Chapter 3, Part 1
Below is the first part of Chapter 3, a little debrief.
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AS THEY ENTERED THE DEBRIEFING ROOM, William held his hand up to his forehead, shield- ing his eyes from the glare.
The room was totally white. The windows, the doors, the seats, the tables, everything—a bright, blinding white. And smooth, too. The surfaces were a slick polymer.
William had never gotten used to this room. It always took him a moment to adjust to this pristine place after returning from a snap. The real world was full of browns, blacks, greens and blues, a thousand different textures, a million different sounds and smells, but not here. All those elements had been antiseptically removed from this room.
But this wasn’t the real world. This was the debriefing room.
The other members of the team walked in after him. Trina bounced happily in her shoes. Grace moved with her customary, well, grace. Hunter loped like a wolf, and behind him Jeremy moved quietly, his eyes taking everything in. They moved comfortably because they’d all done this many times before. They knew how the routine went.
The room was littered with chairs, sculpted and swooping modernist pieces. William took a seat in his customary one. They’d all quickly settled into habits, preferring certain seats.
He looked down at the cup in the holder in the armrest of the chair. It was already full of the odd liquid that they found here following every snap. It looked almost like tea, but not quite. He lifted the cup to his lips. Its flavor reminded him of something, but exactly what was always just out of reach. He suspected that it served some purpose other than refreshment.
Grace sat down next to him, Trina on the other side. They seemed to see that he was still shaken by the experience.
A whirlwind of white passed through the room, looking like a tornado of sheets. When it stopped sidewinding, a man stood before them, skin pale like a dove, his green eyes intelli- gent and playful and stern all at once. He carried a fairly large muscular frame. William thought he bore a passing resem- blance to a construction worker.
This was Proof. He was the leader of the team, the coach, the counselor, the disciplinarian. His was the first face that William saw when he arrived, and most likely it would be the last one he saw before he departed.
“What do you think of the entrance? Too much?”
“You looked like a spastic phantom,” cracked Hunter. William was surprised when he first arrived here. He’d been called up, with the four others, from the realm of Meno- ram. It was where souls waited for assignment. He didn’t re- member much about it, except that it was kind of like living inside an energy field, waiting for an unknown destiny, and with awareness but still being unaware.
Here, with this team, however, he had the opportunity to advance himself. He had free will.
Proof walked through the room, touching each of them on the shoulder, saying their names. It was his little ritual. “Where did you go in this tag-along?”
He still used the term tag-along, meaning that the team tagged along emotionally with their hosts. Most everybody else agreed that the term snaps was better, since they were so short.
“We think it was Ancient Maya,” said Grace. “William and I were indigenous, the others were Spanish soldiers.”
“Ah, that one,” said Proof. “I did that one once. What did you think?”
“Well,” said Trina, “William’s host almost got killed.”
“By mine,” said Hunter.
“He probably did get killed,” said Jeremy, “but only after the snapback.”
Proof leaned back and smiled. “We used to call those photo finishes. Everybody encounters them. It’s a good learning experience.”
William looked down at his cup. The strange tea had refilled itself. No matter how many times they came to the debriefing room, he would never get tired of seeing that happen.
Then he raised his hand. “Proof ? What would’ve happened if I’d been in the host when he was killed?”
“It’s hard to say exactly,” admitted Proof. “We’ve focused on making more meaningful experiences that would advance you.”
“Would I be trapped forever?”
He shrugged. “You would have to ask the Ancient Engineer.”
The Ancient Engineer. Nobody’d seen him, and his name carried mythic status, but everyone knew one thing about him: The Ancient Engineer had apparently designed every- thing. The pods, the station, the tag-along techniques, even the Change Agent hierarchy. All of it had been his design, and perhaps even much more.
William stared daggers at Hunter. “Is it possible to stop a host from killing someone?”
Proof nodded, “Of course, but . . . ”
Hunter finished his thought, staring at William. “But we’re not supposed to interfere with the movements, feelings or thoughts of the hosts. It was in training.”
“But we just said that death is uncharted.”
“Hold on,” said Grace, putting her hands out toward both of them. “William, he didn’t know that you were in that host body. And you didn’t know that he was in his. And neither of you can affect the actions of the hosts anyways, so why bother arguing?”
“We’re all just guessing who is who in a snap,” added Trina.
Proof looked around. He and Jeremy made eye contact. It looked as though Jeremy had something to say.
“What is it, Jeremy?”
“I think there’s a way to communicate while we’re in the snap,” he said.
Proof clapped his hands, then pointed at him. “Everybody, Jeremy is making a breakthrough.”
The other four, who had been talking animatedly, suddenly shut up. They turned toward Jeremy.
“Say it again, Jeremy,” said Proof.
“I think we, the five of us, can communicate with one another in a snap,” he said.
“How?” said Trina.
“I don’t know how exactly, but I could somehow feel you, Grace,” he said. “I could almost hear you, too.”
Proof snapped his fingers. The room went dark, and a spotlight landed on Jeremy.
“Jeremy just took another step up the chain,” said Proof.
The others clapped. The lights went back up, and Hunter looked agitated. “Why does it happen to him? Why not me?”
“Because he’s improving his range of experience, and therefore his range of empathy. We’re all part of the same energy.” Proof spread his hands out. “People, people, what is with this bickering? You’ve been selected by the Ancient Engineer, the Ancient Engineer himself, to elevate yourselves. Do it! All of you have the ability to rise to CA3. That is why you’re here! Cooperate! Learn from one another!”
William now understood that this was referring to the Change Agent designation. A CA1 (Change Agent Level One) was a normal human on earth, which is where all of them had started out. A CA2 was granted extra powers of perception and intuition, sometimes even telekinetic powers. A CA3 existed at the top of the scale and was granted nearly superhuman abilities. That’s where they were all trying to get, but they had to do it as a team. If one person couldn’t ad- vance, nobody would make it. Proof had explained that the Ancient Engineer found that this method improved the efficiency of the advancement. It was the same principle that made teachers assign group projects to high school students.
The only problem, however, was that there was always one person who didn’t contribute to group projects...