Copyright © 2016 by D'Artagnon
Codicil – The Lost Boys, 3 days after
25 Kimball Avenue
Andy dropped from the end of his swing line, releasing it at the height of his swing out. He quickly kicked his feet out and up, tucking into a tight ball as he did so and letting his momentum rotate him backwards, even as his body mass continued through the air. He counted softly to three and uncurled from his tuck and stretched out, arms and legs aimed at the roof which was his target.
He landed hard, his feet scraping the rough roof shingles, his hands open so the fingertips took the brunt of his weight as he landed on the slightly angled roof. He allowed the momentum to bring him forward, rolling across his shoulder and through to the opposite hip as he came to a stop on the roof of the porch.
The house was old, like most homes in the sleepy New England town. Two floors above a partially exposed basement, the main floor being what might be considered the second floor. The porch was elevated to match the main floor, and it was this porch that Andy had selected as his initial landing point. The roof of the house, one floor above him, was peeked and would not have made for as silent a landing as he needed, especially since the houses in this part of town didn't have a lot of old trees nearby, or other access to the "thieves' highway" as other neighborhoods.
He waited a moment, keeping perfectly still in the humid night air. The overcast skies reflected much of the city lights, giving Andy enough to see by, and enough shadows to hide in. With a flick of his wrist, the rest of his swing line retracted into the wind up reel on his left forearm. He quickly secured the line and pulled out his climbing claws from the kangaroo pouch of his hoody. He slipped the set of claws over his fingers, securing them to his wrist guards. The sharp talons stuck out from his palms, nearly two centimeters of forged steel. With these claws he could dig into soft surfaces like roofing shingles or wood and pull himself up, keeping his fingers safely out of the way.
With a practiced ease that made the assent look almost casual, the Fox jumped up and grabbed the edge of the roofline, the claws finding easy purchase. He climbed up to the shingles and found a safe shadow beside an old chimney remnant to rest and gather his breath. He sat and rested his back against the chimney bricks, relaxing for the first time since beginning his mission this night.
He was so close to the reason for his mission. He would be able to gather necessary intelligence tonight, to be able to know what he needed. Plans could be drawn up based on the information he could gain tonight. Plans could crumble as well. So much depended on Andy making the right choices, on getting the timing right. Lives were at stake.
So it probably shouldn't have surprised the Fox as much as it did when he heard the bowstring tighten.
"Do not move, or you wont have to worry about moving again," a young voice said, from the same direction as the quivering bowstring. Andy looked towards one of the nearer gables on the roofline and he saw the slight figure holding the double re-curve, an arrow with a heavy hunting tip nocked and held perfectly still. The figure seemed to be a boy, about 13 years of age, if Andy had to guess, and his aim was dead on target. Even with the shadow's protection, Andy knew he couldn't dodge an arrow at that range, aimed so accurately.
"I am not here to harm him," Andy said, evenly.
"To see if he is one of my kind. One of the kind your father started, so many years ago… Jack Thomas."
"You aren't the only one to know names, Andy Fox."
"You know of me?"
"Obviously. You can reach down your leg and pull out the knife now. Slowly," Jack warned.
"And if I refuse to disarm?" Andy asked. The shaft left Jack's bow and landed inches from Andy's crotch. The Fox actually twitched at the speed of the arrow suddenly appearing so close to his boy bits. The thwack of the arrow penetrating the shingles and the quivering of the fletching as it came to rest were a testament to the power of the bow. By the time Andy looked back, Jack already had another arrow nocked, aimed and drawn back.
"It would not be advisable," Jack replied.
Andy reached his left hand down to the sheath on his leg, hidden behind the fabric of his sweatpants. He drew out the knife, slowly, and placed it on the roof, about a foot from his feet.
"Kick it over the edge." Andy moved to comply but heard the bowstring tighten back more. "Slowly," Jack cautioned. Easing his foot closer, Andy nudged the knife with his foot, sending it skidding off the roof. The blade clattered off the pavement driveway below. Andy made note of where he heard the sounds of the blade hitting the ground, in the event he could retrieve it later.
"I know about you," Jack said. "You've remained loose and hidden for years, but I have been able to track you."
"Have you now?"
"Do not be coy. As good as you are, you cannot escape all of the eyes around us, even if you aren't center screen, you are seen from time to time. I've accessed data records of over four thousand public and private camera systems in the Canterbury area, and many other places throughout the Merrimack Valley. I have pieced together your movements over time. You do get around."
"And the legends of the Merrimack Cat Burglar never played into it?" Andy asked.
"I also have access to much of my father's data." Jack eased tension back on the bow, indicating to Andy that the boy's arm might be tiring. The pull on the hunting bow must be enormous, Andy thought, looking for a possible way out of this situation. He doubted he could make it to Jack's side and disarm the boy without taking at least three shots from that bow. If the boy's skill was a match for his speed and aim, Andy would likely wind up with at least one arrow poking out of his own skin before he could reach the other boy.
The idea didn't appeal. Leaping over the side didn't seem like a great plan, but better a fall and a possible broken bone than a sucking chest wound or an arrow impaling him to the roof. The nearest other roof he might leap to was on the other side of this building's peek, and Andy had no illusions about reaching that without making himself an even broader target.
"So your father knew of me?"
"He didn't know about you, of you. Although he suspected. I pieced together the rest recently. Father was… let's just say that his interests weren't peaked enough in the possible you to warrant further study. You will answer my questions now."
