Spell/Sword creeps ever closer.

Going to be a little quiet on the blog for the next few days. I’m working on getting the novel formatted correctly for printing via CreateSpace and digitial publishing through Amazon’s KDP. My goal is to have the book ready for purchase by the end of the March.

Though, the Ides of March would be a suitably ominous release date…

So when I come back, get your wallets ready. I’m going to be a money grubbin’ fool.

The Tudyk/Pikachu Intolerance Litmus

Image provided by:margaretpoplin.com
Image provided by:
margaretpoplin.com

Sometimes we perceive ourselves on the sidelines — when we witness intolerance, or hate, or discrimination. When we don’t personally know a Muslim, a black person, a woman, or a gay.

I mean, those people are rare, right?

But I get it — it’s hard to get enraged when you don’t have a personal connection to the subject of abuse. They’re just concepts. Not people, not our friends, not anything worth breaking the social contract for — calling out some casual or professional racism, sexism, trans-hate, etc. etc. — or just general shitty, rude behavior.

So, here’s what I do when I find myself waffling on whether or not I should speak up or show support for an individual or group. An individual or group that is getting worked over by systemic violence, workplace discrimination, or any of the thousand-thousand petty assaults humanity heaps on the Tribe of Other.

Just mentally replace whatever person or group is being attacked with something universally good. Something that every single one of us can agree is wonderful — and would provoke all of us to righteous rage if  we witnessed them being maligned or assaulted in any way.

alan_tudyk_99
Alan Tudyk pictured with Smolder Mode activated.

I pretend that they’re talking about Alan Tudyk and Pikachu.

Do you have any idea how fucking pissed I would get if someone was rude to Alan Tudyk in front of me? Especially if he and Pikachu were having some sort of picnic? You know, snuggling and eating cucumber sandwiches and reading fairy tales out of a big leather book. LIKE THEY DO.

“Shut your face, man. Alan Tudyk is a national fucking treasure and I won’t have you slander his good name. Of course we all his enjoy his work in Firefly — but have you even considered his less known roles? Like in Knight’s Tale or Dodgeball? Have you even considered his voice work? His voice work? I,Robot AND Wreck-It Ralph – phenomenal work. And Pikachu is a cuddly lightning mouse. A. LIGHTNING. MOUSE. THAT IS CUDDLY.”

That’s the trick. Make it personal. Use whoever you need to inspire the Godly Wrath. [Restrained and classy wrath please — anyone who would diss Pikachu is beneath soiling your own hands with physical violence.]

Because they are people. They are real. They are [nearly] just as important as Alan Tudyk and Pikachu. If Alan and Pikachu want to get married, that is a blessed event. If some of my money will keep Alan and Pikachu from getting killed in a country I’ll never visit, then please take some — I would just waste it anyway. If Pikachu wants to evolve into a girl Pikachu or a boy Pikachu, I know Mr. Tudyk is still going to be right by their side, and I should too. If Mr. Tudyk and Pikachu want to worship in a mosque, or a synagogue, or a church, or an empty field, or on the rim of an active volcano that is their right and I can’t imagine why anyone would have a problem with it.

pikachu_epic_pose_by_dhencod-d55ji0n
Pika!

Because even though I’ve never met them, I know that they are awesome. They are worthy of my love, worthy of my respect. And wouldn’t it be great if we extended the same certainty to the rest of the human beings, animals and Pokemans that share this dimension with us?

Just a thought.

Can I add that it is a sad state of affairs where Google Image Search doesn’t yield a single picture of Alan and Pikachu together? If anyone more photo manipulative than I could make that happen, you would get 750 points for the Hufflepuff.

UPDATE: 750 Points to Hufflepuff for Margaret Poplin! Thanks, Margaret! She did the photo manipulation – not sure about the pic of Mr. Tudyk, but the Pikachu art came from here.

Fan-fraction

Xander Berkely - played Captain Isaac Whitaker in the film version of A Few Good Men.
Xander Berkeley – played Captain Isaac Whitaker in the film version of A Few Good Men.

I’ve complied my Bizarro World fanfiction onto one page for easy consumption. I’m sure that Aaron Sorkin never expected there to be fanfiction of A Few Good Men, but he almost definitely never expected some starring a forgettable throwaway character, only intended for exposition.

You Can Call Me Isaac

I kind of had a lot of fun with this one. It turned from a silly, one-off joke into something approaching a Stoppard Rosencrantz And Guildenstern are Dead. Not approaching closely admittedly. My side-story has a few more psychic duels and resurrections than Stoppard’s work.

