by Bill Bowler
Preston sat in his office staring out the window and drumming his fingers on the desktop. It looked like Jenny was a no-show. It was bad, very bad. In her condition, and with the high concentration of psionic energy in the area, there was no telling what might have happened to her.
Preston stood and walked to the window. The weekend crowd, brought out by the nice weather, thronged up and down Broadway. Preston opened the door and stepped out into the sunlight. He was hoping to see Jenny coming down the street, but there was no sign of her. Preston took out his cell phone and called her, and got voicemail.
He went back into his office and began pacing back and forth. He pictured Jenny wandering dazed somewhere or passed out in an alley. He didn’t want to overreact, but he decided to see if he couldn’t find her. He’d start with her apartment.
* * *
Preston pushed through the revolving door and walked past the empty reception desk. The doorman was only gone a moment, but by the time he returned, Preston was in the elevator on his way up to the eleventh floor.
Preston rang the bell at 11-11. He could hear the sound of a TV from inside her apartment. Children’s laughter drifted down the hallway from the apartment at the end of the corridor. Preston waited and rang again. His mood was gloomy. He put his hand on the doorknob and tried it. The knob turned and the door opened.
Preston stepped into Jenny’s apartment and shut the door behind him. “Jenny? You here? It’s me. Preston.”
No reply. From the doorway, he saw the TV in the living room and the grocery bags on the kitchen counter.
The apartment seemed deserted. Preston started to look around, hoping to find some indication, some clue, anything. In the bedroom, the bed was not made. Clothes were draped on the back of a chair. On the night table next to her bed, a piece of paper caught his eye, a business card. Preston picked it up and read: Franklin Stone, Institute for Applied Psionics. On the flip side, Preston saw the hand-written note: “Call me.”
Preston’s mouth was set in a grim line. It had been a long time, but he remembered Frank Stone. Stone had been his student at MIT, one of the brightest among a select group. Preston remembered the young man, assertive, extremely intelligent, highly ambitious, with questionable ethics. Preston had caught him cheating more than once.
As Preston recalled, Stone had quit MIT without graduating. So far as the academic field was concerned, he had dropped off the map. But his grasp of psionic mechanics was profound, and Preston wondered where Stone’s talent and ambition might have taken him.
Preston put Franklin’s card in his pocket, let himself out of the apartment, and rode down to the lobby. He saw that the doorman had returned and addressed him.
“My name is Dibble. Miss Clearfield in 11-11 is my client and a dear friend. She missed an appointment at my office. I wondered if possibly you hadn’t seen her this afternoon.”
“She went out around twelve, across the street to the diner. Haven’t seen her since.”
“That establishment right there?”
Preston thanked the man for his help, pushed through the glass door, and crossed the street to the diner. There was no sign of Jenny. A waiter in an apron with an order book stuffed into his back pocket stood leaning against a door frame. Preston approached him.
“Excuse me. I’m looking for someone whom I believe came in earlier, a young woman about five foot six. You might have noticed her as her head is clean shaven.”
“Her? Yeah, she was in here. She ordered eggs but then got sick. She seemed woozy and some guy came in and helped her out. They left together.”
“What did the man look like?”
“I don’t know. Just a normal guy. Like a businessman.”
“Did you happen to see which way they went?”
“Not really. The guy’s car was parked on the street. They got in and took off. I was busy.”
“Do you remember what kind of car it was?”
“Yeah. Black SUV. Jersey plates, I think.”
Preston thanked the waiter and walked out to Broadway. He pulled Frank Stone’s card from his pocket and looked at it again. Preston thought of the anomalous psi-waves he had seen through his goggles saturating the neighborhood. The Institute in Englewood was not far.
* * *
Frank pulled off the highway and parked in the empty lot. The Institute was closed on Saturday. All the better. He walked around to the passenger side and helped Jenny out of the car. She was woozy and had to lean on him for support. The great sphere atop the tower behind the building was pulsating. Frank held Jenny as they crossed the lot, passed his card in front of the reader, and the glass doors slid open.
The building was deserted. Frank led Jenny past the empty front offices and down the unlit corridor to his lab in the rear wing. He unlocked the door and led her through the lab and into the test chamber.
“Sit right here.” He lowered Jenny onto the chair. She sat limp and swaying.
Frank steadied her. “Hold on just one minute. We’ll have you feeling better in no time.”
Jenny’s head drooped. She was having trouble keeping her eyes open. “Where are we?”
“We’re at the Institute, remember? You were blacking out at the diner. I have a machine here in the lab that can fix you right up. Sit right there and don’t move.”
Jenny sat slumped in the chair, her chin drooped down. Frank left the chamber, closed the door and sat down at the keyboard. He was punching in commands when his cell phone rang. He recognized the caller’s number.
