Free Fall (Pyramid of Gold)

Wraiths are genetically altered people who possess special abilities. However, ability doesn't always mean power: more often than not, it just makes you a target. This is especially true for Matthew, who might just be one of the most powerful wraiths in the world - and therefore, has to hide his power and use cunning in order to survive. And then there is that girl who wants him to join her rock band...

Guiltythree · Sci-fi
Not enough ratings
62 Chs

The Protector

Feeling vulnerable in a hospital gown, I sat down on one of the chairs. Two nurses in surgical masks appeared in the room. Without looking at me, they hurriedly performed the usual routine: took my blood, measured my pulse and blood pressure, swabbed the insides of my cheeks for DNA samples, put sensors on my temples and chest. Then they quietly disappeared. This whole thing was a performance, really. By the time the Disease can be detected under a microscope it's already too late. The real test comes after the nurses leave, and it's this part that I need to worry about.

The door opened, and a woman carrying a glass of water came in. She was in her early thirties, with dark hair and pale skin. Her clothes were, as always, practical and unassuming: mundane enough to fit in an office building, yet somehow stylish.

'Hello, zero six eleven. My name is Elizabeth.'

Her name wasn't really Elizabeth. Some wraiths allegedly have the ability to manipulate people's thoughts through neurolinguistics, and knowing a person's name makes it easier. For that reason Protectors never reveal their names, and any personal details in general, to their wards. The woman was my handler for the past three years, and each time we've met she invented a new name for herself. During the past few months, she was Marie, Annie and Laurel. What never changed was how she addressed me.

0611 is my PA number. My real name is Matthew, but she never uses it. Protectors have protocols against personalizing their wards, although few follow them so immaculately. From the first seconds of the test we were always unevenly matched: she knew my name but chose not to use it, and I couldn't call her by her real name even if I wanted to.

She knew almost everything about me, and yet I knew close to nothing about her. The Protector was elusive: her mercurial nature went farther than shifting names. She routinely changed accents and mannerisms. Sometimes she wrote with her right hand, and sometimes with her left. One time I've noticed a small silver cross hanging on a chain around her neck, the next time it was gone. Trying to put together small pieces of information I knew about her became a small obsession of mine, but it was futile. I knew nothing.

And yet I knew enough to wonder. What kind of a person would take this job? Every time she walked into a room with someone like me, she was putting her life in danger. An angry wraith could kill her in a hundred horrible ways, and there'll be no stopping them. Who would volunteer to face that? And who would be able to face death while remaining calm and pleasant, seemingly relaxed?

The answer I came up with was simple but unsettling. A cold-blooded killer would.

'Hello, Elizabeth.'

She put a glass of water in front of me and sat down. There was a black metal case at her side of the table. She opened it and pulled out several objects: a transparent plastic box with iron shavings inside, a small piece of stained glass, a stack of paper with printed text on it. An ordinary notebook and a ballpoint pen came last.

'How are you feeling today?'

I shifted in my seat.

'Great. Thank you.'

She gave me a polite smile, opened her notebook and put on elegant reading glasses. The glasses were new: as far as I knew, the Protector had perfect vision. Then again, I didn't know anything.

She took the first sheet of paper from the stack and brought it to her face.

'Shall we start?'

The test starts with a series of questions. The questions are different every time, and seemingly nonsensical.

'Ashley is an artist. She loves mangoes. Do all artists love mangoes?'

After each answer, the Protector writes something in her notebook, then reads the next question.

'A group of crows is called a murder. Crows eat rotten meat and are very protective of their hatchlings. What is a group of people called?'

The purpose of the questions is to test my cognitive abilities. It's not an IQ test, she's not trying to determine my mental capacity. It's more about mental quality. The Disease messes up with how we are able to think, and so the Protector probes my mind for appropriate capabilities: logical conclusions, associative thinking, abstract thought, empathy response and so on.

Today everything went as usual. The questions flowed, strange and confusing as always, and after a while, I stopped thinking. That was normal: the test was designed to make you answer instinctively. There was no way of knowing what a correct answer might be anyway.

'Imagine a pyramid built of gold. At the bottom of the pyramid, slaves worship false gods. What is inside the pyramid?'

Finally, the stack of paper was gone, with only one sheet remaining on the table. But the Protector didn't take it. Instead, she leaned to me:

'Twenty-three people are killed by a genetically altered person. How many are left alive?'

I answered on autopilot.


She raised an eyebrow, and my heart skipped a beat. Suddenly I was very aware of how small and concealed the test chamber was.

'Explain your thought process.'

I froze.

'You described a situation involving twenty-four people. Twenty-three victims and the murderer. The murderer is still alive.'

The Protector looked at me for a few moments and then smiled. She looked pleased, and I didn't like it. While she was writing something down, I suddenly remembered the girl from this morning.

Amen to that.

'Okay, now let's finish up.'

They're people too.

She pushed the transparent box to me. I made the iron shavings inside move. The piece of stained glass was red: I made it look blue for ten seconds. The glass of water was last.

'I want you to make the water inside that glass boil, zero six eleven.'

I put my finger on the edge of the glass and started tracing its outline.

Using the Ability is hard to explain. It's like trying to describe how you hold balance: you just do. Some people have better balance than others, though, and the same goes for the Ability. It manifests differently in different wraiths, and with different force. Most are Category 9, with some rudimentary capabilities. It'll take them a few hours to boil a glass of water. The higher the category, the more potent the Ability is. Wraiths of Category 6 will be able to accomplish it in around fifteen minutes, for example. But there are very few of them.

And starting with Category 3, genetically altered are no longer considered safe to be left in the population. If the PA knows you're C3, you disappear. Some say they terminate you, some say they send you to a secret laboratory to be probed and dissected. Whatever the reality is, one thing is certain: once you hit C3, you're gone.

That's why I have to be very, very careful not to boil the water too quickly. It should be easy to appear weaker than I am, but it's not. The Protector monitors my brain waves during the test, and she'll see if I try to fake. For that reason, I separate my mind into partitions. Some parts are raising the temperature, the others simultaneously lower it. The water is slow to heat, and the brain scan shows that I'm working at full capacity.

My mother taught me that trick. She was gifted, and so had to fool the PA into thinking that she's not. At her best, she was able to hold three pairs of Affects in her mind. But her Ability was less potent than mine. I had to learn to hold eight, which as far as I know put me somewhere near the top of the PA threat level list.

And that's why my life depended on them not finding out how capable I really was.

Imagine simultaneously writing different sentences with two hands. Now imagine you have eight pairs of hands. I needed to concentrate really hard to not let that damn water boil too soon.

They're people too.

I remembered the girl from the bar again. Her delighted smile, beautiful and wide and open. I don't remember smiling that wide since before my mom got the Disease. And even before that, smiles like hers were rare...

Searing pain shot through my hand. I flinched away from the glass, looking in astonishment at the angrily boiling water inside. The hot steam that burned me made Protector's glasses mist over.

She was surprised, too, though poised far better than me.

That wasn't supposed to happen.

'Well. That was rather quick, zero six eleven.'

I stole a glance at the electronic watch hanging above the table. Nine minutes fifty-four seconds. Almost twice as fast as I was planning. Damn it!

'Looks like your Ability is growing, huh?'

Which wasn't unheard of at my age, but still messed up my carefully planned con schedule. I'll have to adjust a lot of things.

'Wow. Yeah, strange.'

She took off her glasses and winked at me:

'Let's try this again next time. Thank you for your time.'