The drive back to Esther’s seems to go so smoothly. I drive down the motorway, stopping for petrol only once. The traffic seems calm, quiet, like the road has been cleared for me. The early morning light is dulled by an overcast day. I watch the trees go by in a brown and ochre blur. There is no sign of green on the trees I see, travelling south at speed.
As I approach the driveway I slow down. I need to leave the car here, as there is no way it won’t be heard coming up the drive. I pull in and hid the car in a small copse of trees about 500 yards from the gatehouse. Ducking across the road I head up towards the house, running parallel with the drive, through woods and over mossy roots. By the time I get to level with the house I have mud on my feet and green tree moss on my hands. I dust myself down and stare hard at the house, analysing every movement or shadow around the outside and inside. There is no sign of life from any of the rooms, but I see someone walking across the stable yard, carrying boxes. I decide that is my best bet for getting into the house, to go around past the stables. Even though the kitchen staff are bound to be there, they seemed unfazed by my appearance near them before. I hope they will be as ambivalent this time too.
I’ve been covered by the treelike up to this point, but now I dart left and right, finding any piece of cover I can, staying low to the ground and moving whenever I feel it’s safe to do so. It takes me 15 minutes to make 10 metres, but it works out and I am unseen. I sneak in through a fire escape on the first floor, climbing up above a kitchen window. My hand slips as I reach for something to steady myself on the inside and I knock over a chair, resting against the wall. The sound is over quickly, but I have to be careful. I put the chair back and dart into one of the rooms coming off the hallway. I know, from my stay here before, that many of these rooms are adjoining, so I move along, cutting through the interior doors and avoiding the hallway outside. No one has cause to enter these rooms during the day. I am surprised at how many of the rooms are bedrooms, immaculately prepared for invisible guests. I must be near the end of the hallway now, and so I go to the main for of this room, listening intently for sounds outside. I hear nothing and so step out into the hallway, feeling the lush carpet, soft beneath my feet.
At the top of the staircase I stop, listening over my heavy breathing. This is one of the small staircases that lead down to the ground floor, but I saw this one last time we were here, and know it goes down one more floor to the basement. I hope I can get to the vaults from there. I work my way down, carefully and slowly, trying to not to make too much noise. I make it into the basement just as I hear footsteps approaching on the floor above. I duck to one corner, just about able to see the man who has been chasing me all over the country walk up to the stairs, and head up.
His radio crackles and a voice comes through, so clear it feels like the person on the other end is standing right beside me.
“She’s ready for us to take the girl upstairs. Number 7 is the best place for her; it’s got locked windows and we can guard the front door. We don’t know if he’ll try and come to get her, but if he does we need to make sure he doesn’t get hold of her”. The man above me depresses a button on the side and responds.
“Ok, number 7. Keep your eye out the front; he’s bound to come if he knows she’s here”.
I can tell immediately they’re talking about Jules. I don’t know if she left me and got caught further away, but they must have picked her up soon, for her already to be here. I stop for a moment to think about what to do next. Do I carry on downstairs and keep going as I planned, or do I go back for Jules. Even though she’s clearly here against her will, I can’t help but think she’ll still be angry with me, as she has every right to be. No, I have to go on. I’ll come back. Stick to the plan.
The basement is filled with furniture, garden, dinner and an inordinate number of lamps, all of various different sizes and shapes, no two alike. I sneak through the stacks and piles, making my way along to where my bearings tell me is a door to the great spiral staircase, heading down deep into the bowels of the house. I come to a wall with two doors, both looking unused and hard to open. As I pause I hear footsteps behind me and swivel around. There is definitely someone coming, whether on routine patrol or to explore odd goings on, I have to get out. There isn’t anywhere to hide completely. In a moment I send two glimmers forwards to the doors and open them. The left one leads to a small tunnel with light at the end, but the other does indeed lead out onto the great spiral. I run forwards to the right, open the door and step out. I immediately curse myself for using my ability. I made a promise to myself, and failed to keep it at the most important moment. I was manipulating chance, cheating the probabilities.
There’s no time to hesitate, and I see the door to the clinic, so run forward and through it in a moment. Once inside I see the small office off to the side of the main room. On the desk I can see all number of papers, diagrams of DNA helixes, results from blood tests and a pad with notes written all over. I read through, grabbing the few snippets I either understand or can read.
“….brain chemistry shows elevated stress….leading to physical manifestation of DNA transcriptase…..self-inflicted by way of chemicals introduced to the system….LSD, ecstasy, canniboids……..”. Reading through I start to understand her reasoning, and it makes sense in a way. Further down the page there is a capitalised section:
“Migration can be achieved by inducing the same precursors, i.e. large dose LSD (medical grade) and putting high emotional and electronic stress on the brain tissue near the hypothalamus. Repeated treatments will be required in order to maintain a suitable state. To reverse the effects small doses of over the counter anti-psychotics (see: Zyprexa, for example) to be administered over a 3-to-6 month course. Brain tissue in rodent subjects returned to normal after only a few weeks. Side effects negligible in majority of cases……” I stopped reading, mouth gaping wide, taking in what I’ve been reading. It’s not a gift, or genetic. I did this to myself. The drugs, the paranoia, the stress. Combined in just the right way I turned my mind from an internal organ to a powerful projector, and all a complete accident. That must be why Jules saw fluctuations in the number of people experiencing the ability, as mental health diagnosis and treatment became more readily available.
I pick up as many bits of paper as possible and stuff them into my jacket. I turn to leave and walk past a shelf full of pill bottles and drawers. I take the pieces of paper out of my pocket and read again. Zyprexa. I look up and down but don’t see it anywhere. A small bottle, marked ‘olanzapine’ draws my attention. I turn over the piece of paper and in one corner there is a note: “LSD, thorazine, Zyprexa (olanzapine)….”. Bingo. I take the bottle and walk out, heading down the stairs. I need to destroy Esther’s work. She can’t have this power, no one can. I need to make sure I don’t ever use it again. A dark thought crosses my mind, but I push it back to the depths of my subconscious, to dwell and smoulder.
I haven’t been down this far before, the light is dim and the doors off the sides look unused, dusty and rusted. I go into a room near the bottom, which is filled with display cases, filing cabinets and a deus with an ancient-looking book on it. I lean forward to read it, but it is in a language I have not seen before. On the side I see a pipe and some smoking paraphernalia, with a box of matches there. I take a match and, without hesitating, put the flame to a pile of papers in the corner. They light quickly and I leave the room. In every room on my way back up the stairs I light some paper or card. As I get higher and higher, returning to the surface the number of flammable items dwindles, but the flames are growing beneath me. The fire is hot and grows fast. I am surprised that no alarms sound. I run up and back through the door I came through and stop to catch my breath. The stairway I just came from is thick with smoke now. Someone will notice imminently.