how you jump to these conclusions, trust Masters, figure I'm the bad guy. You know, now I think about it, it starts to make sense why you sold out. Stupidity."
"Will you let me get a sodding word in edgeways."
"Considering the crap you seem to be coming out with so far I don't see that is going to help you much."
Jake was feeling distinctly embattled. "Masters has done everything he can to help us, you, all you've ever done is to get in the way. Which one of you do you think I have more reason to trust? Alright. And you were there, I don't know what the connection is, but there obviously is a connection. And you're on the run, so you're guilty of something. What do you expect me to believe?"
"You trust the man who gives you everything you want without stopping to consider the price you'll have to pay further down the road. And it never occurs to you that the man who gets in your way might just be doing that to protect you. Interesting choice, I'd hoped you would have better judgment than to fall for that. As for what I was doing there, well, I have my own reasons for wanting to go after Stellman and his associate."
Jake shivered, haunted by a moment of doubt. Had he completely misjudged the guy? Had he let himself be fooled by Masters? Yes, that was the point of the exercise, to make him doubt, he was fighting that, but at the same time he could see some truth in what the guy was saying. "You're trying to tell me that this is one big misunderstanding and that really we're all on the same side?"
"No. I'm pointing out that life is never that simple."
Jake was struggling, the guy wasn't giving him anything he could use to turn the argument around. He tried to pull it back to something he could challenge. "Even if I believed you about Masters, which right now I don't, doesn't mean there is any chance I'm going to listen to you. One thing you are not is trustworthy. I mean, you took my watch, what the hell was that all about?"
The guy didn't fall for the bait, he ignored the question. "What do you want with Stellman's associate?"
Jake contemplated ignoring the guy back, but he could see that wasn't going to work. He gave up and answered. "To see him brought to justice for aiding and abetting a criminal."
"A noble cause. How touching," the guy replied sarcastically. "What about Masters, what was his motivation?"
"He told you that?"
"Not in so many words." Jake conceded.
"So what you mean is that you have no clue what Masters wanted him for."
"No, yes. Alright, I don't know." Jake admitted.
"And yet you're still happy to help him."
"Why not? I'm sorry, I can see you have issues with understanding this, but there's this thing called trusting people..." Jake was flustered.
"Which you seem to do with wild abandon. Is that sensible?"
"Yes. No. I don't know."
"Convincing, Jake. You're very convincing." The guy sounded disappointed.
Jake was getting angry, he was losing the argument and he really wasn't used to that. Wasn't used to being wrong. And the guy was right, not questioning Masters motives more carefully, maybe that had been a lapse of judgment. Turn it round, he had to turn the accusation around. "So what do you want Stellman's associate for then?"
"I'm after something Stellman had, something that disappeared shortly before Stellman did."
"Justice doesn't come into it?"
"No. Not really. It's too late for justice, and there are bigger things at stake here."
The guy wasn't even trying to take the moral high ground, he wasn't trying to hide anything. Could he be telling the truth? Maybe he wasn't the one who'd been working with Stellman. Anyone with cynical views on justice like that could hardly be a good guy though. So, still a bad guy, just not the particular bad guy Jake had thought he was dealing with.
And if justice meant nothing then it was kind of hypocritical of the guy to be questioning Masters' morality. That finally gave Jake a way to fight back. "So what about your means to an end? Say I believe you about Stellman. Doesn't explain what you were doing following me."
"Doesn't it?" The guy prompted him blankly.
Jake was about to reply it bloody didn't, but then he realized the answer was bleeding obvious. The realization gave him all the ammunition he needed. "You didn't know how to get to Stellman, did you? You were using me to get to him. Screw me, screw what happened to me, as long as you got Stellman. And you've got the bloody nerve to sit there and ask me if the ends justify the means?"
"You weren't in any danger," the guy interjected.
"No danger?" Jake laughed hysterically, "Stellman shot me, three times. Put me in a sodding wheelchair for three months. He nearly killed..." Jake broke off, he could sense a reaction, a strong reaction, he was winning the argument for a change, he was really getting to the guy. This was his chance to put the knife in. "You want me to believe you weren't working with Stellman, fine, I believe you. But you knew about Stellman, you knew he was killing people, and you did nothing to stop him. So don't get all high and mighty about whether I've sold out to Masters or what Masters' real motives are. You, you're some piece of work. You might not have killed them yourself, but you're still guilty of murder. You stood back and let Stellman kill nine..."
"No. No one." The guy was shouting. "He killed NO ONE after I caught up with him. Except himself."
The guy's defenses had dropped. Jake was triumphant, he'd finally done it. Anger, frustration, he could sense those again. That was what it took to break through the barrier, read the guy's mind. He hadn't wanted to risk getting the guy angry, but it turned out getting him angry was exactly what Jake needed to do. "Right. Like you care." Jake murmured accusatively. Then he looked up from his ice cream. The emotions had changed dramatically. He could sense emptiness, an intense emptiness. Painful emptiness. The guy did care. Cared more than Jake could comprehend. Jake backed off, uncertain. Where the hell was this going?
The guy spoke quietly. "I've seen death. Too much death. I saw the end of the world once, and it wasn't pretty. And it'll happen again if I don't get to Stellman's associate. I needed to get to Stellman, yes, and I'd have taken it to the line to make that happen, but I wouldn't have let him kill again."
"You are so lonely." Jake was distracted from the conversation. The images of emptiness had been overpowering.
"Reading my mind?"
Jake snapped back to attention, he had to be careful, reading the guy's mind was exactly what he had been doing, but he still wasn't going to admit it. "Just observing the bleeding obvious."
"You want it back?"
"What?" Jake was confused, his host had jumped tracks again, trying to twist the conversation away from something he clearly found overwhelmingly uncomfortable.
"Your watch. You're right, I did take it. You want it back?"
"Yes. That watch was..." Jake was struggling to keep up with the mood shifts, not sure whether to feel angry or to feel sympathetic.
"It was special to you. Belonged to your grandfather. It was about the only possession you had that you actually cared about, the only artifact you had any emotional attachment to. I needed it at the time. I don't now. You can have it back. I'll drop it by later."
"Just like that?"
"I always planned to return it, just never had the chance."
"Why did you take it in the first place?" Jake couldn't figure what else to ask.
"On the basis of the credibility gap we've got between us, I don't think there's much point in me even trying to explain that one."
Lunch had ended and the conversation had trailed off. The two of them were sat at opposite ends of the bed, silently staring, staring in different directions, trying not to notice each other. Jake was also feeling uncomfortably underdressed. He wasn't sure what was supposed to happen next, and he was starting to notice another problem.
"I need to go pee." Jake observed coldly.
"So go. You're a big boy, I don't think you need me to come hold it for you."
"Do I have to go teleport to a bathroom then?"
"No, there's one in the booking office behind you. Through that door." The guy gestured.
Jake looked through the doorway to the left of the bed. All morning he'd been exploring the tunnels and it had never occurred to him to take a peek in the ticket office.
"Don't worry, I keep it clean in there. The water still works. I figure London Transport are still paying the bill. Even the lights work in there. I thought about trying to wire up some more permanent additional lights out here, but I could never track back where the fuse box was and I didn't much fancy the idea of messing with live cables," he continued shouting through the door to Jake.
Jake meanwhile had found the toilet. Off to the side of the tiny little ticket office back behind where the bed was. The ticket office had been kept pretty clean, the toilet was incongruously spotless, although the door didn't swing very well. Jake unzipped and let go, he hadn't really realized how desperately he had needed that. Through the gap where the door wasn't closing he could see that there was a TV and DVD player in the office, a camp bed with an old sleeping bag on it in the corner. Cans of pop, pizza boxes. Tidy, but giving away an underlying desperation. There was something almost pitiful about it. He found himself feeling a reluctant sympathy for the guy.
"You spend a lot of time down here?" Jake shouted back through the doorway into the ticket hall, trying to keep his own emotions in check.
The voice that came back was sounding more balanced than it had been earlier. Maybe a little numb. "It's a good place to hide. No one else knows the way in or out, no one's ever going to find me down here. Not even Masters."
Jake got done and turned around to rinse his hands. He was surprised to discover the taps really did work. There was even soap, he wished he had known about that before eating the burger with dirty hands. "Not exactly The Ritz though."
"You get used to it."
Something about the emptiness he had sensed had made Jake realize the guy didn't want to be here, didn't want to be doing this. Jake wondered if he could play on that emotion. "How did you wind up your life turning out like this?" Jake asked gently.
"I certainly didn't plan it. Long story. Story for another day."
"Not much of a life is it, hiding down here?"
"No," came the simple reply.
Jake couldn't find anything to dry his hands on, and headed back out into the ticket hall. "Thanks for lunch, I guess. So what now? Back to the interrogation?"
"I don't know, it's not exactly achieving very much, is it? I'm just not all that good at this kind of stuff."
"You're doing okay. Got me questioning some things I didn't question before. No closer to getting me to admit to anything, extracting information is not what you're best at." Jake had to concede. For a moment it felt eerily like a conversation between equals.
"Hey, that's a good thing. This isn't something I ever want to be good at. It isn't me. Believe me, it isn't me."
"Then why are you doing it?" Jake pressed.
"I need answers. I don't know how else to get them."
Jake could think of a few ways. He figured it was time to ask the awkward questions. "Are you going to torture me?"
"Hey, I'm the one suffering here. Having to look at you sat there in that twisted and disturbing underwear."
Jake tried to hold back and failed, he laughed, he was finding it so hard not to find the guy funny and disarming, even on the awkward questions. "I can lose the boxer shorts if you have that much of a problem with them."
"Er, that's not necessary," the guy answered quickly.
Jake smirked, and then got serious again. He had the advantage for once, he had to press it. "Are you going to keep me here indefinitely?"
Jake wasn't sure if that was a reassuring answer or not. He had one question left, the big one. "You plan to kill me?"
His host shook his head gently, as if realizing he was the consequences of what he was saying, but answering honestly, which was the only way he could. "No. You aren't in any danger at all. I just want to talk."
There's No Point Denying
"Alright, you want to talk. Lets talk. How about if I ask you a few questions for a change?" Jake was starting to get some confidence back.
"Yeah, okay," his host seemed amused by the idea.
Jake tried to focus. He had his agenda, he knew what he wanted to find out, but he couldn't exactly ask a direct question, not without giving the game away and Jake still wanted to avoid that if he could. "You seem pretty convinced about this whole teleportation thing, but you have to admit that if you back off and think rationally for a minute, it comes across as a load of old bullshit."
"Bullshit?" the guy raised his eyebrows.
"The kiddie doth protest too much, methinks."
"I'm going to be stuck here forever. You never give up."
"You've made up your mind I'm telepathic. You've made up your mind that I've sold out. Nothing I say is going to change that. So what is the point of you even asking?"
"I am listening, but you haven't exactly given me much in the way of straight answers. You keep talking around the questions like you've got something to hide."
"I'm not hiding anything."
"You saying that for the sake of saying it?"
"No." Jake felt defensive, he hated lying.
"So if you have nothing to hide, how did you escape from the van?"
"If you don't answer, then you're hiding something."
"I haven't, I don't, I..." Shit, he'd been outmaneuvered.
"So you can teleport, and that's what you're hiding?"
"I didn't say that. What are you trying to do to me?" Jake broke down. He'd been feeling sympathetic for the guy, trying to understand the guy, and now two minutes later the guy had somehow completely turned the thing around on him.
"You can't even tell a consistent story, you keep contradicting yourself. That's why I don't believe you."
Jake let his frustration show. "Fine. What do you want me to say?"
"Are you telepathic?"
"Can you do teleportation?"
"Are you hiding something."
"I don't know. No. Yes. It's a trick question. Whatever I answer the answer is wrong. You're not playing fair."
"Grow up kid, nobody plays fair in this business."
"I don't want to be in this bloody business. I didn't want any of this." Jake tried to contain his own emotions.
"No one forced you to sell out to Masters. You made your choice.""Choice, right. Help someone who can offer me some protection. Seems like a pretty sensible thing to do, to me. Got to be better choices than you've made. I mean, look at you. On the run, living in this hole."
"No, kid. Don't go there. You don't have any clue what choices I made."
There it was again. Jake had sensed a fragment of anger, of regret, of sorrow, of longing. The transition was so abrupt, he'd never known anything like it. It wasn't just that the guy with red hair was tough to read, somehow the guy knew how to put up a barrier, block the kind of empathic leakage that most saps didn't even know existed. Only when the guy's control weakened could Jake sense anything. For a moment Jake wondered if the leaking of the emotions was all part of some game. It had to be possible, there was nothing else exactly straightforward about this guy.
Jake tried to remain calm, he was making good progress. That was the third time he'd managed to wind the guy up and a pattern was starting to emerge. There was a whole bunch of insecurity eating away at the guy about difficult decisions he'd made in tough situations. About whether he'd always made the right decisions. It was when Jake unfairly challenged those decisions, that was what sent him over the edge.
The guy also had a hatred of Masters that he wasn't even attempting to conceal. Finding out what that was all about was Jake's other planned line of questioning. "You talk like Masters is some kind of monster."
The guy had calmed down, he spoke slowly and deliberately. "Monsters are easy. You know where you stand with monsters. They try to eat you, or suck out your brains through straws. They look ugly and hideous, and when you see one you don't mistake it for anything else. Masters is worse than that, because you don't know, you can't tell. He might seem all reason and logic, he might be nice friendly when it suits him. But you get in too deep, there'll come a point you'll find out you sold your soul to the Devil himself."
"He's just a guy."
"He's just a genocidal maniac, and you need to stay away from him."
Jake felt good, he had the guy on the defensive. Now it was Jake's opportunity to show who could play mind games. He laughed dismissively, "who the hell are you to dictate who I can associate with?"
The guy replied gently, almost too gently. "I'm the one who has to clean up every mess that you make. I'm the one who has to fix things when you screw them up. I'm the one who has to stop you from making stupid mistakes time after time after time. And if you go on screwing up, I'm the only one who can save you from yourself."
Jake had heard a variation on that lecture a dozen times before, it pissed him off every time, and this time was no different. "You sound like my bloody dad," he replied angrily, then stopped abruptly. He could sense empty, undirected rage, emotions that were raw, painful. This time he he'd really hit a nerve. He just wasn't sure how, whatever he'd triggered was way too complex to read.
