1.6 Hidden From the World, pt 1

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Shadows appeared to squirm in the depths of every room they passed. Dust sheets shrouded blocky shapes, protecting what Margo assumed were antique pieces of furniture. She imagined the giant Alexander lurking in this labyrinthine house, amidst delicate chandeliers and statues, like the minotaur of ancient mythology. Maybe he didn't live in the mansion at all. She imagined a Gothic cellar, with vaulted ceilings built for a man who was . . .

"Well over nine feet tall," Thomas had said.

She reminded herself that the giant deserved sympathy, no matter how grotesque his body happened to be. He was probably debilitated by uncontrolled growth. In all likelihood, he'd need a cane in order to walk.

"He's not debilitated at all, Margo," Thomas said. "I told you, he has a unique form of gigantism, with nothing to operate on. No pituitary adenoma or lesion. He's in great health. In fact, the last time he visited a doctor, they determined that his skeleton is super-strong."

Lynn eyed Thomas sideways, apparently unnerved by how much he knew about her hidden son.

He gave her a belligerent look. "Ten years ago," he said, "you took Alex to the Children's Hospital in Boston. I know the name of the specialist doctor consulting on his case, and the faces of everyone in the lobby who stared at him. I can't help absorbing information. It's as automatic as breathing, to me. Every memory comes with a crap-ton of miscellaneous junk that all sticks here." He gestured to his head. "You're lucky, because you can forget. I can't."

Lynn looked skeptical.

"Without exception," Thomas said, as if she had argued. "I wish I could forget things. I don't need to know every pair of socks you've ever worn. Ninety-nine percent of everything I absorb is irrelevant."

Margo had heard him discuss bioengineering and nucleotides with top scientists. If that was just a fraction of his absorbed knowledge. . . . "How can you function?" She studied him with new curiosity. "That sounds like it would drive a person insane."

"I needed years to develop coping skills." Thomas sounded bitter about it. "I had no idea what I was doing until I was four years old."

Lynn rolled her eyes.

"Well, that's normal," Margo pointed out.

"Not for me," Thomas said. "I recall every wakeful instant. My mind is like a camera set on constant RECORD. My earliest memories are a disorganized jumble, but I'm sure my own birth is in there somewhere. I probably have memories of being a fetus. It's just all a mess—colors and daydreams mixed up with tastes and emotions. I began to make sense of the constant flood when I was four. Before then, I couldn't talk sensibly. People assumed I was mentally disabled." The bitterness was back in his voice. "Just a grossly disabled baby. No one wanted me."

None of this seemed like news to Cherise. She pushed his wheelchair, her face smooth.

"Do you remember other people's memories, too?" Margo tried to imagine collecting that much information.

"Of course," Thomas said. "Depending on how long they're within my range. I know you very well." He gave her a look that seemed to blaze. "I've experienced the equivalent of hundreds of lifetimes."

"I can't believe no one's locked you away," Lynn muttered. She put distance between herself and him.

Thomas looked appreciative. "That's why I keep it a secret. I'm like Alex, in that way. I have a quality that would make me world-famous, if the world knew. I understand the need to avoid the spotlight."

Margo frowned, keeping pace with his wheelchair. "You've never avoided the spotlight, that I've seen."

"Sure, I'm a poster child for Spinal Muscular Atrophy." Thomas waved his hand dismissively. "That's minor. I give cute little interviews so my project at Rasa Biotech keeps getting funded. But I never tell the public what I'm truly capable of." He gave her a frank look. "Because then I'd never be in charge of my own life. Governments and corporations would fight over who gets to use me. I have enough trouble trying to have some control over my life, struggling to gain some respect. If my work colleagues ever learn what I can do, they'll strip away all my accolades and reduce me to a lab rat."

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