“Jesus Christ,” Frank muttered. “Not now.”
He made a face and took the call. Nick’s voice came over the line. “Frank, where are you?”
“I’m at the lab.”
“What are you doing?”
“I, uh, I wanted to—”
“Where’s the girl?”
“I’ve got her.”
The line was silent for a moment. “Now what?”
“Now we execute the plan. I drop the juice, she suddenly feels good again and thanks us profusely. Then we get her on board.”
“I hope you know what you’re doing!”
“Everything’s under control, Nick. I’ll call you later.”
Frank hung up and glanced through the glass. Jenny was leaning back in the chair, her eyes half-closed. Frank started poking the keyboard again with both index fingers.
“What the hell?” he muttered to himself. He tapped the enter key a couple of times and threw up his hands. Nothing. The new settings were not transferring to the main tower.
Frank stood up and spoke into the mic. “Wait here just a moment, Miss Clearfield. I’ll be right back.”
Jenny did not answer. She sat quietly, her eyes closed, as if asleep.
Frank left the lab, walked down the corridor, and pushed the bar to open the back door. It was stuck and wouldn’t budge. Frank leaned his shoulder against the door and pushed. The door gave way, creaking on rusty hinges. Frank had to laugh. They were so worried about the fancy glass and carpets in the front offices, they paid no attention to the back, where the expensive equipment was. They couldn’t even be bothered to put some oil on the goddam hinges.
Frank walked out past the dumpster towards the edge of the woods and examined the tower. One of the cables had come loose. He snorted at the irony of a simple mechanical issue disabling a complex electronic setup, and pushed the plug back firmly in the socket. He wiped his hands on his pants and went back into the building, pulling the service door behind him. It swung slowly, reluctantly, and failed to shut.
Back in the lab, Frank punched in the new settings for the main generator, new settings known only to him. With subject 4 in hand, a class-A receiver, he had made a decision. It was time to launch phase two of the project, his project, nobody else’s. He had not discussed it with anyone and had not mentioned it to Dixon.
Frank was dubious of the fear-aggression model that Dixon and his backers were pushing. It was short-sighted. The really big money was in mass marketing and sales. A hot device could sell units in the tens of millions virtually overnight. And the key was desire, not fear. Desire.
Frank sat down at the terminal, adjusted the dial, set the wavelength and frequency according to his revised calculations, and connected to the main tower. Outside, the great sphere began to pulsate.
Frank heard Jenny’s sultry voice over the intercom from the chamber.
“Frank-ee, I-see-you. Why don’t you come in here with me? We’re all alone, aren’t we?”
“What the...?” Frank looked up through the plexiglass into the chamber. Jenny was awake now and standing. She had slipped out of her blouse and was undoing the zipper on her jeans.
“Frankie, sugar, come in here. I’m lonely. It’s cold in here. I need you to warm me up.”
Frank’s eyebrows went up. This was not exactly what he had expected, but... His mouth went dry and he licked his lips.
“Come here, Frankie.” Jenny was naked now and turned to face him. She looked like a Greek goddess. Frank gulped, glanced around the lab, and entered the chamber.
“I’m here, baby. Don’t worry.”
* * *
Preston was alarmed, but he was not ready to draw the police into it. He had too little to go on, and his theory was too far outside of mainstream thinking to be taken seriously by the authorities, in any case.
He fetched his car from the lot, drove up the Henry Hudson, and crossed the bridge. He followed the parkway north, towards the address in Englewood on Stone’s card. Around a mile up from the bridge, Preston caught site of the tower and the pulsating red sphere.
He made a u-turn, pulled onto the southbound lane, and drove a hundred yards or so when he saw an unmarked exit, easy to miss. The service road led to a driveway that circled in front of a one-story concrete building with a dark glass façade.
There was one car in the lot, a black SUV with Jersey plates. Preston parked and walked up to the entrance. Next to the door were a card reader, a buzzer, and an inconspicuous bronze plaque that read: Institute for Psionic Applications. The doors were locked. Preston pushed the buzzer and banged on the glass, but no one came. He peered through the dark glass into the empty lobby. The building seemed deserted.
Preston walked onto the lawn, followed the hedges that lined the building, circled around to the rear, and came to the great steel tower that supported the pulsating sphere. The tower stood beside a concrete, windowless wing of the building that jutted out near the edge of the woods.
Next to a dumpster, Preston saw a service entrance. He tried the door, and it creaked open, unlocked. It had been left slightly ajar. Preston slipped into the building.
He was working his way down a dark corridor, past empty labs and offices, when he heard faint voices coming from one room. He crept quietly forward, opened the door slowly, and peeked in.