"Right, but at least you know that's because he cares. He cares about you and you don't ever go criticizing him for that. You just get angry and defensive don't you. I'd have killed to get my dad pissed off at me like that. Well, metaphorically speaking, wouldn't really have killed, but, you know, he never seemed to be around. I think he cared, he just always seemed to have more important things to worry about. At least if he went off on a rant, I knew he cared."
Jake had no clue how to respond. He hadn't meant for the conversation to head off at this tangent. Was the guy doing this deliberately to throw him off balance? No, not this time. The emotions he was sensing were way too heartfelt to be faked. He tried to restrain his own emotions, this was no time to get carried away with sympathy. Bad guys could have feelings as well, all it proved was that the guy wasn't a sociopath.
Jake waited, but the conversation was dead.
The silence stretched into minutes before it was finally broken by the guy with the red hair.
"I need to go to the bathroom."
Jake waited in silence. He had a problem. Contrary to all logic he was starting to feel a grudging respect for the guy. Sure the guy thought Masters was the bogeyman, the guy was beyond paranoid, but Jake looked around at the grimy decaying tunnel the guy called home; the guy was on the run, living in constant fear of capture, he could be forgiven a little paranoia.
What Jake couldn't work out was why the guy was on the run in the first place. He hadn't been helping Stellman, that was very obvious now, and it ought to be pretty easy to prove it. If the guy would just turn himself in then they could clear his name in no time at all. Masters was reasonable, Masters would listen.
Masters had all the facts at his disposal and should have worked it out for himself already. It wasn't complex and he wasn't that stupid. Jake found himself wondering if the guy with the red hair had been right, was it possible Masters wasn't completely trustworthy?
~The owls are not what they seem,~ the guy called from the bathroom, interrupting Jake's contemplation.
"What?" Jake asked, momentarily startled.
There was no immediate reply.
Jake had heard that line somewhere before. He looked up as the guy walked out of the ticket office carrying a folding chair. "You know owls aren't real, don't you? Just made up to scare kids," he joked.
The guy set the chair down on the other side of the table and sat facing Jake. "For someone who claims not to be telepathic, you're sure acting like you are."
"What is that supposed to mean?" Jake challenged.
The guy was shaking his head, almost as if disappointed. "You'll get there eventually kid, don't worry, you're just a little bit slow."
Jake stared silently for a moment. He didn't exactly appreciate the patronizing tone. "You won't answer my questions, I won't answer your questions. What's left to talk about?"
"What kind of movies do you like?"
Jake smiled, it was the kind of response he'd been expecting. Maybe he couldn't read the guy's mind, but he was getting better at predicting the guy's behavior, freaky as that was. "That artifact that got smuggled out of Iraq, the Habiruan Scroll, the one you stole and then returned, what was it really?"
The guy smiled, looking like he was happy to be back on topic. "On account of your unwillingness to admit to the existence of telepathy, you're not going to believe the answer anyway, so what's the point?"
"Alright, it was a recording, a message. Left buried here thousands, maybe tens of thousands of years ago, waiting for people who were telepathic to come along. Waiting for them to unlock its secrets."
"Buried by who?"
"Aliens maybe. Time travelers from the future..."
"Try the Seven Dwarfs, and I might believe you."
"Not likely, they're not telepathic."
"And time travelers and aliens are?"
"Some of them are. So it's as good a guess as any. Truth is I don't know."
"Where does the telepathy come in?"
"The message itself is telepathic. That's why Masters came to you for help. He's obviously convinced you're telepathic."
"I can't speak for Masters' delusions. Anyway, he didn't come to us for help on that one, we went to him."
"Yes, after your friend Nick got caught trying to smuggle the thing out of Iraq."
"He was framed."
"He was set up. Who do you think set him up?"
"The government. Some shadowy intelligence department."
"There are a dozen different agencies it could have been. This is the government, the arse doesn't know what the elbow's doing. Masters was the one who straightened the mess out for us."
"Maybe Masters created the mess knowing you'd go to him to get it sorted out."
"Why would he do that, what would it achieve?"
"You'd owe him a favor. He needs a favor. The thing's useless to him without your help to unlock it."
"Yeah, right, because he needs someone telepathic to do that." Jake answered, trying to sound sarcastic and dismissive. What the guy said was all very plausible in a scary, conspiracy theory kind of way. "So what was your interest in it?"
"To keep Masters from getting it. That's all."
"But then you handed it over to the Iraqi authorities six hours later..."
"I was wrong about them just letting Nick go. Turned out that was the only way to get him out of trouble."
"So it's now in the British Museum on loan."
"Where it belongs."
"Where presumably Masters can get it at any time."
"But can't read it."
"Without the help of telepaths, right. Ignoring for a moment the fact that there's no such thing, what's to stop him doing that?"
"Wiping telepathic messages is easy. Six hours was enough. What you got back was the same Habiruan Scroll but it was missing the message."
The guy could be bloody frustrating. Everything that he was coming back with was just so bloody plausible. Paranoid, but plausible. Jake couldn't help but like the guy. "You're convincing. I don't even believe in telepathy and you've almost got me convinced."
The guy smiled infuriatingly. "Go on, admit it, deep down, you like me."
"It's, what do they call it, Stockholm syndrome."
"Or maybe it's the truth."
"Whose truth, yours or mine?" Jake fired back.
There was a glint in the guy's eye, or maybe it was just the reflection from the lava lamps. He was enjoying the volley. "Now you're getting philosophical. I think I like you."
In quick succession Jake and his host had discussed in depth topics of hostage situations and terrorism, which had gotten onto the political situation in the Middle East then bizarrely into a really technical debate on how they got the cream in Twinkies. Well, the connection had made sense at the time. Then somehow the conversation had dried up and a silence had fallen over them interrupted only by the passing of tube trains every few minutes.
The silence was starting to get to Jake. "You're too quiet, you're starting to worry me," he observed, aware that the sentiment was perhaps misplaced coming from the victim in the situation.
"Sorry, was thinking about small bikinis."
Jake smirked, the guy sure could be relied on to surprise him. Not that Jake needed to know that the guy was thinking about small bikinis right now. "Do you have to?"
"What's it to you. Not like you can read my mind is it?"
Jake hesitated, and let his curiosity get the better of him. "What does she think you do? How can you have a relationship with someone when have to lie to them all the time?"
"She knows exactly what I do. No lying involved."
"What?" Jake blurted out, then regretted sounding so incredulous. The guy was giving him a dirty look.
"You sound like you don't believe me," his host responded.
Jake wasn't sure he did believe him, but the possibility it might be the truth was intriguing. "So she knows all about you kidnapping me and keeping me prisoner down here?"
"And, what does she think about that?""Thinks I'm taking an unnecessary risk. Doesn't think you're worth it, but, she respects that I'm doing what I think is right."
Jake stared at the guy. This conversation had gone so weird it made conversations he had with Damon look almost normal. "How do you tell anyone about stuff like that?"
"What, you mean without them thinking you're a total fruitcake?"
"You looking for advice?"
"The truth is always more complex than any of us wants it to be. One day you regain consciousness to find yourself tied up by someone who understands that. And when you do, kid, don't jaunt away just because that's the easy option."
"I never met anyone who could deal with the truth."
"No, I know. It's tough. And you keep on trying don't you. You keep on telling people the truth in the desperate hope that someday, someone will believe you. Only they never do."
Jake felt uncomfortable, that way was too close to the truth for his liking. No, no one ever did believe him. "You being a case in point."
The guy laughed. "I do believe you, every word, at least all the ones that are true. Which isn't all that many of them right now, so don't act so morally affronted."
"But what are you suppose to say when the truth sounds more ridiculous than the lie?"
"You still tell the truth. If someone really trusts you then they'll believe you however crazy the truth sounds. That's the real test of friendship. And if someone doesn't believe you, then you know you can't trust them. You don't believe me do you?"
"It all sounds way too simple." Jake was conflicted, he felt in serious danger of losing track of the fact that this guy was supposed to be the enemy.
Jake wasn't sure what time it was, but he was guessing the afternoon was already giving way to evening. The conversation had gone on for hours, he'd remained obstinately unwilling to give in and admit anything, and to be honest there hadn't been any further pressure on him to do so. It hadn't felt much like an interrogation at all. Felt more like the guy was just lonely and desperate for someone to hang out with for the afternoon.
The conversation kept Jake distracted. He would have liked the opportunity to take a break, chill out and just think. It was tough to relax when he felt like he had to be constantly on his guard. He hadn't learned anything more, he still didn't have any clue what the guy was really after. He was also getting hungry and was trying to work out how to politely remind the guy how late it was getting.
"You got any plans for the evening, hot date?" Jake asked, trying to circle around the problem.
"No. She's on duty. Never date a nurse, all those unsociable hours. Well, unless you're like me and lead a life of even less sociable hours. No, I was going to spend my evening here with you."
"Oh. Great." Jake tried not to sound too sarcastic, but failed.
"I knew you'd be pleased.""Look, no offense, but I need a break. I need to eat. I know the Geneva convention doesn't exactly apply down here, but..."
"Pizza. You like pizza? I could get pizza. We could watch a movie. Tell you what, I'll rent some movies, we could watch something and eat pizza. I don't get enough pizza these days. This girl I'm dating, she's not into pizza. First date, I took her out for pizza, I mean, I didn't know, she didn't tell me. So there I was thinking it was me making her miserable all evening, and, you know what, took her three whole months before she finally admitted she hated pizza. I mean, it's not like loving pizza is compulsory or anything, although, personally I think the world would be a better place if it was, but, you know, anyway, Geneva convention and all that, I don't want you suffering and eating pizza just to make me feel better."
Jake stared at the guy, bemused by the rant. "I have no interest in making you feel better. I like pizza."
"Cool. I know this really great place, incredible pizza. I got a menu somewhere." The guy jumped up and headed into the ticket office.
Jake could hear him rummaging around in there. "They deliver?" He shouted through the doorway.
"What, down here? Yeah, absolutely, they do it all the time, they just throw it out of the window of a passing tube train." The guy's sarcasm was even more thinly concealed than Jake's had been a moment or two earlier.
"Fair point." Jake conceded.
"I need to go collect it."
"And by the time you get back here it will be cold like the burger was?" Cold pizza was not Jake's idea of a great evening.
"That was cold?"
"Oh, I guess I got used to eating burgers and fries cold. You should have said something."
"What for, what exactly could you have done?"
"Stick it in the microwave."
"You have a microwave down here?"
"Sure I do. What? You think I slum it?"
"No, I guess, I didn't think about it." Jake admitted. He could have had a hot burger, it hadn't bothered him at the time, but knowing he could have had it reheated, kind of bothered him now. "Look, who's paying for this? Because I don't carry cash in my underwear as a rule."
The guy glanced down at Jake's boxer shorts for a moment then looked Jake in the eye. "You'd never make it as a boy scout would you? Be prepared." he observed dispassionately.
"So all boy scouts have cash in their underwear?"
"Don't know, never gone looking to find out."
The guy was joking around, Jake knew the guy was joking around, but it was more that a little creepy when he couldn't sense the mischief behind the joke.
"You're the guest, treat's on me. So, menu, what do you want?" his host asked.
"I get to choose toppings?"
"Yes, there I am completely flexible."
"Completely?" Jake challenged.
"Right." Jake noticed the front of the menu and practically tore it out of the guy's hands. "Pagliai's Pizza, shit, best pizza in the world. I didn't even know there was one in London. Prices are in dollars."
"All their menus show prices in dollars. That's part of the authentic Chicago style pizza charm of the place," the guy deadpanned.
No, Jake just couldn't tell the difference between the guy joking and being serious. "In that case... Extra large deep pan, pepperoni, extra olives..."
"Definitely extra cheese. Anchovies. Pepper, hot jalapeno pepper, make it spunky."
"Obviously. Fresh chilies, fresh garlic, pineapple."
"Yes. Spicy pork, spicy bacon."
"How about just a pizza with everything on? They only do about thirty toppings."
"Yeah, okay, everything but tuna." Jake agreed.
"What, no tuna?"
"You have a problem with that?" Jake challenged.
The guy was looking at him in what looked disturbingly like awe. "No. I think it shows an appreciation of perfection. There's such a thing as overdoing it."
"I don't like tuna."
The guy smiled broadly at Jake. "Doesn't like tuna. Wow. You know, that makes you the absolute perfect pizza buddy. What went wrong, Jake, how did we end up as enemies? What the hell went wrong?"
I'm Not Your Enemy
Jake reached out with his mind and sensed his host departing through the steel gate and walking off down the passageway beyond. Gradually the sensation of the guys presence fell below what Jake was able to make out and he found himself once more alone in the semi-darkness. At least it wasn't completely dark this time, the lava lamps helped a lot, even if it was all weird colored light.
He had no clue how long he was going to be stuck waiting, but then he had no idea what time it was anyway to know how long he had left to wait even if he did know how long the guy was going to be. Jake double checked that thought to make sure it made sense.
He lay back on his bed and stared up at the ceiling. To be honest, pizza and a movie didn't sound so bad, especially as he didn't have to pay. There were much worse ways he could think of spending a Saturday evening. He could be stuck at home watching movies on TV with his parents, which was very likely what he would have ended up doing if he hadn't been kidnapped. He hated watching movies with his parents, especially if the movies had sex scenes. His mother would tell him it was just sex and he would have to deal with it himself one day, and comments like that always left Jake squirming, not that he would ever admit it. Her overly liberal attitudes to that kind of thing embarrassed the hell out of him at times.
He contemplated what he might do while he was waiting for the guy to get back with the pizza. He didn't figure it would be too long. There were restaurants on every street around the British Museum, the guy surely wouldn't have picked Pagliai's if it was anything more than five or ten minutes away.
It was neat down there, but there wasn't much to the blocked off section of tunnel he was stuck in, he'd already explored what there was to explore. He considered going through the contents of the ticket office, see if there was anything in there that might give him a few more clues about his host. It was a good idea, he just wasn't sure right now was a sensible time to do it. The guy could be back at any time and Jake didn't exactly want to be caught in there going through his hosts personal stuff.
