Impulse Control by Susan Bischoff - HTML preview

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A Talent Chronicles Story

by Susan Bischoff

The natives were getting restless.
Natives?
Classmates?
Inmates.
My fellow inmates were getting restless. The class we were waiting for should have started

two minutes ago. Doesnt seem like much, two minutes, but classes were always on time. Everything was always on time. And any deviation from routine generally meant some kind of trouble.

It was unusual for them to leave us unsupervised. Well, how unsupervised can you be with two cameras mounted in the room? But it was unusual not to have any NIAC—National Institutes for Ability Control—personnel physically there to eyeball us. Id heard stories from kids who hadnt been at State School #15 as long as I had, whod come from normal schools and normal lives on the outside. They said kids acted up at school sometimes, caused trouble just for the sake of causing trouble. Took the consequences just to get attention, or for the thrill of breaking rules and the possibility of escaping with no consequences at all.

It was hard to wrap my brain around t hat. But then, Detention doesnt mean the same thing to them. Out there.
My pencil snapped in my hand. Damn.
Ethan,
Karens voice soothed its way into my brain, you need to relax. Its probably nothing.
I glanced over to throw her a smile, reassure her that I was fine and not a danger to myself or others…except for the pencil. She was fiddling with her long, black hair, and while her mental voice was calm as ever, she couldnt hide the apprehension in her grey eyes.
Then those eyes flicked to Elle who, a moment later, turned in her seat and reached across the aisle toward me. I put the two pieces of the pencil in Elles hand. She closed her fist around it, opened her hand, and I retrieved my pencil, good as new, from her palm. My fingers brushed her skin and I felt a tingle all the way up my arm. I had to clear my throat to whisper “Thanks,” at her. I doubt she heard me. I barely heard me. She was already facing front, and I was looking at her honey-brown braid again.
You know what you learn when you can read minds? Karen “asked.”
I heaved a heavy mental sigh. Lots of things that arent your business, Id imagine.
Boys are idiots.
Dont you have anyone else to pick—?
Theyre coming.

The door opened and three people entered the room. One was the armed guard who would stand in the corner and look bored the entire time our instructor was in the room. One was the instructor for this class. The class was called Mental Defense, but the instructor had never told us his name. Lots of NIAC personnel didnt give us their names. We called him Sir. The third was a guy about the same age as Karen and me.
He was on the tall side, pale and really skinny, and his hair was cropped so close to his scalp you could hardly tell what color it was. Brown, I guessed. He walked kind of strangely, one foot dragging a little with each step. The instructor didnt tell him to take a seat. As the kid stood at the front of the room, it seemed he had a tick that caused his head to tilt to the side a few times a minute.
“This,” the instructor said with a tone of suppressed excitement in his voice that made me kind of nervous, “is Anderson. Hell be helping us test the telepathic blocking techniques weve been working on.” I definitely didnt like the sound of that. “Anderson has come to us from Delta Facility.”
That announcement broke through even our rigid discipline. There were a bunch of gasps, even whispers. The instructor pounded his fist on his desk, looking really pissed off at the outburst. What did he expect? Delta Facility was the proper name for what the NIAC personnel more casually referred to as Detention. It was the worst threat of punishment available to them, the nightmare of every kid in State School. It was a place few kids ever came back from, and no one ever left the way they went in. It was a place of free experimentation where life had no value and pain wasnt a concern. Rumors of unending torment, yet a territory vastly unknown. It was Talent Hell. We called it Everlast.
Across the room, an empath groaned loudly and his chair scraped against the floor. From the corner of my eye I could see him grab his head and twist in his seat.
“Use your blocking, Kenneth,” the instructor snapped.
I tried to pull my emotions back, to calm down, to put Everlast and the concern about what the Anderson kid was here to do aside for the moment. I hoped the rest of the class would do the same and give Kenneth a break, poor guy.
“Can you continue without disrupting us?”
“Y-yes, Sir,” Kenneth gritted out. He folded his hands on the desk in front of him, arms trembling, knuckles going white. They told the public that they took us from our families to train us to control our abilities, protect us as well as them. Since we were never allowed to communicate with our families, since no one ever went home, its hard to believe that anyone on either side of the electrified fence believed that. We were training to be government operatives and they didnt like to see weakness. If you couldnt handle the strain, you werent going to hack it as a soldier. And if you couldnt hack it as a soldier, the next best use was lab rat.
“Glad to hear it,” the instructor said curtly. “Anderson has been a successful part of an experimental trial involving an important new technology that may someday aid all AbilityAffected persons. What brings him to our Mental Defense class, however, is his inborn ability: Compulsion.”
Even I could feel another shift in the energy in the room. Compulsion and Influence Talents were pretty rare. At least they were in the State Schools. NIAC didnt trust kids who could affect their thoughts. No wonder hed ended up in Everlast.
“As we have discussed on numerous occasions, there may be a time when you will be faced with an Ability-Affected opponent or even, at some point in the future, a technology that may attempt to force you off-mission through some form of mindmanipulation. Today were going to be getting realworld practice in using the blocking techniques weve been learning. All right, Anderson, lets start with something simple. Choose your subject and make that subject…walk to the front of the room.”
Anderson and the instructor went a few rounds of trying to make us dance—literally in one case. The instructor pointed out Rand and Karen and told Anderson to force Rand to strike his older sister. The poor kid got a nose bleed and almost passed out, but he held his own. No big surprise to me. Rand and Karen were really tight and even at twelve, Rand was shaping up to be a strong guy. Even Anderson broke out in a sweat on that one, looking kind of embarrassed and pissed off, but the instructor was pleased.
“All right, take your seat, Rand, and keep your head back. Well do one more and then well call it a day. Your choice Anderson.”
Andersons head kept snapping that little sideways jerk as his narrowed eyes looked us over. When he looked down my row, I glanced away. Nope, no challenge here. The last thing I wanted was to find out that I lacked the mental fitness to stand up to him and end up giving Rand a busted lip to match his bloody nose. Andersons expression looked mean and I figured thats what hed go for. Better he pick on one of the smaller guys.
Elle pushed her chair back and stood. She grabbed the back of it and swayed on her feet, as though trying to pull herself away from invisible hands. Her hand jerked away from the back of the chair as one foot slid forward. Then another. She was shaking her head as she moved haltingly forward, grabbing at the sides of desks in an effort to hold herself back, sometimes pulling them away from their owners.
Anderson waited for her at the front of the classroom, lounging negligently against the instructors desk. He was smiling now, a predatory smile that made my blood boil. I heard the scrape of my own chair before I was even aware of what I was doing.
Stop it!Karens thought was forceful, edged with urgency, and made me pause long enough to see the instructors attention directed my way, his expression half warning and half challenge. Yes, hed love an excuse to go after you. Dont give it to him, Ethan.
Help her,
I thought.
You know I cant get involved any more than you can. Shes gotta do this on her own.
Some best friend you are.
Unfair, but I wasnt feeling a lot of fairness just then. Elles no match for him. She was already near the front of the classroom now.
I know. Ethan, you need to calm down. Sirs watching you. The violence pouring off you is about to make Kenneth sick, and theres nothing to be done. Its humiliating, yeah, but shell live.
He wont.
Cut the macho crap. Youre always going to be on probation here. You cant afford a show of temper, so just cool it. Close your eyes and think of your happy place or something.

