I returned to earth confused and curious. I couldn't figure out why Alice had called me there.
The Observation Guild terminated my status after I returned home. They saw the deactivation of Joan's evolved genes as a failure to my mission. Though other humans had the same activation in their genes, the Guild saw each of them with extreme importance, and felt that deactivating Joan's genes was just as bad as killing her. The Guild didn't care who Joan was. They seemed intent on preserving humanity, which I suspected as something of a contradiction to the popular attitude toward humans.
Somehow, termination from the Observation Guild seemed better than exile. They reassigned me. In a society like ours, everybody knew everything that everyone else knew. There was no professional anything, only jobs and assignments. I had been assigned the job of a biochemist for the Interplanetary Research Society. I got the message from Alice while on assignment in a binary system deep inside the galaxy.
I had no idea why Alice called me to earth. The message was brief, "Get to earth, now!" No explanation, no "Hi, how are you doing?" A short message, simple and efficient, just like Alice. She was always one to get in a rush, especially as a human.
I got permission for a temporary absence from the research mission I was on, and they sent a security agent to escort me. We entered orbit, contacted a partner on Alice's team on earth, and the security agent dropped me off and left. Apparently, Alice had liked the field in front of my former human host's house, for their ship remained there, phased.
Alice was in charge of monitoring Joan Davis.
The Guild had continued abducting Joan after the deactivation. They wanted to keep an eye on her, simply to know everything (as our people seemed so fond of). I had objected, quite profoundly, to such action. When they ignored my pleas to at least let me command the assignment, they sent Alice to do the job, and shipped me off to some distant star system.
Maybe they did exile me.
I found a tall, lanky human sitting at a computer on the bridge of Alice's ship when I got to earth.
When the security agent escorting me let me off, I found my human host, Jacob Riley again, and inhabited him. I couldn't help but find myself somewhat reluctant at first to take his form. I very much did not want a reoccurrence of the incident that wiped my memories the first time I used him as a host. I don't think that I was ever more careful in taking a host than I was when I stepped into Jacob Riley for the second time.
When I read the human I found in the ship, I realized he was actually a Step-In. His human name was Matthew Livingston; I wasn't about to try pronouncing his real name. Livingston was the operations agent on Alice's team. He greeted me, surprisingly nervous, and told me that Alice was out seeing a movie.
"I travel nearly twenty thousand light-years, and when I get here, she's out seeing a movie?" I sighed heavily in annoyance and fell into a chair across from Livingston. "Do you have any idea what this is about?" I asked, having decided not to read everything from his mind.
Livingston paused for a long, intimidating moment, his mouth hung open, and his eyes shooting from side to side as he desperately searched for a way to explain what had happened. "Er…I think that, um, Alice should explain it to you," he said.
I rolled my eyes, finding it refreshing to return to my cynical, human self. "What is this about!" I shouted in frustration.
He fixed me with an expression I would later recognize as his look of indifference, large, dark eyes wide and lips sealed as though he'd never open them again. A somewhat disturbing look, I had always thought. But soon, his lips did part. "It's about Joan."
I didn't waste any time getting to the theater. After buying a ticket for a random movie, I sneaked into the one Alice sat in.
She sat in the last row, in a dark corner, behind everyone. It didn't surprise me. When I saw her, I couldn't stifle a smile. I had hoped I would see her again like that, there, before me, in the same tall, dark-haired human known as Alice Crook, this time two years older.
I stopped in the aisle next to her row. For a moment, I stared at her, smiling. I had practically flown to that theater in one of a few cars her team utilized, my head screaming to know what was wrong with Joan, yet when I saw Alice, I paused. Some part of me had to take the time to look at her and take all of her in. I felt almost like a child that had ran away from his home with his best friend, trying to forget the place from which he ran if only to know what it felt like. I absorbed the feeling, savored it.
When finally I opened my mouth, I softly uttered her name. She turned absently, her eyes shot open, and she flew into my arms. We held each other tight. She whispered something, but I didn't understand it. My head was so full with her presence that it could hardly recognize anything else. I patted her silky hair as her chin lay rest on my shoulder, and shut my eyes as if resolving never to let her go. I hadn't seen her in over a year, save her messages. But to feel her touch again was to eat as though I'd starved myself for the past decade.