Jake opened his mind, still no sign at all of the guy returning just yet. He reached further and further into the silence. It was creepy, he had the distinctest impression that there was someone or something else out there. The same something he'd noticed earlier, hovering on the edge of perception, but definitely not his imagination. He really wasn't sure what it was, it was very indistinct. Kind of spread out. Sensing a strange presence deep underground, he had to be careful or he was going to start thinking there ghosts or demons out there in the tunnels around him.
Jake got nervous and closed off his mind. He was uncomfortable enough being held prisoner deep underground, he didn't need to be freaked out even more by the idea there were strange presences nearby. It was probably all a trick of the infrasound. That was the scientific explanation, that was the phenomena that always made places like this seem haunted. Or maybe there was a much simpler explanation. Maybe it was the sensation of large numbers of people at the next tube station along diffused through tons of bedrock. Yeah, that was what it was. Had to be. Well, it was plausible, that was good enough, a little, light self-delusion could handle the rest.
Jake awoke abruptly, feeling a dull thud on his chest. He must have dozed off to sleep. He flailed about in panic for a moment trying to work out what had hit him.
"What are you doing? You scared the crap out me." Jake protested as the guy headed into the office to stick the pizza in the microwave. There was no response. Jake picked up the watch that he'd tried to fight off. He didn't know how long he'd been asleep, but at least he would have an idea what time it was from now on.
Jake shrugged off the temptation to throw the watch back in the guy's face and put it on. Somehow it made him feel slightly less naked than sitting there in just his underpants did. "Thanks," he conceded reluctantly, although he wasn't sure why he was thanking the guy for returning it, not when it was the same guy who had stolen it in the first place.
For a moment Jake tried to cling onto his anger about that, then gave up. He had the watch back, and it was tough to be angry about anything when he could smell fresh pizza.
The last time he'd had Pagliai's was the summer before last when the family had visited his aunt who lived in Chicago. Jake loved pizza, and this stuff was good, it was the best. He couldn't believe there'd been one in London all this time and he hadn't known about it. He could forgive the guy almost anything for this. Even for leaving him in the back of the van to die.
Only the guy hadn't left him to die, Jake knew that now. What he didn't know, even after spending the best part of the day talking to the guy, was what his real motives were. Jake remained totally conflicted about the situation.
The pizza hadn't needed much of a boost, it had still been steaming hot. The pizza place was so close it practically must have been on top of them. Jake smiled in contemplation, they were a hundred feet underground, it was possible the pizza place literally was right on top of them.
Jake continued to watch in anticipation as his host returned with the box, a pizza cutter, and a couple of plates. This was heaven. What he worried about was the movie. He could see a stack of DVD cases, but realized that there hadn't been discussion of what kind of movies he liked. He was hoping for something more to his taste than the movie Misako had dragged them to the night before about gay coal miners.
Jake grabbed a slice of pizza from the box and gingerly carted it across to his bed where he sat it on the paper. His mother would kill him if he got grease stains from the pizza on his bedclothes. Generally she didn't let him have hot pizza in his bedroom, but he wasn't disobeying, his bed wasn't in his bedroom right now. He took a bite. It was heaven. No question, no mistaking it, that was Pagliai's pizza alright.
Not even tucking into pizza managed to shut the guy with red hair up, Jake observed.
"Interesting guy your grandfather. Merchant navy."
Jake tried not to speak with his mouth full, well, not more than he needed to. "I don't remember him all that much. He spent a lot of time away at sea. He died when I was eight. How the hell do you know?"
"I do my research. You know where your grandfather got that watch then?"
"No clue. He said it was important to him. I kind of remember when he was ill, in bed, it was Christmas, I sneaked up to go see him, I wasn't meant to. He said I was the only one who had dared sneak up there when they weren't supposed to. I think he actually admired that. He hated people who only ever did what they were told. It was the only time I ever really got to talk to him, you know, like, he treated me like an adult, first time in my life anyone treated me like that. He told me I was special, that he knew there was something different about me, that I would one day save humanity from itself. Kind of corny, I know, but I believed him. He knew exactly what to say to make you feel good about yourself, it was kind of spooky, freaked my gran out sometimes. He gave me the watch, said it meant everything to him, but it was kind of like a secret why, he said he would tell me when I was older. He died three weeks later."
"You know he won it in a game of poker?"
"How the hell would you know that?"
"I told you I do my research."
"Right, how the hell can you research stuff like that? You're taking the piss."
"He got into a fight with the guy he won it from. It's in the incident report, in detail."
"Merchant Navy keep records like that?"
"USAF do. It was the guy he won it from was the one being disciplined. Hadn't been too happy losing the watch. Tried to take it back."
"You spin a good story."
"True every word. Hey, I don't care if you believe me or not. Just figured you might want to know. If you don't believe me, that's your problem."
"Why was a watch he won in a poker game so important to him he would give it to me on his death bed?"
"No clue. But he had it for over thirty years, I guess a lot could have happened."
"Why you would go to those kind of lengths to find out the history of the watch?"
"It's always a long story with you. Stupid thing is, I actually do believe you on this occasion."
"So why the hell did you take it? Or is that another long story?"
"Short story. It was so you'd come after me."
"You wanted me coming after you?"
"Would have been easier."
"Easier than dragging you all the way down here was."
"Right." Somehow the explanation sounded a little too simplistic to Jake.
"I envy you. I really do. I never knew my grandfather. Don't think my dad ever really did either. Career military, it'll do that to you. My dad never knew what it was to have a dad, likely why he was missing most of my life. The sins of the fathers. You know, he tried, I know he tried. But however important I was, national security always took precedent. He was good when he was there, I really did love him, he was just never there. You know the really sad thing? I look at my lifestyle, and I think I'm turning into him."
Jake was starting to adjust to the guy's tendency to go off on intensely personal tangents. "You don't have kids though?"
"Can't. Well, thought I couldn't. Now, I don't know. It's complex."
"Didn't seem complex the way my dad explained it to me. Not sure, I think he over simplified the explanation." Jake joked.
His host smiled broadly. "Now my dad, military precision and scientific accuracy. Made the whole thing sound like a battle maneuver. I was nineteen. Don't think he'd even noticed I'd grown up. Either that or he'd been meaning to tell me for years but every time the chance to talk had come up he'd been called on the hotline again and chopper was on the way to pick him up and the whole father son thing had to be put on hold again."
"So that's your excuse?"
"For what, for this?" He gestured around at the make do bedroom in the abandoned ticket office, "No. I blame Masters for this."
"You're paranoid. You blame Masters for everything."
"The girl I'm dating, she thinks I'm paranoid too. Cute, but paranoid."
"You should listen to her. About the paranoid part. I can't say on the cute part. I don't find you cute."
"You want to watch a movie or not?"
Jake laughed, and they took a break before tucking into the second box of pizza. They set out the TV and DVD player in the tunnel and they turned the bed around so that the thing was sideways to the wall of the ticket office. That way they could both sit on it and lean up against the wall to watch the movie, the table was placed strategically in the middle where they could both reach the pizza.
It was at this point Jake found himself getting his first look at the choice of titles his host had picked out from the rental place. "And I thought the chick flick I was forced to sit through last night was bad." Jake muttered.
"What is wrong with my choice of movies?" the guy asked defensively.
"Movies, right. We have 'Attack of the Killer Tomatoes', 'Killer Klowns from Outer Space', 'Leprechaun in the Hood', 'Deathline'..."
"That one's about killer zombies on the London Underground. A bunch of workers down here get trapped by a cave in, survived by eating rats and drinking the water that drips through from the sewers, they adapted to living down in the tunnels and became twisted beast like creatures that feed on anything they can find, mostly the bodies of people who committed suicide by throwing themselves under trains. Sometimes they prey on people who are on platforms alone late at night. They can see in the dark, lived in abandoned tunnels like this during the day and stalk the empty stations by night. If you listen carefully you can hear the wandering the tunnels repeating the only words they can still know, 'mind the doors'."
"You're taking the piss. And your fake English accent is crap," Jake joked nervously.
"No that's a real movie, but if that doesn't appeal to you then I also have 'Troll 2', 'Serial Insane Clown Killer'..."
"Is that about a killer of insane clowns, or an insane killer of clowns, or an insane clown who kills?"
"No spoilers. You have to watch it to find out."
"Can I just go throw myself under a train instead?"
"No. But you can jaunt out of here if it gets too much."
"Aha, now I understand. This is the torture part!"
"Torture and pizza. And beer. And popcorn for later."
"Beer and popcorn?" Jake had noticed the other bag the guy had brought back but hadn't ventured to ask what was in it.
"Beer and popcorn!"
That made a big difference. "Start with 'Killer Klowns'. We'll see where the evening goes from there."
Jake had probably indulged in one more beer than he should have done given that he was still trying to resist a ruthless interrogation. Half-arsed ruthless interrogation. Actually, Jake wasn't sure he even rated it that highly. Anyway, the guy who was supposed to be interrogating him was a bit pissed as well, so it was actually turning out to be a fun evening in a twisted kind of way that Jake knew was wrong and dangerous, but however hard he tried he just couldn't feel threatened right now.
Jake was also aware he was rambling, not that he cared. Given his host's propensity to ramble, the guy could hardly complain. "And then Damon, I swear, sometimes wonder what planet he's on, he comes up to us and he's like pretending he doesn't know us, but it had to be so bloody obvious. Anyway, we all got thrown out of the place. Not that it was our fault, but, bloody security guards were never going to believe that."
"You took him aside after that and explained the difference between men and women right?"
"I think he'll get it next time."
"Reminds me of a time, when I was your age I had this best friend Adam. Australian."
"Explains a lot," Jake agreed.
"Exactly. Great guy. Really great..." the guy trailed off.
Jake could sense a vague sadness, an emptiness from the guy again. "You okay?"
"Fine. No problem." The guy took a deep breath. "Just, it seems like it was a long time ago. Not seen him in a long, long time. I miss him. Anyway. We'd gone out for a Chinese meal in Beijing and..."
Jake was bemused by the revelation. "You traveled a lot for a seventeen year old."
"I guess I did. Can I tell this story?" his host interjected impatiently.
"So anyway, we're in this restaurant and Adam, he starts trying to chat up this girl we met there. She spoke no English and his Mandarin is barely passable, and I really don't know exactly what he said to her because I was, to be honest I was trying not to pay too much attention to their conversation, but she ended up slapping him across the face, so it must have been pretty offensive. Alright, I know he totally didn't mean to say anything offensive, it was just a total misunderstanding, but that didn't stop us getting thrown out of the place."
"I get thrown out of a fast food place in a shopping mall in Milton Keynes, you used to get thrown out restaurants in bloody Beijing, China. Now you live in abandoned tunnels hundreds of feet below London. Where did you go wrong?"
"And you live on pizza, popcorn, burgers and ice cream."
"Good pizza though, you have to admit that."
"Bloody good pizza, yeah, but, is that all your life is?"
"This what you get when you grow up kid, freedom."
"This isn't freedom." Jake pointed out.
The guy smiled wistfully. "Tell me about it."
Jake didn't want to be feeling sorry for the guy, but somehow that was getting to be unavoidable. "You get any fulfillment out of living like this?"
"No. But I have my good days. Hey, this evening isn't turning out so bad."
Jake nodded and smiled reluctantly. "Those were some mindless movies."
"Seriously though, you ever considered that maybe clowns are really just a subconscious race memory of some deeper evil that exists out there in outer space and we really should be very, very afraid of them?"
The guy said that with too straight a face for Jake's comfort. "Now I know why you find teleportation so easy to believe in." Jake observed.
"I'm serious. Demonic clowns are part of every culture on this planet. Sure everyone dismisses them as just funny, but what if they really are evil. At the heart of every legend there usually is some small truth."
"Alright," Jake wasn't sure he should be humoring the guy like this, but the alternative was to be very afraid because the guy didn't sound like he was joking. "Say clowns are real. Crazy straws are a recent invention. So how come they use crazy straws to drink our brains?"
"Good question, but I thought about that. What if we simply invented crazy straws to look like the brain sucking devices of the clowns once we had reached a sufficient level of technology to create straws like that. Or maybe the real clowns just used normal straws and the movie showed crazy straws as some kind of artistic license."
"I guess you have a point there. But would they really be deceived by an ice cream truck?"
"This is an alien culture, they wouldn't know what an ice cream truck is. We wouldn't be fooled, no, of course not, but they would have no reference to thinking it was ridiculous, they would take it totally seriously. Yes, I think they could be fooled."
Jake's mock straight face collapsed and he laughed out loud. The guy had been taking the piss. Jake couldn't believe the guy had managed to string him along that long before he'd worked it out. Jake had to admire him. "You have obviously spent a lot of time thinking about this, and that makes you seem very, very scary to me."
"Oh shit, the popcorn." Jake lunged for the microwave and stopped it. They'd set it going and as always the tale the red headed guy had been telling had gone on several twists and turns beyond what was actually relevant to the conversation, and consequently they'd lost track of the popcorn.
"Smelling like you got there a little too late," his host stated the bleeding obvious.
"Me? You set the timer," Jake pointed out.
"Question is, how's it looking?" the guy asked, peering at the bag Jake had retrieved from the microwave.
"Charred. Not sure, probably too charred."
The guy stuck his hand in, grabbed a handful out and shoved it in his mouth. "No. This is pretty good."
Jake looked at him in disgust, then hesitantly tried some. It was crispy, actually it wasn't that bad at all. He grabbed some more. "Okay, new experience. Complements the beer."
More beer, more burnt popcorn, and the conversation was getting a lot less coherent. Jake was well and truly pissed.
"So we were climbing in the Urals," the guy with red hair was explaining.
"Sounds like a euphemism for a painful infection," Jake observed.
"I had one of those by the time we were done climbing."
"I don't want to know," Jake was half sure the guy was telling the truth there.
"Started out from the town of Vorkuta."
"You and Adam."
There was a question that was puzzling Jake; "How did you guys manage to do all this and still find time to get to school? And your parents let you?"
"Not sure mine really even noticed I was gone half the time. Adam's parents were dead. He kind of dropped out of school I think. I never really knew, he didn't like talking about it. And me, I did school sometimes, but my dad was moved around to different assignments so we never stayed long enough to get settled. I was there and then I was gone, so if I missed a month or two of school here or there, it just got lost in the rest of the moving around."