But, as I said — I found myself digging the project more than I expected. I’ve always enjoyed the idea of the aging hero pulled back into the fray. The days of youth, wonder and power cracked back open when the need is dire. And really, any excuse to have super-powered characters cavort on rooftops is fine with me.

I did some quick web-research, and found the actor who played Whitaker in the film version – Xander Berkeley.  Dude looks pretty badass, and has some interesting genre credits to his name. So if his people are interested in the TV show rights, they can give me a jangle. Don’t tell Sorkin, though. I don’t want him to write an uplifting monologue to batter me into submission.

You Can Call Me Isaac V

Two days of air and fire.

Hermes and Black Mask danced in the shadows of the city. Cat and mouse and dagger and cloak — a secret duel hidden from the eyes of the mortals below.

The green-masked man ran faster and faster. He found new clothes, he ate food from dumpsters and the bottom of diner tables, he slept not at all. The field kept him up, kept him alert, burned the bacteria from the garbage he pushed into his mouth. Never a moment to stop, to breathe. Out of every shadow stepped Black Mask giggling. From under park benches, seeping through storm drains, out of every closet the violin laughter.  They clashed again and again – a hail of cutlery flung from a diner kitchen, an empty dumpster dropped from a midmorning sky,  two off-duty policemen opened fire – their eyes dead and blank under Black Mask’s grip.

Hermes phased through a wall to avoid the forks and knives. He caught the dumpster and hurled it back into the heavens. His hands blurred as he snagged the bullets from the air and tossed them aside.

And he loved it.

The field was like a drug.  It burned in his veins, it sang in his temples. The restraint he had held himself to back in the old days was gone, he was a god and couldn’t let himself stop. Partly because Black Mask would kill him if he let the field fall, but mostly because it felt too damn good.

Hermes became stronger, he became faster. The skill of his younger days fell into his hands like a ripe apple. He caught his reflection in a storefront window and laughed at the fat flesh still spilling over the top of his pants.  He was ready. Ready to stop running.

2008030157900301He chose an abandoned airstrip on the fringe of Dulles International. It was the perfect battleground. No civilians, zero cover,  few spare objects that could be turned into weapons. Hermes stood at parade rest and waited. It was 0400 and the day’s heat was already beginning to gather.

Black Mask did not disappoint. A howl of wind and he was there.

“Tired of being the rabbit, Captain Whitaker?” he called, two dozen yards across the tarmac.

“Tired of you…Dionysus.”

“Oh you remembered! The god of revels, the god of wine, the god of madness.” Dionysus hugged himself tightly with elation.

“You killed that boy. Why?” Hermes demanded.

“He was such a complainer, a whiner, a problem. We performed the Pantheon process in secret to several of the Marines there, he was the only one that responded,” the black mask waggled in exaggerated disappointment. “I’m sure you remember that the process leaves the subject physically weak and impaired for several weeks to months afterwards. Poor lad was getting bullied by his unit because he couldn’t run fast enough, or keep up with the drills. He started writing tear-stained letters to his family, the Corps, his Congressman. Entirely too much noise, too much attention being called. Guantanamo Bay has been the …shall we say, retirement home?…for Project Pantheon for quite some time now.  Zero Exposure, you remember. We couldn’t risk any bright young men like Jack Ross putting the pieces together. The opportunity presented itself, two members of his unit were ‘educating’ him with cord and duct tape, and I just reached in his chest and stopped his heart. A little bird’s heart in my hand. Squish.”

Dionysus clenched his gloved hand to demonstrate.

Hermes moved, the green field humming. A half-moment of distraction was all he had needed as a younger man, he prayed that was all he needed now.

The black mask moved in slow motion. Hermes could see his old comrade’s eyes widen with surprise. They widened even more as his hand plunged into Dionysus’ chest.

“Like this?” Hermes growled. “Squish.”

The black mask was still, then tilted back. Gales of laughter erupted and Dionysus shook with glee. The shadow outline of his form began to break up and splinter, like a pile of leaves in a wind. The black pieces blew away in the hot wind before dawn, and Hermes was alone on the tarmac.

Hermes looked down at his empty hand. “Dionysus, god of theater.”

The black masked man wasn’t here. He’d never been here. Not on the airfield, not in the streets of the city, not even in the back of his car. He’d reached into Hermes’ mind from somewhere far away, and played him like a puppet on the stage.

But why? What was the point? The horizon began to glow slightly with the onset of dawn, but brought no answers.

