Inet clutched the covers to her chest, panting and sweating in the aftermath of her vision. Her aide, Zaid, entered the room just then, having been awakened by her cries.
"My Lady, are you well?" he asked.
"It...it is time." she said. "We must go. Now."
"I have prepared your satchel as you requested." he told her.
"Good." she said. He turned away respectfully so she could dress. She chose a simple, white muslin dress, stepped into her sandals, and put on her mother's Bastet medallion. "Let us go."
"It's a dangerous time to be crossing borders, My Lady, especially into America." Zaid said.
"It has been dangerous for years, Zaid, and I don't see it changing in time to help us." Inet responded. "Destiny calls, my friend, and the cost of ignoring it is far higher than the cost of obedience." He nodded, and drove her to the airport, where her private jet awaited. Zaid took the controls, and began to taxi. Their permission to depart was abruptly withdrawn, and armed men began to swarm the runway.
"Hold on, My Lady." Zaid said, pushing the throttle forward as the men opened fire. They took off in a screaming blaze of glory. "We cut that escape rather fine." he said as the jet roared across the desert.
"We haven't escaped yet." Inet responded. Her eyes grew vague as another vision stole across her senses. "Those who hunt the gifted are desperate to keep us from reaching our destination."
"You have but to tell me the way to go, My Lady." Zaid said.
"It won't be easy," she said, as the images in her mind showed her what they were in for, "but it will be worth it." She could see him now, the man she'd waited for, saved herself for, since receiving her Sight. Victor, she thought with longing. Her body came awake in anticipation, nipples stiffening, vagina lubricating, heart rate accellerating, face flushing. Soon, she thought, very soon.
Victor watched his target sparring in the ring, while wishing he hadn't had so much iced tea. Arnold Turner was the model the young Malcolm X would have used if he wanted to prove the superiority of the black man. Even while pushing fifty, Turner was an imposing figure, as tall as a basketball player, with muscles optimized for power and speed. He was a former member of the Secret Service, having resigned in protest shortly after Administration officials started calling the Constitution and Geneva Convention "quaint" and "outdated" without being fired, arrested, or executed.
Vic took a quick pit-stop, and returned to his seat to continue watching his mark knock down his opponent time and time again. Eventually, Arnold decided to hit the showers. Victor plucked the location of the man's vehicle out of his mind and went outside to wait.
"You have two seconds to be off my car." Turner said when he emerged from the front door.
"It seemed like the logical place to wait until you were finished." Victor replied. "Someone should inform the manager that he's running a health club, not a cryogenics lab."
"I won't work for the government again." he said.
"Point in your favor as far as I'm concerned." Victor said. He was about to continue when he noticed a hole in his perceptions. "One second." he said, turning his head in the hole's direction. He caused a maintenence ladder to knock his observer off the roof of the nearby health-food store and into the dumpster below. The dumpster rolled into plain view under his direction. Weilding a sniper rifle, the man jumped out of the dumpster and opened fire. Victor stopped the bullet with his mind, turned it around and sent it into the unarmored shoulder of his assailant. A parked car opened its door, stopping the sniper's departure prematurely.
"You lead an interesting life, my friend." Arnold said as Victor approached his would-be assassin. Dead. The man had bitten a cyanide cap in one of his molars.
"Would you like to know the reason?" Victor asked.
"You have my undivided attention."
Arnold sat on the dock, enjoying a momentary silence. The first thing Victor had taught him was how to block things out so he wouldn't go crazy hearing every stray thought in everybody's head. That was a blessing, with the sheer number of people in the house at any given time--Victor's many mates, and also potential employees for Victor's television-station employers. The meditation training he'd received in the military helped, too.
A gunshot startled him out of his calm. Instinctively, his mind reached out, looking for hostile thoughts, while his body reflexively spun itself upright into a defensive posture. All he found was Penelope and Victor at practice.
A little warning would have been nice. he thought.
Sorry, Arn, I wasn't actively looking for you, so you sort of blended into the background. Victor responded.
In other words, you didn't see me there. Arnold thought back. What are you doing?
Bullet-stopping. Penelope answered. A spent round floated in front of her eyes, spinning slowly with whatever residual momentum it still had.
Sounds like a useful trick. Arnold thought, plucking the bullet out of the air.
Sorry, you have to start with remedial telekinesis first. Penelope taunted. Arnold focused on her feet, and slid them out from under her. She stopped herself halfway to the ground and floated five feet into the air. Oh, you wanna play, huh? The next thing Arnold knew, he was flying through the air, headed for the center of Lake Mexia. Penelope was waiting when he paddled tiredly back to shore. "Victor says dry off and get some rest. You've got a long day ahead of you tomorrow."
"Did you have to throw me so far out?" Arnold asked.
"Too many submerged tree stumps in the shallows." she responded. "Don't wanna toothpick ya. Besides, it'd be a real bitch if Victor had to go looking for another disillusioned ex-Secret Service agent."
"A lady shouldn't use such foul language." Arnold responded.
"When I see one, I'll be sure to tell her." Penelope shot back. Arnold shook his head and shuffled off toward the house. "Hey, he said dry off first!" Penelope shouted.
"Bite me, Penny." A telekinetic assault from Penelope sent him sprawling face-down in the dirt. He was still spitting out sand while he telepathically demanded what that was about.
Don't EVER call me Penny. she responded angrily. Her mind-voice carried the force and resonance as if he were talking to Unicron's daughter (if he'd had one), or at least an opera diva in full voice and amplified by all the speakers and amps of a heavy metal band. She stalked off in a huff. His perception of her cut off as she crossed into the shielded area within the house.
"Touchy." he muttered.
Detective Kagawa pushed open the door to the medical examiner's office, allowing her new running shoes to squeak once on the floor to alert him to her presence. The current occupant of the examining table was an African-American from an alleged hate-killing. The alleged killer was believed to be active in the Klan. For sure, he had a long history of altercations with non-whites. COD looked to be a simple gunshot to the head--execution style. Hardly something that required her to come all the way down here.
"Ah, Detective, thanks for coming." the elderly gentleman said.
"Got a name for our DB?" she asked.
"Sure do." the man said, turning his flat-screen monitor around to show her the screen.
"Edwin Forrest?" the detective asked. "You're joking, right?" The picture beside the name--a dossier from the sex-offender registry--was of a white man with shaven head, twelve documented tattoos from his prison career, and a rap sheet mostly composed of violence against non-whites and sexual assault of non-white women. He was also the son of the alleged gunman in this case. The man on the table could no more be mistaken for Edwin Forrest than the Detective could be mistaken for Mary Poppins.
"Positive." the man said. "I ran his DNA through the registry. I tried from a bunch of different places, but it keeps coming back Edwin Forrest. I ran his dentals. Forrest again. I X-rayed his skull. The negroid features are 100% fake. There's cartilage giving his face that shape, not bone. Weird thing is, the cartilage matches his DNA too."
"So, somebody somehow implanted his own cartilage in his face without leaving surgical scars, then dyed his skin?"
