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“I was under the impression that there was no organization capable of rivaling with The Centre.” I made a small pause before making my conclusion: “I was wrong.”
“Yes, you were,” said the man with gray hair and black spectacles, who I'd known so far only as Mr. Harrison. “Unlike The Centre, we prefer to keep a low profile.”
His words, not only were they true, they also had a kind of pun to them, for there existed no single vestige of The Institute at the surface. The entire company was built underground and possessed no semblance of public facade remotely focused on genuine scientific research or other non-illegal activities. The Institute was everything that Mr. Raines and Mr. Lyle had always wanted The Centre to be: something everyone feared, but which no one could prove it actually existed. A myth.
It had been three days since they brought me here and I haven't seen much other than the room they put me in and the man sitting before me. He'd been coming to see me everyday and did nothing but talk. His tone reminded me of Sydney – not that I knew that much about him, except for what Jarod had told me – but his accent placed his origins in Southern United States, instead of Northern Europe. The contents of his speech, however, were unequivocally like the ones Mr. Raines used to give me before he began my training.
“I know what you want me to do,” I told him, even though I didn't.
“Do you?” he asked, with a smug look on his face. “Well, if THAT is true, it will certainly save me some time. And just what is it that you think we want you to do?”
I decided to remain silent and not offer him any response. He stared at me for a few long minutes, never diverting his gaze, nor uttering a word. After a while, he checked his watch, got up from the chair and went to the door. As he was about to leave, he turned to me and said: “Whatever you may think we need you for,” he paused slightly before finishing the sentence, “you're wrong.” And then he left.
The feeling of discomfort caused by by his words was overwhelming. Not only because of what I suspected they had in store for me, but mostly because, despite all the evidence of the pending danger I was facing, the Voices had kept quiet since I arrived here. Being imprisoned was terrifying, but not as much as not being able to listen to what had been the only true constant thing in my life.
I woke up the next day – it could still be night; t was hard to tell without a watch to keep track of time – with a terrible headache; the type of which usually associated with an imminent surge of yelling from the Voices. Except this time they were mute. I turned the light on and reach for the bottle of water on my nightstand, poured some into the plastic glass right next to it and gulped it down. As soon as I did it, I immediately regretted it.
Every time I woke up, whether it was day or night, I always had a brand new water bottle on my nightstand. It almost seemed like complimentary service, but now I had the feeling I could have been ingesting something I wasn't supposed to. I sniffed the water. Apparently, it was water, yet I enough about chemistry myself to know that they could easily have mixed something to numb down my Inner Sense. Just to be on the safe side, I should probably look for a different source of refreshment.
I'd seen enough of my brothers DSAs to know that the expectancy of privacy on a place such as this was something not to be expected. However, in one more way differing from The Centre, The Institute had no visible cameras or any other means of surveillance. I was a prisoner, no doubt about that, but not being watched constantly made it a little more bearable. On the other had, the absence of a camera recording what went on in the room allowed them to do just about everything they wanted without having to worry about the footage falling onto the hands of people in a position to do something about it.
My room was not that much smaller than the motel rooms where I usually stayed. Aside from the bed and the nightstand, which stood at a corner, it also had a small closet containing sheets, blankets and white overalls. The table and the two chairs - all three bolted to the ground – where Mr. Harrison and I used to conduct our conversations, stood at the opposite corner, at the southeast side of the room. The remaining corner had a built-in bathroom containing a sink, a toilet and a shower-stall.
Grabbing the water bottle, I went to the bathroom and poured most of the water down the drain. I couldn't throw it away all at once – that might arouse suspicions. I took the opportunity to relieve my bladder and tried to listen in for any sign of the Voices. Once again, nothing.
As I was leaving the bathroom, ready to go back to bed, I noticed a flap hanging from the closet door. I went there to check it and found my backpack. I took it to the bed, unzipped it and emptied all its contents there. Nothing was missing – including my laptop. What the hell was going on here?