Hermes knew where to find some. He knew who to ask.

—-

Thursday at 0600, he stowed away on a transport heading for Cuba. He watched his men, Kaffee and Weinberg board the plane before slipping into the storage are in the belly of the craft. What would they think if they knew that their commander was not a dozen feet away, curled inside a metal cargo space munching on a few bags of beef jerky?

The Marines stationed at Guantanamo Bay are fanatical about their service at the forward area — vigilance, training and Gitmo_Aerialdiligence are expected and rigorously enforced. Hermes slipped past them like they were statues. He found a position on top of a guard tower, and crouched like a gargoyle – reaching out through the field to find what he was seeking. A large energy spike, somewhere underground, beneath the Guantanamo installation.

He slipped into a side door of a small building used to store medical supplies. The hidden door was easy enough to locate, and pry open. Hermes walked  down empty halls filled with abandoned equipment and broken glass. At last he found what he sought. A large metal door, the edges sealed. A palpable cold radiated from the metal, and his hand stuck to handle as he turned it.

A naked corpse was laid in the center of the freezer, on top of a couple of crates. The man was young. Couldn’t be older than 20. Shame.

Hermes laid his hand on the corpses head and whispered. “I am Hermes, the god of the crossroads. The messenger. The messenger.”

The messenger between the mortal world and the world of spirit. The world of the dead.

The human body is a sack of water. A sack of water that is animated by electrical impulses. If one has the way of it — the will, the training. One can replicate these electrical impulses in dead tissue. One can speak to the dead.

The green field hummed and Hermes groaned with exertion. His vision blurred, but then snapped to when Santiago’s eyes opened.

“Where am I” he said.

“Not important.” Hermes replied.

This was an extremely strenuous task, and the dead were always foggy. It was best to get the intelligence you needed as quickly and swiftly as possible.

“Do I get to go home?” Santiago asked, his voice cracked and sere.

“Yes. Yes, Santiago, you get to go home.” Hermes felt his eyes began to burn. “You had a dream. A dream about a man in a black mask.”

“Yes. I remember. He scares me.”

“I know. He can’t hurt you anymore. I need you to remember the dream. Did you ever see his face?”

“He’s laughing.” Santiago whispered. “He keeps calling me rabbit bait. But the rabbit is terrifying. He looks like a wolf with rabbit ears, and a green mask.”

Bait for me. “Don’t look at the rabbit, Santiago. The black mask. Can you see his face? Show me. Show me, please. And then you can go home.”

Santiago did. The face, clear as a painting in the dead man’s mind. Different then Hermes remembered, he’d had plastic surgery to hide his age and prominent features. He was here, on this base, hidden in plain sight.

“Thank you, Listener…Santiago. Now, it’s time to go home.” Hermes let the green field relax and the dead tissue went cold.

—-

A short-statured man sat at a desk in the command center of Guantanamo Bay. He was the base commander’s aide and Lt. Col. Nathan Jessup kept him busy sending communication to the Pentagon and administering the day to day duties of the forward base and detainment center. He knew everything that happened on the base one way or the other, and was able to quietly adjust certain orders to suit his true position, his true mission.

A man wearing a green mask walked into the office. “Hello, Tom.” he said.

Tom looked up from the stack of papers and smiled. “Hello, Hermes. You found me. Even quicker than I expected. Bravo,00000462_ac_0001 sir. I was worried when this all began, but you’ve snapped back into shape in a remarkable fashion. You may even wear off that gut in a few weeks if you keep the pace up.”

“Why, Dionysus. Why all of this?” Hermes stood at parade rest in front of the desk.

“Why for you!” Tom said with mock surprise. ” It is time to gather the sons of Project Pantheon again and begin our great work. The Marines here have been a total disappointment, they don’t have any of the old fire that our unit had. I need you, you and the others that remain. I activated you first, because you are the messenger. You can bear my commands even faster than my Remote Psychic Link. Save me weeks of time.”

“What if I say no?”

Tom laughed. “Say no? That’s ridiculous, Hermes. I can see it in your eye. You’re tired of being a fat old man shuffling paper. You want the field, you want the power. I have given it to you — we can tear across this world like the gods that we are. Think of it, Hermes! Kings and presidents kneeling at our feet. Countries toppled at a whim. Wars orchestrated to the tune of our psychic symphony. It’s why we were made, it’s what we are. As it was in the age gone by, let it be again here and now. We are gods, Hermes, gods!”

