Part Six

    Six months.

    Half a year, half of forever.

    The first six months following my return to Rosenkreuz drag out endlessly long, a slow-motion blur of classes, meetings, and Hoffmann. In six months I have managed to usurp the position of head instructor of the school, something I worked towards because I refuse to be subordinate to useless people. My gift has swelled and surged around me and I have used it to turn the school however I wish, twisting it on its side until it is efficient and unyielding. My students don't know whether to respect me or fear me and are too torn between them to compromise with a mix, so they simply show up to class, listen to my lectures, and rush out again.

    Hoffmann makes time in his busy schedule to be amused by what I am doing, turning his attention back from the Far East from time to time to check on me. According to him the Five take regular bets on the next upsets in the teaching staff, and by now they're all too smart to make any bets on the telepaths.

    Heusinkveld, Ruiz, and myself still do not get along.

    Surprise, surprise.

    The power and immunity they're used to receiving due to the rarity of their Talents means absolutely nothing to me and I systematically crush it. Let them be telepaths; I don't care. I am a level eight blind precognitive with shields they cannot touch and I am still Jonas Hoffmann's favorite. Hoffmann has always had the largest say over how the school gets run, ever since he ascended to the Five, and now he writes off all of my changes as approved by him.

    I wonder why I ever thought that the infighting stopped once Talents graduated from Rosenkreuz. The fighting the instructors regularly engage in is far worse. After all, the teachers have far fewer rules about killing each other. There are far too many Talents that never reach a useful stage of their power, creating a pool of possible future instructors, and the Five often approve the stronger teachers to move on to field status when there are replacements available. The teachers see it as a way of life, this kill or be killed to profit oneself.

    I am utterly disgusted by it.

    Alex Yun and I didn't necessarily get along, but our seventeen person China unit was efficient. We knew how to use our Talents together to benefit the whole rather than focus on the dividing lines between the powers to find loyalty within our own gifts. Personal problems with each other mean nothing outside of Rosenkreuz because we can't afford to let them mean anything. To have gone from Rosenkreuz to that and back again grates on my nerves and I have spent two hours out of every day since I lost my sight sitting in my room fighting to get it back.

    If I said that I didn't like the new freedoms of my power, I would be lying. The part of me that was born and bred to utilize my Talent to the fullest likes the way it feels, the liquid way it rolls through my mind. I like the depth of the visions and the greater consistency. I no longer need to find triggers for my visions; the triggers come to me instead. I can see with less input and see more than what I could before.

    But as long as I can only see with this sight, I am stuck in Rosenkreuz, and it is a suffocating place. Orion laughed when I told her I was considering executing the entire staff and starting over, but she laughed because she knew I was being serious. As it is, I have restrained myself by ordering the deaths of just eight and rotating twelve out to new positions. I'm not sure what approved Hoffmann more: the fact that I replaced almost half of the staff or the fact that I had the self-restraint to not replace all of them.

    I seem to amuse Hoffmann a lot these days.

    For the record, Herr Nikolai of the Council does not find me amusing at all. But then, he hasn't in years, ever since my mother answered his query and told him that I was the one that knew exactly when and how he would die.

    I have had an audience with the Council once a month since Rosenkreuz became my permanent residence as Nikolai presses for a day and I turn him down. I have to keep telling him that the time is not good; I know that there would be hell to pay if he were to find out. The rest of the Council accepts my answer even if Nikolai won't and Mosuli is always ready to take care of Nikolai if the telepath starts to cut at my shields. It was much harder in the beginning. As strong as my shields always have been, they did not grow right when I broke levels, and there were gaps where Nikolai could hear me. I found that out after he heard me in the medic lab and he's heard me off and on since then.

    Luckily for me Heusinkveld and Ruiz don't have the strength to hear what Nikolai sometimes can, because I haven't been able to close the gaps in my shields.

    What was disgust for me turned quickly to hate; the two still don't know the real reason behind their transfer to Rosenkreuz and they hate it as much as I do. They've decided to label me as the source of all of their problems and I was happy to oblige them by filing an official report regarding their upcoming deaths. They realized then that I was being serious in my prediction and I know they can't think of anything else except the upcoming destruction of their minds. If I had thought they seemed bitter at my first teacher's meeting, that was nothing compared to what they are now, and I am content to ignore their goading and icy hate.

    I don't need to say anything to them, not when the rest of the teachers are more than happy to constantly remind the two that their time is ticking out. Things are made more tense by the fact that we've lost three telepaths between my return to Rosenkreuz and now. One slipped up on the field, another took his life, and the other's gift caved. It makes Nikolai and these two teachers anxious and I am not liked at all by any of them. Nikolai resents that I would tell these two but not him, and these two hate me for telling them it's coming. I offer Nikolai polite apologies and the instructors the cold shoulder, and I save my annoyance for the telepath that still haunts my visions.

