Ashes of Genosha: Chapter 2
"Henri Cardinal, did you know that your paternal grandfather is your father?” Spiral asked. Her voice seemed far away, like I was hearing it through a wall. “Hrm… by the spike in brain functions, I would say that no, you didn’t know. Dill did though. According to his memories, lots of people in G.U.L.F. knew.”
I was submerged in a tank of cold goo… goo that I was breathing. I could feel the effort, but it did not hurt.
“Don’t try to talk.” She said. “Your systems are rebooting.”
“I’m not a cyborg!” The sound came from speakers on the outside of the tank.
Spiral’s voice purred. “Of course you are. How else do you think you’d recover from having your spine ripped out?”
The memory of pain and complete helplessness combined with vivid consciousness rushed to sudden, vicious prominence. I inhaled too quickly and the current of my sudden exhale was visible in the goo. When I got myself together, I concentrated again. This time I could feel something at the edge of my perception along the edges of my consciousness, in the ‘back’ of my mind… working. I regained a thoroughly fear based semblance of control. “Dill… my… I… thank you. Thank you for saving me.”
Satisfaction threaded her voice. “It is refreshing to work with someone with a quick uptake of the situation.”
The fluid I was breathing became a metaphor for the conflict I felt building in my head. “Am I… am I like Dill now?” I asked.
“Oh no,” she replied. “’Dill’ wanted to blend in, to be able to strike with speed and power from an unassuming pose. He had already been dipped in blood, death layered on his soul like beeswax on a fine candle.”
Spiral’s voice faded a moment, returning derisively amused. “You… you don’t know what you want. You have spent years working on your little weapon, but you hid it, you didn’t share it. You let G.U.L.F. use your mother’s inheritance to hide terrorists, knowing that she would have never agreed. You want the approval of a man who has come to despise you, but you do not reveal something you know he would take and use. You finished your studies and then retreated to a backwater to toil in quiet obscurity and to operate a waystation for so called freedom fighters, who turned into mere criminals. When not tinkering with your toy, you sat around nursing your inner racism on the internet while adding to your rather prodigious pornography collection.” She laughed. “You have no idea what you want.”
She stopped talking. I guess she was waiting for a reply, but I did not know what to say. I agreed with her… or maybe it was shock. I held my breath, waiting for Spiral to start talking again and fill up the unnerving silence.
She continued. “So, within reason… well, more like within this facility’s abilities.” She digressed. “You see, I don’t just hand out power. I issue prosthetics… damn good prosthetics. I work in everything from genes to adamantium. I don’t work in raw power. That’s… someone else’s department. But like a good customer who wants something special, you brought me the technology necessary to help you: your little toy palm guns, and the transmode virus dear Dill tried to kill himself with.
By the way that ‘virus’ is a nasty piece of bastardized technology, based on the Technarch genome, which means nothing to you but trust me, it’s bad. Whoever put this on the market needs to have their entrails chrome plated and mounted on a tower as a deterrent to future stupidity.”
Another long silence came and went. I realized I was actually floating in and out of consciousness. Spiral’s voice came back. “’Helping” you, was really a matter of time spent. I reprogrammed the viral agent giving it the support of my wondrous facilities and I used it for you surgery. The process did not go perfectly. I told you transmode viruses are terribly dangerous… terribly. If you had died, I would have been absolutely mortified. You did not, and you have most of your facilities intact. So… success.
Anyway, I destroyed the rest of the infernal stuff. I traced the signals from Dill’s infection and I know who’s been meddling in my business, but the pawns are still in play. I sent the virus’ schematics and acquisition information to where it will certainly come under the notice of SHIELD.”
She paused, redirecting. “So your question was, ‘Are you like Dill?’ No, you are not like Dill. You have your technological telekinesis… and as you can tell, some associated abilities.
“But what am I? What do I eat?” I stammered. “How do I survive?”
“Well from what I can tell… stone, rock, electricity, light, radiation, anything you can choke down really.” She said. “I wouldn’t go getting into any pissing matches with Technarch or Phalanx. You’re not a mass exchanging metamorph, it seems like your precious telekinesis had some structural requirements so you can, you know, use it. By techno-organic organism standards, you’re rather… ah… stunted… yes, that’s putting it kindly. I abuse a metaphor, the Technarch have an average metamorphic IQ of 200, while you are… maybe an 50.”
“Which means?” I replied.
“You can change your face, hair, and skin color.” She said. “You can try to change something else but it will hurt… a lot… and not happen. Despite all of those changes, that is not the interesting thing about this little interaction. I’ve gotten to know you fairly well. It was a one way conversation that you don’t remember, but I assure you that it was lovely. I know you would not cling to your old appearance and try to go back to your useless, dreary, decision free, life. So, I’ve put you in a position where you have to use it. I had the virus bring out some recessive traits from your genome. You will probably want to keep them hidden, especially if you go to Kenya and visit your dear Father/Grandfather.”
“Wait!” I replied. “How can the same man be my mother’s father and mine? And how do you know?”
“Colonel Shetani is a very coarse, brutal man.” She said. “After M-Day, he began killing depowered mutants out of spite. It is not outside of his character to seduce a young woman and twenty something years later, rape another. As to how I know. Violent despots who like working in the field often like to have replacement organs on standby.”
“That’s what Dill said… wait… wouldn’t that throw up flags somewhere?” The voice coming through the speaker conveyed all of the horror and self-loathing I felt.
"Oh yes, someone knows you’re an exact genetic match for him… well you were until I gave you a make over," Spiral continued. “Plus, like you are guessing, Dill knew. Your ‘Grandfather’ knows. Nearly everyone in G.U.L.F. knows.”
I roused fully, ready to rant and rave. “You have nothing to gain by making this up.”
“And everything to gain by watching you decide what to do.” She replied. “You will have knowledge of your basic functions, it’s up to you to develop them or wallow in self…”
She fell dead silent and then cackling laughter erupted around me, multiplying until it was a thunderous chorus of cutting, unnerving mirth. I wanted to ask, what was so funny, I decided to hope that she would tell me.
