REAP THE WHIRLWIND
“For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind: it hath no stalk; the bud shall yield no meal: if so be it yield, the strangers shall swallow it up.”
Stanford University, 2004
Sam looked down at Jessica and thought that in that moment, she was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. Jess lay on her back on the bed, her blonde curls spread out across the pillow. Her eyes were closed, her cheeks flushed, her lovely lips swollen from the kisses they’d shared. Sam ran his fingertips down her cheek, drawing a smile from her. He stroked her slender neck and traced the edge of her collarbone until he reached the strap of her bra. He drew the strap down slowly, then bent to lay a soft kiss on the skin where there remained a slight indentation from the strap. He began to slide his hand downward.
“Tease,” Jess sighed. Her eyes opened, blue and sparkling.
Sam, not certain of her meaning, started to withdraw his hand.
Jess stopped him, trapping his hand beneath hers. She giggled. “Oh, Sam. Don’t be silly!”
Sam was pleased that she wanted him to keep touching her, but the moment of hesitation had broken the mood for him. If he continued kissing her and touching her, he would end up staying the night. Sam knew he couldn’t do that.
“I should be going,” he said awkwardly.
Jessica moved his hand to her breast. “You can stay,” she suggested.
“I wish I could…”
Sam took his hand from beneath hers and moved back a little so he was no longer touching her. “Jess, I would love to stay, believe me, but I can’t spend the night with you.”
“Why not?” A note of irritation crept into her voice. “You’re nineteen, you can’t be a virgin, so – ”
“It’s not about sex,” Sam interrupted, embarrassed because she was wrong about that. “It’s because I’m a psychic.” There. It was said. Sam couldn’t meet her eyes for a moment.
Jess sat up, curling around his back and hugging him from behind. He felt her warm breasts pressing into his back. “I was in class when you told everyone,” she reminded him.
Psychology was Sam’s major, so the Psychics and the Psi Project Solution course was a compulsory for him. Jessica had taken it as an elective. Sam had been raised by the Psi Project. He knew everything he thought he needed to know about the Project, and though he’d suspected that the course content would be biased, he’d figured that at least it would be an easy pass for him. Then he’d read the set book, and it had sent his blood boiling. It was such nonsense: Psi Project propaganda.
All men are created equal…but the appearance of measurable, easily identifiable psychics in the human gene pool had turned that once universal truth into a lie. The Psi Project was the result of that inequality. Some psychics had abilities that people found familiar, if frightening: precognition, telekinesis, mind-reading. Increasingly, though, there were others: children who could kill with a touch, children who could put thoughts into another person’s head, children with powers so strange there were no names for them. People were frightened. Others saw instant potential in people who could literally kill with a thought.
The Psi Project officially opened in 1968. It was hailed as the solution to the problem of the children born with psychic abilities. The Psi Project, established by rushed legislation and later strengthened by a Supreme Court as susceptible to fear as everyone else, was supposed to be the solution. All children were tested for psychic ability at the ages of eight, twelve and sixteen. A child identified as a psychic had no rights as a citizen, nor even as a human being. They were taken into the Project when they tested positive for psychic ability. Often, it was against the wishes of the child’s parents, but it wasn’t unusual for families of younger psychic children to enrol their children in the Psi Project voluntarily. The Psi Project was supposed to take care of the children, to nurture their abilities in an understanding setting, teach them control. That was the public face of the Psi Project.
However, Sam had lived the reality. He was taken from his family at twelve years old and it had not been a willing parting. It was true that the Project had helped him to develop and control his strange abilities. They had also tried to kill him. That was the dark side of the Psi Project, the part no one ever talked about: what happened to the children whose abilities were deemed too strong or too strange for safety. There were no human rights within the Project: those children were killed, put down the way you put down a dog that turns vicious. There was a process, a system of checks and balances that was supposed to ensure no child was killed unjustly, but the reality inside the Project was very different.
Sam had been in the Psi Project for three years when a girl he’d met just once killed herself. Her mentor reported she’d been suffering from nightmares and someone, for some reason, decided Sam could be to blame, because he was a dreamwalker. It had been the beginning of an eight-month long ordeal for him, a trial by fire that should have ended with his death. But Sam had been raised by John Winchester until he was twelve. His father had taught him never to give up, and that when your life is threatened, you do whatever you have to. He had taught Sam to live by the rules, but to break them when he had no other choice.