Taking the laptop to the table, I turned it on and went back to the bed to check the other items, as well as the backpack itself. I was looking for some listening devices. No, that wasn't all true: I was hoping to find some listening devices, because not finding anything was a lot scarier.
My search resulted in yet another frustrating nothing, so I decided to turn my attention to the laptop. Except for the lack of internet access, it was working normally. To all appearances nothing was amiss, but a quick glance at the desktop files items showed that a new file had been added.
“The Institute,” I read out loud. “Not very obvious, are you?” Clicking twice on the folder icon to see its contents, I came across a list of thousands of text files. I sighed. “This should keep me busy.”
When Mr. Harrison came back later that day, he made no reference to the fact my possessions had been returned to me. I was positive that he knew I'd find it and whatever it was they had stored inside that folder.
“Did you sleep well last night?”
“I don't know. Was it night when I went to sleep? I really can't tell...” I said, gesturing for the lack of windows.
The passage of time was no longer an issue thanks to the internal clock on the laptop, but I still wasn't able to tell night from day. Aside from the new folder, they had also mixed up the calender. According to it it was now August 23rd, 1979. I had to assume they hadn't limited themselves to change the date only.
“I'm just making conversation here, Ethan.”
“And why is that?”
“Why is what?”
“Why do you try to look so nice, when the people you work for are...?” I stopped. Something wasn't right. Why was he being nice to me? He had no need to be. From what Tish had told me, they would not hesitate in performing torture until they obtained absolute compliance to their demands. Unless, like she being a victim instead of a collaborator, that was also a lie.
That was when it hit me! The Voices hadn't warned me about the threat of The Institute when it first came into my life. Was it because they didn't know about it then or was it because...
“Ethan? Are you all right?” Mr. Harrison asked, with a concerned look on his face.
I nodded. “I'm fine.”
“You look thirsty. Can I get you a glass of water?” he said, already getting up.
“No!”, I said, more vehemently than I intended. “I mean, I'm not thirsty.”
“What are you, then?”
“What do you mean?”
“Obviously there is something going on inside that head of yours. Can you tell me what it is?”
“What the hell do you want from me?” I snapped.
Very calmly, he responded: “We want you to understand.”
“Understand what? Do you want me to do SIMs, is that it?”
He checked his watch and got up without offering me an answer. “I have to go now. Keep digging. The answers you're looking for are right before your eyes.”
As soon as he left, I resumed my research on the files inside the new folder someone had put in my hard drive. All the files had an alphanumeric name; so far, all I had found were login reports – nothing that could share a light on what this all could mean. Maybe I was going at it the wrong way. The files seemed to be nearly the same size. I decided to order them according to size to see if anything popped out.
I closed my eyes and focused. I hadn't drink a single drop of water from the bottle ever since I realized they were putting something in it. I was drinking from the faucet instead. Now that I thought about it, how could I be certain that that water was safe to drink? Perhaps they had their own water supply.
I tried to push those considerations away for a while and listened hard for anything the Voices could be saying. Like it had happened every time I tried to do that, they were silent. Turning my attention to the monitor, once again disappointed for not being able to find anything, I looked at the bottom of the screen and realized that there were at least one hundred more files hidden.
After removing the already displayed files to a new folder, so as not to confuse the old with the new, I turned the hidden files visible. There! Now I had something to work with! I hoped...
The new files were made exclusively of pictures, video and audio files. I decided to start with the videos. I chose the first one by random and clicked on it twice. A small window appeared on screen.
It showed a room similar to the one I was in, in terms of space, but much more sparse. Tish was hanging by her wrists, completely naked, drenched in sweat. Her eyes were filled with rage.
“Do you understand what the penalty for treason is?” asked a now familiar voice.
Mr. Harrison came into frame and, as she continued to not answer his questions, he nodded to someone off-screen. As the person he was nodding to entered the scene, I recognized him as one of the men that was with Tish at the motel. If I wasn't mistaken, he was the driver.