    No matter how often I see him and how much I try to put things together, I cannot find a real timeline for Hoffmann's hated relative. What I do see doesn't make a lot of chronological sense; there's a giant gap in there. Between Hoffmann and Schuldich's reunion- which looks to be a spectacular show, judging on what I've seen on it, though I have to wonder how the youth could possibly survive- and the telepaths' interference, I can see nothing that shows the passing of time. I know instinctively that the telepaths will not be dead for another year, but if Schuldich is here in just another month, what happens in the rest of that time? If I have to look at the German so often, his visions might as well make sense.

    My clock dings off to the side and offers up a simple message: "Time to go." I glance that way at the sound of it before pushing myself up from my bed and starting for the door. Six months has been long enough that I don't have to count the distances anymore. I have gone back and forth over the same tracks so many times a day that it's second nature now, and I never have to worry about anyone slowing me down or getting in my way. Blind precogs have the right of way and traffic clears before them like cars scooting off to the side for an emergency vehicle.

    My morning classes are over already, but I was asked to oversee one of the exams for another course. Cheating is punished severely at Rosenkreuz; it is one of the changes I instigated. While some teachers argue that it should only be punished if it is actually caught, I do not want Rosenkreuz raising people with such notions in their head. If these Talents learn that they can get by simply by being sneaky, then there is no incentive for them to learn anything on their own and we are turning loose into the world a clump of people with great powers but little common sense.

    To help enforce this rule, I have the precognitives sit in on the exams. There are six specific instance sensitives among our group and it takes no time out of their day to ask themselves if there is going to be a cheating incident during a test. It didn't take the students long to figure out that I was serious about this new policy, so now our only problem is making sure any budding sis prescients don't try and trick their way around the professors. The only ones that cause us any trouble are the upper level students who have been cheating for years and are at levels comparable to their teachers.

    That's where I come in. There's a big difference in trying to one-up a professor that's a rank above oneself. Aiming to out-see a level eight blind precognitive is impossible and two students learned that the hard way. Sometimes I almost regret that I can't take amusement or satisfaction in such a task; only the simple minded find tormenting students to be the highlight of their day. I just want out of Rosenkreuz and back into the outside world where I can get real work done. Rosenkreuz is a waste of my talents.

    The students get to their feet when I enter the room. I hear the chairs scrape against the floor and I feel absolutely nothing at the regulated sign of respect and deference for the head professor. These aren't the people I want to command; these aren't the people I could take satisfaction in destroying. Children are too easy to destroy. I want politicians; I want billion dollar corporations.

    Six months' time has definitely not done anything to dim my sheer dislike for the telepath that took my vision from me, and I wonder what I will do when I have to deal with him again next month. The only thing he has been good for is that I refuse to give up on that one vision of his silent greeting, but six months have passed and it is hard to keep believing. I have never been an optimist; such foolish attitudes are squished out of Talents at a young age. I am merely a disgruntled realist who has yet to come to terms with something.

    I cannot let it go. My mother said I had the makings of a man destined for blindness, but she also said it wouldn't work. She said nothing just for the sake of hearing her own voice and so I will hold onto that vision of Schuldich until reality rips it brutally from my fingers.

    "Sit," I say.

    "Good of you to join us, Herr Crawford," the teacher says. In actuality, the teacher couldn't care less; he is one of the ones that didn't understand my change in policy. It doesn't mean it that his words are insincere. He's not saying them as any sort of formality, but is instead letting me find my way around the room by his voice. I follow it to his side and turn towards the desks. He waits until I've stopped before passing out the exam booklets. The air fills with the scratching sounds of pencils on paper and the teacher returns to my side.

    There is a knock at the door not a half hour later, and the instructor goes to answer it. I listen to his shoes against the floor, counting his steps, and offer up an "I would think twice about it, Martin. You would not like the results if you do."

    There are few snickers around the room in response, aimed at whichever student this "Martin" happens to be, and I hear the teacher's footsteps stop short of the door as he levels a warning look in that direction. The test continues and the teacher continues towards the door, and I turn away from the class and start after him as my gift tells me it's for me. My sight is always delayed when it comes to the Council, Hoffmann in particular. I'm not sure why, but at least I am not blind to them completely.

    "Herr Hoffmann," the teacher says, and the atmosphere of the room changes completely at the name. What had been somewhat studious and thoughtful now goes completely still; every breath catches in every lung. I have a feeling Martin is two heartbeats away from full out cardiac arrest, seeing as how the Soul Shaker has shown up just as he was warned to not even consider cheating.

