Recreational Reality

The Mental-Link Highway


    It was the night of the 25th. Stephanie was on the way home from shopping, when she saw a lost child peeking out from an alley. She stopped, and looked at the small girl.  "Hey there, don't be afraid, are you lost?" she said.  The girl scampered away around the corner, out of sight.  Following her into the alley, Stephanie saw nothing but a couple stray boxes.  Looking behind one of them, she was suddenly knocked down to the ground, and held in place.
    "What do you know about 'The Orchestra'?" said a man's voice from behind her.
    "What did you do with the girl?" Stephanie said, struggling but failing to get free.
    "She was only an illusion. Now answer the question!" the man said.
    "I have no idea what you're talking about!"
    "We shall see," the man said, as the world went black.

I think not

    Tomorrow. Mike headed back from work, stopping by to check on Stephanie, as she hadn't answered any of his calls today.  Better safe than sorry.  Upon arriving, he found her front door open. That's odd.  He parked in the driveway, and walked inside.  Nothing looked too out of the ordinary. However Stephanie was simply sitting on the couch, staring blankly ahead, with the TV off.  "Hey Steph, are you OK?" he said, walking up to her.
    There was no reply.
    "Are you alright?  This is starting to freak me out," he said, rocking her back and forth gently, noticing that she seemed to be breathing fine, just unresponsive.
    His phone rang.
    "Hello? John?" Mike said, "Something's wrong with Steph."
    "I know. It's a trap - you need to get out of there now," John said over the phone.
    "What? What are you talking about?"
    "Just put Stephanie in the car, and drive with her to the Song-Lin Chinese Restaurant on Oakwood Avenue."
    "Shouldn't we call an ambulance or something?"
    "They won't be able to help her - I'm sorry you're involved in this now, but you're just going to have to trust me on this."
    "Alright. You haven't let me down before..." Mike said.
    Mike carried Stephanie into his car and began to drive to the restaurant.  Along the way there, he noticed that two silver cars seemed to be following him. They would stay back at a distance, but follow his movements even through the back streets he took.  He finally arrived at the restaurant, only ten minutes away, but had already worked up quite the cold sweat. He stepped out of the car, and saw John motioning to come inside with both of them.  The silver cars parked across the street, their passengers obscured for the moment. He carried Steph inside the restaurant, and down some stairs in the back - despite the odd looks from some of the patrons.
    Meanwhile, inside one of the silver cars, an operative said, "they're surrounded, proceed with extraction."  Six men in official suits got out of the cars, and strode into the restaurant, flashing CIA badges at the store owner.
    John and Mike, carrying Steph together now, headed down the stairs and reached a basement room.  Inside were three others - familiar, but acquaintances at best.  The room had a most unusual decor of street signs, popular pictures, and photos of world landmarks coating the walls. Most strangely, there was a staff in front of them, set vertically into the center of the floor.  It had a bluish crystal on top, and looked slightly metallic, but otherwise wouldn't have been out of place at a fantasy convention.
    "We only have a few seconds, so place her down on this chair, and hold hands," John said.
    Mike placed Steph down on the chair, as the group linked hands in a circle.  John and the woman next to him grasped the crystal on the staff, as they both looked at it intently. The crystal began to glow a bright blue, their eyes matching its tint - as the staff, group, and chair, vanished into thin air with a quiet shoof.
    Only seconds later, the agents burst through the locked door to the basement room, and saw that it was empty, save for the odd decorations.
    "Damn.  I thought we would have more time," one said.
    "It appears that our calculations were incorrect," another said.

So close, and yet, so far away

    The group reappeared in another similarly-decorated basement, and let go of each other's hands.  "Welcome to the Song-Lin Chinese Restaurant, on Oakpark Avenue," John said to Mike.
    "Wait - what just happened?"
    "Perhaps you should see for yourself," John said, as he motioned a few of the others to take a look at Steph.
    They walked up the stairs, and emerged in a familiar-looking Chinese restaurant, only that now it appeared to be in the mid-afternoon, and there were almost no patrons.
    "Since we were being pursued, we simply translocated to a different Chinese restaurant," John said.
    "Wait - you mean we just teleported to a different place?" Mike said, completely incredulous.
    "Yes, in a sense. Sorry I haven't told you about this before, but as I'll explain in a bit, this is a rather dangerous line of work.  And to be honest, we were hoping you two wouldn't get wrapped up in our problems."
    "But aren't you worried that they'll just drive to this restaurant next?"
    "No, because we were in Los Angeles five minutes ago - now we're in New York City."
    "But... but..." Mike said, "how is that even possible? And what does any of this have to do with what's wrong with Steph?"
    " I can explain, as we drive to a safer location," John said. The group walked out of the restaurant together, and into a nearby parked van, driving off uptown.