"Sounds like you had a blast. Makes my life seem, well, a bit sad in comparison."
"It had it's moments. Mostly it was a blast. Until it all went wrong."
"What happened?" Jake didn't figure he would get an answer, but there was no harm trying."Another story for another day."
"Alright, I know. One story at a time. So, Adam was taking you up the Urals..."
"You were just waiting for the opportunity to come out with that line, weren't you."
"It was so obvious, it was a moral imperative."
"We were totally up the Urals. But my point..."
"Glad you have one, because I notice sometimes you do seem to struggle getting there."
"I'm not keeping you here, am I, because if you have somewhere else you need to be?"
"No, that's fine, just, trying to keep you on track."
"By distracting me?"
"You're up the bloody Urals with Adam."
"That sounds even worse."
"Just bloody, get on with it." Jake shouted, falling about laughing.
The guy was silent. "I've forgotten what I was going to say now."
"Bloody..." Jake slid off the bed onto the floor, he'd had way too much to drink. He headed for the bathroom still laughing.
His host wasn't going to be interrupted by that break for the call of nature, he shouted through the open door. "Oh yeah... We're climbing an ice wall, and it starts to break up. I'm hanging there, the cracks are growing longer, and he's stood on a ledge across from me. Jump he says. Climbing is about confidence he points out. Nine times out of ten, he reassures me, if you jump you won't die."
"So you jumped," said Jake, returning to sit on the bed.
"And didn't die. But I consider that the most useless piece of advice anyone ever gave me in my entire life."
"You must have been pretty close to this Adam guy. You never shut up talking about him."
"You really miss him don't you."
"Yeah. You think I enjoy a solitary existence, hiding like this?"
Jake felt the need to ask a question that had been bugging him half the day. "So did you really kidnap me to ruthlessly interrogate me, or did you just do it so you didn't have to spend another evening down here in this bloody mausoleum alone?"
"I admit, I don't like being alone," the guy confessed.
"The movie was stupid. But I enjoyed it. I spent evenings doing worse stuff. I just..." Jake trailed off.
"Ha!" Jake had finally caught the guy coming out with the line that he'd been so pissed off with Jake coming out with all the time.
"You been trying to catch me all day? That's sad." The guy smiled and nodded, sounding a little more subdued than he had been earlier.
Jake caught a flash of an emotion. Compassion? Consideration? He picked his moment. He wasn't likely to get a better one. "Let me go." Jake hesitated then added quietly, desperately; "Please."
There was a long pause. Jake didn't dare interrupt it.
"I tell you what..." the guy spoke with a murmured, serious tone.
Jake spotted the set up. "I'm not saying it."
The guy smiled gently. "If you're still here tomorrow. If you don't leave before then..."
"Yeah?" Jake could sense a certain reluctant sympathy from the guy, even if the reminder Jake could leave any time anyway had been dripping with sarcasm.
"I'll think about it," the guy concluded.
Jake shrugged. It was as much as he could expect.
It was getting late, the beer was gone, and Jake was already starting to doze off. They'd called it a night and it hadn't taken long to clear up the trash into a black sack. Jake was getting his instructions for the night.
"I wouldn't drink water directly from the tap. There's a water filter in the ticket office, use that. It never really gets cold down here, but if it gets too drafty there are extra blankets in there, feel free to borrow whatever you like. Pajamas as well if you get tired of those underpants. It stays pretty quiet, the tube doesn't run through the night, so you won't get woken up by that until the morning. Pretty early in the morning unfortunately. Works pretty well as an alarm clock though."
"You spent a lot of nights down here?"
The guy grinned an evil grin. "Tonight I'm spending with someone way more cute than you are."
Jake faked indignation. "Thanks."
"If you want to get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, turn on the lights for a minute or two to scare away the rats before stepping off the bed."
"Right. Great. You get sex, I get rats."
"You believe in karma?"
The guy laughed. "Glad to hear it. You've done nothing to deserve the rats. Not sure what I did to deserve the sex either, if that helps."
"Just go. Have fun. Leave me to suffer." Jake deadpanned.
"I will. Just, making sure I didn't forget anything. Water, lights, blankets, I think that's it. Oh, and beware the ghost"
"Ghost?" Jake asked hesitantly.
The guy smiled, a slightly evil glint in his eye this time. "Didn't I mention the ghost? Really cool story. Just after the station closed a train stopped here by accident, and this guy called Mr. Brackett got off thinking he was home."
"Right, and I suppose the exits are blocked, no trains stop here any more. They found his body four days later. I don't want to know this, I have to sleep here."
"The guy was picked up safely by a later train, but it made for a good story. There is supposed to be a ghost though, a newspaper once offered a prize to anyone who dared spend the night in the tunnels here, apparently no one ever took them up on the challenge. Anyway, sleep well, sweet dreams," the guy replied, and grabbing the black sack headed out. Once again Jake followed the guy in his mind until he could no longer sense him in the distance.
Great. Not much chance of sweet dreams if he was up half the night freaking himself out about ghosts. Didn't matter that he was rational and didn't believe in shit like that, ghosts still scared the living crap out of him.
Didn't help that he'd been sensing something weird in the tunnels earlier in the day. It was still there, whatever it was. And it wasn't people on the station down the line because at this time of night the stations were closed and the platforms deserted. It was something that had consciousness but wasn't people. Something that had emotions, but didn't seem to have any awareness. Could that be what a ghost was?
The silence in the tunnels had become kind of eerie now the trains had stopped running. Jake lay nervously in his bed, he was spooked. He wasn't going to turn the lights out, those could bloody well stay on all night. Watching horror movies late at night had not been a good idea. Watching horror movies deep underground in abandoned tunnels was never going to rate as one of the most sensible things he'd ever done.
Sweet dreams. Right. Dreams about ghosts and zombies as well as killer clowns. Or even worse, killer ghost zombie clowns. Killer ghost zombie clowns with crazy straws.
Jake clutched onto the blankets and listened to the silence. Why did the guy have to go and tell him there was a ghost?
Lets Talk About Your Motive
It was dark, but Jake knew where he was. He could hear the rumble, the vibration of the tube line that was running only thirty or forty feet away from his bed as the crow flies, if a crow could fly through solid rock. And he could smell the stale air, he really wasn't sure how healthy this stuff was to breath.
He'd woken up a little after 6:00 AM, which was earlier than he would consider sane under normal circumstances. These were not normal circumstances, and he had a mission to accomplish. He also had a hangover, and his stomach was rebelling against the diet of pizza, popcorn and beer that it had seemed only too happy to engage with with the night before. Theoretically it was morning, but it was tough to convince himself of that when it was still pitch dark in the tunnels. Jake lay there and tried to convince himself he couldn't hear rats running around in the darkness. At least rats weren't disembodied entities. That was still out there, hadn't moved since the night before, off somewhere in another tunnel. He was trying to avoid reaching out too far with his mind, no sense in going looking for trouble.
Jake had two things on his mind. Most importantly he needed to pay a visit to the toilet. After that he wanted to have a good look around the ticket office. With his host off spending the night with a cute nurse this was likely to be his best opportunity.
After that he planned to go back to bed.
He shone the flashlight around to check for rats before he stepped off the bed and peered in through the ticket office door. It wasn't that big in there, marginally smaller than his own bedroom at home. Other than the camp bed he'd seen before there was a desk, a table and some storage boxes. The microwave oven was sat on top of an old fridge... how the hell had the guy gotten a fridge down there? Not much in the fridge, week old leftovers from some Chinese meal. Authentic looking Chinese writing on the boxes, but then Jake figured that wasn't so odd in London. London's China Town wasn't that far away. On the desk was a pile of newspapers and a few old issues of FHM magazine. On the camp bed there was a suitcase, closed but not zipped up. That looked like it would be as good a place as any to start. Jake hesitated, peeing had to come first. He headed for the toilet. He stood there as he often did mid stream and contemplated his predicament. It was probably safe, but he figured he ought to make completely sure the guy was really gone and not just lurking somewhere nearby. Jake closed his eyes and tried to relax, let his mind open up as far as possible, looking for any sign of there being anyone around.
Nobody, not a soul. Well, nothing that he recognized as a soul. It reminded Jake a little bit of the sensation of being on happy drugs. An emptiness, a feeling of being completely, completely alone. The presence he could sense definitely wasn't that of a person. It was more like an idea, or a thought without form. It certainly had no awareness, no level of conscious thought, and that made it a lot easier to deal with. Either that or Jake was getting more courageous now that it was morning.
He shook himself off and washed his hands. He needed to focus his attention on one issue at a time. Jake retuned to the main part of the ticket office to focus on the search.
The suitcase contained few revelations, just clothes. Jake contemplated nicking some of them so that he didn't have to sit in the same underpants all day a second time. But then he figured he wasn't desperate, and he was pretty sure that he looked more pitiful sat there in those sad underpants. Pitiful was an angle he really wanted to try and play up today.
The DVD player was back where they'd put it after the night before, the desk drawers just had receipts for more take out food. The guy had very international tastes there, Jake observed. There was nothing on the camp bed other than the suitcase. There were cans of refreshing beverages and various snacks stacked up on a shelf in one corner, the trash had been emptied. And that was it. The guy either didn't have a life, or if he did he didn't keep it stashed down here.
It was time to give up and go back to bed.
Jake figured he would grab some of the magazines to take with him. Something to read if he couldn't manage to get back to sleep. He extricated them from the pile of newspapers, and found himself drawn to the headlines in the newspaper that had been underneath. 'Kidnapper Strikes Again: Adam Kennywell Missing'. Jake remembered reading that one. He also remembered Damon's description of how the guy had died. He shivered, he remembered every detail of everything that had happened, it still got to him at times. He flicked through the other papers, all related to the Stellman kidnappings. There were names, times, details highlighted with a marker pen. The guy with the red hair had been studying the disappearances carefully.
Jake pulled out another paper from the bottom of the pile. 'Missing: Kevin Wilson'. That was odd, that one was very odd. Jake knew the names of every one of the victims, the names were burnt into his memory, Kevin Wilson was not one of them. And yet there it was in black and white, he read through the article, it matched the circumstances of the other disappearances, every detail, and yet it couldn't, could it?
The police investigation hadn't exactly been all that competent, Jake had to figure it was more than possible there were other victims the police had known nothing about. Jake glanced at the date of the newspaper to see where Kevin Wilson fitted in to the list.
He stared disbelievingly at the top of the page then swung round and sat down on the camp bed to try and steady himself. His head was spinning badly and it wasn't the hangover. October 7th 1998. The headline was a bit more than a decade and a half old. Slightly shocked Jake re-read the entire article. Had Stellman been responsible for a killing spree that went undetected for over fifteen years? That was just too screwed up to even think about.
Fifteen years. It couldn't be coincidence, could it? Jake remembered his mother going on about that, one of the newspapers had tried to make a link with a bunch of killings fifteen years earlier. After Stellman was identified as the killer everyone had written that idea off as nothing more than tabloid hysteria. But the guy with red hair clearly thought the link wasn't so easily dismissed.
Fifteen years. Too many coincidences. Wasn't it fifteen years ago John had said that the old Tomorrow People had been forced to abandon the Earth? Was there was some kind of connection between Stellman and the disappearance of the old Tomorrow People? Was there some connection between the guy with the red hair and the old Tomorrow People? Was there some connection between Masters and the old Tomorrow People?
Jake nervously returned the newspapers as he'd found them. That one piece of information alone made everything he'd put up with in the last twenty-four hours seem worth it. Assuming it was true. Newspaper conveniently left where the guy knew Jake would find it, mocked up headline. But the days were long gone that anyone would fall for something like that, Jake could verify the headline in six minutes of searching online. There wasn't any point in faking it.
If the headline was true though, Jake had a more serious problem. The police might be stupid or corrupt enough to have missed the connection with the older killings, but not Masters. Masters would have seen the newspaper stories connecting the murders, he must have known about Kevin Wilson. Funny that he hadn't mentioned anything about it. Jake's mind was racing. All the victims were Tomorrow People, Kevin Wilson was a victim, therefore Kevin Wilson had to be one of the old Tomorrow People. That was cold, hard logic. So Masters must have known about the old Tomorrow People as well. Funny how it hadn't occurred to him to mention that either. It was starting to look like maybe the guy with the red hair was right, Masters hadn't been completely up front with them about a lot of things.
Jake didn't know what to think. Had the guy with the red hair been telling the truth all along? Finding those newspapers there was too bloody convenient, it had to be a set up. It couldn't be a set up, it was too easy to check up on. And Jake was aware his thoughts were going round in circles and not getting anywhere.
He grabbed the magazines and headed back to bed. Not that he expected to be able to concentrate on reading anything right now. He reluctantly snuggled back down under the duvet. He was torn. He desperately wanted to get out of there so he could check the story about Kevin Wilson out, but at the same time he couldn't leave, not yet, there were still too many unanswered questions. It was kind of perverse but he was actually impatient now to get back to the interrogation.
"No, I didn't sleep well," Jake didn't wait to be asked the obvious question. It was a little after 10:00 AM, he was cold, hungry, and not very awake.
"Don't bother complaining to me. You could have left, slept at home."
The denial came more easily this morning, Jake was getting pretty practiced at it. "No, really, leaving wasn't an option."
The guy acted like he had little sympathy. "You know what gets me suspicious though, is that you don't even look like you tried."
"I give up, I really do. Look, I told you the trains don't run at night. You know, bought that sob story, felt guilty, told you the other way to get out. Then I get here this morning to find you didn't escape, obviously didn't even try. Here's my question..." the guy hesitated, momentarily distracted as he started unpacking a bag he was carrying onto the table. "Oh, bacon bagel, hot coffee. I forgot to take an order for breakfast. That okay?"
"Sure," answered Jake, grabbing for the coffee first. The bagel was okay, it was the coffee he needed.
"Right. Here's my question; are you hiding something? I mean, it's like you were determined not to escape however easy I made it. Kind of like you really can teleport, but you decided to stubbornly suffer here instead because you don't want to give that away."
Jake struggled with the revelation as he sipped the hot coffee. Had he stupidly huddled nervously under the duvet all night long when he could have walked out of there at any time? "The trains don't run at night. How the hell was I supposed to catch onto something that oblique?"