Her smile wide, she pulled back and stared breathlessly at me. No doubt she could hardly believe it either, that we were there again, with each other, and in those forms. After my termination as an Observer, I never thought I'd get that chance again.
She took my hand and dragged me out of the theater. Once in the light, I examined her face with every bit of focus as the first time I'd seen her as Alice. I snickered at her dimples, sighed with her smile, and weakened in her big, brown eyes. It almost felt like falling in love again.
Shaking her head, she spoke. "I thought you wouldn't get here until tomorrow."
I arched a brow at her. "Surprise!"
Laughing, she embraced me again. "I never thought I'd see you like this again," she said. "Oh, but Jake I had to call you here! You deserve to know what's happened."
Somehow I'd forgotten about Joan. I took a step back from Alice and held her by her shoulders. She was beautiful. It didn't surprise me that she'd once again made me forget about everything that didn't have to do with her; only this time it wasn't because she used her power on me. "What has happened?" I asked.
Her smile gone, she stared sorrowfully into me. A few seconds passed, and her gaze fell from me. Slowly, she looked to her left, as though to make sure no one watched us. Finally, she stepped toward a bench against the wall and sat down. Her eyes fixed on the ground, she shook her head. "It's terrible, Jake," she said quietly.
I sat down next to her and listened anxiously. But for the people strewn about the theater, there was a terse silence to that place.
With watery eyes, she looked at me. "They're dying," she said. "The evolved humans, they're just falling off one after another. No one knows why. We've done everything we could to determine what it is, and moreover, to stop it. But we haven't found anything." Her tone slipped from sad to hopeless. She sighed. "It's like they're all falling apart. We've already lost half of them. The Guild is desperate to keep the others alive."
My brows furrowed, I watched her. It seemed so odd, what she was saying. How could they all just start dying? There had to be a reason.
"About a month ago-a little after I last messaged you before the other day-all of them began to demonstrate…abilities," she explained. "A few of them suddenly had telekinetic powers, others could read minds, and the rest started to develop some sort of hyper-active intelligence. It's as though someone flipped a switch or something. We couldn't determine what had caused it."
I narrowed my eyes at her. "Well, obviously it must be the activated genes," I said.
"Obviously," she agreed, "however the genes have never had any effect on the human brain's neural capacity. I mean, yes, of course, the neurons have started firing at an unbelievable rate, but we found no connection between them and the genes."
Shaking my head, I said, "There has to be a connection. It couldn't just be a coincidence."
"Indeed," she said, nodding, "but whatever it is, we can't find it."
My eyes fell from her, bemused. Alice and her team had found themselves in quite the predicament. The only thing was what did any of it have to do with Joan and I. "Alice," I said, somewhat afraid of the answer, "what does any of this have to do with Joan?"
Sighing deeply, her eyes fell to the floor. There was a great reluctance in her. I had a feeling it was the part she had dreaded the most. Very slowly, she answered, "Her genes have reactivated." She took my hand and fixed me with a confident look. "I'm so sorry, Jake. It didn't happen until days before I contacted you. We have a feeling it takes a certain amount of time for whatever is happening to the evolved humans to develop, so she could have over a year-she hasn't even began to demonstrate powers yet." She swallowed. "But I knew you had to know, and I had to get you to come, because I know you'll do everything you can to save her. Which is what everyone wants."
My heart had sunk with her words. Of course! How could I have been so stupid? I felt so naVve. All I had done was shock the genes, put them to sleep for a while. Even my powers couldn't prevent the stubbornness of evolution. I should have known it would happen. I had underestimated human evolution. I was such a fool!
Dismally, I removed my glasses and rubbed at my eyes.
"Oh, Jacob!" Alice said sympathetically as she reached over and took me in her arms. "It's okay, Sweetie. If anyone can save her, you can. And I know you will. And I'll be here, too, me and my team. We're gonna do this."
Comforted by her gentile embrace, I held Alice tighter. I loved her so much. I knew I could count on her; there was no doubt in my mind about that. But I worried. My eyes watered, I was so scared. It was obvious that I still loved Joan. Though, I didn't know if I could save her, I knew that I'd do everything in my power to do so.