"Ask away," Andy said, still hoping to at least gather some information and possibly escape.
"Why are you here?"
"To see if Paul Carver is one of us."
"One of whom?"
"Gifted persons," Andy said. "Persons who have been genetically altered thanks to your Father's manipulations." There was some venom in Andy's voice on the word "father."
"And you suspect Paul fits that category?"
"I saw the camera footage from the Battle of Lafayette Square," Andy replied evenly. "Two traffic cameras, an ATM video surveillance monitor, no less than six police dash cams and fourteen separate cell phone videos exist of that battle. I saw what you… and he were capable of."
"Then you know not to push me too far," the other boy said with no inflection to his voice. Andy had to admit, the boy definitely kept his cool. If the situations had been reversed, the Fox doubted he could have maintained such balanced, reasoned calm. Then again, Andy supposed, being on the giving end of a projectile weapon certainly tipped the balance of power in Jack's direction.
"Again, my intentions do not involve harming him. I mostly wanted to talk to him, if he was available for such."
"And you hoped to speak with him without me around?"
"Given present circumstances, can you blame me?"
"Point," Jack conceded. "Next question. Why do you want to talk to him? An alliance? Information? Testing his mettle?"
"Possibly the first. Obviously the second. The third could be interesting, but I feel that sort of thing is best left to daylight and appropriate scheduling. Fighting on rooftops, even just sparring, tends to be messy, public and more dangerous than necessary. I think that the two of you have had more media and police attention than you care for, lately."
"Again, point," Jack admitted, the bow string audibly relaxing slightly. Andy detected a slight quiver in the other boy's draw arm. Reflected light from the streetlamps showed on the curved surfaces of the bow, showing to Andy that the other boy was beginning to tire. Still, Andy felt no great rush to test Jack's skill with the weapon.
"To what end do you seek an alliance? My father is dead. His legacy died with him."
"There you would be wrong. There are others out here, like Paul Carver, like myself, who have been gifted by what your father did to our parents. In my case, to my grandfather as well as my parents."
"Speak plainly, Fox," Jack warned, his eyes narrowing in the darkness. Andy had the sudden impression he was being scanned a lot more deeply than mere sight alone could account for.
"There are others of us out there, Jack. Surely your own research into your father's past should have revealed a pattern to you by now."
"You speak of others. What do you mean?"
"Changelings. Werewolves. Even a vampire or two. This town is almost a magnet for supernatural activity. I know of at least three separate groups operating in the valley here. You, I'm not sure about, although I don't doubt there's something different about you compared to the others." The bow string in the other boy's hands seemed to tighten again as Andy said that. "Not that it's a bad thing."
"Go on," Jack prompted, his voice as tight and terse as the twisted cord under his fingertips.
"During the Battle of Lafayette Square, Paul exhibited abilities that mark him as similar to myself as regards powers. He is very fast, much stronger than he looks. I'm willing to bet he heals phenomenally quickly, that he has enhanced agility and senses. Perhaps," and Andy paused, drawing his legs up to rest his forearms across the tops of his knees. "Perhaps you have noticed other phenomena around him."
"Do not tempt me to shoot you by moving again," Jack said, his aim shifting slightly to keep the center of Andy's chest under arrow's tip. "I've been trained to use this by a changeling girl whose last name is Oakenbow. I feel confident that her training has been very thorough."
"I could perform minor surgery on you from here with this. The one way kind."
"Ah, long range amputations, gotcha," Andy said, letting a trace of a smile play over his lips.
"You have impressive technology and technique. That retractable climb assist is very advanced. That was at least a 30 meter swing. How did you acquire the device and how are you trained in its use?"
"Not information I'm willing to part with just yet," Andy continued smiling, his hand trying to secretly work the second knife he carried out of its secret hiding place.
"Unless you want an emergency circumcision, you need to start answering questions," Jack replied, narrowly. Andy could almost feel the younger boy's eyes locking on target. Trust is earned, not traded, Andy thought, realizing that Jack could, and likely would, follow through with that threat.
"My grandfather was a spy, in his youth. When my parents died, he took me in. He raised me, taught me all that he knew. The swing line is something he'd used back in the war. I modified it with modern machining and materials. Most of my abilities are what he trained me to be," Andy shrugged. "Does that satisfy your curiosity?"
"The immediate concerns. Which war? Which country?"
"Gramps was a patriot," Andy called out indignantly. "And he suffered enormously for this, our country. If you have a problem with that, you probably should go ahead and shoot me now, since it was at your father's hands he suffered, Nazi war machine!"
The accusation was answered by a shaft sprouting from the roof to Andy's right, pinning his arm to the shingles through the fabric of his hoody. The point didn't even graze his flesh, but the spinning of the barbed tip twisted the fabric, tightening its grip around Andy's wrist.
Damnit! Andy thought, realizing that the pinned arm now made it impossible for him to snake the hidden knife into his right hand down the sleeve of his hoody. Before he could even draw breath in surprise, Andy heard Jack draw, nock and tighten back on the bowstring again, a fresh shaft glinting evilly in Andy's direction.
"Now that we've established who is in control here, listen well to this," Jack said, taking a step forward on the slanted roof, his feet sure, his balance perfect. "If I were a Nazi anything, you'd be on a slab somewhere answering questions with the help of a 12 volt battery, some heavy jumper cables and two wet car wash sponges. I am not my father's thing," the archer said with a menacing growl in his young voice. "If you watched what happened in Lafayette Square in such detail, then you should have known that. I am not his. I am proud of my country and the country my boyfriend's father died defending, with honor."
