The room they walked into could well have been the test chambers from the night of the accident. It was large, larger than the rest of the station suggested, taking up two stories. It’s walls were a blank, plain grey, with a darker grey floor made from a rubber-like material. Up on one wall, a wide window opened onto another room. An observation deck.
The smell in the room reminded Matheus of the back halls of the library, which combined with everything else gave the room a familiar institutional feel, almost like a school gymnasium. It made Matheus feel instantly weary.
It would have been mundane were it not for a few details: The four cameras, one in each corner, the several microphones hanging from the ceiling, and the huge, radar dish-like metal structures that were affixed to each wall. Sensors of some kind, Matheus would have to guess.
The dishes, the cameras, and the low-hanging fluorescent lights, that left dark shadows everywhere, all focused in the centre of the room, where a raised platform held tables and boxes. That was as much as Matheus managed to take in, before his attention was absorbed by the group of people waiting at the entrance.
‘Hel-lo!’ Sandy said to the three of them, Jackson having left them to enter themselves. Matheus couldn’t be certain but he sounded more strained than he had done in the past. ‘So, so glad you all could make it today!’
Sandy stepped forwards to shake everyone’s hands, and Matheus was impressed that he remembered not to shake his. He was dressed in the black suit of the Parma agents, but his tie today was a dull green with white patterns on it which contrasted with the redness of his hair. Looking closely, the white patterns looked to be mock equations, so the tie looked like a blackboard in a classroom. Matheus couldn’t tell if that was meant to be a joke about the tests.
Monica also stepped forwards to shake hands. Her mass of frizzy hair was pulled back into a ponytail, as it had been each time Matheus had seen her. She too didn’t shake hands with Matheus, but she did smile and nod in acknowledgement. Matheus did the same.
‘Good afternoon Sandy, Monica, it is good to see you too,’ said Mrs Hashiji, quickly taking the initiative in the conversation as she had done before.
‘So, as Jackson may have already told you, we have two people we’d like you to meet,’ Sandy indicated the man who stood to his right. ‘This is Captain Kohli, an enhanced individual who has kindly agreed to help us with today’s testing. Basically,’ Sandy grinned, ‘This man is a real-life superhero.’
Matheus didn’t need to be told that. From the moment he had entered the room, the man had drawn his attention. The jumpsuit he was wearing was not spandex, but there was no getting around the fact that it was an outfit that suggested catching evil-doers in darkened alleyways. It was mainly white, but with several black stripes running down the sides. On the chest were a few insignias that Matheus could not even guess the meaning of.
The suit was so distracting, so incongruous with the rest of the room, that it took Matheus a moment to notice the man inside of it.
‘“Captain Kohli”? Careful Sandy, you make it sound like I’m some kind of big-shot,’ the man said pleasantly, as he walked over to shake Matheus’s hand, ‘Most folks know me by my callsign: Redshift.’
He was older than Matheus would have thought from the costume, maybe in his late forties, but he was still probably the most muscular, well-built of anyone in the room except Matheus himself. He had a croak in his voice and a face that looked like old leather, and his smile brought out laugh-lines.
‘My apologies, Captain Kohli,’ Matheus said in a polite rumble, ‘But I do not shake.’
Kohli squinted at Matheus, ’You must be Mr Costa, is that right?’ He leaned in close to him, ‘Don’t worry pal, we’ll figure out what happened to you and we’ll have you back to your old self soon enough.’ Kohli’s voice had become low, soft, and sweet, as if he was talking to a child.
The rage that blazed fast and fierce through Matheus was almost unquenchable. He wanted to shout, to smash something, to grab this man by the shoulders and-
Matheus caught himself. Let go of the emotions as soon as they welled up. Instead, he smiled and said, deep and slow, ‘Thank you for your concern, Captain Kohli. I very much appreciate it.’
Kohli turned to Pretorius. ‘Do you shake?’ he asked.
Pretorius didn’t say anything, but he did hold out his hand.
While Kohli spoke, Matheus noticed that Mrs Hashiji was watching him. Every time he felt his defences lowered, he’d find her nut-brown eyes burrowing into his own. Matheus wished he knew what to make of that.
‘In addition,’ continued Sandy, ‘We also have an expert on paranormal phenomena and extra-human abilities here with us today who’s going to be conducting a few tests with you all. Nothing too taxing – We won’t be making you do long-division or anything!’ Sandy’s grin broadened ever wider at his own joke.
‘If it’s all the same with you, Sandy I’d prefer if we got this over with as quickly as possible,’ said Pretorius.
Matheus found himself nodding in agreement and even Mrs Hashiji said nothing to contradict.
‘This expert, will he be arriving at any point soon?’ Matheus said.
There was a small, dry cough from just behind Sandy, Monica, and Kohli. The three of them were taller than average, and Matheus of course was by far the tallest in the room, but even taking that into consideration the man who quietly stepped forward was small. He was a young, white man, whose thick moustache and receding hairline made him seem considerably older. He was cradling a tablet computer in his small hands, like a squirrel holding an acorn. He nodded politely but coldly at the three of them.