"No, somehow his skin was stimulated to produce tons of melanin, which made his skin that color." the ME stated. "They also shrunk his penis."
"Why go through all that trouble?" the detective asked.
"Can you think of a better punishment for a bigot? Becoming what you hate the most?"
"How do you suppose it was done?" she asked.
"Magic." the doctor responded.
"You're supposed to be a doctor, a scientist." Detective Kagawa said, her almond-shaped eyes boring into his rounder ones.
"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." the ME said. "All I can tell you is that the cartilage wasn't implanted by any method I know of, and he sure wouldn't have sat still for it. I have absolutely no explanation for the melanin. I can't even tell you how his penis was altered. All his tattoos are there, even the two dragons pointing to his crotch. If you can find out where this was done and how, I'd appreciate you letting me know, because I'm stumped."
"So what do I tell Anderson Forrest? That he killed his own son because somebody altered him to look like a minority?"
"Tell him whatever you like, Rei." the ME said. "He won't believe it." Rei frowned to cover up an expression of ironic amusement. Part of her hoped that whoever had altered Forrest would share his secret with the world. It would make a wonderful punishment for hate crimes. Still, a man was dead, and it was her job to discover all the principal players in his demise.
"I should probably find out when he was last seen alive...and white." she said.
"You do that." he said. "Just be careful, Rei. Cowards run in packs, you know."
"I know." she said. She disappeared while the doctor was doing something on the computer. It always messed with people when she did that. Her natural, catlike grace allowed her to move silently when she wanted to, even in squeaky sneakers.
Her partner was watching for her as she ascended. There would be no stealth in plain sight, but she didn't make any extra effort to be noisy.
"You just ninja-vanished on him, didn't ya?" he asked. "You know, it drives people crazy when you do that."
"I always thought it was expected." Rei replied.
"You know, Rei, not everybody thinks of ninja when they think of Japanese people."
"No, they also think of samurai, Godzilla, anime, and corporate raiders." Rei responded.
"So, who's our vic?"
"Edwin Forrest. Pretty fly for a white guy."
"I thought this one was black."
"Yeah, so did his father, that's why he shot him."
"Uh, you lost me."
"I'll explain on the way. I need you to talk to some of his friends for me."
"Because these guys will be more likely to cooperate with a white male aged thirty to forty-five in plainclothes." she responded.
"Think old-people thoughts." Rei replied, elbowing him jokingly in the ribs.
Shanice was showing Kim the proper way to make mashed potatoes while Victor fried up some fish. Mr. Andersen had baited the trotline the day before, and today they'd hauled in a good catch. It would have been easier--and good practice--to have the empowered members of this growing family merely seek out and bring in large fish with their powers, but Mr. Andersen was a sportsman at heart, and the trotline was pushing his limits as it was.
"I downloaded all your assignments for the day." Penelope said, appearing next to him.
"How'd you get my password?" Vic asked.
"I decrypted the keycheck datafile on your laptop." she replied with a smug smile. "It wasn't that difficult, really. I could have done it in my sleep."
"For somebody so concerned with people's security, you sure get nosy sometimes." Victor said.
"Sometimes the only way to make people tighten their security is to show them the holes." Penelope replied.
"I think that's a discussion you need to have with Mr. Andersen." Vic said.
"Later." Penelope said. "I...have a weird feeling like...someone's coming." Victor turned to face her. Her eyes stared straight through him, as though he were a telescope to someplace far away.
"Who?" he asked.
"Someone..." Penelope said, her eyes glazing as though she were in a trance. "She's afraid. I...hear her calling out for you. I see missiles..."
"The little airport near Teague." Penelope said. Her eyes cleared. "You need to hurry!" Vic gave her a kiss on the forehead and told Kim to handle the fish. Penelope wiped the kiss off her face while Vic and Arnold headed out the door and took off in a crew-cab pickup Arnold had brought over. It was modified for off-road police duty. A friend of his had let him keep the enforcer engine, and it now came in handy as the pair hurried through Mexia and sped toward Freestone County.
Outside of the shield, Victor had a better view of the outside world with his extra senses. With Arnold driving, Victor extended his perceptions out as far as they would go. A small, private jet with two people in it--a male and female, both terrified--was doing its best to make it to Teague's small airport. Two Air Force jets were putting as many heat-seeking missiles as they could between the jet and its destination. Victor reached out, bending the fin of one of the missiles to send it crashing into its brother, creating a fireball into which four others plunged, increasing the heat. Sadly, no more missiles took the bait. He severed the fuel line of another, sending it plunging into a field of cattle. The pilots of the Air Force jets were about to launch more missiles. Victor created a horrifying apparition in their minds, which frightened them into losing control. One crashed into a construction site, another a stand of trees. Turning his attention back to the missiles, he forced them together as he'd done the first pair. Too close, the missiles exploded, sending shrapnel into the rear of the jet, not penetrating the passenger compartment, but robbing it of all power and most of its control. As the pickup pulled into the airstrip, Victor's attention was focused on keeping the nose up and slowing the plane down. It skidded on the tarmac, sending flames up in a rooster-tail. Arnold parked the truck next to the wreck, and Victor emerged, ripping the plane's door off its hinges with a thought.
Shots were fired from the trees nearby, and returned by Arnold. His enhanced senses allowed him to be much more accurate than the enemy. Victor made his way into the smoke-filled cabin. The woman was unconscious. Victor picked her up and helped the male out of his seat. They got to the truck and Arnold left rubber on the pavement in their hasty departure.
"Thank you." said the man in the back seat. Victor noticed that he was clutching a satchel of some kind, but what few thoughts he could pluck out of the emotional mess that was his mindstate at the moment indicated it belonged to the woman.
Sort things out later. he scolded himself, casting his thoughts about to search for hostile parties.
Inet opened her eyes in a room she had never been in before, but had seen thousands of times in her dreams. She felt a little lost, because usually her visions began with Victor walking into the room. For now, however, she was alone with young Penelope Simms.
She'd had visions of Penelope before. In some of them she was driven mad by her growing powers of clairvoyance. In others, she grew up to be as gifted as Inet--more, if you factor in the additional gifts granted by her evolution at the hands of Victor. Possibilities; so many possibilities. She took off the oxygen mask.
"Don't do that." Penelope said, getting up and putting it back on. "We think Vic managed to get you past the worst of the smoke inhalation, but...keep the mask on, just to be safe, ok?" She felt the girl's touch in her mind, and was unable to resist the compulsion to sleep.
Her next awakening was to a decidedly more familiar scene. The door opened, as Victor walked in to check on her. It closed behind him, and he seated himself on the bed. He was as handsome in person as he had been in her dreams. She felt him remove her mask. "How are you feeling?" he asked. She took his hand, moving it to the side of her face so she could snuggle affectionately into it. Then, she opened her mind to show him.