Boyfriend, Andy thought, filing that information away. He knew that Paul Carver's father had died in the Air Force, a highly decorated pilot moving rapidly up the ranks by his example and skill and courage. Some of Paul's pride in his father must have rubbed off with Jack as well.
"Point!" Andy conceded. "I guess we've both been trained exceptionally well."
"I choose not to underestimate," Jack replied, his voice returning to a more neutral tone. "Getting back to topics, what sort of alliance could you offer if Paul is somehow like you? And to that end, exactly what group of those you mentioned do you fit into?"
"Now that is a good question," Andy started, hoping to distract Jack. Then he heard the bowstring tighten further and abandoned such a tactic. Clearly, bullshitting his way out of this wasn't going to earn him any points. Nor would angering the other boy. Cards on the table, huh, Gramps? Andy thought.
"Look. I don't know exactly what we are. I know that many of us share similar baseline abilities. Speed, agility, rapid healing, advanced senses, massively greater proportional strength than anyone purely human should have. You've seen that in him. The world has, even though most choose to ignore it for some reason."
"Go on," Jack prompted.
"There are other abilities. I've seen this. I experience this. If he has that too, then it helps all of us to know what those additional powers may be."
"What is yours?"
Andy balked for a moment. "I have an alternate form. For the sake of simplicity, this is my alternate form. It would be rather dangerous to shift to how I was born while like this," Andy said, indicating the arrow pinning his right arm in place. "If you can accept that as truth, there's no need to prove it, is there?"
"I believe you," Jack said. He didn't relax his stance any, however. "Father postulated that the minute differences in DNA between persons affected by his serum would magnify and possibly create unstable mutations in most offspring of any two of his former patients. But he also postulated that such pairings would also create unpredictable genetic alterations which could result in unusual side effects, other than his attempts to create super-soldiers."
"And Paul qualifies, since both of his parents were part of those treatments," Andy finished the thought. "I do not say this as an accusation. I feel we must pull together, share information and resources. The incidents of weird things occurring in this town are pointing towards a growing trend."
"Surely you can see it. The weird bird attacks on the stone bridge earlier this summer? The sudden disappearance of 86% of the homeless people around town? Even the unexplained disappearance of Ralphy Kurak from his own house? These things are pointing to a gathering of forces."
"Homeless people can be hard to keep track of, especially in the summer when they are more transient. Your argument doesn't track." Jack's logic seemed as cold as the air, equally punctuated by the steam of his breath.
"Okay, how about all the missing people that your father is responsible for. Or how his prison transport suffered such a catastrophic and unexpected accident on the way to Federal prison?"
"People have underestimated Father many times. While it was shocking that he came back to attempt to get to Paul and me, it was hardly a surprise that he was able to affect an escape. He's very clever and resourceful."
"You almost sound proud," Andy said, without thinking.
"He trained me well in that regard. Something you should keep well to mind."
"Noted. Still, all my instincts and training says that something big is coming. Something dangerous and that we need to be ready. Already, there are those with psychic gifts starting to go missing."
"Psychics?" Jack asked, for the first time clearly caught off guard.
"Yes. If you don't believe in such things, then you really haven't been paying attention to things around your own life, lately."
"Father… predicted that those with mental powers would likely emerge first. Direct mind abilities that affect other minds and the physical world. He predicted that abilities related to energy effects would be rarer and likely fatal to those who develop them. There are no precedents for modern people to draw on for the training and assistance of such people, so they would likely misuse their abilities in some tragic, fatal way."
"So you see why I feel the need to find others of my own kind. Self-preservation through mutual protection and training. Paul is in danger. So are you."
"We are getting training," Jack replied. "Paul already has excelled in his weapons training with the changelings. As have I." Jack realized almost too late that he may have given away too much information. In the darkness, his cheeks reddened with shame, but he kept his breathing regular, shallow. Ready to hold his breath in a moment to aid in his aim. He might be liking what Andy was offering, but he wasn't ready to take unnecessary chances.
"Yeah, I can see that," Andy nodded towards the arrow holding him in place. "Any closer and I might be making the roof a bit wetter."
"If my estimation of your abilities and training is accurate, you'd have emptied your bladder before you left to come here, or at least someplace along the way."
"You are a quick one."
"I will talk with Paul about this. But, when next we meet, it will be at a neutral site, in public and in daylight."
"Understood," Andy said, tightly. Public places weren't in his comfort zone much these days. Too much of a chance he might get recognized by someone much older who could find it odd that Andy himself hadn't changed any.
"Do not come here again, uninvited. Nor to my brother's house across the mill stream."
Jack relaxed the bowstring, bringing the weapon down by his side. He kept the arrow nocked, Andy notice, but the tension on the string was reduced to barely enough to keep the string in a very wide angle going to the pulleys at either end. Jack nodded to the arrow sticking through Andy's sleeve. Andy took that as a cue to pull the arrow free. He wiggled the shaft and found it had embedded fairly deep into the roof, going through at least two layers of shingles. It took nearly thirty seconds to pry the point up a fraction of an inch before a small shadow covered him.