“It’s so delicious!” She trilled. “One couldn’t have asked for better drama to be delivered on a plate. I think you should try to stay in the closet as far as your little G.U.L.F. friends are concerned. You may be, in the most extreme technicality, a cyborg. But really, you are a mutant technarch, built by an altered genome before being ‘born’. You are a mutant… baby.”
“N…” before I completed the sentence, I felt myself sucked into a featureless light and dumped unceremoniously in the bathtub of my apartment in Greenville, Mississippi. Thunder heralded my arrival, and I heard rain lashing the window. I sat, bathed in the sound of rainstorm and empty apartment… afraid to act, afraid to speak.
"Get up." It was my own voice, urging. My mind started working. How long was I gone? I left the stove on… food in the oven, and on the top. Fuck. I got up out of the tub, and then got back in. I was covered slimy goo that was rapidly evaporating leaving an intensely strong, sweet alcohol smell in its wake.
Satisfied I wasn’t going to leave slimy footprints on the run, I ran to the bedroom and turned on my computer: Shit. I had been missing three days. It was Saturday. Fuck! I went back to the bathroom and turned on the shower and went to hunt up towels… and that’s when I caught a look at my face. I had blue eyes. My pupils were, narrowed at their vertical poles. and all of the hair on my face, eyebrows, head, five o’clock shadow, was white. Worse, my hair was cut in a high mohawk. I looked like a goddamned pony.
I always was proud that whenever I looked into the mirror, I saw my mother’s brown eyes. These were a stranger’s eyes. “No! Goddammit no!”
A heavy, forceful knock shook the front door and the windows. I jumped, and then winced, a tightening sensation wreathed my head and I saw my pupils relax into circles. The white hair retreated into my skin… except for my eyebrows, they turned my natural black. I wrapped myself in a towel and bolted for the door as another heavy knock came.
"Who is it?" I called out.
"FBI!" A female voice responded.
I opened the door, carefully. There was indeed a medium height armed, athletic woman in a grey business suit and a blue FBI jacket. I could make out Greenville Police Department cars in the parking lot of my open face apartment complex.
"Mr. John Henri Cardinal?" She asked.
"Yes, I’m Henri Cardinal." I replied.
"Where have you been for the last two days?" She asked.
"I don’t know." I said. "I woke up naked, here maybe five minutes ago."
"You don’t remember anything?" She asked.
"Nothing." I said.
She was sniffing the air, “Where is your car?”
"It’s not in the parking lot?" I temporized.
"No." she replied.
"I don’t know." I said.
"What do you remember?" She asked.
"I… was… entertaining a stranger, someone I met online. We had sat down to eat. It started to rain. There was a knock at the door… I was knocked out. That’s all I remembered."
"Met online, as in meet up for sexual congress?" She replied.
"I did believe it would eventually lead to that yes," I replied. .
"Have you been sexually violated?" She asked bluntly.
A flush crept up my neck, “No… no… I don’t feel like I have. I don’t taste anything either except alcohol.”
"Do you have a house in Rosedale, Mississippi?" She asked.
"Yes, it was my great great grandmother’s." I replied.
"The remains of a truck that was stolen by a wanted individual was found near the burned wreckage of the house." She shifted slightly. "Your car was not found. Are you certain you don’t remember anything about that night?"
"No," I said, my voice growing distant with shock.. "Is it all gone? It’s all I had left from my mother…"
"No," she said. "Where is your mother?"
"She died a long time ago." I replied. "She was overseas, a physician on a never ending mission of mercy."
"Where did she die?" she was rather relentless.
"Genosha," I replied.
"Oh," her attitude changed immediately. "I think you may have been targeted because of your Genoshan heritage. Dill Mikelson is a member of the terrorist group that has killed many mutants. I guess that you aren’t a mutant, so he only drugged you and robbed you instead of killing you. We’ll keep an eye out for your car. Do you have your wallet? Keys?"
“I doubt it,” I replied. “I haven’t checked, although since I was naked, I am guessing not.”
"Change your locks, cancel your credit cards." She said. "I’d think about moving. You never know with these types. I think you just escaped a very dangerous situation.."
I groused. “At this point, I have to give my hookups background checks.”
"Remember when meeting new people, always do it in an open, public place." She said. "Good day Mr. Cardinal."
As she left, I realized that she had never given me her name.
"Agent," I called out. "Who are you?"
"Illena Djukovega," she said. Her voice slipping into something vaguely Eastern European. Her previous non-accent reasserted itself. "Get some rest. Good day sir."
Shit. I locked the door and I showered. I smelled like a still. I went back to my computer, but before I started up the VPN so I could reach my G.U.L.F. contact, I heard something whispering in my room. I strained to listen, and I was surrounded by “voices.” It was gibberish initially, but it resolved into a chorus of overlapping strings of numbers. I put my hands over my ears. I felt something ephemeral in my head, accompanied by vague recognition, and the sounds went away… except for the whispering in my room, stalked the sound until I found where it was coming from… my cable modem. I retrieved some tools from the kitchen and carefully opened it up. Admittedly, engineering student or no, I was not familiar with the inner workings of a cable modem, but knew that what I had was not supposed to broadcast anything. Since I was alone, I didn’t use a wireless router. Inside, wedged between the plug and the innards, was a black cylinder the size of a AA battery inside an improvised buss that connected it to the jack where the modem cable went out to the wall connection.
The device disconnected easy enough. Once unplugged, the noises stopped. The areas it bridged reconnected easily and I put it back together again. I worked quickly, activating the VPN and placing a call to my grandfather.
"When were you going to tell me?" He asked with no preamble. "Your apartment is being watched."
"I just got home." I replied. "I called you as soon as I was able."
