March 18, 2012

Beneath the Surface – Chapter Twelve Part 1

Every precaution was taken to ensure the safety of all involved in Debra’s upcoming psychic evaluation. Rowan and a small team of medical custodians opened up the seldom used crisis room just off the Operating Theater.

Known as the drill cell, the comfortably lit white room had a haunted feel for many of the staff. Most of the first generation bi-humans had spent time strapped into the permanently bolted, semi-prone chair when psychic abilities needed to be altered or blocked to reduce the chance of accidents or death. But in the end death had claimed them anyway.

A mental block was a physically created barrier, psychically positioned in the brain, so the chemical recall of one memory or many was permanently impeded. Occasionally a block would fail to control psychic or emotional outbursts. In such cases mechanical medicine stepped in and microscopically altered, or drilled, a tiny core area of the temporal and sometimes frontal lobes.

Years ago blocking had failed twice with Debra’s mother. After she had recovered from Damon’s mental beating, Dorothy Hall’s frontal and temporal lobes had been carefully drilled using a pinprick laser beam that fired from a small metal grommet in the ceiling. Focused through a crystal cylinder, the laser was powered by Thalian kinetic energy and psychically guided inside the brain by the experienced operator. The ensuing drilled hole was so miniscule that complete recovery was almost instant once the procedure was completed.

Many of the city’s residents felt uneasy that Debra’s unpredictability now demanded use of the room, as though a curse continued to linger by all those who had been held immobile in that austere, white padded chair.

In spite of Debra being so much stronger than her sisters or that the cell was simply a precaution in this case for its insulating properties and damping field, no amount of reassurance from Rowan or the elders seemed to make a difference in everyone’s mood as the hour approached.

Over the years the ten-by-ten square, windowless room had become nothing more than a large storage closet of spare parts incase of a sporadic breakdown on the operating platform or backup databases. With everything already tucked into rolling shelving units, cleanup took under thirty minutes, leaving only the lone chair in the center of the white flame-retardant room.

Overseeing the chair from the side, a large window panel slid up revealing a compact control booth. Rowan glanced over, catching Theron’s eye, his grim stare a reminder of the room’s indubitable purpose. No Thalian could ever truly revere the practice in spite of the need to help those in pain. The thought of losing one’s psychic abilities was no less devastating than amputating one or more limbs to survive.

Rowan had absolutely no intention of using the drill procedure this day. Damon had argued well into the previous night that Debra’s autonomic defenses would protect her from any mental or physical threat, no matter how unintentional. All agreed, under no circumstances was anyone to remain in the room with her once Eron started his assessment. The team could only hope that whatever buried trauma was at the heart of her debilitating fears would respond to intellectual stimulation rather than the need for force, or worse.

Damon and Rowan accompanied Eron as observers into the control booth while Theron guided Debra into the small room. Once the cross-straps automatically locked into each side of the chair, Theron smiled and gave her restrained hand a reassuring squeeze.

“Just relax,” he instructed Debra easily, all thoughts of the past set aside. “There won’t be any discomfort. Damon will meld with you first, then Eron will let you know when he’s about to proceed.”

Taking a deep breath, Debra nodded, her fingertips momentarily seeking out the palm of his hand. Images flashed liked colored snapshots in her mind. Death was taking its toll on his bleeding soul. Like many, work had become his passion and pleasure in life. And family was never really gone in the Thalian collective mind. He cared deeply for Rowan and their relationship, but loved another who would never know. Hope and desperation had somehow become intertwined and he was now willing to bet everything on the strength of the sovereign’s consort.

The door closed behind Theron with a thump, the locking mechanism sealing the portal with a decisive snicking click. Securely bound to the chair, Debra relaxed as best she could in the quiet, empty room, trying not to think of all the misplaced faith in her debatable abilities, and opened herself to the unknown.

Gently, Damon fused with her mind, like so many times over the years. Always near. Always protective. Blending his thoughts and emotions until the lines between one and the other faded, allowing them to breathe and move as one. Usually the dream world appeared once the melding was complete. Not this time. Instead, she was given the unique perspective of seeing herself through Damon’s eyes.

She never noticed before how baggy her black sweats looked on her slender frame; and just as quickly dismissed the thought. The clothes were warm and comfortable and came in extra long.

Damon gave her a mental hug, his amusement more a shimmer between them than words. The Thalian image for beautiful unfolded like an exquisite blossom, leaving little doubt that he found her pleasing in every way.

“Remember,” his thoughts caressed over her senses, “you are the bravest and strongest woman I’ve ever known. I’m with you, so just go with whatever happens.”

The human subconscious was often defined as nothing more than a repository of all things that pass through the chaotic conscious mind. For Thalians the subconscious was more substantial and acted as a spiritual wellspring of life and the truth of existence, of the expected paths and potentials of an individual, and a collective of all the mental, emotional, and physical aspects that drive the conscious mind in action and reaction. It is a permanent account that offers recourse for change or perfection.

Those gifted with subliminal insight, like Eron, used the subconscious knowledge to see the future potential of a child or to pinpoint where the conscious mind had deviated, often due to sickness or injury or some emotional trauma too horrendous to endure.

Eron’s steady, courteous voice came through the room’s speaker system. “I’m ready to begin, Debra. The whole process should take about ten minutes.”

Fear had her heart beating a little faster than normal. Not enough to spike her adrenaline and call out the warrior, though. Yet she couldn’t help but wonder about those younger and weaker than herself. “You actually do this to small children?” Debra asked incredulously.

