The orderlies are quick to report the incident to the interns, and the interns run gleefully to Dr. Flenning. Flenning is pleased. His military patrons are beginning to get impatient for some tangible results. No one is surprised when Flenning arrives the following afternoon, to meet with Ladron. But here is a suprise: Flenning has been talking with Nero. And Nero has told him some things that no one is supposed to know.
* * *
Seth had despised Dr. Flenning almost from the moment they met. Flenning was a small, spare man, with curly salt-and-pepper hair and a serious demeanor, like an old lady schoolteacher. There was no humor in him anywhere. Seth suspected Flenning had been laughed at too many times as a child, and now that he had a little power, he was going to hold that power over everyone’s heads to make sure he got the respect he deserved.
He wouldn’t have lasted a month in Seth’s old neighborhood.
“Good morning, Black,” Flenning said briskly, immediately setting Seth’s teeth on edge. He had already been in a bad mood, because his radiation treatments had been pushed back a day, to accomodate this meeting. One more day of dreading them.
“It’s Ladron,” Seth said coldly, dropping into the chair on his side of the desk.
Flenning looked up from the file he was notating. “Ah, yes. The orderlies mentioned you prefer not to use your code name. Why did you choose it, if you didn’t like it?”
“Because they made me choose something, and that was the mood I was in.”
“I see.” Flenning noted that, too. “I see here you’re still suffering from insomnia.”
“I haven’t been sleeping much.”
“But no hallucinations, panic attacks?”
“When you threw Goya across the room last night, how did that make you feel?”
“Feel?” That was an asinine question. “I didn’t feel anything, I just wanted to stop the fight.”
“Did you feel it was your responsibility to do so?”
Seth made an ambiguous gesture. “I could. I did. Somebody had to.”
Flenning contemplated the stylus between his fingers. “Is Ladron your given name, or did you choose it for yourself, too? I understand it means thief in Spanish.”
He hadn’t chosen it for himself, it had been given to him. He remembered angry voices shouting the epithet after him, when he was very small, and grubby, and frightened. He remembered his sister laughing and ruffling his hair, and declaring that the whole family was full of ladrónes. “That was the dominant language in the neighborhood where I grew up.”
“The same neighborhood where you made a name for yourself dealing in black market goods?”
Seth would have been angry if it hadn’t been such a surprise. “How did you—?”
Flenning smiled thinly. “You told us. And obviously you don’t remember. Don’t worry; your past criminal activities bear no impact upon your qualifications for this procedure. On the contrary, you seem to possess a great deal of will and the capacity to remake yourself to suit your environment, which is precisely what I was looking for in our volunteers. I don’t mind telling you that I have high expectations for you. You’ve adapted to the physical alterations better than any of the others. You were in peak physical condition to begin with, and your body has absorbed all the punishment we’ve been able to throw at it. But I’m a little concerned that you’re still not showing any psionic activation.”
“What does that mean, that I’m not going crazy, like the others?”
“The behavior of the others seems erratic because their perceptions are expanding. They are beginning to sense things that no normal human can perceive, and their brains are adapting to process the new stimulii. But your PAT scores are still in the normal-to-low range—in fact they’ve gone down from the first Psionic Aptitude scores we have for you. Do you have any idea why that might be?”
“You’re the expert, you tell me.”
Flenning pursed his lips. He was still maintaining the veneer of patronizing amiability, but Seth could see the doctor beginning to get annoyed. Seth wasn’t being as obsequious as Flenning was used to.
“I believe... I know, based on our tests, that you are a very intelligent man, Ladron. Intelligent people often feel the need to control themselves and their environment. I think you’re being stubborn with us. I’m not yet sure why.”
“Maybe it’s just because I like it here so much.”
“I’m sure.” Flenning’s nostrils flared slightly. “Who is Quinn?”
Seth flinched. “That’s none of your damn business.”
“It appears she is our business. You seem to have constructed some kind of psychic block related to her—it seems you call her name in your sleep.”
“Did Mian tell you that?”
“We monitor you twenty-four hours a day, Ladron,” Flenning says mildly. “Dreams of loss are common, particularly when one feels guilt for the loss of a loved one—“
“How can I be dreaming about her, if I have insomnia?”
Flenning drew a permiprint sheet from his file and turned it toward Ladron. It showed a grid, marked off in hours of the day, with five colored lines making zigzags across the grid. “These are measurements of your brainwaves, taken by the remote sensors in your room each night. These tell us that you are sleeping—but only four or five hours per night, and nearly all of that is dream sleep. In fact, you seem to be dreaming a great many hours of the day, as well, even when our monitors show your eyes are open and you’re moving about. Have you ever been trained in meditation?”
“Mm. I find that surprising, because your Alpha patterns are consistent with a person who is either meditating or in REM sleep. So it seems you’ve found a way to dream while awake.” Flenning met his eyes, unwavering, and Seth realized that the little man had some balls, after all. “I’m a geneticist, not a psychiatrist, but at a guess I’d say that this Quinn of yours has become a kind of talismen—you meditate on her, thus removing yourself from the reality of the tests which you don’t want to face. Am I at all close?”
Seth looked away.
Flenning returned the sheets to his file, and folded his hands on top of it. “I must say, I’m surprised that you’re resisting this hard. I was under the impression that you volunteered for this procedure because you were hoping to gain something from it. You stand in the enviable position of acquiring a great deal of power, Ladron. Why are you denying yourself that?”
Because I never expected to live this long. “Because I realized you weren’t giving me power for my own sake.”
Flenning made a small amused sound. “Of those to whom much is given, much is expected.”
Seth stood up with a grunt. “Keep it to yourself.”
* * *
Ladron leaves the room. Flenning watches him go, then turns to the interns watching behind the mirror. “Push him,” he says shortly. “Either he’ll bend or he’ll break.”