    "Crawford," Hoffmann says, ignoring the teacher completely. "The Five are gathered. We are leaving."

    "Of course, Herr Hoffmann." The teacher steps aside and I follow Hoffmann out into the hall. The door is closed behind us and I hear the instructor's voice raise in sharp anger as he lets Martin have it. Agree with my policies or not, he has to follow them.

    Hoffmann starts down the hall and I follow behind him obediently. When he says that we are going to the Tower, I map it out in my mind so I will be able to follow without relying on him to warn me of doors and turns. "Elizabeth's project is expanding," Hoffmann says. "She requested that we gather to discuss the upcoming changes. I want both you and Malachi there to monitor it."

    "I understand, Herr Hoffmann."

    "How much do you know about Elizabeth's projects?"

    "Only that which Chizuru has told me, Herr Hoffmann. They are trying to breed Talents to strengthen the weaker ranks and hope to be able to force the powers up into higher levels. I expect Chizuru will be present at the briefing?"

    "If she can keep her mind off of you long enough to talk about the project," is his dry response. "A Talentless in our ranks… Rosenkreuz has descended into madness. No Talentless should ever be allowed to infiltrate our society in such a way."

    I just incline my head to him, not in agreement- for my opinion doesn't matter- but in acceptance and acknowledgment of his own opinion. Chizuru's status is different than that of the doctors and our long-term clients. Men like Ikida are Talentless but still highly valued because they can devote everything that they are to their task. Men like Ikida are raised to be the best, the children who do not breed pure and are still made useful. When he was diagnosed as a dead mind he was sent abroad to the finest medical schools Rosenkreuz could find, and his path with this school was set from as early an age as the Talents' are. But Chizuru? She was not someone Rosenkreuz intended to pick up from the get-go. She just happened. One of the other precogs found her when he was overseas on a study. The Council sorts out precognitives to various countries, putting them in a foreign university for a year. It's a safe way to get the gift to adjust to working with dead minds without risking them not being ready to handle real work.

    I actually ended up spending two years abroad on my mother's advice, though I have yet to see the point of it. I was in my midteens when I went, and I attended a high school in Belgium and a university in America. Apparently others were sorted out to high schools as well, and several ended up in Japan. It was one of these others that found Chizuru.

    The others are already assembled in one of the Tower's meeting rooms when we arrive, and there are nine of us in all. Hoffmann warns me before he opens the door who we're going to be dealing with and I accept it with a nod. Elizabeth of Europe is here, with Chizuru as her project representative. Africa's Ricard came alone, but South America's Miguel brought a man with him that I haven't met before. North America is represented by Adrian, a sour-faced man with a temperament to match. Of the Five, he is my second least favorite, as I had to deal with him when I went to America. Hoffmann, naturally, takes the oh-so-esteemed spot of most disliked. He didn't use to hold that position; he's only sunk to it since I went blind and his interest in me changed.

    I've worked with all of the Five at some point or another; it is through my high school year in Belgium that allowed me to meet Elizabeth face to face and I made enough of an impression on her that when she found Chizuru, she assigned the girl to my unit as soon as she could. She's been an annoyance ever since, keeping Chizuru updated on my every move.

    I greet them all politely and take a seat beside Hoffmann. Malachi, the ninth face at this meeting, has my chair pulled out for me, and he sits on my other side.

    "If we are ready…?" Elizabeth presses. The response is silent; I imagine it comes in the form of nods or other encouraging gestures. A chair scrapes back and there is a rustle of paper.

    "I have prepared notes," Chizuru says, and I hear her shoes clacking against the floor as she moves around the room to pass them out along the table. "I have been asked by Frau Elizabeth to inform the Five of our progress with the Pure-bred Rosenkreuz Force Team, hereafter referred to as Project Rosenkreuz." There is the click of something on my desk that isn't paper, and I can almost feel Chizuru hesitate. "I have prepared a tape for you, Crawford."

    "Pure-bred," Miguel says, and the scorn is clear in his voice. "Pure-bred. Who came up with such a term? This is genetic tinkering. Pure-breds are those rightfully born into power, but what would a dead mind like you know about that?"

    "Her mind is good enough for this work," Elizabeth returns coolly.

    "She is still a Talentless rat and her skill in your lab doesn't make up for that," is Adrian's response.

    "Rats are good for labs," Ricard muses. "They're disposable test subjects."

    "And it's always fun to hear them scream," is Hoffmann's drawl.

    "Gentlemen, that is enough," Elizabeth says flatly. "This project is sponsored by the Council through funding and agreements with Estet and our work is just as important to them as any of the things you do. You are here today to listen to our progress, not to mock my subordinate. She's a dead mind but she has good hands and that's all that counts."