"Come on, you're not even trying to escape. And you don't act like you're afraid of being stuck here. That's not normal behavior. That's the behavior of someone who doesn't believe he's stuck here and is desperate to hide something."
"You had me so scared of ghosts I was too terrified to move from the bed, alright. See if I don't escape tonight."
"Maybe you will. Who knows, you might even give in and admit the whole special powers thing before then. We got the whole day ahead of us. A lot can change in a day. "
"You think?" Jake observed doubtfully. He pulled the bacon out of the bagel and started munching on it.
"Hey, a guy can dream right? You're not impressed with that bagel are you?"
"Bacon is okay. Bagels are not my thing."
"What about cream donuts?"
"That would be my thing." Jake agreed.
"If you're nice then," the guy pulled out a box and set it on the table, "you can share mine."
Jake hesitated, the caffeine was starting to take effect and his host's infectious good humor was already pulling him out of his morning frump. He smiled and grabbed for a chocolate donut with sprinkles on, it was the best donut there, and he deserved it, he was the guest after all.
The guy with red hair sat back down in the chair with his second cup of coffee. "So what would you be doing today if you weren't lounging around here, eating my food and keeping me company?"
Jake shook his head, not quite the question he had expected. Which, perversely, was exactly what he was coming to expect from the guy. "Homework. Maths, need to get that done."
"Come on, seriously?"
Jake extracted a certain perverse satisfaction from having managed to come up with an answer his host had not been expecting. He was actually quite serious though, however much it might seem out of character. He'd changed a lot these last few months. "Not missed handing in maths homework once this year. Except the times I was legitimately incapacitated."
The guy started to sound a little more animated and relaxed at getting back into the conversation. "You spend a lot of time legitimately incapacitated?"
"More than I would like."
"Even though it gets you out of homework?"
"Pretty stupid, aren't I."
The guy was nodding pointedly. "I would have to question your priorities."
"Yeah I could be back home doing homework right now. Instead I am stuck here talking to you. Actually, I have to admit, it's a tough call there to say which is worse."
"That bad company am I?"
"You know, seriously, you're not bad company. But I would like it better if I felt like I had some choice about being stuck here, or at least if you could have picked somewhere less depressing to hang out." Jake was blunt.
"This place depresses you?"
The guy nodded in agreement. "You're right. I try the whole denial thing myself, it doesn't work so great. This is a depressing place. I hate that my life sucks so much that I'm stuck with this being one of the very few places I can be sure I'm safe. But this place is safe. You ever need to hide, I guarantee there are few places safer."
"What makes you so sure?"
"Masters is afraid of rats. He couldn't make it through the tunnels to get here."
Jake smiled, he'd spotted that about Masters. He grabbed another donut. A question occurred to him and he decided to risk asking it. "So how do you get in and out of here? Not along the track, I know that. And how the hell did you get me here, out of bed in the middle of the night, a hundred or whatever miles into London, then down rat infested tunnels, just you, and me unconscious presumably?"
"Maybe you teleported yourself down here in your sleep," the guy grinned maliciously.
"You know how out of touch with reality you sound making statements like that?" Jake pointed out. This time he was telling the truth, jaunting to an arbitrary destination like that was way beyond what he was capable of. With one of those navigation belts, properly programmed, maybe. But without that he wasn't likely to get out of hyperspace anywhere near where he wanted to end up, assuming he could even make it out at all without having some lock on a destination.
"Not convincing you, am I?" The guy pondered.
"If you think I teleported down here, no. You're not. I'm tired of telling you..."
"Then don't," his host was sounding as tired of the denial as Jake was.
"I wish I could tell you the truth. I wish I could tell you what you wanted to hear. But I can't, I'm sorry..." Jake tried not to sound too exasperated.
His host interrupted him. "It's okay, really. Look, don't feel like you have to deny everything over and over again. I'm as bored of it as you are. How about if you say nothing, I'll just assume the denial, agreed?"
"Fine," Jake nodded.
"Although I have to admit I admire your bloody mindedness. Did I already tell you that?"
"You tell me a lot of thing. Last day or so it's been tough to get you to shut up. I just don't know how much I believe."
"You would rather believe in Masters?"
"Right now it would be the easier option. You don't compromise, you don't make it easy to believe in you."
"There is no compromise with truth. You take it or leave it."
"You might be a total psychopath, but you talk the talk better than Masters, I'll give you that."
"Masters really did make out like I was the bogey man incarnate, didn't he."
"Yeah. And I had no reason to doubt him at the time, no reason at all." Shit, Jake kicked himself. It was too late to take that back. That hadn't been a clever revelation.
The guy jumped on it. "And now?"
"It's different," Jake conceded.
"Things. Things are different."
"You think that's good enough?"
"No. Yes. How do you define good enough?"
"Good enough is when you start facing the truth instead of trying to make excuses."
"Masters clearly omitted to tell us a few things. I'm not making any excuses for him."
"I suppose that's a start."
"Why the hell do you care anyway?"
"I want to believe in you, kid. To believe the only mistake you made was failing to see Masters for what he really is. There's no shame in that, I know how good Masters is at lying. No one deserves the train wreck your life is heading for."
"You have that much faith in me?" Jake questioned sarcastically.
"You may be slow, kid, but sooner or later you'll see through his lies. Question is, will that happen before it's too late? Right now I wouldn't feel safe making any plans that depended on your survival."
"You know, there are moments I start to believe you, but when you come out with patronizing shit like that, it doesn't help." Jake shook his head, frustrated.
"I'm not expecting to convince you of anything. You're stubborn, you're going to have to work this out for yourself."
"Then what exactly are we achieving sat here?"
"You're saving me from spending another miserable Sunday alone."
"Right," Jake observed. He couldn't exactly argue with that one. "Alright, I'll tell you how it is. Maybe I am idealistic, maybe I did want to believe in Masters. What he offered us was a chance to help put Stellman's associate behind bars, that was about justice and about self preservation. He offered us a chance to help Nick, and I make no apology for taking him up on that offer. I was just trying to do what I thought was the right thing," he confessed quietly. "But why would he lie? Why come up with such an elaborate deception? Why not come to us and tell us everything straight up?"
"You might not sell out if you knew the truth. Masters doesn't like to leave anything to chance. So he engineered a situation where you had no choice but to get involved. He gets what he wants, and you don't even realize you've been used."
"Why not just offer us fortune and glory?
"What would you have done if he'd offered you fortune and glory?"
"Laugh in his face." Jake conceded.
"Good on you, kid," the guy replied, and for once it sounded like he was at least trying not to be patronizing. "Even though, as you already admitted, you would totally put out for a two week vacation on a yacht."
"I'd want a lot more than that before I'd put out for Masters."
"Exactly. Like I said, kid, you're slow, but you get there in the end."
There was a pause and Jake took the opportunity to push back with a question of his own. "You keep avoiding this, but what is your problem with Masters anyway? I know he's no saint, but you make out like he's the Devil himself. I don't know."
"No, you don't know. Seems to be a recurring theme with you," the guy challenged flippantly.
"There you go again, how can you expect me to trust you when you won't even answer a simple question like that. You're worse than my mother at twisting the conversation around."
"And you get this pissy with her as well, do you kid?"
"No I don't," Jake conceded. "Learned that lesson from watching my sister. They would have blazing rows. Me, I learned to pick my battles, learned to keep my mouth shut."
Jake glanced around, the air had turned cold, deathly cold. Cold like the way it did when the trains were approaching and pushing air through the tunnels. Only there were no trains approaching this time. Something was wrong. He looked across at his host, the guy was babbling away as if nothing had happened, but Jake could see through the front the guy was putting on, the guy was babbling away to hide something.
"Funny," the guy was saying, although he clearly wasn't finding anything funny right now, "I had my arguments and disagreements with my parents, but I was definitely the amateur in the family at that as well. Now my sister, Millicent, she could do pissy. Went to Colorado State, came back after the first semester, we were sat at the dinner table, she told us she'd joined a student group called the 'bare breasted women in favor of castration'. Don't think she agreed all with the politics of the group, well, not totally anyway. At least, I kind of hope she didn't. Sometimes, I have to admit, I wondered. Truth is, I don't know if the group even existed, I know she just said it to wind up dad. Worked as well."
"Millicent?" Jake was curious, it was a pretty uncommon name, so why did it give him a weird case of déjà vu?
"Yeah. I had a sister. Millicent," the guy whispered.
"Millicent?" Jake was thinking out loud, he hadn't meant to repeat the question.
"They hated her more than they hated me," the guy tried to joke, but was clearly failing. It was getting colder.
"Had?" Jake asked quietly. It wasn't the temperature that had changed, he was sensing something, some emotion, something his host was feeling. Only Jake hadn't encountered emotions anything like it before. Cold, very, very cold. Bitter coldness.
"Right. Time to change the topic of conversation," the guy seemed aware Jake was spooked.
Jake couldn't let it go. "No. I'm sick of it. Whenever it gets uncomfortable for you, you do that, change the conversation. I've had enough." Jake swallowed back, quickly realizing that had been a bad thing to say. He'd been trying to provoke an emotional response but this time he'd gone way too far. Anger, rage, cold fury, fury beyond cold, all bottled up. Jake backed away slightly, not that there was far he could move sat on the bed. He was scared. Outwardly the guy looked calm, blank, but Jake could see he was balanced on the edge of a precipice, desperately trying to cling on to his composure. Jake glanced around uncomfortably and fixed his sight onto the steel mesh gate at the end of the passageway, he needed to be ready to jaunt out of there in a moment, ready in case the guy snapped completely.
But the guy didn't snap, the guy spoke quietly, deliberately, slowly. "What do you want to know? That she's dead? You want to know how she died? Next time you see him, you might want to ask your friend Masters." The guy stood up, turned, and walked stiffly off into the darkness.
Jake thought about trying to shout after the guy, but he was already too far away and Jake figured following wasn't the best option. The guy was beyond upset, the guy was distraught. It had clearly taken every ounce of his self control to speak those words calmly and not to scream them. For what it was worth, Jake had his answer. The guy's unhealthy obsession with Masters made perfect sense now.
Jake jumped off the bed. It wasn't a weird case of déjà vu, it really was the second time that day he'd heard the name. He headed back into the ticket office and began rifling through the pile of old newspapers. He wasn't worried about being caught, the guy wasn't coming back any time soon. Jake could sense him sitting against the wall off in a side tunnel somewhere, his head in his hands, crying uncontrollably.
The article on Kevin Wilson had noted similarities with the earlier disappearance of a young girl. And there it was, Jake found the name in the text. Millicent Damon. Equally odd surname, or maybe it just seemed like that because Jake was used to Damon being a first name. Just a name, Jake reminded himself, could equally be someone's middle name. And Jake was letting himself get fixated on thinking about the name because it was the only thing he could grasp onto that helped him to avoid confronting some unpleasant truths.
The guy with the red hair was a guy whose survival depended on being constantly two steps ahead of everyone else. It wasn't some empty accusation he was making, he wasn't the kind of guy who made mistakes about things like that. It was a statement of fact. Masters was a liar and he was dangerous.
That meant Jake couldn't read minds as well as he'd thought that he could. How the hell hadn't he worked out that Masters was lying? His only excuse was that Masters must have had a lot more experience dealing with telepaths than Jake had realized.
Jake closed his eyes, he was in real trouble. He'd screwed up. He'd trusted the wrong people. He was on the wrong side.
What's The Alternative Here?
Jake was getting anxious again, he hadn't been paying attention and he could no longer sense anyone in the adjacent tunnels any more. At least nothing that was the guy with red hair. The weird ghostly presence was still there, seemed to be getting stronger, but Jake was too distracted to be at all worried about that right now.
The guy had been gone for well over two hours, and at some point he must have headed out of the tunnels. Jake had contemplated checking to see if he could work out exactly which way the guy had headed, but he really didn't have any interest in escaping any more. He had to stick around, he was desperate for more answers. Convincing the others that Masters was a cold blooded killer wasn't going to be easy without a lot more answers.
Jake still wasn't sure if he trusted the guy with red hair or not. Instinctively he liked the guy, but he'd been so completely wrong about Masters that he had very little faith in his own judgment at this point.
Jake lay silently on the bed, once again staring at the lights that were dancing across the ceiling above him. He contemplated whether now was a good time to give Damon a call, let him know what was going on. He was about to try when he heard a noise in the corridor beyond and realized the guy had returned. Jake hadn't been paying enough attention again, he kicked himself, he should have sensed the guy approaching.
The guy kind of hovered in the shadows in the distance, hesitating. There was an awkward silence.
Jake spoke first. "I'm sorry. I was out of line," he called out. He'd been wrong, he needed to apologize.
The guy with the red hair emerged from the shadows, he glanced down, he was finding it hard to look Jake in the eye. "Apology accepted, provided we can change the topic of conversation. When I tell you I want to change the topic of conversation, it's generally because I've got reasons. I'm not just trying to piss you off," he said quietly. The guy had calmed down a lot.
"Understood," Jake accepted. He tried to conceal his reluctance, a truce with respect to pissing each other off intentionally was going to seriously get in his way under the circumstances. Screwed any hope he had of getting the guy upset enough to get any further useful information out of him.
"Hungry?" The guy asked.
"Starving." He wasn't going to point out it was now after 2:00 PM and he hadn't had anything to eat since breakfast, and that had only been two donuts.
The guy smiled and held up a peace offering. Or at least to Jake it seemed like that. Might just have been lunch, but Jake had been feeling hungry, and the gesture felt vaguely conciliatory. Holding up a bucket of fried chicken was generally conciliatory. Unless you did it to a vegetarian, Jake contemplated, but Jake was no vegetarian.
The conversation took a little longer to get going again. Jake had no clue what to say. He had questions to ask, but no clue how to approach asking them. They munched on their fried chicken and it was five or ten minutes before the guy finally broke the silence. "Alright, you've got something on your mind, ask your question."
Jake was about to launch into his question, then decided he would go with being awkward. "What makes you think I was going to ask a question?"
"Yes. But you couldn't have known that. Unless you read my mind. You telepathic?" Jake challenged sarcastically.
"You would know about it if I had. You're telepathic, you can tell when someone is reading your mind."
The guy was right, the guy knew what he was talking about. Jake was starting to wonder what the hell the point of his continued pretense really was.