A brief history lesson

    "It all started in 1958, as the Soviets were conducting research into psychic powers to help their cold war effort," John said, "now most of the theories were disproven, but a man named Viktor Kalinastrat, working on the top-secret Project 'Honeycomb', managed to invent something truly remarkable - the psychic amplifier." John pointed to the staff he had used earlier, now sitting in the van.  "What he found was that everyone possesses some low-level psychic ability, but in the vast majority of the population, it's essentially undetectable, and even those who are truly gifted may only be able to discern intentions or view locations at a distance - at best.  However, the psychic amplifier taps into the vast reserve of life energy present around and in the world, and allows a user to exert thousands or millions of times the psychic influence they otherwise would be able to.  Now while reading minds or controlling others is still quite hard due to natural resistances, it was found that certain properties such as probability alteration, long-distance remote viewing, and physical to life-force energy conversion were surprisingly easy to amplify.  Besides the obvious powers, this allows us to convert ourselves into the essence of life-force, and travel across the mental landscape of shared consciousness.  In essence, where people associate two things together, for example, the same coffee shop, or two cities with the same name, we can travel along these links.  We call it the Psychic-Semantic Shared-Consciousness Transportation Corridor Network, or PSSCTCN, for short."
    "That's... quite a mouthful, how about something easy to remember and catchy like... 'The Mental-Link Highway?'" Mike said.
    "I'll... think about it, but that honestly sounds pretty goofy," John said, "so, to continue: Dr. Kalinastrat, upon his invention of the psychic amplifier felt that it was too great of a power to give to his superiors, much less to let loose upon an unprepared world.  And so he escaped the regime, and lived in secrecy for decades.  He worked on improving the design, and attracted many naturally-gifted psychics, such as those you see here, myself included.  We studied under him, running from any organizations trying to capture us, as he manufactured a scant few of these amplifiers and imparted his knowledge to us.  One day in 1978, he was studying advanced translocation, and simply disappeared.  We haven't seen him since.  In his stead we eventually managed to link many of us together into a group mind, called 'The Orchestra'.  We've been studying to try and build more amplifiers, or discover where Dr. Kalinastrat went, but have been somewhat unsuccessful, as our group is rather short on engineering talent, and we can't trust many others. In addition, in the last decade another group has risen, calling themselves the 'Network Intelligence Agency' or NIA. Posing as official government agents and utilizing their front as an internet-security business, they have been capturing psychics and attempting to track our group down for years. Their motives are unknown, although one shudders to think of the possibilities that could be exploited if this technology fell into the wrong hands.  Recently, they've also been capturing friends and family members in an effort to drive us out in the open.  More relevant to Stephanie, they have a mental scanner that forcibly extracts any information from someone, but it has a side-effect of de-associating their mind, making them incapable of performing anything but basic tasks."
    "So that's what happened to her..." Mike said.
    "Exactly.  It wears off naturally in a month or two, but we have some experience with this, and should be able to get her back up and running in a day or so, although it'll still take a week or two for her to return to full strength."
    "That's amazing! Thanks!  Even if all this is a bit hard to process, to be honest," Mike said, "but wait, what am I supposed to do now?"
    "No problem, this is a lot to take in.  Also, you're a materials scientist, right?"
    "Sure, I've done some work in that field...  why do you ask?"
    "Well, since you're stuck with us now, and I'd say we can consider you at least an honorary member of our group... We can provide all of our knowledge, and any resources you need for this - because we want to see if you can figure out how the psychic amplifier works, and if you can build more."