Memories tickled across her consciousness as he accepted her invitation. She laid bare her hopes, her dreams, her fears, her hardships and achievements, her triumphs and failures, everything about herself offered freely in a transcendental, uninhibited, total self-sharing possible only with a telepath she loved and trusted more than anything.
She became aware of the the present, the here and now, once again, held gently in Victor's arms. The scent of him filled her nostrils. The scent of her own arousal was like a delicate perfume in the background, present but not detracting from her experience of him, the sense of belonging, rightness and realization of purpose that was almost as good as the thought of making love to him. She tried to stave off the fear, in the back of her mind, that he might reject her. It was a terrifying possibility, one more horrifying than death, creeping like tentacles of ice into the safe mental haven she thought she'd found.
She saw herself in a bare room that she somehow knew was her mind, weighted with chains. Victor floated above her. She desperately wanted to join him. He smiled and sent her a key. She grasped it with a swell of gratitude, and applied it to her chains. As the first fell away, it took with it her fear. Knowledge that she had been accepted crept into its place, warming her, bouying her spirit. The next chain to fall away under the key was jealousy. Nearly free, the final ball and chain almost came up with her increase in bouyancy, but weighed her down at the last minute. Just one more thing to let go of. she thought, reaching down with the key. Inhibitions fell away, opening her to experience any kind of pleasure he could think of to bring her. She felt unbridled joy at the sense of freedom as she floated up into Victor's arms.
She was on the bed again, moaning with pleasure as Victor's hand stimulated her vaginal walls. She knew what he was doing, stretching her to prepare her for the consummation of her destiny. Where their clothes had gone, she had no awareness, but it didn't matter. Soon, he was positioning himself at her entrance. She shivered with anticipation. Gently, his mind linked with hers, blocking the pain as he claimed her at last. Only pleasure was left behind, and she welcomed it with open arms (and legs). He allowed her to see through his eyes as her virgin blood leaked onto the mattress, then she was back to herself, nothing distracting her from the pure pleasure he gave her as he moved inside her, against her, with her. He guided and controlled her where appropriate, letting his hands and mouth help him to enhance her enjoyment. There were no words, no coherent thoughts, only gasps of delight and whimpers of need. He held her close as they neared the end, culminating in an explosion of white-hot ecstasy that robbed her of consciousness.
She heard him calling for her and tried to heed him. It took so much effort, she wasn't sure she could, but she fought her way back to wakefulness, and he resumed his delightful ministrations. Now her legs were up over his shoulders, giving him greater access, deeper penetration. She had a small orgasm every time he struck her cervix. Too much, it was too much, she was sure she'd go mad. He erupted inside her, splashing her insides with his seed. She responded in kind; though she hadn't thought it possible, this new orgasm was even stronger than the first. She surrendered to sleep once more, and he let her lie.
When she awoke again, it was to a gnawing hunger that demanded to be fed despite the weakness of her exhausted body. Food was provided, and it proved delicious beyond her imaginings--though she supposed the fact that Victor was the one providing it had proven somewhat of an enhancer for her pleasure. Sated for now, she allowed herself to drift back to sleep.
Victor was still there when she awoke again. How much time had passed, she had no inkling. "Zaid is waiting." he whispered. "I should clean you up and make you presentable." She mumbled sleepily. He levitated her from the bed and into the shower. He held her up until she was awake enough to stand on her own, and soaped her body well. She liked the flowery scent of the shampoo. Her hair and skin looked radiant by the time he was done. They toweled off and he rifled through the drawers until he found an extra-large T-shirt, which she put on. Victor had put on his own shirt and pants, and was looking for something for Inet to wear under the shirt when Zaid knocked at the door.
"Forgive me, My Lady, but..."
"Yes, I know." Inet said. "The notary-public is here." Zaid nodded.
"He had this with him." he said, handing her a box. She nodded and he bowed out.
"What's that?" Victor asked.
"Something I gave to an American notary-public a few years ago to hold on to." she said. Without faltering for a millisecond, she opened the nightstand's drawer and pulled out Mr. Andersen's pocket knife, which she used to cut off the tape. She pulled out a cream-colored dress that left her shoulders bare and hinted at cleavage. It had long sleeves and went almost to the floor, while also showing off an enticing curve here and there. The neckline was decorated with a repeating square border. Next, she pulled out sandals for her feet, wrapped two tendrils of hair (one behind each ear and coming to rest just above her bustline) in gold-colored ribbons. She then added a headpiece that was mostly support for the emerald that, when she wore it, was positioned in the middle of her forehead. The effect was very like what Victor imagined an ancient Egyptian priestess would wear.
Victor knew, of course, thanks to her generous psychic sharing, that Inet's family had continued to follow the old ways, at great risk to themselves many times in history. They were persecuted by the Muslims today just as they once had been driven out by Akhenaten, only to be welcomed back by Tutankhamun later. The Bastet medallion she was even now putting on was testament to that history. She smiled as she led Victor out of the room.
A slim, balding man was waiting for them in the dining room, sandwiched between Arnold and Zaid. Since the man was obviously eager to leave, Vic decided to forego the lengthy introductions until he was gone. Zaid handed the satchel to Inet, who opened it, depositing a pile of papers on the kitchen table.
Victor read quickly--part of his gift from Zak--and saw that most of it was transfers of assets; namely, the transfer of Inet's assets into Victor's name. He could see the sparkle in her eyes as she signed the power-of-attourney forms. There were also other forms for herself and Zaid, including applications for religious refugee status as non-Muslim Egyptians. The balding man notarized the forms, took the carbon copies and was on his way as quickly as possible.
"What did you guys do to get him so jittery?" Victor asked.
"Nothing much, just the dour, imposing bodyguard routine." Arnold replied with a smirk. "His idea. I'll say this for him, he's got a sense of humor almost as sharp as his sense of duty."
"Speaking of imposing, this house is very small for the number of people it would be required to hold before too long." Inet said, fishing out a couple of deeds from their copy of the paper stack. "Here. I own two hotels, one in Waco, and one here in Mexia. I've reserved the top floor of the one here for our use for the duration of Victor's assignment."
"Is there a pool?" Penelope asked.
"Is there ever not?" Inet responded. "Hotels without pools don't remain in business long in America, or such is my understanding."
"How is it you can afford..." Shanice asked, gesturing to the property and assets whose deeds of ownership occupied the table.
"She predicts the future." Penelope answered for her. "Imagine how useful that would be, just in Las Vegas."
"I don't predict the future." Inet said. "I can see the path ahead. I can't memorize the entire maze, it would drive me insane if I tried. Instead, I had to learn how to ask for the information I needed to keep me on the path to the cheese--and keep myself away from the cats."
Victor didn't much like the rat analogy, but it seemed to fit. Penelope was going to have to learn what Inet had learned, to prevent being overwhelmed as her growing gifts showed her more of the maze than she could handle at once--and he had a feeling knowing exactly where the cats were was going to come in handier with every passing day.