He carried a whip with him and, without having to wait for any more indications, started to lash Tish's back. She flinched, her lips tightening as her skin got lashed, but she didn't yell or cry.
Horrible as it was, it left me more confused than sympathetic. In the short time since I've known her, she had went from victim to friend and, finally, to traitor. What had happened during the time I was searching for her? Could this be the reason? Which one was the lie? The cry for help or the betrayal?
The lashing ended with a nod from Mr. Harrison. “Now, Patricia, are you ready to perform the assignment that has been given to you?”
For a while, Tish didn't respond, then I saw her nod. The video ended there.
There was no indication of time on the video, which made it impossible to tell when it had taken place. I continued to watch some more, driven by the need to discover the true horrors The Institute was capable of perpetrating.
The hours went by in a blur and, before I realized, it was nearly time for Mr. Harrison's occasional second daily visit. They didn't happen much, but I didn't want to have to interrupt what I was doing when he came in. He had probably been the one responsible for returning my laptop, plus extras. The last thing I needed was for him to see how deep those images disturbed me.
Tish's torture video, though hard to watch, was nothing compared to the some of the atrocities presented on some of the other videos. Some times, they would hurt just for the sake of hurting, with no other purpose whatsoever. I had to take several trips to the toilet to throw up. The more I saw, the more I realized how monstrous The Institute could be.
They had to be stopped!
When Mr. Harrison returned, I was still fixated to the screen. The video I was currently watching featured an eight year old child being subjected to electroshock therapy. His screams were so disturbing that I didn't notice I was no longer alone until Mr. Harrison cleared his throat.
The unseen arrival caught me off guard, but I managed to disguise my awkwardness and replace it with a disgusted glare. I returned my eyes to the screen, but not with the intent to watch it. I had seen nothing enough. All I needed right now was to wait for the right moment.
From the corner of my eye, I watched as he approached the table. When he was within reach, I got up quickly and made a move to attack him. Without barely moving, he dodged my attack and pinned me against the table, twisting my arm until I had no chance but to calm down.
“Good. Now... are you going to cause any more trouble?”
I shook my head and, as I felt his grip on me ease a little, I tried to attack him once more. Again, with almost no effort, he defended himself by using my own attack against me.
“There is some thing you don't know, Ethan.” He paused, and seemed to gather his thoughts. “Come to think of it, there is a lot you don't know, but for now I need you to be aware that I have no intention of hurting you.”
“Interesting way to show that.”
He shook his head. “Make no mistake. I will not attack you. However, if you choose to attack me...”
“What do you want?” I growled.
“I want you to take a seat and calm yourself down so that we can have a productive conversation.”
I did as he asked, although reluctantly.
“I see you found what you were looking for, yes?”
“Yes, I did.”
“What did that make you think?
“It made me think that you're a monster!” I snapped.
“It would appear that way, wouldn't it? But appearances can be deceiving.”
“I know what I saw!”
“I'm sure you do, but without the Inner Sense to tell you reality from illusion, how can you really be sure?”
“How do you...?”
He tapped his head twice. “I hear them too, Ethan. The Inner Sense doesn't exist on your family. Mine has it too. And we've spent all of our lives mastering it.”
“Who are you?” I asked, sensing that this could be the time I was going to get a straight answer.
“My name is Harrison. Harrison Andrews. I'm Dara Andrews father.”
“I don't know any Dara.” Actually, the name did rang a bell, but what was it?
“She was one of the children your mother rescued from The Centre. She died about a year after your brother got out.”
“How do you know about my mother?”
“I know her quite well, as a matter of fact. I can hear her Voice too.” He made a slight pause. “Tell me something Ethan, what did you see in those videos?
“I saw people getting tortured for no good reason?”
“Did you really? Why don't you show me?”
“Pick one video and show me the evidence of that torture.”
