1.1 Wielding Secrets, pt 1

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"Thank you. Thank you." Thomas pretended to be relaxed, although a maelstrom of thoughts hammered him from all sides. Reporters were the worst sort of crowd. He couldn't escape their sickening whirlwind of moods and surface thoughts, and to make matters worse, they shoved each other like vultures around carrion, waving microphones at his face.

A microphone nearly smacked him. "Thomas Hill! Do you have any plans to speak at Harvard Medical School?" Answer my question first, you smug brat.

Another microphone. "How do you make friends if you work full-time?" Got to be a liar. No way a twelve-year-old kid would be allowed to lead a team of scientists, even if—

Another microphone. "What would you tell your birth mother, if you could meet her?" Doubt he'll live through next year. They'll never start clinical trials of that medicine in time to save his life.

Thomas tried to push a microphone away, but he couldn't lift his underdeveloped arm that high. The effort made him tremble. So instead, he moved his wheelchair back and forth to signal his desire to leave. 

The barrage of thoughts blended into a continuous roar. It had been tolerable when he was up on stage, earlier, since the vast majority of these people had been beyond his range. He didn't mind one or two people nearby. Even five or six was okay. He was used to living in crowded group homes. But fifty people within his range? The nonstop babble gave him a pounding headache, and at this point, all he dared say was, "Thank you. Thank you for coming." Otherwise, he might accidentally answer someone's unspoken thought.

His caretaker pushed through the well-dressed crowd with an apologetic smile. "I'm sorry." She shoved past cameramen. "I'm so sorry." She pulled on her winter coat, whacking a few reporters in the process. "Whoops! Did I hit you? I'm really sorry." At six feet tall, Margo could take up a lot of space. People tended to notice her pretty face, her auburn hair, so her height took them by surprise.

She got behind his wheelchair and plowed up the aisle, towards the auditorium exit. People could ignore his determination to leave, but not hers. All they could do was try to keep up. Cameras flashed, and the babble echoed against the low, ultra-modern ceiling.

The mood of the mob was doubt. Thomas tried not to let that bother him. No matter how mature he acted, most of the reporters dismissed his replies, writing him off as a liar. They would never believe a child. Not entirely. When they reported his lecture on the news, they would quote him in tones of cuteness and condescension, as if quoting a teddy bear instead of one of the world's foremost experts in neurobiology and genetics. 

It shouldn't matter. Thomas kept reminding himself of that. 

In the lobby, a couple of campus security guards held back the mob of reporters. The guards weren't obligated to do that, and Thomas nearly cried in gratitude. It must be a Margo effect. She smiled at the guards, and they grinned back, and Thomas sensed that she had asked for this favor.

"I owe you," he said.

"Well," Margo said, tugging each of his arms into his winter parka. "I remember what happened last time."

"I wouldn't lose my cool like that again." He tried not to sound offended. Not even Margo trusted him to act like an adult.

"Uh huh." She wrapped his knit scarf around his neck. "I don't know why you don't just . . . you know."

He didn't need to ask for an explanation. She was close, within his range, and he saw her imagination, a vague scenario where Thomas yelled out the most embarrassing secrets of the mob. He would shout out who was using illegal drugs, who was pirating software, who had weird sexual kinks. Nothing was sacred. The mortified reporters would scamper away, and take their camera crews with them.

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