“I need to know.”
“This is where we have our physical training,” Ethan informed Haley as they and stopped in front of an empty dojo-like room. It was quite spacious, nearly the size of a basketball court, but with no stands. The floor was covered in rubber mats and there were several large foam blocks stacked neatly on one side of the room.
“We usually use it for some self defense, sparring, and parkour practice,” Ethan said. “This is the only place we’re allowed to fight, so sometimes we come here to settle disputes. It’s always fun when you watch two guys going at it in a fight to death.”
Haley gaped at Ethan, who held her gaze with a straight face.
“He’s kidding!” Monique exclaimed and a grin broke out on Ethan’s face.
“Yes, I’m kidding, but we do sometimes like to settle disputes by fighting or just spar for fun, and no one has ever died here. The worst we’ve ever had here was a broken arm. We do have rules for sparring,” Ethan continued. “No weapons allowed other than your mind and body and no hard feelings after the fight. We can and will check.” He gestured to Monique and she winked. “See, each person fights differently. Mimics are considered the strongest in this aspect because they can learn martial arts exceptionally quickly. Ever seen the scene in The Matrix where Neo says ‘I know Kung Fu’? Yeap, it’s kinda like that, except that we actually do need to practice, but once we do, the fights between Mimics are amazing to watch. Sometimes we choreograph fight scenes purely for entertainment.”
“Architects are the second best,” Monique chipped in. “But they have a totally different approach. While some do actually learn some combat moves, the usual tactic for an Architect would be to enter his or her opponent’s mind and make them forget how to fight. It sometimes takes a while to find the right memory, so Architects favour grappling moves.
“Empaths tend not to get into fights at all. We’re usually able to calm people down enough to talk it out. If you do find an Empath in a fight, however, watch out. We’ll attack you by making you feel our pain. The harder you hit, the harder we’ll return the pain to you. There was once this really buff Empath who was able to focus and channel his anger so strongly that he went berserk on his opponent. His opponent was barely conscious and had a broken arm from defending himself. A fight with an Empath that goes berserk is deliciously messy.” Monique licked her lips and Ethan grinned sadistically.
Haley let that sink in. “What about Historians?” She asked in a small voice. Ethan and Monique exchanged glances.
“Umm… as a general rule, Historians don’t fight. They tend to keep to themselves. Actually, come to think of it, I’ve never seen a Historian fight at all,” Ethan mused.
A cheerful little tune played and Monique pulled out her mobile phone.
“Time to go!” Monique bubbled happily and looked at Haley. “Professor Michael wants us in his office in five minutes.”
Ethan took this as his cue to leave. He stepped away, did a theatrical bow to Haley and said, “I bid you adieu for now, m’lady. It has been my pleasure to serve as your tour guide this afternoon.” He smiled, spun on his heel and strutted off before Haley could say a word. She giggled.
“Is he always like that?” Haley asked Monique as she stared at Ethan’s retreating back.
“Almost always.” Monique rolled her eyes. She grabbed Haley’s hand and led her to towards Professor Michael’s office.
I had just finished my phone call with Mum, telling her about Dad’s transfer to the MIND facility, when Monique and Haley tumbled through the door in peals of laughter. I made eye contact with Haley, who was clutching her tummy, and raised an eyebrow at her. That just made her laugh even harder. Professor Michael cleared his throat and the girls’ laughter faded, though their silly grins did not. Monique went up to Professor Michael and offered her hand, which he took.
“Hi Hales. Found my replacement, huh?” I mock pouted at Haley, who teased me by nodding unabashedly. Seeing Monique again, I couldn’t help but smile myself. The fact that Haley was laughing so much was quite interesting to me, though. I’d never seen her so at ease with a new situation. Usually I’m the one to break the ice. It was nice to see her making friends on her own.
“Thank you, Monique,” Professor Michael said out loud as he dismissed her. Monique nodded and retreated out the way she came.
“Hello Haley,” Professor Michael greeted her. “I trust Monique has taken good care of you?”
