This story is by Angelina Capozello and was part of our 2017 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the Summer Writing Contest stories here.
This was not Virgil’s usual sort of case. He specialized in missing persons, serial killers, drug czars – in short, he and his fellow agents at the Tactical Paranormal Response Unit tracked down anyone that either couldn’t, or didn’t want to be found. Today though the CIA had come knocking with a request that they investigate the Chinese Premier. The man knew a lot more than he should and the suspicion was that he was a telepath, like Virgil. That sort of thing always made the intelligence community nervous, if only because they knew all too well what people like Virgil could do.
The problem Virgil had with the case was that he did not speak Chinese. He was going to have to ‘borrow’ the memories of a native speaker, always a dangerous and unpleasant procedure. He slouched on the edge of an examination table, a hard, uncomfortable thing covered with a thin sheet and waited for the medical technician to arrive.
A tall, gangly fellow with a shock of spiky yellow hair and a rumpled lab coat came in. Telesphorus, or Rus as everyone called him, gave him a pained look. “Good lord. I didn’t think you could find a Hawaiian shirt uglier than that last one. Why someone like you wears something that memorable is beyond me.”
“Guaranteed to horrify fashion aficionados everywhere, and registered as a lethal weapon in 39 states,” Virgil quipped. “Besides, if you’re too busy cringing from the eye-blinding awesomeness that is my shirt, you’ll never remember what my face looks like.”
“If you say so,” Rus said, sounding unconvinced. “Ready to get your noodle baked?”
“I need to know Chinese.”
Rus winced. “Poor bastard. You just never catch a break.”
“Doesn’t pay to be good at your job.” Virgil lay back on the table and tried to relax as Rus placed a metal cap covered in electrodes on his head. “Doesn’t help to be this pretty, either. Look at me, I could have been a movie star.”
“As if the government would let someone with your Talents run loose,” Rus said. “You’d be a menace.” He hooked up a few more wires to the top of the metal cap and checked a bank of control panels set into a rolling cabinet.
Virgil laughed a little. “Probably. Where’s my donor brain?”
A small Asian fellow in an expensive suit came in. He spoke English with a thick accent. “Good day sirs. I am pleased to help.”
“Hullo Mr… “ Rus paused to read the name on the man’s ID tag. “Liu. Please take off your jacket and lie down on the table there.” He pointed to an empty examination table across from Virgil’s.
Mr. Liu lay down without any fuss and waited patiently while Rus hooked him up with his own cap and wires.
Virgil sat up a little and leaned on one elbow to get a better look at the guy. “You ever do this before?”
“No sir. But I am volunteer.”
Virgil made a face. “Hooboy. Well, get ready for a headache. Sorry, no way to avoid it. Rus will have meds to help you recover afterwards.”
Liu looked unconcerned. “I am understanding already. Is okay.”
“Don’t say I didn’t warn you.” Virgil lay back down. “All right Rus. Get it over with.”
Rus started flipping switches on the control panel. “Starting it up now. In three…two…one…”
Virgil reached out with his Telepathic sense and touched on Mr. Liu’s mind. The landscape of his thoughts took shape as a vast ocean of memories that washed up against Virgil’s legs in a swirl of thoughts and concepts. The process was complicated and started with Virgil creating a layer in his mind to build on. It served two purposes, first to act as a protective barrier to keep Virgil’s innermost thoughts and memories from being over-written. It also worked as a camouflage. If the Chinese Premier was indeed a telepath this layer would be all he would see in a mind-probe.
The memories began to build up along with the words to describe them. Virgil focused on keeping the wash of memories coming in at a steady, controlled pace. He could see a small, rural town in central China, a mix of ancient buildings juxtaposed against the modern. He now knew the smell, taste and names of a dozen traditional foods. He saw rows of children in matching school uniforms doing morning exercises. There was a colorful Spring Festival complete with dragon dancers to celebrate the New Year, and a young Mr. Liu holding his parents’ hands to watch the fireworks.
The waves of memory started coming faster, the thoughts smacking into Virgil hard enough to rock him back on his mental heels. Liu was practically throwing his thoughts at Virgil and the system started to overload.
Distantly he heard a crackle of electronics and smelled the acrid, ozone smell of burning wires. Rus cussed and ran to the control panel. Something had gone wrong. The burning wire smell grew stronger and the wash of thoughts became a tidal wave, rising up to his chest, then his neck, and in the blink of an eye Virgil was swimming madly to keep his head above the rising waters.
Rus shut down the machine and Virgil was finally able to break off the mental contact. His head hurt but he didn’t think he’d suffered any damage.
Mr. Liu groaned. “Oh, my. I will be taking meds now, please.”
Rus hurried to hand him a glass of water and a small pill. “This should help. Sorry about that, we had resistor blow out.”
Virgil gingerly sat up and rubbed his temples. “Did it work?”
Rus looked perplexed. “I don’t understand a word you just said. Sounds like Chinese though.” He checked Virgil’s vitals. “Are you sure you don’t want to rest a bit?”
Virgil focused on speaking English. “I’ll manage. It’s time to go pick the Premier’s mental pockets. See you in a few days.”