Matheus was looking at Lintz when he removed his focus, and got to watch first hand how his expression changed. Throughout the testing, Lintz’s entire attitude was composed to the point of being clinical. Even his voice had been constrained and clipped. But no amount of emotional control could have prepared him for what he saw.
Lintz’s eyebrows raised while his mouth dropped open. The little man’s pupils quickly flicked back and forth over Matheus’s body. Matheus’s own gaze was absorbed by Lintz’s hands. Without looking at the screen, his fingers were tapping away at the tablet computer. It looked like he was writing on the screen, creating detailed notes of what he was seeing. But the screen was off.
Perhaps Matheus was imagining things, but he felt like he could see some kind of recognition leave Lintz’s eyes the instant he dropped the focus. It was as if, to Lintz, the man had suddenly vanished, and been replaced by something else.
Lintz’s eyes found Matheus’s own, and suddenly he seemed to remember that he was looking at a fellow human. Or at least, a fellow person. He had the good grace to seem embarrassed.
He coughed, before saying,’Thank you, Matheus.’ Glancing down at his tablet, he realised his mistake and quickly turned it back on before tapping out some additional notes. ‘I will begin a thorough analysis after I have set up the tests for Mrs Hashiji and Dr Pretorius. Please take a seat.’
Lintz indicated one of the three fold-out chairs that had been placed next to the three fold-out tables near the plastic crates in the centre of the room. Matheus looked at the foldable chair and nearly laughed.
He would have liked to joke. To say something like ‘You don’t have to see me without my focus to know that that thing will just fall apart.’ Something that would have put everybody at their ease. He would have even liked to have pretended to sit down, as he usually did, squatting with just enough of his weight on the chair to complete the illusion. But here, exposed as he was in front of everyone. Naked, and bulging, with palid white and pink skin visible to everyone, he only said, in a blank voice, ‘I am too heavy for it. I shall stand.’
Lintz’s static frown didn’t change, but he turned cherry-red. Matheus was suddenly aware of Lintz’s comparative youth. He clearly hadn’t been doing this for very long.
‘Well, I’m going to grab a seat before my leg gives out,’ said Pretorius, striding past Matheus to the trio of chairs.
Matheus frowned, staring at the back of Pretorius’s head. He had not seen if the older man had seen looked at him after he’d dropped the focus. He couldn’t imagine him having not done so, but then again, he couldn’t imagine anyone getting over it that quickly.
Lintz, clearly thankful for the opportunity to move on from his crassness, followed Pretorius. ‘Yes,’ he said, as if Pretorius had asked a question, ‘Mrs Hashiji, Mr Costa, if you wouldn’t mind following me to the chairs.’
As they stepped forward, Matheus chanced a glance at Mrs Hashiji to gauge her horror. She was still looking at him as they walked, which was not shocking. What was shocking was her expression. She did not appear disgusted, or horrified, or even to be politely pretending not to notice him. Her small, dark-brown eyes were studying his inhuman frame with nothing but mild curiosity.
When she saw him looking at her, she smiled. Leaning in close, so that Pretorius and Lintz could not hear, she spoke in a soft voice. ‘That was a very brave thing you did, Matheus.’
Matheus nodded acknowledgement, but said nothing.
Pretorius had slouched down at one of the seats, his stick leant against the table, Lintz by his side.
Lintz spoke to the three of them without glancing up from his tablet. ‘I will be recording my findings verbally using the microphones in this room.’
‘Don’t listen to him,’ said Captain Kohli, ‘He just likes talking to himself and uses that as an excuse.’ As Kohli emerged from behind the crates, he saw Matheus’s body for the first time. His grin altered as his eyes moved over Matheus’s enormous frame. At first, Matheus was glad that he wasn’t recoiling in horror, but as he gazed longer, he saw something else in the captain’s expression. His eyes had darkened and in his grin was the hint of challenge.
To Matheus, it put him uncomfortably in mind of a wrestler eyeing an opponent before a match.
Lintz made a noise of irritation, clearly biting back the urge to chastise the captain. Instead, he said, ‘Is the detector ready?’