Andy looked up and saw Jack leaning over him, the bow slung across his back. The smaller boy simply grabbed the shaft, pushing Andy's hands aside and he began to rotate it counterclockwise, longitudinally. Andy heard the soft scrape of aluminum on steel as Jack unscrewed the arrowhead from the shaft. With a few deft movements, the shaft came free and Andy felt the tension in his sleeve slack and relax. Before Andy could stand up, Jack had backed away and held up Andy's hidden tactical knife, still folded.
"It was both wise and foolish of you to not totally disarm," Jack said. "If I'd thought you were a threat to Paul, I'd have killed you at the height of that impressive swing."
"Clearly we have much to teach each other," Andy replied, smiling. Perhaps he could swing an alliance with this boy and thus gain an inroad through to their allies as well.
"Don't mistake my fascination for your abilities to be an automatic agreement to your alliance. Other lives play into this as well. And they will have their own say, I'm sure."
"I would have it no other way," Andy agreed. "We all need to know what we're getting into. But we also all need to know who is on our side and who isn't."
"Give me three days," Jack replied, stepping back and squatting, resting one knee on the roof. He tossed Andy the knife and fished out a new arrowhead from a pouch on his quiver's strap. In seconds, he had the shaft rearmed and snug back in the quiver. Andy nodded at the skill and precision of the other boy, sensing a kindred spirit.
"GAR Park, near the cannons at the southeast corner. Around 3pm."
"After your fencing class?" Andy said, grinning, showing that he knew at least a little of their schedules.
"No one likes a smart ass," Jack replied, evenly, giving the Fox a disapproving scowl.
"Saturday. Paul will want to meet you. All of you," Jack said, giving a subtle twist of the head at "All."
"Until then," Andy replied and leapt off the edge of the roof. His grappling tool latched out and snagged the end of the house, slowing his drop on the way down. He quickly retrieved his knife from the driveway and made off into the shadows of the night."
"You get all that?" Jack asked over his shoulder. A second shadow moved from behind the archer, coming up behind him. Strong arms wrapped around Jack's waist and he leaned back against the chest behind him. One of those arms held a Jedi class training saber, metallic gold in color.
"Yessir, yessir, three bags full," Paul replied. "Looks like we have a lot to talk about tomorrow."
"I've already sent e-mails and texts to the others."
"Good. It's about time we got some sleep then, yes?" Paul said, nuzzling the side of Jack's neck.
"Uhm. Yes, but only sleep."
"Come to bed then, Toothpick."
"Lead the way, Spartan," Jack replied.
Together, they slipped back over the peak of the roof, down by the gabbled window and into Paul's bedroom.
Undisclosed office building, Washington DC
"You boys really screwed the pooch on this one," Dr. Conrad sighed, resignedly. His retreating hairline seemed to be retreating even further under the constant rubs he kept giving his forehead. Despite the winds whipping off the Potomac, Conrad seemed to be enduring tremendous heat. One wouldn't suspect such heat with the way that the building's thermostat was set by government bean counters looking to save the tax payers a few bucks.
"Sir, I did tell you that this was a bad idea from the start," Johnson said, calmly.
"How did it get so out of hand?"
"Stamos, sir," Johnson said, keeping his tone neutral. "The man is psychotic, thinks himself a god. He ignored my requests for support when the Hounds were suffering losses and technical, er, glitches."
"And exactly where is the good doctor?"
"Recovering from his injuries, back in his cell. I gave strict orders to keep him under watch at all times. He's not dealing well with the loss of his hand."
"Considering who he is, I'd say that's probably putting it mildly," Conrad replied.
"I should have shot him in the field and brought back his filthy, rotting, ancient carcass."
"I know the man is a deranged lunatic," Conrad said, standing behind his desk, staring out the window. In the distance, behind him the dome of the Capitol building glistened in the slight spray of rain that had fallen earlier in the evening. The dark clouds above the city outlined the stark white monuments and buildings sharply. "He's brilliant, but a bonafide sicko. But damnit, there's so much more at stake here than just the crazy events in one small town in Massachusetts. Like it or not, we need some of the brilliant that's still trapped behind all that crazy if we're going to survive."
"If we had gone in with a tactical team, made a more surgical, careful move, we could have captured at least one of the children. Hell, sir, if we'd known the kids were as closely organized as they are we might have stood a chance of even just talking to them and convincing them to join us." Conrad gave Johnson a sideways look, scowling. "Without violence or needing to have this cover up. Homeland Security is not happy about all this crap going on without their knowledge and still having to deal with local law enforcement."
"Doesn't matter anymore," Conrad said, reclaiming his seat. He reached into the top drawer of his desk and pulled out a file, slapping it down on the desk in front of Johnson. He waived at the file, which the agent took as a sign to open it and read.
The first page in the file was a view from a satellite of the south Pacific Ocean, miles from any island or land mass. Johnson flipped through the multipage image from the satellite, going through multiple layers of spectral analysis, thermal imaging, weather patterns, ocean current and depth reports, air and ocean traffic courses through the area. One area was circled on all of them, with a brief description of the particular information each page measured.
"Is this what I think it is?" Johnson said, glancing up.
"Read the left side page," Conrad said. "I don't need to tell you that this is top secret, and doesn't get spoken of outside these walls," the doctor intimated, inclining his head for emphasis.
