I walked through the next few days in a state of confusion. He’d said I could use my powers for good. What did that mean? Wasn’t just being a normal person and trying to live a normal life enough? Not according to Jake. His thoughts were loud and clear.
‘Spiderman always says that if you have the power to help you have the responsibility to do so.’
I tsked at him under my breath. We were walking down the high street so I could not be too obvious when answering his thoughts. It was Saturday so the road was pretty crowded.
“Jake, those Spiderman comics are based off some kid on YouTube who’s probably photo-shopping the whole thing. It’s not exactly a Dalai Lama quote!”
“No but whatever, it’s true. I was scared at first because he was all…” He pictured the cloned Matrix character Agent Smith, hundreds of identically dressed, suited bad guys. “But then I slept on it and I thought, well yeah, you’re a gifted person, sorta-”
“Hey, thanks buddy!”
“Whatever, but unless you’re out there using your power you’re just a nobody like me that can’t help anyone.”
“Don’t be so hard on yourself Jake, you could help…” I trailed off, remembering I wouldn’t let him take care of a cat.
“No, I’m serious Ev, you’ve got an actual power than no one else has.”
“Keep it down, jeez!” I flapped at him with one hand. The other was carrying our food shop.
He carried on as if I hadn’t interrupted, “And you could be helping fight the good fight. Against… you know… ISIS or whatever.”
“ISIS or whatever? See you don’t even know who these guys are or how dangerous this might be. You’re happy for me to go into harm’s way-”
‘Oh stop being melodramatic! “You won’t be in harm’s way. You’re not a soldier, you don’t even jog. You just go in there, read the guy’s mind and everyone thinks you’re a hero.”
It was never as simple as that. Of course it would be amazing to be appreciated for my ability instead of feel like a freak but I couldn’t fool myself that I would always be safe, not after seeing inside Agent Coulson’s mind.
Was I an absolute coward if I was too scared to help them? But part of me was genuinely intrigued. Meeting Coulson had opened up a whole world of espionage that must be happening in secret every day that normal people didn’t know about, but that I would get the opportunity to see. Me! Evelyn Bellinger, of all people!
Sometimes I felt like Jake could read my mind because the next thing out of his mouth was, “We need to change your name.”
“What? What’s wrong with my name?”
“All heroes have alliterating names. Clark Kent, Wonder Woman, Bruce Banner…”
“Bruce Banner… where do I know that name?”
“He’s the Hulk, Ev, oh my lord watch the news some time honey,” he patronised me.
“Agent Coulson has met the Hulk,” I muttered, shifting the weight of the bag over to my other side.
Jake stopped dead in the street and an elderly lady bumped into him.
‘Crap’ “Sorry, sorry,” he waved her off and turned to me. “So you’re telling me that you’ll be on the same team as the Hulk? The freakin’ Hulk?! That’s so awesome Ev, you have to say yes!”
“Wait, you were the one trying to protect me before,” I protested but Jake was in his element now. He marched ahead of me, eager to get back to the flat and I knew why, unfortunately. Different superhero costumes were flitting through his head. Wow, I would have to put a stop to that. There was no way in hell I’d dress up in some Halloween costume, I didn’t care what this Coulson guy said.
My mood sobered at home, alone in my little bedroom. Was it really my duty to help? Jake was an ass sometimes but maybe he did have a point. But what if it got me killed, a little voice said in the back of my head. My own voice for once.
I fingered the business card that he’d left, my mind whirring. It was a plain white card with COULSON printed in black and a number underneath. No job title or anything. Jake had declared it ‘swanky’.
I took a few deep breaths before making the call.
“Agent Coulson, it’s Eve Bellinger,” I could hardly get the words out.
“Miss Bellinger! I’m glad you called. Have you decided to assist our investigation?”
“I would like to know more about this operation,” I clarified. “And if I can help a good cause then I will.” I had not actually committed to helping if I did not like what they were doing. I sensed that he understood.
“If you are free now I’ll send a car around.”