Sam broke every rule of the Psi Project when he found his way past the suppressors. He had literally gambled his own life when he broke into the Psi Project Director’s dreams to plead his case. It had taken a long time and many tests and punishments, but eventually Sam won the right to be judged on his character instead of his power. It meant that he spent every day until his eighteenth birthday on guard, forced to prove himself over and over. It meant he survived.
That was only part of Sam’s story. There was more: other children who had died, friends he had lost. Sam understood that his only escape from the Psi Project was to live through it. Many psychics returned to the Project after they graduated, to work there as teachers and mentors. Sam would not. He was happy to take their money for his education, even though it had meant taking a place at Stanford instead of following Tasha to Chicago, but he was not going back. No matter what.
So when his professor started singing the praises of the Psi Project, Sam could not sit still and listen to it. He did sit there for two weeks, dutifully taking notes in lectures, never asking questions. Meanwhile, he used the library computers to do some research of his own. He knew what the Project really was; he just wanted to marshal some facts that could not be disputed.
The following week he stood up in the middle of a lecture and asked the professor to comment on the mortality rate of children within the Psi Project. The professor’s answer was straight from the textbook: that as difficult as it was, some of the abilities uncovered by the Project were simply too dangerous, not just to “society” but to the other children. It was the cue Sam needed. He’d announced to the whole room that he’d been raised by the Project, that he knew what it was like and the professor was full of so much bullshit.
He’d expected to be kicked out of the class, but the professor surprised him. He asked Sam to see him privately after the lecture. So Sam waited after the class was dismissed, and instead of tearing him a new one the professor offered to let Sam give the next lecture: to stand up in front of everyone and share his experience. Perhaps the professor expected Sam to back down – most psychics were wary of revealing themselves – but Sam leapt at the opportunity. He’d told them all what life was really like inside the Psi Project. He’d even taken questions.
So much for staying in the closet.
So, yes, Sam was well aware that Jessica knew much of his past already. He nodded. “Everyone in class knows I’m a registered psychic, but I didn’t tell everything. I need to explain to you before we spend a night together.”
“In class,” Jess said, “you told us you’re registered as a psychic, so anyone who really wanted to know what you could do should look you up at city hall. Some of the class did. I know you’re a dreamwalker.”
Sam turned to look at her then. “What do you think a dreamwalker is?” he asked her. “Did you look that up, too?” He tried to make the question sound casual, as if it didn’t really matter. He didn’t blame her for being curious, but she could have asked him her questions. She wasn’t just another classmate.
Jess looked embarrassed, as if she’d just realised the same thing. “I…uh…yeah, I did. Sorry.”
“What did you find out?”
“Um…not much. I know it’s a very rare ability. It’s sort of like telepathy, but only in dreams. Right?”
Sam shook his head: no. “It’s not like telepathy. Telepaths can turn it on and off. For me it’s like breathing. I sleep, I dream, I dreamwalk.” He drew back so he could look into her face. “Jess, I need you to understand this. No one can sleep and not dream; at least not for long. If I sleep alone, I can control it better. I can skip from mind to mind, just on the surface. But if I share a room or a bed with someone, I have less control.”
Her expression became very serious as Sam spoke. “You mean if we sleep together…” her voice trailed off.
“I’ll be in your dreams,” Sam concluded for her. He tried to explain. “Sharing a dream can be wonderful, Jess, for both of us, but if you don’t want me there it’s…kinda like psychic rape. I’ll see things you can’t control. Things you’d never tell anyone, ever.” He took her face between his big hands, looking into her eyes. “Jess, I want to stay here tonight. I want to make love to you. But you have to want me, all of me. I’m not a normal man and I can’t do this halfway.”
Jessica hesitated and Sam was sure she would tell him to leave. He hoped this wouldn’t end their relationship, but she was the first normal he had ever dated. It was different with Tasha: she was psychic, too, and understood.
But Jessica surprised him. She smiled and said simply, “Stay.”
Fifteen Years Later
Sam hated flying out of state.