Johnson glanced at the image clipped to the inside of the file's cover. It appeared to be an image from space, one of the orbiting astronomy telescopes or perhaps from the International Space Station. In one corner of the image was a view of the crescent moon, the Tycho crater's long rays clearly visible through the terminator. Something in the opposite corner of the image was circled, with a data block posted next to it.
Johnson's eyes opened wide. "Is this recent?"
"Last night's batch. The numbers are consistent through the last three months. And there's more." Conrad looked directly in Johnson's eyes. "I need a drink."
"What more?" Johnson said, his eyes narrowing. Conrad had produced a bottle of Jim Beam, a bottle with about ¾ of its contents already gone. He also produced two rocks glasses and poured two fingers of the amber liquid into each, offering one to Johnson. The agent didn't reach for the glass, even as Conrad brought the bourbon to his lips.
"A lot of this data started happening about the same time the telepaths started vanishing," Conrad began, talking over the lip of his glass. "There is evidence that some of those telepaths met some sort of foul play. For at least three of the ones we had been tracking, who are gone now, there were signs of struggle at their homes."
"And you think these things are connected?" Conrad took a sip before answering, but his look was haunted. This has really shaken him, Johnson thought.
"Science teaches you to look at patterns, look for correlations. Even a man in your line of work looks for dots and how they connect. This all seems to be coinciding with certain celestial positionings."
"Planets lining up, patterns of constellations, solar activity, it all seems to be having stacking gravitational effects, not only on the Earth, but on the Moon and on cometary motions. We've also noted a lot of strange, activity in Near Earth Objects lately. Asteroids lining up in oddly linear patterns."
"In ways that seem to be aimed at blocking the view behind such arrangements."
"How can that be?" Johnson said, looking to Conrad as the doctor tossed back the rest of the alcohol in his glass, swallowing loudly. "That would indicate some force is acting intelligently to do so. Right?"
"Would point to that being the case," Conrad said. He set the glass down and eyed the second glass, hungrily. "And with this thing going on in the Pacific, and in the Atlantic, by the way, and that… whatever it is… heading this way at almost relativistic speeds, we are running out of time."
"How many people know about this?"
"Few," Conrad said, emphatically. "Less than a hundred, including, now, you."
"So what is the plan?"
"Heheh! Plan?!" Conrad barked. He set down his glass and picked up the second one, looking into the liquid as he swirled it slowly. "The plan was to be prepared. To find ways to protect ourselves if whatever that is turns out to be unfriendly. And you've seen how well that's gone, so far. We can't even handle a bunch of teenagers, much less deal with…" he pointed to the file, "that. All of that."
"So, you thought that whatever powers these children have, it would be enough to prevent…" Johnson looked at the space telescope image again. "Whatever this is?"
"I was told to come up with solutions. We all are. There are no less than seven agencies working on this, including two I'd never heard of." Conrad brought the second glass up to his face. "We're behind the 8-ball so much on this, we've stooped to sharing intel with the Russians and Chinese."
"What about the European powers?"
"Don't believe all the James Bond films," Conrad said, taking a big swig from the rocks glass in his hand. He quickly made to reload it, taller than before. "They might be allies, but they got enough of their own problems. Their resources are stretched thin with all these terrorism activities and refuges. We have some help in the scientific community there, but for the most part the EU and most of NATO aren't capable of dealing with this. Aside from two rivals, we pretty much stand alone."
Johnson remained silent a moment, his gaze flicking over the images in the file before him. He looked up to Dr. Conrad, a question forming in his mind. The man looked defeated, staring into the bottle he held as if contemplating crawling inside it and never coming out.
"What of the Senator, and the Director?"
"The recent e-mail sex scandal has the congress and senate completely occupied right now. The press is keeping them busy enough that they are keeping their private communications quiet for a while. We have a brief reprieve. I had to call in a favor from a friend at Homeland Security to make sure we have a little cover. That combined with these mid-term elections and the wildfires out west is keeping the elected officials off our backs for a little while."
"So DHS is behind this sudden sex scandal sweeping through the congressional data servers?"
"They've been suppressing it to try and track down several criminals with connections in high places, but it seemed like a good time to let the leak out." Conrad downed the liquid in the glass in one long gulp, getting a look from Johnson. "Give cable news channels an inch and they start a freakin' marathon."
"Sir," Johnson began, searching for the right way to approach the subject. "What if we make an attempt to contact the kids, without resorting to force?"
"What, just ask these under-aged, super powered, organized teenagers to voluntarily submit themselves to government training and experimentation? I think their parents might object, even if the kids somehow agreed. And let's be honest, Johnson. When Stamos went rogue during the last operation, I doubt your face will do anything to bridge that distance. The kids likely think they were going to be killed. Would you trust you in that circumstance?"
"We have to do something. They may not be the solution to these problems," Johnson said, closing the file, "but they do represent a continuing threat."
"You know to whom. They blew up a satellite, without any evidence of how. The two brothers took out an entire special ops team, without any firearms. These five…"
"Four," Conrad reminded. "Unless that one survived somehow."
"At this point, I don't dismiss any possibilities without proof," Johnson said, inclining his head. "Something I learned from science."
"But these four managed to take down four of those War Hounds, and disarmed two special ops troopers. And that was despite it being an ambush that we set up."
"Oh bullshit, Henry," Conrad said, dismissively. "You and I both know that the ambush was poorly set up. Stamos neglected all of your advice and tactical knowledge. Your record from your SEAL days is spotless and exemplary. That old bastard's ego clearly was clouding his judgement. I wont make that mistake again."