‘Good afternoon,’ he said. Matheus was surprised at the man’s accent. It was unfamiliar, but if he had to guess it would have been some variation of British. ‘My name is Mr Richmond Lintz. I’ll be stepping in to cover for Dr Moon, who unfortunately was not able to make it to today’s testing.’
‘Lintz has a degree in Paranormal Physiology and Psychology,’ said Monica, as Lintz shook hands, ‘He’s going to be performing some new tests today that we hope are going to shed some light on what your abilities are and where they could have come from.’ Though Matheus had only met Monica a handful of times now, he saw that beneath her professional exterior, she was annoyed about something.
‘Myself and Captain Kohli will now begin setting up the tests,’ said Lintz in a precise and monotonous tone, ‘Sandy has more information to tell you three.’
Kohli and Lintz left for the centre of the large room. Matheus now had time to see what was on the elevated platform. Three desks with three foldable chairs sat in the centre of the room, all in a row. Isolated like that, they made the vague sense of dread that Matheus had been harbouring all day intensify to fever-pitch.
Beside the tables was a stack of four plastic crates. In contrast to the sinister, science fiction feel of the room and the chairs, the crates looked like something a substitute teacher might use to store their study materials. It was these crates that Kohli and Lintz were searching through now.
‘Now, Mr Lintz’s time is extremely valuable,’ said Sandy, his palms facing them, ‘So with that in mind we’re going to try and race through these tests before we hit four thirty, is that alright?’
The three of them nodded. Sandy was about to say something else, but Monica spoke first.
‘Usually, we would of course ask you to do these tests privately,’ she said, her voice clipped and her expression stern ‘But because we’ll be having to get through them so quickly, we will actually be doing several of the tests at the same time. This means that you will have to expose each other to your abilities, if you have not done that already since the accident.’
From Sandy’s expression, Matheus knew that Monica was not supposed to have revealed that. Matheus guessed this was the source of her annoyance – her clients’ privacy were being invaded. It made Matheus warm to Monica even more than he had done already, even while her words redoubled his apprehension.
Pretorius and Hashiji also seemed, Matheus sensed, though they said nothing to show it.
‘You can of course,’ said Monica, ‘Elect to be tested in separately at a later date if you wish to.’
‘Though, if you do,’ said Sandy, quickly, ’It would slow down the investigation.’ Though Sandy was apparently talking to the three of them, it was very clear that his words were being directed at Monica. He smiled in a way that only seemed to emphasise the tiredness of his eyes, ‘It’s your call.’
The discomfort that Matheus had begun to feel from the moment that Sandy had mentioned ‘tests’ had never fully dissipated. For the last two hours or so, it had been gestating inside him, something cold and uncertain that his mind couldn’t resolve. As he realised that delays were evaporating before him, the chill began to feel hot. It was something alive in his body. Now that he realised that not only would he be revealing himself to the Agency, but to Pretorius and Mrs Hashiji too, the feeling was growing strong enough to be tangible.
It felt as if he were about to strip naked in front of them all.
Matheus looked towards the other two, wanting to gauge their reactions.
If it bothered Pretorius, he wasn’t showing it. ‘If I’m showing off what I can do in front of the spook show, then I don’t mind showing in front of these two as well. But it’s up to you both – my powers are about as embarrassing as they are impressive. That is,’ he smirked, ‘Not very.’
‘I don’t see the harm,’ said Mrs Hashiji with painstaking slowness, ‘In demonstrating my abilities in front of you all.’ Matheus heard the resignation. ‘As long as I am certain that I won’t cause any accidents.’
‘Not a worry, Mrs Hashiji,’ said Sandy, with his biggest smile of the meeting so far, ‘This room and Mr Litz’s equipment are specially designed to withstand a great deal of different phenomena.’
‘What about you, Matheus?’ Monica’s voice was always deep, resonant, and soothing, even when she was angry. But when she said those four words, it was as if she’d doubled the effect. It spoke to something so primal in Matheus that for a moment he wondered if she didn’t have powers of her own. The power to sooth troubled minds.
When he saw every pair of eyes in the room staring at his and felt the anxiety redouble, he knew she didn’t.
Matheus thought about the question. He could say no, of course. Say that he would prefer to be tested in private. Would prefer not to reveal his true self to the others. But Sandy’s words kept floating through his mind. It would slow down the investigation. The unspoken meaning of those words suggested itself to Matheus: It would be unhelpful. Suspicious.
Matheus thought back to his mother, and what she’d told him once: You’re a hard nut, Matheus. If you ever find something you can’t do, it’s only because you’re bone-head is stopping you doing it.
Though the fear and anger still churned inside him, Matheus found himself nodding to the five pairs of eyes. ‘Of course,’ he said, ‘I wouldn’t mind at all.’
‘Very pleased to hear it,’ said the crisp, clipped voice of Lintz returning to the group, ‘I know that it must be hard to show your true self in front of others, Matheus.’
Matheus once more had to struggle to quell a storm of angry thoughts, but then Pretorius spoke. ‘Hey Lintz, I’ve been told that you’re time is very valuable, and that’s making me feel so bad about how much your wasting it – can we just get started please?’
