“Leave it to Baroque,” smirked Ed, “To find the one person in the Academy on Psy-Block and try to ream them. Well besides Captain Dawn,” he added, seemingly unable to ignore the technicality.
They were sitting in Ed’s favourite computer lab a few hours later, chowing down on a pile of chocolate bars Matt had bought from the vending machine with some of his two hundred dollars, watching on the projector as Ed dominated online Halo.
“Yup,” muttered Matt, biting into a Kit Kat, “Heads up, rocco.”
“I’ve got him,” assured Ed, snapping the blue soldier with the rocket-launcher with several clean pistol shots to the forehead, “Wish I could’ve seen it.”
“Start coming to breakfast then.”
“Nah.” He shifted a little, uncomfortable. “Too many people.”
“Wasn’t much to see really. Me and her standing there looking at each other for a minute or two.”
“I heard closer to ten,” said Ed.
“Huh,” replied Matt, “Didn’t feel that long.”
They watched in silence for a few minutes while Ed rode around in a Ghost on a virtual killing spree.
“Why’re you on Psy-Block though?” Ed eventually asked him, “How can you afford it? I thought nobody beside the President and CEOs took it. It’s a thousand dollars a pill.”
Matt hesitated. “Can you keep a secret?”
Ed head-shotted two enemies with one bullet. “Sure.”
“Yes, promise. I swear on my life.”
“I’m not on Psy-Block.”
Ed spun around to look at him, so shocked he let a blue player with a Plasma Pistol take down his entire shield before he regained his senses and no-scoped him.
“You’re not on Psy-Block?” Ed whispered. He put down the controller, looking at Matt in disbelief – his team had won.
“Nope,” said Matt, not meeting his gaze. He unwrapped another Kit Kat. “Obviously not. Like you said, it’s a thousand dollars a pop. Where am I going to get that kind of money?”
“Then what was this morning?”
Matt shrugged. “I genuinely held her off.”
Ed swore in disbelief.
“Language,” chided Matt, “You’re a Senior, you’re supposed to be setting a good example for us impressionable younglings.”
“You kept her out? Just you?!”
“Yup,” replied Matt. He snapped the chocolate bar between his fingers. “Wasn’t easy. But I’m good at that kind of thing. It was all me.”
“Then why did you say you were taking Psy-Block?” said Ed, shaking his head, incredulous, “This is incredible, people should know… everyone only thinks you won because you cheated!”
“You’re the genius,” said Matt, staring at the match stats on the projector screen, “You tell me.”
They sat in silence – Matt eating chocolate, Ed just sitting in his desk chair, eyes unfocused, the game forgotten. After a few seconds, Matt decided to spare him the hassle.
“If I’d won straight out then two things would’ve happened. First, Natalia would’ve been humiliated.”
“You say that like it’s a bad thing,” Ed muttered. Matt ignored him. The psychic may have been arrogant, but the genius was missing the point.
“Natalia would’ve been humiliated,” he repeated, “And chomping at the bit for a rematch, every single day, to try and prove to everyone who saw her lose that she’s better than some freshman. God knows, she might even try to start something one day when I’m not ready for her – she didn’t seem that fussed by Jane’s dubious consent.”
He paused. “Second, I’d become some bar every psychic in here would be clambering to climb over, some test to pass. I don’t need that. Between them and Natalia… having to looking over my shoulder, watching out for an attack, every single day? Nuh-uh. No thanks.” He neglected to mention why exactly having psychics continually trying to get inside his head was of particular concern.
Ed looked on dumbfounded. “But Nat must know,” he said, “Surely she must realise you were lying.”
“Oh, she knows,” Matt assured him. He reached over and lifted the controller from Ed’s lap. “That’s the point. She knows I won fair and square and she knows I can beat her. But more than that…” he voted to veto the map, “…she knows my little lie’s the only reason she’s not humiliated in front of the whole Academy. So not only does she, the ‘Legion’s best psychic’, owe me a big old‑fashioned favour, not only do I have her on side for the next, God-knows-how-many years I’m here, but she knows that if she messes with me, at any point… damnit,” he muttered, dying to a Banshee, “I spill the beans.”