Johnson smiled at that, imagining the look on the old Nazi's face when Johnson would get to tell him this news.
"The fact of the matter is we have screwed up here in so many ways. But we did manage to gather some interesting intel. I still have a small team of agents on the ground there, keeping eyes on things." Conrad pressed a few buttons and a large flat screen monitor snapped to life. The screen was split into four sections, each replaying short videos files of scenes in a small town type of environment. Johnson immediately registered that some of the landmarks he was seeing were from places around Canterbury, Massachusetts.
One panel showed a group of teen boys dueling with what looked like wooden poles painted like movie props from Star Wars. The boys were performing very athletic leaps and moves, at high speed. One of the boys suddenly grew, visibly in the image, his lightsaber prop also growing, and the boy he was facing suddenly leapt up about twenty feet, performed a twisting flip move and landed behind the suddenly taller boy. The whole time, they continued their duel, even as the first boy returned to normal size.
One of the other panels showed a scene from a rooftop, the text at the bottom indicating that it was gotten by a drone. There were two boys on the roof of a home, apparently. One of them had his face obscured by a hoody, the other had a drawn bow, the arrow showing up plainly in the night-vision green from the drone camera. As Johnson watched the arrow fired and somehow pinned the other boy's wrist to the roof, and he rearmed the bow with amazing speed and economy of motion.
"That one with the Robin Hood action happened about an hour ago," Conrad explained. "The drone was nearly two miles away and had been following the heat signature of the boy with the face hidden. He was using some sort of cable launcher system that is hidden up one wrist to literally do Spiderman stunts to move across town. The other boy, the one with the bow…" Conrad paused, which caused Johnson to look over at him, expectantly, "is Stamos' son."
Johnson's eyes flicked briefly to Conrad for a moment, nervously, then back to the screen.
In the remaining two panels, one showed some sort of winged creature attacking another drone, head on, so the camera caught just a blur of motion before the image degraded. In the distance behind the indistinguishable flying thing was a stone castle overlooking a lake. The attack on the drone was so savage and fast that the camera only caught a brief image of some sort of leathery wings and then a flash of something that could be a monkey tail, and then the drone camera panned through a short arc of treetops and nearby glows of streetlamps before going dark.
The final panel showed a map of the New England area, with spots marking energy readings from satellite reconnaissance. There were numerous energy spikes all across the region, and several that seemed to be off the coast. The area around Canterbury seemed to be one of the hot spots of the region. "We have a new satellite in position there?"
"I borrowed one from DoD. They weren't happy when I forced the transfer over. Apparently they were using it to track possible nuclear material movements in the middle east. Like we don't already waste enough resources over there as it is," Conrad said, sarcastically. "Fuckin' Neo Cons think the world will think the way they do. Idiots keep neglecting the lessons of history."
"So what are all of these hits on the map?"
"Psionic energy readings. We have known for a long time that New England was a hot spot for such energy surges. The population density and history of the place alone bear that out, like in Europe. But lately, we've seen such an intense increase that it's scary. The satellite that was destroyed, it got hit while tracking the younger of the Perault brothers. We are fairly confident he is responsible for the satellite, but we don't know how."
"He's only 13. How could it have been him?"
"How indeed," Conrad agreed. "But, after what we have witnessed the Perault brothers doing, and now these new boys, and the other events earlier this year."
Conrad reached into his desk and pulled out a jump drive. He leaned over the desk to hand it to Johnson, but snatched his hand back as Johnson reached for it.
"You realize, of course, that if I put this information into your hands, it goes no further. This is higher than top secret clearance. This is higher than Roswell and Groom Lake clearance. Hell, there are presidents who weren't told some of this. This stuff is as advanced and secret as the DT crystal weapon tech we equipped you special agents with. Literally, balance of power sort of stuff."
"Then before I accept, what is it?" Johnson asked, suddenly wary.
"The stuff that dreams are made of, my boy. And nightmares. And if that thing in space, that little event in the Pacific and all of this stuff happening in Massachusetts are all somehow connected…" Conrad said, his eyes looking haunted. "Then we are going to need every genetic, scientific, technological and who the hell knows what else advantage we can get to survive, as a species." Conrad held out his hand, the jump drive completely held in his fist. "So I ask you, one last time; are you sure?"
Johnson studied Conrad's face for a moment. He'd worked for this man for a number of years. He'd shed blood for this man's policies and he'd taken pains and injuries to secure the work done under this man's watch. He knew how serious Conrad was about his work, about protecting his country from threats that science fact was only beginning to realize weren't science fiction any longer. In short, he trusted the doctor with his life.
"If I'm going to be part of the solution, I'm going to need to know what the problems are. And I'll need to do my homework."
"Good man," Conrad said, opening his hand. The jump drive dropped into Johnson's hand, feeling to the agent like an added weight across his soul. "Review the reports and get back to me on Monday."
"What about Stamos, sir?" Johnson asked, quickly securing the jump drive into a pocket inside his sport coat. He stood, realizing that the order to do his homework was a dismissal.
"I'll deal with him. He's not going to like what I'm about to do to his research budget."
"He shouldn't be let out into the field, sir. Just my recommendation. Use his brain all you want, but the man is an authentic wacko, and can't be trusted."
