A/N: I can't decide what to write next, so I'm going to post the first chapter/synopsis of a few stories, and wait one week to see which one gets the best response. There is a poll set up on my profile page.
Twilight and its characters belong to Stephenie Meyer. I'm just borrowing them for a bit and will return them washed and neatly folded. No infringement intended.
The Better Angels of Our Nature
By Lissa Bryan
In retrospect, Bella acknowledged that it was her soft heart that had led to this whole mess, but she still couldn't regret it.
She lay on a table, staring up at a white tiled ceiling. A single panel of fluorescent lights was in the center. She couldn't move. Whatever drug they had injected her with left her completely paralyzed, able only to blink. Her body had been re-clothed in a set of beige hospital scrubs and there was an IV attached to her arm.
She closed her eyes and fought off tears. She tried mentally reciting poetry, movie dialog, song lyrics, anything to get her mind off the trouble she was in.
It was bound to happen sooner or later. Bella had been making more slip-ups in public lately. It was only a matter of time before she was spotted and "they" appeared again. She didn't know who "they" were, but she'd been aware of their presence a few times in her life, always moving on when she saw one of them.
This time, she'd been in a tiny town in Washington State, a place she thought no one would ever think to look for her. She'd found a job in a bookstore, a lovely vocation for a bibliophile such as herself, and it had even had a tiny apartment available on the floor above.
It was probably living alone which had led to her small public slips-ups. At home, alone, nobody would comment if the refrigerator door closed itself or a book left a shelf, seemingly of its own accord, and floated into her hands. She'd gotten too comfortable using her abilities and hadn't even thought about it when she was in the grocery store and couldn't reach a can on a shelf. Mrs. Cope had seen that one. She owned the coffee shop across the street and was probably the biggest gossip in town. Bella couldn't sleep that night for worrying about it, but really, what was Mrs. Cope going to say? "I saw a can float into that bookstore clerk's hand." No one would believe her, right?
She wouldn't say that, though. Bella had known her type before. She'd start with the sly insinuations that Bella was "strange", that something was "wrong" with that girl, and before she knew it, people would be staring at her in stores and edging away whenever she walked by. And that was generally her cue that it was time to move on to a new city, with a new name.
There was no hiding the last incident, which is why she found herself strapped to a table, staring at the ceiling. People had taken pictures. It was probably playing all over YouTube right now. God, she'd been so stupid, but she couldn't let those people die, not when she had the ability to save them.
The door opened. Bella's eyes flicked toward the sound, but it was just out of her range. A man stepped into her line of vision, wearing a lab coat over a black suit, carrying a thick file in one hand and a hypodermic in the other. He pulled a chair from the wall to sit by her bed. He was young, mid to late twenties, the copper tint of his skin and the ink black hair pointing to Native American heritage. He was smiling, a warm and friendly smile that did nothing to put her at ease.
"Hello, Bella, I'm Dr. Black. I'm going to give you an injection now and you'll be able to speak and move a bit." He slid the needle into a tube on the IV.
Sensation came back and Bella jerked against the straps instinctively. She looked around quickly. No one else in the room. She eyed Dr. Black speculatively. Could she ...
"Don't try anything," he warned. "I'm not without talents of my own." Then he smiled. "Don't worry, I understand. You're just afraid. It's a natural reaction. But no one is going to hurt you, Bella. You're safe here. Safer than you were out there on your own, I assure you."
"Who are you?" Bella asked, and was alarmed at how hoarse and raw her voice sounded. All that shouting, she supposed. "What is this place?"
"Project Theta," Dr. Black replied. "You're in a US government research facility."
Bella closed her eyes. The words she had always dreaded. "I'm your new lab rat?"
"Bella, it's not like that," Dr. Black said. He leaned forward in his chair, his tie hanging down like a plumb line. "We don't want to hurt you. We want to help you develop your abilities to their full potential."
"Can I refuse?"
"No, you can't," he said. "You're not safe out there, Bella. We're not the only government which selects talented people for our program."