“Now?” I hesitated. It was already five in the afternoon, but why not? “Umm, sure. Okay.”
“See you soon Miss Bellinger,” he hung up and I was left staring at the phone in my hand. Did I make the right call?
Before I knew it, I was in a blacked-out Range Rover heading North. I gazed out the window as the roads became less and less familiar. I’d lived in the city since my mum had brought us out here as kids, but my school and university had both been on the South side so I was soon feeling turned around.
The driver was silent, considering his dinner. He made a kick-ass chilli but would his date prefer to eat out? Lost in his thoughts, he drove through the city without really considering our destination. I could tell he was often sent to pick up strangers and would likely drop me back again later from the sounds of it…
‘Better take the other route back if it’s still nose to nose like that…’
Slightly reassured, I was able to act calm when he opened the door of the car outside a blank-faced skyscraper. He walked me to the door where Agent Coulson was waiting to greet me.
‘She doesn’t look too nervous… hope he doesn’t scare her off…looks like she’s determined to be tough enough…wonder what made her decide to come…’
His thoughts almost clicked into place behind his smile.
“Welcome Miss Bellinger, please come this way.” He led me to a group of elevators and stepped into the first one to open. Other people had been waiting but no one followed us in. He punched the bottom button, for the sub-ground level.
‘Wonder what they’re doing down there…’ ‘Probably another double agent…’ ‘…couldn’t pay me enough to do his job…’
I frowned to myself then rubbed my head like I had a headache. You pick up these little social ticks when you are constantly hiding what you can do. I just needed to calm down a bit. When I was nervous I tended to hear a lot more than when I was comfortable talking to someone I knew. I was picking up on everyone today.
The lift whirred as we descended. Coulson was concentrating on getting me to Director Fury. I felt a knot of anxiety building in my stomach at the thought.
The lift doors opened to an argument. We were in a large room with control panels to all sides and a raised dais in the centre when two men stood. There had clearly been other activity in the room as mugs of half-drunk coffee dotted the surfaces, but they were now alone. I wondered if it was for my benefit.
Director Fury stood in the centre of the room facing the lift, waiting for our arrival. I recognised him from Coulson’s thoughts but made my own assessment as well. He wore a long black coat that reminded me a little of the Matrix, and a dark shirt and trousers underneath. His thoughts were controlled, trying to ignore the ranting of the man who paced in front of him.
With a start I realised I knew him. It was Tony Stark; I’d seen his face on the news numerous times, giving press statements and later, battling aliens in New York. Iron Man. Jake would have been having a field day.
As Coulson led me into the room, Stark realised they were no longer alone and spun to face us, his unease clear on his face. I caught the end of his thoughts even as their argument tailed off.
‘totally inhumane, ridiculous how no one listens to me, definitely the smartest person here, all the technology I give them, could be a breakthrough but no, wonder what she can hear, has to do everything his way, can she hear me now, what about now’
I blinked rapidly as I processed his thoughts. It was as if I’d walked into a room full of people all chattering over each other. His mind worked faster than anyone’s I had met before. He could tell by my face that I could hear every unspoken word.
‘definitely able to hear me now, totally unfair, massive advantage, and disadvantage, must drive you crazy, better be careful, obviously a good read of character, would make a decent psychologist-‘
“I studied psychology in high school,” I chimed in. “Mainly a lot of mumbo jumbo. They had no idea how most people think.”
He didn’t miss a beat, “Well I suppose you would know. I guess you would prefer to be a spy now, well no credentials necessary when you have free access to everyone’s heads.”
“Apparently it would be useful to your situation,” I gestured to Director Fury, trying to take the heat off me. There was still a lot of pent up anger in Stark’s voice and without having heard their argument, I could not tell if it was fully directed at me.