"I just said your apartment is being watched, every window, every door." His voice was growing more strident, the Afrikaner influenced Genoshan accent growing more strident, sharpening his consonants to a machine gun staccato. “Do not even attempt to play the fool with me!"
He sent me a small video file. It was a short video of me appearing in the tub, white hair visible. When I turned my head for whatever reason, the video zoomed in catching my face fully. The video jumped forward to where I was standing in front of the mirror. The knock came, and I saw the white hair pull into my skull. Where the camera caught my face again, my eyes were normal.
"I’m not a mutant," I said automatically.
"Considering who your father is, of course you are," he spat.
"Who is my father?" I asked him.
"Colonel Shetani a prince of a tribe that has its origins in the Serengeti near the Spine of the World. He is also your grandfather."
I lost my voice for a moment. “How… how is that possible?”
"Your grandmother… before we met… she was on assignment in Kenya. She met him, he was very young, handsome, charming, exotic. Things happened. I understood. I had children before we met as well. Your mother was very young, when we met. We felt it best she did not know. But… when she had just finished her medical studies, she wanted to help people and volunteered to go to Kenya as part of an NGO mission. Your mother… told her who her biological father was. She went to see him and… something happened. She did not talk about it, but she immediately came home to Genosha… a month or so later the morning sickness began. She told her mother what happened. Her mother told me. If I knew what I knew now, had the connections I had now, I would have sent people to visit death upon him. But I did not, I was just a bureaucrat.
Therese refused to have an abortion. She said she would not let her rapist make her do something she felt was wrong. So we made her leave Genosha, we did not want her… stain… known. When you returned, we submitted a dummy sample for assaying for mutant traits and we hoped that you stayed out of the hospital. That’s why your mother kept you with her. She was scared. You see mutation may be random in some families, but not in others. Your father’s family regularly throws a physical mutation where women are born with white hair and blue eyes. It is even a local legend. Your mother was scared, rightfully so, that the close inbreeding could cause those traits to come out. But I need to know, have you betrayed us? Are you working with the X-Men or any other pro-mutant forces?”
My face was crumpling, my explanation, my truth seemed pale and tattered next to the reality of my parental origins. “I’m not a mutant, I’m a cyborg. I was converted by a woman named Spiral, after Dill ripped my spine out.”
"That isn’t possible." He said. "Dill Mikelson reported in Thursday night from San Antonio, TX that he bypassed your safehouse and is making for Mexico." A gunshot shattered a window. "I told you not to test me. Now tell me have you betrayed us?"
"I haven’t." I replied. "I have been here, working in obscurity, maintaining the safehouse in anonymity."
"Your carelessness has…"
"The FBI is here. They knocked on the door shortly after I woke up. I actually don’t think they’re the FBI. So I need to get this out. Listen: Dill’s cell was hired by Wakandans to kill Atlantean sleeper cells. I guess this is because of that war the Avengers touched off with the mutant nation of Utopia and some religious crap about a Phoenix or something. Anyway, they got set up and he was the only survivor. Depending on who put him onto that job, all of G.U.L.F. is in trouble and we’re being fucked with. I’m not a mutant! But it’s being made to seem so to make you paranoid and vulnerable. You won’t believe me though. You expected me to become a fucking freak! Iswear to you grandfather. I’m not lying. We’re in trouble, caught between two technologically advanced powers. G.U.L.F. made some strange friends after Genosha was destroyed by the Sentinels. Just… be careful be ready to run."
Another gunshot entered the window, missing me. “You’re no blood of mine.” Grandfather’s voice was tremulous.
"Family isn’t always blood. " I said carefully. "I’m still the same person."
"Soft, weak, perverted, born of perversion. I can’t believe I let you live this long. I guess is because you reminded me of Therese… but some things you have to let go of." He ended the call.
I unplugged the network cable. There was something final in Grandfather’s tone. I dressed. Black sweats, black, long sleeved henley, black hiking boots, black leather jacket for the pockets. I pulled back the baseboard at the back of my bedroom closet, revealing a small safe was there. I prayed it hadn’t been tampered with. Inside, under a false bottom under several bundles of cash was a key. I took the cash and key and computer, I left the apartment. Jogging away. I was thirty seconds out of the door when a missile splintered through my front door to explode in the parking lot. The smoke trail led from the open window in my bedroom.
“Damn Grandfather.” I muttered. I broke into a run. It was time to quit Greenville, Mississippi. I cut through yards and parking lots, cutting laterally south towards a storage lot just off of Martin Luther King Boulevard. I let myself into my unit where plan B was waiting for me: a motorcycle and a go bag, with my passport, a copy of my driver’s license, phone and mobile enabled tablet. I moved my money, changed passwords and closed accounts. I was planning to head South eventually into Mexico, but something was bothering me. I was taking a lot this experience on credit. Yes, I saw face change in the mirror, but… what about the other things.
I held out my hand, the algorithms flared, flitting through my mind, familiar from years of obsession and failure, the equations were complete now, artificial telekinesis with full control. A semi-transparent, amorphus ionization affect appeared around my helmet. It lifted a few feet from where it rested. In my head, I could feel its heft, smooth contours, the hardness of its shell, the soft cushion of its lining. I put the helmet down. And I started picking other things up… but really, I just wanted to feel them. I was like a boy who had just discovered masturbation and had no one to to smack his hands. I should have been long gone but no, I wanted to play with things and when I finally had the courage to play with myself, the rest of the day was lost. I spent my time floating around the storage unit grinning like an idiot before dissolving into a wreck of nerves and anxiety ridden tears. For all intents and purposes, I was a mutant. It’s not as if the general public has bothered to find out if there’s a fucking difference between people who were born with their powers versus people who gain them later like the Fantastic Four and the non mutant members of the Avengers, which I only knew about because of their previous associations and public statements. The newest Avengers could be all mutants for all I knew.
I hated mutants… because they were given my homeland.