All of the red tape seemed designed to remind him he was a second-class citizen. As a registered psychic he needed a visa to enter any state where he was not resident, and he had to register his journey with the authorities in his home state of Washington. The whole thing was a nightmare and he couldn’t believe he was going through it for the sake of the Psi Project. He’d sworn he would never go back there, especially since he learned the truth about his family, the truth the Project kept from him. All those years, he’d thought John Winchester abandoned him. His father never abandoned him: he’d believed that Sam was dead. The Project lied to all of them. The Psi Project was the reason he’d hidden as Sam Grey, instead of using his real name. His birth name.
So why was he helping them now?
Sam’s childhood in the Project wasn’t all unhappy, but the dark spots were very dark. Nedah’s face rose unbidden into his mind. He remembered falling asleep with the scent of her hair surrounding him. He remembered her dark eyes and shy smile. He remembered hearing of her death and found tears in his eyes, even after so many years. It was yet another reason to loathe the Project: Sam could have saved Nedah, if only they’d let him.
He walked off the plane and headed for the immigration desk to check in. He let the officer at the desk scan his ident. chip – a sub-dermal implant in his right wrist – and handed over his travel papers and visa. Sam knew his papers were all in order but they still made him wait while they confirmed his position with the Psi Project. He took the opportunity to call Jessica and let her know he’d landed safely. When the officer returned she wouldn’t meet Sam’s eyes as she returned his papers all neatly stamped for entry. Sam knew the look. She had read his visa and was afraid of him now. Dreamwalker.
Wesley Bishop had graduated from the Psi Project a few years ahead of Sam. Now he worked there as a mentor and he was waiting for Sam as he walked into baggage claim. Wesley had changed since the last time Sam saw him. He had aged, naturally, but he was only a few years older than Sam himself. To Sam’s eyes he looked much older: haggard and perhaps sick. Sam collected his bag and nodded to Wesley as he approached. He knew Wesley was a psychic, but couldn’t recall what his talent was. They hadn’t known each other well.
Wesley smiled warmly. “It’s good to see you again, Sam. Welcome back.”
Had he not added the welcome, Sam might have returned his warm greeting. But Wesley’s words put Sam immediately on the defensive. He was not “back”. He had returned for a short visit, no more. He answered stiffly, “Just tell me why I’m here.” He was tempted to insist Wesley address him as Doctor Grey; they had never been friends, but that would have been a shade too hostile.
Wesley’s smile faded, but he recovered quickly. “While we drive, Sam. Let’s get out of the airport first.” He gestured. “This way.”
In the car, Wesley told Sam that the situation was worse than he’d previously said.
Sam made an impatient gesture, irritated by the vagueness. “You told me some of the children were losing control of their abilities because of nightmares,” he prompted.
Wesley nodded, keeping his gaze on the road ahead. “It’s worse since the Director called you, Sam. We thought we had an undetected dreamwalker but now…I’m not so sure.”
“So talk to me, Wesley. What exactly is happening?”
“It began as night terrors among the youngest children. Nightmares, night after night, so no one could sleep. Now it’s spread to older children, too. Empaths spread fear to the other children, telepaths are broadcasting pain. Telekinetics are doing serious damage in their sleep. The pryros – ”
Sam cut him off. “I get the picture. Are your suppressors asleep on the job?”
“No, but there are too many children for each of them to get personal attention. Suppression is a rare gift, Sam. We’ve never had many.” Wesley glanced at Sam. “You know what happens when a child with an active power loses control. One boy has already died because of this. If no one can find the cause of – ”
Sam interrupted harshly, “I told Director Gilbert, I’m not going to help you murder children.”
“It’s not murder, Sam!” Wesley protested. “You of all people – ”
“I of all people know what a low standard of proof you need to condemn a child to death.” Sam said nothing more. Wesley knew Sam’s story as well as anyone. Sam had been innocent when he was deathlisted at fifteen, but he wasn’t now. Technically, if anyone knew that Sam had used his power to kill a man, any child in the Psi Project with a similar ability could be condemned. They cared more about what might happen than they cared about the lives of the psychic children in their care. Sam had to be careful.
He let the silence drag on for a while before he spoke again. “What do you think I can do?”
“Honestly, Sam, I don’t know. I hoped the work you’ve been doing would give you some insight. Andy – Director Gilbert – says your dream therapy program is very impressive.”
Sam snorted. “Oh, spare me the compliments. You’re pissing into the wind and hoping I can save you from getting wet.”
