Friday, March 20. 2009
Posted by Ancient of Days in Playing a meta-game with the same theme
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[Ed: I know, you're not supposed to apologize for your material before you present it, but I REALLY wish I'd had more time to clean this up. There are a lot of concepts crammed into very little space - concepts I'd have loved to explore more, but time and format did not allow. I'd like to thank Johnny for his constructive input on the first (very) rough drafts of this, and my wife for making it possible for me to even conceive of this story. I hope you can all look past the many flaws to find a story you can enjoy buried underneath.]
Agency Log: Agent #848, Kevin Plume, "Mouth" 1982, Dec 12
They always send 4 of us on these missions: the Eyes - a clairvoyant who is trained to seek the Rogues; the Ears - a precognitive who listens to the future to make sure no surprises lurk beyond our knowledge; the Fist, a Powerless brute who is usually given charge of the mission; and someone like myself - the Mouth - a telepath and scribe, to relay intel, keep an accurate log, and make sure everyone is in playing their role. Hal, our current Fist, is the worst I've ever worked with - every time he looks at me, I can feel him calculating how to "put me down", as he likes to say. He looks at all of us as if we were just one wrong twitch away from being declared Rogue and forcing him to kill us where we stand.
Two weeks ago, we picked up the scent of Case #1623 in Sacramento. Claire, our Ears, had been itching for days - something bad was lurking just out of the range of her sight, she insisted. Hal finally told her to shut up. I can't say I totally disagreed with him - we're the strongest team the Agency has seen in 30 years, and Claire is the top watcher available. I personally recorded her predicting, 2 full weeks in advance, the precise sequence of outcomes to 50 straight coin-tosses - most Ears are lucky if they can see the result of one that's already in the air. If she couldn't see it, I can't see how it could possibly effect us - and her whining nervousness was beginning to rub off on the rest of us. At one point, I started to wonder if maybe Claire was deliberately trying to lead us away from any Powers, afraid of what might happen. It ceased to be a 'wonder' when I saw her sink into herself as Matthias - our Eyes - caught the 'scent' of #1623.
I called the signature in, mind-to-mind across the western US, all the way to our regional offices in Birdwood, NE. The relay came back: Do not approach - track, monitor, and await further instructions. Of course, Hal wouldn't listen. He'd read about #1623, the Ghost - supposedly un-catchable, he'd been hiding from the Agency for 16 years - the closest anyone had ever come, back in 1966, was when he was 4 years old, but he had somehow managed to vanish into thin air. No record of what he looked like, no Kirstch-graph rating his relative strength, not even a hint of what his Powers were. The rest of us were terrified, but Hal was like a shark smelling blood in the water. This was his chance to prove himself.
Shortly thereafter is when the dying started...
Hal put down the recorder. If he'd known the mealy little worm had been writing this kind of tripe, Hal might have killed Kevin himself - he never could really understand why they sent Powers after Powers. Everyone knows there's no such thing as a tame Power.
Conceptually, Hal understood that these people could see, hear, or sometimes do things he could not. However, he refused to accept that it was any kind of paranormal ability - he couldn't explain what it was, but he certainly knew what it
Well, they'd all abandoned him, but it didn't matter now. He had a face for Case #1623, an address, and a name: Eric Corinth. He checked his taser, his handgun, and tapped subconsciously at his bullet-proof vest, and headed out of the motel room, tossing a match over his shoulder. The gasoline he'd doused the place with caught immediately - there'd be no inconvenient discovery of Kevin and Claire to derail this mission.
He pulled his jacket tighter around him as he made the brisk walk six blocks to Eric's home - it wasn't cold outside, but the feel of the leather stretching across his shoulders tightened his resolve. As he crossed G Street, his eyes began scanning the vehicles around him - he was going to need some kind of transportation to get Eric back to a holding facility. He saw a man get out of a utility van and walk into a crowded convenience store, leaving the engine idling. Without skipping a beat, Hal crossed the parking lot, climbed behind the driver's seat, and pulled away.
Stopping the van in front of the duplex on I Street, Hal grabbed the clipboard and read the company name at the top of the worksheet. Acura Telecom Services - a telephone company - perfect! He grabbed the utility belt sitting on the floor and strapped it around his waist as he walked around the back of the unit, looking carefully to see who might be watching him. After a few minutes of his attempts to make noise while appearing to work on the phone box attached to the back of the house, the dark haired man he'd seen running from them at the mall yesterday afternoon came out the back door. Hal tensed, unsure if the man had seen his pursuers well enough to recognize him, but the look of simple exasperation on Eric's face spoke volumes - he didn't recognize Hal.
