He woke up suddenly – an overwhelming sense of panic was flooding through him and before he could gather his thoughts it hit him – The girl was scared. She had just gone to the grocery store – He started cursing himself for letting her go alone.
His toe hit something as he rushed to put on his boots and the pain didn’t even register – he felt her and she was closed off and not thinking to him. If he hadn’t been a natural thinker he wouldn’t even have known she was scared. She must be really scared if she had forgotten to stay in touch. He rushed down the stairs and ran out of the building – then abruptly slowed down as his training took over – He walked as fast as he could without drawing attention.
He kept cursing himself and he almost missed the three thinkers casually lounging along the street. There were two young girls, chatting innocently in front of the salon, who seemed much too young to be thinkers. There was a third thinker in the coffee shop – there were dozens of people and yet Jack could only see the thinker. Everything began to blur into nothingness as his concern for the girl drowned out everything else.
As he took his first step into the grocery store he was hit with a feeling unlike any he’d ever felt before – it felt like the slow, torturous crawl of a spider along his spine. He saw an old, gaunt man standing calmly looking at some boxes of cereal – His eyes were on the boxes and his attention was flowing freely through the store. It was true – the rumors – there really were people capable of sensing thinkers. Rumors of psychics who after near-death experiences could sense thoughts and spirits and might even be able to search out thinkers. The man was there – in the flesh – and he was scanning the store and if the girl thought-talked to Jack or read someone’s thoughts he might sense her.
The pieces suddenly fell into place – there were Thinkers on the West Coast, even young girls who seemed too young to be trainable, and there were psychics who could sniff out Thinkers from their thoughts. The Council of Thinkers wasn’t paranoid and he realized with a sadness that this might be a hunt. They had sensed thinkers and they had come – he read the Psychic’s thoughts and realized that they had no intentions other than to hunt them down. The psychic had no concept of a natural thinker and he seemed completely unaware that Jack was scanning him – he must only be able to sense trained thinkers.
Jack felt a calmness wash over him and he thought-talked to the girl – Walk slowly, don’t think-talk or read thoughts even though it’s probably safe – just go home and wait for me.
He was crying and she hugged him tightly – sensing his sadness but not knowing its cause.
The man had been easy to kill and it had been quick – They had been announcing a spill on Aisle 4 where he had broken the coke bottle. Aisle 6 would be far more interesting. The man in the coffee shop was even easier – He would stay slumped in front of his coffee for hours before anyone realized that cup of coffee would never be drunk.
The thoughts of the people you killed stayed with you. It was a curse and the thoughts stayed forever – the children people wished they could kiss good night one last time, the parents they worried would be left without help, the wives and husbands and lovers. There were wishes and hopes and dreams – brightly painted houses looking over beautiful gardens, happiness and love and things that would stun you with their simplicity and strength of need. The experiences were easy to handle – it helped you imagine they had lived a full life and that sending them to their deaths wasn’t quite so cruel. Often, as with the two men, there were lots of terrible things they had done and it made it a little easier to bear the weight of taking their lives.
He remembered what one of the Elders on the Council had told him – You are so good at it because you care about their lives. We have never had a thinker-assassin before who values the lives he takes.
The girls had been just 17 and 16. The 17 year old weighed heavily on him because of her age – she weighed heavily even though her thoughts were crueller than those of the men. Her last thoughts had been regret that she would never get to hunt and kill – regret mixed with surprise that she, the one who all her teachers and trainers thought was the gem of her class, would die so early and without doing anything. She was full of hate and the desire to kill – dark, strong feelings intertwined with the pain of something that had happened when she was just 8.
He regretted having to kill the 17 year old but it was the 16 year old he was crying for. Her heart was pure even after all the training – full of doubts about what she was told to do. Her last thoughts had been simple ones – That she would never know what it felt like to kiss a boy and that her family needed the money and she hadn’t really had a choice.
He was crying for her and for all the things he had stolen from her – Then the gravity of the situation brought him back to his senses. There might be more hunters soon and they would know not to be as careless as the first group.
He slowly got up, hugged the girl back, and told her to pack up – that they would be leaving in 20 minutes. He looked at the girl as she hurried about and wondered what she would think when she found out about all the things he had done. It worried him but he hid his concerns in the recesses of his mind – He’d worry about it when she was trained enough and old enough to read through his shields.
They would have to go by sea and they would have to speak to each other without thoughts until they were a few hundred miles away. He had thought the rumors of the West Coast thinkers were myths and he had almost lost the girl. He would have to be much more careful. Despair gripped him and pulled him into its grasp – thinkers hunting and killing other thinkers – he had thought the Council were evil to control the affairs of men and now he had found things far worse. He drifted out of his thoughts and noticed the girl was standing by the door with a small bag – she was shivering slightly and she was still scared. He wondered what he would have done if – he shook off the thought and started to pack.