But I couldnt close my eyes. I had to watch Elle being pulled and jerked by Andersons Talent until she seemed to throw herself against his chest. He caught her lightly around the waist and waited for her to raise herself on her toes and press her mouth to his.
I think I growled.
Careful, youre about to out yourself on the whole secret crush thing.
If that was supposed to lighten my mood, it was total fail.
Karen? Shut. Up.
My teeth hurt from grinding them together. I know it was only a moment but it seemed to take forever before the instructor broke it up. Part of me was surprised he had let it go that far. They didnt go as far as they could have to segregate the sexes, but boy/girl relationships were definitely frowned on.
“Okay, Anderson, thats enough.”
Anderson released her immediately, licking his lips with a satisfied smirk that made me need to kill him. Elle jerked away like he was made of fire and immediately raised her hand to slap him. Instead she used the back of it to swipe across her mouth. She turned and marched back to her seat with her chin up, but not making eye contact with anyone. There were tears on her cheeks.
Beyond my rage at Anderson, at the instructor, at pretty much the whole world just then, I felt bad for even looking at her in that moment, at not having the sense to look away and give her that much privacy.
The instructorlooked at his watch. “Were done for today. I trust all of you will now diligently practice the exercises youve been given and strengthen those mental defenses. Dismissed.” As always, the instructor and his guard left first. They took Anderson with them.
Lucky for him, I thought.
“Ow!” I looked up to see it was Karen who had cuffed me on the back of the head. Big surprise.
“Youre having a relapse. Snap out of it. I didnt spend all that time helping you learn to control that temper of yours so you couldblow it now,” she said in a low voice. She turned to Rand. “Hows the nose.”
“Its fine. What an asshole. Is that what they do at Everlast, turn people into assholes?”
“Watch your mouth! Ethan, whats going on in the guys dorm? Whys my baby brother talking like a sailor?”
Rand made a disgusted noise in response to the “baby brother” remark. “You okay, Elle?” He changed his voice to mock the instructor mode, “Okay, Anderson, its lackeys choice.” Then to mock the idiot mode, “Oh, um, I think Ill pick…get the prettiest girl in the class to kiss me!” Back in his own voice, “How original. Asshole. Like hed ever get any any other way.”
Karen cuffed him on the head, but Elle smiled. Man, the stuff you can get away with saying to a girl when youre only twelve.
“Come on,” Karen the mother hen said, herding us chicks along behind the other kids. “Were gonna be late for PT.”
Physical Training meant different things for different Talents. For Karen and purely mental Talents like her, it just was just calisthenics, laps, stuff like that. She hated it. Rand loved it. The kid had way too much energy. They were trying to curb that with the discipline of a lot of martial arts training. As soon as we walked outside he put a little spring in his step. For a kid who could manipulate his own gravity, that spring sent him sailing over our heads with a wave, and bouncing off to his sensei like a man on the moon.
“Like Tigger on crack,” Elle said.
“Who?” Karen and I asked together.
“Tigger. Tigger and Pooh? Hes bouncy, pouncy, flouncy…and you have no idea what Im talking about.” Unlike Karen, Rand, and I who had been here since we were really little, Elle had spent years in the real world before coming here. Sometimes I didnt understand a word she was saying.
I shook my head, thinking how pretty she was, especially when she had color in her cheeks like that. The wind blew at strands of hair that escaped her braid and I really wanted to— I coughed, feeling Karens amused eyes on me. “I, uh, gotta…” I hitched my thumb over my shoulder.
“See you at lunch, big guy,” Karen said.
Elle smiled at me.
I thought about that smile later as I waited for a healer. It must have been a busy day on the PT fields because it seemed to be taking forever. I concentrated on Elles smile, on holding my form, on not passing out. Theres nothing worse than getting burned, and I was lucky it wasnt a lot worse.
“Im so sorry, Ethan,” Emily said again. She looked like she was going to cry.
I opened my mouth to tell her, again, that it was okay, it wasnt her fault. But the coach cut me off. “No apologies. Maybe thatll help him think a little faster on his feet next time, right Ethan? Hold that form. Youre morphing.”
Of course Im morphing! It was hard enough taking the form of this skinny little girl, then add dodging the fireballs you made her throw at me, and now Im supposed to be able to concentrate enough to hold it when shes fried my damned arm? Son of a bitch!
“Im doing my best, Sir.”
“Well your best sucks. Your best let this girl make barbeque out of you. Wheres that healer? Lets see another shift—no, dont go back to your own form. Do…Marcia over there.”
God forbid you could ease up and let me do someone my own size.
It was a really long PT.
Later, in the mess, I spotted Elle and Karen on the line. Elle waved me over to cut in. Most kids didnt much care about that kind of thing. We were all getting fed and the food was nothing to hurry for, and even if someone did have a problem, Id been big, mean, and unpredictable enough when I was younger that I still had a certain reputation. No one wanted to start something.
“What happened to you?” Elle grabbed my arm to examine it as soon as I was within reach. Her fingers were warm on my bare skin and all the air pretty much evacuated my lungs. The next moment she dropped it like a hot potato and took hold of her braid instead.
I rubbed at a sudden chill, feeling the charred ends of where my sleeve used to be. Id have to wear this shirt the rest of the day—so that everyone could see I was clumsy enough to get hit, I guess.
“Singed a bit?” Karen asked.
I had no doubt she knew. Her giant, all-powerful, scary-ass psychic brain always seemed to be everywhere at once and she had no concept of privacy.
We were nearing the entrance to the serving area. An armed guard stood off to the side, droning in a loud monotone, “Keep both hands on the trays. No talking to the staff. Keep the line moving.” I always wondered why they didnt just record that and play it over a speaker.
We moved through the serving room. Karen seemed distracted. I saw Elle take her hand off her tray to push Karens arm forward. The server behind the glass glared at both of them as she smacked a scoop of something down on the plate. “Keep your brain to yourself and pay attention, nosy,” I whispered, in what was supposed to be a taunt to jolt her back to her own reality. But she didnt seem to hear me.
We had almost reached the exit when I saw Rands dark head bobbing in and out of the crowd ahead of us. He fought his way upstream, shoving kids with trays as he pushed through the narrow doorway. I turned to Elle who switched her grip to balance her tray on one arm and held out the other for mine, and when my hands were free I grabbed Rand by the shoulders and planted his feet firmly on the floor. The guard had stopped droning, and Rand had his full attention.
“Hey kid, calm down. Whats going on?”
He looked up at me for just a second, then his face screwed up and he fell against my chest. He was crying.
Aw, hell. I glanced at Karen whose face was tight.
Somebodys dead. One of his friends.
One of the kids?
Yeah.
Aw, hell.

