The Exam Rooms
And then, without warning, they had arrived. When the security guards opened the back doors to the van, Binny, Zach, and Cassie were all in their original places. The tarps remained on the floor in a pile just as they were when the kids had entered the vehicle.
Jay and Julie Jordan, as well as Dr. Huitre in his car, had also arrived and were gathered by the back door of the van. Binny tried hard not to glance back at the pile of tarps. When she looked up at her parents, Binny saw that her mother’s eyes were puffy again and wondered what her parents had been discussing in the car. The stern look on her father’s face didn’t give Binny any better clue.
“Let’s get this over with as quickly as possible.” Jay almost barked at Dr. Huitre and the security guards.
“Of course, of course.” Huitre tried his best to sound reassuring.
The three vehicles had parked near one of the oddly shaped modern buildings that populated the Luce Laboratories campus. The lettering on the side spelled out “Epaphus”. Binny didn’t recognize the building or the name. Nor did she see the Records Room with its signature glass dome. She hoped that wouldn’t be a problem for Zach or Penny as that’s where she needed them to go.
The Epaphus building was shaped like a three-dimensional parallelogram stood up on its side. It looked like it had been dropped from space with such force that one side of the parallelogram had lodged itself in the earth while the remainder stuck up at an odd angle. A suspended walkway jutted out from the high end connecting the parallelogram to a building that looked like a squat white cartoon tornado. It reminded Binny of a museum her parents had taken her to on a trip to New York City.
Grater finally spoke up. “Patients to the right, others to the left.”
A pained look on his face, Huitre reminded the Jordan’s about the quarantine requirements.
If Binny was going to keep the truth from her parents, she thought it might actually be easier if they weren’t in the same room as the kids. “Mom, I promise, we’ll be okay.” She looked at Zach for help.
Zach took a second to process what Binny was saying and then quickly jumped in, “Yes, I agree. Don’t worry, we’ll be fine!”
Binny smiled her best smile and after taking Cassie’s hand in hers added, “I promise, we will take care of each other. Just like when you leave us to take care of Cassie at home,” added Binny, not realizing how unsettling that might sound after the events of the past couple of days.
While Julie wasn’t exactly at ease, she was proud of her children’s independence and maturity. Jay wasn’t quite as reassured given the history.
Huitre looked reassuringly at the Jordans and said, “I will introduce you to the doctor who ran the clinical trial before any tests happen. I am sure that will put you at ease.”
Jay and Julie reluctantly agreed and started walking with Huitre to the non-patient entrance to one side of the building. As they rounded the corner, Binny saw the glint in Grater’s eye as he cocked his head signaling the three children to move towards the patient entrance.
As the party got closer to the building Binny suddenly realized that the other guard, what was his name, Barrios, wasn’t with them. He was still at the van, opening the back door. Binny froze.
When Grater noticed that Binny had stopped walking he followed her gaze and saw that his partner was in the van. “Hey, Victor, you thinking of joining us? Or have you had enough work for one day?” Binny sensed the undertone of anger in the man’s joke. It felt to her like Grater was angry a lot of the time.
Barrios poked his head out of the back of the van, “I’m just going to clean up these tarps. They’re a mess, and shouldn’t be here anyway. I’ll be inside in a minute.”
When Zach saw Barrios head back into the van he stiffened abruptly. If they discovered Penny under the tarps who knew what would happen to all of them?
Binny looked like her eyes were going to pop out of her head. She turned to Zach and mouthed “DO something.”
“I’ll go help with the tarps.” Zach suggested cheerily. He was already sprinting towards the van before Grater could react.
“Hey, what are you doing? Come back here!” Grater yelled. But it was too late. Zach had already reached the van and was climbing inside.
Binny could feel Grater’s anger rise. She had already sensed him starting to boil when Barrios had taken the initiative to clean up the tarps without getting told to do so. But when Zach took off it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Now even a child wouldn’t follow Grater’s orders! Grater ran over to the van yelling for Zach. “Hey, get back out here!”
Binny and Cassie were left standing on their own. A thought struck Binny, “Hey Cassie, let’s go pick flowers.”
“OK.” Cassie smiled.
Binny started walking purposefully away from both the van and the building with Cassie in tow.
“Barrios, bring that kid out here. Now!” In a few seconds Zach appeared out the back of the van with Barrios right behind him.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Grater barked.
Zach wasn’t entirely sure whether the man was talking to him or the other guard. In the end it seemed maybe both. Zach decided to answer anyway, “I was just trying to help.”
“Do you think he needs your help? That way. Now!” Grater pointed towards the entrance but as he turned his head he saw that Binny and Cassie had made significant progress in a completely different direction. “What???” He sputtered. “What are you two doing?!” Grater turned to Barrios exasperated, “Do you think you could do tarp duty later? I could use your help corralling these little monsters.”
Barrios responded, resigned, “Yes boss. Of course.”