"Can I help you?" Eric asked him with a barely restrained sigh.
"Yes sir, name's Hal, I'm here from the Telephone Company, " Hal waved his clipboard in the air. "Got a work order here that your service is out." He turned his body so that it was between Eric and the phone box, then slid a pair of wire cutters around the cable extending from the box and cut.
"That's...there's nothing wrong with my phone." Eric said, half-turning back to the house. Hal turned to face him, whipping the taser out and leveling it before Eric could complete his turn. Eric must have sensed something, because he began to shout something that sounded like "Never surrender" before the convulsions from the taser consumed his entire body. Hal couldn't believe his luck when a quick examination of his recently acquired tool belt turned up a dozen nylon cable ties, which he was able to quickly fashion into makeshift restraints, tying Eric's hands behind his back and binding his ankles to his wrists in an immobilizing "hogtie". The interior pocket of his vest contained a vial of sedative that he rapidly injected into Eric's neck, insuring that he wouldn't wake for at least 6 hours - plenty of time to get to the holding facility just outside of Stockton. As he eased back on his heels, Hal caught a flash of color at the screen door Eric had come out of. He quickly gathered himself and entered the house, feeling the hairs raise on the back of his neck in anticipation.
Room by room, Hal swept the house looking for anyone else. In the dining room, he found the remnants of a birthday party, but there were no signs of anyone living there other than Eric. This bothered Hal, but his careful search turned up nothing, and he couldn't just leave Eric sitting out in the backyard tied up. He moved swiftly out the front door and pulled the van around the back, hefting Eric and throwing him into the back of the van, then headed south on the I-5.
Three hours later, Hal sat in a debriefing room, staring at the walls. It shouldn't be taking this long. he thought to himself. It had been almost two hours since he'd pulled into the detention center, and still no one had come to debrief him - something wasn't adding up. The capture had gone so cleanly, there had been no problems in transport...he nearly started as the solid steel door swung open, but recovered his composure quickly enough to prevent any visible signs of discomfort. The man who backed his way into the room wasn't wearing the standard business attire of the agency - he was dressed in coveralls and was trying to wrestle a cart through the narrow opening. Hal sat and watched as the workman struggled, finally getting a sufficient angle on the cart to pull it all the way into the room, and then wheeled it over to the wall opposite Hal and knelt to plug a few cables in and fumble with some buttons.
Neither Hal nor the workman said a word, and finally the workman stood, rubbed his knees absently, glanced surreptitiously at Hal, and then left as suddenly as he'd come in. Hal remained seated for a few more minutes, staring a bit anxiously at the large flat-panel monitor that perched precariously atop the cart, before he lost his patience and began to pace the tiny room. After some time, he noticed a flicker of movement from the television, and glanced at it just in time to see a picture come up - a picture of himself, halted in mid-pace, staring at the TV. As he glanced back and forth between the TV and the camera unobtrusively perched in the corner, the image of him shrunk into a corner of the monitor and the logo of the Agency came up, the green-eyed American Eagle glaring balefully at him.
"Agent Harold Stewart," a tinny male voice whined from the TV, "please be seated. Your conference will begin shortly." Hal ignored the suggestion, but turned himself squarely to face the monitor, and saw the image of himself adjust to a camera which had to be embedded somewhere in the cart, showing his face if full definition.
"Thank you, Arvin, that will be all." Hal recognized the voice as that of Commander Jackson, even before his face appeared in place of the logo. "Agent Stewart, I want to congratulate you on the capture of Case #1623. Minimal disturbance in the area, no civilians involved...however, am I to understand that no one else on your team is reporting?! What the hell is going on out there?"
Standing at attention, Hal responded quickly and clearly. "Sir, all Powers assigned to me were dead or missing before we even confronted the Target. I cannot explain what happened to them."
The Commander cleared his throat, and glared down at the paperwork in front of him. "The cleanup crew that was sent to the Target's house found traces that a child had been living there, yet there was no mention of this in your report. Explain." Hal shook. He couldn't remember ever being afraid before. A child? He had searched the house...
