Read Mind Magic Online

Authors: Eileen Wilks

Tags: #Fantasy

Mind Magic (2 page)

BOOK: Mind Magic
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First things first. If Nicky was here, she had to rescue him. Which meant she had to figure out not just how to get in without being seen, but how to get both of them out again. Slowly she sank to the ground, sitting with her knees drawn up. She needed to think. To get her mind pointed in the right direction. If she didn’t get all hurried and frantic, she could do this.

First question: Should she abort the mission? Not give up, but gather more data, come up with another plan?

She tried to weigh the risk of continuing against the risk of postponing, but she didn’t have enough data to make reasonable estimates. What she needed, then, was more data. How many guards were there? Were they armed? Were they really soldiers? Did they stay put or move around?

She didn’t know any of that. She’d seen two guards and panicked and kept backing up until she bumped into this tree. She must have been quiet because they hadn’t come after her, but all she really remembered was being scared. She still was, but she was thinking again.

It was three o’clock on a sunny August afternoon. The sun would be up for hours. She had time and a tall tree at her back. She stood, crouched, and launched herself at the lowest limb, grabbed it, and scrambled up.

Climbing was Demi’s one athletic skill. Trees, cliffs, walls, whatever—if it went up, she went up it. She scaled that tree like an oversize squirrel, stopping when she reached a convenient fork that gave her a good view of the house and grounds. She straddled it and looked out.

Still two guards, one at the east end of the house, one on the west side. Those sure looked like Army fatigues, with their billed caps and the pants tucked into combat boots. There was some kind of insignia on the sleeve of the closest guard. That made her stomach unhappy. So did the holstered gun.

Grimly she pulled out her phone and tapped in the data:
3:05 Guard 1 by fountain; Guard 2 25 ft. fr. west wall (dining rm).
Then she took pictures of the guards using the phone’s zoom feature and got a fairly good shot of the insignia so she could check it out later. She couldn’t do that now. The phone was in airplane mode so it wouldn’t ping any nearby cell towers. That was probably excessive caution on her part, but why take a chance if she didn’t have to?

For now, the guards were staying put. She set herself to watch. While she watched, she thought about minimum force.

When she first began taking lessons from Sensei, he’d talked about how minimum force was the idea behind every martial art. You learned how to spend the least possible force, often using your opponent’s own force to defeat him. This, Sensei said, was what everyone tried to do in every aspect of life: use the least effort possible in order to achieve a goal. No one used one bit more effort than he or she thought was necessary. The trick was in figuring out what that minimum was and how to apply it. That’s what people got wrong. That’s what they would learn to do in his class.

Demi had been fascinated by the concept. For the next few months, she’d tried to find examples of people intentionally using more effort than was needed. The first one that occurred to her was studying for a test. Some people crammed like crazy, going way overboard. She’d told Sensei that. Sensei had said that she misunderstood the goal of those avid studiers. Their real goal wasn’t to ace the test, but to reduce their anxiety about the test. Because they couldn’t control what was on the test, they could never eliminate that anxiety entirely, so they kept trying to memorize more and more facts.

Another time she’d suggested that suicide bombers broke the rule. Sensei agreed that they appeared to do so, because giving one’s life to achieve a goal could be considered spending the maximum possible. But if your goal is to be a martyr, death is the minimum requirement. And those who sent a suicide bomber out to kill strangers were obviously expending the minimum force. They exchanged one life for several of those they considered enemies and caused fear in hundreds or thousands more.

She’d come up with lots more examples, but after a while she could shoot them down herself with a little thought. When it looked like someone had used disproportionate force, it meant that either (a) she’d misidentified their real goal, or (b) they’d misunderstood their situation and the amount of force needed. The truth was, people mostly weren’t very good at estimating the amount of effort needed. They frequently underestimated it, which was why diets failed so often. People tried to make sweeping changes without allowing for how difficult, how against their nature, this was. Incremental change worked better because each step felt like the minimum necessary. On the other hand, when people were scared, they often overestimated the amount of force needed. That’s why police departments had rules and training for when it was okay to use deadly force. You couldn’t rely on instinct when you were scared. Your instinct might be to shoot whatever was scaring you, and sometimes that was disastrous.

