A quick check revealed that there were no men in suits getting ready to burst in and drug him into submission again. Eric felt a very minuscule amount of tension ease out of his body. “Am I okay?” He demanded. “It kind of depends on whether I’m going to be dragged out of here unconscious, doesn’t it?”
“Pretty much impossible,” Rachada said with a wan smile. “I don’t know where you are. When people communicate like this they only have a vague idea where the other person is. I only know what the room looks like because I’m piggybacking on what you see.”
Eric’s eyes narrowed as he looked Rachada over hard. “Weird. You look like you.”
“I look like- oh.” She waved at her face. “You mean I show the full range of human expression and all?”
“Well, close. It’s not perfect.” Eric leaned side to side to get a look from multiple angles. “You’re see-through in places. But yeah, it’s pretty accurate to life.”
Rachada shrugged. “I did a lot of meditation when I was young. It helped me develop a really good imagination. We think it may be part of the reason I have such strong memetic presence.”
“Dr. Thorwald and some of the others working on our project.” She planted her chin in one hand and watched as Eric went back to inventorying the bar. “There’s a lot we still don’t know about how telepathy works, though. We’d like to be in touch with the telepath group that talked to you, glean some of what they know and maybe build a better idea of what’s going on.”
“Afraid I can’t help you there.” Eric headed into the back room to get some fresh bottles. A curious glance over one shoulder showed him Rachada drifting along behind him, still seated on a barstool behind a section of bar that suddenly existed on its own, apart from the rest of the building, and followed him at a distance of about six feet. Weird. “The fact is I bailed on the telepaths ASAP after we left you. Not really eager to get back in contact either.”
Rachada made a mildly disgusted noise. “That’s disappointing.”
“I’m sure you’ll get a subject to dissect sooner or later.” Eric headed back to the bar, Rachada repeating her moving barstool trick except in reverse.
“We need to understand the physiology of stable telepaths better, we don’t need to dissect anyone to do that. And there’s still a lot of things they can do we don’t understand. Case in point.” She tapped the side of her head. “Whatever that woman did to me in the van has left me disassociated from my body.”
It took Eric a minute to parse that and figure out what Rachada meant. “You mean your stuck in an out of body experience?”
“Basically. Dr. Thorwald says I’m in a REM catatonic state, which hasn’t ever been recorded before.” Rachada pushed herself up off the barstool and took a stroll around the room. “We’ve been running a lot of experiments and it looks like I still have the full suite of telepathic abilities we’ve recorded before. I just can’t wake up. I was hoping you could ask them for me.”
“Where are you right now?” Eric asked, watching her and wondering if she was trying to figure out where he was from the room’s decor.
“A facility somewhere just outside of Chicago. It’s where we were taking you when we got hijacked.” She looked back at him over one shoulder. “How are you doing, by the way? Any sign of complications?”
“Not yet.” Eric considered what he should say. He knew it wasn’t really his fault Rachada was in a bad position, he wasn’t sure he could really be considered responsible for most of what had happened to him in the past few days. But his gut told him he should help out in some way or another. “Apparently I’m lucky in that respect. I got my telepathic abilities from a guy who’s a bit of a rogue on both sides of things. The telepaths call themselves a Network and they’re looking for him and Vent doesn’t sound like one of yours.”
“That’s what they call him. Nicknames sound like a thing with them, maybe because they’re worried about people like you. Vent sounds like he likes to tinker.” Eric mimed working with a wrench. “He might be kind of like you and your doctor friend, working to figure out what telepathy can really do, except he’s not working for anyone.”
Rachada nodded. “He does sound like a person worth knowing. You’ve met him?”
“Not yet,” Eric said, giving the bar top a final wipe down. “Although I’ve been thinking he might be a good person to try and get in contact with. Maybe I can finally get some straight answers from someone.”
Rachada looked down at the ground and her meme got more transparent. “I’m sorry, Eric. I know there’s a lot you want to know but there’s limits on how much I can tell you if you’re not under oath. Especially now that I’m officially out of the field, Dr. Thorwald was very emphatic that I wasn’t to try and contact the telepathic Network until my brain is fully recovered.”
“You’re talking to me.”
She gave him an amused smile. “You’re a convenient loophole. A telepath outside the government and the Network isn’t off limits.”
“How did you know I hadn’t joined them?” Eric stepped out from behind the bar and headed towards the back door. Once again his distance relative to Rachada didn’t seem to change.
“They actively avoid us. There are ways to avoid contact if you don’t want it, most of it is unpleasant.” Rachada flicked a hand in his direction and Eric experienced a moment of vertigo. “It’s like how they knocked out Franks and Beane in the van, kind of like the telepathic equivalent of screaming in someone’s ear. We have reached out to the Network before, they just don’t want to talk.”
Eric hesitated at the door. Rachada had mentioned she saw what he did, or something like that, he wasn’t sure he wanted her to get a look outside and possibly realize where he was. “How would I go about talking to the Network if I don’t know where they are? Or you for that matter?”
“Basically you build a meme and send it looking for whoever you want. Eventually it gets back to you and you’re in touch.”
He heaved a sigh. “I only understood half of that, Rachada.”
“What more do you want, Eric?” She shrugged, the closest he’d ever seen her to exasperation. “You won’t let us help you figure out your gifts and you won’t work with the Network. You’re bound to be missing out on a lot. I don’t know where you are but I can tell you’re not anywhere nearby. Talking to you is already becoming tiring and I won’t be able to keep it up nearly long enough to explain everything you need to know.”
“Okay, fine, I get it. Some of this is my fault. Pardon me for being paranoid about the men in black suits.” Eric massaged his temples, feeling something he figure was an approximation of the exhaustion Rachada must have been suffering. “Tell me, if I need to get ahold of you again how do I jump the distance between us?”
“That depends on how many telepaths there are around,” Rachada said. “As near as we can tell there’s a collective boosting effect. One telepath has a range of a couple of miles but they can piggyback across the subconsciousness of other telepathic minds to expand their reach, like an actual phone network, or a bunch of them can work together and boost a signal. A group of a dozen or so can make contact with another telepath anywhere on the continent given practice. The piggyback route is trickier. You need a line of telepaths stretched out like breadcrumbs. We think the Network uses bundles of telepaths scattered through the country to stay in touch with each other.”
“Got it.” Except, of course, he really didn’t. But what she didn’t know couldn’t hurt him. “Rest up, Rachada. If I hear anything that could help you recover I’ll be in touch.”
“I can’t ask for more than that.” Her meme faded away and left Eric alone in the back of the bar.
Eric slipped out of the building and onto the street. He hadn’t been lying when he said he’d be in touch but at that moment he was determined not to talk with Rachada or Hugo and Tails again until he knew more about telepathy and what it might mean for his brain. And if he was going to get answers to those kinds of questions without tangling with either the Feds or the Network he figured there was only one place to go.
The only real question was how he was going to find Vent.