Director Fury was still assessing me coolly. He noted my ginger bob and baggy jeans, my thin frame underneath. He wondered if it was genetic or due to working out. Well he was going to be disappointed on that front. I had about as much muscle as a cheesestring. When he spoke, his powerful voice carried over Stark’s constant whip-like thoughts, now focused on getting back to… who was that, Jarvis? Ah, well I guess I should not have been surprised, given the amount of chatter in his head, that he would create a way to externalise those conversations. His best friend was an artificial creation that could read him almost as well I as I could.
“Thank-you for coming Miss Bellinger,” Fury was saying. “I know it must have been intimidating and I appreciate your cooperation.”
His tone, both mental and vocal, gave me the heavy impression that the choice had only been an illusion. He had expected me here either way. It was incredibly intimidating.
“It’s hard to interrogate a man who has no tongue. There are certain limitations…”
‘limitations that I could easily have overcome, machine was nearly ready, just a few more tests, diagram of his brain’s synapses firing could have been interpreted…’
I realised that their argument had been about me, or rather the interview that I was to sit in on. Stark thought that he had a better way. I could not tell if this was a snub or simply his egotistical personality at work. You did not need to be a mind reader to see his defining traits even through a TV screen, but now I was in the room with him it became clearer. He was not vain, he just simply knew, as a fact, that he was the smartest man in almost every room.
Fury’s thoughts had been hovering over the man I was going to meet when they were interrupted suddenly by classical music. After a moment I realised that he was focusing on playing the piece in his head rather than continue that thought. It was almost funny. I’d never had someone try to consciously keep me out before. As I listened to the orchestra he was projecting, I wondered how long he could keep that up. After all, while I couldn’t hear his plans, he couldn’t think about them either.
“It is lovely to meet you, Miss Bellinger. Agent Coulson will introduce you to our…friend,” Fury smiled. He had made his assessment of me, and I could tell, even through his mental humming, that he hoped to use me to far greater advantage than just reading one man’s mind. Well, that was what I’d expected, wasn’t it?
Coulson led me along a long corridor with numerous blank doors and down another staircase. Behind us, I could hear Stark re-starting their discussion where they had left off. Now he seemed upset about something in particular, a cloaking device of some kind from the snapshots in his mind, but then we had walked too far for me to keep up. This area looked more like a detention centre.
“You must understand, Miss Bellinger,” Coulson explained as we walked, “Our aim is always to protect the population, whether it is stopping terrorist operations or on a larger, global scale. The man we want you to meet is part of a dangerous alliance of smugglers dealing in weapons and drugs at the very least, we suspect a lot more. We need to interrogate him but, well, you’ll see the problem.” I gagged internally at the image in his head. I was glad I hadn’t had dinner yet.
“What do I need to ask him?” I stammered, more nervous than I’d realised. We had stopped outside another blank door.
“Oh don’t worry, I’ll ask the questions. All I need from you are his answers,” he smiled at me and handed me a pad of paper and a pen from a stand nearby. His face always seemed too relaxed for the situation and I found myself wondering how weird things would need to get for him to feel out of his depth.
‘..got the key.. she doesn’t seem too worried.. hopefully once we’re in there… anyway let’s just get on with it…’
He unlocked a door and we were suddenly stepping into an interrogation room. The walls, floor and ceiling were all grey. There was no one-way glass, no camera, we were all alone with the man at the desk.
His hands were chained to a bar embedded in the table before him and he wore a pale blue jumpsuit. Scraggly brown hair fell to his shoulders as he sat hunched and twitching. I got the immediate impression that he was a heroin addict. Well, not so much an impression as the fact that he was screaming for it internally.
“When’s the last time he had a hit?” I asked Coulson quietly as we sat down, as far as possible from the desk but still facing it.
‘Of what?’ His thoughts were confused. “Oh he’s not a drug addict.” ‘although I can tell why she would think so to look at him.’
I sat the pad of paper on my lap and started to write. ‘Thinks he wants heroin, although agent assured me he is not an addict.’ Taking the notes calmed me a little at Coulson started speaking. I felt as detached form the situation as I could be, being inside everyone’s heads and all.
My hand raced across the page.