Kohli stopped looking at Matheus abruptly, and gave a wry tilt of his head in Lintz’s direction. ‘Please don’t call Chester “the detector”,’ he said.
Locking eyes with Kohli meant that Matheus hadn’t seen the leash he was holding. As the captain walked around the crates, Matheus saw that on the other end of it was a medium-sized, tan-brown dog that pattered gently from where it had been kept.
Matheus had expected a great deal of things from these tests, but this was not one of them.
Pretorius loosed a quick bark of laughter. ‘Unless your theory is that our powers are derived from substance abuse,’ he said, ‘You’re gonna have to explain the logic to me.’
‘Oh, he’s not a drug sniffer, are you Chester?’ said Kohli, crouching down to scratch the dog behind the ears, ‘But you’re on the right track.’
It seemed for a moment that Kohli was going to say something more, but before he could Lintz cut him off.
‘Don’t, Kohli,’ said Lintz, his voice sharper than Matheus expected.
Kohli frowned and shrugged, still petting the dog, ‘You’re the boss Lintz. I’m afraid we can’t reveal the purpose of little Chester here without jeopardising the integrity of the testing.’
‘Do your best to ignore the detector-dog,’ said Lintz to the three of them, ‘Ideally, we would be keeping him outside the room, but limitations today have rendered that impractical.’ Matheus heard the touch of annoyance in his voice.
‘Is the dog’s presence absolutely necessary?’ said Mrs Hashiji. Matheus was surprised that her voice was coming from almost completely behind him. He turned to see that she shrunk backwards, putting Matheus between herself and the dog. She seemed uncomfortable, with her eyes locked on Chester.
‘Yes, it is,’ said Lintz without sympathy.
‘Don’t worry,’ Kohli said, rubbing the dog’s ears all the harder, ‘Chester’s not going to hurt anyone, are you buddy?’
Chester yawned in hugely and, to Matheus at least, endearingly. As he did so, Matheus saw the peculiar blue-purple colour of the dog’s gums and tongue, his teeth showing up like white marble. Kohli stood up, and then led Chester to a large cushion that had been put down for him near the chairs.
‘There is a chance the detector-dog may bark at certain points in the experiment,’ said Lintz, indicating for Mrs Hashiji to sit down, ‘Please do not be alarmed if he does so.’
‘I shall do my best,’ said Hashiji tersely, taking her seat.
Matheus took his place next to the table that had been left for him. On one corner rested a small, black device that looked like it might have been an audio recorder. He noted similar devices on Hashiji and Pretorius’s tables.
‘In addition, these devices on the table,’ said Lintz, as if reading Matheus’s mind, ‘May make a small tone during the experiment. Please note that this is nothing be alarmed about. Do your best to ignore it.’
Pretorius snorted with laughter, an abrupt noise in the clinical room. ‘I’ve seen first year physics students with better testing methodology, Lintz.’
Lintz clicked his tongue, continuing to look at his tablet. ‘There are limitations,’ he muttered, seemingly to himself more that to Pretorius. He coughed lightly, before continuing, ‘We are going to begin the testing with you, Dr Pretorius, and firstly I’d like to check the extent of your spatial awareness and problem solving. Are we ready with the first test, Captain Kohli?’
‘We are indeed,’ said Kohli. Reaching into the plastic crate, he drew out two objects. One of them was unfamiliar to Matheus, but if he had to guess he would have said that it was some kind of timer. The other object was much more recognisable.
‘You’ve gotta be shitting me,’ said Pretorius, his voice tired and strained. He removed his glasses so that he could pinch the bridge of his nose. ‘There’s a stack of papers on my desk two feet tall that I need to edit by Monday, and instead this is how you’re gonna have me spend my day?’
‘Dr Pretorius,’ said Lintz, his voice tight, ‘This-’
‘Stop,’ said Pretorius, raising a palm before pointing a gnarled finger at the little man, ‘Unless the next words out of your mouth are “is no ordinary Rubik’s Cube,” then I don’t want to hear it.’