I took him by the shoulders and pulled him away from me, giving him what I hoped was a comforting squeeze while shook him a little. “Snap to, okay, buddy? You cant do this here. Straighten up.”
I felt like an asshole. You shouldnt have to say that to a little kid whos just lost a friend. You shouldnt have to deal with things like little kids losing friends and guys with automatic weapons looking like theyre ready to pounce.
“You got that under control?” the guard barked at me.
“Yes, sir. Were fine. Sorry, sir.”
I turned Rand around to walk in front of me. All the other kids had spun back around when the guard spoke and we were moving in quick, orderly fashion. I kept myhands on Rands shoulders as I marched him out and over to a table and sat him down next to me. The girls followed and sat across from us. I knew it about killed Karen not to cuddle him.
Karen and Rand were about as tight as siblings could be. They came here when Karen and I were five and Rand was only two. I think their parents might have coped with having a telepath around, but having a toddler literally bouncing off the walls probably made them glad for the excuse of the Ability-Affected Persons Civil Responsibility Disclosure Act—the law that required citizens to notify the government of suspected Talents. It also required parents to allow them to be taken to State Schools to be trained under the authority of the National Institutes for Ability Control.
The last few years had been especially hard on them—more for Karen, I think. She and I had turned twelve and were moved up to Senior Section together, while Rand was left behind in Intermediate. We were hardly able to see him at all until he got old enough to catch up to us again. Karen had taken a big step back from him, and that was hard on her too, but she knew she couldnt keep fussing over him. We were too old for that. NIAC let us socialize, let us form friendships, but they frowned on deep relationships that might get in the way of their own agenda. If two people seemed to care more about each other than they cared about getting along with NIAC and sticking to the program, well, there were a bunch of other State Schools a kid could be transferred to. Got a problem with that? Then there was always Detention.
Elle slid my tray across to me and I shoved my paper napkin at Rand. “All right now, mop up, kid. Take it easy. This aint the place and you know it, so man up.” That sounded harsh. It was harsh. But I just couldnt let him make a scene and show weakness. Not in front of the guards, not in front of so many other Talents, kids hed be facing off against on the field or in the classroom, whod be looking for weaknesses to exploit in order to impress the instructors. I kept my hand clamped to his shoulder, and that was all the support I could offer.
Karens face had a look of intense concentration. She was sorting through Rands jumbled thoughts, trying to get the whole story. “Eat your lunch,” I told her sharply, jolting her out of her study. “And that goes double for you, kid. Take mine, Ill go get another.” I shoved my tray in front of Rand.
“Im not hungry,” he whined.
“Ask me if I care. Youve been bouncing around like a maniac and Im sure you put in a good workout before you got your bad news. So eat something, whether you like it or not, or youll crash and burn before the days over.”
“Says the guy who was dodging fireballs.” Elles tray slid across the table and stopped in front of me. “You eat, and listen to your own advice. Ill get another.” She was gone before I could argue.
“Come on, kid, lets dig in. Well talk this out later. I promise.” I was more than ready to lead by example. A big guy like me needs a lot of calories in the first place, and morphing, holding the more complicated forms under stress, dodging fireballs, getting healed…I was starving and if I didnt fill up now I was gonna tank big-time before food was offered again.

* * *

“Did I mention what a bad idea this is?” I rea ched up and adjusted the tag in the neck of uniform shirt I was wearing. It was itching my neck.
“Only five or six times,” said Elle, who was walking beside me along the quiet, dimly lit corridor.
On her other side, Karen grunted irritably. “But youve been thinking it non-stop. At this point I think Id prefer your daydreams about—”
“Hey now,” I interrupted on cue. Karen wasnt really about to out me in front of Elle, she just wanted to annoy me. But what did she expect? That I would be thrilled when the two of them snuck out of the Girls Dorm and came looking for me, bearing the dirty laundry of NIAC personnel? Id said it then and Id say it again, sneaking around trying to find information about the story Rand had told us was a bad idea.
“Please,” Karen drawled, “dont say it again.”
“Just keep your nose in your clipboard and look officious.”
“Is that even a word?” Elle asked.
“It is,” I told her. Sure, I liked hanging out and joking with my friends, but with Karen wearing the white lab coat of a NIAC researcher or technician, me disguised as a guard, Elle walking between us as the subject under study, the three of us so where we were not supposed to be, and lighthearted banter was not where my head was.
“This is it,” Karen said, stopping in front of a door. She looked around. “No cameras, and I dont hear anyone nearby.”
“Thats good, because if anyone hears this, were gonna have some explaining to do.” The form I had taken was one of the guards I was saw fairly often, a guy pretty close to my own size and muscle mass. Unfortunately, the girls had brought me a uniform, but no boots and all I had were my sneakers. They were black and would probably pass if anyone stopped us, but for this, it was gonna hurt. “Stand back.” I snapped a kick at the lock. Sonof a… Had to kick it twice before the door swung inward. We hurried in.
Elle wrapped her hands around the busted lock and closed her eyes. When she pulled them away the door looked good as new. She shut the door and locked us in. I let myself morph back to my real form with a sigh of relief.
“Ethan, these file cabinets are locked.”
“Of course they are.” I broke those locks and we commenced rifling. “I got some more out of Rand before I finally got him to sleep. His friend in the Intermediates told him that they took five kids almost two weeks ago. They came back a week ago with their heads shaved, bandages on their scalps, and acting strange. Over the last week, two of them, his friend Chaz and some other kid, collapsed with seizures and died. Now theyve notified five more kids in the Section that theyve been selected for a special project. Its supposed to start Monday.”
“Thats pretty much what I got out of his head earlier—except it was a lot messier than your version,” Karen confirmed.
“Andersons got something to do with it.” Elle got our attention with that one. She was sitting on the desk with a file labeled Confidential. “What happened to Rands friend is a later phase in an experiment that started at Everlast. The round of…procedures—the surgeries they did two weeks ago—the results havent been what they expected. So theyve flown Anderson in, as a successful test subject, so the doctors involved can study him before the next round.”
“Test subject for what? What kind of surgeries?”
“Theyre doing brain implants. Computer chips. For mind control.”
We all let that sink in for a moment. It made sense. Who would these paranoid monsters want to control more than a Talent who had the power to control them?
“It does make sense.” Karen said. “It felt like there was something really wrong with that Anderson guy—”
“Youre telling me,” Elle growled in a dry tone.
“More than just being a creep, though. I wasnt sure how to describe it, but it was like…not all his thoughts were his own. Now the one about you—that was all him, all horny guy with no respect. That was about showing off. Getting away with something like that—approved by an instructor even—thats one of the few shows of power hes capable of. And powers important to him because he feels powerless. He feels…leashed.”
“You sound like an empath.”
“Im just trying to put clearer words to it. His thought is kind of non-verbal a lot of the time.”
“Ok, whatever,” I ground out. I didnt want to talk about this guy, let alone hear about his feelings or how his evil little mind worked. I still wanted to pound him into the ground. “Anything else in those files, Elle?”
“Yeah, but I dont even know what Im reading.” She looked at Karen. “Were going to have to take this back to Angeline.”
“No,” I said, “no, no, no. I dont care if she does understand everything she reads, were not stealing files.”
“Well, I guess we could always bring Angeline down here,” Karen pondered. “Wed probably need two „guards to pull that off. Think you get another one of the guys to help out?”
“You want to sneak fivepeople around the restricted zone after lights out?”
“Hes kinda cute when hes about to explode. Dont you think hes kinda cute, Elle?”
“Give him a break. Look, Ethan, I understand your concern—”
“Oh, Im real glad to hear that.”
“—but kids are dying. Little kids. Are dead. These,” she held up the files, “are definite plans for hacking into more little kids heads and cutting into their brains, making them into slaves of—“
“Okay, okay. Get off your moral high-horse before you crack your head. I get it. But I get to sit next to you on the bus ride to Everlast.”
I couldnt believe I just said that. I felt my cheeks get hot. Elle blushed. Behind a file folder, Karen rolled her eyes at me.
“Get what youre getting and lets get out of here,” I snapped.