Ed was silent. “Jesus,” he said eventually, “That’s really…”
“I was going to say ‘diabolical’.”
“I’m a clairvoyant man,” said Matt, sticking a digital grenade to an enemy’s back, “Planning ahead is the name of the game. Future plays, Eddy, future plays.” Matt paused, and his eyes narrowed slightly. “Besides, after what she did to Jane, I don’t mind her walking around a little scared.”
“Did you see where she went?”
“No,” said Matt, and unseen by Ed, his face darkened.
The genius paused. “She’s interesting,” he said quietly. Matt didn’t turn around.
“Well not her personally. But what she represents.” Ed glanced over at him, a peculiar look on his face. “You know why she’s here, right?”
“To make my life difficult,” Matt muttered, with little sarcasm. Ed brushed the joke aside.
“Isn’t it obvious?” the genius said, “She’s Dawn’s insurance policy. Last time, an empath decimated the Legion.” He paused and his gaze grew distant. “Next time, we’ll have one on our side.”
Matt didn’t know how to respond. He hadn’t thought of that. Eventually, Ed just shook his head and turned back to his computer.
“Well, anyway, I’m sure she’s grateful – you standing up for her like that.”
“Yeah, well,” Matt muttered, “I don’t think you know Jane.”
Knock knock knock
The hollow sound of a fist rapping on wood caused Jane to start. She glanced up at the door to her room but made no move to answer.
Knock knock knock
“Jane, it’s me, open up.”
Even through the soundproofing Jane recognised Matt’s voice. She scowled to herself, then pushed unsteadily off the ground where she’d been sitting, staggering slightly as the nausea came rushing back up to meet her. Her clammy hand clasped the cool wall for support.
Knock knock knock
“Jane, I know you’re in there, open the damn door!”
“I’m coming!” she snarled. She crossed the length of the small room uneasily. Her legs were still jelly, threatening to give out with every deliberate step, even now, an hour and a half later. Her hand found the handle and she opened the door to reveal Matt standing there alone, his face inscrutably blank.
“What?” Jane snapped, but she’d barely got the words out before the boy pushed past her into the room, his shoulder bumping her into the wall. For a moment Jane just stood there, staring at the back of his head, stunned by the physical contact. Any other time, anyone else, she would have reacted, pushed back – but Jane was still drained and groggy from the mind-jacking. And Matt had never laid a finger on her before.
“Close the door,” Matt muttered. He stopped in the centre of the room and turned around to face her. His face was still completely blank. Jane paused for a moment, then silently did as he asked.
The second the latch caught shut, Matt exploded.
“What were you thinking?!” he shouted, his composure dropped, replaced by an expression of mangled fury. The sudden change caught Jane by surprise. She recoiled slightly, still leaning on the wall for support.
“What are you talking about?” she demanded.
“What am I talking about?!” Matt cried, throwing up his hands in disbelief. “Are you dense?!”
“Screw you,” Jane snarled.
“Oh no no no,” Matt snarled back, his teeth bared. “No, screw you. I trusted you – I trusted you, and you go and get into a pissing match with a psychic!”
Jane felt the blood rushing to her cheeks at the accusation in his voice. “So?!”
“So?!” cried Matt, “So?! So why did you let her into your head?! Are you insane?!”
“I was trying to get them to leave me alone!”
“Oh good job!” Matt sneered, shaking his head and slapping his hands together in a mocking clap, “No, good work, well done. I’m sure they’re real scared of you now, you sure showed them!”
“I didn’t know she was that strong!” shouted Jane, her own temper beginning to fray.
“SHE’S A PSYCHIC IN THE LEGION!” Matt roared, and for an instant Jane thought he was actually going to hit her – but instead Matt stopped and took a deep, shuddering breath, his eyes clenched shut, silently working his jaw.
“Why do you even care?!” Jane snapped before he could gather his words, “It worked out fine for you!”
Matt looked at her, shaking his head in disbelief. “You. Let. Her. In. Your. Head,” he whispered.
“I didn’t let her anywhere, she-”
“You let her in your head,” Matt repeated, his voice low and menacing, “Your head, which contains my secret!”