"It isn’t just your homeland." My mother had said over the phone. "The mutants we genetically modified into slaves…. we took away their minds, took away their self-determination, and shortened their lives. They are Genoshans too… and the American mutants… the X-Men … came because we attacked them first. It is our fault, for enslaving our own people. I don’t know how my mother could have condoned it. Her own ancestors were slaves int he United States."
I remembered her clinic. Mutates sick with some mutant disease, dying, their powers going haywire, me with no empathy, just fear. I hid in my studies. I remembered hearing my mother scream and I ran into the hall… there was fire. One of the mutates had died, their powers going out of control in their last moments.
I wanted to hide, but I went to her instead. Her arm was blackened, but she was spraying it with bactine while her staff dealt with the burning corpse. I helped her to her quarters, but… she was scared… but she didn’t let it… or Grandfather stop her from doing her work when one of the former mutates healed her arm. I was still afraid. No one could stop me from being afraid.
My Grandfather used that fear. I let him. After my mother died… I let him.
Now I’m not even human. The more I gave in to my state, accepted the situation, the more centered I became. The more able to focus, think and ask question. Suddenly, I was utterly suspicious. Why did Spiral do this? What’s her game? What does she get in return?
"What do you want Spiral?" I asked the air. I was hoping she’d reply.
I slung the go bag across my back and donned the helmet. The bike roared to life and I headed out to the safehouse house. I wanted confirmation… and closure. If this life was over, I would at least see its grave before I was done.
The house had been burned flat, along with the garage, the outbuildings, even the utility room. It really did not look like I’d left the stove running. Even the grass and trees were scorched down to ash. The place looked… cleansed. There was no trace of Dill’s truck and no tracks indicating recent traffic… unlike what the FBI woman had said.
"That six-armed cow!" The exclamation came from a dapper figure; a tall, lemon-yellow skinned, thin man in a dark green twill suit with three fingers and a thumb on each hand and hair that was a writhing mass of cables feeding into an animate chrome "tail" that extended from the base of his skull to the floor. Anger and disbelief raced across his thin animated features. "Not only did she take my talent, she replaced it with a knock off with a melodramatic backstory rooted in a pre-existing property."
Oh, a crazy person. Time to run.
"The talent does not leave until the Executive Producer gives them permission!" His tail moved slightly and a slick, greenish yellow beam lashed out from the tip, briefly bathing my motorcycle. The vehichle collapsed on itself in a fall of mingled metallic, and plastic dust.
"That could be you, if you don’t come with…."
My fear focused, telekinetic punch, caught him in the jaw. I felt face fracture under the strike, however his neck, hyper extended, the tail whipped around and the crack that occurred a moment after the meaty thud of the impact had a certain sound of finality. I can’t say that I was too upset. I grabbed his head and removed it just to be certain. This was an entirely new level of crazy.
"Well done." Spiral’s voice was next to me, beside me, in front and behind all at once, but she was standing over the corpse of the man in the twill suit. "I’ll take care of things from here. Your debt’s paid."
I opened my mouth to ask a multitude of questions but survival said… “Right then… thank you for my legs… and my future.”
She raised an eyebrow, “No outrage. No knee jerk self moralizing castigation, or projective accusation? No talk that I ‘ruined your life?’”
I shook my head, realized that I probably should talk, and I said, “No… none of it. I was born to be a freak. You just brought it out. Although I’m sure there’s some shock involved as well.”
Two of her arms made a series of intricate gestures over the body and it vanished in a brief ripple of reality. “Executive Producers should stay out of the field unless they are prepared to direct.”
"Is he the one who gave Dill the virus?" I asked.
"Yes." She replied. "He had the ‘local’ patent on the programming for that particular strain. It was crap work considering where he derived it from, but it was useful enough. He was trying to steal my more solid state design methodology. I can’t have that. My position at home is precarious enough without every new idea man thinking they can piggy back off of my previous successes." She glanced at me. "It seems like the decision to cast your new base form in the image of your famous cousin worked."
"It seems like everyone knows this ‘famous cousin’ except for me; my grandfather, my so called colleagues, you.” I shook my head. “I think I will prefer to remain in the dark. I have too much to process as is and I have no intention to try and live up to a figment of other people’s experiences."
"This is why I chose you to kill him." Spiral said. "I knew you would not have the… restraint… a so called ‘hero’ would have, but this producer would have would have expected otherwise because you look like her."
"We should go." I said. "It wouldn’t surprise me if the FBI and GULF aren’t keeping this spot under surveillance…. I do have one question though… what do I do for… maintenance?"
"Technarch conversions don’t need maintenance." She said. "They’re like energizer bunnies. I would be careful. Technoorganic beings have varying reputations. Even though you’re fixed… that is you can’t infect and reproduce… it’s an IP protection thing. Some will see you as the genesis of something malevolent, so be aware. Can I drop you anywhere?"
"New Orleans please." I replied. "I can get lost there and the white hair and blue eyes will be an idiosyncracy, not a red flag."
"What? You’re not going to dress in black and become a superhero?" Spiral asked with arched amusement, somehow managing to put all six hands on her hip in an arrangement that looked utterly natural but still summoned and image of a hyper articulated Christmas ornament.
I shrugged. “I don’t know if I have it in me. I’ve become what I feared… and I lost everything. I don’t see anything to gain by putting myself in danger for people I don’t know or care about.”
"Is this the first time you’ve killed someone?" She asked.
"Directly… yes… but you have to accept some responsibility for the actions of those you associate with, especially if you know what they’re doing out in the world and you encourage them." I said. "So… I guess my sacrifices for Genosha are done."
Spiral did not reply. She executed a perfect pirouette, I recognized a transparent sphere of… something… surround us and it began turning as Spiral spun. The mess of the yard smeared away, replaced by familiar homes of the residential end of the French Quarter near where the Quarter ended and the Fauburg Marigny began. I knew I was presenting a new face to the world… the tense sensation of holding onto the details of my old face had faded.