“I’m a soldier, Tom. Not a god.” He pulled his green mask free and tossed it on the desk. “And you can call me Isaac.”

Tom started to laugh, and then choke. The canister of gas that Isaac had hidden inside of his mask spewed forth a nearly invisible stream of poison. Isaac adjusted the straps of his stripped down gas mask and watched as his old comrade began  to turn red, then purple. Dionysus’  psychic field flickered on reflexively, but the damage had been done. The bag of water was punctured.

Isaac waited several minutes after Dionysus stopped moving. He carefully tucked the poison canister in his pocket and opened a window so the cyanide gas could dissippate. He laid two fingers against the dead man’s throat and made absolutely certain his heart had stopped.  He considered breaking the man’s neck just to be sure, but his iron training still  held him. Zero Exposure. Better if it looks like a plain old heart incident. Just like poor Santiago. I hope they do a better job of sweeping this one under the rug.

Isaac looked down at himself, at the dozen or more small scrapes and bruises he’d gathered in the past few days. He knew the moment he let the field drop, he’d be nearly incapacitated by pain. Not yet, Isaac. Got to get back to DC first, then to the nearest hospital.

The old soldier found himself grinning as he tugged at his waistband. “I’ve lost a few pounds at least. This beats the shit out of jogging.”

Isaac slid his mask into the wide pocket of his BDU, and leaped out the window.

bar-11

An attractive young woman sat alone at the bar, her hands idly twirling a cocktail straw as she stared into her glass.

Isaac slid onto the seat next to her, careful to keep his sling from jostling her. “Commander — I hear you won your case?”

“Captain…Isaac?” she replied in surprise. “Yes, yes we did. Lt. Kaffee and Sam and I. What…what happened to you?”

“Car wreck. Dumb luck.” he said philosophically. “Got quite a bump on the noggin, I was out for days. Sorry I missed the trial.”

“That’s okay. Must have been quite a car wreck.” she said, looking over the arm sling and the visible bandages on his hands and neckline.

“Hell of a thing. Buy an old soldier a drink?”

“Sure.” she smiled. “What’ll you have?”

“Nothing green, other than that — lady’s privilege. Where are Weinberg and Kaffee? Why are you celebrating alone?”

“Eh. Sam went to see his kid, and Danny…well, I’m not really sure what that one is all about. He had some work he wanted to do.” she shrugged, and signaled to the bartender. ” You in a hurry, should I get you something light?”

“Commander, I have nowhere I’d rather be.” Isaac leaned his uninjured arm on the bar. “Nowhere at all.”

“Good.” she smiled. “And remember, I said you could call me Joanne.”

[The final installment of my fanfiction covering the adventures of my character in A Few Good Men, Isaac Whitaker. Thanks to the cast and crew of Town & Gown’s production for inspiring and enjoying it. ]

You Can Call Me Isaac IV

A few hours later, Isaac leaned against the bricks of a rooftop stairwell.  The building was about ten stories tall, and provided an easy observation point for the taller building across the street.  He glanced at his watch, 2100 hours and studio-rooftopJack Ross was working late. The young lawyer’s light was one of a few that remained burning in the offices across the street.  Isaac watched Ross leaf through several file folders, and make copious notes on a yellow legal pad.

Isaac looked over the rim of his shattered spectacles, and wondered why he had been sent to kill this young man.

He checked the bandages on his left leg and shattered knuckles. The backpack had held a field issue first aid kit, and he had been able to dress his wounds in a portable latrine left unlocked at a construction site a few miles from where he’d wrecked the Regal. Also in the bag were a freshly laundered pair of Army BDU’s, so he had quickly shoved his blood-spattered khakis into the basin of the latrine and put on the clean clothes. They were clearly sized for a younger, much slimmer version of Isaac Whitaker — but he had managed to squeeze into them.

There were two other things in the backpack. An MRE – lasagna, his least favorite – and the object that he now held in his hands as he kept an eye on Jack Ross’ late night work.

It was a wooden mask, featureless except for a narrow slit for the mouth and two thin holes for the eyes. It wasn’t black, it was plain Army green. The paint was flecking on the edges.

Back in the unit, when they were first issued them, he had listened to the scientific rationale with half his attention. The unit had been trained to cause people to ignore them, by employing their psychic field to dampen the mental activity of others. It made people pay less attention to them, be far less inquisitive than they should be.  And somehow the masks helped — by removing recognizable human facial characteristics, it made the members of the unit even easier to ignore and disregard.

Isaac had done a lot of terrible things wearing this mask. Hermes did a lot of terrible things.