"Two questions." Jake clarified, "two things Masters told us, two things that with hindsight I don't know whether to believe any more."
"You aren't as stupid as those underpants make you look, you know that?"
Jake tried to ignore the wind up. "We broke into Stellman's place. Someone had been there before us. Masters thinks that was you. Was it?"
"No. At that point I didn't even know who Stellman was, I was still using you to find that out."
"Yeah. Thanks for that."
"I watched the place after that but Stellman never went back there, I think he was convinced the place might have been compromised after you rescued your friend. My guess is he got someone else to break in to get the samples back."
"Samples of what?"
The guy hesitated, as if trying to decide whether to answer or not. "Samples of a prion agent. The idea is you inject that directly into your victim's brain."
Just the idea of it made Jake's sphincter muscles tighten. Stellman had done something very much like that to Damon. "To kill them?"
"Not intentionally. Death is just one of those potential side effects they warn you about in the commercials. Except your friend Damon survived didn't he. Something about you lot is different. Confused the hell out of Stellman. Confuses the hell out of me."
"And that's difficult?"
"No, not really. I confuse the hell out of myself half the time."
Jake hesitated, he wasn't going to let the joking around deflect him. Could the prion samples have been related to the disease John had told them about that had threatened to kill off the old Tomorrow People? Only he couldn't exactly ask that question directly, still too risky. "So what was he trying to do? Engineer an infective agent that targeted a specific genetic variant? Like some high tech ethnic cleansing? That's sick."
"It's genocide. It's what humans are good at."
"Well he failed. We beat him."
"I didn't ever find the samples. Someone else out there still has them. That business is unfinished. They'll be back for you."
Jake shuddered. As an explanation it was a lot more convincing than the one Masters had given him. It also freaked him out more than just a little bit. He didn't want to think about it, he needed to change the subject quickly. "Second question. That thing in the museum, the Habiruan Scroll..."
"I already told you what that was."
"And I already didn't believe you."
"So why are we talking about it again?"
"Humor me. What kind of message was it, and what did Masters want with it?"
"That's two more questions."
"Is that a problem?"
"I'm just saying, because I like to be precise about these things. You know, personality flaw."
"Okay. Alright. Two questions." Jake conceded impatiently.
Again the guy hesitated as if working out how much he figured he could tell Jake safely. "It's kind of like a map."
So far that was the exact same explanation that Masters had given, but Masters had failed to explain much further than that. "A map to what, though?" Jake pressed.
"To get to the Gates."
"Which gates, what gates, what's through the gates?"
Jake couldn't tell if the guy was being deliberately obtuse, or just didn't know any more than that. "You trying to be poetic, or trying to wind me up?"
"I wouldn't know how to explain the Wastelands even if I trusted you enough to tell you. Which, right now, I don't."
Jake was frustrated by the answer, but reluctantly accepted that it was fair enough. At least the guy was up front that he wasn't going to answer.
"Bad shit if Masters found the wastelands?"
"Masters probably wouldn't survive the Wastelands. But then I didn't think I would. People go to the Wastelands, they end up dead, or insane, or... well. You come back changed. Once you've been there, nothing is ever the same again."
Jake tried not to laugh at the guy's seriousness, and failed. "Okay, that just sounds like you've been watching too many corny old horror movies. You realize you sound totally, well, like I need to nod and sympathetically say yes, because you are totally off your bloody rocker."
The guy paused. "You know, if you stop and think about it, it does sound that way. Doesn't matter if you believe me or not. You asked, I answered."
Jake lay back on the bed and went back to staring at the swirling colors reflected in the dirty ceramic tiles that curved across the walls, trying to work out why indeed anyone would make such a crazy screwed up story. Unless of course the purpose was to screw with his mind even further. But the guy wasn't doing this for fun, the guy was getting no pleasure out of this at all. There was a very serious possibility that everything he was being told was the truth. Telepathic recorded messages sounded like bullshit, but then so did telepathy itself, and Jake was kind of stuck with accepting that one was real.
"Alright, look. For the sake of argument, say you've got me convinced about Masters, what happens next?"
"You're struggling with the problem of how you can convince the others, right?"
"Right. They still think he's the only protection we've got."
"Tell them they're wrong."
"They won't believe me."
"If they really trust you, they'll believe you."
"Trust doesn't come in to it now. You're the one that's screwed that up. I tell them Masters is a disciple of Satan and they'll just say that you brainwashed me. And I've got no comeback, because they're right. Because it seems to me that's exactly what you have done."
"So what are you going to do? If they trust Masters how can you trust them?"
"No. I can see where you're trying to go with this, but it's not going to happen. I'm not about to just walk away from them." Jake pointed out firmly.
"No. Doesn't work like that. I already said, one for all and all for one and all that crap. I'm not walking away from them."
"What if you had to, what if you had no choice?"
"There's always a choice."
"Lemmings throw themselves off of cliffs. Okay, they don't, it's a myth, but stick with me on the metaphor. If your friends chose to throw themselves off a cliff, would you throw yourself off as well? Or would you walk away?"
"What I would do is try to stop them."
The guy looked away. "Thanks kid. First totally believable thing you've said all day."
Jake couldn't help but feel there had been some strong emotional reaction there, but he couldn't sense anything at all. The guy was so in control of his feelings that for a moment Jake couldn't even sense that there really was some one sat in front of him talking to him. Jake looked up at the guy. "What you're trying to say, in your usual totally bloody patronizing way, is that I need to work out how to prove it to them."
"If you can, yeah, that would be good. I'm also trying to prepare you for what happens if you can't."
"I hate saying this, but you're right, if it's the truth then they'll see it eventually. They have to."
"So sure you know the future? What if you can't convince them, and they figure you've sold them out by not trusting Masters. What if they walked away from you?"
"You know them that well?"
"Yes." Jake didn't appreciate the line of accusation.
"That's idealism. Here's realism. When the chips are down, you'll walk away, save yourself, and you'll do it because you believe in something greater than throwing your life away in some pointless demonstration of solidarity."
"You make it sound like you're talking from experience."
"You make it sound like you're talking out your ass."
"And yet you expect me to trust you?"
"You will, in the end. Because I'll turn out to be right, and in the end you'll have no choice but to confront that truth."
Jake felt cold. The guy actually sounded like he meant it. "You're saying you're just going to sit back and wait for me to fail? You'd do that?"
"If you're going to sit there and refuse to see reason, I don't exactly have a choice."
Jake was exasperated. "At least I try."
"You think you can make the world a better place, do you?"
"I think it's a bit arrogant to think one person could make a difference. I believe the world can be a better place, and if I can do something to help, sure, I want to do that whatever it is."
"Practical idealism in one so young?"
"Idealism is good."
"Impractical idealism leads to disappointment. That's why most idealists lose their faith and end up as incurable cynics."
"That why you ended living in this hole in the ground? Surrendered to disappointment, did you?"
"Some people can change the world, kid. People like you. Maybe even people like me. I thought I'd lost hope, thought I'd given up, Now I don't know any more. I underestimated the enemy, that was my mistake. I tried to change the world and that scares people. Some people don't want change."
"Change is inevitable."
"So is fear of change. Don't make my mistake kid, don't underestimate the lengths that people will go to to avoid it. Look at Stellman. And there are forces out there make Stellman look like an amateur."
"Stellman was screwed up in the head."
"He didn't even know what he was afraid of."
"And still he killed and killed and killed. He wasn't the first, he won't be the last. Humanity is so tied up in its perception of its own constancy, in the last hundred years it has become more and more resistant to change even as the rate of change of the world around them has accelerated out of control. They're fighting that change, failing to adapt. I guess it isn't really any surprise the species is dying out."
Jake was surprised by the tone. He was pretty convinced now that this guy was no way a disciple of Stellman, but it was interesting that the guy was raising the same point. "Humanity is dying out. That was what Stellman believed as well."
"He wasn't all wrong kid. Nobody is all wrong, even the bad guys. Important lesson that."
"Is humanity dying?"
"Yeah, I think so."
"And you want to stop that?"
"No. The future belongs to tomorrow. It belongs to you kid. To the Tomorrow People."
"Stupid corny name the press gave the victims." Jake tried not to allow himself to be taken off guard by the direction the conversation had taken, he was trying to learn from the mistakes he'd made the day before. But this was exactly the stuff he wanted to hear about.
"Is that how you see yourself, a victim?"
"No. I'm a survivor," Jake observed categorically.
"Good call, kid. The Tomorrow People are survivors, not victims. Leaders, not followers. Mavericks. You're a rebel."
Jake smiled at the label. "Rebel without a bleeding clue."
"Yeah. I have noticed that about you."
Jake shook his head. This was turning into the same argument he'd had with John. "So, what, I'm supposed to be a born leader? Well I'm not. Supposed to set an example for my generation? That's not responsibility I want. Is that what being the future of humanity is all about? Well I want out."
"You are what you are kid, you don't get to choose. You're better than than the monkeys whether you want that responsibility or not. So deal with it."
"That simple is it?"
"You don't feel up to the task, do you?"
"No, not really."
"Well you have to be, kid. End of."
There was silence. One of those moments a train of conversation reaches a conclusion that leaves no obvious next direction. Jake waited for the guy to do as he usually did and head off abruptly at a complete tangent, but the guy seemed to be brooding, there wasn't going to be any inspiration there, not quickly anyway.
Jake desperately wanted to believe the guy, but he still had so many doubts. He started to wonder what the hell he was achieving by pretending he didn't believe in telepathy. He wasn't fooling anyone, the guy knew he was lying, and the guy knew Jake knew that he knew. It was not only completely pointless it was counter productive, the guy obviously knew a hell of a lot more than Jake did and Jake wondered how much more he could learn if he just gave in and admitted everything.
He was going to find out on Monday morning anyway. That was the day people would notice if Jake didn't make it back, the day his parents would panic. He wasn't about to put them through that, not again. It wasn't exactly a tough decision, he would jaunt out of there Monday morning whatever the consequences.
So all he had to do was hold out one more night. Maybe that would delude him into thinking that he wasn't giving up too easily. After that, maybe what he had to do was throw caution to the wind, admit to everything, and see what the hell information he could get in return for his confession.
Keeping the guy talking one more evening certainly wasn't going to be a problem. No problem at all. In fact bloody easy. The problem was getting the guy to shut up.
Jake tried to sigh convincingly. He was pretty okay with being stuck there another evening but he didn't want to make that too obvious to his host. "So, talking of corny old movies, what you thinking on watching tonight, or you have other plans?"
"No. No other plans. I was thinking 'The Sound of Music'. You seen that?"
"No." Jake hadn't particularly ever wanted to see it.
"Goats, little children. Nuns. Hmmmm, nuns. Gets me excited just thinking about it."
The thing Jake hated most about his host was that it really was impossible most of the time to work out if the guy was joking or not.
You Have Two Choices
"So, answer me this, you think Maria stayed up all night making the clothes out of the drapes?" The guy asked as he started to clear away the remnants of the Chinese meal from the table.
Jake hesitated. He might have enjoyed the movie, against his better judgment, but he didn't want to give his host the pleasure of knowing that. He tried to sound a little critical. "Sure it might look like they go off and sing that song the next day, but it might have been a week later, you don't know. Anyway, she couldn't have done it overnight, otherwise how did she get them all measured up, those new clothes were a perfect fit."
"Hey, good point, I hadn't thought about that. Only one of them she could have know was Liesl, with her dress being in to soak after her fling in the rain with Rolf." The guy sounded way too much like he had given this a considerable amount of thought.
"Now there is my problem with the plot. I don't get that Rolf. I mean, someone as hot as that Leisl, and he goes and raises the alarm instead of going off with her at the end." Actually, that one really had bugged Jake.
His host frowned. "Liesl hot? She's jailbait."
"I'm jailbait," Jake pointed out.
"Good point. Anyway, I didn't think you were into girls."
Where the hell had the guy got that idea from? Jake felt morally obliged to correct the misunderstanding. "I am into girls, I just don't believe in casual sex."
The guy raised his eyebrows in a manner that was half way between questioning and disbelief. "You see much action with an attitude like that?"
"No. That's kind of the point."
"When I was your age, people like you were called sad."
Jake was unfazed, insults were one thing that never worked on him. Plus it was easy to throw that kind of stuff back. "What did they call people with unhealthy nun fixations?"
"Kinky," his host grinned. "Cute though, that Maria, you have to admit."
Jake hesitated, he was going to have to take care to frame his reply with some diplomacy. "Bit old for me to be honest. So what is it about nuns then? That some kind of thing about wanting to be dominated, or just that you have a fetish about uniforms in general?" He challenged.
"You reading my mind?" The guy laughed.
The laughter was infectious and Jake grinned offensively. "Reading the distinctive sound of drool I can hear when you talk about nuns' habits and cross referencing that with comments you've already made about nurses' uniforms."
"Oh yeah, that. Well, yeah. I have a thing for things being orderly and organized. And starched. I really like starched."
"I don't want to know," Jake pointed out hurriedly.
"Then why did you ask?" His host challenged him blankly.
"Alright, forget I asked." Jake raised his voice.
The two of them glared at each other down for a moment and a half, Jake was the first to blink and broke down laughing.
"This is wrong. This is all totally wrong. You've got me thinking you're okay, you're a good laugh. Are you really that good at screwing with my mind?"
"Kid, however good you think I am, I'm better."
Jake shook his head in mock disgust at the arrogance that was probably only half joking. "And you're so modest as well, how do you do that?" He hit back sarcastically.
"It's not easy, but I get a lot of practice."
The guy had him well and truly beaten. Jake had desperately tried to cling on to the last remnant of distrust as long as he had been able to, but that distrust just wasn't there any more. He was well and truly brainwashed.
"Where did I go wrong?" Jake asked, trying to inject a touch of seriousness into the exchange.
"You didn't go wrong kid, you went right. Maybe not exactly for all the right reasons, but I'll take what I can get."
"You worked out my weakness, and you exploited it. I don't know how the hell you did it, I don't even know what my weakness is." If Jake got nothing more he was determined to learn at least that much.
