He heard the sounds of technology, the distinctive blips and beeps and whirs that only came from a platoon of machinery. He could smell nothing but the slightly tangy scent of disinfectant. He tried to see, but his eyes weren’t working right, and when he reached up, he could feel a bandage wrapped around the top half of his head. He opened his mouth, and he could only make a strangled noise.
“Hang on, there, young man,” said a soft, matronly voice, and he felt a hand take him by the wrist, gently, and pull his hand away from the gauze. “You’re not injured, it’s just a potential side effect of the sedative. It can hurt the eyes. Just give it a little time.” He tried to speak, and she placed a gloved finger on his lips. “Shush now, sugar. Your throat is raw. I’ll bring you ice chips.”
He heard the soft pad of her footsteps fade, and tried to relax. He wondered where he was, and then he wondered about his father. They took us together, Nathaniel thought. He’s got to be around here somewhere.
The soft steps returned, and the nurse stroked his jaw. “I won’t drown you, promise,” she said, sounding amused. “Open up.” Nathaniel did as told, and there was a jolting sensation as ice chips poured into his mouth. The sudden shock of cold was replaced by blessed relief as the melting soothed his ragged throat. “That should do you good for a bit. I’ll check in on you in a few. Just try to relax. The effects will pass, and sleep helps.”
He laid quietly, and acquiesced.
Once he thought he was alone, he allowed his mind to stretch. His mother would have forbade such recklessness, and his father would probably have understood but not without consternation. He had no idea where he was, so trying to have a visual viewpoint was going to be impossible, but he could at least try to listen to the minds of those around him. He could sense the leaving nurse, who was thinking about her lunch-break and a fight she’d had with her sister the day before; the sister was right, apparently, and the nurse wanted to apologize. He sensed another presence, this one thinking about keeping the floor safe; Nathaniel surmised he was a guard of some kind. No other people seemed nearby, and so he reached stretching himself thin and feeling his heartbeat race. He could feel sweat beneath the gauze, and the steady beep of his heart monitor began to accelerate.
Keep calm, Nathaniel told himself. That monitor speeds up much more and there going to think you’re having a heart attack. But he had to stretch. He had to find his father.
And as he stretched, he found more presences. There were two people in a deep sleep, and the thoughts they were projecting were rushed and nonsensical; they were dreaming. There was someone awake nearby, and his thoughts were of fear and worry for the two people sleeping. Whether this person was afraid for the slumbering pair or afraid of them, Nathaniel couldn’t tell.
What do you think you’re doing? projected a voice, slamming into his mind as rudely as a baseball shattering a kitchen window.
Nathaniel cried out in shock and pain, and his stretching consciousness pulled into itself, like a shade flapping against the top of a windowsill. His heart monitor sped up frantically, its beeps sounding less like separating sounds and instead like one long whine, and then it started to slow. He’d had his mind breached before, but it was always a fright when it happened.
Who is there? Nathaniel asked cautiously. This was followed by a long silence; apparently whoever had sent the projection wasn’t the loquacious sort.
Finally, an answer came: They are listening for us, someone responded. They know we can do this and they listen for it, with some kind of meter. I don’t think they know who is talking, but they known that someone is.
Nathaniel froze as footsteps entered his room, and he felt a cool hand touch his cheek. “Do you need anything? Your heartbeat kinda spiked there, sweetie. Had me a little worried.”
Nathaniel shook his head, smiling thankfully.
“Okay, then, but I’ll check in again soon. I’ll give you a little more ice. How’s that sound?” She laughed at Nathaniel giving her the ok with his thumb and forefinger. She walked out again, and Nathaniel breathed a sigh of relief.
She wouldn’t have known it was you, even if she could hear us, said the voice again, this time sounding slightly irritated. But regardless, what do you think you’re doing, stretching yourself so far apart? You’ll collapse your own mind being so careless.
Nathaniel had heard these warnings before. They made us get on the ship and come to Earth. My father was with me, but I can’t sense him. I’m trying to find him.
I see, sent the someone, and there was another long pause. I came with my father, too. A long time ago. Something about the voice in his head seemed troubled to Nathaniel, and he felt his body go cold. Before he could speak, the voice returned, with a forced sense of cheer. I’m sure you’ll find him soon enough. And me. But for now, just go along with it. It’s not that bad here. They just know we’re different. You, know, because we are. There was amusement at the end of that thought, but much like the cheer, it didn’t seem entirely genuine.
There was nothing for a while, mostly because Nathaniel didn’t know what to think of this presence. After all, his mother had warned him long ago that carelessness with his gifts could lead to danger. For all that he knew, he might have attracted himself to something that meant him ill. He doubted it, though. Mostly, it seemed just as nervous and scared as he was.
I’m Nathaniel Trader, he thought suddenly, knowing that it was a risk, but feeling in his heart that he was doing the right thing. His father had taught him to trust himself in moments of danger, and that God would see him through.
My name is Adam, replied the projected thought, and Nathaniel could feel the abject relief in that mental voice. I don’t know my last name. The staff call me Adam Prime. They say it’s because I’m the first.
You know…the first Hybrid. There was a sense of pride in the thought now. Nathaniel felt it rush past him, rippling his skin with gooseflesh. Yeah, they call us ‘Hybrids’ here. They say that we have the stuff of greatness in us. And, according to the workers here, I’m the first. There was a meaningful pause. Nathaniel wasn’t sure how to respond to Adam. After all, he had never thought of himself as any specific thing during his life. He knew his father and mother were different, but it seemed normal to him. On Earth, it was clearly something of a shock.
But, Nathaniel, do you want to know something? Adam asked suddenly.
I’m very glad that I’m the first of our kind, Adam thought, earnest. But not nearly as glad as I am not the last.