Hey! Here’s that thing I’ve been working on that isn’t Riddle Box. My local and beloved community theater is putting on a production of Hamlet — a freaking rarity in those sort of circles. Here’s the super snazzy trailer video, if you’re in Georgia and want to come and watch . I’m playing Claudius and the Ghost, and I appear briefly in the trailer wearing a crown and an ill-fitting jerkin.
We just moved into a new house that we are renting. A house that was not cleaned, painted, repaired or in any way made ready for our presence. We have about 40% more stuff than can easily fit in the storage spaces in the house. Upon move-in we discovered three gas leaks, one in the stove. The stove is crammed full of food residue, and the floor underneath it is caked with grease.
I’m in a local production of Hamlet, playing Claudius and the Ghost. I have to be off book [all lines memorized] by Thursday. I’m about 30% of the way there, and have a full work week, plus rehearsal every evening.
So at work, in the evenings, getting up early to cram my lines — doing the best I can to unpack and get the new house squared away.
Plus this wacky-ass writing experiment, Runeclock on top.
So, upshot — writing on The Riddle Box has ground to a halt. I’ve been trying to snatch some time here and there at work, but right now learning my lines is the most pressing.
I’m going to try my damndest to at least eke out 4 pages this week, bringing the rough draft to a nice 85 pages — but I’m kind of riding the whirlwind this week.
I honestly love weeks like this where I’m creatively taxed in multiple directions and mediums — but the extra toll of moving, unpacking, and sorting out the problems with the new house are making me feel stretched out and paper-thin.
But hey, the show opens next week! Then all that’s left is the crying. And the drinking. And the unpacking.
So, instead of focusing on the rough draft of The Riddle Box this week, or drilling down on the lines I have to memorize for Hamlet, or just conserving my energy for the crazy roadtrip we have this weekend or the move I should be packing and planning for — I decided I needed a further distraction. Like a new collaborative writing project with my friends.
I had the great honor this past weekend of seeing my words on stage — in the form of an avant garde puppet show.
It was wonderful and strange…and more than a little surreal. To not only see your words being interpreted by a performer and director, but having them come out of a puppet’s grill.
I played it cool, though — cool as a cucumber. OKAY, I’m lying. I immediately ran up after the show and demanded pictures of the puppets and performers that performed my pieces.
Methusio! – Puppet Monologue #1
Oh man, every time Methusio would take a sip from the glass, it would start giggling. It was hysterical.
Genevieve is a native French speaker, which made the monologue just that much more awesome.
The Devil – Puppet Monologue #2
I wish I had taken a sneaky picture during the show, they had 15 sock puppets all performing Puppet Monologue #3. It was this surreal chant/rap. I loved it tremendously.
I have some friends performing an avant garde puppet show this weekend.
What, your friends don’t put on avant garde puppet shows?
Get better friends.
I contributed a couple of monologues to the project, so I’m beyond excited to sit down and see them performed. I was also working on a rockabilly theme song for the show, which sadly won’t be recorded in time. Here it is, for your entertainment pleasure.
Ride on down to the river
Slide on down to the river
My babe and me
Being lazy and free
Hiding down by the river.
There’s something in the river — ooooh
Something the river — -yeah
come and lets see
what it might be
Floating along in the river
Peeking in the river — yeah
Sneaking in the river — ooooh
What could it be?
Take a look see
What’s that thing in the river?!?
rockabilly explosion – great balls of fire
Holy shit, and Sweet Baby Moses
I done stumbled on a Psockosis!
My baby fell out
that aint no trout
I looked again
head started to spin
Hot damn and Sweet Baby moses
I done stumbled on a Psockosis!
Psockosis – yeah!
Psockosis – naw!
I bout had to pick up my jaw
Psockosis – yeah!
That damn sock is starting to talk!
Now I’m all alone on the river bank
My baby run off and you’re to thank
Can’t believe the hand I was dealt
my baby run off with a piece of felt!
Holy balls, and Sweet Baby Moses
I done stumbled on a Psockosis!
Heart broke and sad
feeling real bad
I waved goodbye
and started to cry
Shit fuck, and Sweet Baby Moses
I done stumbled on a Psockosis
Hot damn, on a Psockosis
Hot damn, on a Psockosis…
I’m a quasi-lucid dreamer, so its pretty common for me to have a reasonably solid recall of what I dream on any given evening. Especially if I discuss it with someone immediately upon awakening, it helps to lock in the memory as a narrative. My beloved was treated to just such an incident Sunday morning when my late morning wanderings through the Dreamworld left me with a pretty solid outline for a television show.
Dead silence for several moments, then my beloved stalked into the bathroom. I heard the shower turn on. Fair enough.