"Select" as in "kidnap".
He went on, "It was only a matter of time before someone snapped you up. There are countries which would pay a fortune for someone like you and their programs aren't as ... nice as ours."
Bella felt tears leak from the corners of her eyes and drip down her temples.
Dr. Black opened the file. "We've been tracking you for a long time, Bella. You first came to our attention with the Tyler Crowley incident."
Bella's stomach went cold at the sound of the name and unwillingly, memories she'd prefer to regret pushed their way to the surface of her mind.
Dr. Black studied the papers. "Hmm. High school quarterback, dead in a hotel room with a semi-hysterical young woman calling for emergency services, a young woman who happened to have a bloody nose." He looked up at her. "It hadn't fully developed then, had it?"
"No," Bella whispered. Her abilities hadn't become strong and reliable until she hit her twenties.
Dr. Black nodded. "That makes sense. Your abilities were in line with your brain development. Once your brain was fully mature, you got a handle on them, I'd imagine." He looked back down at his papers. "Autopsy states that Crowley's heart was crushed as if a fist had reached into his chest and squeezed it. The coroner notes that they'd never seen anything like it.
Bella's voice croaked through a tightening throat. "I didn't mean it. I didn't mean to kill him. I want him to stop- I just ... I think I pushed too hard." There was a strange sense of relief to finally talk to someone about this. People had always suspected that she'd had something to do with his death, especially because of the bloody nose. They thought he'd hit her and then she'd done ... something. It made her senior year hell because Tyler had been popular and his girlfriend, equally popular, had gone on a personal vendetta against Bella.
Bella had been shocked when Tyler asked her to go out with him to a party. Her first date would be with the most popular boy in school. She thought it was a dream. It turned out to be a nightmare.
Bella was shy and awkward as a child, and not much better in her teen years. She spent most of her time trying to blend into the background so that she wouldn't become a target for those small outbursts of malice and cruelty that children often inflict on those on the lowest level of the social totem pole.
Even when she was very young, her peers knew that there was something different about Bella, and it was like sharks smelling blood in the water. Weird things happened when Bella was around. When she was very young, it was mostly things like items falling from shelves or light bulbs bursting when she was upset.
Her mother, Renee, felt that the "difference" made Bella very special. It was she who had helped Bella learn what she could do and how to control it. She challenged Bella to make things move with the power of her mind, slide a book across the table, lift a towel and fold it, and later, as a teen, run the vacuum cleaner while reading a book. Her father wasn't quite as excited about Bella's abilities and he would always jump when he saw an object float by of its own accord, but he was a loving dad and she had a wonderful home life. Her brother, Jasper, had always been her best friend. He had a bit of talent himself and was the only one who fully understood what it was like for her.
Tyler told her the party was being held at a run-down motel on the edge of town, which he explained by saying it was so the kids could drink and didn't have to worry about clean-up. But when he had opened the door, there was no one inside. When he locked it behind them and grinned at her, she knew she was in deep trouble.
"You weren't the only one," Dr. Black said. "He raped two other girls, both of them outcasts such as yourself. Neither was willing to bring charges against him. Ever consider that you might have done the world a favor?"
Bella said nothing.
"Six months later, we have a report of a strange car accident. A toddler wanders out of her house and into the street. The driver doesn't see her, but before she could hit the child, her car ran into something. Front end all smashed to hell." He held up a picture of a car with a crumpled hood and bent bumper. "Strangely enough, the driver said there was nothing in the street to hit. No other cars involved. The cops even searched the local repair shops for anything that would match the accident. And your name shows up in the police reports as the one who took the toddler back to her house, again with a nosebleed. The mother thought you must have been involved in the accident."
He sat back in his chair and tapped the tips of his fingers together. "That's when you took off. Did you spot us?"
Bella shook her head. "My brother did."
"Your brother has a bit of talent himself, doesn't he?"
Bella gasped. Fear sliced through her. "P- please, please don't ..."
Dr. Black waved a hand. "Don't worry, Bella. He's low rated. Barely a two on a scale of ten. We don't take anyone less than five."