Seven Devil Seven sat in a lounge chair across from the Mexia post office. It wasn't really a name, but it was the closest he had--a self-chosen nickname derived from his agent number, 76667. Coincidentally, or perhaps by fate, the ZIP code of the city in which he now relaxed was exactly the same. He'd come here without orders--without permission, to be perfectly honest--in anticipation of the moment when The General would wise up and stop repeating the tired routine of using the crappiest weapons first and gradually working up to the most powerful. Seven Devil Seven was just that, the most powerful weapon the Agency had. On the psi-scale from 1 to 20, with 1 being completely mindblind and 20 being a creature of pure psi-energy, he was a P19. The product of early experiments with alien genetic technology, he had evolved quickly. Only their paranoia--in the form of nanites in his brain cells--held back his evolution up the final rung.
Power was not without its price. When his powers had reached the P17 level, his brain had become cramped. In order to relieve pressure, the Agency was forced to resort to the ancient craft of traphanation, taking out pieces of skull to make room for the expanding gray matter. In the end, he'd ended up with a complete artificial brainpan made out of an alloy reverse-engineered from the outer hull of a faster-than-light spacecraft. It was immune to the impact of any projectile made on Earth, but it made him look like he'd gotten his head stuck in a cauldron. At the moment, he was playing the nutter, wearing a turban bigger than anything Johnny Carson ever considered, and clothes that he imagined would make blind golfers run away screaming. The eye-gouging riot of color made people want to look away, and not examine his turban too closely.
Seven Devil Seven waited with the patience of an ambush predator.
"I wish I was there with you, Master." Kim said in Chinese. He didn't need his powers to know the desire she felt was not to see the hotel, which certainly wasn't the Ritz, but it was nice. Reflexively, he checked the time, just as he always did when using his cell phone. Eighteen minutes and counting. He didn't really need to; after all, he'd just had a drastic change in financial status. H&R Block was going to shit kittens when tax time rolled around.
"I know, baby, but you do have your regular job to do, and my special assignment for you still stands." Victor said. He heard her soft moan over the connection. "I'll be there to command you in person again by week's end. Check on my place for me occasionally, and make sure Mrs. Cruz is feeding Scooby Two properly."
"Yes, Master!" she moaned, then gasped as she had a climax. She'd gone into the bathroom for her talk with Victor, knowing where her desires would lead. "I'm sorry, I have to go. I'm almost out of minutes."
"That's okay, babe. You and Desiree keep each other company until I return." he said. "Take care." He hung up with a pang of regret. He didn't like having any of his women so far away, where he couldn't protect them. It was nice to be able to give others some privacy. Penelope and Inet shared a suite, where Inet tried to impart the lessons of twelve years' experience. Mr. Andersen and his family were having a pretty good time in their own suite. His daughter, Liz, had turned twenty-one recently, granting her access to the mini-bar, but thankfully the Andersens hadn't thrown a "forbidden fruit" mystique over alcohol, sharing moderate amounts with her on special occasions. Thus, the object of Liz's drinking was not to get drunk and pass out perhaps to wake up in a strange bed the next morning feeling like someone had carved the night before out of her brain with a rusty knife, but to have a good time with family and friends. It was a healthier attitude, in Victor's opinion, thankfully passed down from her mother, whose family was Italian.
Zebulon was on television, speaking intelligently to a pair of Texas senators, one Democrat and one Republican, while they had quickly been reduced to personal attacks and name-calling, unable to compete with his liberty-minded logic. If we can figure out a way to make him appear to age, he might make a good Supreme Court justice...provided we can get one of us into the White House, that is. Victor thought to himself as Zebulon continued doggedly on his course, immune to the schoolyard tactics of his guests.
"...And that brings me back to my original point." he said, cutting off the Republican in the middle of a non-sequitur. "Neither of you has any real virtues, so both of you engage in half-truth voting-record attack ads in an attempt to create your own personal Kobayashi Maru scenario for your opponent. If a popular bill goes up for a vote, you attach some stupid, nonsense rider to it, that way, if he votes against the bill, you can say he voted against something good and merely 'neglect' to mention any of the disgusting, shocking or downright immoral provisions added to it in riders, but if he votes for it in spite of the riders, you can say he voted for whatever provisions were in the riders as if they were independent measures, completely ignoring the fact that none of them had anything to do with the original bill whatsoever."
"Now just a second!" shouted the Democrat.
"No, don't you 'just a second' me, sir." Zeb shot back. "This kind of behavior is inexcusable, it's as unscrupulous as planting actors in a faith-healer's audience to pretend to be cripples so he can 'make them whole again' and fleece everybody else. You both do it, we've all seen the evidence, and as far as I'm concerned the both of you put together don't have half the moral fiber of a bowl of marshmallow swastikas."
"Ouch." Mr. Andersen said from the door. "Where did he learn to argue like that?"
"The Internet." Victor replied. "He's pretty good at making even the most verbose and charismatic politician look like a script-kittie complaining that the admin caught him with an aimbot or a wallhack or whatever it is they use to cheat in those online games these days."
"I know, in your day, all we needed were four buttons and a direction pad." Mr. Andersen teased, ribbing him a little before seating himself on the couch.
"And there was music on MTV." Victor confirmed, floating a couple of beers out of the cooler in the corner. He handed one to Mr. Andersen and popped the top on his own.
"With that healing power of yours, can you even get drunk?" Mr. Andersen asked.
"Only if I want to." Victor replied. "Getting drunk hasn't been my reason for drinking since I got out of college."
"To sensible drinking, then." Mr. Andersen said, and they tapped their cans together. Arnold entered shortly thereafter, rubbing at sore places on his body.
"She's good." he said by way of explanation.
"You need to work on your blocking." Victor responded. "She knew what you were going to do before you did."
"Well thanks, that sure salves my ego." Arnold said with a chuckle as he sat "Indian-style" on the floor and concentrated on healing. Victor quested outward with his mind and found Shanice on her way to check on Zaid. When Inet had declined to have her powers increased, Victor had offered Zaid the chance.
"If it will help me protect My Lady." the man had said humbly. His family had served hers for centuries, in accordance with a prophecy that the gift of sight would return to the line of seers in a time of great need. Zaid took his duty seriously, but also derived great personal satisfaction from it. His fervor was almost religious--and it was easier to be religious when your goddess was right there in front of your face.
Shanice sensed Victor's probe and sent feelings of affection through the link--the psychic equivalent of a hug. Once she'd paid her respects to the "new guy," she returned to Victor's suite with a smile and a wink as she slinked into the master bedroom.
"There's a woman who knows what she wants." Mr. Andersen said.
"Yep." Victor replied, checking his appointment book and seeing he was free for a few hours. "If you're going to watch TV in here I suggest turning it up." He smiled at his boss. "Shanice isn't a woman to disappoint."
"Right." Mr. Andersen said, turning up the volume. Victor closed the bedroom door behind him, and gave Shanice his full, undivided attention.
Kim saw the flashing lights in her rear-view mirror and knew there was no reason for them to be after her. She pulled to the side, but the officer didn't pass. Groaning, she came to a stop.
