Chapter 5, Part 3

Gradually pulling Faye out of her disorienting spiral through her mental plane was Josh’s voice. It was gentle, yet carried a hint of scornful pity. Even without the use of her additional sense in the confines of her tampered mind, the empath still had keen insight into the auditory cues that would indicate the state of someone’s mood.

“I’m sorry Faye,” he said, addressing her by her given name for the first time. “There wasn’t a gently way to do that.”

Like a beacon piercing Faye’s crepuscular mind-scape, Josh’s presence guided her back towards some construct of self-awareness in this volatile space.

“That’s it. Center yourself again. Imagine me here with you.”

“What are you doing this for?” Faye was scared and confused, but she was able to communicate as if she were speaking by focusing her thoughts.

“I’m sorry,” Josh apologized a second time. “I should have known. You’re different, like me.”

“So what? You read my mind and decided to end your little power trip? Why am I still here?”

Amazingly, Faye resisted pouting with the mental avatar she had managed to construct. She had not once adopted such a petty expression since joining the Peripheral Branch. It was clear something was missing, making her behave and think differently. Just what could that be though?

Josh laughed genuinely. “I really expected to expose you as a dirty government slave. But you’re really a lot more like me than I expected. Aside from not being a genius, obviously.”

“Hey!” Faye took the bait, adding another line on the list of uncharacteristic behavior that was presently growing.

“What?” the teen’s avatar smirked. “I am a genius.”

The familiar, confident grin faded.

“You feel different, don’t you? Like something’s missing?”

Faye’s thoughts of affirmation were easily read by the metacognite.

“Tell me, what is it that keeps you going every day? What brought you to my door?”

Strangely, Faye could not find the answer. It was something that should have been obvious. In the space of her own mind, it should have been surrounding her at that moment. But she was lost, like an insect scuttling insignificantly through a featureless expanse.

“You don’t know. That’s because I took it from you. I’m going to tell you. You feel an obligation to serve. To repay some kindness you perceive that you’ve been dealt. You think you’re doing the right thing.”

Of course. It was all so obvious. Faye was dumbfounded as to how she could forget something so integral to her being. But still, something about it felt artificial.

Josh didn’t bother waiting for the bewildered agent to respond with a coherent thought. He was perfectly capable of taking in her newest thoughts as they emerged and responding to them through his projection.

“You’re right to be thinking ‘how can something that defines your actions be taken from you without unmaking your very identity?’ I’m not powerful enough to manipulate your brain in such an intricate fashion as would be required if your sense of duty was truly a part of you.”

Faye was beginning to reach out again, feeling against the emptiness she had been plunged into. Even being cut off from her senses and the external world did not compare to the sudden abyss that had swallowed her and caused her to feel so unusual, so incomplete.

“There’s not easy way to see this, Faye. I really sympathize with you, because what’s happened to you could have very well happened to me, if I didn’t have the professor to protect me. I really hate to see how you’ve been used.”

“What are you talking about?” the agent finally focused her thoughts into a coherent stream of communication.

“You’re an addict,” Josh stated simply. When Faye’s only response was a flurry of unintelligible thoughts, he repeated himself, elaborating this time.

“You’ve been addicted to something for five years. It’s this addiction which fuels the sense of duty that keeps you doing what you do. That’s all your feelings of obligation are. An expression of a very specific craving of yours. If it had been any other way, I wouldn’t have been able to isolate and remove the feeling.”

An addict? Faye didn’t want to believe what she was hearing, but something told him Josh wasn’t making this up. After all, how could a 15 year old who could barely mask his supreme presumptuousness and who had been bordering on psychotic just minutes ago also be a good actor? It just didn’t fit.

If Faye had been connected to her own body, she would have taken a deep breath. “Tell me more,” she said.

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