"Are you going to kill yourself?" Spiral asked suddenly. Sometime during the tranisition, she conjured a fashionable shawl to drape over her shoulders and cover her arms.
"I hadn’t planned on it." I said. "I am in the middle of a bit of crisis… world turned upside down. This… transformation… was just a social prosthetic that enabled long held fears and ill feeling about a heritage, everyone but me seemed to know about, to come out into the open. People I trusted were betraying me and the one person I could say I loved shot a missile at me."
"Two missiles actually." Spiral corrected. "When the first one missed, he fired another. Torched the complex. He really wanted you dead."
"He can’t risk alienating the others." I said. "They have power now. God knows what they’re into: drugs, assassinations, that’s probably the least of it. They don’t care about Genosha… otherwise we’d have heard more about them helping to try and clean it up. The things Dill told me… I don’t know if I could have done it. Then again, if I had their needs and motivations… maybe I could have." Unsaid, I thought. I don’t know how much I can thank my mother for allowing me to come here and have a normal coming of age…relatively normal. "I don’t mean to sound effusive, but thank you."
"I’m more used to fear and suspicion." She said. "Is it so easy to trust."
"Yes and no." I replied. "I figured you had your reasons for not letting me die. If it was to kill that ‘Executive Producer’ then so be it. He destroyed… well he made sure that the ties I had to that land were gone along with the ties with my family."
She gave me a narrow look and rattled off some syllables. “Don’t make me regret that.” She turned, pivoting on the ball of one foot and was gone, like she walked down a hall with walls the same color and texture of reality.
"Behavioral interlocks overridden. Back doors closed, autonomous unit functionality enabled." As the commands threaded through my co-consciousness, I found that even seeing this… I couldn’t get angry. I understood it. I probably would have done it. Did that make me a bad person?
She gave me autonomy. Is it bad that I never knew that I did not have it? I really wasn’t willing to execute some sort of Kubrickian moment of violence to “test” if I had free will. Still couldn’t summon guilt for killing that “producer.”
“Producer of fucking what?” I frowned.
I began walking towards Canal. I needed to find a place to crash for a bit. I ducked into a neighborhood bar with a name. I ordered two beers and because hunting online ad boards for vacancies. I had money, from my mother, and I lived frugally, socking away my paychecks for emergencies. My vice was the telekinesis machine where I sunk my anger, hate, and guilt. Now…
I’m sorry mama. Even when she died, I doubt she hated the mutates on Genosha. She probably hated my father, who she never spoke of. Her lack of acknowledgment erased him from my world. I guess that is the ultimate revenge… nullification.
What to do now?
"Sinnerman, where you gonna run to?" The refrain came over the jukebox, the rippling strains of the piano accompanied by Nina Simone’s questioning alto, "Sinnerman where you gonna run to? Where’re you’re gonna run to, all on that day."
Riddled with sin you are. I thought. Unfortunately, I don’t really have many regrets.
There it was… the self hate that that so silently sunk itself in. I was raised in love. I used to wonder who my father was, but my grandfather was there… so it didn’t matter. Then… the death… the gay… the distance and now this.
He didn’t have to miss. I thought. Your grandfather knew damn well that the missile would have to hit something harder than a cheap door to explode. He did it to get you to go. And the fired the other one for verisimilitude. Until he tries to put a bullet in you point blank… it isn’t a reasonable assumption that he did it save you and himself. He could have shot you any time he wanted. He waited until you had left and then destroyed the evidence… and probably killed a few people. Although the evacuation caused by the first shot may have forestalled that.
Where are you going to run to?
Here seemed like a good place to hide. I found several listings and went to find something that would suit me.
A second-story walk up near the intersection of Burgundy and St. Anne turned out to be the best combination of price and difficulty of access. It required trekking through a gated alley way to get to the rear entrance. I was not going to get a couch through there, but I could get a futon, a decently decadent television and other things in over the next couple of days.
I was not subtle in decorating my new place. I didn’t have a car. So I shopped online and only used local companies that delivered. It was also a way to stay occupied and focused. The cable company installed television and internet and I could finally consider the space livable.
Of course once I was back on the grid, not that I was off, but the sim card number I was using was now in multiple commercial databases. So, of course it rang.
"Hello Agent Djukovega." I replied.
"It’s good to see you’re alive." She said.
"Well, having missiles shot at you gives one impetus to leave." I said. "
"Do you know why missiles are being shot at you?" She asked.
"My best guess is that Wakanda is sponsoring freelance wetwork operations against clandestine Atlantean infiltration teams using Genoshan nationalists to do the dirty work. I mean, the non-mutant Genoshans, the ones who are still pissed that Magneto was given their country, not the ones who barely escaped being curb stomped into oblivion by the Sentinels and M-Day.
This has been complicated by the presence of a yellow-skinned humanoid with an animated metallic scorpion tail growing out of the back of his skull and three fingers and a thumb, but that element may have been taken off of the board. I killed him when he tried to kidnap me and his corpse vanished into thin air. He was responsible for the flattening of my house.
"Why the cover up?" She asked.
"There is someone in New York offering techno organic viral kill pills to people who are difficult to kill but very suicidal, but apparently they don’t always kill they transmit information about the target and their whereabouts." I replied. "Considering a teleporting yellow skinned beings who sounds like a psychotic television executive is involved, I know I do not want to be anywhere near that insanity. So I left. By the way, there were no tracks at my house and no sign of truck wreckage being towed away. Anything else?"
There was a long silence on the other end of the line.
"Thank you for your candor." She came back on the line. "Were you involved in any of these operations?"
"No." I replied. "Do you really think I would be talking to you right now if I were a terrorist?"
"Those who aid terrorists are terrorists." She said.
