“How long has it been…since I closed my eyes?” I asked.
The medical technician sitting beside my cot offered me a business-like smile and said, “Just about thirty-seven minutes.”
I frowned. It had felt longer to me. Almost two hours. I had a crick in my neck. The cot wasn’t very comfortable. They didn’t want me to accidentally fall asleep. I sat up and swung my legs around so I was sitting at the edge of the cot.
“How do you feel?” the technician asked. She was holding one of those astral scanners toward my head.
I blinked a few times. “Strange…uh, disoriented.” My lips felt dry. I licked them and glanced over at the chair where I’d left my handbag. I had some balm in one of the front pockets.
“Here,” the technician said, handing me a pad and pen. “Write down everything you remember in as much detail as you can provide. Remember your training, all five senses in one section, emotions in another. If you have any thoughts and impressions and speculations, you can record them in the last section.”
Per my training, the physical act of forming words with pen on paper would help with my recall better than typing into a digital device.
I wrote down as much as I could remember. The number of doors in the room. The wooden filing cabinet. The papers strewn over a table in the middle of the room. What was written on those papers. Markings made on a map that was partially unrolled over that same table. The smell of pickles from a partially eaten sandwich. The dry heat blowing from an overhead vent. I filled about ten pages, front and back. I handed the pad back to the technician, signed out of the building, and went home. Later that evening, I remembered a few more things, but I wasn’t allowed to add anything to what was essentially a practical test.
A week later, someone called me and told me I’d gotten the job.
I felt the expected emotions—relief, excitement, nervousness. But I also felt scared. Not the typical “scared of the unknown” scared. In fact, I was scared of what I would soon know. Because I was being hired to spy. Whatever euphemistic job title I’d be given (my interviewer told me I would be a “special consultant”), my real purpose was to go in to places where I wasn’t allowed and bring back something even better than juicy gossip, juicy facts.
So, yes, when asked in the following weeks, what my new job was, I would tell people I was a special consultant. And when asked what I meant by “special consultant,” I would say that I collected information and research for my boss, and I couldn’t go into more detail because I’d signed a stack of documents agreeing not to share those details.
It was during those first few weeks that I learned what my real title was, the word that my boss used. When she first spoke the word, I misheard and thought she said “protector.” I got a little full of myself thinking that maybe my boss intended to use my talents for something different, more noble than spying, after all.
But I wasn’t, and am not, a protector.
My name is Andie Ogami, and I’m a Projector.
My boss was one of the most powerful people in the world, and when I say my boss, I mean my boss. I didn’t work for someone who worked for someone who worked for someone who then worked for another someone and on and on until a certain someone who actually worked for the boss, or just Boss, as she was known by everyone outside her family.
I worked directly for J. Gwenmire. And J. Gwenmire believed that human beings were capable of perceiving beyond the five physical senses, and beyond even the seemingly random intuitions that most of us experience sometimes in our lives. Like when someone knows that a distant relative has died just before the phone rings and someone tells them so.
One of the powers that Boss believed in was astral projection. She had poured considerable sums of her fortune into researching the phenomenon and finding those who were capable of projecting. Her researchers had developed tests to assess volunteers for the potential ability. And for those who demonstrated that potential, her researchers had developed a course of drug cocktails called “astral enablers” to help encourage and develop the ability.
Even just volunteering to complete the whole week of testing paid a healthy sum.
So I read all the fine print, and I volunteered.
I had some notions about getting my foot in the door with the firm that was doing the screening tests, if I happened to impress someone. So during that week of testing, I did my best to impress. And I did. With my astral projection potential scores that is.
They called me in for another week. This time, they gave me some training. And I astral projected for the first time.
Each week that I came in, they paid me, and they paid me well. I took care of a pending car repair, paid a friend back for covering a concert ticket, and bought my mom a fancy scarf for her birthday, instead of just taking her out to modestly priced dinner.
The next thing I knew, I was offered a job, and without any fanfare, the door opened and J. Gwenmire walked in, shook my hand, and said, “So, you’re my new Projector.”
She smiled, nodded to me, nodded to the man who was holding my “welcome aboard” packet and left.