* * *

 

“Okay, we go up this wall. Theres an access door on the roof thats going to get us in real close to where theyre housing Anderson.”

The girls hadnt wasted any time getting Angeline to explain the file to them. Elle had already been ready to go on a crusade for these kids, and Angeline had told her she believed she might have the very Talent that could help them. So without me as the voice of reason, they came up with this great plan to visit Anderson, which had Elle and me staring up the side of this building the next night.

Elle squinted up and tugged on her braid. “Ethan, I cant climb that.”
“I know, dont worry about that. We can do this two ways. I could climb up and lower down a rope and then pull you up. But youd have to wait down here by yourself while I made climb. I think it would be better if I just carried you up on my back. If…uh…thats okay with you.”
“You can do that?”
“Uh...yeah.” I felt like an idiot. I didnt want to sound like I was bragging or showing off or something, but I wanted her to understand shed be safe. “Look, Im a shapeshifter, right? It pretty much means I can give myself as much muscle mass as I need. The only thing is that Ill need my arms, so youve got to be sure to hold on. It shouldnt take too long, though.”
“Yeah, okay, I can do that.”
I turned around and Elle clambered onto my back, wrapping her arms around my neck, legs around my waist, and making me really glad Karen wasnt here to read my thoughts. I leapt up for the first handhold, testing our weight, and then started climbing.
“Is this why you didnt want to bring Karen?” Elle asked in my ear.
“Karen doesnt have any business climbing buildings in the middle of the night. Not that you do either.”
“Youre very protective of her.”
Whats that supposed to mean?
“I guess. I mean, yeah, I am. Do you know why Im on probation?”
“What do you mean, „on probation?”
“I mean, like, one more strike and Im on the next bus to Everlast. You didnt know that?”
“Why would they send you to Everlast, Ethan? You never do anything wrong.”
“Nothing except sneak around the restricted zone after hours, steal files, carry girls up the sides of buildings.”
“You know what I mean.”
“Yeah.” I pulled us over the edge of the roof. Elle slipped away from me and I shook out my arms, let my form settle, caught my breath, while she sat beside me in the shadows. I wanted to take a minute to let my form settle, so this was probably as good a time as any to clear this up. “Im sorry, I just figured you and Karen talk so much… Dont look so worried. Its not a big deal, I just thought, since you asked about Karen and me—”
“I didnt mean to—”
I cut her off, figuring we didnt have all night to do the awkward word dance thing. “When I came here, I was one of those kids who had a lot of trouble controlling their Talent. I had a really bad temper and my Talent feeds on that. On stuff like anger and frustration. So I was like any other kid with a bad temper who had trouble controlling it and sometimes lashed out, except that when I lashed out, I lashed way out. And it may not surprise you to learn that coming here didnt really help out with that a whole lot.”
“What? You take a little kid away from his family and put him into a military institution with a bunch of freaks and he doesnt immediately find inner peace?”
“I know, right? What can I tell you, I was a tough case. Long story short, Karen decided to get into my head and start saving me from myself. She said I was supposed to have an inner voice of reason or something, and since I lacked it, she was going to be it. And shes pretty much been in my head ever since.”
“She never said.”
“I may not give her enough credit on the whole privacy thing. She really, literally, saved my life. It was close, though. I was really angry and it took me a long time to get it under control. Its been years since my tempers been a problem, but theyre still waiting for me to screw up again.”
Yeah, trouble controlling my temper. Thats all there was to it. This was such an oversimplification I was afraid my nose was gonna start growing.
“I dont think Ive ever even heard you raise your voice. I almost think youre making all this up.”
“Anyway, I didnt let Karen come because we didnt need her for this and it seemed too risky to try to look after both of you. I did go on record, right, about hating this whole idea? I dont think any of us should be doing this.”
“Yeah, you mentioned. So, um, thanks for doing this. I know you didnt have to get involved.”
“Why are we doing this? I mean, why are you? What possible reason could you have for wanting to help Anderson?”
“Its not so much him, its the little kids, you know? Angie thinks I can actually help them. Its hard for me to believe shes right about that, but if she is, Ive got to do it. But I want to try it on Anderson first. So I dont get their hopes up. And Anderson…hes a jerk and stuff, but hes still a person. And hes a Talent—one of us, not one of them, you know?”
“Yeah, I guess.” I found my feet and held out my hand to her. “Lets go fix the jerk.”
A few minutes later we were in Andersons private room and he was looking at us skeptically.
“Youre going to fix me? Fix what?”
“Shes talking about trying to disconnect,” I jerked my chin in an imitation of his tick, “that chip,” I did it again, “in your head.”
He glared at me. “Thats impossible.”
“What have you got to lose? Or do you enjoy being their pet monkey? Or is it more like a robot?”
“Ethan, cut it out,” Elle said. “Look, I fix things, okay. I can see how they used to be and I can fix them. Like the lock on the door. Or if you broke a dish. I think I might be able to see how your brain was, before the chip, and make it that way again. The chip would still be there, but were talking about…disconnecting it from the circuit.”
“So if this works, it will still seem to them like its receiving their signals and delivering them, but I wont hear them anymore?”
“I dont know. I dont know what your experience will be. I dont even know if this will work.”
“And why are you even here?”
“Because theyve started working on a bunch of little kids here, and theyve got a bunch more theyre starting in on next week,” I said.
“Yeah, I know. So youre using me as a guinea pig before you go mess with the kids brains.”
“Basically,” Elle said honestly.
“Yeah, all right. Do your thing.”
“All right, just sit back and try to relax,” Elle said, moving around behind his chair. Her hands settled on his shorn hair and I sort of wished Karen was around to tell me what he was thinking. Elles eyes were closed, and she frowned in concentration. Anderson continued looking at me, but then his eyes lost focus. His pupils dilated. Elles hands were moving over his scalp and then I saw a tear fall from the corner of her eye. I got up just in time to catch her as she stumbled back from Andersons chair.
“What? What is it? Did that hurt you?”
She reached up brushed the corner of her eye with the heel of her hand. “No. No, Im fine, Ethan.” But she was leaning into me and I wasnt sure. “Anderson? Are you okay?”
Anderson got up out of his chair and walked a few steps away. He shook his leg, and I remembered how it had sort of dragged as he walked into the classroom the other day. He paced back and forth and then turned to us.
“Somethings different. Somethings definitely different.” He sounded excited. Hopeful. “Look, I can still…feel it. In there. Still hear the hum of it. But other stuff is different.”
“I think the tick is gone,” Elle whispered.
“Theres no way to be sure, not until they give me a command. But I think this might actually have worked.”
Elle was beaming. I was very concerned that there might be crying.
“Listen, you guys, you should know something.”
Here it comes, the big „I was being used apology thing.
“When youre a lab rat, they see you as a lab rat. These guys talk in front of me all the time, like Im not even there. I guess they figure it doesnt matter, who am I gonna talk to, right? So look, the guy who did this to me, Dr. Piers, hes here. At least, he was supposed to arrive tonight. Theyre not happy with the results of the first round of experiments here, so theyve flown Piers in from Delta Facility to perform the next round of implantations himself. I heard they were moving the surgeries up to Friday.”
“As in the day after tomorrow?”
“Right. Hes giving himself a day to look over subjects, then hes planning all the surgeries for Friday, and hes flying out again on Friday night.”
Elle clutched at me. “We have to do something.”
I didnt know what to say.
She turned back to Anderson. “Well come up with something. If theres a part for you to play, will you help us?”
“If Im not under NIAC control anymore, Im going to owe you, bigtime. And even if I didnt I wouldnt mind getting a chance to get in the way of Piers success. If I can do it, count me in.”
“I guess well have to wait until tomorrow to see how well this worked.”
“I guess so. See you in class, Ethan.”
As much as I was clear on the whole Talents vs. NIAC thing, it was still hard not to be uneasy at the thought of possibly having helped someone like Anderson out of his cage. I hoped we didnt regret it.
Outside we waited in the shadows for the break in the surveillance loop that would allow us to cross back to our own building with the least chance of being spotted. Elles back was pressed to the wall and I was using my own bulk to try to shield her from any possible view. It seemed like she was glowing. She wasnt. But she was wired, practically bouncing and humming with excitement.
“I cant believe it! I mean, Angie said I should be able to, she explained it really clearly and it made sense, but I didnt really think I could, you know?”
I almost reminded her that we didnt actually know if it worked or not, but I looked into her sparkling green eyes and couldnt bring myself to be that much of a heel. So I just smiled at her and glanced around at the guard towers again.
“Ethan.” She tugged at my jacket and I looked down at her. She looked very serious all of a sudden. It kind of made it hard to breathe. “You didnt have to do this for me tonight, and now I get what a big risk youve been taking.”
“I dont know why I told you that. Forget about it.”
“No, I wont. Thank you.” She reached up and curled her hand around my neck. I followed her lead, bending toward her as she rose on her toes. Her lips brushed my cheek, and then she started to ease back from me again. But she stopped.
We stood there for a moment, me bent awkwardly at the waist, she on her toes, holding herself up with her grip on my neck, our lips inches apart, both of us barely breathing.
“Elle?”
“Yeah?” She was so close that when she whispered back to me it was like I could feel her words against my lips.
“I think Im gonna have to kiss you.”
“Do what you gotta do.”
I let myself sink those last few inches until my mouth touched hers. God it was soft. My heart was hammering hard against my chest, and I told myself just one more second and then Id step back from her. Just one more, because I couldnt believe that anything could feel this good. But we werent safe and we had to get back. Then she sighed my name and I felt her fingers in my hair and I forgot all about everything else. There was just Elle and the feel of her body in my arms, her mouth moving against mine, the taste of her, her scent.
When we finally came up for air, I had no idea how much time had passed. We were both breathing heavily. My lips tingled and I ached to go on kissing her.
“Dont look at me like that. Ive got to start over watching this loop.”
“Like what?”
“You know like what.” I was trying not to look at her, but I couldnt help stealing glances. She looked happy, beautiful, mischievous, and enchanting. And her eyes kept moving to my lips with this wolfish look that was driving me crazy. As evidenced by the fact that I thought, if it could be just me risking it, I thought Id brave Everlast just to go on kissing her.
“Im sure I dont know what youre talking about.” She pulled herself up on her toes and kissed my neck. I was not going to give her the satisfaction or encouragement of groaning about it, though I wanted to.
“Youre going to be the death of me.”

* * *

Every time Elle looked at me, which seemed like a lot more than usual, I felt color creep up the back of my neck. I was sure this must be obvious to everyone.
If it makes you feel any better, not to anyone but me.
Thanks.
Not that I know why I should make you feel any better. Do you have any idea how exhausted I am? Do you have any idea how long that girl stayed awake last night thinking at the top of her brain waves about what an awesome kisser you are?
She said that?