Even though Binny and Cassie were moving at a leisurely pace, Grater ran as if they were trying to escape on a motorcycle. When he caught up with them, demanding that they return, Cassie turned to him, puzzled, saying sweetly, “We were just gonna pick some flowers.”
The guards marched the children inside through the patient entrance. Binny was nervous but strangely excited. She felt almost as if her body was vibrating. The way that she and Zach had distracted the guards and kept Penny’s presence a secret exhilarated her. Hopefully these guards would escort them to their destination quickly and Binny and Zach could get to work.
But all of a sudden their destination seemed less certain. Binny had assumed that the three kids would be together. But the guard named Barrios was escorting Cassie through one set of doors while the mean guard was directing Zach and Binny through another.
“Wait, what are you doing?” Binny had stopped in her tracks. “We need to stay together!”
“Doctor’s orders. Everyone separate.” The mean guard answered.
Before Binny could say anything else Cassie was out of sight. Once through the doors, Binny found that she and Zach were in a short hallway. On one side, in the direction that Cassie was taken, were two big windows. On the other side of the hallway, facing the two big windows, were two doors. Zach was sent through the first. Grater closed the door on Zach without a word.
“There.” Grater grunted, pointing Binny towards the other door.
“How long do we have to wait in here?” Binny said as she reluctantly entered the room. But by the time she turned around to get her answer, Grater had closed the door.
Binny had to focus. They’d managed to keep Penny from getting found out. They could handle this. She could handle this. Binny explored her surroundings.
The room was simple. The walls were bare. There were a couple of chairs and a table. A small sad plant sat in a pot on the floor in the corner. Binny thought it might be fake. At the other end of the room opposite the door was a big mirror. Under the mirror was a small slot framed in metal. The room was like no doctor’s exam room she’d ever been in. Binny walked over to the door. Above the handle was a numerical keypad. A light on it blinked red. Binny tried the handle. It didn’t move. That would have been too easy, she thought to herself.
Binny tried to remember the hallway and the two windows opposite the doors through which she and Zach had been hustled. She hadn’t looked hard, but the windows had looked in on rooms that as best as she could recall looked kind of like this one. Binny suspected that on the other side of the mirror in her room was just such a hallway. Anyone standing in it would be able to look in on her, but she would only see her own reflection. Binny was willing to bet several weeks’ allowance that Zach and Cassie’s rooms were identical.
It was time, Binny thought. If her plan was going to work she and Zach needed to get out of these rooms and past the guards. Now or never.
When Zach had told her about his power at the park as they ate their ice creams, Binny had been telling the truth that she didn’t mind being the only one without a special ability. Mostly the truth any way. She was genuinely happy for Zach. But she’d be lying if she said that wasn’t mixed with a little bit of jealousy. She’d suspected Zach was hiding something, so maybe it was easier for her to act like it was no big deal because she already kind of knew.
But she would also not be telling the truth if she didn’t admit that when she finally realized that she too had a special ability, it filled her with joy. Well, joy and fear.
She usually knew when her brother was trying to deceive their parents. That was easy. In her estimation he was pretty much always lying about something. But there was something else. Binny had learned to trust her feelings about people, about Caleb, and about Huitre, for example.
It had ‘clicked’ for her on the front porch as her parents were arguing with Huitre about bringing the kids to Luce Laboratories. As she had pondered Huitre’s statements, she decided to point her mind’s eye, upwards. There was no other way to describe it. It was as if there was a window, hanging above where her thoughts usually congregated that she’d never noticed, and through which she could see things that no one else saw. She saw images and colors and textures too. It was kind of like having a second pair of eyes.
When Huitre was talking about getting notified by Luce Laboratories, Binny could see an image of him arguing with someone on the phone. The image looked slightly yellow and was flecked with little lines that resembled cracks in an old painting. But when Huitre spoke about caring about her and her siblings, she saw an image of him facing someone in a Luce Laboratories lab coat, standing in front of Cassie as if to protect her. That image was tinged red – a solid red.
The events of the day had been so emotional and nerve-wracking that Binny hadn’t really had time to let it sink in. Binny Jordan did have a super power – she could read minds! For a fleeting moment Binny let her competitiveness with her siblings get the best of her, as she basked in the idea that her power may be the most special of all. But then she tried to banish those thoughts from her mind. It wasn’t nice, and she had a job to do. But still, she couldn’t help that her power was way cool.
Binny set her mind to the task in front of her. Closing her eyes, she focused on the window in her mind. It was blank. Well, that wasn’t quite right, it wasn’t entirely blank. There were a few small colored spots. Some were slightly bigger, some a little on the small side.
Binny willed her mind to zoom in on the nearest dot. It had a touch of dark green around it. The image slowly got bigger and then she was looking at something. Her mind filled with the image of a door handle with a keypad. It was the door handle keypad combination in the room she was in right now. But her eyes were closed. Binny’s eyes opened in surprise and then she was looking up at her own door. But her angle was wrong. Binny was sitting on the floor and looking from below. The image in her mind’s eye was straight on and much closer.