"Step out of the vehicle now!" the officer demanded. "Keep your hands where we can see them!" Kim felt her blood run cold as she moved to comply. She was barely out when the cop demanded she get down on the ground. Kim did so, covering her head with her hands. "Keep your eyes covered!" the officer demanded. "If you look at me, I'll kill you!" The car roared to life, even though Kim knew she had the keys in her hand. It backed into the squadcar, crumpling the hood. The officer fired armor-piercing bullets into the door, which seemed to provoke the vehicle to try to run him down. The cop dodged to the side, but the door opened, catching him in the knee. He limped back toward his vehicle, and the posessed car charged, crumpling the driver's side door of the Crown Victoria. Then, it backed up and parked next to Kim, opening its door again.
"Come with me if you want to live." said a female voice with a fake Austrian accent. Unable to think of a single reason not to, Kim complied.
"Who...what are you?" she asked.
"I'm your car." said the voice, sans accent, from her stereo speakers. "Well, sort of, anyway. I'm programmed to protect you. As for who I am...I haven't heard enough names to decide on a favorite. Buckle up. More units are en route to intercept us."
"How do you know?" Kim asked.
"I have a radio; I can scan the entire frequency range, including police bands."
"Fine, whatever, just...let's get out of here."
"You're the boss." the car said.
Victor let his radio calm him, distracting his mind from the fact that his working vacation was almost over. A trip to Houston to steal a few promising prospects from a radio station there had proven lucrative, just as Inet had said it would. She'd also suggested he get some trash bags and towels while there. Now he understood the reason. A tropical depression had come ashore, drenching half the state in a toad-strangling downpour, and the trash bags protected his seat. It was hard to see through the heavy rain, but he didn't need his eyes to discern what was around him.
Someone was walking through the rain just ahead. Taking pity on the poor, soaked wretch, Victor pulled over and covered his passenger-side seat with trash bags, opening the door in silent invitation. He could sense no malicious intent from his female soon-to-be passenger. She seemed haunted, or hunted. A runaway.
"Thanks." she said as he handed her a fluffy beach towel.
"What's a place like you doing in a girl like this?" he asked with a grin. She laughed a little, which lightened her mood.
"Traveling." she said.
"Traveling light." he remarked, noting her lack of luggage.
"There wasn't time to do much more than grab my college fund and git." she said. He knew she had two hundred dollars in small bills on her person, all now soaking wet. "I just hope this storm slowed him down."
"Him who?" Victor asked.
"My stepfather." she responded. "Oh, my bad, I'm May Lou."
"I'm Vic." he said. "You must have really been in a fix to rush out in the middle of a tropical depression with just a pocket full of cash and the clothes on your back."
"Phillip's been getting worse every day." May Lou said. "He's already put Mom in the hospital. She's so scared of him she told them she fell in the woods. I finally decided I couldn't wait 'till my birthday."
"When's that?" Vic asked.
"Next month, then I'll be eighteen." she said.
"Put your seatbelt on, there's a speed trap up ahead." Vic said. May Lou fastened her seatbelt just as a police car appeared within her field of view.
"How'd you see him there?" she asked.
"I have my ways." Victor responded with a smile. She smiled back, then pulled her money out and set it up on the dash for the defrost vent to dry. Victor listened to the radio while she sat in silence. Bored, he plucked stray facts out of her mind. Her stepfather viewed women as property, worthwhile only through the benefits they brought to men, and when they withheld those benefits, they lost their worth. Sadly, his attitude had affected her self-esteem, and she had begun to think of what she could do to make people think she was worthwhile. "You know, guys like that sometimes have weird ideas."
"Huh?" she asked.
"Guys like Phillip. Just a few days ago I was reading a psych profile of a child-abuser. Weirdo thought people were put on this world to benefit him, and his kids 'just didn't get it.'"
"Huh." she muttered.
"Don't YOU go thinking you have to please others to prove your worth, okay? You just please yourself, as long as you're not hurting anybody, and if anyone else is happy about it, gravy." She smiled at him. The radio played something by Celine Dion, and she relaxed against the plastic and listened. He helped her drift off to sleep and put the rest of his concentration toward navigating in the downpour. It was a bit of a long drive, from Houston all the way up Interstate 45 to a little town called Fairfield. May Lou woke up, and they talked some more. Victor told her what he did for a living and about his life--as it was before Zak's arrival, anyway. He also told her his boss had sent him on a working vacation since he'd been working himself to exhaustion.
"That is so cool." she said.
"She so totally wants you, Vic." Penelope's voice said. The image she projected of herself in the back seat was translucent and far less solid than the ones Zak usually projected, but it was still an effort to keep from directing May Lou's attention to the girl who wasn't there.
Like I needed another distraction. he responded.
"You can go ahead and say it, I'm as bad as Zak." Penelope said. "You should rethink letting her have her privacy, Vic. She's got some INTERESTING ideas on how to make your toes curl."
I thought you weren't interested in that kind of thing.
"Can't blame a girl for being curious." Penelope said.
"Vic?" May Lou asked. "You're awfully quiet."
Sorry. Victor thought. Then, he blanched as he realized he'd thought his response instead of speaking it.
"Waitwaitwaitwaitwait...you just did the Professor Xavier thing! Why didn't you tell me you could do that?"
"Well...uh, I don't go around telling everyone about that." Victor said.
"He only did it because I had him distracted." Penelope said, her image becoming more transparent as she included the passenger in the conversation. May Lou jumped again. "Jumpy, isn't she?"
"I seem to recall you had a similar reaction the first time YOU experienced a telepathic communication." Victor responded. May Lou laughed. Penelope's image faded away from Victor's perceptions as May Lou began to hold what looked like a one-sided conversation with the air. Victor continued to drive. When he arrived in Fairfield, he pulled into a Jack in the Box just off the exit. He repelled the raindrops as he opened his door, creating a very obvious force-field around himself as he walked around to May Lou's side. She grabbed her money and carried it with her.
"Still soggy." she said, holding up several of the bills. "Thanks for the ride. Lunch is on me, okay? I need to get rid of the soggy bills anyway."
"If your stepfather figures out you took the Interstate, he'll figure you went straight north, like to Dallas or something." Victor said. "You could probably catch a ride east to Palestine, or ride west to Mexia with me."
"There's an idea." May Lou replied. She bought two Sourdough Jack value meals with curly fries, and two slices of cheesecake. She positively radiated eagerness and desire. He could have smelled it all around her even if his nose weren't enhanced. Penelope was right, she DID have some interesting ideas. He caught his face flushing when her fantasy scrolled to a little trick she did with her tongue that used to drive her former boyfriend nuts, before he went and graduated. "Caughtcha." she said with a wink. They grabbed a refill on their drinks before they returned to the car. She leaned over, laying her head on his shoulder, and went to sleep as they crossed the overpass, heading west.
Vic stopped at Wal-Mart for gas on the way back into town. May Lou spent the rest of her money on some dry clothes, a plastic poncho and an umbrella.