Learn and re-learn

    The next day. Two of the other members of the group had their hands on Stephanie's forehead, working on reconnecting her mind, as while she was eating and sleeping, she still remained practically unresponsive.  Meanwhile, Mike was looking over the blueprints for the psychic amplifier from Dr. Kalinastrat, and had talked over the recent findings with the rest of the group.  He moved the staff back and forth on the table, looking horribly confused.
    "This doesn't make any sense!" Mike said.
    "We've been trying to figure it out for ages, so don't feel too bad about that," said another member of the group, Emily.
    "It looks like you almost have it - the mental modulation field parameters, the connection based on trans-personal association, and even the amplifier circuit."
    "But the amplifiers we make don't work."
    "That's the strange part.  I'm afraid I have no clue why not, though. I mean there's nothing different between them, right? It's just those were made back in the sixties and seventies, and these were made now with... the modern production process?"
    "Yes, but these are all exact analogues of what Dr. Kalinastrat did originally, and we don't really have access to his old equipment.  And certainly nothing like time travel, just in case you're wondering."
    "Right... but you guys can still teleport around the world, right? Do you think you could at least get me a cauldron and stirrer set like the one in this picture?"
    "We can try, but I doubt that will help," the Emily said, as she left.
    Turning around, Mike said to the pair on Steph, "How's it going over there?"
    "She is healing well, but we expect it will take until tomorrow until we can try to wake her up completely."

They make them like they used to

    "Whoo, that's hot, careful!" Mike said, carefully maneuvering a molten metallic substance in a foundry ladle to the ceramic stirring pot. "Now, according to his notes, you're supposed to mix this continuously as it cools, but there's no way we can do that until it cools to at least 1500° or the stirring tool will melt."
    "Unless you use the titanium stirrers we have," said an assistant.
    "But Dr. Kalinastrat didn't have access to those, did he?"
    "No, no he did not," the assistant said sheepishly.
    After waiting for a while for the substance to cool, then stirring until it nearly solidified, Mike took out a microscope, and inspected the substance they had just made, comparing it to the previous attempts. "Wait - there's something different - these crystal planes aren't aligned the same between these two.  The modern process one has only one alignment pattern, but the new one we just made has smaller structures encased within that, with a completely different alignment.  They must have formed during the initial cooling process, and almost look like microscopic resonance chambers.  Hmm... there's only one way to find out for sure, though. I don't suppose I could open up one of the functional amplifiers?"
    "We only have five remaining! Are you absolutely sure about this analysis?"
    "I can't guarantee anything, but I don't think there's any other way to know for sure."
    "Let us think about it..." the assistant said, looking ahead for a moment, "very well, but only one, and be careful."  He handed him one of the few remaining staffs.
    Mike cracked open the crystal sphere on top, with more than a slight cringe by the assistant, and looked at one of its faces under the microscope. "Yes, that's it!  This has the same alignment pattern as the new sample we made, with nested structures. It also has a layer along the surface too - that must have formed during the initial cooling as well. The one I made has a chipped layer from our prying it out, but it's the same structure, and should be easy to fix. It makes sense that Dr. Kalinastrat's notes weren't too detailed, leaving out this layer and the actual cooling process. He probably did that that as a precaution against this recipe falling into the wrong hands.  Alright, let's test it out, hand me that empty staff." He took the staff from the assistant, and placed his newly-minted crystal where the crystal he had just shattered had previously been. Mike said, "okay, give this a try."
    "Very well," the assistant said, placing his hand on the top, as it began to glow a dim blue, "yes, it's weak, but this is it.  You've... actually done it." The assistant looked suitably surprised and impressed.
    "Thanks!" Mike said, wiping the sweat from his forehead, "just took a bit of old-fashioned elbow grease and busting up a priceless artifact, that's all."