Even as his brain was replaying his search of the home, his mouth went into auto-pilot, making standard responses about the exigency of dealing with a captured Power in the field. Room-by-room, he re-walked the search of the house in his mind, clearing each until he got to the end of the hall and - wait, when he started down the hall, there'd been 4 doors, but now he could only recall three rooms. He silently cursed himself - he'd been fooled. One of these charlatans, these illusionists, these "Powers" had somehow managed to conceal one of the doors from him. He'd felt the hairs raise on the back of his neck - even the greenest recruit knew that this was something to pay attention to, the sign that a Power was nearby, doing...*something*. Well, if the 'cleanup crew' found his bedroom, the kid must be long gone by now. Hal reluctantly admitted to himself that he needed to re-evaluate his belief in "Powers".
Commander Jackson waved his hands at the camera. "Calm down, Agent. No one is questioning your abilities." Weren't they? What exactly was going on here...why was one of the top brass of the Agency doing what should have been a routine debrief? "One last item, and we'll wrap up. Your 'Mouth', one - " he glanced at the papers in front of him " Kevin Plume, was given specific instructions NOT to approach this Case. Why were those instructions ignored?"
"Sir, with all due respect, Kevin relayed no such instruction." Hal lied without missing a beat. Then, to add credibility to the lie, he stirred in some honesty. "Though, to be honest, even had he relayed them, I probably would have insisted we ignore such instructions due to our proximity to a Target who had been so long underground. We had him in our sights, Sir, and sometimes the man in the field has to make the right call."
A quick sideways flash of the eyes told Hal that someone else was in the room with Commander Jackson - someone standing behind, but just to the left of, the camera. Whatever was communicated in that brief moment, Jackson turned back to Hal with a wry but somewhat weary grin. "Agent, your survival instinct, skill, and decision making are just what the Agency needs right now in a position of extreme trust. You will personally escort Case #1623 to our Pacific Island facility, where you will relieve Warden Caulfield of his position and take up command of that facility. Orders will be transmitted ahead of you to instruct the Warden to prepare the transfer of command. Well done, and good luck. Audemus Jura Nostra Defendere." he intoned.
"Aut Concilio aut Ense." Hal responded automatically, completing the Agency's motto.
Those words would haunt Hal for the next six years. "We Dare to Defend Our Rights" the Commander had challenged, and Hal had unthinkingly provided the expected response: "Through Negotiation or by the Sword." He wondered, many times, which one it was that the Commander had been employing that fateful night. At first, the job of Warden had been amusing, even interesting. Seeing so many of this despicable creatures locked away had given him a kind of pleasure he couldn't really describe. And, of course, there had been his famous, his final, capture - Case #1623. Eric.
It had taken them almost an entire year to really understand how Eric's Power worked; and, in that year, Hal had finally been forced to admit, even if only to himself, that there WAS something supernatural about these people the Agency hunted so desperately - these "Powers". They had begun to refer to Eric as a "mimeopath" - Hal hated the term, but his suggestion of "mimeopotent" had been dismissed by the romantic-minded clerks who cataloged the Powers. Eric's power lay entirely dormant when he was left to himself, but when faced with another human - any human at all - he could change in unaccountable ways. After much empirical testing, they had learned that Eric's powers were actually dictated by the thoughts and expectations of the people surrounding him. After a number of accidents, and a even a few deaths, they discovered that it was the strongest belief held by any member of a particular group that would determine what Eric could, or could not, do. Hal still relished the day he'd sent 35 Powers into a room with Eric at the same time, having told each of them a different tale, offering them freedom if any of them could kill Eric. Learning who was strong and who was weak by watching Eric's powers manifest had been one of his rare enjoyable moments in this miserable island prison.
Eric had been the one puzzle that kept Hal's mind going through the numbing days. Even after they understood his powers, there were so many unanswered questions about the week he'd spent chasing the man. The birthday party, the unsearched room, the traces of a child no one had ever been able to get a mind-print from, Eric's unnerving ability to keep a sense of himself even through all the atrocities Hal or his staff could conceive of...Hal worried at these thoughts like a dog gnawing the last bit of flavor from a bone. He trained his own mind to never consider Eric as fully human - and, to facilitate that training, he gave standing orders that Eric was not to be allowed any form of grooming unless Hal specifically ordered otherwise, and that he was to be put "on display" in the common room as each new group of prisoners arrived at the Island. Hal wouldn't chance someone hearing stories about Eric and beginning to believe he had some Power - his disgusting appearance would prevent anyone from taking Eric seriously ever again - even then, the mystery of Eric rubbed at Hal's mind, as he would watch Eric sit silently, covering his face with his hands and staring at the floor as if in shame, and yet with exuding an odd, straight-backed...well, PRIDE.
