My restlessness disturbed me long into the night and the morning news didn’t smooth my mood. The assaults started. The bar incident ended up all over the news in record time. It made the 11 o’clock news live. Parents who knew their kids loved to party at that bar ended up lined along the police’s perimeter, hoping the only reason their child would pick up the phone. Parents of the reader victims also came to take care of their traumatized daughter or son. All hell broke loose.
The morning newswoman explained that the Philadelphia P.D. had to call in reinforcement to contain the non-readers’ grief-powered rage. The worried, sleepless crowd turned on the readers, convinced it was our fault. Two psychics were beaten to death. Some telepaths managed to fend off their assailants. Others were overcome by the mob and saved by the police in the nick of time. They rested in the hospital now.
This was only the beginning. As I scanned the newspaper and surfed the channels I heard various accounts of the same event along with bothersome commentaries. No one blamed the readers outright but the intention snaked between the lines. The way the parents of the non-readers victims were “plagued with misfortune that could only spark anger” or the attack “wasn’t called for though completely understandable.”
The only news channels that didn’t discriminate at all against readers were the ones headed by psychics or telepaths. Everywhere else, only a thin veil hid the incendiary speech, navigating the news only a step away from an open “burn the witch” call to action. All the hatred we had carefully avoided in the past three years was surfacing. The fear born from incomprehension slumbered below the surface, an oil layer awaiting the spark.
We needed water. Fast.
Casey waited for me in my office. Rebecca probably was on her way.
“We have to work on your speech.” He declared, handing me a tall latte before turning his back to me to align papers on my desk.
“My speech?” I dropped my coat on the hanger by the door.
“You’re giving a press conference with the director of the FBI this afternoon.” Casey dropped every word monotonously as if it was weeks old facts. “He’s going to credit you and your team for the instrumental role you play in the ongoing investigation.”
“Wait a minute,” I grabbed his shoulders and urged him to look at me if only so he would slow down and stop with the coldness, “the guy was ready to fire me last night.”
“And today, his boss asked him to reinforce the confidence the masses have in readers.”
“So he thinks I’m incompetent but my recently acquired fame makes me convenient?”
“Blunt but accurate. Now can we work on your speech, please.”
Casey broke away from my hold. My hands dropped to my side. Smiling for a few seconds while he dropped burgers or hiding his pain when I needed support, he could manage. Coaching me for hours was a lot to ask. Someone else from PR could do it, of course. But, I hated speeches. I stressed over them like crazy. Casey knew dealing with a stranger would drive me nuts. Too much was at stake.
“I’m sorry.” I murmured. I turned to hide the tears, losing my gaze in the lines of the waking city. I hurt Casey. I failed to save my mom, Sean and Wayne. I led six FBI agents straight into a trap. If I misspoke today, more angry mobs might ensue. If I didn’t figure out a way around the whirlpools, more lives would be lost.
Arms wrapped around my middle. Casey pressed himself against my back.
“I know,” he broadcasted into my brain along with the bitterness of the sorrow we shared. “Don’t sell yourself short. If anyone can beat these guys, it’s you.”
“Maybe not in time.” I thought. The idea never crossed my mind before but now that it had, I shivered.
“What do you mean?” His voice reverberated in my head with the echo of my worries.
“I didn’t see Sean. He’s not coming out of any whirlpool.”
“You’ve changed the future before, Square.” Casey’s hope sounded forced. I snickered.
“Not in this investigation.” Suddenly, the world blurred and I prompt dived. I tried to fight it but my wall gave in and the Ocean rushed in. The flow of time led me from one non-reader’s house to another, hitting me hard with their reaction to my upcoming speech. The disastrous effect melted my resolve. People didn’t like me anymore and the words coming out of my mouth didn’t help. When I snapped out of the Ocean, though, the coldness of reality washed over me and my determination hardened back in place.
“We have a lot of work to do.” Casey commented, breaking his hold on me. He picked up papers on my desk and started scratching away sentences and switching the speech up.
“We can write the perfect speech.” I exclaimed. Casey cocked an eyebrow. “Rewrite it. When you think it’s perfect, I’ll prompt dive again. We can do it until we have a maximal positive reaction.” He smiled.
“The usefulness of psychics in PR has been greatly under-rated.”
“Well, prompt divers weren’t functional until me. So…” I sipped my coffee while Casey unleashed his craft on my previous speech. The process soon overflowed my desk and we ended up on the floor with papers, pens, scissors and tape, piecing together the perfect speech that looked more and more akin to a jigsaw puzzle. Or a ransom letter.
At nine sharp, Rebecca walked in and stopped on the threshold. Casey and I craned our head to greet her. We probably looked like kids messing up with craft supplies.
“Brief me.” Becky requested. She hung her coat before lowering herself next to us. “It might just work.” She smiled when we completed our explanation. She eclipsed herself while Casey and I dived back into our crazy mission. Before I realized she was gone, Becky slipped a tall latte in my hand.
I hate when my lack of sleep is written all over my face.