Karen subtly flipped me off and I grinned.
Neither of you is focused on this plan at all.
She meant the plan we had come up with over breakfast. A plan which I didnt really want to focus on because a) it was dangerous and it sucked, b) it relied way too much on Anderson which was dangerous and sucked, and c) it might not really help anything and for as dangerous as it was, that really sucked. So excuse me for wanting to spend my time thinking about kissing Elle which was probably also dangerous, but totally did not suck. And it seemed like it didnt suck for her either.
Commence idiot grin, Karen thought. At least try to cover that or something.
The guard came in, followed by the instructor and Anderson. I noticed right away that he was back to shuffling when he walked. I studied him carefully as the instructor started in on us, and saw that the tick was back as well. Then the next round of defense exercises started.
Anderson thinks it worked!
He “thinks” so?
Itworked. Thats what he believes,
Karen clarified. Hes thinking that he can still hear their orders, but hes not compelled to obey them.
And the tick? The way hes walking?
He doesnt want to let on that anythings different.
Huh. Thats smart, I guess. Well thats great. Bet Elles happy.
Shes gone completely non-verbal. Theres a lot of making out with you imagery I really dont need. I had no idea it would get so messy when you guys finally got together.
You say that like you thought it would happen.
Well yeah. Youve both liked each other for, like, ever.
Wait, you knew she liked me? And you didnt tell me?
What kind of friend would I be if I did that?
Um…helpful?

Totally caught off guard, I found myself jerked up out of my chair. It took me a second to realize that there was no one there. At the front of the classroom, Anderson was smiling at me. And then I wanted to get up on my desk, scratch my armpits, and make monkey noises. Really, really badly. I shook my head at him. This was so not even funny.
I found I couldnt sit back down. I took hold of the back of my chair.
Hes thinking youre a big ape, Karen thought to me, and Elle should see you as you really are. But youre okay, just focus. Concentrate.
I was trying to concentrate, but resisting him made it feel like he was ripping into my brain. I broke out in a sweat, my heart rate sped up, and then it was like I could feel the blood moving under my skin.
Karen, hes trying to make me shift.
He cant do that, Ethan.
Her mental voice was calm, sure. Thats your Talent. Youre in control of that. Youre always in control of that.
But I wasnt sure that was true. I could see it now, the image of the ape in my head, the same way Id see a form I wanted to morph to. Only I couldnt do animal forms. But I could feel my body gathering itself, preparing itself to change.
“All right, Anderson, let Ethan go.”
And just like that it stopped and I was released so suddenly that I dropped to one knee before I could catch myself. I climbed back into my chair, panting, exhausted, sore, and glared at Anderson.
He shrugged.

* * *

 

“Are you sure youre okay to go on?” I whispered to Karen.