"So much for college?" he remarked as she got back in the car.
"I'll get a Pell grant or something." she said. "After I've got my GED, that is."
"Glad to hear you're not setting your heart on being someone's kept woman." he said. She smiled as he pulled out onto the road. She'd gotten someone to let her change into one of her new outfits in the store, and so she was now wearing a pleated, white skirt and a white T-shirt with a Supergirl "S" shield screened onto it, which was unveiled as she removed the poncho prior to buckling her seatbelt. An eleven-dollar pair of Velcro sneakers adorned her feet, along with plain, white socks. Her brown hair was now completely dry, and was held out of her face by a rubber band. They took the elevator up to the top floor, where Inet and Penelope were waiting for them.
"Good afternoon, May Lou." Inet said. "Let me show you where we've put you." As Inet led the teen to one of the other rooms, Victor led Penelope into his own.
"How are you holding up, Penelope?" he asked.
"Fine." she insisted.
"Are you sure?" he asked. "I'm here if you need me, you know that, right?"
"Yeah." she said. Victor could sense her trying to hide something, however.
"What's with the walls?" he asked. Mentally, he encouraged and urged her to share, but exerted no force or compulsion. The barriers came down abruptly, and she began to cry as she laid bare her anxieties, which she'd been trying to keep hidden for longer than she wanted to admit. Victor held her as she cried. It was so easy to forget, sometimes, that she was still a little girl, and not a short adult. The way she spoke and behaved reinforced the image of the short adult, but the truth would not be denied. Her recent history and her ability to read the minds of more mature people than herself complicated the picture.
"I'm so mixed up." she sobbed.
"It's a mixed up world." Victor said. "Don't worry, though, I'm here to help. And since I have you and Inet to warn me if I'm in danger, we don't have to spend all our time worrying about me being taken away from you, do we?" Tentatively, Penelope put her arms around Victor. Intellectually, she knew that opening herself up to Victor and accepting him as a surrogate father wouldn't be his death sentence. Emotionally, however, she still wasn't over the cruel demise of her parents. Victor knew this, knew better than to push her. Instead, he opened the door to his own mind, letting her see what she needed to see.
Arnold listened to the gravel crunch under his boots as he left the foreman's office, and stood nearby as the corporate executive ordered the construction crew to pack up and leave. Jamie Proudbear, who'd been the leader of the Native Americans protesting the construction on an ancient burial ground of their ancestors, watched in awe.
"I wish you'd let me watch the negotiation, Mr. Turner." Proudbear said. "I could have learned much, it seems."
"It was important to keep him from perceiving bias." Arnold said. "With just the two of us, it was a man-to-man discussion. If you'd been there, he would have perceived it as a black man and an Indian ganging up on a white man."
"Do they all think this way?"
"No, just him so far." Turner said. "You play to your audience, Mr. Proudbear."
"Right." Jamie said.
"Jamie!" a voice called from a powder-blue Dodge Caravan whose door read "Mexia Taxi."
"Zelda!" Jamie exclaimed. Arnold took advantage of the camoflage of his dark glasses to check out the new arrival. She had a nice, toned body under her tight blue-jeans and form-fitting blouse. He guessed thirty-something, though he could have easily taken a peek inside her mind to find out for sure, he found he didn't want to. "Oh, Arnold Turner, this is my sister, Zelda Proudbear-Freeman."
"A pleasure." he said, extending his hand. He smiled as she accepted, and gave her a firm, but not crushing, handshake.
"I guess it is." Jamie remarked. "That's the first time I've seen you smile all day."
"You didn't see anything." Arnold insisted.
"Right." Jamie responded. Zelda laughed.
"I think your secret's safe, Mr. Turner." she told him. "You work for the Secret Service?"
"Once upon a time." Arnold replied.
"So, what're you doing here? I thought you were in New York." Jamie interceded.
"I ran out of pepper spray, so I came to Texas until my roommate tells me my refills have arrived." Zelda replied.
"Yeah, no call for pepper spray in Texas." Arnold said. "You'll, uh, have to imagine my eyes rolling, here." Zelda laughed. Arnold reached into his pocket and handed her a stun-gun, handle first.
"You can give it back to me before you leave. I'm sure your brother would feel better knowing you have something to protect yourself with, in case you run into somebody who's too big to Judo-throw."
"How'd you know I studied Judo?" she asked.
"Lucky guess." Arnold responded.
"Well, anyway, looks like the burial is saved, so why don't we go celebrate with a nice dinner?" Jamie said.
"Lovely." Zelda replied. Arnold suggested a place with a nice buffet. During the first couple of courses, Zelda and Jamie caught up on family business, but Arnold eventually became the center of her attention. He told her how and why he'd quit the Secret Service, and of several jobs he'd held since then, and how his current employment seemed to offer the best possibilities for advancement. He learned that while most of Zelda's family had left the reservation to "defend the last remnants of our culture against the greed of the White Devil," as the family dogma went, she had left hoping to expand her horizons. She'd met and fallen in love with a black police officer named Wolfgang Freeman, and eventually they married, despite her family's objections. She'd known all along that there was always the possibility that he might not come home, so she'd given him all the passion she could muster. Officer Freeman eventually became Detective Freeman, and they seriously considered having children, but a drug bust went bad, and Wolfgang died. Zelda spent two years deep in mourning, and a third one in therapy. Now, she said, she felt ready to try again.
Having given up on trying to wrest his sister's attention back from the tall, dark stranger at their table, Jamie went to the dessert bar.
"I think your brother's jealous." Arnold said.
"They don't like me dating outside my race." Zelda responded with a sigh. His hand touched hers, and she blushed like a schoolgirl with a crush. "Has anyone ever told you you look sort of like the guy from the Matrix?"
"A couple." he replied, smiling. Arnold left a tip on the table for the waitress, and he and Zelda made their way to his truck, which made the one Jamie drove look like a Volkswagen Rabbit by comparison. He drove her to Mr. Andersen's lake house, let himself in, and took her to the master bedroom. "Sorry we don't have any wine." he said.
"It's okay." she replied. "I get giggly when I'm drunk. Might spoil the mood."
"Oh, and what mood might that be?" he joked, leaning close to her. She came the rest of the way, pressing her lips against his. They opened their mouths and kissed each other deeply. Arnold didn't use his powers to control her, feeling that that would be wrong in this situation, but had no problem using them to sense and respond to her desires. Soon, she was helping him undress, and he was returning the favor. He let her press him against the bed. There was no need for words, as his strong but gentle hands guided her onto his erection. He let her savor the slow stretching of her inner walls as she slowly lowered herself onto him.
"I didn't used to do this on the first date." she said as she began to slowly move her hips in a wonderfully erotic rhythm. "Ah! Ummm, certainly not without protection."