I’m putting a brief description here on the blog for several reasons:
- Sweet idea.
- Some lonely TV exec might stumble across this and want to steal/buy it.
- I can only pimp Spell/Sword so much in a given week.
- My memory is a cagey beast. It’s good to get some things down while I still have it in my sights.
So, my dream centered around a group of high school kids travelling on an oversized school bus. They traveled from school to school, encountering a different wacky circumstance each week. Teen angst, unrequited love, all the tropes you can stomach. That’s where the CW idea came in — just a bus full of pretty, pretty folks. Except for one weird dude [more on him later.]
Admittedly, in my dream-logic — the kids went to each school to go to some sort of convention. Very DragonCon — lots of people in costumes, events, performances, etc. Clearly that won’t work for the television show, so I think a good conceit would be that the kids are from a Performing Arts Magnet School – they spend 4 months out of every year travelling from school to school, putting on shows.
The goal is to have the first 4 episodes be like Glee — but first half season of Glee when it was actually charming and good. Musical numbers, dance, scenes from famous plays, the works. We’ll get to know the main cast through their roles in the troupe — Lead Actor, Lead Actress, Tech Kid, Beautiful Wallflower, Soulful Fat Kid, Hyper Nerd Girl, etc. The first few episodes are almost pure cotton candy — the kids have a demanding show to put on, and they pull themselves together at the last moment. One of the kids falls in love with someone at one of the school – but OH NOES, they have to leave on the bus at the end of the week . An Important Lesson is Learned About Disabilities/Drug Abuse/Gender Roles/Topic Du Jour.
I think the idea of the ‘School a Week’ premise lends itself well to the format. Lots of opportunities for Special Guest Stars, Themed Schools [Oh NO, this is the Racist School!], etc. For the show to work, the trope must be perfectly executed — the audience must be purely committed to this bubblegum pop show.
Which brings us to Episode Five. And the Weird Dude.
The one kid that doesn’t fit with the group, on the bus, on this show always wears black. The size of a linebacker, he wears a black trench coat with the collar always pulled up, obscuring most of his face almost like a mask. He has a battered backpack that he keeps near him at all times. He never speaks. He always wears black dirt bike gloves.
In my dream, the other kids just seemed to accept that he was there. All of them avoided him, of course, but there wasn’t really an explanation for why he was on board. I think for the show we”ll need some sort of contrivance — maybe he’s a kid from a bad past, who’s on the trip for rehabilitation? Maybe he’s the bus driver’s son — the teacher’s son? Or maybe no explanation at all – the kids think of him as That Weird Kid — accept his presence, but ignore him most of the time.
During the first four episodes, the audience is treated to a few glimpses of him. Staring out of windows into the dark, sitting silently in crowded lunch rooms. A few of the younger Kids on the Bus try to befriend him, but are met with stoic silence.
Most disturbing, the audience sees the Weird Kid collect a weird assortment of what could be considered weapons. Paper weights, letter openers, the arm off a desk — all crammed into his ratty old backpack.
The goal would be that astute viewers feel a growing sense of unease about the Weird Kid, a dark undercurrent to all the wacky hijinks ensuing each episode. Is the show working towards some sort of Colombine/Newtown sitiuation?
Finally, Episode Five.
The episode transpires very much like the first four — the Kids on the Bus arrive, and put on a performance for the school, in between trying to bone up on their course material for the EOCT on the horizon. The main conflict is between them, and the entrenched theatre kids already at the school. They resent these fancy-ass kids coming in and stealing their thunder — but then they learn an Important Lesson about working together, and team up to put on the Best Show Ever.
After the last commercial break, we come back to the lunch room. The Kids are being congratulated by their new friends after the performance, and are packing up their things to get back on the bus. In the midst of this jubilation the Weird Kid stands up and speaks for the first time.
Or rather he screams. A primal yawp, a guttural cry of absolute frustration and pain. The lunchroom goes silent, and shocked students pull back, giving the huge kid in the trench coat a wide berth. Some go for their cell phones to call 911, but they are stopped by the icy gaze that Weird Kid fixes on all of them. He looks at them with a deep well of sadness, pity and contempt — and slowly begins to stalk out of the school A long tracking shot of him walking through the halls, all who encounter him quail and make way. Not a word is spoken — this should be a long sequence. A total departure from the frenetic, happy fun-times of the show previously.
The Weird Kid slams the doors of the school open and walks out into the late afternoon sun, fall leaves are drifting through the air. He looks up into the sky, lost in thought. The two youngest Kids on the Bus [AJ and AJ] creep up to the Weird Kid, and stir up the courage to ask him what’s wrong.
