The middle-aged man opened his mouth, momentarily gaped like a fish out of water, and closed it again. He too had realized the direction this conversation was heading.
“Just now you said ‘now that I think about it’ before making a rather specific statement regarding the aptitudes of some of your competition. Please citizen, tell me what you thought of.”
Mr. Gibbs held his silence. Faye pressed her assault, entirely unfazed by this.
“There’s a term the Central Government has used to designate individuals who have manifested unnatural gifts in the years following the meteorite incident of Year 127: Metacognites, citizen. Have you heard of this?”
Looking for an escape, Mr. Gibbs looked up at James, who stared back impassively. Of course, he was not expecting to find anything telling on the expression of a trained government agent. The more diminutive man opened what he called his “inner hearing” and focused it on the larger operative.
Nothing. Only an unsettling buzzing, like a swarm of hornets. So the rumors about the Peripheral Branch of Public Safety had yet another dimension of truth to them.
“Did you hear my question, citizen?” Faye’s voice was still amicable in a professionally dull sort of way, but the fact that she no longer referred to the investigated by name betrayed the fact that she had reclassified him in her mind. Based on his most recent behavior, the likelihood that he was a potential danger that needed to be removed from this environment was very high.
Slowly, like the shadows of night creeping up a landscape, Mr. Gibbs turned his face from James to Faye. Metacognite – he hadn’t heard the term before, but he could guess its meaning. If he continued to cooperate, he would be taken in for treatment.
Or so they claimed. Normally a pliable and meek man, the resident of #756 North 31st street experienced a sudden wave of strong will. He wouldn’t let himself be taken anywhere, away from the life he had built for himself – not without first doing his utmost to confirm that the agents truly were acting for his sake and not just those around him. He would try his best to use his special abilities to check that the Central Government considered him to be a human, not a depersonalized hazard.
He couldn’t break through the barrier – likely technological in origin – that the man behind Faye had up. His only option was to…
Plain blue eyes met the unyielding coldness of the dark brown pair across the table. Then they widened in surprise and horror.
A torrent of grotesque and disturbing scenes washed over every single one of Mr. Gibbs’ senses. Like a hapless swimmer tossed and spun by a powerful wave, he found himself drowning in the weight of the sensations overloading his brain to the point where he had lost track of the surface. Fighting the current was futile; there was nothing Mr. Gibbs could do to plant himself back in the here and now.
He had a daughter. A small part of his mind protested, saying he hadn’t seen this girl before this instant, but somehow it just made sense. Things had always been this way.
She was crying. He reached over to wipe her tears, then recoiled as they burnt his hand.
“Help me,” she said, as the streams of acid tears eroded fizzing rivulets down her face. Her cheekbones were already visible through the raw skin.
“Help me.” The tendons attaching muscles to her mandible could be seen as she repeated those words. The curvature of her eyeballs was now very apparent as the tears began to eat away at the bone of her eye sockets.
Simultaneously, hundreds of fragments of thoughts, sights, sounds, smells, and feelings such as this one forced their way through Mr. Gibb’s consciousness. So overloaded by it all was he that he did not hear Faye’s next words, as she spoke into a small device.
“Registered empath, agent Faye Waller, reading a standard emotional response to probing an altered subconscious. Assuming full liability for a potential false positive and designating Citizen of 2nd Degree Privileges Fred Gibbs as an active metacognite.”
The man across from her was still transfixed on something only he could see. His eyes were moving randomly, as they would in a dream. “W-what are you?” he managed to stammer out in a moment of lucidity.
“Someone that can read your emotions in detail, citizen. Although I think even James here would have been confident in telling from your reaction that you just tried to read my mind.” Faye said, placing emphasis on the last three words. “Unfortunately, you’ve been caught in my subconscious. I would feel sorry for you, but every day while you daydream about that special girl – or I guess in your case the custom Victoria you’ve got installed somewhere – I live with what you’re experiencing now eating at the fringes of my consciousness.”
James cocked his head slightly. It was uncharacteristic of Faye to monologue like this. Normally she was very efficient when carrying out missions. Perhaps she was in a bad mood. He wondered if there was anything he could do, fingering the now primed hemispherical force projector and waiting for her command.
“Know that the Central Government has your best interests at heart. You will be taken to a safe environment, where you won’t hurt others or infringe upon their rights. Accept this with grace, as I accept the turmoil lurking in my brain to dutifully serve our nation. James, ready him for transportation.”
Like a sprinter at the sound of the gun, James pressed the central button on the chrome disk he was holding and as it started to beep with a steadily increasing frequency, bent over slightly and slid it on the floor under the table.
To his shock, Mr. Gibbs snapped out of his daze, shouted “No!” and made a dramatic motion with both of his arms. The HFP rebounded off an invisible barrier and hit James squarely in the chest before activating, immobilizing him in a dome of opaque, azure light.
During this time, Faye had crossed to the other side of the table in a few swift steps. Mr. Gibbs barely had time for his expression to warp from desperation to shock before he was struck crisply on the temple and collapsed like a puppet with its strings cut.
Satisfied, Faye considered the silhouette of her partner inside the force field. Since the HFP isolated all forms of information from penetrating aside from a tiny amount of visible light, she had no way of telling if James was saying anything. Of course, she had a pretty good idea, she thought to herself, smirking now.
“Looks like you’re getting old. Just what am I going to tell uncle Derrick when he checks in?”
A successful mission with a little twist at the end. She couldn’t ask for much more than that.