Revival tour

    Later that day, in between congratulations, the pair from before came up to Mike, and said, "we are ready to wake her up.  Having someone she recognizes and trusts will be best."
    Mike nodded in agreement, as they brought him to Stephanie, and tapped her three times on the forehead.
    "Uuuhhhh...." she said, holding her head as if recovering from a splitting headache, "...what happened?  I just remember this alley, and then there's just a jumble... what a dream."
    "I'm sorry to say it wasn't a dream, Steph," Mike said, holding her hand, "but I'm here for you now."
    "Wait, more is coming back - you two," Steph said, pointing at the pair, "you helped me, didn't you? ... Thanks. ... Hold on.  Those scumbags that did this to me - where are they?  They're going to pay for this!"
    "Calm down Steph, try not to blow a blood vessel just when I've got you back - we'll take care of them soon enough," Mike said.
    "You... have also been working on their amplifiers, right?  They've told me about it... somehow," Stephanie furrowed her brow realizing that there was no ordinary means by which she could know this information.   "So, did you figure out how they work, or how to make more?"
    "Yes, yes I did," Mike said, grinning. Looking around, he had a sudden thought, and said, "Wait a moment - that old sports car over there in the corner, does it still work?"
    "Yes, it needs some repair, but it should still run, why do ask?" said one of the pair.
    "Because I just had a crazy idea.  We're not just going to make more amplifiers, we're going to make them better."

Mad science

    One week later, it was finished.  "Sporting the latest in psychic amplification technology," Mike said, "the slipthink car has the capability to translocate between adjacent places in mental-physical space.  It comes standard with pattern-matching jump GPS, V8 engine, power steering, anti-lock brakes... intermittent windshield wipers, uh... and air conditioning."
    "Nice work!" John said, looking over the refurbished sports car.  Besides the new paint job and tune-up, it now contained a computer screen between the front seats, displaying GPS-assisted translocation routes, two handles for the psychic amplifier in the passenger seat, and twin-cylinder amplifier crystals under the hood, with field line generators strung throughout the frame.  "Have you tested it yet?"
    "Not yet, but I'm pretty confident it'll work.  We just need someone to drive, and someone to operate the amplifier circuit to peform the jumps."
    "Then why don't you two take it for a spin?"
    "Us?  But... we're not like you guys..." Mike said.
    "It's not that we don't want to help, but I think I would have noticed it if I was psychic before," Stephanie said.
    "You two..." John said, shaking his head and placing his hands on their shoulders, "you two are most certainly capable of this.  Whether you believe now or not.  Everyone in this world is connected by the same life-force, a true mental-physical bond - and those who are most attuned to this are naturally attracted together.  It is not simply a coincidence that we have been friends all these years, or that you two found each other.  We have told you all we can... so get out there and show the world (but mostly the sham 'NIA') your true power..."
    "We'll... give it a shot," Mike said uncertainly.
    "Okay, but I'm driving," Steph said.
    "Then I'll try to perform the jumps, as long as you promise to drive safely," Mike said.
    "Of course - jeez, when have I ever not driven safely?" Stephanie said, "What? What's that look for?  That time in New York was nothing but expert driving."