She jabbed her elbow into my ribs. Which hurt.“Im fine, okay? Stop hovering. Im not a marshmallow.”
Here we were, here we all were, out again, lined up along the outer wall of the mess, waiting for the break in the surveillance loop to make the dash to the next building. Waiting this part with Elle had been a lot more pleasant.
“Maybe you should keep your mind on the task at hand?”
“Maybe Im trying to keep my mind off how many times Ive been talked into running around after lights out this week and how my luck cant possibly hold. Weve got way too many people along for this. We should have come up with a simpler plan. You should go back. Rand, you should take your sister back to the dorms right now. We can get by without you.”
“No way. Chaz was myfriend. Mine and Craigs. And those kids whore supposed to go under the knife tomorrow are our friends too. Were doing this.”
I looked down the line of us to Craig, the Intermediate pathfinder who was going to lead us through the max security building. Wed heard it was supposed to be a labyrinth. He was looking pale, nervous, and had the saucer-eye thing going, but he nodded at me.
“Anyway,” Karen said, “we dont know all obstacles, and you never know what Talents are going to come in handy. If nothing else, I can hear people coming by their thoughts. Since were not in disguise, maybe what we dont need is a shapeshifter. You could go back.”
“Oh for Petes—”
I sensed a presence before I even saw the gun, and by then I was already reacting, knocking the barrel aside, out of the guards grip so that it spun away on the strap he wore. The heel of my hand smacked up into his nose, I drove my other fist into his gut, doubling him over, and then brought my fist down like a club on the back of neck. He was facedown in the grass before I even started to think.
“Holy shit!” Rand squeaked.
“Watch your mouth,” Karen hissed. “Jesus, where did he come from?”
“What was that you were saying about hearing them coming?” I snapped at her, shaking out my throbbing hands and trying to get my heart rate to slow. I felt like I was going to be sick and made a show of checking the guard so Id have an excuse to get closer to the ground. “Hes seen us.”
“He saw something, maybe. He didnt know what, so he didnt raise an alarm, he came to check it out first?” Elle said.
“When he came around the corner, he saw us. He probably wont be able to identify all of us, but… What are we going to do?” Rand looked as seriously worried and scared as I felt. I didnt know what to do. I guess if Id let myself think about it, I would have realized something like this might happen. Rand was right, if he could identify us, we couldnt let him make a report.
The guard started to stir and I got ready to knock him out again, to give us more time to think. It was Anderson who grabbed my arm. “Let me handle this part. Help me sit him up.”
Anderson and I dragged the guard up and sat him against the wall. Anderson knelt over him and took the guards head in his hands. For a moment, I expected to hear the guards neck crack, but after a few seconds Anderson just let him go and stood up. The guard fell sideways and started to crawl away from us. Rand lunged forward, but Anderson stopped him.
“Dont,” he whispered. “Hes just going to crawl back to the barracks, have a drink, and go to bed. Hes not going to remember anything about tonight except that drinking on the job makes him really clumsy.”
“Are you sure about that?” I asked him.
Anderson glared at me. “Im sure. Anyway,” he said, shrugging, “he thought he saw something, so when he approached, he had his mental defenses up. He was blocking his thoughts, thats why you didnt hear him coming, Karen. They do train these guys you know. Just apparently not enough to overcome Mr. Fists of Death over here. Ill remember not to try to sneak up on you.”
“Yeah, you do that,” I said. “Theres our break. Get going.”
Accessing the building we needed wasnt as hard as I thought it would be. We had been able to use Rands jumping ability to reposition some of the cameras, and Elle had been able to manipulate some of the locks. Ideally, we hoped to get through this without leaving any definitive evidence that Talents had passed this way. Even if they couldnt pin anything on us in particular, there was always the chance that NIAC would punish any number of kids if a security breach was discovered.
“I cant get this one, Im sorry,” Elle said, shaking her head at the keypad by the door.
“Its all right, you tried,” I told her. “What happens if I smash it?”
“Sirens, flashing lights, guys with guns, I presume.”
“Great.”
“Someones coming,” Karen warned. Elle and I backed off and ducked into hiding with the others. A man in a lab coat came from the other direction and entered a series of numbers into the keypad. A buzzer sounded and a green light came on as the lock clicked open. The man opened the door, went through, and shut it behind him. The light went back to red.
Karen rattled off a series of numbers. “Thats what he was thinking at the door.”
“Dont look so smug,” I told her. “It doesnt suit you.”
“I think it doesnt suit you,” she grinned.
“I cant believe this place,” Anderson almost sounded like he was complaining. “At Delta its all thumbprints and retina scans…”
“Bite your tongue,” Elle hissed at him.
“Id rather bite yours.”
“Hey—”
“Children,” Karen interrupted us, “Can we do this before I forget these numbers, please?”
“This must be the labyrinth,” Elle said once wed all come through the door. We were in a narrow, grey corridor, and whichever way we looked, the hallways looked exactly the same.
“Im up,” Craig said, taking point and starting confidently down the hall. He turned this way and that, without hesitation, even though he had never been here before, and even though all the many branching hallways looked exactly the same to me, with only slight variation in the number of doors before the next branching corridor or turn. At first I tried to keep track of it, counted doors, steps, left and right turns. But it didnt take long before my brain just dumped and I was left blindly following with no idea how to get out again if I had to.
Calm down, Ethan. Youre really letting this stress you out.
Hell yeah, Im stressed out. Id be an idiot not to be stressed out about this.
Youd be an idiot not to be concerned, yeah. Okay, okay, worried, et cetera, whatever. You need to slow your heart rate. You dont feel in control of the situation and thats causing you to feel frustrated, anxious. You know thats not good.
Yeah, yeah, okay.
I tried to calm down like Karen wanted me to. She was right, I needed to keep a clear head. Id never thought of myself as claustrophobic before, but maybe I was.
“This is it.” Craig had stopped in front of a door that looked like every other door wed passed in every other hallway.
“How do you know?” I asked him.
He gave me a look. “I know.”
Karen confirmed, “Hes right. Someone in there is thinking about the surgeries. Hes alone.”
“Anyone else around?” I asked.
“No,” she answered. “These other rooms are empty.”
“That makes it easier.”
I snapped a kick at the door and we all rushed in. Dr. Piers jumped up from his chair and started to move for a panel on the wall but Rand sailed across the room in one of his impossible martial arts moves and kicked him in the chest. The doctor was thrown back against the wall, clutching his shirt front.
“Youd better hope that didnt break anything,” I told Rand.
He shrugged. “Maybe Elle can fix it. He murdered Chaz.”
I didnt really have an argument for that. I noticed that Elle had just repaired the door and was pushing it gently closed while Karen seemed to be listening intently beside it. Craig shuffled his feet nervously.
Piers, still clutching his chest, stood up. “Anderson,” he rasped, “youve come to see me. And youve brought friends. Never really thought of you as the type to make friends.”
“You never thought of me as anything but a lab rat.”