"By that logic, the United Nations is now culpable for Magneto since inviting him to their club; and the United States is culpable for the Sentinels and Canada is apparently being run under the table by the devil." I replied. "Look, I never talked shop. These are all Genoshans who remember when…" I had to stop. "Fuck… who remembered the so called good old days when we were enslaving fucks. No wonder the Wakandans chose them to fight their shadow war with Atlantis… no one would miss them."
"There haven’t been any recorded activities by Human Genoshan nationals in over a decade," she responded.
"Because once Genoshan became synonymous with mutant… there was nothing left to fight for." I said quietly.
"And now you are a mutant." She said.
"Apparently of special pedigree." I replied.
There was a knock on my door.
"It’s me." She said on the phone.
From the other side of the room, I opened the door. Illeana Djukovega entered with a fresh faced brown haired, brown eyed, corn fed young man built like a wall. Both were armed, but their weapons weren’t drawn and they were wearing dark blue jumpsuits with SHIELD emblems, under blue light trench coats. “I figured we shouldn’t be having this conversation on open lines.”
"I think I’ve said the most hair raising stuff already." I replied from the futon in the living room. "Close the door behind you and have a seat."
"So… the white hair and blue eyes are natural?" She asked shutting off the phone while her partner closed the door. They were both accompanied by intense chatter. My phone grew warm in my hand and… I could interpret what was happening. Their comlinks were online and they appeared to be actual SHIELD agents.
"It’s my default state," I replied. "And you aren’t an FBI agent?"
"Technically I still am." She said. "This is Agent Felix." Illeana said with a cant of her head before giving me her full attention. "You are in a lot of trouble."
"For what?" I replied. "Teaching community college."
"Aiding and abetting a fugitive from the law." She replied.
"What fugitive from the law?" I asked.
"Dill Mikelson." She replied.
Someone in G.U.L.F. must have talked.
"Dill ripped out my spine." I replied. "I did not have the chance to be a good citizen. It was only because of a passing complication that I am alive at all."
"Spiral." Agent Felix said.
"One and done." I replied. "It turns out that Dill joined William Stryker’s Purifiers after M-Day and was converted into cyborgs at the Body Shoppe prior to Stryker declaring war on former mutants. The techno organic virus tried to hack the limbs… that let Spiral know something was up and she investigated and made an appearnce to collect Dill, but not before explaining why she was there. Which made Dill… who apparently had been abusing a variety of substance prior to become a cyborg and had become more imbalaced… even more imbalanced. I asked him to think of Genosha and why he put himself in these situations. He said "Fuck Genosha and fuck you… and he ripped my spine out. Spiral took the leavings and here I am. So… I did not harbor anyone… I didn’t even get a chance to. And I did think I was going to get laid… before the crazy set in. But that’s the case in any online hookup it seems."
I raised an eyebrow and chuckled ruefully. “Hell, I could be a robot programmed to think that he’s me and I could actually be dead… which would suck so many balls.”
Of course the co-consciousness sanity retention process kicked in and began listing all the reasons and tests that could prove I wasn’t a robot or a… Life Model Decoy?
"It isn’t Spiral’s style… or Mojo’s." Agent Felix said.
"Who’s Mojo?" I asked.
"Spiral’s employer and long term frenemy." Agent Djukovega said carefully before sighing. "He runs a massive interdimensional television network. He caused some severe waves in the United Kingdom about ten years ago. They take reality television to whole new extremes. And Felix is right. Spiral prefers delivering the real thing… it makes for better television than duplicates."
"You two know a lot." I said carefully. "I’m surprised you’re allowed to share it with a suspect."
"The laws for killing extraterrestrial aliens, especially in self-defense, have been kept intentionally vague." Lt. Felix said. "I think it’s because of the fear that there are more Skrull infiltrators left after that mess a few years ago and the global governments wanted to make sure that stragglers could be removed expediently."
I think my eyes were a little bit too wide. “I think you went too far Felix.” Djukovega said.
"He’s a techno-organic cyborg." Felix shrugged. "I thought we were going to have to argue with him that he was a cyborg thingie and not a ‘mutant’ as his old ‘running buddies are screaming."
"They’re not my buddies." I replied. "They’re just friends of my grandfather. And he’s not too happy with me either."
"Because you’re a mutant?" Felix asked.
"Actually it’s because I’m gay." I said. "Apparently he’s been expecting me manifest mutancy since I was a teenager. My… father… is a member of a tribe in Kenya who throws sex-linked physical mutant traits regularly. But one member is supposed to be famous."
"Who’s your father?" Djukovega asked.
"Colonel Shetani," I replied.
Felix erupted in a brief spasm, “I knew it!”
"Leave it alone." Djukovega said evenly. "The less he knows… "
"King T’Challa has forbidden vengeance on his former wife." Felix said forcefully. "But a relative… there are lots of hard feelings."
"We should go." Illeana said rushing Felix out of the door. "We’ll be in touch."
"Who is she?" I asked.
Felix rounded, “How could you not know? She’s the most famous black superhero on the damned planet!”
"Storm?" I replied. "She’s not Kenyan, she’s from New York. That’s what her birth records say. I just figured she was raised somewhere posh."
Felix was making strangled sounds.
"You are such a cape chaser." Illeana muttered, before giving me full attention. "How did you come to know this?"
"I was… obsessed with the X-Men after Magneto took Genosha, they seemed to be the only people who beat him regularly… of course they were also the downfall of Genosha’s mutate culture." I caught Felix’s look and amended. "Slave culture."
"I can’t believe you." He snapped.
"Why not?" I asked.
"You’re black!" His arms became animated again. "Your mother’s relatives were chattel and you support bringing that back!"
" The mutate conversion process was never going to come back!" I retorted. "It shortened their lives… weakened their immune systems. My mother helped to treat them. I saw what happened to mutates who got sick and died consumed by the very powers the state coveted for its use! It would never have come back no matter how much some of the hardliners wanted! And that’s not why G.U.L.F. existed! We think we deserved the chance to rebuild our country! Us! Genoshans! The U.N. wanted a quick solution and sold us out!"