And now he had to put it on again.

It had been so easy to slip back into his training, his conditioning. He had been completely unobserved moving through the busy nighttime streets — he had leaped from rooftop to rooftop, slid down telephone poles in total silence, made himself invisible to an entire city bus of passengers, as he sat Indian-style on the roof. And it felt good.

Isaac squeezed both sides of the mask with his hands, feeling the smooth grain of the wood. It felt wonderful. I guess I never let myself think about how much I missed it. How crippled I’ve felt all these years. Fat and fucking old, jogging around my house and shuffling paper.

IMG_0254He’d been so caught up in it, in the high of the field, that he hadn’t truly been thinking. Black Mask was watching, he knew that. Any of his old unit would have little trouble keeping tabs on him. In the old days, the Hermes days, they never could have kept up with him, but now it would be child’s play — his field was still strong, but he was years out of practice.

Only one thing made sense right now. Find Jack Ross.

Enough, Whitaker. Get on with it. Isaac slipped the green mask on.

He ran towards the edge of the roof and kicked off. A few bricks were dislodged by the force, and he sailed through the air. His psychic field blazed green, but he had waited until the road below was completely deserted. The only one to see was Jack Ross as Isaac burst through his office window.

“Holy Hell!” Ross staggered back from his desk, eyes wide.

The young lawyer managed to grab a lampshade as an impromptu weapon. Hasn’t been a desk jockey too long. Isaac took it out of his hand and grabbed the front of Ross’ coat. With a quick heave, he slammed the younger man down on his desk and leaned in close.

“Tell me, Ross.” Isaac spoke in a whisper, praying that his voice would be unrecognizable. “There’s some very scary people that want you dead — any idea why?”

Ross swallowed and tried to collect himself. Isaac felt some sympathy. It’s been a rough day for everybody, kid.

The young lawyer ran his eyes over the green mask, and started as he saw the faint glow still remaining from his leap across the street.

“It can’t be. I never thought it was true.” Ross said fuzzily. ” Project Pantheon was real?”

Project Pantheon. The unit. Him, and the others. The psychic soldiers of the Cold War.

“What do you know about Project Pantheon?” Isaac forced himself to keep his voice quiet.

“Nothing! I’m working on a case, the murder case of this PFC in Guantanamo Bay. He was killed by a couple of his squad members.” Ross took a gasping breath, and coughed.

Isaac almost gasped himself, but kept the pressure on the young lawyer. From a thousand years ago, this morning, in the quiet life of Captain Isaac Whitaker of the JAG Corps,  he had been discussing this very case with an attractive young woman from Internal Affairs. “Santiago.” he whispered.

“Yes, Santiago!” Ross said with relief.” I got a big carton of evidence, copies of all of his personal communication sent 59981310_ce431f1908_zover from IA. But there was something extra, a journal kept shut with rubber bands. It wasn’t on the manifest, so I was curious — I opened it. It was…it was crazy. Some sort of psycho-therapy dream journal sort of thing. All of this raving about these nightmares that Santiago kept having, about psychic killers in the army. Project Pantheon, he wrote the name over and over again. And a ton of fucked up drawings — dragons and devils, yeah —  but always these figures wearing army fatigues and masks. Masks like you’re wearing.”

Isaac let the young lawyer go and stepped away. He could hear Ross swallow and slowly start to sit up behind him.

This Santiago kid –  he’s a Listener. Or he was a Listener. The process that unlocked the unit’s psychic fields always had similar effects: increased agility, awareness, strength, speed. But early on they had discovered that different people manifested different types of abilities. Super strength, remote viewing, mental domination, and others far stranger and more difficult to classify. One of the rarest was being a Listener – the ability to gather intelligence in the dream-state, to travel through the sleeping minds of the enemy and pull out battle plans, tactics, military secrets. The problem was that the information could only be processed by the sleeping mind – so it always came out in the this nightmare mish-mash. The two members of the unit that had the ability kept journals next to their bed, and always filled them with insane scribbling — then dutifully turned them into command to be deciphered. But Santiago was way too young to be a member of Project Pantheon. Unless they never really closed it down. Unless…

There was a member of Project Pantheon in Guantanamo Bay. Isaac felt his insides boil. They had killed that poor kid to hide themselves, framed the two Marines that Weinberg and Kaffee were defending…and now they were using him to mop up Ross. All for the young lawyer’s dilligence.

Isaac turned to face Ross. He knew what he had to do. His hand rose, fingers splayed.