As she sat high in the tree watching the guards and brooding, she fought valiantly to persuade herself she could fix this, could find some way to avoid being seen by those soldiers. Nicky had been missing for three weeks now. She’d wasted a week thinking he’d turn up any minute, and when it was clear he wouldn’t, no one would tell her anything. His parents wouldn’t even talk to her now, not since she tried to tell them about Mr. Smith. Either they thought she was nuts, or Mr. Smith had gotten to them somehow.

Probably, she admitted glumly, they thought she was nuts.

Nicky must be so miserable and frightened. She didn’t think they’d actually torture him. Surely they weren’t that depraved, and besides, they didn’t want him broken. They wanted to use him. But who knew what kind of pressure they were putting on him to do—well, whatever it was they wanted him to do? Given the nature of his Gift, it was probably something awful. She had to get him out.

Only she couldn’t. Not yet. Her chest ached with the knowledge. She hung her head.
Nicky, I’m sorry. I’ll be back.

The dreadful truth was that she’d overlooked the obvious.

The amount of force people use is always in proportion to their goal. She’d been ninety percent sure that Mr. Smith had lied about his goal for the Refuge—that was its official name: “Bright Haven Refuge for Gifted Young People”—but she hadn’t reevaluated the amount of effort he might employ to secure it. She’d acted as if nothing had changed, trying to sneak in the same way she used to sneak out.

She had been downright woolly-headed. That stung.

Demi’s eyes watered. Angrily she rubbed them. Much as she hated it, today’s plan was a bust. She was going to have to go back to campus and come up with another one. At least the guards were staying put, so she should be able to slip away unnoticed. She sighed and began making her way down the tree, going a lot more slowly than when she’d climbed up.

A stick cracked. She froze in an awkward crouch, one foot firmly placed on a thick branch, the other foot reaching below it for the next one. Her heart pounded. That might have been anything—

Faint but clear, she heard the rustle of feet. Coming this way? She thought so. Oh, God, oh God, now what? She was going to be sick. No, she wasn’t. She refused to throw up and give herself away. She’d plant herself on this branch and hold extremely still. She was still fairly high up, with lots of branches and leaves between her and the ground. Maybe whoever it was wouldn’t see her.

Slowly, careful not to make noise, Demi made herself secure and held very, very still. Even when the pair of soldiers moved into view, heading right for her tree, she didn’t move. She may have stopped breathing.

The soldiers carried rifles slung over their shoulders. The man with them did not.

He was a round little man. Not fat, but with a bureaucrat’s round little tummy. His slacks were gray, his cheeks were plump and pink, and his head was round as a bowling ball and almost as bald. Even his glasses were round. He stopped at the base of her tree and looked up. Those glasses winked at her as light glinted off them.

“Demi.” Mr. Smith shook his head sadly. “You might as well come down.”

He sounded like a teacher who’d discovered that his favorite pupil had cheated on an exam. Her cheeks went hot as humiliation washed through her. It felt every bit as bad as fear, only with a sour, rotten tang, and it wasn’t fair. She wasn’t the one in the wrong! He was the one who’d lied and betrayed her trust and was doing—well, she didn’t know what, but something bad. He was the one standing there with soldiers, armed soldiers, and—and he was right. He did have those armed soldiers, so she might as well climb down.

With none of her usual ease, she did. Feeling them watching her made her horribly self-conscious, and she resented that, and clung to that resentment so she wouldn’t think about what might happen next. Once she had both feet on the ground, she looked at one of the soldiers so she wouldn’t have to look at Mr. Smith. He was tall and young, his skin darker than hers. She said the first thing that came into her head. “What kind of rifle is that?”

“Uh . . .” He looked at Mr. Smith.

“Our Demi has no off-switch on her curiosity. Unfortunately. Demi, do you have any idea how dangerous it was to try to sneak in here?”

That was so unexpected she had to glance at him. He was looking at her with such disappointment that she automatically wanted to apologize. She clamped her jaw tight to keep herself from saying anything stupid.

“I don’t deserve this distrust. Why would you work so hard to sneak in here, where you’ve always been welcome?”

“You—”
You kidnapped my friend.
She couldn’t say that, so she asked, “How did you find me?”

He smiled a touch smugly. “How can you ask? You know that Amanda is here.”