"What am I?"
Dr. Black smiled. "You, my dear, are a twenty. My greatest find. Our scales don't go high enough for you. We monitored your brain waves while you were unconscious and your Delta-Theta waves are off-the-charts. I can't wait to see what you can do."
"And if I refuse?"
"I'll be very disappointed, but I can't force you. However, you won't leave here, regardless of whether or not you cooperate. You need to accept that, Bella. We can't risk you falling into the hands of one of our nation's enemies."
"My family?" Bella whispered.
He shook his head. "We can't allow you to contact them."
"They'll think I just disappeared?" Jasper would never accept that, she thought. He knew she'd never just up and leave without contacting him. No matter how suddenly she'd ever left a location, she'd always let him know where she was. Jasper's bulldog tenacity meant he would never let this go, never just accept that she must have died and move on with his life. He would never stop looking for her and he would make as much noise about it as possible. Would he be putting himself in danger? Was this the kind of organization who "silenced" people who snooped too much and became too much of an irritation?
"You're known to do that, move on abruptly without leaving forwarding information," Dr. Black shrugged. "He won't get much help from law enforcement."
If Dr. Black thought Jasper would leave it at calling the cops to report her missing, he hadn't been watching her family very closely. But Bella said nothing.
Dr. Black released her restraints and Bella sat up slowly, her head swimming. "I'll show you around. Come on."
She stood, legs shaking unsteadily. Dr. Back offered his arm and she took it, afraid she might fall without support. He punched a series of numbers into a pad, casting a grin at her over his shoulder. "Don't bother memorizing them. We're given new codes every day." The door clicked and he pushed it open, leading her into a long hallway with blank white walls an gray-flecked tile floors. Very institutional, clean and impersonal. No windows. Every few yards, a camera bubble was set into the ceiling, and every door had a keypad set into the wall beside it. She wondered how much of this security was real, and how much of it was meant to make the residents feel that they were constantly watched.
"This will be your room," Dr. Black punched in a number and opened the door. It looked like a nice hotel suite, a small dining/living area to the right and the bedroom to the left. Brown carpet underfoot and beige walls, one of which displayed an indifferent watercolor of a ship at sail.
Dr. Black led her back into the hall, which they followed until it opened into a large recreation room. It had a pool table, a few televisions, one of which had a video game system being played by a teenage boy, and a small set of shelves with books and board games. About a dozen people lounged on chairs or sofas, and all of them wore the same beige hospital scrubs as Bella. A few looked up when Dr. Black and Bella entered the room, but seemed to have little interest in newcomer in their midst. Bella felt stirrings of unease in her gut. The eyes of the residents were dull and listless, the eyes of people who had no hope.
"Hey, everyone," Dr. Black said cheerfully. "This is Bella."
A few voices said "Hi," but most of them simply stared at her before turning back to whatever had held their attention before she had entered. Only one person continued to look at her, a young man, whose expression was one of grim pity.
"Over here is the cafeteria," Dr. Black told Bella, drawing her over to an open archway. It had the ubiquitous smell all cafeterias seemed to share: the ghosts of meals past, grease and sour dishcloths. It made her already-queasy stomach lurch.
She followed the doctor down another hall, which he said led to the "research rooms." He opened one of them and Bella let out the breath she'd been holding. She didn't know what she had expected (and feared) but it was another pleasantly-bland room with a table in the center. One wall held a one-way mirror like Bella had seen in police dramas, which would allow people on the other side to watch without being seen themselves. It vaguely disturbed her. As if Dr. Black could sense Bella's unease, he opened the door to show her the observation area. The lighting was dimmer in here. Cameras pointed at the glass and a bank of computers sat under it.
"Have you seen your video?" Dr. Black asked.
Bella shook her head.
He pecked at the keyboard and stood back. "Watch. It really is incredible."