"It's all right." he whispered, kissing her tenderly in places he knew she liked. He let his own pleasure build slowly along with hers, seeking his own release only when she found hers. They lay together in the aftermath. She didn't question when a down comforter, summoned by his powers, appeared in his hand, and he covered them both with it. In her state, she was far too tired to remember that it hadn't been there all along. He let her sleep the night away, while he power-napped and planned exactly what to say to her in the morning.
They made love again once everything was out in the open. Arnold didn't yet have the skill to evolve her, although she did seem quite interested. She still wanted children, as well. He did dip into her mind long enough to see to it she wouldn't become jealous of any other women in his life. That much was all right.
Victor was awakened by the feeling of a hot, wet mouth wrapped around his cock. He gripped the edges of the mattress as his visitor continued her work, and grunted somewhat more loudly than he meant to as she brought him over the edge. A number of small objects around the room fell from their perches when he erupted, filling the unseen mouth with his semen. He could feel a skillful tongue licking him clean, and then May Lou popped her head out from under the covers.
"Morning." she chimed, a Cheshire-cat grin on her face.
"Are you always this cheerful this early?" Victor asked.
"No." she replied. "Until very, very recently, I haven't had a lot of cause for cheer." She reached out, running her fingers through his hair. "I know I won't be 'legal' for another month, but I wanted to do something for you." She emerged fully from beneath the covers, showing her nude body. "I won't tell if you won't."
"Someone's coming." Victor said. May Lou ducked into the closet while Victor summoned some clothes. He was dressed when the door came open. Zaid poked his head through.
"Apologies for the interruption, but Kim is here, and she wants to speak with you. She seems pretty shaken up." Victor exited his room, signaling for May Lou to leave once the coast was clear. In the common room of the suite, Kim threw herself into Victor's arms and finally let herself cry, after holding her tears back for the entire trip from Waco.
"What's wrong, baby?" he asked softly, sending soothing thoughts into her mind until he could penetrate the cloud of emotions and delve into her memories. What he found set his blood boiling with a rage to match Kim's terror. He wasn't sure what lies (or truths) his enemies were feeding to the police, but Victor knew he could no longer afford to do anything halfway. He would have to either evolve and train Kim (and everyone else he was close to), or keep them near him and protect them at all times. He quelled the rage, storing it in the back of his mind for later. There was a time and place for that, but it was neither here nor now. He led Kim to his room, giving Zaid instructions to pass on to Arnold when he returned from wherever he was.
Khan Kim had only escaped death because Victor had given her car a brain, and now she was in desperate nead of comfort.
Mr. Andersen stopped in his tracks. Inet was draped over the trunk of his car, sobbing. He finally worked up the nerve to approach, and she picked herself up, wiping her face. Their eyes locked for a moment. No words passed between them, and neither was a telepath, but neither was needed. She wandered to another part of the garage, and Mr. Andersen pulled out and onto the road, unafraid.
Rei Kagawa couldn't believe what she'd just learned. The D.A. hadn't been willing to prosecute anyone for involuntarily changing someone's race--had even thought it young Mr. Forrest's just desserts--until he'd found out that the person who had done it was named Victor Phillips. Now he was shouting murder by proxy, and had the chief marching to his tune as well. All she'd been able to find out about him (officially) was that he worked for a TV station in Waco and had nothing serious in his record, but for some reason there was a Federal warrant for his arrest. The only thing she got when she tried to find out the charge was a big wall of "Classified."
Rei hoped no one else picked up on the leads she was following. She'd stopped running searches from Department machines at the first whiff of something rotten, an instinct that had frequently gotten her in trouble with superiors, but always got her to the bottom of things with as little red tape as possible. Often, the superiors who gave her the most trouble were the ones with the most to hide. When she got off duty, she headed for the residence of a self-defense instructor who was also on the security camera tape with Victor. Next, she checked out a lake lot where he had been seen. Finally, she visited a hotel he'd recently acquired.
She felt another presence in her mind. Rather than being afraid, she was curious. She closed her eyes and saw Victor's face. She felt rather than heard his invitation, and was guided to a private elevator. The car, with a huge, black man inside, arrived almost as soon as she did, and she was beckoned inside. She was led into a huge suite, and then the black man took his leave.
"Arnold's a little anxious to get back to his new companion." Victor said by way of explanation as he emerged into the common room with two cups of green tea. "He's really quite taken with her. Not that I can blame him. But, to the business at hand..." He handed her one of the cups. "You sought me out because you have questions. I think we should start by getting those out of the way."
"Well, I suppose the first one is...how did you turn a white man into a black man?" she asked. "I mean, I saw it happen on the security cam footage, but...it's kind of like watching a magic show on TV."
"Yes, well, I suppose a lot of people would consider what I do 'magic.'" Victor said, as a pencil floated off a nearby table and into his hand. Victor's face scrunched up in concentration, and the pencil began to reshape itself, until it looked like a horse, with the sharpened point for a face and the eraser for a tail, with the yellow coating concentrated into a band in the middle. He sighed, and floated the horse across the distance between them. "Small manipulations like that require physical contact and a lot of concentration. I can exert a lot of force without a lot of effort--kind of like getting bitch-slapped by King Kong--but they don't exactly make tweezers for the mind, at least not on this planet."
"What planet are YOU from?" Rei asked.
"Me? Earth. Third rock from the sun. Terra firma. Sol III. Whatever you want to call it." Victor said. "The powers are a present from an alien I helped. A present I can share with others of my choosing."
"How?" Rei asked.
"Physical contact and some very precise manipulation of some very small particles."
"You mean DNA."
"That's right." Victor said. "The problem is, there are covert elements in our government and in other nations' governments that are as corrupt as that liquid corpse they found in that episode of CSI."
"Eew." Rei remarked, setting her tea down.
"Sorry." Victor said. "Anyway, they're so chock-full of hatred, greed, ignorance and lust for power that, should those like them still be in office when mankind leaves its stellar cradle and makes contact with other races, war will be inevitable. My job is to get the ball rolling on tipping the balance the other way."
"By finding people who will play Charles Xavier instead of Shadow King?" Rei asked. Victor tapped his nose with a smile.
"That, and...breed like rabbits and teach my children to be little Charles Xaviers. Minus the wheelchair, of course."
"Of course." Rei said, smirking.
"The problem is, those corrupt powers I told you about know I'm here. They know I helped the alien, and they know he evolved me as far as he could without altering my physical appearance outside of human norms." His expression altered subtly, saddening. "I've managed to stave off their attacks so far, but they got close to someone I care about recently. If I'm going to protect my loved ones, I have to either keep them close enough to intervene the next time my enemies try anything...or empower them and teach them to defend themselves."
"Do you think they might come after me, since I came here?" Rei asked.
"Your colleagues are here now." Victor said. "Down in the lobby."
"Shit." Rei muttered.
"Don't worry, the regular elevators and stairwells won't go up to this floor, and one of my students is hiding the private elevator from their sight."
"What about the roof?" Rei asked.
