“What’s a teep?” Eric asked, stalling for time.
“Telepath, T.P., teep,” the woman answered, turning to give him a mostly unobstructed path to the back of the van. “You, now, I’d guess. You still look a lot like your meme so I’m guessing you’re not government issue.”
“No, I guess not.” Eric looked at the three unconscious government issues she and her friend had created. “So what happens now?”
“Depends,” the man at the back of the van said, his voice surprisingly high and reedy for a person of his size. “Do you want to go on the lam with two strangers who happen to be telepaths or disappear into a government facility you’ll probably never come out of again.”
“To be fair,” the blonde added with a nod towards Rachada, “if you do survive whatever happens there they might give you a nice job like hers.”
Eric thought about that for a second. “As fun as it sounds to grab random, freshly minted telepaths off the street on behalf of the government I think I’ll take my chances with strangers for the moment.”
“Then let’s get going.” The man turned and disappeared onto the sidewalk, Eric and the blonde woman struggling to keep up. She had an easier time of it than he did, Eric guess that she was at least four inches taller than his admittedly short five feet, six inches and she used her enormous stride to cover ground with long, leisurely steps. The man trailblazing for them wasn’t much taller than Eric but had the advantage of knowing where he was going. It was unlikely either one had a stomach revolt in progress, although after the first minute or so Eric’s nausea faded into the background and he did his best to keep the man’s green knit stocking cap in sight as the group’s leader wove through back alleys, jumped a fence and ducked around corners.
After going what felt like two miles at a fast jog, but was in fact closer to two blocks, Eric was about ready to ask for a break when they came to a battered Nissan station wagon and piled in.
Once he was semi-comfortably settled in the back seat Eric asked, “Do I get to know anyone’s names?”
“Maybe,” the woman said.
“Okay, Miss Piggy.” She turned around in her seat to give Eric a skeptical look. He mimed holding his hair up in pig tails to explain the choice. She snorted and turned back to face front.
“And you can call me Hugo,” the man said, starting the car. “Now I hate to be rude but Miss Piggy and I have a few things to discuss.”
The woman gave Hugo a disgusted look and Eric wondered if Miss Piggy was a nickname that was going to stick. She wasn’t plump and didn’t have curly hair so he felt that it might be a little off base. Maybe as irony.
The train of thought got away from him when the two in the front seat began communicating. Eric couldn’t figure out how or what they were saying to each other, he just knew that ideas were being exchanged somehow and he was being kept out of it, deliberately if what Hugo had said was any indication. Eric was just thinking that he might as well have stayed with the Feds for all the straight answers he was getting when the woman finally threw her hands up and said, “She’ll recover, okay? The last thing we want is a government telepath chasing us halfway across the city.”
Hugo sighed. “The issue was how you did it, Tails. You need to learn control. Case in point: This was supposed to be a quiet conversation. Introduce us to our new friend, please.”
Apparently Miss Piggy wasn’t going to stick. Tails turned around in her chair – she hadn’t buckled in when they got in the car – and said, “Hi. I’m Tails.”
With a heroic effort Eric managed not to laugh at the absurdity of it all, that kind of thing was very hard to stop once it got going. “I’m Eric. Or do I need a name that’s clearly not my name?”
“What makes you think I’m not Hugo?” Hugo asked, thankfully keeping his eyes on the road as he did so.
“The Hugo Award patch on your jacket, for starters. Goes nicely with the present circumstances all things considered.” Eric shrugged. “I’ve done enough theater to spot the difference between coincidence and deliberate showmanship. Your parents could have named you Hugo but the odds that you’d become a telepath and have the skills to get the job of going around meeting new telepaths? Pretty small.”
Hugo shrugged. “I’ll take your word for it. Call yourself whatever you want, it’s bad form for teeps to question a name.”
“Right. Can I question where we’re going? Because it’s been one of those days so far and I’m hoping it’s not going to get any worse.”
“We’re going to take you to a safe house,” Tails said, turning to look at him over the back of her seat. “We’re not sure how the Feds are finding us, although based on the girl back there they’ve gotten teeps of their own somehow, but they only seem to be watching the big cities. Once we’re far enough into the ‘burbs we should be okay. We’ll lay low for a few days, then arrange you a meeting with the First Teep.”
Eric didn’t need telepathy to hear the capital letters that made it sound like a name. “How do you know he’s the first?”
“He says he is,” Hugo said. “And when you meet him you’ll have a hard time doubting it. But for the most part, it’s just something we call him.”
Eric rolled that over in his mind. “Is he in charge? The old mentor who shows people the ropes? What?”
“More like he’s Gandalf,” Tails said.
Hugo glanced at him in the rear view mirror. “You recognize the Hugo Award but don’t know who Gandalf is?”
“If it’s not on stage or screen I don’t know what it is,” Eric said.
“There were a couple of animated films a while back,” Tails mused, “but they were dreck.”
“What she’s trying to say,” Hugo put in, eyes back on the road, “is that the First Teep is the guy we count on to help us figure out major roadblocks and warn us of trouble brewing. He’s a better telepath than anyone I’ve met and trust me, I think I’ve met just about all the ones we’ve got in the States.”
Eric snorted. “But not Rachada.”
There was a disturbing brushing sensation, like he’d just walked through a cobweb, then Hugo said, “I met her just now, didn’t I?”
“Did you just read my mind?” Eric demanded.
“Not exactly,” Hugo said. “It’s called checking associations. I just pushed the idea of the woman in the van at you and got the same reaction as when you said her name.”
“Huh.” With his profound thoughts about that articulated Eric sat back in his seat and thought about things. He found that he had a lot to think about. Between telepathy, government agents and a carjacking – and he still wasn’t sure how Hugo and Tails had done that – it had been a big day. But even with all that the things that bothered him about the day, the thing that concerned him the most wasn’t something that had already happened.
For all that he didn’t want to wind up in an X-Files holding facility, the biggest thing on his mind was that he wasn’t sure he wanted to meet a guy who could get the X-Files black ops team hijacked on short notice. The question was what was he going to do about it when everyone around him could read his mind.