manyberries: (Lia says whatever)
[personal profile] manyberries



"...Who are you?" demanded Alex, after spending a moment or two too stunned to talk. The girl grinned over her clipboard.

"I'm a recruitment officer!" she said brightly, wiggling her pen in an encouraging manner. "All we want is to provide options to graduates after they finish, when they might otherwise be at loose ends over the Summer and beyond--" Except he was a little too busy to listen to what she was actually saying, since he felt as if he was thinking to himself; I'm a normal person, just like you. Just like you in that I can make other people hear what I'm thinking and sometimes hear their thoughts in return, I mean. You'll learn to distinguish it in time, don't worry. Just nod, and try not to go cross-eyed like that, okay? "--No obligation at all to take us up on anything at all, and if you want to stop receiving our newsletter at any time, you can stop with no questions asked. Interested?"

Alex swallowed, blinked once, then nodded obediently.

"Great! Now if you'll just--" Great. Meet me at the coffee shop by the cinema in half an hour, and we can break this down a bit for you. Completely public. Take the clipboard!

He shook his head, seeing the clipboard she was holding out for the first time, and took it, bending over it as if reading it closely.

That'll do. I'll give you some pointers on replying and multitasking later on - that's if you agree. If you do, look up and ask me if I've got a pen.

He looked up slowly as the train of thought stopped, and regarded the girl in front of him again for a moment. She was still smiling at him with a trace of cheery hope, just as if she really was hoping to get another name signed onto some stupid mailing list. "What's your name?" he asked, though a dry throat.

"I'm Lia," she said. Was there a trace of disappointment on her face? "Sorry - forgot my badge this morning. ‘Elizabeth Dayton, associate recruiting assistant number 42,’" she reels off.

Alex manages a slightly weak smile. "Okay, Lia then," he says. "By the way- do you have a pen?"

----------

He picked Lia out easily enough later on, spiky blond hair sticking out from under a remarkable purple hat as she read a book and sipped a frothy concoction with an air of deep concentration. He made his way closer, then paused, suddenly feeling awkward. It had been a hot day, after all. Maybe he had hallucinated... the future, or something.

Going to sit? someone thought dryly. He swallowed and looked down just as she glanced up and nodded at the chair in front of her.

Or maybe he hadn't hallucinated a thing.

"Okay," he said, and sat, staring at her. "Um. You're a telepath, then."

She coughed on a mouthful of foam. "Wow. You're accepting," she remarked over his fumbling to pass her a napkin. "Usually we have this whole thing where I chase whoever it is all over the place until we can pin them down with proof."

Alex rubs his forehead, trying to imagine the polished, pretty and... well, frankly rather ditzy-looking girl in front of him chasing after anything more serious than a bargain pair of shoes.

"Ouch," she said dryly. "I feel hurt."

Crap! "I, um- I really didn't mean you don't seem-" he began, then broke off when she laughed.

"Relax," Lia told him. "I didn't read your mind. Apart from the 'crap' part, that was loud. Got it all from your face, since I see that a lot." Then she sobered slightly (as a passer-by gave them both an odd look.) "Mind you, I could have done. And so could most other trained Tels, at this point. That's why I'm here, really, to offer you training. The most basic level teaches you to block other people out."

Alex cringed mentally at the idea of random people reading his private thoughts... then another possibility hit him, and fear starts to clutch slowly at his chest. He hadn't even realised that Lia's thoughts placed into his head had been any different from his own until she had confirmed it with physical clues as well. If people could do that to other people...

He looked up to find her watching his face, a surprisingly shrewd look on her delicately made-up face. "Yeah," she said. "Not bad. Not bad, or really worrying. It took me a while to realise that."

"That's- That's completely evil," he managed, outraged. "People do that?"

The girl eyed him over her drink and waggled her fingers. The nails were lime green. "Well, yeah. Hard to stop yourself, especially before you know what's what. You've done it."

"I have not!" he replied vehemently, then glanced about in the sudden silence around them and went slightly red. "How would you know?" he continued more quietly, glaring across with a slightly cold feeling in the pit of his stomach.

"Because everyone does," she replied, apparently unruffled, but with a hint more sympathy in her voice. "Ever have an argument suddenly start going your way? Or someone seem to anticipate something you were just thinking?"