"You've got this thing about truth, kid. You're good at using it as a weapon, but it's also your weakness. All I had to do was sit here and tell the truth, and you're a sucker for it. You can't help yourself but surrender to anyone who maliciously tells you the truth, however unbelievable that truth might be. You can see the truth, the way other people see colors, textures."
That allowed a smile to return to Jake's face. "Is there some kind of level of twisted sarcasm there I'm not getting?"
"The owls aren't always what they seem."
"You said that before."
"Not in so many words."
"Right." Jake conceded, finally realizing his mistake. The guy had never said it, he'd only thought it. Jake had screwed up and given away the fact that he was telepathic over thirty-two hours ago. So why the hell had the guy kept him there all this time? It wasn't about the telepathy, it had never been about that. Jake had been missing something, missing something bleeding obvious. Whatever it was, it was staring him in the face and he couldn't see it. Jake was frustrated, he wasn't used to feeling quite so thick. "So if I'm so bloody good at seeing the truth, how come I didn't work out Masters was lying to me?"
"Because you're idealistic. You're so desperate to see the good in people that you ignore the warning signs, you trust people that don't deserve your trust."
"What, Like you?" Jake couldn't help but feel the guy was being patronizing again. Maybe not intentionally, but the guy was definitely impatient with him about something. Jake could sense it, the guy wasn't hiding his thoughts all that well right now.
"You trust me now, right, but you've been fighting that every step of the way. If you'd second guessed Masters as thoroughly as you second guessed me, you'd have seen through him the day he conveniently turned up at the inquest and introduced himself. You trust people that easily, you're asking for them to turn round and stab you in the back."
There was something coded in there that Jake knew he wasn't getting, it frustrated him. Frustrated him even more that the more he understood about the guy, the less he understood the guy's motives. "Why do you care? Alright, maybe you're right. Why the hell do you care?"
"You got trouble coming, kid. Big trouble. You've got the raw ability to deal with it, I can see that. But all those magical, mystical things you can do can't give you the one thing you desperately lack; wisdom. You're trusting all the wrong people. You seem to struggle to be able to tell right from wrong, and that's all sorts of problems."
"I can see truth, yes, but just because someone tells the truth doesn't make them trustworthy. So how do I work out who I can trust? Reading someone's mind can't always tell you whether you can trust them or not either, because it doesn't work like that, does it?" Jake finally gave up his pretense.
"No, you're not good enough to do that yet. Not if someone wants to keep you out."
Was that an admission that the guy knew how to shield against the mind reading? It certainly sounded that way. Or was the guy really telling him that Masters could do the same thing? Masters was untrustworthy, that seemed to be the point the guy was trying to hammer across. But if that was all it was about then it was kind of unnecessary, Jake had about already worked that one out for himself. "Alright, I trusted Masters because he was my enemy's enemy. No other reason. I screwed up. That's it, that's all there is to tell."
"No, it's not. It's not all there is to tell. There's more, a lot more. But you'll get there eventually." The guy concluded.
Jake once again felt frustrated, there was still something he was missing and the guy wasn't going to tell him. The guy seemed determined to make Jake work it out for himself. How much longer was the guy going to keep this game dragging on? "So you won, and I'm still stuck here. Is it just me or is there something wrong with that picture?"
"I don't know why you're still here, kid. I like you, but I don't want you here. I want you to go. I don't think we have anything left to talk about."
"What if I'm still here tomorrow?"
"We'll see. Tomorrow is another day."
Jake's host had departed once again. Jake had taken the opportunity to head into the bathroom and try to clean himself up a little, two days now in this dark and dusty place without a shower, he was feeling distinctly dirty, gross and smelly. Knowing the composition of the dirt really didn't help. His hair was getting itchy as well, Jake hoped that was just the dust. There wasn't much he could achieve with the sink as small as it was, but he managed to rinse his hair through, and it at least gave him the delusion of feeling better.
He needed to get some sleep, as difficult as that felt under the circumstances. He had a long day ahead of him. He had no clue why he was holding out for the morning any more, his host had made it pretty clear there was nothing more to talk about, Jake wasn't going to learn any more by sticking around. On the other hand it was gone 11:00 PM, there was no way he could make it home from Damon's house tonight, so he would have to spend the night there and head home from there in the morning. No chance he was going to get his underwear through to the laundry in time for school. But that was okay, he'd have to borrow clothes off of Damon for the bus ride home anyway, he could probably borrow underwear as well. They were friends, and it was probably a little bit weird, but Damon was cool enough he could deal with it. Getting his maths homework done was going to be more of a problem, but he'd been so good the last few months that he figured he could come up with a believable excuse this once without ruining that good reputation.
Jake tuned up and checked to see if Damon was still awake. Yes, there in his bedroom, doing homework. Jake had been able to sense that much but hadn't interrupted the guy, it was enough to know he was there.
It didn't matter whether Jake jaunted over to Damon's now or first thing in the morning, and at least here he had a bed to sleep in rather than sleeping on the floor. So he might as well stay the one more night. Plus staying the night would give him this one last chance to explore the tunnels. Maybe explore a little further than he had wanted to risk until now.
He wondered what time his host would stop by in the morning. Jake figured he had to leave at 6:30AM to stand a chance of not being late for school, he couldn't see the guy turning up that early. It didn't matter. Whatever happened, Jake knew he hadn't seen the last of the guy.
He checked his watch. About ten minutes had passed since his host had departed, that had to be enough. The silence was already getting oppressive, and the odd sense of presence was starting to freak him out again. He grabbed the flashlight and shone it nervously down the tunnel, trying to illuminate the direction his host had departed in.
He could do this. Jake had a better handle on his fears this time. Spending the night before watching stupid horror movies had been half his problem, the bloody ghost stories his host had filled his head with were responsible for the rest. Tonight his head was filled with nuns and goats, and if that wasn't enough and he was still scared, well, he could try singing a song about his favorite things.
He wondered what he would do if he did see a ghost. He could certainly sense something out there, but it wasn't exactly rational to jump to the conclusion it was a ghost. Of course any other ideas as to what else it might be were bordering on the even more irrational.
Jake reached the gate and pushed. It was unlocked this time. He smiled, it probably hadn't been locked the night before either, it hadn't occurred to him to check. There really hadn't been anything stopping him from leaving any time he wanted.
He was about to head through the gate into the tunnel beyond, then hesitated. He tried to reach out with his mind first, wanted to make sure that whatever it was he could sense out there wasn't too close by. No point blundering into danger unnecessarily.
It was weird, he couldn't pin it down. Not something nearby, not something lurking on the other side of the gate, and yet at the same time somehow it was all around him. Gave him the willies. Jake took a deep breath and jaunted through the bars. He didn't need to, could have walked, but he wanted to reassure himself that he could still jaunt, just in case he needed to make a rapid departure. He found himself entranced by the way the flashlight he was holding shifted its shadows around as he transitioned to his new vantage point.
He swung the light around to try and get an idea how safe it was to walk this section. Lightly he tiptoed up the stairs and round a corner to where the passage reached a junction. He really didn't plan to go far, just to try and see if he could work out the route his host had taken to get out of there. He noticed he was leaving very obvious footprints everywhere, just as well he wasn't trying to cover anything up any more. It was pretty obvious from the other footprints which direction his host had headed as well.
Just up ahead the tunnel forked. Decision time. Two directions he could go in, two options. He shone the flashlight in each direction, trying to see which looked more interesting. His host's footprints headed left, but whatever the presence was, it seemed sort of stronger to the left, so Jake decided to head right instead.
The passageway continued a short distance before it opened out into where the elevators had presumably once been, although it was pretty obvious they weren't there now, bricked up. To one side there was the emergency staircase, again with a locked iron gate in front of it. It would have been trivial to jaunt through, but the state of the staircase was poor. It looked like it was made of iron, and rusting badly. Jake did not have balls of steel when it came to heights, and that staircase looked suicidal. Anyway, the guy had said all the surface access had been sealed off decades ago, there was nothing more to see in this direction. The way out that the guy had taken was back along the tunnel and down the left fork. Was there really any need to go hunting in the other direction? It seemed pointless, Jake didn't plan on making his escape that way. Or was that just an excuse because he was, well, to be blunt, scared shitless of heading down that other tunnel?
Jake retraced his steps to the junction and hesitated again. The only sound he could hear was his own breathing. Somehow the silence scared him more than hearing random noises did during the day. Was he going to do this or wasn't he? Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens. He hated bloody kittens. Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens didn't exactly give him a lob on either.
Instinct told him to walk away. Hadn't the guy just spent two days convincing him he needed to pay more attention to his instincts? He tried to ignore the feeling in his stomach that said walk back to your bed now and he nervously set out down the remaining unexplored corridor.
Round a curve and down a flight of stairs the tunnel came to an abrupt end, bricked up. For a moment Jake was disappointed, then sense caught up with him and he found himself relieved that he hadn't run into anything big and horrible and scary. He was puzzled though, he must have missed something, there had to be a way out somewhere along here.
He slowly traced back, scanning the floor with the flashlight, looking for his hosts footprints. And there they were, stopped abruptly just before reaching the staircase. So where the hell had the guy gone? Jake shone the light on the tunnel wall, through the gloom he could just about make out there was some kind of outline, dirty and practically the same color as the tiled walls, a small iron access door. Didn't look like it had been opened in years, but that had to be where the guy had gone, there was nowhere else he could have gone.
So that was it, time to turn back. Or, almost. Jake was still curious about the door. He placed a hand against the rusted metal. It couldn't hurt to let his mind drift past the door, see what he could sense on the other side. After all, if his host had gone through there, there couldn't possibly be anything too scary on the other side.
He tried to relax, he needed to relax for the sensing thing to work properly. He was still pretty nervous and it wasn't easy. He reached out. Emptiness. Hollow emptiness. A passage stretching out, nothing more. Bloody small passage, the guy must have had to crawl. Jake found himself impressed the guy had been so quick back crawling through there with the pizzas.
He shivered. There was something else. The sensation of the presence was much stronger through there. Not in the tunnel, but in in the walls. That didn't make sense, how could there be anything in the walls? These were tunnels bored by drilling machines through solid ground, there were iron panels to line the tunnels, but the sensation wasn't from the iron panels, it was from the earth, the ground, the rock, the whatever the hell it was that had been drilled through. Like it was in pain, like it was alive. That was why it was so difficult to pinpoint where the sensation was coming from, it really was all around. It wasn't something in the station, it was a presence outside the station. Something old, something very, very old buried deep beneath the streets of London, there before there even was a London. Buried, waiting. Still alive.
Jake was freaking out, but he was paralyzed, frozen, his hand still in contact with the door. As hard as he tried he didn't seem to be able to pull his hand away. The thing, whatever it was, it did have some kind of consciousness, and it hadn't been aware of him before, but it was definitely aware of him now. It knew he was there and it wouldn't let him go.
Jake began to panic. It was there. In his mind. Calling out to him. Thoughts, words, a message. ~The betrayer cries out in anger.~
That made no sense. It was words, just words. Telepathic words. Words without a context. It was... Jake had no clue what the hell it was.
~The betrayer cries out in anger,~ the same message, the same intonation, the same feeling. Almost a mechanical repetition. There was something about the way the thought was constructed that was kind of familiar. It was a name, that was the way telepathy translated names. But whose name? What did it mean? Jake tried to listen for the sounds behind the thoughts, but it wasn't like when Kal had spoken to them, there was no vocalization behind the words. He couldn't hear the name itself, only the meaning. Only the warning.
~The betrayer cries out in anger,~ the thought was getting louder, almost deafening. Jake dropped the flashlight. The shadows jumped as the light hit the ground, the noise shattering the silence. Jake was distracted, and in the distraction found himself functioning again. He scooped up the flashlight and ran, ran back to where the tunnel forked, back to the gate. He pulled at it, but it was locked. His stomach clenched, it hadn't been locked a few minutes earlier. That meant the presence had some kind of telekinetic ability, and it didn't wanting Jake getting back through that gate. Which meant Jake knew he had to get through whatever the cost.
He tried to relax, tried to focus on shifting himself onto the other side of the bars. It wasn't working, it was like when he desperately needed to pee and stood there forcing himself and nothing came out. This was nuts. He had to get away, had to get back to the ticket office. He didn't know why but he felt like he was safe there. He was trying too hard, he was forcing the jaunt to happen and it wasn't, he was too uptight, too anxious. He tried whistling, that worked when he couldn't pee.
He could still sense the presence, it was getting louder, stronger, like he'd awoken it. Cream colored ponies and crisp apple strudels. He felt a tugging. Doorbells and sleigh bells and schnitzel with noodles. He didn't even know what the hell schnitzel with noodles was, but he kept on whistling, the jaunting was starting to work, only it was more like a dribble. He felt the ground shifting that way it always did, and without stopping to look back he made a mad dash for the toilet. He tried to reassure himself that it was the whistling that was causing other things to start dribbling as well.
Jake brushed his feet off as best he could and crawled into bed. Somehow in the bed he was slightly more calm and balanced but he was still shaking. This was nuts, he couldn't sleep like this. The presence wasn't getting any closer, it seemed to have stopped at the gate, but it was still out there. He was too afraid to look. He felt trapped.
His nerve broke. There was no need to suffer this.
~Damon. Bugger the biology homework, I need help, I need to get out of here, now. For God's sake please, now.~
Emboldened by the knowledge he was four seconds from being out of there, Jake threw off the duvet and stood up so as to be better balanced for jaunting. In the final moments he was in the tunnel he glanced towards the gate, beyond it he could see a figure. The figure of someone who wasn't there. The reflection through time of someone long dead.
Is That A Confession?
Jake materialized in his bedroom by the window. He yawned and stretched, he was feeling exhausted. He'd only managed about four hours sleep in the end, and that hadn't exactly been the most peaceful sleep. He'd spent the other half of the night lying awake sweating, trying to chill out, trying to deal with the fear. Which was weird, because it was like, whatever the presence was, it hadn't actually felt malevolent in any way.
Thankfully Damon hadn't been looking for an immediate explanation of everything that was going on. Just as well, because even after Jake was safe in Damon's bedroom he wasn't feeling up to much in the way of explanations. Damon had said he'd ask again another time, he was cool about things like that, he understood. He was even okay dealing with the part where Jake had been sat on the floor for half an hour shaking, trying to get over the adrenaline rush from his escape. In fact Damon had seemed more interested in taking the piss out of Jake's underwear. Actually that had worked really well, it was the kind of stupid normality Jake had desperately needed to help balance him.
