Throwing on my jacket, I grabbed a cookie and stuffed another couple into my pockets as I left the house to visit my father in the hospital.
Dad left to help in the cold war about eight years ago. He wasn’t supposed to tell us anything about it, but there’s no hiding surface thoughts in this family. Shortly after he got activated, we all knew he had to go and there was no way to stop it.
He was one of the best spies in our country. With his mindshifting, he was able to siphon off a lot of crucial information. He was an expert in blending in and also seemed to learn anything he put his mind to. I don’t just mean that in the way parents use to motivate their children. I mean that he could learn anything, and in an unnaturally short span of time, too.
Dad could master any skill he wanted to, but languages seemed to be his forte. It was always so fun going on family holidays because he’d just use his mindshifting to pick up the local language and/or dialects there. In a day, he’d learn how to order food, say please and thank you and ask for the toilet. The next day he’d be able to ask for directions in the local tongue. In about a week, he’d be conversing like a local himself.
Dad would share his whatever he learnt with my sisters and I. We didn’t pick it up as easily as he did, but we were able to get the gist of each language. At the very least, we were able to ask for help if we needed it. Although we shared information mind to mind, Mum would sometimes join in and we’d teach her the old fashioned way. She wasn’t totally useless as you might think. Once she’d learnt enough of the language, she could really become a shrewd bargainer.
As I walked away from my house, I lifted the hood of my jacket over my head and stuffed my hands into my pockets, taking them out only to have a bite of cookie. I was focused on Dad and I didn’t want to be distracted by another stranger’s relationship woes.
Half an hour later, I stood in front of the hospital where my dad was warded. My sisters visted Dad everyday after school, but I didn’t. I couldn’t. Being here always made me feel angry and frustrated. I took a deep breath and stepped inside.
I hate hospitals. It’s partly because there’s always a lot of people with problems but it’s more because it’s cold and depressing. The smell of disinfectant wafted towards me as the glass doors slid open to let me in.
Dad was warded on the fifth floor. That’s where they keep all the patients in comatose. Although I hate all hospitals in general, I actually kind of like it there; it’s quiet, not quite serene, but it would do. There are never a lot of people, just the nurses going on their rounds and sometimes family members of the patients.
I pushed open the door to Dad’s room and padded in. There was no one else in the room but Dad and his roommate, both lying in their beds, each attached to machines monitoring their vital signs. I took a seat beside Dad but didn’t touch him yet.
“Hi Dad,” I whispered. “I’ve missed you.”
I closed my eyes, steeled myself and put my hand on his arm. Instantly, I shifted. Usually, I could feel Dad shift back into me, as I can feel my sisters when we touch. But ever since Dad was brought back in a coma, we couldn’t feel him shift back. It was like he was trapped, and I guess that makes sense. He could still receive information from his senses, so he could still hear and feel me if I would talk to him or touch him. That was how we communicated. I would speak out loud and he’d hear me, then he would think his response and I’d “hear” him.
But that was only during his lucid moments. Most of the time his thoughts were all jumbled up. Sometimes it wasn’t even his thoughts. See, in addition to mindshifting, Dad also was able to “consume” the minds of others. Their consciousnesses, if you will. My sisters and I didn’t even know he could do that until the first time Dad had a lucid moment and told us about it. That was about a week after he returned. It’s been almost three months now, and he’s still been struggling.
According to Dad, in order to consume a mind, the person would have to willingly be pulled, or would have to be in a near-death or unconscious state, such that Dad would be able to forcibly pull that person’s mind into his own. He would also “download” all the memories and experiences of that person and after some processing, Dad would be able to retrieve the information he needed. Normally, he would only be able to obtain surface thoughts through mindshifting and verbal prompts, but sometimes the information he needed would be so huge that the bits that floated into the person’s mind he was shifted into wouldn’t be enough. Depending on the age of the person, Dad would need some time to process and reorder all the memories, deleting any unnecessary information. The older the person, the longer it would take to extract all the memories he needed, since there was more information to process. Once that was done, he’d let the consciousness fade and die by cutting off the energy and nutrients. All his victims had died after he pulled their consciousness, so once he lets a consciousness fade, it’s gone forever.