His soft, patient chuckle filled the room. “Normally I would test in my office over a hot cup of tea while my student worked on a project or listened to music. Evaluating is completely non-invasive.” Eron looked directly at Damon so Debra could see him. “Once the evaluation is done, I’m going to be looking deeper for a root cause to your fear of channeling and linking—”

“But my defenses sometimes have a mind of their own,” Debra rattled off by rote. Before coming to Crystal Lake Acres it was rare for her to have a problem with one of her abilities let alone harm anyone. Meeting her Thalian relatives was turning out to be more demoralizing than reassuring.

Eron grinned. “Exactly, my dear. Let’s begin.”

Manton waited outside the booth by the door, glancing up and down the empty hallway. Security teams had been posted at all OT exits as a preventative measure. Not that he was expecting a disturbance of any kind. But emotions were running high. Death was so closely associated with the crisis room that residents had great difficulty separating the past from the present; of extricating Debra from the horrors suffered by her sisters.

Of course, of maximum concern by those who had experienced Debra’s defenses firsthand was whether containment in the cell would be enough. Manton rubbed his chest, just one of many places on his body that had been badly burned by her adaptive energy defenses. Debra may have healed his injuries better than new, but memories of that sickening smell and slicing pain still caused his mind to shudder.

He checked his personal com-link for the time and was surprised to find only five minutes had passed. The bond between him and Rowan was quiet, a clue, maybe, that all was going well with Eron and Debra. A lack of space in the booth and unnecessary skills meant his presence was redundant, forcing him to stand alone in the hall.

It was the waiting that was driving him crazy. What he needed was a damn good workout. He smiled suddenly, thinking of the sparring match with Debra; more fun than he could remember in a long time. Videos of that one match had gone viral throughout the Thalian nation in a matter of hours. Interest in hand-to-hand combat had his classes overflowing with ready students all wanting the advanced training. All wanting to be worthy warriors like the sovereign’s consort.

Manton had to admit Debra was anything but boring, her abilities often appearing larger than life. He had known many Thalians of considerable psychic strength, but none had captured the imagination of a nation, or its hopes, like Debra. One would think her bi-human physiology would tend more toward a diluted blending of both species, much like those who came before her. All commendable women of consequence and remembrance. But not one with the emotional and physical intensity of Debra’s mind and will.

Why the disparity still remained the big question in the labs and research caucuses up on medical-science. Any children between Damon, a known Vion, and Debra, a suspected Vion, did more than lift one’s eyebrows in mind-boggling speculation. With a grin, Manton hoped that any forthcoming offspring had an extra helping of their mother’s brass and natural grit.

A sudden muffled blast from inside the booth took Manton completely off guard, the explosive concussion slightly tilting the solid metal door in its frame and shoving him across the hall. Blaring amid the shock and confusion that crowded his mind, Rowan’s emotions seemed to skyrocket with fear before settling into a humming bundle of nerves and concern. As far as he could tell from his wife’s rattled senses, no one was dead.

Yet how far the blast was felt was anyone’s guess. Manton ignored protocol and telepathically notified on-duty security officers to have all personnel standby for possible crowd control. The current duty-shift was to present a calm visible presence on the third level and double up the watch at OT exits. When asked his opinion, Manton had simply said, the crisis room was living up to its earned reputation.

Keying in his override code, Manton had to pry the door ajar with brute strength. Once opened, a steam bath of vapors and noxious fumes billowed into the hallway bringing instant tears and racking coughs. Down on hands and knees he fell over an unconscious Eron in the doorway and tugged the older man further into the hallway and into waiting rescuing hands.

Blinded by smoke, he heard the telling snicking click of the crisis room lock releasing and sprang up from the floor like a provoked defensive tackle. “No,” he roared, pinning Theron to the sealed door, succumbing to a coughing fit as a blue aura formed a skintight protective shield around his soot-covered body. “Get the others out of the booth and into clean air,” he gasped. “I’ll take care of Debra.”

Theron nodded, backhanding a choking cough, and followed Manton’s lead by activating his own cloaking aura. Very little clean air was being filtered from the noxious environment into each cloak. Both men had mere minutes to get the others to safety before having to withdraw to fresh air themselves.

Only a handful of seconds had transpired since the accident, but waiting for the filtration override to kick in made it seem like hours.

Automatic sensors instantly relayed data back to maintenance and security, confirming hazardous air and no active fire. Manton slowly opened the crisis room door. Thick, swirling black filled the small space. He could hear the decon-filtration activators rapidly sucking up smoke and toxic vapors, the strong intake drives of the central artificial oxygen core swiftly treating and purifying, eventually blowing the remaining waste deep into the dormant fault under the mountain.

As the smoke dissipated, he saw the empty chair, the self-locking straps mangled and broken. The melted white padding scorched and smoldering, adding to the heavy stench that left a chemical taste in his mouth. Crouched in the far corner, a shimmering blue light suddenly rose up in the thinning blackness, outlining a tall, slender shape.

“It’s Manton, Debra,” he said guardedly, his throat raw and in need of something cold and wet. “Can you hear me?”

The activators continued to pull the fumes quickly up into the open vents in the ceiling. Manton got his first clear look at the room and gaped in awe. It was like someone had taken a paintbrush and drunkenly made thick black lines around the room. Only it wasn’t black paint, but long continuous burn marks.

Debra stood silently in the corner as he gradually approached, her eyes lowered, her skin almost completely white behind the aura. His heart nearly stopped beating when blood red eyes suddenly glared at him, no recognition, energy arcing angrily around her hands inside the aura.

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