So then, after not much sleep, he'd had to get up at about 4:45 AM. He'd jaunted out the back of Damon's house into the alleyway so as not to be seen, caught the first bus of the morning at 5:00 AM, made it back home around 6:30 AM, sneaked round the back of the house and jaunted directly up to his bedroom so as not to disturb anyone.
He started to pull his clothes off. Well, not really his clothes, clothes he'd borrowed from Damon. Clothes that were now wet, there'd been a light rain falling as he'd walked back from the bus stop.
His mother would be up by now, she was supposed to be up early for the plumber coming to fix the boiler. Jake had kind of let the mundane normality of the Monday morning he was walking into slip his mind... More than anything he just wanted to get into bed and sleep until lunchtime, but that wasn't going to be an option. Tired or not, somehow he was going to have to make it through the rest of the day.
Jake stared at his underpants in the mirror. He'd fallen asleep at Damon's house still wearing them, and there hadn't been any opportunity to shower or clean up before he'd left there, so he'd figured he might as well stay wearing them until he got back. Now he could finally shower and find himself a clean pair.
It took a moment for the realization to hit him. Broken shower, no laundry. Shit. He felt dirty, sticky, horrible, he desperately needed a shower, and he couldn't have one. He probably smelled foul, and he was going to have to go to school like this, and without underpants. That was not going to be fun.
He glanced across the room, he couldn't see much, it was still dark, and he didn't want to turn the light on, he didn't want his mother knowing he was up just yet. Everything was pretty much exactly as he had left it. Only, not quite, he could see that all his clothes were no longer strewn across the floor where he had left them. There were fresh bedclothes on the bed as well. In his haste to depart he'd left his other duvet in the abandoned tunnels. That was going to be a tough one to explain to his mother.
Broken boiler. He could sense his mother downstairs, his dad was already headed for work, he couldn't sense anyone else around. Had the plumber come and gone already? Probably took one look at the boiler, muttered expensively and said he would be back next week to finish the job. But at this point Jake didn't care if it had to be a cold shower, he needed to get cleaned up somehow. He would wait until 7:00 AM then try and sneak in there. Leave his bedroom any earlier and his mother would get suspicious.
That gave him half an hour. Half an hour to check out a few things that he needed to check out while they were still fresh in his mind. He needed to find out about Millicent Damon, Kevin Wilson. So, internet search, that would tell him what he wanted to know. He looked across at his computer to realize there was a figure wearing what looked like a dirty boiler suit sat in his desk chair. The guy had been there the whole time and somehow Jake hadn't spotted him. When the guy had a mind to it, he really was incredibly good at shielding his thoughts.
"Been waiting for you," the guy whispered. "You left this, I thought you might want it back." He tossed Jake's old duvet onto the bed.
"Thanks." Jake replied unenthusiastically. It solved his problem with the duvet, but he wasn't exactly happy to see the guy again so soon. "Look, I don't want to sound ungrateful, but I don't like you being in my bedroom, so I appreciate you dropping returning the duvet, but, can you please piss off."
"I thought we were friends now."
"That was until you left me trapped down there alone with a bloody ghost."
"You saw the ghost?" The guy inquired, immediately interested.
Jake wasn't so impressed with the detached curiosity that the guy was showing. Oblivious to the fact that Jake had been scared shitless by the experience. He answered anyway. "A woman in robes, ancient type robes. She was Middle Eastern, Assyrian maybe."
"Pre-Sumerian, pretty close."
Jake somehow wasn't surprised. The guy knew exactly what he had seen. The guy always seemed to know more than he was telling. "So it really was a ghost?" Jake didn't believe in ghosts, but he'd been wrong about so many other things the past couple of days that it seemed asking was his best option.
"No, it was a telepathic message."
That wasn't exactly the answer Jake had been looking for. "Not possible it was just my overactive imagination?"
"A man starving to death on the platform, flesh eating subterraneans, brain sucking alien clown creatures. I spent half the weekend feeding you ghoulish images, you suggest things like that and half the time in a freaky environment like that people start imagining they've seen all sorts of things."
"Yeah, and thanks for that." Jake retorted sarcastically. "But I didn't see any of those things. I saw a woman in robes."
"Exactly. You saw something your mind wasn't conditioned to expect. That makes it pretty unlikely you imagined it. Good news is, that pretty much rules out any possibility that you're under any form of mind control as well."
Jake laughed. There was one way the guy was always predictable. "Is that really likely? I think you're getting paranoid again."
"Yeah, well, I stay alive because I'm paranoid."
Jake wasn't going to let the guy deflect the conversation this time. "Come on, this ghost that isn't a ghost. Other people have seen her?"
"The story is that the station was haunted by the ghost of an Egyptian Queen, the spirit of one of the mummies from the museum."
"Maybe I just heard that story once, on a tour of the museum or something." Jake knew he was clutching at straws.
"People see what they expect to see, interpret it based on what they know. Egyptology was popular back in the early part of last century, so in the 1930s they see a robed woman of middle eastern origin and they assume it has to be the ghost of an Egyptian queen. That isn't what you said you saw. You said she was Assyrian, you didn't get that from any ghost story."
There was no point getting pissed off, the game was well and truly over. "So after two days of me lying to you, what you care about is that I told the truth that I know the difference between Egypt and Mesopotamia?"That's about it."
"So if it was a message, what was the message about then? I caught a name, that's about all."
"You didn't stop and ask her?" the guy smiled.
"I was too busy running away for that," Jake confessed.
"She isn't dangerous. Next time ask, you'll understand."
"Not sure I like the idea of there being a next time."
"There's always a next time, kid."
Jake laughed at the insanity of it all, shaking his head. "So what now?"
"What do you want now?"
"I'm going to have a shower, then I'm going to school," he stated matter-of-factly.
"Won't be much of a shower, the water is turned off right now. And you haven't done your homework. Ms Hinton will not be happy."
Jake stared at the guy, wondering why he was still sat there and making no apparent moves towards departing. "What more do you want?"
"Nothing more, I already got what I wanted."
"What, because I screwed up and gave away that I really am telepathic? But you knew that already, you didn't need to drag me down there to find that out, I don't get it."
"The owls, it has been said, are not what they seem."
"So what did you really want?"
"Not telling." The guy made to stand up.
Jake stared in disbelief at the guy, was he joking? "No. You can't mess with my head like that and then just walk away."
"Yes I can. Look, a minute ago you told me to you wanted me out of here, and not all that politely. Make up your mind."
Jake frowned, once again he was losing the argument without even trying. "Everything you told me, that was the truth right?"
"What do you think?"
"I don't know."
"What do you believe?"
Jake replied more slowly. "I don't know."
"You have this idea that you're not up to the task that lies ahead. You're worried that when the shit hits the fan you won't have the balls to stick around, you don't want anyone relying on you. Well, you want to know something, kid?"
The only thing Jake could think of to say was another 'what', which wasn't funny any more. So he stayed silent.
"You could have left at any time this weekend. Leaving would have been the easy thing to do. You didn't."
"I stayed because, you left those newspapers there. Deliberately, I figure. You knew I'd be too curious to leave."
"I expected you to go snooping, I knew what you would find. But you stayed because you knew that was the right thing to do. You've got balls. whether you admit that to yourself or not. Don't worry about it. When the time comes, you'll do the right thing. You might not believe that, but I do."
The conversation didn't look like it was going any further. The guy stood up again. "I'll see you around kid."
Jake was desperate to get one last answer before the guy left. "I trusted Masters, I screwed up there, I was wrong. You said there was more to it than that."
"True. Masters wasn't your only lapse in judgement."
"What do you mean?"
"Watch your back."
Jake felt the blood drain from his face, he'd finally worked out what the guy was saying, what the guy had been after. He didn't like it. "No, come on. You can't expect me to believe that."
"It doesn't matter what you believe, that won't change the facts."
"So what are the facts?" he pressed angrily.
"You have to work out where your loyalties lie. You have to go away and think about whose side you're on. When you're ready to walk away and abandon the others, that's fine, find me, we'll talk. Otherwise stay out of my way. I can't risk trusting anyone who stands by someone who's sold out, there's too much at stake."
"Mister Marmaduke?" The shouted voice came from downstairs.
Jake was puzzled. "Sounds like my mother calling. Who the hell is Mister Marmaduke?"
The guy with the red hair headed for the bedroom door and walked out into the hallway. Jake headed after the guy, this time his confusion had degenerated into the surreal.
"I think I've got it Mrs Laris. It was the heating element, turns out there was a second fuse hidden away in there, not obvious, I'm not surprised you didn't spot it. I replaced it and that was it, give it about half an hour and you should have hot water again."
Jake looked stunned as the guy he'd spent the best part of the last two days stuck deep underneath London with started discussing the house plumbing with his mother. What the hell was going on?
"Well, that's a pleasant surprise." Jake's mother replied as she reached the top of the stairs. Then she turned her attention to Jake stood framed in his bedroom door, still only wearing his Harry Potter boxer shorts. "And my apologies for the state my son is in. Jacob, honestly, what time did you get back last night? I'm really not sure I approve of the way that Damon seems to be such a bad influence on you. And don't tell me, you walked back from the bus stop alone didn't you? How many times do we have to have this discussion, I don't care what time it is, you call. Walking back like that is not safe and after what happened to you last time, you know, I thought, I really thought you would have learned to be a little more careful. And on top of that, you look a mess, and can't you wear something a little more appropriate when we have visitors. You knew I had the plumber calling this morning. I don't know. Kids." She exhorted breathlessly then returned her attention to the matter of the boiler. "So how much do I owe you for the repair then, the estimate was for a whole new heating element?"
"I used the fuse you already bought, so there are no charges for any parts. Just the labor. We'll just bill you for that, and that won't be the three hours we estimated either."
"An honest plumber? I think I just walked in on the Twilight Zone."
"You wouldn't believe the half of it," the guy answered, grinning disarmingly at her. Jake just stared in disbelief, utterly confounded by the scene unfolding before him.
His mother frowned back at him, "Jacob, you are filthy, you look like you've just been working down a coal mine. You need a shower before you go to school. Just as well the water is working again. And will you wake up, and really, you need to throw those Harry Potter underpants away. You look quite ridiculous stood there. Seventeen years old and dressed like that. How on earth you expect to get a girlfriend that way I don't know. Which brings me to your laundry. We need to discuss how you bring dirty clothes downstairs and put them in the laundry basket, they don't miraculously clean themselves, and I'm sick of walking into your bedroom and finding them all over the floor, and don't for one minute think you ever deceived me by hiding them under your bedcovers, I know you way better than you realize Jacob Templeton Laris."
Jake let the words wash over him. Sometimes she frustrated the hell out of him, but this time he was content to be frustrated. He was home.
Jake returned to his bedroom and closed the door. He turned the light on and looked around. This time he was sure he was finally alone. He pulled off his underpants and threw them on the floor. After having worn them continuously for nearly three days now it was good to finally get out of them.
He turned his computer on. He still had half an hour, half an hour before the water would be hot enough to shower.
He navigated to Google maps. There was at least one thing he could rescue from the weekend. He selected 'walking' from the drop down options and clicked on 'get directions'. Starting at the British Museum, destination Pagliai's Pizza. Next time he was in London he was definitely going to check that place out.
'We could not calculate directions between Great Russell Street, London, WC1B, United Kingdom (The British Museum) and 440 E Court St, Bowling Green, OH 43402 (Pagliai's Pizza).'
Jake frowned. The nearest Pagliai's Pizza was over four thousand miles away in Ohio. So the guy with the red hair had walked all the way to Ohio and back in under fifteen minutes? That wasn't humanly possible.
He slumped back in his desk chair. It was so bleeding obvious, how the hell hadn't he seen it sooner? Oh well, Jake contemplated, a whole bunch of things made a lot more sense now, and it explained how the guy knew all about teleportation.
Another Day, Another Exit
It was grey, it was cold, there was a light rain. Another typical British spring morning in suburbia. The guy with red hair was surrounded by semi-detached houses in every direction as far as the eyes could see. He looked down at the boiler suit he was wearing, great as a disguise to get him past Jake's mother, not so suitable for the beach. He glanced around furtively, it was still early enough that there weren't too many people out and about yet. He dodged behind a bus stop shelter and unzipped the boiler suit to reveal he was wearing a pair of loud Bermuda swim shorts underneath. This time he'd come prepared. He quickly pulled his boots off and stuffed them, along with the boiler suit, into the plumber's bag he was carrying. Then from out of the bag he retrieved a pair of flip flops, sunglasses and a belt. The belt was somewhat incongruous, the buckle a strange arrangement of black and white tessera, but he wasn't trying to make a fashion statement and if anyone did see him he was sure they would be more than distracted by the fact he was walking down the street in March dressed only in swimming shorts and sunglasses.
He closed up the bag. The cold rain on his skin was making him shiver, he had to get moving quickly. It hadn't been such a bad weekend, but he was impatient to get back to a sunnier climate.
Actually, it was one of the best weekends he'd had in a long time. Okay, he'd had to resort to kidnapping in order to have someone to hang out with, but he'd had a great time. It had been so long since he'd had friends to hang out with that he'd kind of forgotten what it was like. Sure, Jake could be irritating, but then Adam had been irritating a lot of the time as well.
Productive weekend as well. Jake might have been confused about a lot of things, but it was clear he wasn't under any kind of mind control. More than that, maybe it had taken a little prodding, but the kid had finally seen sense about Masters. And if Jake could see sense maybe some of the others could as well. The guy with the red hair was on the edge of daring to see some hope again.
Of course, that still left the problem of who the traitor was. Damon, Kristen, Misako?... It wasn't going to be all that easy to kidnap them one at a time to find out. Then again, perhaps now he had Jake on his side there would be an easier way.
He swung the bag over his shoulder and walked off down the street. That was a problem for another day. As the hard pavement gave way to sand he found it slower to walk, but the feeling of the warm mediterranean sunshine beating down on his back more than compensated as he headed back to where the yacht was moored.
Whatever else, Megabyte reminded himself, the weekend had finally convinced him that these kids really were Tomorrow People. After fifteen years of emptiness he wasn't alone any more.