A scenic test drive

    The garage door opened, letting in a waterfall of sunlight, as the slipthink car drove out onto the street, Stephanie at the wheel, and Mike looking up a test route on the GPS.  "Okay, let's try to jump from this Howaburger on Park Drive, to the Howaburger on Park Drive in the city just north of here, about 50 miles away," Mike said,  "that sounds pretty reasonable.  And before you ask, no, we do not need to be going 88 miles an hour to jump."
    "What? I've barely even taken us off the driveway yet!" Stephanie said, as they pulled out of the garage.
    With a slight look of friendly suspicion, Mike said, "Okay, turn left, then turn right at the next light," as they headed out and towards the restaurant.
    Upon arrival, they pulled into the parking lot, as Stephanie said, "okay, we're here.  Ready to try it?"
    "Yep, let's see what this thing's got..." Mike said, holding onto the energy link handles, as he concentrated on the map, attempting to visualize the other location.  Yes, I can see it.  Connected to here - not too strongly, but strong enough.  Now us.  As they said, we become mental energy, travel along this link, then rematerialize on the other side.  Piece of cake. (Yeah, right.)
    "Are we going to jump or not?" Stephanie said, as Mike thought it over.
    "Just give me a minute..." he said, concentrating harder.  That's it.  Tap into the reserve of all life.  The planet - it's as bright as the sun from here.  The light of life - everywhere.  Yes, the amplifier's working, we're getting closer.
    Noticing the amplifier begin to glow blue, as the edges of the frame of the car matched, she said, "hey, something's happening.   We still haven't jumped yet, though - the others did it nearly instantly.  Would it help if we were moving forward?"  She began driving the car to the end of the parking lot.
    "No, no, it's just my first time, just a few more seconds..." Mike said.  Closer and closer.  I can feel the transformation taking place, slipping into the mental realm.  Joining the light, even if for a brief moment...
    "We're almost at the end of the lot!" Stephanie said.
    Got it!  Moments before hitting the curb, the car vanished into air, leaving a blue shadow for a fraction of a second, the only reminder of its prior location.  They melded with the light, and traversed the vast connective landscape of the planet.
    They rematerialized at the other restaurant, and abruptly hit the curb at the end of the parking lot, sending them bumping down a small hill.  "Oh jeez, you didn't tell me this one was on a hill!" Stephanie said, trying to control the car.
    "I did it!  It worked!" Mike said, "Wait. Shit - is that a freeway down there?"
    "Aaaaahhh!" Stephanie said, trying to turn away from the oncoming traffic unsuccessfully.
    Not here.  Anywhere but here.
    A moment before impact, they vanished once again, the tractor-trailer hitting nothing but mist in the right lane, horn blaring.
    They existed once again, and bumped down an old cobblestone street, Stephanie finally managing to regain control, dodge a scooter, and stop just in time against a railing at the end of the street.
    "Whew.  Let's try not to do that again," Mike said, "so... where are we?"
    Stephanie got out of the car, noticing it was night, and looked around.  The dead-end they had landed at overlooked a canal or river of some sort, with a beautiful nighttime city skyline in front of them.  Spotting one obviously-recognizable landmark later, she said, "where do you think we are?  We're in Paris!"
    Mike got out, and took in the view.  "Wow."
    "What do you say about a night on the town?"

Leave nothing to chance

    A few days later, they rematerialized on a back street in Las Vegas near the casino strip.  "Okay, remember the plan.  We've been practicing jumping for a few days now.  We got this. Destroy the NIA's financial and logistical network - just hit their casino - in and out," Mike said.
    "You don't need to keep telling me this," Stephanie said, "I already know what we're doing."
    "Yes. I know," Mike said, "I'm mostly trying to convince myself..."
    They arrived in front of the extravagant casino, and were greeted by a valet, "park your car in the garage, madame?"
    "Hell no!" Stephanie said, as they drove into the self-park area.  Squeezing into a tight space near the stairs, Stephanie got out of the car, and said, "okay, I'll start the feed when I'm inside."  She walked up the stairs, and into the Casino.  Once inside, she activated her hidden camera, displaying a live video of the casino's interior on the computer monitor in the car.
    Mike, still inside the car, studied the video, as Stephanie walked around the floor.  Visualize the location.  See it simultaneously on the screen and in my mind.  Yes - that's it - the casino - millions of events happening by chance, the probabilities ever so slightly biased, existing on the edge between success, and failure.  But not for long.  The car's psychic amplifier began to rev up, as the engine glowed a deep blue, it's power permeating across the building, no longer confined to mere imagination.  And in a moment, it happened - the power was released, providing just the nudge that was necessary.  Alarms went off inside the Casino - to the sounds of cheering, as every machine, every draw, and every table hit the jackpot.  Simultaneously.
    Stephanie snuck out in the ensuing chaos, as the patrons demanded to be paid several times in excess what the casino was worth.  Silently stepping back down the stairs, she got back in the car with Mike.  "That was awesome!"
    "Well, I have been practic-"
    "Stop! You two in the car!" a guard said, followed by six other armed men in suits.
    "Damn, they're fast - let's get the hell out of here!" Stephanie said, throwing the car in reverse. They lurched out of the spot, and squealed through the parking lot, reaching the exit gate.
    "Hey, slow down!" The attendant said in the parking booth, ducking back as Stephanie drove through the gate, and bounced onto the street, scraping the undercarriage.
    "Woo! I always wanted to do that!" Stephanie said.
    Two silver cars pulled out behind them, as a man in the lead car pulled out a gun, shooting their bumper.
    "They're shooting!?" Stephanie said, "warp speed - Mike - warp speed now!"
    "Give me a second!" Mike said, visualizing their location, as they jumped once again, moments before hitting a stopped truck, as their pursuers spun out to avoid collision.


