I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.
~ Frank Herbert, Dune.
~ Frank Herbert, Dune.
“Eddie! The fire extinguisher! Tobie, get away from your computer!”
White foam poured over the computer. Lampman knelt, fingers creeping towards the power switch under the table. A mass of shadows flickered and popped above the table. Tobie lurched forward.
“Don’t.” Holon looked up from his monitor, pinning Tobie with an expressionless stare.
Tobie jerked to a halt. “He’s going to upset—”
“And you didn’t?”
Tobie’s jaw set. “Just let it happen.”
“Let…what happen?” Esther turned to Holon. “Holon?” A screech jerked her head up towards the end of Tobie’s row. Rebecca, hands over her mouth, stared in terror at Dr. Lampman. A few other students backed away from him.
Lampman clawed at his arms, his hair. His legs kicked, losing his balance.
“There’s something on me! Something’s on me!” He yanked his arm out from between tower and table. Eddie dropped the fire extinguisher, the hollow clang of it echoing in the row. Daniel’s chair fell back into the aisle as he followed. Eddie tried to take Lampman’s wrist, but his fingers leapt back. Daniel skidded to a halt behind him, eyes wide.
Eddie lifted his hand, staring down at his wrist. Two small puncture wounds in his palm dripped blood down his wrist. “Something bit me!”
Daniel stared over Eddie’s shoulder. “What the…”
Lampman spun, as if shoved, and fell to his back in the aisle. The boys leapt away. The class was on their feet, staring wide eyed as Lampman writhing on the floor. Sadie grabbed Rebecca’s arm, pulling her close, Delia bolted to the door. Daniel took Eddie’s shoulder, mumbling something about the nurse.
“Cattle.” Tobie stood, dusting glass off his blazer and straightening his hair. He glanced over his shoulder at Holon. “How long are you going to let this go…Oh. Man, don’t hold your breath.”
Esther glanced up at him, then, shyly, turned to Holon. A flutter of ice ignited in her chest. Holon was ignoring the students and Lampman and staring right at her. With a jolt of panic she realized he had been staring at her the whole time. She dropped her eyes, the icy rush replaced with a sudden stab of guilt. But…I didn’t do anything wrong. I didn’t. Did...I? Her fists clenched over her skirt and she shook her head.
"Try to get everyone out."
Esther started. She looked up, uncertain if Holon was talking to her, but his eyes were closed. She glanced at Tobie, who rolled incredulous eyes.
“Useless.” He grabbed his chair and hopped onto the seat. “Everyone. Leave your things and file into the hall. Now!”
A few students looked up at him and more ran for the door. They passed Dr. Lampman, arms out straight as if pinned to the ground. His legs scrambled to find traction against the slick tiles. Esther squinted at the floor just below professor's shirt. Oily shadows ran up and down his arms and chest. More pooled around his ankles and darted over the computer row. Another monitor on Tobie’s row exploded, sending glass and fire over the workstation. Esther leapt back, accidentally stepping out of her row, and was knocked over by a girl running for the door. She scooted to the wall, and clung to it on her knees, trying to make herself as small as possible to avoid the stampeding students.
Tobie hopped down from the chair. “Hurry up, Holon.”
Esther stared between running students back to Holon, still calmly in his seat. He reached out his hand, fingers spread, resting his knuckles on either side of his keyboard. Absolutely still, eyes closed, he bowed his head towards his workstation; looking as if he were fighting a headache.
His right hand snapped shut. His fingers stopped inches from each other, as if holding something small and jerked to the right, then left. His left hand snapped shut. Holon slowly opened his eyes. He stood, elbows at his sides, hands twitching at the wrist.
Esther watched him round the workstation, avoid a frantic student and vanish into the back of the computer lab.
A yelp spun her around. Lampman had freed himself, flopped over on his stomach and was army crawling towards his desk. A strange puff of smoke, deep and shapeless, blackened the air to the right of Esther’s eye. It swirled like ink in a glass of water. Pressure filled her head. The edges of her vision pulsed black. A dark curtain dropped over her eyes. A sparkle of gold…She felt a sudden wash of anger, a rattle of gnashing teeth. The sound and feeling crescendo-ed. The spark died. The classroom rushed back. With a wet slapping sound a black mist appeared curled around the professor’s ankle. Lampman jerked, fingers nearly loosing their grip on the leg of his desk. With a cry, he tore his right arm free from the tiles and reached for the desk’s top. More of the emerging darkness echoed behind her and with a chill Esther felt something dark gathering. She looked up. A huge smoky shadow undulated up from the titles, curving up over her head, tendrils of darkness curling towards the ceiling. With a crash of wind, the shadows cascaded. Her hair shot forward, covering her shoulders, her skirt twisted. She lifted her hand; shadowy vapor trails streamed off her fingers. The black mass crashed upon Lampman, a tidal wave of black; and broke into shuttering balls of darkness. Five leapt up to his arm, bouncing on top of it until the grip on the desk broke. He was dragged backwards, loosing a shoe, his shirt ripping, glasses flying off his face as if flung into the lab.
Staring down at her fingers Esther stood unsteadily, one hand pressed against the wall. Two students rushed passed her. Her eyes followed them to the door, then slowly back to Dr. Lampman, writhing on the computer lab tiles. She pushed off the wall and stumbled forward. Her hand reached across the aisle and tightened on her book bag.