It was a well equipped laboratory. The voices were coming from a windowed chamber on the far side of the room. One voice was male and one female. Preston recognized the female voice and moved softly towards the window. Inside the chamber, he saw Jenny lying prone, naked, and half conscious. A man was in the chamber with her, fumbling with his zipper and pulling off his pants.
Preston cried out, “Stop at once!”
The man froze and turned, and Preston recognized his former pupil at MIT, Frank Stone. Preston ran into the chamber, wrapped his arms around Frank, and tried to pull him away from Jenny. They struggled briefly. Frank shoved the older man back with both hands and then swung and landed a hard punch to his jaw.
As if through a thick haze, a dense mental fog, Jenny heard an ugly crunching, cracking sound as blood sprayed and a tooth flew from Preston’s mouth. She looked around and saw she was in a laboratory. She saw her clothes piled on the floor and realized she was naked. She saw Professor Dibble slumped against the wall with blood streaming from his mouth. And she saw the man who had come to her apartment and who had come to the diner. He had blood on his knuckles.
“Don’t worry, Miss Clearfield.” Frank took a step towards her. “It’s just a little misunderstanding. Professor Dibble has had an accident.” Frank reached towards Jenny.
“No-o-o!!” Jenny screamed at the top of her lungs. All her pent-up fear and confusion, the nausea, all the dread and foreboding, everything reversed itself and exploded outwards as rage.
She discharged a burst of psionic energy that blew out the plexiglass, knocked over heavy cabinets, swept lab equipment off the tables and flung it across the floor. The building shook on its foundation. The explosion of psi power lifted Frank off the ground and threw him across the room like a rag doll. He slammed into the wall and crumpled to the floor unconscious.
A beam of Jenny’s psionic energy ploughed a channel through the psi waves to their source, the main generator. The great red pulsating sphere exploded, raining shards of glass and burnt, twisted metal down onto the grass at the foot of the tower. Smoke curled up from the blackened tip and an acrid smell drifted in the air. Strobes blinked and alarm sirens cycled in the lab building.
Jenny dressed quickly and ran to where Preston lay. With the edge of her shirt, she wiped the blood from his jaw. He groaned, opened his eyes, and smiled weakly at her. “Jenny!”
“Are you all right?”
“I think so.”
“Can you get up?”
“I think so.”
With Jenny’s help, Preston managed to get to his feet. He touched his jaw gingerly. “I lost a tooth.”
“I’m so sorry.”
“Let’s see about him.” Preston pointed at Frank, slumped against the far wall where Jenny’s psi energy had thrown him.
Preston knelt beside Frank and saw that he was coming to. Frank groaned quietly and began to move.
“He’s all right,” said Preston. “Perhaps we should vacate the premises?”
Jenny and Preston hurried from the lab, down the corridor and out the back service door. Broken glass crunched underfoot as they ran past the smoking tower and around front to Preston’s car. They jumped in, Preston pulled out to the highway, and raced towards the bridge, back to Manhattan.
“I don’t understand any of this.” Jenny leaned back in her seat as Preston drove.
“It was pure psi energy,” said Preston. “They were using the wave generator to try to control you, but you are a natural source, many times more powerful than their artificial generator. When your inhibitions dropped in the heat of battle, you discharged a pulse of energy that... Well, you saw the results.”
Jenny shook her head. “I’m not sure I really understand.”
“I can help you if you’ll let me. I can show you how to harness your power and how to defend yourself from psychotropic attack. It will take time, but I can train you in certain techniques, if you’re willing.”
“I don’t know, Professor. I don’t know. I have to think about it. I’m very confused.”
* * *
Nick was far from satisfied with his phone conversation with Frank and surprised when Frank hung up on him. Nick smelled a rat and decided to go to the facility and see what Frank was up to. As Nick pulled into the circular drive, he saw Frank’s car and heard the alarms cycling. He smelled smoke and saw the thin wisp curling from the top of the tower behind the building. The sphere was gone.
Nick let himself in through the front entrance and ran down the dark corridor, starting to fear the worst. When he reached the lab, he found Frank seated on the floor. Broken glass and bent instruments were strewn everywhere.
Nick knelt down beside Frank and touched him gently. “Frank, Frank, you all right?”
Frank moaned. “My head! Somebody slugged me.”
“Who?” asked Nick. “Frank, where’s the girl?”
Frank looked around the ruined lab. A grim smile played across his lips. “So that’s it! We’ll have to rebuild. It’s a temporary setback. We’ll come back stronger than ever. I know what we’re up against now. I know what to do. We need more power, a network of towers! She’s not going to get away with this!”
Copyright © 2012 by Bill Bowler