I was given a tour of the family’s main residence and the grounds. The woman giving me the tour pointed to small devices, each half the size of my hand, arrayed all over the halls and just outside each room. She told me they were astral detectors. Their presence would ensure that I—or any other Projector—would not get the idea to spy on my own employers.
“We trust you, but we don’t trust you. No offense,” the woman said.
“None taken,” I said. I had no plans to breach any trusts. I was going to be busy playing off my debts with all the money that Boss would be paying me. And if my salary continued being what it was, I’d be on my way to paying back my entire student loan in only three years.
Over the course of the next year, I developed my skill in astral projection and I developed my own ambitions concerning that skill. Sometimes when I slept and dreamed, I would have some kind of profound revelation in the dream. I would wake, and have the feeling that I had solved great mysteries of life and existence in my dream, but my waking mind couldn’t remember any of those breakthroughs.
I began to wonder if my astral mind could remember. I began to get the feeling that my astral self knew—or at least could know—things that my physical self did not.
I began to hope that my mind would be expanded when I was in the astral state. After all, my astral mind wasn’t contained or limited by a physical brain. And maybe I could somehow learn how to bring that knowledge back into my physical brain, at least some of it, in bits and pieces. But whenever I’d wake from an astral walk, I was frustrated to discover that aside from what I’d been instructed to find out, I only occasionally brought back what seemed to be useless information, like seven ways to transform colored cardstock into pop-up greeting cards.
Why my astral self would choose to go into a paper-craft class instead of, say, flying up to the surface of Mars or through the rings of Saturn, I didn’t know.
On the one hand, even bringing back those little random facts confirmed my notion that my mind was far greater than my brain. On the other hand, it was frustrating to think that life-changing knowledge was just out of my reach.
Maybe it would take more time and practice for my astral mind to stop thinking like my corporeal mind, like a thing that was anchored to the Earth.
Over the course of that same year, I would meet a number of other Gwenmires—the heir of the empire, Lucille Honora Gwenmire, the rebellious son, Jason Glory Gwenmire, various nieces, nephews, cousins, and grandchildren, a few of whom were as fascinated with astral projection as their grandmother. One of those grandchildren, Wayne Esoito Gwenmire, came to be interested in the subject, and began to work with the researchers. He was the one who told me that despite the constant testing of potential Projectors, I was currently the only one in the family’s employ. And one of those grandchildren, Darla Firo Gwenmire, often came to visit her cousin Eso at his work, because she aspired to be an astral projector herself—the first in the family.
I would tell any family member I met or came to know about my hopes to bring back knowledge of unknown things. Boss seemed to approve of my effort, but I never saw her in person again. She communicated with notes sent to me through the person assigned to be my assistant (but who seemed to me to be more like a handler).
So that’s how it started, and that’s how it went. I helped Boss keep rivals and enemies in check, and keep watch over friends and allies.
But near the beginning of my second year as a Projector, something changed.
It was a Thursday. That was the day I did my rounds of the businesses on the east side of the city, the biotechnology firm, the legal office, even a restaurant or two that Boss had acquired.
I was coming out of it. When I went into it, I’d been calm, relaxed, a little tired from the extra shifts spying on the fiancé of one of the grandchildren.
But coming out of it…
I sat up, breathing hard. My face felt flushed and hot. Beads of sweat formed along my temples to replace the beads of the sweat that had already grown heavy enough to drip down the sides of my face. My heart was beating so fast I could feel it in my chest. I heard the sound of glass breaking.
I glanced to my right and glared down at the ground. Beside the cot, there were chunks of glass lying in a puddle of gloppy red liquid. The image of a flask flashed into my mind. I held up my right hand. I curled my fingers into a fist and banged them on the cot.
Someone entered the room then, my assistant. He cursed at the puddle on the floor, asked if I was okay, and on seeing me nod, ran over to the spill kit near the sink.
I was still breathing hard, still flushed, as he cleaned up.
“What happened?” he asked.
But that wasn’t the question I was asking myself. The question I was asking myself was “why am I so angry?”