    "Good hands?" Ricard echoes, and Miguel laughs. It's not a pleasant laugh.

    "Chizuru?" Elizabeth says, ignoring him.

    "Gentlemen," Chizuru says, knowing better than to react to any of their derogatory comments regarding her. "This project was started twenty-three years ago and we have worked with five batches in that time. Groups A through C were terminated early on. Group A's subjects were made from already existing Talents; the lab tried to force more gifts into their young minds. The minds rejected such an intrusion, their shields collapsed, and they went insane. Group B's Talents went sterile before they were two years old and Group C accepted the Talents but could not create shields.

    "Group D is the group I would like to focus on today." Papers and plastic rustle and her shoes click against the floor as she shows off diagrams or other such things to her audience. "In every group we tried to breed telepathy into at least one group member, but it failed to take hold. Group D is the group where we finally had some success. Fourteen years ago the Council supplied us with a blood sample and stem cells from an unnamed telepath, and this sample finally achieved what we had been hoping for." Papers rustle again and something clicks. "You are looking at 4952, telepath Berger of Rosenkreuz D. He had the best chances of the genes taking hold and he is a sign that success is possible."

    "You bred a telepath?" Adrian presses, not believing her.

    "Yes and no, Herr Adrian. You see, all three were injected with some of that sampling, but he is the only one it took root in. He has telepathy and he is showing signs of great potential even at the age of twelve. His shields are not nominal for a telepath but we have been working on that ever since, and he has a special room in the lab that keeps him shielded from the school."

    "Why did no one report this success years ago?" Miguel demands.

    "Berger has telepathy, but he only has it for his own group," Chizuru answers, and silence follows that. She flips through papers again. "4953 and 4954, the other two of Group D. Geisel rejected telepathy but managed to take hold of pyrokinesis. Layla is a telekinetic, and she is already a rank five. We expect her to achieve rank eight when her mind is finished evolving. We think one of the processes in the breeding slows down the way their body matures, so it could take several more years before she levels out. Berger's telepathy allows him mental contact only with these two, who share the same blood sample as himself."

    "That is useless, then," Adrian says in disgust.

    "We are learning from our mistakes as we go, Herr Adrian," Chizuru says, calm in the face of his annoyance. "Group E is the newest of the batch, processed over four years. Herr Hoffmann managed to procure another blood sample from the same telepath six and a half years ago, and we were able to do testing on it to prepare it for this batch. The oldest is now almost five and shows signs of a stable mind, and the youngest accepted the telepathy just as easily."

    A little piece clicks into place; I add up the years and it makes sense. The blood was supplied from Hoffmann's nephew- first when he was born, and then when Hoffmann tried to kill him.

    "Then it will be possible to breed telepathy in the future?" Ricard asks.

    "We believe that it will be very possible," Chizuru agrees. "All we need is a little more time and funding, and we can accomplish anything. I am here before the Five today to request an increased budget for our lab work."

    "There had to be a catch," Miguel mutters. "You wish us to go before the Council and ask their approval for such a thing?"

    "We were assigned this project because there was alarm regarding the dying breed of telepathy," Chizuru points out. "We have been trying to find alternative ways of keeping Rosenkreuz's ranks strong. We are losing what few telepaths we have left."

    "We have ten," Ricard points out.

    "Ruiz and Heusinkveld will be dead next year," I say, and I can feel all eyes turn on me. "We will lose them within a few weeks of each other."

    I can hear the scowl in Adrian's voice. "How kind of you to look that far ahead for us," he says. "They are our highest ranking telepaths after Herr Chekov."

    "You are going to lose all of the top three, Herr Adrian," I tell him. "There is nothing we can do to stop it."

    "Then are you advising us to approve of this madness, Oracle?" is Hoffmann's lazy drawl.

    "If it is not too presumptuous of me, I would ask the Five to think on it for two days before coming to a decision."

    "I suppose you think our opinions regarding this matter will change just like that in the matter of two days?" Adrian says, mockery clear in his voice, and I can picture his expression perfectly. "I think this project is a waste of our time and only worth pursuing because the Council advocates it so strongly, and two days of thinking will not show me the error of my ways."

    I can feel Hoffmann's gaze on me; his stare has a distinctive weight that is always accompanied by the prickling sensation of his power testing every crevice in my shields. "Two days?" he presses. "What could possibly change in two days?"

    "Everything, Herr Hoffmann," I answer, because it is the closest thing to the truth. "Tomorrow will change everything."

    Tomorrow Nikolai Chekov of the Rosenkreuz Council is going to die, and it's going to be my fault.

Part 7
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