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. ]