Chapter 5, Part 2

The constellation of orange luminescence, now clearly resembling an enlarged human brain, pulsated in a way possessing an almost organic quality. In that instant, Faye felt the familiar feeling of a foreign entity probing her mind. However, there was no dramatic change in the emotional emanations of Josh, as would have happened were he a lesser metacognite, attempting to read her directly.

As it stood, the intermediary brain, formed from ambient matter and energy by the boy’s will, had no personality to speak of. It felt no revulsion; no fear, trepidation, or hesitation. It was the perfect construct, ingeniously conceived to bypass the safeguards the Peripheral Branch placed around the consciousnesses of its investigators.

Currently, Faye’s field of vision was fixed, her neck locked in place by Josh’s potent hold. She could not see James’ expression. Only his fierce determination and rage against the shackles on his mobility could be sensed by the empath. His movement was obviously much more restricted than it had been the time before, as was to be expected considering the metacognite’s greatly enhanced abilities.

Hope was not lost though, as Josh seemed to have turned his entire attention to Faye, and the information his conjured, transient neural network was feeding to him. Times like this made the investigator wish that her partner shared her gift, so that she could send waves of encouragement and trust that he could pick up on. It would be the least she could do, considering how his reliability and warmth kept her functional on days when the nightmare inducement had staggered her.

Josh closed his eyes, grinning madly at the influx of information. The professor had allowed him to read his mind at times, but it had been a long time. Perhaps it was a side-effect of the nearby 4th generation baryonic meteorite, but exercising his powers felt so euphoric right now!

“I’ve got you now!” the boy cackled giddily. Half a second later, Faye lost contact with all of her senses, including her empathic one. She was alone, isolated from the passage of time, and the movements of her partner.

In the void of Faye’s sensory deprived consciousness, a hallucination of Josh appeared. So photorealistic was it that the agent had no doubt that the teen himself was responsible for inducing it. Her intuition was confirmed almost immediately when he spoke to her.

“Wow. You are a lonely one.” For some reason he seemed more sober now, and his last statement carried a hint of something bordering on pity.

Then, Josh laughed, and the softness that had briefly occupied his face surrendered to the familiar childish arrogance.

“You should see yourself right now, just staring blankly across the room at me. The big guy’s not doing much better, so I think I’ll ignore him in favor of looking deeper into you.”

Faye wasn’t sure how she should communicate with the apparition. She had no concept of speaking, or creating sound. So cut off was she from everything that she might as well have been a brain in a jar. Or a brain floating in the air, like the one Josh was using.

“Your stream of thoughts have an ironic flavor, Miss Waller! I think I’m starting to like you a little more,” the boy said, then paused as if listening. “And you catch on fast too. I’m not really here,” the hallucination gestured to the surrounding nothingness. “I’m standing facing you, reading your mind through my proxy, making you perceive this conversation so we can communicate.”

Some conversation, Faye thought to herself. It was a thought that Josh evidently picked up on, if the wide grin on his mental projection was anything to go by.

“See? You’re getting better already. That was a coherent thought if I’ve ever felt one. You might as well have been speaking.”

Even though she was cut off from all ways of perceiving the external world, Faye was undeniably aware of the sensation of Josh’s hold on her brain deepening. As if to illustrate this development, his avatar made another gesture and suddenly blackness was replaced by color. Where before there had been nothing, the young woman now found herself surrounded in a kaleidoscope of dancing images, arrayed out in more dimensions than she had thought possible for a human being to visualize.

Memories, ideas, dreams; dark, foreboding constructs from her battered subconscious – all of these swirled around the agent. Yes, she had a concept of space and of self now. Though she knew it to be a falsity, an illusion, she perceived her consciousness to be located in the midst of the mind-bending display. Next to her in this made-up space was Josh.

“I think, Miss Waller, it is time I showed you something about yourself,” he said. His tone was somber, bearing no traces of the power-drunk arrogance that had saturated it previously.

The images flickered, and if Faye could liken the feeling that followed to a sensation native to the real world, it would be analogous to the stomach-clenching reaction to a sudden fall. Only its intensity was far higher than that which could be roused by an unexpected transition to free fall. Her whole world had been pulled out from beneath her.

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