“Amanda?” She was incredulous—first, that he even brought Amanda up, given the way he’d broken his promise about her. Second, that he thought she’d believe him. “Amanda’s Gift doesn’t work on me.”

“Amanda has discovered many useful abilities since we unblocked her Gift. You must ask her about it sometime. But it isn’t Amanda you came to see today, is it?”

She didn’t answer, thinking hard. If Amanda hadn’t spotted her telepathically . . . and she hadn’t. Demi was sure of that. So how had they found her? Mr. Smith and the soldiers had walked right up to her tree. They’d known exactly where she was.

Mr. Smith sighed. “You do possess tenacity. That isn’t always a virtue, my dear. You want to talk to Nick, I presume.”

Her voice went hoarse. “You admit he’s here. That you kidnapped him.”

“Oh, he’s here, but it’s entirely voluntary. Such a dramatic imagination—but it’s your age, I suppose. He’s not going to be happy with you. Come along, Demi.” He turned and started for the house, clearly expecting her to obey.

Reluctantly she did. She hadn’t been this scared since . . . maybe she’d never been this scared. “Where is everyone?”

“Field trip,” he said. “Were you aware of that when you planned your little visit?”

Of course. She wasn’t an idiot. “How come Nicky didn’t go on this field trip? If he isn’t here against his will—”

“The trip is to the zoo in Roanoke.”

“Zoos are nothing more than prisons for animals.”

“I’m aware of your views on the subject,” Mr. Smith said dryly. “Since Nick shares them, he wasn’t included in the field trip.”

Nick loved animals the way she did. That’s why they were vegetarians, which was how they’d met—at a vegetarian covered-dish supper on campus. Nick’s parents weren’t vegetarian, but they thought it was cool for him to be one, if he wanted. They saw it as an extension of their beliefs. They were Quakers, and so was Nicky. Which made it ridiculous for Mr. Smith to claim Nicky was here voluntarily. He was a dedicated pacifist.

A few months ago, she’d told Nicky about Mr. Smith. She hadn’t told Mr. Smith about Nicky because he didn’t want anything to do with the NSA. That was one of the few things they’d argued about. He’d wanted her to cut her ties to the agency.

“You’ve stopped, Demi.” Mr. Smith sounded exasperated. He was several feet ahead of her.

She flushed and scowled. “Why are you here today anyway?” He hardly ever was. Dan and Sharon took care of everything.

“That’s hardly your concern, is it? Now come along.”

Slowly she did, somewhat reassured. If he didn’t want her to know how he’d tracked her, maybe he wasn’t planning to shoot her, or have one of his soldiers shoot her, or whatever. Because she was pretty sure he was here because of her. He’d found out what she planned to do and come here to stop her. Only how? She’d never found a precog for him, except for that one boy whose parents hadn’t wanted him to leave home, so he hadn’t been tipped off that way. And even if Amanda could read her mind, which she couldn’t, Demi had been too far away until today. Amanda might have increased her range, but not that much.

As for more prosaic means . . . she’d been so careful! Surely if they knew about her back door, they wouldn’t have left it open? And she’d paid cash for her bus ticket, and she didn’t see how they could have known about the bike she’d borrowed to come the rest of the way. She supposed that someone could’ve been following her, but the NSA was all about electronic surveillance, not the in-person kind. And she’d left her phone in airplane mode the whole time, so . . .

Wait a minute. Look at it the other way around. How would she track someone’s phone when it was in airplane mode?

That had her thinking furiously until they reached the porch, where the two soldiers peeled off, going back to whatever they did when they weren’t helping Mr. Smith collect trespassers. Demi felt a little sick, a little scared, and altogether weird as she went up the three stairs.

The farmhouse had started out big, with ten rooms plus a finished basement that held the classrooms, a couple of half baths, and the housekeeper’s room. When she first came here, she’d had a bedroom of her own, but that hadn’t lasted, and she’d moved out before the addition was finished. That had nearly doubled the house’s size. The two-story wing had a rec room, the teachers’ bedrooms and shared bath, plus lots more bedrooms, restrooms, and shower rooms for the kids. The kids’ bedrooms were dorm-style. There were twenty-one “Gifted young people” living here now, most of them below the age of thirteen.

BOOK: Mind Magic
13.6Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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