Matheus was for once happy that he wasn’t wearing his focus. It was harder for others to recognise his smile in this form.
Lintz clicked his tongue again before continuing, ‘This can tell us a great deal about your condition, Dr Pretorius.’
Kohli, grinning wolfishly at him, slapped down the unsolved Rubick’s Cube and the device before Pretorius with a pair of clicks. The captain then indicated for Pretorius to put his hands on two spots on the device, before tapping a button on it.
‘When you raise your hands from this timer,’ said Lintz, ‘It will begin counting up. When you have solved the cube, simply tap the timer again and it will record your completed time.’
Pretorius was gazing over his glasses at Lintz with a cold loathing. Lintz seemed to be doing his best to ignore it.
‘While you’re working on that, I’ll be getting the other two started with their tests,’ Lintz said. He turned to Mrs Hashiji, ‘Mrs-’
That was as far as he got before there was a dull snap.
He turned, and Matheus eyes followed his, to see that Pretorius was once more sat with his arms petulantly crossed. His eyes were still fixed on Lintz’s, but his expression was now one of smug satisfaction.
Before him was the completed cube. The timer read 2.27 seconds.
Kohli chuckled in his pleasantly gruff voice.
‘If you think that’s impressive,’ said Pretorius dryly, ‘You should see me with jigsaw puzzles. You got any jigsaw puzzles in there, Lintz?’
Lintz clicked his tongue again. He made a brief indication for Kohli to exchange the test with something else. Kohli, still grinning, took away the cube and timer and once more returned to the crate.
Lintz, still tapping notes onto his tablet, began speaking aloud, apparently to the room’s microphones. ‘Note One: Dr Pretorius demonstrates advanced spatial awareness, problem solving skills, and neurological coordination far in excess of human limits. Skipping levels two and three of the testing for streamlining purposes.’
From somewhere deep inside the crate, Kohli produced an object entirely unfamiliar to Matheus. It was a roughly spherical piece of metal, plastic, and glass, about the size of a basketball. There were regular, angular structures coming out of its surface, making it look like a piece of machienary. One of these structures was pulled back, opening onto the interior of the object, which was a mess of wires, tubes, and other such things. To Matheus it looked like it could be an engine or perhaps a computer. But, for all he knew, it could be a microwave.
The captain placed the object on the table. ‘Have fun with this one, doctor,’ he said, his tone sarcastic but not unfriendly.
Pretorius didn’t respond, his arms still folded petulantly, but for once, Matheus saw him look genuinely contemplative. His mouth frowned slightly before he pushed his glasses up his nose and refocused on the object.
‘Dr Pretorius,’ said Lintz, ‘I would like you to tell me what you believe the purpose of this object is. You may have as long as you need to examine it, and you may even dismantle it.’
There was a pause.
Pretorius tilted his head from side to side once or twice, then said, in a level voice, ‘Lintz, I don’t think I have ever heard a stupider suggestion than that one.’ He indicated the device, ‘Even if I have got “advanced neurological coordination”, or whatever the hell you called it, I can’t be expected to know what any piece of machinery is without context.’
‘It serves a very particular purpose,’ said Lintz, his temper evident in his tone, ‘Would you prefer we try something more simple first?’
‘Oh, I didn’t say I couldn’t do it,’ said Pretoirus with a smirk, beginning to turn over the device in his hands, ‘I just said that it was stupid.’
Satisfied, Lintz now turned to Mrs Hashiji once more. ‘Mrs Hashiji, we may now begin your portion of the testing.’
Kohli had removed a cardboard box, narrow but about half a foot long, as well as what looked like a chess board, which he placed on Hashiji’s table. He also removed four fans or minature windmills that he placed at the four corners of the grid. Opening the box, he started removing small, rectangles that looked to Matheus almost exactly like dominoes of various colours. One by one, with small clicks, Kohli began arranging them on the grid.
‘On the night of the event,’ said Lintz, ‘You displayed some ability to manipulate your environment using a wide variety of materials. We would like to test the extent of that ability now.’