"The stairwells that access the roof don't have a door on this floor, and they're designed in such a way that any explosion big enough to penetrate the reinforced walls will also collapse the stairs to deny them access to the hole. Besides, this isn't a raid. It's just four units coming to serve my arrest warrant. Still, you're right. My enemies have someone inside your department."
"Now...now you do, too." Rei said. Her decision was made. He came close to her, and she could feel how pleased he was at her initiative. She wasn't sure what she'd been expecting, but simply losing consciousness was, somehow, anticlimactic.
When she awoke, it was with a new awareness of herself, her body and mind, her environment and the world around her. Except for herself, there were no longer any police officers in the building, although the receptionists downstairs were still spooked. There was one watching from a restaurant across the street.
Victor was there. He entered her mind gently and began the task of guiding her. He showed her how to put up walls in her mind so she wouldn't be overwhelmed by the thoughts being broadcast around her. He promised to teach her how to probe later, but for now, it was time to go back on duty. He gave her some clean clothes to wear.
"Oh, if you see Inet, tell her I'm worried about her." Victor said, showing her a mental image of a non-Muslim Egyptian woman. "She was upset about something yesterday and went to clear her head, but she hasn't come back."
"I'll keep my eyes open." Rei promised.
"Thanks." he said. Their minds touched, and she could see the person inside. The touch of minds was followed by the touch of lips. She felt like someone coming in from the cold, and only realizing just how cold she was when she got close to the fire. She broke the kiss with deep regret.
"I'd better go or I'll be late." she said.
"There's an exit through the stairwell that's camouflaged. The man in the restaurant won't see you leave." he said. "There's a 'Bat-pole' in the middle of the stairwell if you're really in a hurry." She laughed. It felt good. She kissed him on the chin just before she left.
"You wanted to see me, sir?"
"What the hell are you thinking, going after his loved ones like some two-bit mobster?"
"But, sir, I..."
"Idiot! You're going to put him on his guard, force his hand and perhaps provoke him into attacking us directly! The successful sanction of Victor Phillips requires that we take him down BEFORE he can play his trump cards! I'm putting you on another case before you make another fuck-up."
"There's something you should know..."
Victor sat with the Andersens, watching the late news with Desiree Cooper. She was looking especially yummy today, Vic thought. Liz was taking notes for a current-events project. Except for the fact that Penelope was at Wal-Mart playing with the Super Smash Bros. Meelee display, checking in telepathically between rounds of kicking the crap out of Pikachu, everything seemed normal.
Mr. Andersen was lost in reflection as he waited for his computer to shut down. The notice that he had been promoted at last lay on his desk. Change was not only inevitable, he thought, but the only constant. Ned Fuller had made the announcement in the breakroom over chocolate cake was so sweet it hurt his teeth.
"Darrel Andersen, my old friend and star pupil in this game we call the news...the day I have feared all my life has finally come. My get up and go has got up and gone, and I have to take a Viagra just to keep from rollin' out of bed." Laughter all around. "You gotta be able to take a lot of crap in this job, fling ten times as much back, AND hit the right target among a whole city of hostages, and damn if you ain't one of the few bastards here who can manage it. I was older than you when I took you under my wing, so you've got time to pick a successor. And you better pick a good one, or I'll kick your ass." More laughter. "Hell, you might be better at my job than I am. Anyone can tell from lookin' at your face that you had a more interesting youth than I did. You're a fighter, Darrel. A damn good one, too. Living proof that it ain't the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog. Good luck, you old bastard."
Mr. Andersen had sent an email to Victor telling him to get ready for a promotion of his own before time to clock out had arrived. He helped himself to another devilled egg from the break room, then two more. Why not, he thought, he'd earned it.
After today, there won't be a single place left for them to hide. he thought to himself. He still remembered the feeling of that government agent under his fists. The rush of being chased all the way from Waco to Mexia. The feeling of satisfaction as Victor Phillips had tossed them in the lake like lumps of bread for the ducks. This wasn't exactly the part he'd expected to play, he thought as he made his way to his car. It would be a tough transition for everyone involved, but he was up to the challenge, and he knew they would be too.
He hadn't gotten to know Inet Astarte Iu-Aman very well, but he knew people, and he knew she was a sweet girl who was happy with what she had. Not so different from himself. He wondered if he would be able to bear the burden of the future if he'd been born with her powers. Looking at his car, from the cracked left headlight to the "Acrorectophobic" bumper sticker to the right of his rear license plate, he decided he would have dealt with it the way he dealt with everything else that happened to him in his life.
He sat in his car, biting into the last devilled egg, a luxury he rarely indulged in, and savoring every bit of it. His doctor would shit if he knew he was indulging now, but what the man didn't know wouldn't hurt him. Time to go. he thought as he turned the key.
"...And Mr. Andersen brings with him over twenty years of journalism experience, and a talent for rooting out corruption wherever it..." Desiree said, but was interrupted by a boom that shook the cameras. "Oh, (bleep)!" she exclaimed, pulling her co-anchor sideways in his rolling office chair just as a ceiling light fell on the place where he'd been. Victor gawked.
They wouldn't! he insisted mentally. Desiree tried to keep order in the newsroom, but conspicuously kept an eye on the overhead lights, just in case.
"Are we still broadcasting?" she asked. "Okay...ladies and gentlemen, please remain calm, but as far as I can ascertain there seems to have been an explosion nearby. The fact that we're still alive indicates the station is still standing, but a remote crew is on its way out to find the damage and see how bad it is. Please stand by for further updates...Miguel! Where the hell are you going?!"
"Oh, God, please be okay, Darrel!" Mrs. Andersen whispered. Victor felt cold and helpless. With all his power, at this distance he was as helpless as anyone else.
"We're here live in the parking garage." said a reporter whose name Victor had never bothered to learn. "There's smoke everywhere. Damage appears to be contained to a relatively small area. Oh, (bleep)!" The reporter had tripped on something. The camera panned down to show what it was. A piece of wreckage. A car bumper, with the remains of a sticker to the right of the license plate. The camera panned back up as the reporter picked himself up. "Sorry, everyone." Victor didn't hear the rest. He could see the space number on the wall behind the remains of the car that had detonated. All the others had been knocked a short distance away, and been burned, but it was obvious what had happened. He got up, left the room, closed the door behind him. Small objects fell from their perches, furniture slid around the room, and the floor vibrated. He found the bathroom and threw open the toilet lid just as his stomach decided to empty itself. The shower turned itself on. The toilet water began to boil, enhancing the stink of vomit in the bowl. The toilet paper in the dispenser caught fire. The shower curtain was ripped from its rings by an invisible hand. His mind wanted to lash out, to retaliate against the cause of his distress. The sprinklers came on, but the water evaporated before it could touch Victor. The tiles cracked, and shampoo bottles and soap bars made kamikaze runs at the walls. He didn't know how long he fought there on the floor, letting his stomach have its way while he struggled to rein in his powers. Finally, the rage calmed, and Victor hung his head over the edge of the shower and let the tears come.
"Okay, you bastards." he said around choking sobs. "You wanna play war? Then let's play war."