A horrible silence filled the room. Understanding, and the implications that flowed with it, rushed over Jane.
“Your secret,” she said quietly.
“Yes, you absolute, unbelievable moron,” he growled, “My secret, which I told you, in confidence, which you assured me you wouldn’t tell anybody or, I don’t know-” his voice rose, “-go around throwing yourself at telepaths!”
“Oh I’m so sorry!” yelled Jane, coming off the wall, taking a step towards him, “I’m so sorry I stood up for myself, I’m so sorry I’m trying to survive this place without thinking about how it could affect you!”
“Stood up for yourself?!” Matt cried, “You got baited! I warned you, I-” he swore, “-warned you, and you went right ahead, because you’re a big girl, and you’ve got to show all those mean bullies how tough you are, don’t you?!”
“What did you want me to do?!” she roared in his face.
“WALK AWAY!” he shouted back, “IGNORE THEM! Say ‘No Miss Telepath, I’m not going to fall for your obvious trap, I’m going to leave now, go sit on a cactus’!”
“I’m sorry I didn’t just take it laying down!”
“You were laying down!” Matt cried, “You were drooling on the god-damn floor!” He threw up his hands. “Are you stupid?! Didn’t you think, for one second, hey this is one of the most powerful psychics in the world, she’s probably pretty good at reading minds! I can’t mentally defend myself, like, at all, maybe challenging her is a bad idea! Or do you just not care?! Do you not care if I get found out, if I get carted off and cut up for science?! Is that it?! Are you holding a grudge, have I done something to wrong you that I don’t know about?!”
“She didn’t find out!” Jane snarled through clenched teeth.
“But she could have!” replied Matt, “She was right there, in your head, with free reign! You’re lucky she stopped when she did – but oh wait, no, because you were going back for more! If I hadn’t stepped in and saved you-”
“Saved me?!” Jane cried, not believing her ears.
“Yes, saved you!” shouted Matt, “You remember that, you remember that part, where I had to put my ass on the line to-?!”
“I never asked for your help!” she roared.
“Well you sure needed it!”
“I DON’T NEED ANYTHING!”
“Right!” cried Matt, “No, sorry, clearly you were all good, you had it under control.” He threw up his hands despairingly. “God forbid, I am such a jerk. Really, I should have just done the humane thing and let them keep torturing you.” He shook his head, staring at her. “What is wrong with you?”
“What’s wrong with me?!” Jane started to shout, “I’m not the one with no-!”
But before she could say another word Matt slammed into her, his hand over her mouth.
“I swear to God,” he snarled, “If you yell it, I will punch you as hard as I can.”
Jane’s eyes burned. She tore Matt’s hand away and shoved him back hard towards the door. “Don’t touch me,” she hissed.
“Then keep your mouth shut,” he snapped.
“I could kill you with one hand tied behind my back,” Jane swore.
“I know,” Matt glared, “But then you’d be kicked out of your precious Legion.”
“Go to hell.”
“Don’t ever touch me again,” she told him.
“Don’t ever endanger my family,” Matt snarled back.
Jane threw up her hands. “Your family?” she cried incredulously, “What the hell did I ever do to your family?”
“If I get found out,” he glowered, “They’ll want my genes. Which means they’ll want their genes. Which you would realise if you spent two seconds actually thinking instead of going around picking fights with everyone you meet!”
For a second there was only silence.
“Get out,” Jane finally whispered. She shoved him back further. “Get out, go be with your new friends who think you’re so clever and cool.”
“My…?! You know what?!” Matt cried incredulously, letting himself be pushed out into the hallway. “Maybe I will! Maybe it’d be nice to hang around someone who’s not a COMPLETE AND TOTAL PSYCHOPATH!”
“Go to hell,” Jane swore again, and slammed the door in his face.
Bio: Born and raised in Newcastle, Australia, Ben is a lifelong writer currently studying his Masters in Creative Writing at the University of Technology Sydney. An avid fan of the weird and wonderful, he has wanted to be a writer since he was five years old (before which he wanted to be a dinosaur).