Wesley smirked at Sam’s turn of phrase. “Can you?” he asked.
“I was promised full access,” Sam reminded him.
Wesley nodded. “Yes. You’ll have it.”
Sam nodded. “Then I’ll do the best I can.”
The Psi Project compound was better protected than Area 51. The high fence didn’t give Sam a chill: living inside the compound he had rarely seen it. But when Wesley drove through the third gate and Sam saw the tall fir hedges beyond, he felt queasy for the first time. That hedge was the border of Sam’s world for seven years. From the day he first arrived at the Psi Project, scared and alone, begging every person he saw to let him call Dean, just once, until the day he finally left for Stanford, as free as any psychic was permitted to be.
A monorail carried them from the parking garage to the main Psi Project building. As it soared above the thick hedge Sam looked down and saw the centre again. He felt the walls of the carriage closing around him and laid his palm on the cool glass window, taking deep breaths. The calming exercise was familiar and automatic. It helped.
“Are you okay, Sam?” There was genuine concern in Wesley’s voice.
“I fucking hate this place,” Sam answered honestly. They were passing over the cemetery. Nedah was buried down there. So many children were buried there: victims of their own powers. Victims of the Psi Project. Sam straightened up, pulling himself together. He was not twelve any more. Sammy Winchester was a scared kid crying for his family. He was Doctor Samuel Grey. He was a successful therapist. He was married to Jessica, head of psychiatry at the Woodward Institute, which he, Sam, had helped to make world-famous. He had the life he had always wanted. He was in control of himself, and his powers. He did not need this place. They needed him.
The monorail slowed as it entered the covered station on top of the building. Sam took one more deep breath and stepped off the train.
The director of the Psi Project was Dr Andreas Gilbert. He had been director when Sam was at the Project, too. Sam had been in his office twice before. The first time was when he’d broken into Gilbert’s dreams from his room in the isolation wing – the Psi Project’s version of death row. Gilbert had been furious with Sam but – give the man his due – he had listened. And he’d given Sam a chance, spared his life.
The second time Sam stood in this office was on his eighteenth birthday. The Psi Project only had authority over children. Once you turned eighteen, you could leave, but the Project didn’t tell you that until the day you came of age. Most of the children knew before then, of course: it’s hard to keep a secret among psychics. Gilbert had explained the rules to Sam and made him an offer: if he would remain with the Project until he was ready for college, and if he would enrol at a college approved by the Project, the Psi Project would fund his college education. Sam, who had resigned himself to a lifetime of debt to pay for college, could not refuse the offer, even with the strings attached. Gilbert insisted he choose a school on the West Coast and Sam knew without asking that it was because Tasha went to Chicago. He’d been willing to do that because, a teenage boy in love, he’d believed nothing could keep them apart forever. After all, they would still have their dreams. As it turned out, Tasha confessed she’d met someone else at about the same time that Sam first met Jessica. They were still friends.
The other string attached was trickier: Sam had to agree to consider working for the Psi Project when he was done with college. Sam was determined that once he left the Project, he would never, ever return. But the contract only required that he consider it. So he signed, knowing he was lying. It meant he could afford not just a Stanford education, but his doctorate, too. When the day came, Sam turned down the Project’s offer of a job. By then he and Jessica were married and he’d been working on his theory of dream therapy. The Psi Project wasn’t part of the future he planned for them.
Gilbert’s office hadn’t changed much. Half of it was taken up with computer hardware, surveillance screens and more. The other side was arranged as a comfortable meeting area, six chairs surrounding a coffee table. Gilbert himself had changed a lot: his salt-and-pepper hair was now completely white, he was thinner, his glasses thicker. He smiled a greeting.
“Sam. Welcome, and thank you for coming. Coffee?”
Sam shoved his memories aside and answered as pleasantly as he could. “Coffee would be good. Thank you.”
Gilbert summoned his assistant and requested coffee for two, then gestured to a chair. “Have a seat, Sam. How was your journey?”
“The flight was fine. Immigration was a pain in the ass. As always.” Sam sat down.
“Indeed,” Gilbert answered. He knew what immigration was like for Sam’s kind. “I’ve followed your career over the years. You found a very creative way to make use of your gifts. You’re a real inspiration to the Project.”