Six years. Hal thought to himself as he watched them bring in a new batch of prisoners. Seeing the "Fresh Meat" arrive was a highlight for him. There were always one or two who thought they'd be strong enough to break out, but the strongest Powers always worked for Hal. His new methods of indoctrination insured that. At the slightest tremor from a telekinetic "Mover", his own Movers would respond immediately, and en masse. His "Ears" listened days in advance for telepathic "Pushers" or "Readers" who might try some kind of trick, and those who did try learned quickly how hard it was to accomplish the necessary focus when one's mind was being drowned in the shouts from a hundred other Pushers. There had been one incident, when a precog-subduing "Sneak" had been allowed to stand too near a pyrokinetic, but again the rapid and crushing response of his own well-trained Powers had snuffed the fire only moments before they snuffed the life itself from the pair of would-be escapees.
Hal stopped. Frowning at a new capture, his perfectly-tuned memory summoned the details of the file. Case #1542 - a child - nothing more than a Reader with the faint glimmer of a Pusher - he had been using his ability to con people into seeing worthless scraps of paper as cash, and had conned the same person too many times. Something in the stance, the way he held his head, made Hal think there was a danger to this boy that his file didn't disclose. Crossing the common area, the boy headed toward one of the plate-glass windows looking out at the miles of empty water, but halted mid-step.
Suddenly, an icy river of terror ran down Hal's back as he followed the boy's gaze across the crowded commons to the one person Hal could not consider - the one Power his mind had literally been TRAINED to ignore. Time slowed, choked like faucet turning off. Each second grew bulbous and weighty before falling into the past with an almost-audible sound.
For the first time in four years, Eric dropped his hands in his lap and looked up, his eyes going directly to the young boy's face, and then turned to Hal with an inscrutable look. Hal felt the gathering storm of a Power activating - it was a feeling he'd become intimately familiar with over the past six years, but this elevated the sensation to a more terrifying degree than he had ever dreamed possible. Instead of a tingle of static in the air, a slight raising of the hairs on the back of his neck, Hal found himself nearly immobilized by the electricity that filled the air between Eric and himself, leaving him feeling as if he'd nearly been flayed alive. The smell of ozone preceded the shockwave of pure energy that left Eric and poured its way across the room toward Hal. It arrived nearly simultaneously with the one word he'd never expected to hear in this place - the one word that spelled out doom for the prison, the Agency, and a very personal kind of Hell coming for Hal himself. As the world fell away from him, Hal realized the gravity of his error. The last piece of the puzzle that was Eric Cornith fell into place, and the image the assembled puzzle formed was one of destruction brought by the power of a single word passing from a child's lips.
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Woooo! Very exciting! I love it. There's going to be a part 2, right?
Very nicely done. You have no reason to apologize for this.
Thanks, Johnny. In some ways, it was incredibly easy to write, but those also made it difficult to publish...I desperately wanted to control how each person consumed those last 2-3 paragraphs.
Radar: also. Explain to me the story now so that I can understzand it
AoD: His powers are defined by the person looking at him who has the strongest belief
AoD: They captured his son, who recognized him and, as some sons do, had ultimate belief that his Dad could do ANYTHING
AoD: Therefore, Eric could suddenly do ANYTHING
Radar: oh so the kid essentially "powered up" Eric. And the kid was Eric's son?
AoD: You've got it exactly
To defend myself slightly, I was listening to Metallica while I was reading it. Blaring music does have a tendency to distract me. Though it did help with the suspense of the story. I recommend listing to All Nightmare Long and The Day That Never Comes, but finish with Unforgiven III. It made for an interesting emotional marriage while I read it.
Good story AoD. When I made my comment to Daboo's first story about expectations, I had something like this in mind. Though as one might expect my idea about a story that follows your rules/premise is different from anything you all published. Good work guys. So far I have not been disappointed.
You don't really need to defend yourself. I knew when I was writing it that this point was very subtle, and worried that people might miss it. Entirely my fault.
Well clearly Johnny and Daboo didn't have to ask for clarification. By the way, excellent use of the Extended Body box.
Finally have enough of my story mapped out that I felt safe reading this. I picked up easily on the child being Eric's, but until I read the comments, I wasn't clear on what power exactly Eric got from him. Well done, Mr. AoD.
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