The footage started with the aftermath of an accident. A car was wedged beneath the side of a semi truck, and the chains holding the load of logs in place had snapped. A few of them had already fallen. Two of them lay atop the car, crushing down on its hood and roof. The audio was poor, but Bella could hear the faint screams that had ripped at her heart. The accident site was only a few blocks from the bookstore, and Bella had come upon it during her morning walk. That road was so dangerous. Both cars and logging trucks took its curves too fast and it was a miracle there weren't more accidents.
The emergency crews hadn't arrived yet, but a small group of bystanders had already gathered, some taking pictures, joking, chatting amongst themselves, describing other accidents they had seen. No one was helping the frantic woman who was trapped in the car, screaming. The load of logs creaked dangerously; gravity was not yet done with it. Bella saw herself come upon the scene and could see her mouth form the words, "Oh, shit," as she realized the top log was about to come down and it would land right on the windshield. It shifted slightly and the crowd gasped. Cell phone cameras were raised. For a moment Bella hated them. It was like they were watching a movie, excited to see what would happen next, but completely unconcerned that a human being was about to die in front of them.
Bella dashed up to the car and tugged on the door. Bent, as it was, it wouldn't open. Bella concentrated and ripped it off the hinges, tossing it aside. The woman inside was a bloody mess. She hadn't been wearing her seat belt and her face had been roughly introduced to the steering wheel. Bella helped her out. "My baby," the woman gasped, and sure enough, there was a car seat on the back passenger side with a baby wrapped in a pink blanket. "I'll get her," Bella promised. But as she spoke, the top log lost its battle with gravity and tumbled down the stack toward them. The woman screamed. Bella threw up her hands and caught the end of it. Her ability didn't require her to touch the object, of course, but having her muscles involved sometimes helped her concentrate. She staggered under its weight. Too heavy, I can't-
"Get the goddam baby!" Bella screamed at the mother, who was frozen in place, her mouth opened into a perfect "O" of astonishment. She couldn't hold it much longer. Her head was pounding and blood streamed from her nose. Too heavy. She'd never tried to hold anything this large before.
The mother dove in through the opening where the driver's door had been and scrambled to unhook the baby's restraints. She backed out, the baby clasped in her arms and screamed as the load of logs shifted again. The crowd was too close. If they all came down, they would roll right over the gaping onlookers. "Get back," Bella shouted. "All of you, get back!"
She stepped away from the log, swaying like a drunk, trying to reach the safety of the opposite side of the road before she collapsed. She made it to the yellow line before she lost her mental grip on the log and it came crashing down, bringing some friends along with it. The passenger cab of the car was squashed flat under their weight.
Bella watched herself fall to her knees in the middle of the road and then slowly force herself back to her feet. The onlookers were staring at her with awe, some with horror. Bella hadn't even noticed them at the time. Her only thought was getting back to the safety of her apartment.
"We had a hell of a time containing this one," Dr. Black said. "Every time we'd take the video down, it would pop up again from another source. We think we finally got them all, but just in case, we put out the story that it was a publicity stunt for a new movie about superheroes."
"What about the witnesses? Did you kill them?"
"Jesus Christ, Bella, what do you take us for? No, we didn't kill them. Good grief!"
He seemed so offended that Bella found herself apologizing.
"Most of them seemed to buy the publicity stunt story, but those who don't ... well ... who would believe them? They just end up looking foolish, like they were duped by the stunt." He gazed at her for a moment. "You were still out of it when my men went to your place to retrieve you."
It had been the worst migraine of Bella's life. She had taken some of the pills she had left over that the doctor had given her when she sprained her wrist last year, but they hadn't helped. It took hours for the blood to stop dribbling from her nose and she had been scared that she had actually broken something inside herself this time, blown a circuit breaker or two.
She'd heard the door smash in and had instantly known what was happening. "They" had come for her. She jumped out of be and ran to her bedroom door, locking it and dragging her dresser in front of it. She stumbled across the room to the window. The apartment had not been designed as a home, intended to be used as storage for the store below, so what few windows it had were high on the walls and small. She had to use the chair from her vanity table over to reach it. She pushed it open and jumped, her hands on the sill, struggling to push her body up and out. From up here, the ground looked a lot further away than she had thought it would. She decided she would climb out and dangle from her hands to try to lessen the distance of the fall.
