Excerpt from THE GIFTED

Wendicoff wasn’t furious. He was livid.

“I’m revoking your clearance,” were the first words out of his mouth the moment he spotted Robin heading his way.

“You’re doing no such thing,” Robin challenged.

“I had warned you about making physical contact. And I understand this isn’t the first time you’ve disregarded orders. But I promise you, it’s the last time. I don’t know how you got to be such a big shot with the alien, but I’m pretty sure you can be replaced with no complications. Consider yourself banned from Six.” The scientist turned to walk away, but Robin side-stepped in front of him, blocking his way.

“You’re not pulling me off this assignment. You have neither the authorization nor the jurisdiction. I answer to Mason,” Robin reminded him, trying to keep a tight rein on his own emotions. If it weren’t for the hazmat suit, he was certain the man would have struck him.

Wendicoff gave him a squinty-eyed stare. “I strongly suggest you go read your mail, little boy. You’ve been gone for a while. Perhaps it’s time you made yourself current to what’s going on around here. Security! Escort Dr. Dickenson out of Six and over to Decon, immediately! I think it’s time you got back to doing the work you were originally hired to do.”

This time the man made his exit as a security guard approached with a rifle slung over one shoulder. Unobserved, a tech had come up from behind with a clipboard of reports she needed signed. Robin gave Parkhurst a quizzical glance.

“What did I miss?” he asked.

“This became a military operation as of thirteen hundred hours,” she replied. “I’m sorry. I thought you knew.” She handed him the reports, which he signed without reading.

Robin broke from the chamber before the guard could show him the way. He hurried over to perform decontamination procedures before heading to his own office building, hoping to catch his father at home.

Once inside the office he turned on his computer. While it booted up, he checked his phone messages and his IN box. His yellow security tag was there, as he’d expected. A lot of good it’ll do me now, he muttered, dialing the Gray residence. To his relief Peter answered.

“Pete! I’m in a dilemma. My security’s been revoked and Wendicoff has ejected me from the project.”

“He what?” the man asked in a sleepy voice. Obviously he’d fallen asleep while in front of the television set, most likely while watching another Gilligan’s Island rerun.

Robin repeated what he’d said, adding, “Do I call Mason?”

“Oh, for heaven’s sake, you don’t call Mason on a weekend at this time of night unless a meteor has fallen into the middle of the center. No. Stay your arguments for Monday.”

“Military took charge of her as of one o’clock this afternoon. Can he do that to me? Considering it was Mason who assigned me?”

“I thought Military wasn’t going to pull rank until later this week. Damn. Wonder whose strings they pulled. Fortunately for us we’re not subject to their jurisprudence.”

“But, Pete, I need to get back into the chamber. She needs me. She needs my support.” His voice dropped to a whisper. “She spoke my name, Dad. I have to get back in there.”

“She what?”

“She spoke my name.”

“She spoke? Oh, cripes, this is a breakthrough!” the older man admitted. “You’ve no doubt what you heard?”

“She’s ready to communicate,” Robin announced. “Only I’m willing to bet she won’t cooperate with anyone else but me.”

“That would give some credence to the fact that she started to feed herself because she didn’t want anyone else doing it for her.” Peter thought for a moment. “Let me make a few phone calls. Are you in your office?”

“Where else can I be, since I’m an anathema to Building Six?”

“Stay put until I call you back. Wendicoff may think Military has complete authorization, but medical can override any and all commands,” Peter assured him. “I’ll get back with you shortly.”

Robin hung up and leaned back in his chair, running his hands through his hair. Tossing his glasses onto the desk, he crossed his arms over his face and willed himself to calm down. Think. Get yourself together. For the moment she’s safe and still on site. That means you still have a chance. Just try to settle down and think.

He took a deep breath and felt a constriction in his chest as he realized his shirt sleeves still smelled of her. Suddenly it was if she was back in his arms, pressing against him, pressing her warmth to his as she shivered, not from the cold, but from happiness at seeing him. From fear, believing she would never see him again. From her desperate need to have him nearby.

Kirindari’ilis a’aba’i.

Do not let me go. Touch me.

He had touched her, just as she had touched him. Not skin to skin, but mind to mind.

Mind to mind, heart to heart. Emotion to emotion.

“And I don’t even know your name,” Robin murmured aloud.

The computer dinged, letting him know he had messages in his mail system. He typed in his password and began reading the half-dozen confidential memos when he remembered something he’d wanted to research. He still had his level yellow clearance. Wendicoff may have removed him from Six, but until Monday he still could access all files.

It didn’t take him long to find the restricted folders, including the complete medical work-up they’d done on the star girl. He scanned the pages, looking for reference to anything unfamiliar, when the paragraph hit him. As he’d expected, it had been filed by Alan Carl.

Subject has evidence of prior extreme physical abuse. There are at least two dozen keloid-type scars running diagonally and vertically across the back. Smaller scars, appearing to be burn marks, are along the arms, buttocks, and upper legs. These burn marks could be caused by fire or be electrical in nature. Due to their age, it is difficult to tell for certain. In addition, X-rays show knitted bone fractures. However, we cannot say whether these were caused by accident or on purpose. But because of the type, placement, and number of fractures, we feel it safe to say these were not self-inflicted. One additional note: most, if not all, of this abuse appears to have been caused all within a specific time frame and not spread out over the course of several days, months, or years. Therefore it is also reasonably safe to assume the victim was involved in a major traumatic event such as a natural catastrophe (earthquake, etc.), in a life-threatening accident (involving a vehicle, etc.), or was subjected to extreme torture prior to being sent into space.

The report continued on for another four pages, but the one paragraph burned in his mind. Anger deep and red threatened to overwhelm him. Who would have tortured her? For what purpose? Dearest Lord in Heaven — who was this star girl that people feared her to the point of trying to destroy her?

“I have to establish communication with her. I need to find some answers.” He blinked as his mind raced. A possibility formed, sending cold chills through him.

“What if whoever did this to her is searching for her? To make sure she doesn’t survive elsewhere?” He leaned back in his chair. The beginning twinges of a major headache were forming around his temples. Reaching inside his desk drawer, he pulled out the bottle of Tylenol he kept there, extracted three capsules, and popped them dry. They stuck in his throat as if they’d been glued there, forcing him to up to get a cup of water at the little sink on the other side of the office. At that moment his phone rang. The blinking yellow light told him it was an outside line.

“Johnson Space Center. Dr. Dickenson,” he answered.

“I think I found a crack in Wendicoff’s sidewalk,” Peter told him.

“Pete, I’ve been reading the confidential files online,” Robin said.

There was a brief pause. “What do you want to know?” the older man asked.

“Why didn’t you tell me about the scars?”

“Rob, right off the bat, let me say that I think you’re getting too close to this. Have you given thought to the fact that maybe you sitting back from this for a while is probably the best thing for you at this point?”

“You’re stalling,” Robin accused him, feeling his anger rise. “I never thought I’d see the day when you’d back away from your own beliefs.”

Peter sighed loudly over the phone. “I just spoke to Hathaway. He just got off the horn with Purcell.”

Robin then knew what Peter was about to say. “Purcell is working C tonight.”

“C is in pandemonium. They believe the star girl saw you being thrown out and now she’s barred the door. No one can get in, and no one can talk her into opening up the airlock.”

“What do you mean, she’s barred the door? There’s no lock on it. And the airlock locks on the outside.”

“Rob, listen to me. The star girl has a power and she’s using it. She’s protesting in the only way she knows. She’s dangerous. Now she’s become a liability. You know what the brass will do next.”

“Yeah. And I have to stop them.”

“No, Rob. You have to stop her,” Peter corrected.