“Thats not true. I think of you as a tremendous achievement. You were my first success. Youre just the kind of Ability-Affected person people are afraid of, putting thoughts into peoples heads, making them do anything you want.”
“The way you do.”
Piers smiled. “I guess youd see a certain irony in that. But that kind of power cant just be running amok. It scares people. It needs to be in the hands of an organization people can trust.”
“Like NIAC.”
“People do trust NIAC. Were helping you kids control your abilities so that you wont accidently hurt anyone or use them for personal gain. This technology Im developing will eventually allow all people with abilities to be controlled. Of course, were still a long way from that…”
“No. It stops now.”
“Is that what youre here for? To threaten me? Anderson,” Piers scoffed, “you must know thats not going to work.” He reached for a small electronic device on the table. I looked to Anderson who shook his head at me. Piers reached under his hair and in the stillness of the room we could hear something snick into place. “Convince your friends to leave the room at once. Have them turn themselves in to the guards.”
“Um…no. I dont think Im going to do that, Dr. Piers.”
Piers looked shocked. His hand shot up into his hair where hed put the device. “Anderson, tell these kids to go.”
“I heard you the first time. Here,” he pointed to his ear, “and in here,” he pointed to his head. “See, thats what Im telling you. Im through taking orders, yours or anyone elses. My mind is my own again. Do you knowwhat that means, Dr. Piers?”
Piers shook his head. He was pale and his eyes were wide.
“It means no more experiments. This whole sick dream of yours is all over.”
Piers backed away another step and fell into his chair. His hands were shaking. “N-no mmore experiments,” he stuttered. He reached behind a stack of books on the table, pulled out a gun, and without pausing stuck it in his mouth and pulled the trigger.
The sound of it echoed with Elles scream and for what seemed like a long time I couldnt stop looking at the pattern of blood and brains on the wall. But I think it was really only a second.
“Holy Jesus Christ, Anderson! You were just supposed to convince him to stop the research.”
“Its stopped,” Anderson said blandly.
I wanted to wring his neck right there, but I had to keep it together. We all did. “Hey, you guys,” I snapped, pointing at Rand and Craig. “Dont you even think about getting sick and leaving your DNA all over this room.”
“We gotta go,” Karen said. “Now.”
Wed hardly taken but a few running steps down the corridor when the alarms started to sound. “Someone in one of the rooms hit a panic button!” Karen told us.
We kept running, with Craig in the lead, back the way we came. Suddenly, he just stopped. “That path just ended,” he told us, before taking off in a different direction. I heard a groaning sound coming from above. I looked back to see a fire barrier drop down and block the way we had come. As we ran, more came down behind us. Craig continued to move rapidly, never pausing, sometimes almost tripping over himself as he made a quick turn down a new corridor. Then I heard the groaning sound up ahead.
“Craig, stop!” Somehow I managed to reach him and yanked him back just in time to avoid seeing him squashed by a fire door.
We were trapped.
“Ok, everyone, just calm down,” Karen said.
“Calm down? Whats there to be calm about?” Craig shrieked.
“Calm down, or Ill have Anderson calm you down,” Karen said, but she was looking at me. “Elle, can you fix this? Can you return it to its original state of not being in our way?”
Elle concentrated on the mechanism, and the door began to inch up. “Im not…sure…I can do this.” Her face was white with the strain and she had broken out in a sweat. As soon as there was room, I pushed myself under the door. Once on the other side, I started to lift. The other guys came through and tried to help, but it was a ton steel that wanted to come back down. My muscle mass grew as I tried to keep the door up. “Pull. Her. Through,” I gritted out. Rand crawled back under. I knew the moment he had Elle because suddenly it was twice as hard to hold it up, and I prayed, terrified that I would drop it before they were clear.
“Theyre through, Ethan.” I felt Karens hands, pulling me away. “You can let go.” She pulled me back as the door crashed down again.
There wasnt even time to be relieved. We were back to running. Craig said we had a clear path to the outside, but fire barriers were still coming down and we were barely staying ahead of them. I looked back and saw that Karen was falling behind. Elle was pulling at her arm. I turned to go back for them.
“Ethan, look out!” One of the fire doors dropped down and almost cut off my toes. I hadnt even heard it coming. And now it stood between me and the girls.
“Elle!” I called to her. “Can you lift it at all?”
“Shes trying, but I think shes pushed too far already.”
“I know its hard, but even just a few inches. Just enough to let me get my hands under it. Can you do that much?”
“Im sorry. I just cant.” Elles voice was faint. “Ethan, youve got to get the boys out of here.”
“Were not leaving you.”
“No way!” Rand yelled through the door. “Were not going without you!”
“Rand,” Karen said, “the guards are mobilizing to come in here and investigate. Youve got to get out of here.”
“Anderson,” I said, “take the boys. I can get them out.”
“How?”
“Ethan, no,” Karen said, though the door, while in my mind she was chattering away about self control and all Id worked for. Like any of that mattered.
“Just take them and go. Hurry.”
“Rand, I need to you to go with Anderson. Ethans going to get us out, but you have to go right now, do you hear me?” Karen called.
“Karen, whats happening?” I heard Elle ask.
I had the ridiculous thought that I never wanted her to see me like this.
Then dont do it, Karen thought.
I could hear Anderson barking at the two boys as their footfalls faded down the hallway and disappeared amid the sirens that continued to blare. I thought about sirens, opened myself up to the noise, the insanity-inducing noise of them. I thought about the guards Karen mentioned outside, and how they were coming with their guns and their boots, and about what they might do when they found Karen and Elle, how they would treat them. It made me angry. Sick and angry and terrified because I couldnt do anything about it. I couldnt stop them. I couldnt stop anything. Not really. I couldnt stop this mess from happening. Couldnt stop Karen and Elle from getting trapped behind this door. I couldnt open it, couldnt get to them.
I let all that frustration and fear fill me, let it turn to anger, let it burn through my veins until it felt like fire under my skin, boiling me from inside. I felt my muscles pop and swell, felt like my skin was being peeled away. I heard myself screaming, felt the hot air tearing out of my throat in a mindless roar.
Somewhere inside the conflagration of rage that had taken over my body, I was still there, a small, quiet presence in the middle of the storm that was watching, thinking, seeing, but didnt have any control of the beast Id unleashed. I could see my own limbs, now grotesquely muscled and disproportionate to my body. They tore through the steel door and stomped it down.
Karen and Elle were huddled in a corner. Elle screamed when she looked up at me, and Karen wept. They were swept up in those huge arms, and then we were moving, faster than anything that big and ungainly should move, back down the corridor in the direction the boys had gone.
There were stairs, and at the top an open door was letting in the smell of the outdoors. The girls were clinging to my misshapen body and bounced against me as I barreled up the steps and then we were out the door and onto the roof. Rand was there, alone, waiting for us. The beast didnt pause to acknowledge him, but Ill never forget the look of horror on his face when he saw what had his sister. And then we were flying over the edge. And then we were falling.