I stared at him, trying to look for any signs of deceit. His eyes revealed something that I hadn't seen in them before: sympathy. Without having to give it too much thought, I decided to do as he told and choose a video. For several reasons, I opted for the first video I saw. Turning the laptop so that the screen could be seen by both of us, I opened the video. It wasn't the only video of Tish being tortured but it was the one that had caused me more discomfort.
As soon as the lashing began, I paused the video and pointed out. “There's your evidence.”
“I don't see anything.”
“What d'you mean you don't see? He's whipping her back!”
“How can you tell? Her back is turned away from the camera.”
“She is clearly in pain...”
“She's a pretender, Ethan,” he said, condescendingly. “If this was a movie, would she have been whipped for real?”
That made sense. Why haven't I thought of that?
“Of course not. At least, I don't think so...”
“Like I said, appearances can be deceiving.”
“You mean that none of this...?”
He shook his head.
“Because you needed to learn how to see past the obvious without having your Inner Sense to guide you. Your mother founded The Institute. Specifically, the idea of it. My family took her idea and put it into practice. We exist solely to battle The Centre.”
Suddenly, it all made sense. I thought The Institute was all evil and pain and torture, with no facade of good will, when in fact it was the other way around. It made sense that in order to be feared and respected that they'd go to great lengths to create a reputation few would dare to challenge, but that also raised an important question.
“You seem to outnumber The Centre. Why not launch a full scale attack against them?”
“First of all, because The Centre is bigger than you think. It's not just Blue Cove, or even the United States for that matter: they're everywhere. Second, we are not as many as you'd might think. Counting with those you already saw, we are less than forty.”
“Are you all gifted?”
“Some of us are. But most are just normal people whose lives have been ruined by The Centre and other similar organizations.”
I already knew the answer to my next question, but I had to ask it anyway.
“Was everything... Was Patricia really on the run from you?”
“I'm sorry for the ruse. It was necessary to know where you stood.”
“You manipulated me,” I said, stating the obvious.
“Just so that we knew how far you'd go to save a complete stranger. We need people with gifts, but we can't place our trust in everyone who has one. We lost an operative and almost risked exposure when we tried to contact Alex.”
“Alex? I thought he was dead.”
“According to our intel, he is. This happened nearly two years after your brother escaped, when Alex was released from Triumvirate headquarters to act as their personal handy-man. We knew he hated The Centre and we figured that if had the necessary help...”
“You've met him. Or at least, you've known about him. He was a manipulative, egotistical sociopath, who cared for no one but himself.”
“That's him, all right.”
Harrison leaned back and crossed his legs, assuming a more comfortable position. “So you see, we needed to be absolutely sure before we made any contact. Besides, we DID save you from The Centre.”
“If you're talking about the motel, I had a plan in motion.”
“It wouldn't work. Not even with Sam's help. Trust me.”
I suddenly realized I had completely forgot about his welfare. My sister would not be happy if anything had happened with her personal sweeper. “Is he all right?”
“He had a small concussion. One of our men left him in the nearest hospital and contacted your sister.”
“Thanks. I appreciate that.”
“No problem. Sam is a good man.”
“So, can I take a wild guess and say that you want me to join you?”
“We would like your brothers, except for Lyle that is, and the rest of your family to join us as well. But for now, we'll be glad to have you on board. If you're willing, that is.”
“I need to think about it.”
Harrison got up, approached me and put his hand on the top of my head.
“What are you doing?”
“I'm putting you to sleep. Whether you agree or not with my proposal, our location needs to remain a secret.” He closed his eyes.
“What is it?”
“I need to know. Why can't I hear the Voices since I got here? Is it the water?”
Harrison chuckled. “No, not at all. In addition to being a pretender, Tish is also a blocker. She can block any psychic gifts that are near her.”
“Right in the next room.”
“Will I see her again?”
“That only depends on how you choose.”
Without waiting any further, he took a deep breath and a powerful force pulled me into a profound sleep.