“You will forget this, Ross. You will forget the journal, you will forget. A hawk flew into the window, broke it, scared you. You will never be alone for the next two weeks. Public places, carpool to work, keep your service revolver loaded and nearby at all times. Now go home, and get a good night’s sleep.”

Ross nodded, grabbed his briefcase and walked out the door.

Isaac watched him go and then turned back to the broken window. He found himself staring at his reflection in a small piece of glass that still hung in the frame. The green mask gave nothing away. “Goddammit.” he sighed.

He walked to the window, still holding the lamp he’d taken from Ross. Brandishing it like a scepter, he called out into the night.

“No. I didn’t kill him. But you’re going to have to let him go. You’ve got larger problems, you’ve got some serious shit to deal with. You’ve got me. You’ve got me really fucking pissed off. My name is Hermes and I’m the God of the Goddamn Crossroads. I am the messenger, you mother fuckers. Now come and chase me.”

His field blazed emerald and Hermes leaped out into the dark.

Hermes

 

 

You Can Call Me Isaac III

The human body is a sack of water.

A sack of water held together by the thinnest of walls, shot through with electrical cables and guitar string. From the tips of our fingers the current flows, water and energy radiating from our heart, our brain.  Turn the dial on the microscope and our cells are the same. Tiny bags of fluid and light.

The water, the walls, our bones, our cells — these are all physical things who do not react well to being flung against a hard surface at 67 mph.

But the energy, the electrical impulses controlled by the human brain, these are intangible things. They care not for matter, or gravity, or pain. If one has the way of it — the will, the training. The mind’s electricity can illuminate us.

Isaac Whitaker was a lightbulb turning on, tungsten wire glowing red hot.lightbulb

—-

He was a few paces from the smoking Regal before he came to.

His left leg below the knee was a red ruin, a thin sheet of blood covering his calf and black dress shoe. In his left hand he held the Regal’s driver-side door. His fingers had bent the frame when he ripped it free. Isaac tossed it absently to the ground, noticing that his vision had an odd jagged line across it.

Isaac groped at his face with both hands, and pulled his steel-rimmed spectacles off. The top half of the glass had shattered in a ragged horizontal line. He tilted them up with bemusement, and saw green light reflected.

The middle-aged man in ripped, bloodstained khaki hung in the air — his feet several inches above the pavement. He levitated, a nimbus of green energy surrounding him. Around his head the energy spiked and rippled, a crown of light.

Shit. I forgot about that part.

Isaac shut his eyes, and concentrated — fumbling  through his own mind, like a man exploring his childhood home in the dark. The green light faded and he slowly sank to the pavement.

He put on his broken glasses and peered around the crash site. The iron training held him fast. Zero exposure. No witnesses.

A pair of civilians were trotting up with concerned looks on their faces. An elderly black woman holding a grocery bag, and a thin white kid wearing a leather jacket.

“You allright, man?” the kid called, an unlit cigarette dangling from his hand.

Isaac held up his hand, just as the masked man had in the parking deck. You remember how, Captain. Now do it.

“You didn’t see anything. You are already forgetting this. You are walking away, and going around the corner and thinking about what you need to do when you get home.” Isaac commanded, his voice harsh.

m4lice-alice.tumblr.com/
m4lice-alice.tumblr.com/

The old woman and the kid stopped in their tracks, and turned as sharp as a military parade. They both marched away out of sight. The street he was on was deserted otherwise,   blank warehouses on either side. He would have a few moments to collect himself, to try to grapple with the situation.

“How can I?” he said to the empty street.

His feet carried him over to the crumpled car, and he looked at his reflection in the rear window. It was the same face he had looked at this morning in his office mirror, the same spreading paunch, the same khaki uniform shirt missing one button. But he was not the same. Isaac Whitaker was gone, he was Hermes again.

The messenger god. The god of crossroads. The god of vagrants and thieves.

He felt the tears and hysteria beginning to build behind his eyes again, and he pushed them away.  His thick hands curled into fists and he brought them down on the Regal’s trunk.  No pain, though he could see that two of his fingers were broken — puffy and purple at the joints. That was the danger of the psychic field, of harnessing the mind’s energy. The sack of water was weak and you could puncture it without realizing it. They had been trained to constantly check their extremities for damage, much in the way that lepers were taught.

The scientists hadn’t thought about that when the experiment began. It had been something that General Thurman had come up with, when one of the unit had died of gangrene after some bullet holes went unnoticed. The mission had been a success but Hephaestus was dumped into a body bag, and shipped back stateside.