* * *

The rec yard was quieter than usual. The stress of NIACs investigation into what h appened in the max security building weighed on everyone. Even those who had no idea what had happened or who was involved waited to find out if someone would be blamed, if we would all be blamed, or if NIAC would simply sweep the matter under the rug and pretend they had never lost control. I was leaning up against a tree, alone, thinking heavy thoughts and trying to enjoy a good brood.

It had been three days, and if they hadnt come for us by now, I figured that was good news. There were a number of Talents with the strength to cause the kind of damage I had. It had been so long since Id let myself shift out of control like that, I was probably near the bottom of that list.

“How are you feeling?” It was Elles voice. She had come up behind me. It was the first time any of them had spoken to me since right after it happened.
“Im okay.” I saw that I was unconsciously flexing muscles that were still sore and I stopped. I didnt turn around. Maybe if I was rude, she would just go away.
“I heard they moved Anderson into the Boys Dorm.”
“Yeah. Were roomies now. Its awesome.”
“He said the whole projects been scrapped, for now anyway. Craig said they brought back the Intermediate test subjects. Ive seen the three from the first experiment, by the way, fixed them up so theyre not responding the way theyre supposed to. Anderson says theyre calling the whole thing a total failure.”
“Seems like youre talking to Anderson quite a bit.”
“Is that what you got out of that? How long do you think Im going to wait around for you to get over yourself?”
“Guess I hadnt really thought about it.”
“Well Ill tell you,” she said, coming around to stand in front of me, “Im pretty much going to wait forever. Is that how long its going to take?”
I didnt know how to answer that. Was that even a real question? It was hard to remember what we were talking about with her standing so close.
“I dont understand what this massive sulk is about. Karen says I have to give you time to readjust, or recalibrate, or I dont know what. She says youre embarrassed about what we saw. Are you actually embarrassed about saving my life?”
“Well…I dont know. No. Not about that. Its just…”
“The ten-foot, bright red, glowing eyed, long-limbed, musclebound…” She did this annoying imitation of mymonster gait that looked like an ape, “…thing?”
“Its not my best side.”
“Well, not your best side ripped through a steel door and jumped off a roof to rescue me and my best friend, so…Im thinkin its a pretty okay side.”
“Elle, you screamed.”
She punched me. Hard.
“Ow!”
“You are not going to hold that against me! Oh my God! Did I mention ten feet tall with glowing eyes? And did anyone ever tell me you could do that? Noooo. What did you think I was going to do?”
“Scream. Possibly cry, maybe faint, I dunno.”
“Im not a fainter.”
“No, I dont guess you would be.”
“Are you done being an idiot yet?” she asked, stepping into me and wrapping her arms around my neck.
“Uh, is that a trick question?”
“Cause Ive been waiting around to thank you for saving my life and Im getting a little impatient.”
I felt myself start to smile for the first time in days. “Far be it for me to let my massive sulk get in the way of your mission,” I told her.
And let her kiss me.

The End I hope you enjoyed Impulse Control. Its not over for these guys yet. Many of these characters will have important roles to play later on in the Talent Chronicles. But while you wait for their stories to get underway again, I hope youll let me introduce you to some other Talents. On the followingpages youll find excerpts and information about other books in the Talent Chronicles series.

You can also drop by my website, http://susan-bischoff.com to find links to sample excerpts, reviews, retailers, and the latest release info, as well as contact info, social media links, and my ramblings about writing, superheroes, Buffy, Firefly, and other topics of similar importance. While youre there you can also sign up for the email newsletter to be notified of new releases and special offers.

00001.jpgAn excerpt from