"Your mother didn’t leave." Felix bore down, abandoning all pretense of professionalism. "You didn’t have to."
"I was accepted to engineering school at 16!" I thundered. "I wasn’t going to waste away in the air polluted by dying mutates! I was tired of smelling rotting or burning flesh and wondering if I was going to see my mother walk stumble into view with the skin of her arms charred, or frost bitten! She let me go. And two years later she died! Killed by a mutate for the glory of Magneto!"
Felix said. “So.”
The apartment blacked out. Every electrical appliance stopped working. “Get out!”
"No!" Felix. "You’re going to listen a…"
I stopped seeing the world in terms of reflected light, My vision… simplified, objects becoming icons with exact dimensions.
Across my vision printed: “Hypervelocity mode enabled.”
I moved, I wasn’t dressed, but was the French Quarter. I could get away with shorts with no shirt or shoes. I just needed money and id. I grabbed my wallet and I made for the open door. Djukovega and Felix were moving in slow motion. I moved past them, telekinetically forcing myself down the stairs, avoiding smashing into the wall of the stairwell and I was outside, out of the alley, over the fence and in the street.
Sinnerman, where you gonna run to?
Sinnerman, where you gonna run to?
All along that day?
Above the street, two flying cars became visible. Red sports cars, wheel wells turned down, blue energy pulsing, as their camouflage falling away. I felt my co-consciousness whirring away.
Across my vision printed: “Initiating adaptive camouflage. Recommend removing pants to facilitate full coverage.”
I managed a strange semi-levitated long jump. The pants came off, my skin color shifted, and landed, blazing up the street. Surprisingly the flying cars were not issuing any command to “halt” or anything along those lines, they were just following me. I crossed St. Louis street, only a couple of blocks from Canal street and a stub-winged VTOL craft dropped its digital cloaking, training on me something that looked very much like a gun… which served as a distraction from rocket that struck the street in front of me.
"Electromagnetic Pulse." Flashed in my head, accompanied by prickling, painful, partial paralysis, I stumbled, my momentum pulling me until I tripped, flipping onto my back, digging a furrow into the street as I skided to a stop. The craft spun to turn the gun on me, in turn it was struck by two missiles, and it began to fall. Who’s idea was it to shoot down an aircraft in a residential neighborhood?
I should let fall.
Sinnerman, where you gonna run to?
Exotic field forces fluxed around me on a scale I never calculated before. I never expected the tk projector to be anything but a sidearm at best.
I caught the smoking craft in an irregular field of semi-transparent field psionic ionization. The weight made me nauseous, the momentum… dizzy. My systems revved up higher and higher. I heard glass shatter, I heard screams…. there had to have been screaming before, must’ve been the road burn covering the sound.
Sinnerman where you gonna run to?
I cry power!
The craft’s fall reversed. I dragged myself upright, modesty forcibly asserting itself. I pulled my shorts back on, stuffed the wallet in my pocket and I rose into the air along with the levitating smoking wreck.
“Okay… lifting achieved. Where am I going to put this… ah… Louis Armstrong Park. It was either that or Rampart Street and the park was very very close. Ten seconds and a two blocks north and over, I let the craft settle to the ground.
I looked over the craft. It had SHIELD markings. Oh that’s just great.
"Die you fucking mutie shit!" I knew that voice. A very ugly gun was rushing around to point in my face.
The world slowed down again. I grabbed the gun and kneed her in the abdomen so she let it go. And then I bit into the barrel. The metal and plastic was a feast to my senses.
Willa Kathryn Kather was part of the same refugee flotilla that sailed from Genosha to Johannesburg South Africa that Dill was on. She was anger incarnate. She was also talent incarnate. She stayed with me a couple of times. I knew she didn’t think much of me, but… I don’t think I cared. I was in awe of her though. The was an infiltrator par-excellence, having served stints in conspiracy groups like Advanced Idea Mechanics, Hydra, The Secret Empire and now… SHIELD. Ew. Oh… and she was a childhood friend of Dill.
I swallowed, my violent urge subsided. “Why did you let Dill get hooked on doctored MGH?” I asked her cooly.
"Don’t you fucking dare!" She was blond this time, small heartshaped face make up free, rage adding dimension to her face. "His body washed up on a fucking beach in Galveston!"
"Really," I replied. "Which parts were artificial?"
She blinked at me.
"When he joined the Purifiers he had cybernetics installed, what- cybernetics- did- you- find on his body? Was it whole? Or mutilated?"
Her lips were thinning. I kept talking. “What about evidence of MGH abuse? What about extreme stimulant abuse? Why didn’t you help him?”
She lunged at me with astonishing speed. A knife in her hand, the blade plunged into my sternum. No, would have plunged into my sternum, but it broke. She started at me, I stared at the knife. “You have no idea how much I want to kill you right now Willa, but for fucks sake, take your head out of your ass… and… wait a second… you knew I wasn’t a mutant. You lead off with electromagnetic pulse.”
Her eyes narrowed.
"You’re a good actress." I replied. "You know where he is. I should have saw through your anti mutant bullshit before… you know he’s alive… and he’s with SHIELD isn’t he?" I frowned. "And you’ve had work done… damn you’re fast."
She could also fight and like the knife strike she really wasn’t fucking around. I found that I really wanted to kill her. “You sacrificed your cover… and your career. For him?”
She began speeding up… significantly and I had no training. She shifted her weight popping me airborne. I was saved. A white, coruscating sphere struck Willa in the head, knocking her against the hull of the downed craft.
Illeana and Felix were approaching, guns drawn. “Are you alright?” Felix asked?
"Physically," I replied. "This is a bit of a clusterfuck though."
"You have no idea." Illeana said. "You should leave…"
The color matching camoflage kicked in and I rose into the air, only then did I get naked and fly back to my new apartment.
"This is bullshit." I muttered stomping through the apartment. "Bullshit! Blatant manipulation! Bullshit. Bullshit!