Sam winced. “I’m real sorry to hear that.” Unconsciously, he was imitating Dean.
Gilbert’s professional smile faltered. “You still resent us, even now?”
“Well, you wouldn’t be where you are now without the Psi Project, Sam.”
Sam nodded. He could have pointed out that, if the Psi Project hadn’t interfered in his life, his father would still be alive. It was true enough, but he didn’t think it wise to reveal he was in contact with his family again. Besides, by the same logic he would never have met Jessica or had his daughter. In spite of the horrible way Rachel died, Sam wouldn’t give up a single moment of the time they had together.
He decided to stick to the subject. “Wes Bishop filled me in on what’s been happening here. I see why you think it’s a dreamwalker.”
“Do you think you can identify the culprit?”
Sam shook his head. “It’s too early to say. I need to talk to the mentors of the children affected. After that I’ll talk with some of the children. Tonight, I’ll investigate their dreams. In the morning, I’ll be able to give you a proper assessment.”
“I said an assessment, not a solution. I’ll tell you whether I can help and, if I can, what I need from you.”
Gilbert’s assistant returned then, with their coffee. Sam was grateful for the interruption; it gave him time to think over what he could say. Gilbert relayed Sam’s request to talk to the children’s mentors, giving a list of names.
When they were alone again, Gilbert met Sam’s eyes over his cup of coffee. “I’d forgotten how stubborn you can be,” he commented.
Sam met his look steadily. “Professional, not stubborn,” he said. Sam sipped his coffee. It was excellent.
“Tell me about your dream therapy program,” Gilbert suggested. “What’s your success rate?”
It was a reasonable question and Sam relaxed somewhat. This was familiar territory. “I suppose it depends on how you measure success. I’ve only had one case I’d consider a true failure. There are some who’ve elected not to complete treatment; my method scares some people off. But most of the patients I treat come to me after more conventional therapies have failed them. I can help most of them to some degree.”
The conversation was easier after that. Sam enjoyed discussing his work and Gilbert asked intelligent questions. He had clearly read at least some of Sam’s published papers.
“Do you think,” Gilbert asked eventually, “that any dreamwalker could learn your techniques?”
Sam hesitated before answering, not certain where this was going. “Could? Of course. Should? Probably not. What I do is not much different from hypnotherapy. I don’t think it requires a dreamwalker: a telepath could do it, even a powerful empath. But I wouldn’t trust it to someone not also a trained therapist.”
Gilbert nodded, considering. “Sam, what would it take to convince you to come back to us? To take a job here, I mean. The Psi Project needs men like you.”
“The Project may need me,” Sam answered bluntly, “I don’t need the Project.” Sam wouldn’t take a job that went against his ethics and killing children definitely did that. “Don’t even ask me.”
Sam met with the mentors all together. Each mentor was responsible for between six and eight children: that hadn’t changed in the years since Sam left. In theory the mentor filled the role of foster parent; in reality the kind of love and care that implied was rarely encouraged. What the mentors told him confirmed Gilbert’s story and filled in some of the details. After that discussion, Sam decided which of the children he wanted to interview. He would meet them all at once, just to meet them. It didn’t really matter what they might tell him in the interview; he would meet them each individually in their dreams for the real discovery. That was Sam’s specialty.
He met the children in the rec room. Sam remembered the room so well. Some of the games were different, but the general look of the room had not changed. The big one-way mirror was hauntingly familiar, though no one would be watching now. Sam looked up at the camera with its fish-eye view of the room: it was off. The children filed in one by one, They looked scared, and Sam remembered that, too. Any new adult meant something bad. This was going to be tough.
Four children, to begin. The oldest of them was seventeen year-old Colin. He was a telepath. He had not reported having nightmares himself but had been the first to report the night terrors in the other children in his mentor group. He’d said he couldn’t block them out, he couldn’t control his telepathy. On one night he’d somehow created a kind of feedback loop, tapping into the fear of the others and sending it back to them.
Second was Tamara. She was fourteen and, according to her file she was a clairvoyant medium: someone who could see and communicate with spirits. There were plenty of people who claimed to have that gift, but most were charlatans: a combination of guesswork, psychology and outright fraud. The genuine gift was rare. She met Sam’s eyes as she walked into the room and a fleeting frown crossed her face, as if she saw something in him. Sam wondered, but he wouldn’t ask.