Maddie, he thought numbly. Every time she had seen reason so easily, been so open minded about anything he really cared about, even if she had started out not understanding at all...

"I did that?" he asks quietly, staring blankly at the table. God. God.

"Well, it was never deliberate," the girl says gently. "Sometimes we get people who realise what they can do. That's messy. Sorry to break it to you like this, but it's a good sign that you're upset. Sorry."

He looks at at the note of anxiety in her voice, and swallows. She looks more obviously younger without the confidence of before. How had she found out, he wonders.

That's complicated.

He shudders slightly, eyes sliding away. "Yeah. I bet."

Try replying in your head. Focus on what you know is me, and sort of push back in that direction with what you want to say.

He eyes her doubtfully, and she looks back, eyes innocently wide. Alex feels suddenly and incredibly stupid.

"I can't think of anything to say."

"Try something I don't know. Then if I repeat it, we know it worked."

He glances about, finally focusing on a menu on the wall behind her. 'Fish and chips, mushy peas 20p extra' is the first line, and-

"Mmm, chips. No fish for me, thanks."

He stares for a second. "Er. Okay."

She laughs. "Nope. Clear as day. Bit too clear, really, but I'm sure it won't hurt anyone to think about ordering fish and chips in here. This is a cafe, after all."

He is suddenly acutely aware of the table that has just called over the waitress. Trying to ignore that, he leans forward. "So if this really isn't a joke, or... whatever, just - how did you find me?"

Lia grimaces. "Luck," she says flatly. "We keep an eye out on newspapers, since we're more likely to spot something odd than other people, but unless we get really close and I'm looking, we can't tell. We first noticed you when you were on University Challenge a few months ago. You didn't know a lot of the answers, I could see that, but everything you guessed turned out right. You're lucky it was just us." She looks momentarily awkward. "Which... I didn't mean to say right away. But it's pretty important."

"What is?" He is feeling pretty dismayed. He'd thought that his University Challenge victories had been inspired, feats of a brilliant memory. And now he'd just been reading Paxman's mind?

"Has there been anyone else hanging around? Maybe trying to find out things that might have been to do with this?" Her expression has gone serious, and almost closed off. Whatever she's talking about, it seems to be something that worries her.

"I... don't know. Not off the top of my head."

"Right. Then I should warn you that there are other people who know about this. I mean, not all of them are out to get you, or anything. Ever seen any Derren Brown?"

"...Yeah. You're not telling me...?"

"Uh-huh."

"God, I knew there was something."

"Yeah. Well. He's safe, being famous, but the reason I started looking for people who are like me is because I think someone else is doing the same thing. And then those people are disappearing."

Alex feels suddenly cold, and at the same time utterly disbelieving. In the warm light streaming through the windows, with the bustle and... ordinariness going on all around, it seems ridiculous.

Lia looks at him as if she's reading his mind. Maybe she is, he thinks hysterically, and leans back, as if that will make any difference.

"I'm really sorry," she says gently. "But once you're warned, you'll be safer. I can teach you some defenses too, I really can."

"What, against abduction? If that's what you're saying."

"Well, no, but so they think you're normal," she says, looking even more worried. "Look, it's been really hard to follow, especially since I can only rely on news reports, but enough missing people in the past few years have shown the signs to make me think it can't be coincidence, and then I met Miriam, and she pretty much confirmed it."

"Miriam?"

She sighs. "My friend. We work together to try and find people. She moved here after people started following her in her home town. I happened to be following the same trail they were, and actually talked to her about it, which helped her decide I was honest about it."

"Right. So that's 'we,' is it? Or are there more of you?"

"No. Just us two," she looks down. "I've been doing this just over three years. Em's the only person I've kept safe. I spoke to one other person, like you, but they didn't believe me. They disappeared a few days later."

Alex thinks about that. It isn't coming across as real. "How many?" he asks finally. "Do you think."

Too many.

"I'm not sure," she says out loud, and he gets the uneasy feeling that she hadn't tried to think that out loud. "More than five, that I know about for certain. One or two turned out to be normal. One..." she looks down. "We weren't certain about one, until she killed herself."

"Shit."

She laughs, not looking like she means it. "Yeah. That's what I said."

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A bunch or so

April 2012

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