“What else did you feel?”
“I still feel it,” I said. I winced as I shifted in my chair. I was sitting in the office of my company-provided psychologist. It was the morning after I woke up feeling angry and holding a flask in my hand. “I’m sore all over, every muscle in my body. I remember I felt this way one time after a friend convinced me to go on a hiking trip that I thought I could handle. I also…I got a full night’s sleep, but I still feel drained, you know? Exhausted.”
My psychologist nodded.
“Has this happened before?”
“Not really,” I said. “Not like this. I’ve seen things that made me feel happy or angry or frustrated, sure. But this time, I don’t remember seeing anything that would make me so angry. I’m thinking that the feeling had nothing to do with my assigned duties.”
“It was part of the…extra knowledge that you sometimes bring back.”
I nodded. “Yes, I think so.”
“What about the flask?”
“It wasn’t in the room when I went in. And nobody else brought it in. Jim is trying to track it down. I gave him a lead. I believe I know exactly where it came from.”
I paused, but she said nothing, so I kept going.
“One of the lab areas I pass on my regular rounds, it has flasks like the one that I’m sure I was holding when I came out of my projection. I think I dropped it before I realized I was holding it. It was just out on the bench. I think they’re growing some kind of bacteria—but not the dangerous kind that makes us sick. Some…agricultural kind. I listened a bit longer than I had to because what the researcher was saying sounded interesting.” I dropped my gaze. “I remember looking down into the mouth of the flask.”
“And then? Did you…reach for it?”
I shook my head. “I don’t remember reaching for it. I remember just standing up straight again, ticking the lab off my checklist, and moving on. And I remember doing the rest of my rounds.” I frowned. “Could I have gone back for it? And why? And…how? How was I able to bring it back? My astral form doesn’t have any substance.”
“But if it did have substance, it might not be outside the realm of reason to believe that you could bring back solid objects, just as you bring back information.”
I frowned and heaved out a breath. “Then what’s the anger all about?”
I’d had anger issues throughout my life. Nothing too serious. I wasn’t even considered a hothead or anything, but people who were close enough to me knew about my temper. And that temper had ruined a few relationships for good. People who didn’t know me were surprised when my anger reared its head, because to them it seemed to come out of nowhere. It was probably because I used to let annoyances build and amplify until I was like that proverbial boiling pot whose lid finally blew off, no longer able to hold the pressure of the bubbling, scalding liquid inside.
But I’d mellowed over time, with age, and with healthy practices like regular exercise, sleep, and meditation. And I’d learned to be very patient after babysitting my only niece and nephew for a few years. By the time I was working for Boss, I rarely got angry, and even when I did, I’d calm down almost right away.
The anger I’d felt when I came out of that last projection, though, that felt deep. It had lingered all that day, preoccupying my mind. It made me irritable with people for no reason. Everything my assistant did seemed wrong. I wanted to grab the mop from his hands and clean up the mess myself. I pictured myself knocking his clipboard out of his hands. I went home early to relax and get a hold of myself.
There are times in life when I’ve claimed not to know why I was angry, but really, somewhere deep down, maybe in my subconscious, I always knew.
But this time, I really, truly didn’t. It was as if the anger I was feeling wasn’t my own.
I hoped it was an isolated incident. I was happy to put it behind me as a mystery that would never be solved, provided it never happened again.
But it did happen again.
My assignment was to look over the shoulders of a team of programmers at the family’s rival company. They were rumored to be working on some secret project.
I went into that projection feeling a bit guilty and shameful. Boss told me this kind of assignment was just meant to ensure that her rivals weren’t stealing ideas or data from her, but I worried that she might be doing the same, stealing their ideas.
For that reason, it made sense that I would come out of that projection feeling miffed. But I hadn’t seen anything that seemed significant. No reason to have any ethical dilemmas.
But I came out of it angry. And again, I ended up bringing something back. When I checked my pockets later that night, I found a folded up stack of papers with formulas written on them.
I didn’t know what the formulas meant, but I did recognize them, and the papers. I had seen them during my projection.
