"You have to understand, Verity. The stronger my gift or curse or whatever you want to call it got, the less control I had over it. It began to feel as if the past was just waiting out there beyond a fragile barrier."
"Waiting to pounce on me or swamp me or possess me. I sensed that all it needed was an access route, a way through the barrier."
"Do you get this reaction from just any old object?"
"No. I have a special affinity for a period that ranges from the fourteenth to the sixteenth century."
"The height of the Renaissance," Verity mused.
Jonas shrugged. "Objects from that era hold the strongest attraction for me. I suppose I was always attracted to that time period. Hell, I chose it as a major in college and then concentrated on it in grad school for some reason. There was nothing in my upbringing that predisposed me to be intrigued by that time period. But the talent, whatever it is, isn't limited to that time zone. I could sense the authenticity of those dueling pistols of your father's, for instance, and they're nearly two centuries younger. But anything out of the prime time zone feels a lot weaker and has a lot less impact on me. I can handle my reactions to objects from other historical periods. It's only stuff from the Renaissance that's really dangerous."
"Can you sense things about contemporary objects?" Verity asked, deeply curious despite her doubts.
"The eighteenth century is about my limit. I've never had any particular sensations from modern objects.
"Why do you say that?"
"Just think of how many objects there are lying around today that I'm liable to run into that might trigger the talent. Guns, knives, cars that had been in accidents, you name it. The list is endless. The object has to have been associated with violence, but that limitation still covers a lot of territory."
"Yes, I can see that."
"The testing got more dangerous. More and more often it seemed that every time I picked up an object that carried a load of old, violent emotion, I was carving out an access route, making it stronger and more defined. For a long while I was arrogant enough to think I could control it and whatever tried to come through it. But gradually I realized I was in danger of being completely overwhelmed. And if that happened..." He broke off abruptly. "One day it did happen."
Verity watched him for a moment. Whatever the reality of the situation, there was no doubt that Jonas believed everything he was telling her. Something had gone very wrong back at Vincent College; something that had shaped the past five years of his life.
"You say you were in danger of being overwhelmed. What would that mean to you?" she asked quietly.
Unwillingly she remembered the corridor in her mind. "Did it feel as if something or someone was trying to suck you back into the past?"
Jonas closed his eyes and leaned his forehead against the arm he had braced on the edge of the window. "No. It wasn't like that. It was as if the forces I tapped in to in the past were trying to use me as a conduit into the present. I had the feeling that if I lost control, I would be lost, too; swamped by the emotions associated with whatever object I happened to be holding at the moment. It would be like being possessed or something. Maybe like losing my soul. Dammit, I told you this was going to be hard to explain."
"I'm listening, Jonas."
"Sure. But you're not believing any of it, are you? Thinking of having me fitted for a straitjacket?"
"At the moment, I'm reserving judgment. One of the many things I learned at my father's knee was not to jump to intellectual conclusions about things I don't understand. Tell me how you responded when you realized you might be losing control over your psychometric ability."
He lifted his head and stared at her, his gaze hard and steady. "I started testing myself, touching objects that had the most powerful attraction for me, pushing myself and whatever was trying to get through me into the present. I fought back whenever I felt in danger of being overwhelmed. I made some progress, but that progress turned out to be a two-edged sword. I got to the point where I could control the talent when dealing with things that weren't too saturated with violence. But if I picked up something soaked in old blood or hate or anger, the emotions generated around the object seemed stronger than ever. I finally realized that I might be able to fight back but the cost was high. Sooner or later the battle would cost me my life or, worse, my sanity. Then one day I nearly killed a lab technician."
"Oh, my God, Jonas." Verity's fingers tightened around the sheet. "You almost killed someone during a test?"
He nodded, saying nothing.
"Tell me about it," she pressed.
He exhaled slowly. "I had started doing work for some museums and private collectors. Word had spread from Vincent that I had the touch, as everyone called it. What's more, there was a rapidly accumulating pile of laboratory proof to back up the claim that I could verify the authenticity of a variety of old objects.
People who worried about that kind of thing started checking with me for a second opinion when they had doubts about an item in their collection or about something they were considering for purchase.
Then one day someone set up an experiment with a fifteenth century Italian sword. The researchers had a theory."
"What kind of theory?"
"One of them thought that if the present was made to resemble a scene from the past—a context that suited the sword in this case—the connection between me and the past might be more direct. With a little help from the drama department, some whiz fixed up a setting that resembled a street in a Renaissance town. It wasn't hard to do. They just used some stuff borrowed from a production of Romeo and Juliet."
"I stepped onto the set, picked up the sword, and before I could take another breath I was swamped with the emotions of someone else."
"All I know was that he lived in Florence during the time of Lorenzo de' Medici and his name was Giovanni. I only got a glimpse of him. Sometimes there are... pictures, images in the corridor. He was in a street fight. Not an uncommon occurrence in those days. He was in the act of killing a man. I could feel all the emotions he must have been generating a few hundred years ago when he fought for his life with the sword I was holding,"
"You could sense all this?" Verity questioned.
"I was literally awash with everything he had felt in those minutes when he thought he was probably going to die. All the fury and the desperation and the adrenaline poured through me as if I were the one caught in the fight. I was holding the sword he had held. I looked around the set and saw a dark, rainy street in Florence. In my mind the lab techs around me were converted into a bunch of would-be assassins and they were closing in on me. I reacted instinctively when one of them came at me with a hypodermic needle. I saw it as poison about to be delivered on the tip of a sword."