The Weird Kid places a gloved hand on each of their shoulders, and shakes his head. He leads them to the bus as he speaks quietly. “You can not understand. The time is upon us. The dark time, the end time. Ragnarok is a silly word, but it is the time.”
Weird Kid takes his seat and stares out the window again.
The other Kids get on the bus, and they pull away from the school.
They drive away for a few moments, then cross a bridge over a lake — seen earlier in the episode upon arrival. The bus slows to a halt, as they spot a group of people on the far side, it appears to be some sort of parade.
The parade advances — no instruments, no floats, only people in regimented lines. They wear the costumes that the Kids on the Bus wore for this episode’s performance. Their eyes are blank and empty.
And then, things begin to appear behind the parade, making their way along side. Vaguely man-shaped, tall stilt-like legs and arms, small circular heads surmounted with oblong caps.
The Weird Kid springs to action, ripping his backpack open. “Let me off the bus. It’s time, I’ll fight. I’ll fight!”
A mishmash of improvised weapons fall out, and Weird Kid grabs the two largest — he bulls past the teacher and bus driver and out the side door.
Just in time to see the tall things begin their work. They begin to eviscerate the parade – calmly, surgically — cutting off limbs, peeling off flesh, slitting hamstrings, and a dozen other horrors of torture. Weird Kid takes a step forward, but then quails as one of the tall things approach. Through a haze it seems to transform into a dark-haired man wearing the uniform of an EMT.
“You kids allright?” the thing asks. “There’s been a terrible accident, some sort of gas released in the area. Making people see things. Could you all get off the bus so we can check you out?”
Weird Kid flees back onto the bus, and slams the door behind him.
“Drive.” he says. “It’s no use. It’s no use.”
The bus driver floors the bus in reverse, and the Kids on the Bus sit back down in utter shock. The bus drives off into the gathering dark and an uncertain future.
IS THAT WEIRD ENOUGH? NOPE, I THOUGHT ABOUT IT SOME MORE.
This all made perfect sense in my dream, but this is where it really goes down to Crazytown.
All of the Kids on the Bus are the heroes of the Illiad. They are the reincarnations, avatars, whatever of the Greek heroes — and the time has come for them to stand against the might of the gods.
The conceit would be that Homer’s Illiad is a version of a real event — a showdown between mortal and immortal, with the fate of the world in the balance.
If this sounds awesome to you, then you are officially a Classics/English nerd.
The tall things are the gods, or maybe their most powerful servants — something alien and other, some powerful force that was stomped out in the time of Homer. And now its up to this bus full of CW pretty kids to step up to the plate.
I EVEN STARTED FIGURING OUT WHO WAS WHO ON THE BUS.
The Weird Kid is Diomedes [Dennis Mead], he who even the God of War fears. And interestingly enough, not the main character of the show. The two kids who try to befriend him are Ajax and Ajax [AJ and AJ], I think I would flip the script and make Achilles and Odysseus female and the leads of the show. Agamemnon is the teacher, Meneleaus the bus driver. Oh man, I could go on. Helen is male, and so is Paris. Hector is my secondary lead.
I just love the idea of establishing all the Glee/High School tropes — then cramming them into the oldest of tales, to turn back the clock on those tropes to their most primal forms.
And this is what my beloved has to hear on the way to lunch on a Sunday morning.
Names for the show:
Kids on the Bus
Heroes [oh, that one’s taken?]
Thanks for reading.
Supernatural can’t stay on forever, after all…
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.
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.
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.
He 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 diligence 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, 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.
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. ]
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 Jack 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.
He’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 over 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.
[If there’s something that the world doesn’t have enough of, it is most certainly A Few Good Men fanfiction. I’m currently appearing in a local production of the play by Aaron Sorkin, playing the role of Captain Isaac Whitaker — a very minor character who only appears in the first few minutes of the play. I have time backstage, so please allow me to present my humble theory of what happens to the character when he leaves the staqe.]
“This shirt does not fit.” Isaac told his reflection. “Nope. Just doesn’t fit.”
He turned sideways, and looked at himself in profile. His stomach bulged and pressed against the buttons of his shirt, the second above his belt seemed to be wincing in pain as it strained against the crisp khaki. The rest of his frame still held a warrior’s shape – broad shoulders and thick arms – but the irreverent curve of his gut better suited a comfortable chair, or a plush barstool, or a voluminous couch.
“Just gotta get a bigger shirt.” Isaac told himself philosophically. “All the running just isn’t burning this pooch down.”
He turned back forward, and sucked in his stomach. His men always seeemed a little skeptical when he told them about his morning PT. 2.6 miles at 0600 every morning, from his front door to the end of the farm road on his property. Then a quick shower and chow, hopping into his car and driving into the city for the 0830 morning meeting. He’d tell Kaffee or Weinberg about his morning jog and their eyes would always slowly dip down to his stomach.