I stared at the pages for a few minutes, not knowing what I would do. Then I shredded them. Then I thought twice about it, and I dumped the shreds into my kitchen sink and burned them.
I didn’t tell anyone. I intended to, but I wanted to examine what had happened myself first.
And while I was examining myself, it happened again. I was doing my rounds of the family. I stayed the proper distance, away from the astral detectors. Earlier that day, one of the family’s dogs had run away, and I had helped to find him by rushing and soaring around the city. I’d felt happy and heroic.
And yet, I came out of that projection so angry I jumped off the cot. To keep myself from crying out, I banged both fists on that cot. And when I did, I noticed that I was clutching something in my right hand, a piece of white cloth, a handkerchief.
When I took a closer look at it, it spooked me to see that it was embroidered with familiar initials, my boss’s initials. I locked the handkerchief in my desk drawer.
I made my report, leaving out the details about my anger and handkerchief. I went home. It was Friday evening. I hoped having the weekend off would help me calm down, so when I went in on Monday and spoke to my psychologist, I could have some specific questions for her, and she could help me figure out what was going on.
But it was already too late.
The next morning, a couple of police officers came to my door.
My heart started beating before I even opened the door. My mouth went dry. My hand hesitated at the doorknob. And I jerked when the doorbell rang a second time.
I opened the door and some intense sensation rushed up through my chest and throat, and I hoped I wouldn’t throw up.
The officers introduced themselves and asked me to confirm my identity based on information they had about my name and details about work. They said they needed to ask me some questions about my activities on the night before.
I somehow had enough presence of mind to say, “May I ask what this is about?”
“We’re investigating a crime that occurred at your employer’s residence,” one officer said.
My mind flashed back to that handkerchief I had when I came out of my last projection. It was clean. There was no blood on it.
I asked them what had happened.
My mind did a funny thing then. It anticipated what they would tell me, and it anticipated what I would know and how I would feel. They would tell me that someone had died, been murdered. They would tell me they found and were testing a handkerchief found in the desk drawer of my projection room. They would tell me some other details that they didn’t need to tell me, because as soon as they told me that someone had died, been murdered, I would know. I would know who and I would know how. And I would know that I had done it, somehow I had done it. I wouldn’t know why. I would feel terrified, hopeless, guilty. I would shatter and break.
I would confess.
My mind did all of this in the second before one of the officers spoke. I inhaled a breath and readied myself.
“An attempted murder,” the officer said, “of your boss. Considering how well-guarded she is, we have reason to…”
The officer went on speaking, and I heard, but was unable to listen.
Because my mind had been wrong. About what the officer would say. I felt something shift within me.
It was wrong, and I knew why I was wrong. Because it could not access everything it knew.
Someone had tried to kill Boss. Maybe the officers were lying and she was dead. I didn’t know whether or not officers were allowed to lie like that to get people to reveal things. But I knew they were telling the truth.
My mind was wrong about what I would feel. I didn’t feel guilt, because I hadn’t done anything wrong. I hadn’t killed or tried to killed anyone. I didn’t feel terrified or hopeless.
I felt angry.
The officers told me that someone had tried to poison Boss. The effort was caught and thwarted by Boss’s guards, but one of those guards had come into contact with enough of the poison to send him to the hospital. He was still there.
The officers asked me their questions. General questions about my whereabouts and the last time I saw Boss. They didn’t mention any handkerchief. They gave me a card and asked me to call the lead detective if I thought of anything I felt I should report.
After they left, I didn’t rush into doing what I wanted to do. I calmed myself down. I made myself some coffee. I brushed my teeth. I rolled a yoga mat out on the floor of my living room.
And then I laid myself down on that mat.
When I first started working as a Projector, I was given access to the research on astral projection. Boss said she believed in that kind of transparency. She said she believed I had a right to know what kinds of drugs would be going into my body to allow me to do what I was going to do for her. There was no danger of my sharing this information with anyone. The prospect of being sued was terrifying to me. I tried to do my own research, but didn’t get very far. When I had my annual check-up with my own doctor, she noted some elevated levels of something that indicated some inflammation in my heart, but she wasn’t too concerned about it.