The mission. Something for me in the trunk.

Isaac made himself walk back to the driver’s seat and retrieve his keys, instead of simply ripping the trunk open. Control was important, restraint was important. Only using the field when needed, that was something most of his unit never understood. It was why he had made it back with most of his sanity intact when the unit was decommissioned. The band of steel stapled around his leg, his abilities caged, and a place found for him in the JAG Corps.

The key turned in the trunk slot and it popped open. A green Army backpack was wedged in one corner. His hands trembled only slightly as he pulled it out. A white stamp was on the top flap – an army boot with crude wings on either side. His mark, his call-sign  Isaac pushed the flap open.

There were various items stuffed down in the bottom, but on top was a manila envelope. He bent the metal tabs and opened it, a large picture spilled out into his hands.

The picture was of a thin man, wearing a Navy dress uniform. Isaac recognized him

Artist - Jack Foster
Artist – Jack Foster

immediately.

“Jack Ross? What do you have to do with this?” he asked the air.

Ross was a colleague, a military prosecutor. A much younger man than Isaac, no way he could have been involved with the experiments, the training, the black operations, the casual slaughters. Isaac turned the picture over.

Scrawled in red lipstick were instructions. “KILL. 0 EXPOSURE. RETURN.”

“Goddamit.” He stuffed the picture and envelope back in the bag, and pulled the strap over his shoulder. “I don’t do this anymore.”

He needed time. Time to think, time to let his heart stop bleeding adrenaline. He knew the masked man would be watching. I’ll go through the motions, think my way through this. 

Isaac turned and started walking away from the wrecked regal. He ran through the laundry list. Clothes, bandages, time to further inspect the contents of the backpack, locate Ross, reconnaissance, infiltration, interrogation, termination.

He stopped a dozen yards away from the car, caged by his training. Zero Exposure.

Isaac concentrated, the electricity of his mind tearing through the air behind him. This was not his strong suit, but he should be able to make a small spark.

The gas line of the Regal ignited, and a thick whump-sound filled the air as the gas tank went up. Smoke and fire spread through the car quickly.

Isaac straightened his jagged spectacles and walked away. He was committed now. Police would find his car within the hour, and in a few hours more connect the charred license plate with Captain Isaac Whitaker. The DC police weren’t exceptionally competent – but a missing persons report could prove troublesome. He would need to act fast.

A grim smile stole across his face. He was Hermes, the messenger. He could act very fast indeed.

Isaac ripped his uniform shirt off and tossed it in a nearby dumpster. He walked on in a plain white undershirt, as the smoke from the burning car rose behind him.

 

You Can Call Me Isaac II

“Ah, so familiar and friendly.” The masked man giggled.

Isaac carefully backed out of his space, his eyes locked on the rearview mirror. The black wooden mask his passenger wore was purposefully featureless, and his hunched posture made it difficult to estimate his height or weight.

“Which one are you? Apollo, Dionysus…Ares?” Isaac shifted the car into gear and put his foot on the gas.

“You remember!” the masked man said, high pitched voice sliding like a manic violin. “So digidash_buickrivieragood to know that you haven’t forgotten your old comrades. That there’s something of my old war buddy in that fat old man suit you’re wearing.”

The Regal roared sedately around the wide curves of the empty parking deck. Isaac’s hands gripped the wheel loosely, hands at ten and two. He braked as they approached the parking lot attendant, a bored-looking man idly spitting sesame seeds into a paper cup.

“Not a word now.” the masked man pressed the barrel of his gun more firmly into his neck for a moment, then shifted it to press into the soft flesh over his kidney.

Out of the corner of his eye, Isaac saw the masked man press his hand against the glass of the back window. The masked man’s hands were gloved, plain black cotton gloves – workman’s gloves. The attendant ran his eyes over the Regal, and stared into the back seat for a moment. Bored eyes looked at the black splayed fingers and saw nothing. The masked man giggled again in triumph.

The attendant didn’t see the masked man. Because the masked man wouldn’t let him.

Isaac nodded at the attendant, who waved politely with his paper cup.  The pulled the Regal to the edge of the deck, nose pointed into the street. The oncoming traffic was steady – Isaac laid a hand on his blinker. He tried to keep his voice calm, and his heart rate down — Training, Whitaker, training. Remember it. — but the slow trickle of sweat down his back revealed the strain.

“Where are we going? Left or right?”

“Oh…..right.” The masked man stretched out on the backseat, gun barrel steady in Isaac’s side. “Right will be fine.”

