The doorman hadn’t seen another human being for two solid hours when the stretch limousine whispered up to the curb. Visitors were uncommon at 4 AM, even in New York City.  Three tall figures got out of the back, their faces shadowed by the upturned collars of their jackets.

“It’s a no parking zone,” the doorman told them, but got no answer. “What can I do for you gentlemen?”

In reply, the tallest of the three stepped directly in front of him, his features suddenly illuminated in the streetlight – a hawk nose, striking brows, and piercing black eyes. His name was Dr. Elias Mako, founder and director of the Sentia Institute.

“You are very calm and relaxed,” he said in a mellow tone.

Entranced by Mako’s powerful mesmerizing gaze, the doorman was surprised to note that, yes, he was calm, and so relaxed that he had to recline against the pole that held up the awning. What a pleasant feeling! Normally, a building security employee should be suspicious of newcomers at this hour. But not these three. He couldn’t quite put his finger on what their business here might be, but he was sure it was necessary.

“You will go behind the desk, and you will hand over the superintendant’s key to apartment 7J,” Mako went on. “You will remember nothing of us, or this conversation.”

The doorman did as he was told, absurdly happy to be of service to these fine people.

Mako and his companions rode the elevator to the 7th floor, and moved silently along the carpeted corridor to the J line.

“Remember,” the director cautioned. “Your job is to take care of the mother and father. Leave the boy to me.”

“I’m not afraid of Jackson Dopus!” muttered Wilson DeVries who, at fifteen years old, was nearly as tall as Mako.

“Well, you should be,” the director replied. “We all should be. Jackson Opus is the nexus of the two greatest bloodlines in hypnotic history. And his power grows stronger every day. He alone can stand in the way of our plans.”

“That’s what we’re here for,” put in DeRon Marcus, the third member of the team, who was the same age as Wilson. “Don’t worry. They won’t know what hit them.”

Mako frowned. “A little less bragging, please. I would never take the extraordinary step we’re about to take if it weren’t absolutely necessary.” He slipped the key in the lock, and opened the door.

Even by the dim light coming in from the hallway, it was apparent that the apartment was empty. No furniture, no window dressings, no people.

Mako was shocked, but his tone remained even. “This is – disappointing.”

Wilson cursed under his breath. “Gutless wonders took off!”

DeRon’s confidence melted away. “What happens now, Dr. Mako?”

The director walked slowly around the perimeter of the living room, as if searching for an explanation from the bare walls.

“Where are you, Jackson Opus?”

The walls had no reply.

Mako knew he would find the answer sooner or later, even if it meant doing some damage in the process.





The blade sang by Jax’s ear, and grazed the padding on his shoulder. Another quarter inch, and it would have taken his head off. He gritted his teeth and parried the next blow, then lashed out with his own weapon, a stab at the chest. But his opponent was too quick for him. He danced away, and came back strong.

The next thing Jax knew, the sword was coming straight for his throat, and he felt the end was near. At the last second, he flailed blindly with his own weapon. There was a clash of metal on metal, and somehow the thrust was swept aside. But the battle was not going well. That was plain. Sensing the tide turning, his adversary pressed his advantage, growing more aggressive with every move. Jax fought back with all his skill which was, admittedly, not very impressive. He found himself backing up, giving ground, his breath heaving in his chest, sweat stinging his eyes.

When his back bumped up against the wall, there was nowhere else to retreat. The game was up.

“Okay, okay!” he gasped. “I give!”

But the enemy was unwilling to leave it at that. He wanted to see the conflict through to its conclusion. One final thrust, and Jax felt the end of the foil pressing against his stomach. Angrily, he flipped up his fencing mask and barked, “Really, man? Back off!”

Too late, he saw the fleeting vision of himself standing there in full fencing gear, mask raised. It was like a picture-in-picture image from a TV, and Jax knew better than anyone what it signified. No sword could match the power of Jackson Opus’s remarkable eyes. By flipping up his mask and glaring at Gary Northrop, he had accidentally hypnotized the boy.

Just a few months before, Jax would have had no idea what he was seeing. It had taken Dr. Elias Mako and his Sentia Institute to explain it to him. A mesmeric link had formed between Jax and Gary. In a way, part of Jax was inside his opponent’s head, peering at himself through Gary’s eyes.

Still masked and in full gear, Gary began to reverse across the gym, heading for the exit, heels first.

“What are you doing?” Jax asked in bewilderment as his opponent passed between other fencers, almost getting skewered a couple of times. He kept on going, right through the half-court basketball game on the other side of the gym.

Then Jax remembered. His exact words had been, “Back off.” To a subject under hypnotic control, that was nothing less than a specific instruction. Gary was backing off.

“It’s okay, man, I didn’t mean it!” But by this time, the subject was lost in the shouts of the game and the percussion of the basketball on the hardwood floor. He continued straight out the door of the gym, a bounce pass twanging his foil as he shuffled by.

Jax started after him, pulling down his mask as he ran. No sense looking at the guy again. All subjects were different, but it was obvious that Gary was easily “bent.” Much of the science of hypnotism was unknown, even by Dr, Mako, who was the world’s foremost authority on the subject. How long would Gary keep going? Who knew? He wasn’t going to back up around the world, but the effect might not wear off until he found himself out in traffic somewhere.

Anything that might happen to the guy would be one-hundred-percent Jax’s fault. It was only recently that he’d discovered he was a mind-bender. He was just learning to control the effects of his powers.

He caught up with Gary, who was half-buried in the flower bed on the front lawn of Haywood Middle School. The boy had fallen over a plaster garden gnome, and was thrashing around, still trying to back up. His white fencing uniform was caked with damp black soil.

Jax rushed over and helped him to his feet. “It’s okay, Gary. You can stop now.”

But Gary was deep in his trance, kicking up dirt as he scrambled in retreat.

With a sigh, Jax flipped his mask up again and also Gary’s to make sure there was eye contact. Jax had the old Opus family trait of eyes that changed color, ranging from pale yellow-green to deep purple. At that moment, he was passing from charcoal gray into royal blue. Obviously, he wasn’t going to get away with a shortcut here. In order to release Gary from the last command, he would have to be re-hypnotized, this time by the book.

“You will stop backing off,” he said when the PIP image reappeared. Gary’s struggles ceased abruptly. “When I count to three, you’ll wake up in a happy and relaxed mood. You’ll remember nothing about this – especially the part with me in it. Oh, yeah – and there’s a worm on your shoulder. Go get yourself cleaned up. One, two three.”

Gary popped up and jogged into the school to the locker room, leaving a trail of black earth and mashed chrysanthemums behind.

Jax exhaled in relief. The last thing he needed was for the Haywood staff to think that Jackson Opus was the cause of anything peculiar. That was the whole reason Jax had dragged his parents away from their lives in New York City to this Connecticut town, seventy-seven miles away from everything they knew and cared about. It was also why he was no longer Jackson Opus. Here in Haywood, he went by the name Jack Magnus. It was all part of an elaborate story – one that had turned his life and the lives of his parents upside down. This was the hypnotist’s version of the Witness Protection Program.

They were hiding out here – hiding from the evil intentions of Dr. Elias Mako.