The one instruction I was given was to not even attempt astral projection unless I had taken an injection of the astral enablers. If I tried, at best it wouldn’t work, but at worst, the residual byproducts of the enablers in my body might be toxic. And because I was constantly getting injections to do my job, I also constantly had the byproducts of the drugs lingering in my body in between projections.
I only ignored this warning once.
I was able to astral project, but it only lasted a few minutes before I snapped back into my body. And when I did, I began to feel cramps in my stomach. When they went away, I developed a migraine. When that went away, I had the worst diarrhea I’ve ever had in my life, and when that went away, I thanked my lucky stars and never tried to project on my own again. Even the thought of it would make me shudder.
But now, as I lay on my yoga mat, I knew I would not suffer that same reaction. I didn’t know why or how I knew. And I didn’t believe. I knew. I knew in the way I knew that my pajamas were covered in polka dots and the kitchen faucet was dripping. Because my mind had perceived.
I closed my eyes.
In the beginning, it would take a while, anywhere from five minutes to over twenty minutes. But now, I could project in an instant. I’d thought it was a combination of practice and continually optimized enablers.
But when I leapt out of my body an instant after closing my eyes, I confirmed that it was only the practice and experience. I was still anchored to my body, could still feel it, though that feeling was muddled, distant. I was sweating slightly.
I floated out of my apartment and descended to the ground floor. My body felt warm, but it didn’t suffer any cramps, or spasms, no pain or discomfort of any kind.
There was a huge list of potential perpetrators. Rivals…various heirs…disgruntled investors…unhappy employees. But I started where the police were starting. With a crime like attempted murder, the likeliest suspects were the ones who were closest to the intended victim.
My astral mind remembered things that my corporeal mind did not and could not. It remembered why I was angry. It remembered knowledge I’d gathered over a year of projecting.
So my astral form, directed by my astral mind, knew exactly where to go. I spotted the astral detectors, those devices that I was afraid to come close to, because they would alarm, and someone would report me, and I’d lose my job, or worse, be ruined. I was only supposed to watch over the family, not spy on them.
I floated past the detectors.
The indicator light on the detector continued blinking in the same pattern.
Maybe it had detected me.
Maybe it hadn’t.
Maybe I’d been asked to beware of a dog that wasn’t there.
Either way, I knew I didn’t have much time. So I made good use of it.
The lead detective investigating the attempted murder of my boss did receive a call from me, but it was an anonymous call. I provided enough information for the police to find evidence they could use to make the proper arrests.
And while they did all that work, I went to go see Boss. She sent me messages often. But she rarely received mine. I realized that after confronting my “assistant” one day and accusing him of not passing on any of my feedback. He confessed and explained about Boss being busy, and as per my usual response, I decided he was right, and I should be reasonable. And from then on, he didn’t have to filter my feedback, because I filtered it myself.
But I knew how to reach her, of course. I had seen how during my projections. So I sent her a message that I needed to see her and pass on information about what had happened the night before.
And she summoned me to her downtown office. When I walked into that office, and she gave a little sigh as she offered me refreshment, I felt a twinge of pity for her.
Someone had tried to kill her the night before.
She didn’t sit at the giant desk in the middle of her expansive office, an office that was without exaggeration, twice the size of my apartment. She sat by a window on a stiff wooden, and beckoned me to sit across from her.
“Thank you, I don’t intend to stay long,” I said.
She gazed out of her window. “I already know,” she said. She turned her head to look at me. “You’ve come to tell me who it was.”
I walked toward the window where she sat.
“Before I start,” I said, “I want to thank you for helping me develop my ability. Without the training and discipline, I might not have reached this level of skill at all, much less within a year. And I hope you’ll hear me out, because you probably won’t like much of what I have to say. For instance, I did come to tell you who tried to kill you last night. But I’ve already told the police. If you intended to keep it quiet, I’m afraid I’ve ruined that for you.”
She said nothing, but only continued gazing out of the window.
