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Sixteen (On hold for publication)

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Down the hallway from where Kate had been, a small crowd was gathering at the door of another exam room. Doctors, nurses and even a few parents and cops had heard about the phenomena occurring inside and were trying to squeeze in for a look. Kate, her mother and Ginny had all followed Dr. Hillbrand as they were anxious to find out what could be so interesting. 


Inside the room Kate saw one of the girls she had tried to communicate with back at the station. It was the blond wearing the same red and white skirt and top as Kate had seen herself wearing in pictures. Now she was wearing a bland shapeless gown of some type, it looked used and worn. It tied in the back loosely with slightly frayed strings. Kate was alarmed to see that wires were attached to the girl, pouring out through the gown and connecting to a machine that beeped rhythmically. The girl was jumping up and down, her arms raising and crossing over her head then flapping back down to her sides over and over again. 


"Dr. Hillbrand! Come in, you have to see this," a younger looking doctor called excitedly out to his mentor. "This is Sadie. During my exam I started to realize something was odd about her heart rate and started to test it. Her heart rate is exactly 80 beats per minute, no matter what. Even after enduring fifteen minutes of strenuous activity, it hasn't raised a single beat." 


Dr. Hillbrand stopped observing the girl and turned his attention to the beeping machine. "It must be malfunctioning," he said, taking his stethoscope from around his neck and nodding to a nurse. The nurse grabbed a blood pressure cuff off the wall and joined him. 


"Stop the jumping jacks for a moment sweetheart," the nurse directed. Seeing Kate in the crowd though, Sadie kept right on jumping. Kate locked eyes with her and could hear her questions and answer her although neither girl was speaking aloud. It was the first time anyone had spoken back to her using their thoughts but Kate could not let this revelation distract her, the communication seemed to take a good deal of focus. Together, they decided that stopping was probably for the best. Sadie slowed her jumping and gradually stopped. 


Dr. Hillbrand frowned; the girl was not breathing heavily or showing any signs of exertion at all. He checked her pulse, her blood pressure and listed with his stethoscope. Everything was perfect, too perfect, as if she were the healthiest person on the planet and the most resilient as well. It just wasn't possible and yet here it was in front of him. He ordered a similar test to be performed on all of the kids. 


"Did I do something wrong? They seem upset," Sadie thought. 


"I don't know. They are starting to realize we are different from them, different than the people they think we are." 


"Are we? Are we different I mean? They keep calling me Sadie, I can't seem to recall . . ." 


"We certainly are different; that I am sure of. We need to figure out why and how, and fast, before they do. I'm sensing that differences are not tolerated well here. I'm going to check on the others." Kate left the doorway and started back down the hallway, trying to steal glances into the other exam rooms as she went. 

*** *** *** *** *** ***  

Chief Tanner had made the difficult decision to start calling the parents of the kids that had not yet returned. The medical staff had given him the privacy of one of the exam rooms and promised to return as soon as they could with the x-rays they had just performed on his wrist. His secretary sent him the names and numbers that needed to be called by texting his phone. Methodically he placed each call, telling the already grieving parents the startling news that came with many questions and no answers. There were tears, angry outbursts, name calling and even one incidence of fainting. The Chief took it all on his broad shoulders and when he had finished the final call he sat down on the bed and did something he had not allowed himself to do in several years, he cried. 


Maybe the emotions were helped along by the throbbing pain in his wrist, the incredibly long night he had just endured or perhaps it was just the sadness and bewilderment he had helped inflect on these already troubled parents. The cause wasn't important; the tears were a dangerous gateway to over empathizing with the victims and losing the ability to do his job effectively. Weakness. He didn't deal well with weakness. 


The tears were just starting to subside when he realized he was being watched. First he got the cold creeping feeling that someone was standing behind him, then he heard the shuffling of shoes and finally, he turned to see Cole Parks standing in the doorway. Barely a boy anymore but pretty far from being a man yet, Cole had about as much life experience as the Chief guessed anyone could have by sixteen. His father, and only living relative of known whereabouts, was as mean of a drunk as you could get. There was certainly not any legitimate money coming in to pay the bills, so it was no wonder Cole was constantly sitting around the station in handcuffs. Not only was stealing necessary for his survival and anger born into his blood, but the station was probably the closest thing Cole had to a home. It was a safer home, anyway. There was a reason they hadn't known he was one of the victims right away, no one had bothered to report him missing.

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