The third child, Alex, wore a bandage on her head and had her arm in a sling. Of all the children Sam had discussed with the mentors, so far Alex had the worst physical injuries. She was telekinetic and had brought a wall down on her bed when she woke screaming from a nightmare. She’d claimed something was inside the wall.
Jason was a dreamwalker, like Sam, but he was only seven years old. Though his mentor hadn’t been able to get much from him about the night terrors, Sam thought Jason might know more than he was saying. Perhaps his mentor simply hadn’t asked the right questions. Sam knew what it was like to be in someone else’s dream. But the boy looked afraid of Sam, and he crowded close to Alex as they walked in, as if he was trying to hide. Sam would need to gain the boy’s confidence before he tried to question him.
Sam turned to the one who seemed the most relaxed: Colin.
“I’m Sam Grey,” Sam began. “What’s your name?”
Colin met his eyes. “You already know all of our names,” he answered.
“You’re a telepath,” Sam said, as if it were a guess.
«And you’re the dreamwalker,» the boy sent.
«The dreamwalker?» Sam sent back, startled.
«Everyone knows,» Colin declared silently.
Sam was the first, and to his knowledge the only psychic ever allowed to graduate from the Psi Project after having been deathlisted. Naturally, the story had spread. It gave the children that followed him hope. Sam prayed it wasn’t false hope. God, if anyone knew what he had become… Sam wasn’t guilty at fifteen, but at thirty he’d used his power to kill the man who murdered his daughter. Sam stifled that memory quickly, reminding himself he was in a room with four psychics.
Sam leaned forward, meeting Colin’s young eyes. “Can you tell me about the dreams?” he asked.
“It’s not the dreams you should care about,” Colin announced, and Sam saw the other children nodding in silent consensus.
“I’ve been told the students here have been having some terrible nightmares,” Sam told them. “Is that true?”
“Sure, it’s true,” Colin shrugged. «But there are worse things here than the dreams.»
Colin thought they were being monitored, Sam realised. He thought his reply back. «Okay. What do you think I should be investigating?»
Colin looked at each of the other children. Sam heard nothing, not aloud and not in his mind, but he was certain Colin was having a conversation with them. He was skilled enough to use his telepathy selectively. Sam was impressed. Finally, Colin met Sam’s eyes again. «Wesley Bishop,» he sent. «You’ll have to take it from his dreams. He’ll never admit it if you talk to him. Don’t even let him guess you suspect him.»
Wesley? Was Colin suggesting Wesley was responsible for all this? It didn’t seem possible: Wesley was a psychic (many of the mentors were former Psi Project graduates) but he wasn’t very powerful. Even if his talent (Sam still couldn’t remember what he could do) was one which might provoke such nightmares, he couldn’t be powerful enough to affect so many.
«I’ll do what I can,» Sam hedged, then said aloud, “Now, please, tell me about the dreams.”
Sam opened the padlock and pulled the chain loose. He pushed open the tall, wrought-iron gate and walked into the cemetery alone. This place was kept hidden from the children by the tall hedges surrounding it, but they all knew it was here. Rows and rows of graves, each marked with a plain headstone bearing only the child’s name. Sam walked between the rows, searching for Nedah’s marker. After a long time, he found it and knelt in the damp grass beside her grave. He wished he’d thought to buy flowers at the airport.
Nedah was raised by the Psi Project since she was nine years old. That was when her power first manifested and she was abandoned by her family. It happened. Parents got scared of the stuff their kids could do. Nedah was a pyrokinetic, which was pretty scary to her nice, normal family.
When Sam was first brought into the Project, he’d been assigned to the same mentor as Nedah. It meant they lived together in the same apartment, a faux-family. Nedah had bad dreams at night and Sam was a dreamwalker. He’d found herself in her dream on his first night and helped her fight off the monsters. The next day she sought him out. That was the beginning of their friendship. Nedah helped him through the first few days, and managed to make him laugh by snapping her fingers to make fire, like a human zippo lighter. That was the biggest flame she could manage most of the time, which was why she was still alive.