I continued. “I understand now why you did what you did to limit my ability. I was a surprised that it didn’t take much effort at all for me to discover what’s really been going on, and to process all of that information. It’s as if I’ve done a year-long investigation in just over a few hours. I’m still astonished at how much I know. Who tried to kill you. Why I’ve been coming out of some projections feeling intense rage. Why it seems as if I’ve been bringing back physical objects.”
One of Boss’s shoulders shifted slightly.
I narrowed my eyes. “You’re very good at staying calm. I know you weren’t aware of what’s been going on with my projections. It was kept from you, because you would have been curious. You would have looked into it. You would have found out what I found out.
“Your grandson, Eso, was hoping to inherit his part of your fortune early so he could pay off some considerable debts he has amassed through bad investments. He knows you won’t bail him out of it, or allow anyone else to. His interest in astral projection research was never sincere. I’m not even sure he believes in it. In any case, he saw an avenue for exploiting you somehow. I’m not sure when he decided on this, but he realized he had a great patsy in me for your murder. Someone who had already demonstrated that she believed in things she shouldn’t have believed in, like the astral detectors and the astral enablers.”
I peered at Boss, but she didn’t budge.
“I know the detectors are fake,” I said. “I was truly only being deterred from getting close to them because I was so afraid of losing my job, and losing the only way I had of astral projecting. Because I really believed that I couldn’t do it without the enablers. I didn’t want to take any chances. And after that time I got sick trying to astral project with enabler byproducts in my system, I never tried again. But that happened before Eso came anywhere near the project. That was you. I wasn’t supposed to get so sick though. So those components were removed from the cocktail, and you just had me watched carefully. But when you learned from my psychologist that I had no intention of trying to astral project on my own, your problem was solved.
“And as for the enablers.” I took a breath. “Well, I’m a dummy not to have suspected that they’re actually disablers. In combination with my training, those disablers ensured that I would only be able to remember what I was asked to remember. Credit where credit is due. You turned my own belief in the power of my mind against me. That’s why I didn’t remember that my astral form actually caught my assistant placing that flask in my hand. I returned earlier than they expected. I didn’t remember overhearing Eso talk about how gullible I was. I grew furious. At him. At myself. And that fury was the only thing I remembered when I came out of my projection. It was so intense that it scared me, scared me into believing that it wasn’t even my own rage.
“Eso had my assistant plant physical evidence on me after a few projections, evidence that would make me believe I was bringing back physical objects from the sites I was spying on. And you might ask how he would know which objects to bring back. He knew because of another fact I believed to be true that isn’t true. The fact that I’m the family’s only Projector. There’s your granddaughter Darla. When she told me she hoped to be a Projector someday too, I didn’t know that she already was. She came with me on some of my projections, hiding out of my astral sight, and reporting my route. When the time was right, she came out of her projection long before I came out of mine, so she could instruct her cousin on what to plant on me to make me believe that I was capable of moving physical objects during my projections. Eso and his minions stole or replicated those objects. It wouldn’t be a leap then, for me to believe that I had tried to poison you, especially when I brought back a handkerchief embroidered with your initials.”
I paused to let her respond. She didn’t. I slipped the folded letter from my pocket, and rested it on the chair opposite to her.
“After considering all that I’ve learned, I must resign as your Projector.”
J. Gwenmire again did not respond. But I had nothing further to say. I watched her as she continued gazing out of the window. I decided to give it another minute or so before I said goodbye and left. And in that minute or two, she rose from her chair. She turned and stood before me, folding her arms in front of her.
“You think I’m going to allow you to leave?” she asked, turning her head slightly to the left. But I could not read her expression.
“I know you could stop me, but I didn’t just walk in here without a plan.”
J. Gwenmire narrowed her eyes. “You may think you’re protected because the general public doesn’t believe in things like astral projection. And even if they did, there’s no evidence. But there are agencies in this world that know people with abilities like yours exist. I can hand you over to one of these. They’d be far more concerned about containing you than with the petty spying I’ve had you do for me over the past year.”
I nodded. “I know.”
The phone on J. Gwenmire’s grand desk began to ring.
“Which is why I called one and turned myself in before I walked in here.”
Copyright © 2019 Nila L. Patel