    A few weeks later, Stephanie and Mike had hit two more locations, purportedly throwing the NIA into chaos.  She got up, and stretched out on this sunny morning. Wishing for some fresh air, she opened the door of their apartment to a magnificent panorama of the Swiss Alps.  What a nice view, she thought.  Wait a minute!  We're not in Europe - this apartment's in Los Angeles!  She hurriedly closed the door, and waiting a moment, opened it again to the rather boring second-floor veranda she would expect.  Okay, that was beyond strange...
    "Hey Steph," Mike said, walking behind her and sipping on some coffee, "going out to get some fresh air?"
    "I was... but watch this," she said, closing the door, concentrating on the mountains, then opening it again... to the same boring suburb, "I could've sworn that..."
    "What? We lived in a different place?  Happens to me all the time, all this jumping makes me feel like I have eternal jet lag.  Whoog," Mike said, drinking the last of his coffee.
    "I guess so..." Stephanie said, looking outside, "wait, were those three silver cars there a minute ago?"
    "Um..." Mike said, watching ten men in suits get out of the cars, and run up towards the stairs, "no! Shit! How did they find us?"
    "Who cares? We've got to get out of here now!" Stephanie said, closing and locking the door.
    "But the slipthink car is in the back parking lot!" Mike said, as they rushed towards the closed bedroom door.
    "Wait - I know what I saw, let me try one more time..." Stephanie said, as she opened the bedroom door... to a magnificent view of the Swiss Alps, from what was apparently the front door of a small cabin.
    "Okay.  That works too," Mike said, looking rather dumbfounded, as pounding could be heard from their front door.  "Let's go."  They jumped through the door, and closed the cabin door behind them. "What do we do now?"
    "Try to warn the others... maybe find out where we are?" Stephanie said, looking around at the sparsely populated area. She shivered a bit from the sudden change in temperature.
    Mike took out a cell phone, and tried to call John.  "No response, from anyone. If I know anything about The Orchestra, someone's always available."
    "You don't think..." Stephanie said.
    A silver car approached on the dirt road from the south, traveling slowly on the uneven surface.
    "Yes.  I think it's the most likely case," Mike said, as the two of them ran down the mountainside, into a forested grove.  "We've got to get out of here."
    "But how, and where?" Stephanie said.
    "That door -" Mike said, pointing to a door on another cabin, "can you do it again?  We should try to make it back to the source..."
    "I can try..." Steph said, as she opened it to a nighttime scene in Tokyo.  They jumped through again, and walked around the dark streets, trying not to attract any unnecessary attention.  They wandered around into a back alley from the closed shopping district they had arrived in, and saw a most unexpected sight.
    "Is that... the slipthink car?" Mike said, as it was apparently parked right in front of them.
    "Get in! Get in!" Steph said, noticing a silver car approaching from behind.
    They got inside, and started up the engine, "next stop - the source.  Hold on," Mike said, as they sped up, and jumped out of the alley.
    They rematerialized in a dusty desert, on a small painted road in the middle of nowhere deep within central Asia.  Seeing no sign of pursuit, or any other signs of civilization nearby, they drove along the cracked surface for some distance.
    "Dr. Kalinastrat's laboratory. This is The Orchestra's most isolated location, no one outside their group has ever found it. Hopefully we can hide out here, and if anyone survived they'd be here too," Mike said, as they approached a smallish metal building, sporting a variety of antennas, and looking like it hadn't seen proper maintenance in decades.
    "Wait, they're here!  Behind us!" Steph said, looking in the rear view mirror at an approaching silver car, "get us out of here!"
    "Okay, let's try -" Mike attempted to say, as they were rammed head-on by another silver car, crushing the slipthink car's front, stopping the engine and shorting out the psychic amplifier.  Two men reached out of the silver cars and shot the slipthink car's tires out, leaving them entirely stranded.  The other suited men got out, and surrounded the damaged slipthink car.  Mike and Steph reluctantly opened the doors, and walked out, hands in the air.
    "Run out of doors?" one of the men said.