"Yes, well," Conrad began, pouring himself another stiff two fingers. "Once I get things straightened out with Herr Doktor, he'll be lucky if he ever sees daylight again." Johnson smiled at that. "And Henry?" Conrad said, looking back at the agent. "This stuff on that drive, it's eyes only. No family, no wife, no idiot cousin can see it. No one. Do you understand what that means?"
Johnson saw the haunted look in Conrad's eyes again and suddenly wished he'd had that shot of bourbon before. "Yessir. I completely understand."
"We can't afford any more screw ups. And we are running out of time on solutions."
"Drive safely. My best to Julia and Eric."
Johnson hurried to his car, pulling his jacket tight. He could feel his sidearm snug in its shoulder holster, rubbing gently against the thumb drive in his inner pocket. His usual cautious nature suddenly felt inadequate with the new burden he bore. He swore to himself that somehow, someway, he'd help make things right again. Safer.
As Johnson drove off into the night, Conrad stared into the depths of the bottle before him, contemplating how much of the stuff he'd have to drink before his conscious would let him sleep tonight. And how much Johnson would start drinking when he found out what was on that jump drive.
Undisclosed Federal Detention facility, near Chesapeake Bay, four miles outside of Baltimore, Maryland 2:48 AM
Stamos was not happy. He was quiet on the outside. Almost sedated, as the medical personnel at the detention facility thought he was. Their paltry medications barely touched his inhuman metabolism. His stump itched. He endured the discomfort of it, however. He had other matters on his mind.
Escape, for one. Being down a hand would make that more difficult, but he had time. Time to plan and learn to adjust to this new situation. Time to figure out the guards' patterns, the day to day routine of the facility. Time to plan ways around the countermeasures and tracking devices and security systems they thought would keep him in place.
But they wouldn't be enough. The Doctor contemplated how much he could use his relationship with Conrad, how much he could push on Johnson's hatred. These weren't obstacles for him. No, for a man like Stamos, these things were assets. Psychological weapons that he could employ when necessary. "Push the right buttons, and the machine does the work for you," he thought.
Part of his plan also involved finding the resources to possibly build himself a replacement hand. He had asked the surgeon who had sealed his stump enough questions to be reasonably sure he could build and install a suitable cybernetic system, something linked directly to his nervous system, with some kind of internal power supply capable of exerting tremendous hand strength.
His own claw, he realized. A new version of Captain J.S. Hook from those silly J.M. Barrie stories. Trust the British to devalue masculinity and military efficiency and brutality with youthful over exuberance and some misguided belief that the young should rule.
He would put that to the test once he got out.
Only a matter of time, preparation and opportunity.
So as he lay there, on his hard cot, letting the American fools think they had him in their power, he was feverishly working through the mental preparations and steps he'd need for his great escape and next phase of his work. Along with a little revenge thrown in for the sake of good form. Can't let the brats think they are winning. Have to remind them that their brief lights are flickering, while his fire has burned strong since the glory days of the Third Reich.
A sound penetrated the wall of the cell he was in. A simple holding cell, devoid of any of the things he'd meticulously hidden in his previous cell while working on the War Hounds. It was a strategic loss only, simply because they'd needed to stop at this facility for medical care. Still, one had to make plans for the situation one was in. Always be prepared, always be ready, always be unexpected.
So it was only slightly irritating when the noise entered his cell. The cramped space was horribly echo prone and often the slightest of sounds could produce oddly dissonant reflections. Then the sound came closer, a series of footsteps, awkward and hesitant. Like a being fighting its own natural walking cadence.
Oh, he'd stopped thinking of these beings he was stuck with, these humans, as existing on the same level of enlightenment as himself. He'd ascended the stairs to higher consciousness, after all. Evolved, no, forced himself to evolve, so that he was not of their ilk any more. So he was not bound by their narrow definitions of morality and ethics.
The same as when the Thinking Man had replaced the Neanderthal. They outnumbered him, but that could easily change.
The sound stopped at his door. There was a curious fumbling at the keypad that kept his cell secure from the outside. Then the door swung open. Stamos looked up from his cot, mildly annoyed that his many plans were interrupted so early in their critical stages. He had half planned out how the interface to his own nervous system should work with the new planned prosthetic's internal architecture. And now this.
Standing before him was a US Marine corporal. The man was a wreck compared with others he'd seen of such type. The United States military was a professional organization, he had to admit, and they tended to have their ducks all in a row. So seeing this particular guard in his condition was a bit of a surprise.
The man didn't seem comfortable in his uniform. Despite being a young man in the prime of his health, he stooped, looked slightly drunk or sick. His stance was off balance and he swayed a bit. Even the pallor of the man suggested he was not well. It was the eyes that eventually gave it away, Stamos realized. There was a disconnect between how the man's eyes moved and the skin around those eyes. Almost as if the face were some ill-conceived movie mask.
"Doctoooor Staaay Moosss," the Marine intoned in a voice that seemed fluttery and forced. "The Mathser calls you."
"I have no master," Stamos said, feigning indifference. He turned in his cot, facing towards the wall. "Whatever you have to say, you are wasting your time. The others will be here soon and…"
"Your greatnesssss isss not appreeeciated among the surfaaccce dwellers. The Mathser returns… and he will want to have great onessss to rule for him."
Stamos turned over at that. "What nonsense is this? Are you intoxicated?"
"Open your mind to the void, Doctoooor Staaay Moosss," the Marine intoned. Down the hallway, Stamos could hear other guards approaching.
"Your time is up, deranged American."