“Yes, thank you, sir,” Haley replied. “I had a good time with her and her friends.”
“Excellent. I understand you have an unusual mental shield. Would you mind if I saw it for myself?”
“Sure,” Haley extended her hand and Professor Michael took it. He closed his eyes for a few seconds, frowned, then opened them and let go of Haley’s hand.
“Remarkable,” he murmured. “That is, by far, the best way I’ve seen a Historian protect herself. You, young lady, have a very useful skill.”
“Umm… Thanks, I guess,” Haley said uncertainly. “I don’t quite understand what that means.”
“Ah, yes, well. In order to understand what your ability means, I must first explain how a Historian’s shield typically works. Usually there is a barrier that we can feel if we try to enter their minds. We can sense the presence of the mind behind the wall so sometimes Empaths can get a sense of what they’re feeling, but usually no one can get past the wall unless the Historian is overpowered by many simultaneous attacks, or he or she consciously pulls down the wall themselves.
“One interesting thing to note is that in a Historian’s default mental state, the shield will be in place. He or she can reinforce the shield by focusing on it, but it takes just as much of their effort to take it down. What I’m saying is, a Historian actually uses less energy leaving the wall up, than he or she does letting it down.
“What makes your case so intriguing is that we can’t sense your mental presence at all. I’m sure you have been informed of this by Zack, or any other user of extracognitive abilities. You are literally invisible on a mental level, which means you are completely immune to all mental attacks. No one can hit a target if there isn’t one to hit, right?”
Haley was silently musing over everything Professor Michael told her. I knew that she knew exactly how her shield – or more aptly – her cloak worked, but the implications astounded me as well.
“Wait, Historians can take down their own shield? How and why would they do that?” I asked.
“Oh yes, of course,” Professor Michael replied. “Mental Shielding is a learnable skill. Historians are just born with it.
“To answer your question, a Historian might lower his or her defenses for any number of reasons. Perhaps to allow an ally into their heads. For example, an Architect might enter to repair some damaged memories. Although, I do admit that is very unlikely to happen, since Historians remember almost everything. A more likely scenario is if there is a lot of information to transfer, or they need transfer it silently. Lowering the wall grants a Historian access to the traditional extracognitive abilities: mindshifting and mindspeaking. As for how set up and take down a mental shield, you’ll learn about it in Professor Acklebury’s class.”
“Class?” Haley asked me inquisitively. Before I could reply, I saw her eyes light up as she realized something.
“Hang on a minute,” Haley turned back to Professor Michael. “You mean I can do the mindshifting thing too?”
“Of course,” Professor Michael replied. “Just as Mimics, Architects and Empaths need to learn how to bring up a mental shield, Historians need to learn how to take it down in order to learn and use other abilities. Would you like to learn how?”
Haley’s eyes widened.
“Normally I wouldn’t allow a Historian to join us without being vetted, but you’re young and, if Zack is willing to vouch for you,” – Professor Michael glanced at me and I nodded quickly – “I will offer you a temporary internship with Professor Acklebury only until you to learn how to bring down your shield. Once you can do that, you must voluntarily submit to a vetting session. Otherwise, I will have to deny you further lessons and entry to this place. I apologize for the harshness, but we really do have enemies in the outside world and we cannot allow even one of them to infiltrate our ranks.”
“Umm… wow,” Haley was speechless. “This is a lot to take in. Could I think about it first?”
“You may,” Professor Michael allowed. “Do come back with Zack tomorrow if you wish to accept my offer. Once trained, you would be an exceptional asset to this organization.”
After settling the logistics of moving my Dad with Professor Michael, Haley and I left MIND. I brought her up to speed what happened when I was alone with Professor Michael and, besides telling me about her adventure with Monique, she was quiet the whole way home.
I didn’t mind. I had a lot to think about myself, so I was glad for the companionable silence. I felt like a great weight had been lifted off my shoulders since Dad was going to get the help he needed.
Dad was going to be okay.