We know what you know

    Mike and Steph regained awareness of the world as their masks were removed.  They sat, tied down to metal chairs in a large open room, presumably in a detention center. The room had 20-foot-high solid concrete walls, with the only vents mounted in the ceiling. Any obvious escape was completely out of the question.  The front wall had the only exit, with bulletproof glass sections for observation, and a heavy metal door.
    A man stood in front of them, wearing a suit like the others.  He addressed the pair, "where is the rest of The Orchestra?"
    "Who are you?  And why should we say anything at all?" Mike said.
    "I'm the one asking the questions here, so shut up," the man said, glaring at them, "now tell me - where is John?  And Emily?  We know they're hiding."
    "We'll never tell you anything!" Steph said indignantly.
    "Then if you won't talk, we'll simply have to use our mind scanner again," the interrogator said with a smug attitude, "of course, it still does have that nasty side-effect of removing your mind." He motioned to one of the guards, as they opened the door, and brought in a helmet-shaped device, connected to long wires leading from the observation room.  "Unless you have something you'd like to tell us otherwise?"
    "..." was all Steph replied, as the guard moved closer to her.
    No. I can't let this happen, Mike thought. Not Again. Remember your training, John would say.  We haven't even scratched the surface of what should be possible...
    Stephanie squirmed as another guard attached the helmet onto her, and said, "It's ready, but we shouldn't be in the same room for safety."
    "Very well, activate the scanner as soon as we -" the interrogator said, only to be interrupted by the slipthink car rematerializing directly behind him, knocking him and the other guard into the glass, denting it.  The other guard rolled in pain, as more rushed in to assist them.  Surprisingly, the interrogator stood up, seemingly uninjured, and brushed himself off.  "Hmph.  You won't be able to stop me quite that..." He noticed that Mike and Steph were already in the slipthink car, right in front of him, revving the engine, "...easily?"
    They floored it, and while the other guards were sensible enough to get out of the way, they hit the lead interrogator dead on, and continued to smash through the bulletproof glass.  Glass falling off the slipthink car's hood, they backed up towards the rear wall again.
    The interrogator got up once again, virtually unhurt, and took out a pistol, pointing it directly at them.  They drove the car forward, as he fired - the bullet hitting only their mist as they vanished, making a single tak against the back wall.

Last chance

    "Where are we?" Mike said, looking around at the dimly-lit interior and large machinery, walking carefully.
    "We're in the generator levels below Grand Central Station, New York City," John said, sitting down on the ground, "The large amount of electrical, mechanical, and psychic interference (from the passengers) should allow us to stay hidden for a while.  But with their captured psychics searching for us constantly, it's only a matter of time before they find us. One iota of good news is that the connection is still there, although weak, and we know what their plan is. Combining the power of all the people they've enslaved, they've built a massive psychic amplifier, with enough power to find anyone or anything. They're planning on activating it today, and that's when they end us.  Along with the rest of the world."
    "So they've built a massive psychic amplifier using the power of a hive mind of psychics," Mike said, "I'm having a hard time understanding how that's good news.
    "Now we know where they are! All we have to do is take it out, and rescue the others!" Steph said.
    "Just us five?  Against all of the NIA, with the other psychics still under their control?  There's no way we can do that!" Emily said.
    "Steph's right, we have to try," Mike said, "we owe it to them.  And to the billions out there whose lives are at stake."
    John thought about it for a few minutes, before he finally said, "you're right.  Whether The Orchestra is complete or not, at this moment no one else on this planet knows more about psychic powers than us five.  The other psychics have warned me, the NIA doesn't need our power to activate their amplifier. They have enough people already, and the plan is going forward. With us, or without us."
    "No chance to get help," Steph said.
    "We never had a chance.  But we must try either way."