"I am not of their kind. I was born of their wombsss, but I was fostered and bred for the Deep."
"Fascinating," Stamos deadpanned. "Do you also see Elvis dining with the Kennedys?"
"You will come to understand. I waasss sent to give you a mehsss-age. He comes, soon. And this world will be Hisss!"
Then the Marine reached up and grabbed the flesh of its face and tore away sheets of skin from its neck, revealing scaly flesh and fully formed gills. The Marine's scalp fell away, revealing a webbed spine traveling down from the center of its eyes, along the back of its head, disappearing under the collar of the uniform. Stamos also noticed that the creature had clawed, webbed hands bearing only three fingers, but with two opposable thumbs, each on opposite sides of the palm.
His eyes traveled over the creature's body as it pulled more skin off, revealing a very weak appearing chin, by human standards, and a wide mouth, ringed with many tiny, sharp teeth. The creature's eyes were still set up like a human's binocular vision, but were wider, protruding, almost glassy. The uniform seemed to split from behind, as if the creature were flexing some part of its body from containment.
"Nooow, do you sssseee?" the creature asked, its voice sounding wet and gurgly. "Open your mind-ind tonight, and the Mathers will shall come to you. The seeecretsss you seek ssshall be yourssss."
Beyond the cell door, another heavy prison door opened and the creature that had been in Marine's clothing turned to the sound. It pulled out a long glistening, dog-legged spike of some darkly iridescent material from what was left of the Marine's pants, and jabbed the end of it into its own chest.
"huu luu, huu luu, huu luu," it murmured as the guards drew closer, their weapons drawn. By the time they got to the doctor's cell, the creature had become a mass of bloody flesh upon the floor. Stamos stood well back as the guards entered the cell, one of them stepping in the mess that had been a US Marine impersonator just moments before.
"What happened?" the guard sergeant demanded of Stamos. "Why did Corporal Lovecraft blow his own head off?"
"I don't know why your personnel wish to commit suicide," Stamos replied evenly. "He came in blathering incoherently."
"Are you hurt?"
"No. He… did not touch me."
"Where is his sidearm?" one of the guards said, prompting a quick search of Stamos' person and quarters. The corporal's weapon was found with his corpse. Stamos never laid a hand on it.
But they never found the spike of dark material that the old Nazi had taken from the creature's chest and secreted where no one would think to look for it. He was moved to an adjoining cell for the night while the forensics team came in and collected evidence at the scene of the corporal's apparent suicide.
That night, Stamos welcomed the opportunity to sleep, perchance to dream, and hopefully hatch new nightmares for those who had opposed him. That night, evil met evil, and dreamed of horrors to come.
Location Unknown 3:21 AM
In the gathering fog, the ritualists joined hands, forming a circle. The flicker of torchlight lit the standing stones, bathing the alter with the pale orange and long shadow of night. The night breezes carried he fragrance of the nearby sea, warm and salty, to mix with the other scents heavy in the air. All around, minor rituals were occurring, helping to build to this moment. Building to help the final rite for the boy who lay upon the alter.
The boy lay on his back, stripped of all clothing. His body had been washed of all the blood. The silver wrist watch lay beside him, also purified for the ritual. His other effects were too destroyed to be salvaged. He would need them no longer.
The Master of the Rite stood and called to the corners, the Four Winds, invoking their blessing. Then the drums started, and the dancing. Firelight cast weird shadows of men and beasts as the chanting and dancing continued. The scent of burning herbs, oils, and pots boiling with fragrant ingredients lifted a vapor into the air around the alter stone. Symbols were painted upon the boy's body in rich pigments, thickly applied. Greens and reds, white and blue and yellow, and darkest pitch.
As the dancing reached a fevered, frenzied energy, the ritual participants of the inner circle placed their palms on the shoulders of their neighbors, raising one hand to the skies. The rain began, but the torches did not sputter and die out. The pots continued to boil. The incense and herbs smoldered and smoked on. The dancers took stationary positions behind the ritualists, still moving, still dancing, but keeping a given space. Still the rain poured down, thunder railing in the distance.
The Master of the Rite began the final prayer, his hands held aloft, saying the words with the intensity and emotion that only the truly supplicant can muster. He drew out the knife from his belt, a weapon carved from the huge canine tooth of some great beast. It was festooned with glyphs and fetishes on leather thongs, and it had the glint of sliver in the carvings along the blade.
The Master of the Rite took the knife and cut a small line in the center of his own palm, the blood oozing slowly, but catching a brilliant green flame almost as soon as it hit the open air. The chanting of the ritualists increased in volume as they lowered their hands towards the alter. The dancers behind them, placed their own hands on the shoulders of the ritualists in front of them.
The chanting grew, the dancing continued, the drums beat louder and faster, the blood burned green, and with a loud shout, the Master of the Rite took his bleeding, burning hand, wrapped it around the knife handle and leapt into the air, over the alter, bringing his knife down, down, down, into the center of the boy's chest.
A loud scream split the night. A cry of pain, anguish, terror. And then, the drums sounded three quick, hard beats and the ritualists cheered. The rain stopped. The sky grew calm. The ritualists moved apart, each to their own business. The dancers too headed for other things to do. Only the Master of the Rite, his hand now healed, remained at the stone alter. He pulled the knife out of the boy's chest and looked down upon the body.
"It is over now, young one. Your destiny awaits us all, soon enough."
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