He doesn’t care. That’s not good. Not good at all. Isaac pushed up on his blinker, and pulled into traffic. He scanned the sidewalks without moving his head, hoping to spot any sort of ally. I’d even take Weinberg right now.

Isaac only saw a few strangers, civilians.

“Take a left at this light…Isaac,” the masked man said his name with a sing-song reverence. “And speed up, we’re in a hurry.”

He took the green light, and accelerated slowly. The street was lined on either side with various government and office buildings. There wasn’t a lot of traffic on the four lane street, and he was able to move between the other cars with little difficulty. It was just after dusk, the street lights burned orange and remote.

“Okay. I’ve had enough. Enough of this. What’s going on? Why are you here? What do you want with me?” Isaac’s gaze burned into the rear view.

The masked man curled up  and flopped a friendly hand over Isaac’s left shoulder. The mask leaned into his peripheral vision on the right, black gun barrel dangled over his chest with elan.

“How rude of me! Of course you want your marching orders, you good little soldier. To the point, Captain Whitaker, to the point! Just like always. You have an important mission.” the black wood vibrated with the man’s laughter.

“Mission.”

“Yes,”the masked man whispered. “You are being reactivated. Today. Now. Most expeditiously.”

“Reactivated?” Isaac felt his stomach drop and his veins begin to drip acid. He had expected to be quietly terminated, driving himself to a quiet grave site that the masked man had prepared.

This was much, much worse. He felt a hot, wetness on his cheeks. The masked man chuckled with sympathy, and dabbed at his face with his free hand.

“But…I can’t be…there’s no way…they promised…”Isaac managed. “There’s no way. There’s no way.”

6128343165_c917ef77cd“Oh, there’s a way. There’s most assuredly a way. Now pick up your left leg.”

Isaac could feel a slight tingle on his scalp, but it might have been a memory. Something in his bones screamed at him, and he kept his leg where it was.

“Mmm. Resist. Yes. Please, resist,” the masked man crooned. “Pick up your left leg.”

Slowly, as if through water, Isaac pulled his left leg up and propped his foot up on the dashboard. It was a strain to keep his right foot on the gas pedal, but he managed.

“Pull up the pant leg.”

Isaac kept his right hand on the wheel, and grabbed the khaki fabric of his uniform  with his left.  They were tight around his calves, they had begun to spread just like his middle. He grunted with the slight exertion, pushing the fabric up his hairy, white leg.

Tight around his left calf was a band of steel. It was about two inches wide, with grommets every inch of circumference. There was a serial number, but it had worn off years ago.

“There it is. Your chain. Good, Isaac. You’re doing so good.” the masked man sighed with pleasure. “Rip it off.”

His hand began to slide towards the steel band. It’s grafted to my leg, some of the pins go into the bone. It was never supposed to be removed. Isaac began to pant as his hysteria mounted.

“Rip it off. Rip it off!” the violin sawed at the air.

He tried to resist, he tried to remember his training. But the masked man’s voice hit him like a whip, and he watched as his left hand moved forward. He watched as his finger nails dug into his own flesh. He watched as they curled under the edge  of the metal band, blood and pain flowing. He watched as his left bicep flexed and tore the steel band free, the metal halting and bending as each grommet tore free.

Isaac stared straight ahead, his right hand in a different continent. He changed lanes in front of a blue coupe, even managing to signal. His left hand tossed the steel band over onto his passenger seat. His blood was going to leave quite a stain.

“Now, listen closely.” The masked man sighed. “In a moment you are going to wreck your car. Drive as fast as you can into the nearest obstacle. With the inhibitor band removed your abilities should return in a matter of hours, but we need to jumpstart the process. A little mortal trauma should do nicely.”

“I didn’t want this.” Isaac said numbly.

“I’ve left a little package in the trunk of your car. Some supplies, a bit of your old equipment, a snack for later, and of course the details on your mission.”

“I didn’t want this.” Isaac repeated, his eyes moved to the mirror. “And I will make sure that you don’t want this either.”

The masked man nodded with approval. “There’s the Isaac I used to know. Welcome back, Hermes. Now it’s time to wreck your car. There, that rail should do.”

The black glove gestured towards the right side of the street, and Isaac’s hands began to turn the wheel. He pulled  his bleeding leg down off the dash, his right leg stomped down on the accelerator.  The tingle on his scalp was now a steady vibration and it was not a memory.

Isaac looked into the mirror, and saw that his back seat was empty.

The Regal hit the steel rail at 67 miles per hour.