My name is Jack Booth, and I share this story with five other people. The six of us have extra-sensory abilities.
In my case, I'm an empath. My mother Marilyn once told me that my condition started when I was three. I'd be playing quietly and then all of a sudden cover my ears and start shaking my head. Sometimes I'd cry; other times I'd scream.
Alarmed by my behaviour, my mother dragged me to doctor after doctor, each doing a battery of tests and finding nothing. The last of these general practitioners recommended a child psychiatrist. Of course, my mother put her foot down at this suggestion. No self-respecting member of her family had ever seen a psychiatrist, and she equated this field of medicine with quackery.
My father was a very quiet man who never questioned my mother's pronouncements on my abnormality, as she called it. He had married her in his early twenties in a moment of optimism that clearly had faded with each passing day. He hid behind his newspaper when not at work, trying to avoid contact with both of us. Occasionally he would fix me with a baleful stare and sigh, as if wishing that I could measure up to my mother's expectations so there would be some peace and quiet in the house.
My father died when I was twelve. I always thought of it as my dad's Great Escape from the two of us. If there's an afterlife, maybe Dad's finally getting that peace and quiet.
By high school, I had learned―more or less―to compartmentalize the feelings I sensed from others so I could still function without those emotions overwhelming me. In fact, I hid my talents well. I was largely invisible to the other students in my school: too average in their estimation to be popular, but not worth bullying when there were so many other obvious targets.
My mother died when I was in the last year of high school. Her funeral was a very sensible affair, having proceeded according to the written instructions she left behind. Staring at her coffin before it was lowered into the ground, I recognized the irony of constantly being overwhelmed by the feelings of others while I myself had so little emotional attachment to either of my parents, other than residual guilt for not measuring up to their idea of a good son.
It was when I went to university that I encountered Derek Avery, who would change the course of my life forever.
Derek Avery, a failed PhD student who nevertheless presented himself as Dr. Avery, had created a false resume that no one had ever bothered to verify. He'd managed to ingratiate himself with a group of academics who were genuinely interested in researching the brain's capacity for growth. Derek had a chameleon-like ability to adapt to any social circle and to give the outward appearance of caring greatly for the future of humanity. In reality, the only future he cared about was his own, and the only research he was interested in was how to make more money. Morality never entered into the equation for him.
Derek's parents had both been in their forties when he was born, and they'd loved their only child dearly. They were the owners of one of the very few mom-and pop-stores still left in Ottawa and had always scrambled to make ends meet. They'd hoped that their son would some day take over their business, but from an early age, Derek had displayed little interest in it. In fact, he had been embarrassed by what he thought of as its “lowliness” and he never brought his friends there, telling them instead that his parents both worked for one of Ottawa's largest legal firms. When he went to university, he never looked back, only contacting his parents when he needed money, which they readily provided even though it involved great personal sacrifice.
On this particular day in late January, Derek opened his office door, hung his lab coat on a metal coat rack, and sat down at his desk. He called up the latest test results on his computer.
His assistant Greg Hunt, whom Derek thought of as an earnest, albeit annoying individual, took his open door as an invitation and entered without knocking. He pulled up a chair and sat reading the results over Derek's shoulder.
“They don't look good, do they?” Greg offered.
Derek kept his feelings of annoyance to himself. The kid obviously had a profound grasp of the obvious, but he was also a reliable worker and naive enough to have bought into Avery's story of conducting research for the betterment of humanity. This fact alone kept Derek from firing him.
“Do you think we'll continue to get funding for this experiment with no results to show?” Greg asked.
“Let me worry about the funding, Greg. I'm sure my backers are willing to be patient. We'll just have to line up some more test subjects. I'm sending you out to the campus this afternoon to drum up more recruits.”