But Nedah’s bad dreams were not childish nightmares. Sam learned her secret by touching her dreams: she had been sexually abused, and sent to the Project because she tried to burn the man who raped her. Before long, Sam was creeping into her bedroom every night. He was twelve, she only ten, and there was nothing sexual in it. They would sleep together – only sleep – and when Nedah’s nightmares came, Sam would take control and give her pleasant dreams.
Then Sam was accused of killing that girl. When any child in the Psi Project was “under review” – a euphemistic term for being on the deathlist – that child was moved into isolation. Specially trained psychics – suppressors – worked to ensure the isolated child did not use his or her psychic ability. It meant Sam was no longer able to help Nedah at night. When he was finally released from isolation, he learned that she was dead. She’d had a nightmare one night and set fire to her entire room. No one but Nedah herself was hurt in the blaze, but she never left the hospital. Whether she’d died of her injuries or the Project had decided she should not recover, Sam never knew. He did not care. He knew only that she was gone, and he could have saved her.
Sam laid his right hand on the grass above Nedah’s grave. The cool grass tickled his palm. Her face was so clear in his mind: the flash of white teeth against her coffee-caramel skin when she smiled, her dark eyes and the long, straight hair that framed her oval face.
“I’m sorry, Nedah,” he said aloud. “I should have been there.”
He felt a spark of intense heat against his palm and snatched his hand back. He stared at the grass springing back from where he’d touched it. He saw nothing that could have caused that brief burn. He looked at his palm. Did he imagine that the skin was slightly reddened?
“Nedah?” he said, feeling a little foolish.
There was no response, neither from the grass nor the grave.
“I know it’s early, but do you have any – ” Gilbert began as he unlocked his office. He stopped when he saw Sam’s face.
“No,” Sam said firmly. He had expected the question, but it was no less irritating. Even if he did have a suspect, he wouldn’t have told Gilbert. Not without being absolutely certain. “If I have to say it again, I will. I am not here to help you kill a child. I’m on their side. Not yours.” Sam walked past Gilbert into the office.
“It’s the children who are being hurt,” Gilbert protested.
Sam could not respond to that. He thought it unlikely that the leaders of the Psi Project cared anything for the children in their care. They had the power of life and death over the children and how could anyone condemn a child they cared about? Sam’s daughter, Rachel, died before anyone but he knew she was psychic. He could not have given her up to the Psi Project. Sam shook his head, forcing himself to think of something else. No one could know about Rachel.
“Tonight,” Sam said, “I’ll need a place to work. Somewhere quiet, away from others.”
Gilbert looked surprised. “You always needed proximity,” he remarked, taking a seat behind the desk.
“No,” Sam corrected, “I didn’t. For control I need isolation, or as much as is possible.”
“I assumed you’d want to sleep – to work – near the children, but I can have one of the isolation rooms prepared…”
Sam choked. “That’s not funny.”
“It wasn’t intended to be. Sam, I know you had a difficult time here, but – ”
“Eight months on death row is not ‘a difficult time’!” Sam interrupted harshly. “My best friend dying because your suppressors stopped me from helping her isn’t ‘a difficult time’. It’s fucking torture.”
Sam walked over to the window. The office overlooked the kitchen gardens: rows and rows of squash and sweet potatoes, pumpkins and beans grown on long poles. Sam remembered a lot of his friends here had enjoyed working in the garden. It was a pretty façade; a way to forget or relax away from the constant examination.
“If I’m going to do my job here, I need a workroom where I can relax. Perhaps you could clear out an office for me. Or a broom cupboard.” Sam didn’t try to keep the anger out of his voice. He thought about how much he would enjoy showing Gilbert how “difficult” his adolescence had been. If it wasn’t for the children, Sam would have headed straight back to the airport. But those children were scared, and there was something else. Them. Tamara had told him the dreams were about them.What did that mean?
Sam might almost suspect conspiracy. It was possible that whatever was happening was being done by the kids themselves. That was the trouble with having so many psychics in one place: some things were hard to trace. The night terrors that apparently began this whole thing suggested a dreamwalker was responsible but a powerful telepath could do the same thing. Someone like Colin, he realised, but reminded himself not to start thinking like the Psi Project: just because Colin could have done it didn’t make him guilty. An empath could draw out fear in a person until he or she created their own nightmares. Hell, even ghost stories told in the dark might explain some of it.
That last thought stayed with him. Ghost stories. It made him think of Dean. Where was his brother now?