Binny closed her eyes again and zoomed back in. Now there was writing, like writing on a chalkboard but floating in air above the keypad image. It was a list being written as she looked. The first line said “4 digits – 10,000”. She watched as the second line came out “5 digits – 100,000”. Then a third, “6 digits 1,000,000.”
Binny had no idea what it meant. Then the words faded and the keypad came back into focus. An index finger traced over the keypad and then punched in the number “0000”. The blinking red light paused momentarily and then continued blinking. Then the finger pressed “0001”. The red light still blinked.
Binny recognized that finger. The fingernails weren’t exactly what you would call clean. It suddenly hit her. This was what her brother was seeing. He was staring at his door handle, and the numbers were calculations. Zach was trying to figure out how much time it would take him to crack the code on the door handle. A four digit code meant 10,000 different possible combinations. A five digit code meant 100,000 possibilities. As annoying as her brother could be, Binny did admire that he hadn’t given up even though they’d been separated.
Binny zoomed back out from Zach’s mind and into the second nearest dot. It had a light pink hue to it. Even before she saw the details of the image she knew it was her sister’s mind. It was pink. Who else could it be? It looked like Cassie was reading a children’s book. Where had she gotten it? They’d probably put Cassie in a room with some books and toys for kids to keep them occupied. The image coming from Cassie was easy to understand but covered in little cracks. The same cracks she saw in Huitre’s mind when she knew he was lying. But his thoughts came mostly in yellow. Cassie’s book was being broadcast to Binny’s mental TV in pink. Binny wasn’t entirely sure what the significance was of the cracks if any. Maybe it was like a phone call with a bad connection.
There had been a third dot, off to the right, a little smaller than the others. Binny zoomed out from Cassie’s mind and then back in on the third dot. This one had a purple tint. First Binny saw an image of Grater barking out orders. She got scared for a minute thinking she was in Grater’s mind. But then the image receded and was replaced by an image of a girl. A girl about Binny’s age. Sitting cross-legged on a carpeted floor at a man’s feet. She had olive skin, long black hair pulled back with two barrettes, and her ears were pierced with gold studs. She looked up at the owner of the feet and flashed a bright white smile. When she appeared the image went from purple to pink.
Binny watched fascinated as the picture switched back and forth between Grater yelling and the girl smiling. Each time it would also switch from purple to pink and back again. Binny guessed that the guard was trying to control his anger at his boss by thinking of the little girl who he obviously cared about. The little girl’s face looked familiar. In fact, it looked like the guard whose mind she was reading. Binny wondered, could that girl be his daughter? A plan started to form in her mind.
Zach got scared when he heard the loud sobbing. It was Binny. She was banging on her door and crying. He rushed to the locked door and started turning the handle furiously. After a few seconds the banging stopped and then only the crying remained. Zach could only pick out fragments, but the words “Zach” and “brother” came through more than once. Zach had stopped trying the door and was just listening intently. After another bout of muffled crying Zach jumped back from the door to his room just as it opened from the outside.
Standing there was a teary Binny with the guard named Barrios behind her guiding her inside.
“Look. You can’t do any more of that. Please.” Barrios stood in the doorway sounding stern but sympathetic too as he spoke to Binny. “They want you guys separate.”
“I promise, I won’t tell anyone. I was just scared and needed my brother. Thank you. Thank you.” Binny was still breathing hard from her bout of crying.
Barrios started making his way out of the room when Binny shrieked, “Spider!”
“What now?” Barrios was sounding exasperated.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” Binny was almost hyperventilating. “There’s a huge spider in the corner. I’m just scared of spiders. Please do something.”
The guard rolled his eyes and shook his head but walked towards the corner of the room where Binny was pointing. “Where? I don’t see a spider.”
As the guard passed Binny, she shot Zach a wink and a smile, and then went immediately back to her hyperventilation routine. “I swear it was there.”
“Well it’s gone now. If it comes back, I’m sure your brother can protect you from a spider. OK?”
Binny stifled her sobs as the guard moved towards the door. Binny’s eyes told Zach to watch the guard. The door had closed and locked behind him when he’d gone to attend to Binny’s fictitious spider and now he had to enter a code to reopen it. Zach watched carefully.
“Nice acting.” Zach said sarcastically but with a hint of admiration.
“I had to figure out a way to get you and me out of these rooms. Did you get the code?”
“Yeah. I got it.” Zach moved towards the door to type it in.
Binny grabbed his arm to stop him. “Wait. He’s still right outside.”
“How do you know?”
Binny paused, unsure of how much to reveal to Zach about what she could now do. “I can see where people are, well, where their thoughts are, in my head.”
“Uh, wow.” Zach looked dumbfounded.
Now it was Binny’s turn to hope Zach wasn’t too jealous.