Looking closer, Matheus saw that many of the dominoes were of different compositions. Some were made of wood, some metal, some stone. One or two were of stranger manufacture. Several were made of transparent plastic containing liquids, or were completely hollow.
‘Now, Mrs Hashiji,’ continued Lintz, ‘I would like you to knock over the dominoes that I indicate. Please use the grid as a reference for which one I intend, and try not to knock over any other dominoes or cause the windmills to turn. Are you ready?’
‘I believe so,’ said Mrs Hashiji, raising her hand. Matheus noticed how uncomfortable she seemed.
‘Good. F-3,’ said Lintz.
Mrs Hashiji twisted her fingers.
Before Matheus could fully register the fall of the domino on the board, an explosion of noise came from the crates on the other side of the room. Matheus turned as fast as he could, feeling his shoulders tense at the danger.
Chester had been so quiet on his cushion that Matheus had completely forgotten his presence. Now, the detector-dog was loosing a chorus of loud, cheerful barks, his whole body pointed excitedly towards Mrs Hashiji.
Matheus knew enough about dogs to know that Chester wasn’t being aggressive, his tail was wagging too fast. Mrs Hashiji on the other hand, didn’t seem to share his understanding. She was cringing back into her chair, her eyes closed in a wince of anxiety.
Kohli walked over to the dog, and once more crouched down to ruffle his ears.
‘Please ignore the detector-dog,’ said Lintz, without empathy, ‘E-5.’
It was all that Matheus could do not to put himself between Hashiji and the dog. To guard her from this threat.
Mrs Hashiji paused for a moment, before saying, in a tone even slower and more careful than usual, ‘As I said, Mr Lintz, I will do my best.’
Opening her eyes, she focused on the board.
She twisted her hand again, and the little brown-wood domino on E-5 tumbled down.
Chester began barking again, though not quite so loud or frequent. Kohli was still playing with the dog’s ears, which seemed to relax him a little.
It made little difference to Mrs Hashiji, who once again had become contorted with anxiety. She was completely frozen, her whole body tense.
‘B-6,’ Lintz said, dispassionately.
There was a clatter from Pretorius’s table. ‘Oh come off it, Lintz!’ he said, letting the device he’d been examining fall from his hands. His eyes were bright, and fixed fiercely on those of Lintz, ‘I can already tell your a shoddy scientist, but if you’re expecting Mrs Hashiji to just work through this, then you’re an arsehole as well as a moron!’
Lintz had once more gone red, though his expression hadn’t changed. He looked like he was about to say something, but before he could Matheus spoke up. ‘This is indeed not a good test environment, Lintz,’ he said. His abnormally deep, resonant voice usually commanded respect, but without his psychic focus it drew the eyes of everyone in the room, ‘If the dog is absolutely necessary for the rest of the testing, then I suggest you adapt the testing.’
Lintz was not looking at any of them. His eyes were fixed on his tablet computer.
To Matheus’s surprise, Kohli spoke up. ‘Lintz, I think they’re right. I reckon little Chester here is gonna be too distracting. Let me take him outside and they can continue the rest of the tests without him.’
Lintz clicked his tongue through clenched teeth. When he spoke, it was not to anyone else in the room. ‘Note 2: The detector-dog responded in the affirmative to each instance of Mrs Hashiji’s powers, but not to those of Dr Pretorius or Mr Costa. Detector was removed from testing area to prevent distractions.’ He nodded briefly to Kohli.
The captain grabbed the leash of Chester, who was still wagging his tail, blissfully unaware of the trouble he’d caused. As he led the dog from the room, Kohli nodded and winked at Matheus.
Matheus would have liked to take the wink at face value, but still wasn’t sure what to make of Kohli. There was something about him that put him on edge.
As Lintz tapped away at the tablet, Matheus, Hashiji, and Pretorius glanced at each other. No words were shared, but Matheus felt a heartbeat of camaraderie with these two. He might not like them, or even really know them, but in a small way he felt more like they were all on the same side.
With Lintz and Parma on the other.