It wasn’t often that Matheus felt affection for people, but in that moment he could almost have hugged Pretorius.
Lintz began tapping his tablet while he blushed a deep crimson that Matheus found unbelievably satisfying. It was nice to see someone else embarrassed for once. He coughed, ‘Yes, of course, sorry,’ Lintz said in a loose, quiet babble, ‘Erm, first, I need make sure that I understand the nature of your abilities.’ His frantic hand movements paused, as if he’d found the right page. ‘According to my notes, we have one person who seems to demonstrate enhanced durability, enhanced strength, and an altered physiology.’
Lintz, of course, looked up at Matheus.
‘Yep, that’s Mrs Hashiji here,’ said Pretorius dryly, indicating the tiny woman.
The group smiled and chuckled lightly. They did so more openly when Matheus smiled too and raised his hand.
‘Yes,’ he said, ‘Unsurprisingly, you will find that I adequately match that description.’
Lintz tapped a check-mark on the tablet. ‘Excellent,’ he said, ‘And we also have someone here with unspecified, enhanced neurological abilities.’
‘That’ll be me,’ said Pretorius, without emotion.
Lintz checked something else off with a flick of his wrist. He looked at Mrs Hashiji, ‘And that means that you have…’ he squinted at the tablet for a second, ‘“Unspecified environmental manipulation and energy manipulation,” is that right?’
Hashiji shrugged. ‘If you say so.’
Lintz checked again. ‘Good,’ he said briskly. He reached down into his small briefcase and began removing a series of forms, ‘Lastly, you must sign these documents, and we will be ready to begin.’
He handed each of them a clipboard and a pen. Attached to each board was about five sheets worth of documentation. Scanning over it, Matheus gathered that it was essentially a waiver freeing the Agency and Lintz from repercussions should anything go unexpectedly with the tests. It was similar enough to the document that they had all first signed the night of the accident that he found himself suspicious as to why he had to sign it again.
‘As your attorney,’ said Monica to the three of them, ‘Know that I have looked over those documents for you and insured that there’s nothing that I personally am uncomfortable with. Feel free to check them yourselves, but if not, know that they are standard for these kinds of tests.’
Matheus pursed his lips slightly, glancing through the crowded sheets of small-type. He then turned up to look at Monica. ‘I believe I trust your judgement and that you have our best interests at heart, Monica,’ he said. The pen was small and fiddly in Matheus’s enormous fingers, but he was used to that, and managed to scrawl out a signature on the last page.
‘I agree,’ said Mrs Hashiji, signing her own name, ’And besides, I believe it would take me too long to find my glasses.’
Pretorius didn’t say anything, but after flicking through the document for only a second, he shrugged and signed his own name too.
As the three handed the documents back to Lintz, Matheus couldn’t help but notice the glint of pride on Monica’s face.
‘Okay, we are cleared for take-off!’ said Sandy, clapping his hands together, ‘Now, myself and Ms Jansen are going to go to the observation room where we’ll be able to see you demonstrate your abilities. Lintz will remain down here with you and explain the tests as you perform them.’
Sandy looked around, beaming, as if waiting for a response. Hashiji, Pretorius, and Matheus murmured assent.
‘Great!’ he said, ‘Well, good luck out there, and we’ll speak once you’ve wrapped up!’
‘If you need any help, or you don’t feel comfortable continuing the tests,’ Monica said, carefully, ‘Just say so out loud. You’re being recorded, and we’ll be able to hear you from the observation room.’
With that, the two of them left for a door on a far wall beneath the window.
That left the three of them with Lintz, who tried to smile, and Kohli, who was still searching through a crate.
‘So, we can begin the testing,’ said Lintz to the three of them, ’I’d like to start with examining the physiological changes.’
Matheus felt all the anxiety, misery, anger, and fear of the last two hours focus into this moment. A wave that had pulled up all the negativity since he had heard Sandy say the word ‘tests’ was now cresting. Preparing to crash and drown him beneath its weight.
‘Mr Costa,’ he said, ‘I am under the impression that you are currently wearing a Psychic Ignorance Focus, one given to you by the Agency after the attack, in order to… blend in.’
Matheus could feel his whole innards churning. Altering. Preparing for a fight that wasn’t coming.
Lintz was waiting for a response. Matheus knew he’d have to give him one.
‘Yes,’ he said.
‘Please remove the focus.’ Lintz said it as if it was normal. Casual. As if it was the simplest thing in the world. As if he was inviting Matheus to take off his coat.
Matheus looked around. Lintz was looking at him, obviously. So was Mrs Hashiji, whose eyebrows were frowning in curiosity. Pretorius was looking at him, dispassionately and inscrutably. Monica and Sandy had reached the observation room by now, and were looking out through the windows. Directly at him.
Five pairs of eyes. Watching him.
Waiting to see what he was.
After a second which housed a century, Matheus spoke.
‘As you wish,’ he said.
Matheus reached up his huge hands, undid his leather watch with clumsy fingers, and slipped it from his wrist.
And just like that, the others could see Matheus for what he truly was.