There was a crash behind her and Bella whimpered, bringing up her knee to push through the window and a pair of hands grabbed her. Bella shoved at him with her ability, pushing too hard in her panic and he flew across the room to smash into the wall. Pain slashed through her head. Another man pulled her back through the window and Bella struck at him too, but she must have been running out of juice because he merely staggered from the invisible blow, charging back to tackle her as she turned to run. Bella fell face-first into the carpet and screamed as she felt his weight settle atop her. She kicked and fought as best she could, trying to remember the things Jasper had attempted to teach her about self-defense, but her mind was a panicked blank. He captured both of her hands.
The man she had thrown picked himself up off the floor with a groan. "Fuck, that hurt," he gasped. "You got her?"
"Yeah." The man had bound her hands with a zip tie.
The man on the floor reached into his pocket and pulled out a small silver case. He opened it an took out a hypodermic, holding it needle-up and tapping the sides of the chamber.
Bella screamed again and lashed out at both of them with her talent. Blood poured from her nose, but nothing happened. She felt the man's hands on her arm, a small prick from the needle and then nothing.
"Did I hurt anyone?" she asked.
Dr. Black laughed. "You're concerned about them?"
Bella stared at the floor.
"They're fine," Dr. Black assured her. "I'm sorry I laughed at you, but I've never heard anyone worry about the people who kidnapped them. Trust me, they're used to it. Poor Mike has been set on fire by a pyrokenetic, had his mind attacked by a telepath, and beat up far worse than you by telekinetics such as yourself. But he just gets right up and keeps on going. He heals fast."
He led her back out into the room with the table and they both took seats, Dr. Black courteously holding out a chair for Bella.
"How long have you guys been doing this?" she asked.
"Since the late 1950s. The American government acquired some films of Russian telekinetic studies, and the Powers That Be decided that the Unite States need to develop its own program. As you can imagine, the concept of people who could assassinate a leader from afar without any weapons was a daunting concept. Today, we have telekinetics among the President's secret service guards who can throw up a shield if needed."
"How do you hide something like this from the public?"
"It isn't that hard. Most people simply don't believe in ESP and paranormal abilities. If they witness something odd, they convince themselves that their eyes must have tricked them or they come up with an alternative explanation. We merely have to encourage it."
"What about the government? I mean, does the President know about this place?"
Dr. Black shook his head. "Need-to-know basis only. Our budget is hidden under the guise of other programs, and managed by the military. So, don't be alarmed if you find soldiers in the hallways."
"How do you keep people from finding this place and wondering what you do here?"
"This facility is on a remote island that isn't on any maps. If you pointed Google Earth to this location, you'd see nothing but a blank expanse of sea water. We're far from any shipping routes and there's no air traffic overhead, either."
"Where are we, then, exactly?"
He grinned. "I can't tell you that, but I will tell you that it's as cold as a well digger's ass outside. If you try to escape, you will freeze to death."
The Arctic, then. Or perhaps near Antarctica. That explained the lack of traffic which might spot the facility.
"Your heating bill must be a bitch," Bella said and he laughed.
"The facility is underground, which helps."
And there was the reason for the lack of windows.
She bit her lip. "Is there any way I'll ever be able to leave this place?"
He shrugged. "That's up to you. If you cooperate, there's a possibility you could be trained to assist the government with various ... tasks."
"Like being a bodyguard?"
He gave her a little smile. "Among other things. But that's in the future, something we can discuss at a later time. The important question is whether you will participate in our testing. It's to your benefit as well, Bella. We can help you learn how to tap into your abilities in ways you never imagined. We can help make you stronger. No more nosebleeds, no more headaches."
Strong enough that maybe I could fight my way out of here, she thought. "I'll do it."
His smile was wide and she wondered if he might be a mind-reader. And then she wondered if those dull-eyed people in the recreation room had once had the same idea.