“Those fucking guys.” Isaac straightened the points of his collar, adjusting the gold insignia at his collar.
On one side were two gold branches for the JAG Corps, on the other an eagle for his rank. Captain Isaac Whitaker, administrator of the Washington branch of the Judge Advocate General’s Corps for nine years — seven from retirement, gut busting its way out of his tightly tailored uniform shirt.
“Maybe I should eat a salad for lunch during the week,” he mused. “Salads.”
Isaac turned from the mirror hanging on the closet door and sat down at his desk. A stack of legal briefs were neatly organized on the left-hand side, color-tabbed with translucent tape. Blue tape for any Class B misdemeanors or below, green tape for Class A. He tagged them himself when they were brought to him – he wouldn’t waste any of his men’s time with such menial organization. It helped him plan his time, work through the stacks. Clean and calm, folders came in and folders went out — assigned to the best available litigator on his staff. Isaac liked to have a nodding familiarity with every case that came through his office. From the most standard Drunk and Disorderly to the occasional more serious offenses requiring a full court-martial. If there was one thing his time in the Navy had instilled in him it was a serious devotion to knowledge of the battlefield. It didn’t matter that now his battlefield was made of paper instead of water and dirt.
“Hey, Captain.” Weinberg stuck his head through the door. “There’s some lady here from Internal Affairs. ”
Isaac looked up, the brief still open in front of him. “What?”
“Some lady. Here to see you. From Internal Affairs,” his officer repeated.
“Oh, yeah. Bronsky called me and said something about her stopping by. Some case they want to reopen. Send her in.” He flexed his hands on the desk and sighed.
Isaac took off his glasses for a moment, and pinched his rubbed his brow with both hands. His eyes fell on the front of his shirt again.
“Just doesn’t fit. Damn thing just doesn’t fit.”
His office door swung open, and he put his glasses back on. He stood to greet his guest from Internal Affairs.
It turned into a long day.
The lady from Internal Affairs, a Lt. Commander Joanne Galloway, had been the herald of a red ball case. Isaac had needed to dig around in his desk for a few minutes before he found the appropriate scarlet tape to mark the folder. Some Marine in Guantanamo Bay was dead, and two of his squadmates were charged with the murder. Division was giving a lot of attention to this one – the base commander at Gitmo was a favored son, slowly making his grand ascension to the Pentagon. They wanted the case done quick and quiet with no collateral damage. He would need to keep close tabs on this one and make sure his guys didn’t let the whole thing go pear-shaped.
The 1500 staff meeting was quick and to the point. Division had pre-selected Kaffee as the lead counsel for the Defense so it was just a matter of briefing him on the particulars, and letting Commander Galloway fill in the blanks. Kaffee was a good litigator, a whiz at the plea-bargain. No way this thing would ever see the inside of a courtroom. Perfect, as far as he was concerned.
After the meeting he worked through the rest of his case-load for the day, but he went ahead and put in a few phone calls. First a few minutes shitting in Bronsky’s ear for sending this little package for his office to deal with. Bronsky laughed and they made plans to get a drink on Friday — first round on him. Then a few messages with some connections in Division, and to a friend or two at the Pentagon. Just to see how much crossfire his guys would be dealing with.
The battlefield was paper, but he wasn’t going to let his men march out without some covering fire and as much intelligence as he could scrounge up.
Isaac walked out of the office about an hour later than usual. The parking deck was mostly empty, yellow lights buzzing against gray stone. His white Buick Regal was parked in a corner near the entrance, the rest of the row was empty. He dug in his pocket for the keys and spent a moment finding the keys as his mind wandered. He was tired, maybe he’d skip his morning jog tomorrow. Get a little extra sleep. Not doing a damn bit of good, anyway.
He unlocked the door and tossed his briefcase into the passenger seat. He slid into the driver’s seat and leaned out pull the door shut.
A small pop came from the front of his shirt. A sudden looseness.
Isaac looked down and saw that the second button from his belt was gone. “Shit. Goddamn it.”
He slammed the door and began to fish around the floor of the car. He peered all around, lifting his feet to search — but the button seemed to have vanished. “GOD. Goddammit.” he slammed his head back against the seat in frustration.
His eyes came up to the rear view mirror.
That’s when he saw the mask.
The mask that the man in the backseat was wearing. It looked to be made of black wood, narrow slits for the eyes and mouth. Isaac felt the familiar pressure of a gun being pressed firmly to his neck.
“Captain Whitaker, how pleasant to see you again.” the masked man said cheerfully. “Drive.”
” You can call me Isaac.” he replied, and turned the key to start the car.
[To be continued.]