When all is one, one is all

    "Preparations almost complete, sir," a technician said to the NIA leader, the same man who had interrogated Mike and Steph earlier today.  They were in a white room, with a large device in the center, vaguely resembling a vertical satellite dish. It had a flat platform in the center, spires and wall segments along its edges, and numerous cables connected from it to the equipment, and into the walls.  On the walls of the room were glass-windowed observing chambers, with a variety of technicians observing equipment readouts and screens.
    "Excellent," the leader said, "any uninvited guests yet?"
    "No sir, no anomalous psychic energy readings yet," another technician replied.
    "Unfortunate," the leader said, "I was looking forward to achieving ultimate power, and removing our only meaningful opposition in a misguided rescue attempt all at once.  Would have been nice, perhaps, but the world awaits."
    "Yes sir, two minutes until charge completed," the first technician said.
    Meanwhile, looking down from a few cracks in the ceiling, Mike, Steph, and John were positioned above the device. Mike whispered, "we have to go now!  Before they start it up!"
    "No, I have a plan.  If what the psychics are trying to tell me is right, our best option is to join them on the platform right as it's activated," John said.
    "I still can't believe they didn't detect us jumping in here," Steph said.
    "This is the greatest gathering of psychic energy in the world - ever.  Detecting us here would be like trying to see a firefly in broad daylight," John said.
    "Sir, charge is complete.  We're ready to activate," the lead technician said.
    "Excellent," the NIA leader said as he and six other guards stepped onto the platform in the center of the device.  Lines along it began to glow blue, as enormous volumes of stored psychic energy were piped into it.
    "Now!" John said, as the three of them burst down from the ceiling, landing on the platform just as the energy reached maximum.
    "Wait -" the leader said, as the ten of them vanished into blue mist.

Out of sight, but not out of mind

    They reappeared - but not in material form.  They found themselves on a semi-transparent platform, suspended miles above the ground.  The Earth below appeared as an enormous globe, bathed in an incomprehensible network of connections, glowing with the mental power of billions of individuals.
    "Yes!  Here we are. The abstract space," the leader said, "hold those fools!"
    The guards moved to restrain Mike, Steph, and John.
    "Finally - what I've been looking for all these years..." the leader said, as he walked along the platform to a small metallic-looking table.  On top of it was a book, with a blank white cover. "Dr. Kalinastrat's most closely guarded secrets..." the leader said.
    He opened it, and read from it, "It says . . . 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17 - a sequence of numbers?" the leader said, picking it up and rapidly flipping through the pages, "junk!  Nothing but junk!"
    You can feel it too, Mike heard, silently, but clearly from John.  Yes, I can.  Everything is connected.  Everything is imaginary.  Everything is real.
    "Bah! Nevermind, we don't need it anyways! With the hive-amplifier and our psychics, we still have sufficient power to -" the leader said, then looking at the three, still restrained by the guards, "what are you doing?"
    "Stopping you!" Steph said, as she kicked the two guards holding her across the platform.
    "What?  Stop them!" the leader said, as Mike and John also managed to throw themselves free.
    "No - this time it's our turn," Mike said, as a rocket launcher appeared in his hands, pointed at the leader.
    "Oh, I understand now," the leader said, pulling out a small handgun, and firing at Steph.
    "I bet that your... nah, I'm not even going to say it," Steph said, effortlessly dodging the rounds.
    Mike fired a rocket at the leader's feet, knocking him back into the metallic table.   Landing disheveled, but unharmed, he said, "I think I've had enough of your -"
    They all rematerialized on the platform, as the device deactivated.  Emily stood next to it, twirling an unplugged power connector.
    "Heh.  What took you so long?" John said to Emily.
    "Just took a bit to convince the authorities, that's all," Emily said as a group of Police and SWAT officers were standing next to her.
    "All members of the so-called Network Intelligence Agency are under arrest for abduction, grand theft, and various other illegal activities," one of the policemen said, "get them out of my sight."

What now?

    "Hey John, professor of transdimensional cognition, eh?" Mike said, walking up to John's desk.
    "Would believe it?  Looks like people are actually interested in this junk," John said, "I hear you two haven't done too bad either?"
    "Well, making the new jump transportation network is pretty tiring work. Some days I wake up in Tokyo, have breakfast in Beijing, go to work in Zurich, have lunch in London, hit the afternoon in New York, then go to bed in San Francisco - those days are killer."
    "Just don't burn yourself out - we don't want you disappearing like Dr. Kalinastrat."
    "Yeah - did you ever find out any more about him?"
    "Not really, but I've been talking with a variety of other professors, and we think he may have figured out a way to jump to an alien civilization."
    "Wow.  Do you think we'll ever get that far?"
    "I think so.  One day."

    But that's another story.

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Published on Recreational Reality by Metafictional Press. First Version 2018 June 16, Latest Version 2018 June 16.