Yes, it’s very sick and twisted and cruel. But necessary. That’s what made him one of the best. But it’s also what put him in a coma. Dad told us he had tried to consume four minds at once and was knocked out by the sheer information overload. While Dad was down, the four minds had run loose in Dad’s head, causing a lot of mental damage. Dad was only just able to imprison them, but maintaining four mental prisons as well as feeding them took a lot out of him, not to mention all the information he had to process and the repairs he had to make to his mind. We were lucky Dad still even remembered us.
The twins were right: Dad did feel weaker. When Dad told us about the other minds, my sisters decided to document all the memories of the people he had consumed. In the three months he’d been here, Dad had faded two minds, both non-shifters. Of the two that he kept, one we discovered had been a shifter himself, and the other one had a weird mental shield. We had no information about that guy except that he was a male enemy and that it hurt Dad every time he tried to break the shield. Dad calls him the Historian. I can’t even find a wall to hit in Haley; it’s like she’s invisible or camouflaged, whereas the Historian’s wall was obvious and painful.
The other mind Dad had taken was a guy called Lucas. Lucas was a fighter. It was hard for Dad to process his memories because Lucas would keep struggling against the mental prison and did his best to overload Dad again by pushing more memories to Dad.
“Dad?” I asked cautiously.
Hey Zacko, he replied warily. Looked like Dad was lucid. Lucas must have been regaining his energy to fight Dad again. I could feel Dad systematically sorting out the memories as fast as he could.
How’s your mother? he inquired.
“Worried about you. As are all of us,” I replied. “Ally and Anna came by earlier today, but they told me you couldn’t talk to them.”
Dad gave a mental sigh. Yes, Lucas is still being a pest, he muttered. He was playing it cool, but I could feel him slipping.
I’m about to fade him, he informed me. I haven’t got everything I needed, but I can’t keep him around any longer.
“Good,” I said. “Wake up. Come back to us. We all miss you, especially Mum.”
Although the Historian’s shield hurt Dad when he tried to attack it, the Historian himself had been quiet, so Dad saw no reason to fade him yet. Besides, he needed to process the Historian’s memories, so he just left a mental prison dome around the Historian, shield and all.
“Still no peep?” I asked.
None, he replied with a little suspicion. I don’t think I will be returning soon. Tell your mother and sisters I love them.
“I will,” I promised.
Suddenly, I felt the whole room shake. I broke contact with Dad and my eyes snapped open. I glanced around quickly, but nothing was off with the room. I frowned. Then I realized, the tremor had come from within Dad. I quickly put my hand on his arm again.
No, Zack! Get out! he shouted at me. The Historian’s shield was pulsating outwards, each time shaking Dad’s surrounding prison. Each clash between shield and prison wall resulted in the shaking sensation. As the shield expanded and contracted, Dad’s prison wall cracked, crumbled and finally shattered. The shield continued to expand towards Lucas and shattered Lucas’ prison. As the shield moved over Lucas’ consciousness, I felt Lucas himself fade.
Then the shield started expanding towards me.
Dad was doing his best to form a prison around the growing shield but the Historian just kept expanding, easily smashing through Dad’s feeble attempts.
Go! Dad yelled at me.
I snatched my hand away, but not before I felt Dad mentally wrap himself in his own mental prison. I jerked back so hard that I toppled over in my chair and hit the ground with a thump.
I rolled over and pushed myself up just as a nurse came rushing in to find out what was going on.
“Sorry, sorry, I just fell over,” I told her, embarrassed. The nurse helped me pick up the chair and set it right.
“Zacko,” I heard a voice rasp from behind me. I turned to see that Dad’s eyes had opened.
But that was not my father I saw staring back at me.