My computer turned on. It was me, I felt myself doing it. Still watching the appliance activate without touching, watching it respond to the old longing to validate my existence through my obsessions.
I opened the folder with my files on technology telekinesis. Even though I now had it, the need to look at the schematic, to play with the math, to reassure myself it worked, to reassure myself that it… the engineering classes I suffered through… were worth it. I wasn’t brilliant, I was just intelligent enough, and very dedicated. I graduated in the middle, the sabbaticals did not help. I squeaked through my Masters. But, in the end, I did it all for this, so I could fantasize about destroying Magneto but not feel useless because I was always “Working towards the solution.” I told myself I was helping anyway by manning the safehouse. “Not everyone could be in the field.”
I read over the documents, zooming in on the juicy realization parts where theory was mathed into reality.
I frowned. It wasn’t the same. The intimate, inclusion I felt with the work was not present. The conscious understanding built up over a decade, gone. I could feel my pupils contact amidst rippling psychological shock that found an outlet on as the futon nearby levitated and the frame crumpled.
I opened my Master’s thesis, the prosaically titled, “Practical Applications for Energy Conversion Thrusters.” It was a complete punt of a work. Between Tony Stark, Reed Richards, Stane Enterprises, and Roxxon Incorporated, the reality of non-propellant power/thrust conversion technology was already realized… just not common.
I opened the document… and it was all gibberish. Well not gibberish. It was English, and the summary passages I understood. The areas that required study, the areas that required actually having an education; that was just so many numbers and symbols.
I spent the next hour reading everything I brought with me. It was all junk. The “core” stuff: literature, languages, basic math, etc, I remembered that. But the meat… the major… the Master… was gone. It was as if I’d never went to engineering school.
Irrationally, desperate, I ripped out the hard drive and ate it. My notepad computer floated to my hand and I downloaded and decrypted my notes from a cloud drive. No understanding. It was gone.
"Diagnostic?" I thought.
The subprocess went to work. “All systems nominal.”
My eyes widened. “Then explain why I can’t do math anymore!”
"Regions of consciousness were co-opted into telekinetic expression matrix during conversion." It replied. "Conscious mathematic conversion deemed problematic for regular expression of powers, sub division of consciousness rendered irretrievable due to autonomic nature of process."
"So… I have to do it all over again?" I asked.
"Yes. Abilty to learn is unimpaired. Theory applied to transmode process, proprietary to customer, did not exist in the Body Shoppe to be applied. Examples of technology worn during conversion process. Recommend return to learning environment to reacquire information."
I slumped to the floor among the wreckage of the futon speechless. “Why didn’t it just copy it?”
"You would not allow it." The co-consciousness said. "Subconscious fear reflex would have impeded smooth conversion. Information was integrated, subject agreed."
I broke the notepad and swallowed its drive and fell into a fuge.
Am I a success because I finally achieved what I wanted at the cost of being able to replicate it… or am I a failure because I lost the education I left my mother alone on Genosha for. If I had not left her alone maybe I could have gotten her to leave sooner.
"You were born of pain, son of the demon." That was no voice in my head.
The room was empty, but… the windows did not have sunlight flowing in. It was night.
"Demon?" I replied.
“‘Shetani,’ is a Swahili word for ‘malevolent, or selfish spirit.’” The voice continued.
"Why the disembodied voice routine?" I asked. "Who sent you?"
"I sent myself, actually." The voice replied. "You are unusual, child of Ashake."
"And who are you?" I asked.
"An enemy.” It said. “Your Goddess does not have many friends."
Now I was getting angry. “I have no goddess! No… no more tricks. No more manipulation… no more lies!”
An amorphous blob of animate shadow congealed in the room and struck me in the face forcing its way down my throat. Sunlight was streaming through the windows again.
"Status?" I queried the system.
"Assailant has been completely digested." My system responded.
"No posession?" I asked.
"Psychic, spiritual and magical constructs and entities are valid sources of sustenance."
I sighed, briefly closing my eyes. I need to stop talking to myself. I always learn the worst things about myself.
I stacked the wreckage of the futon frame in a corner with the husk of my notebook, unfolded the mattress and lay down..I’d been sitting around for an hour and the New Orleans Police Department isn’t far from here. If they were going to come for me, they would have been here.
I locked the front door and drifted off to sleep.
I dreamed of a flat plain with waist high grass, under twilight sky. Sparse trees turned shadow under the light of a setting sun. A figure stands from the grass, broad shouldered with lush curves, wide hips and a conservative bosom. Her hair was a halo of bright white fire, her eyes, smoldering white flames. She was also completely nude, skin the color of richest earth. “You disposed of my of the cat god’s emisarry.”
"It flew into my mouth and to its death." I replied. "It committed suicide in its assault of me. Was it a friend of your?”
“No, the ways I am not a friend of the allies of the Panther God are many.” I could feel the weight of her gaze. “You do not know your people’s beliefs.”
"Why the sudden interest?" I replied. "If you can enter my dreams, where have you been?"
"You were… your mother’s son… tied into your mother’s people, people of many lands." The apparition explained. "Only now… only now you are a man who has no home. So now… now is when the Bright Lady can whisper to your soul… and make no mistake, you do have a soul, how else can you devour the spiritual as well as the physical?" She waited… "Do you want to hear more?"
"Yes." I said, adding. "Please."
"It is… interesting that a man wears the Mask of Ashake." She said.
I held up my hands, “Ma’am you should know, this wasn’t my idea… I was not born looking like this. I…”
"You were awakened." She said. "And it was an awakening, when the servant of the Tyrant of a Million Eyes activated Ashake’s seed within I knew and as I have done before, no matter what The Insane Red Witch has re-ordered history to say, have appeared to offer guidance."
I nodded, and I waited.
"You… are a selfish man." She said. "However… there is no inherent evil in selfishness. Evil lies in the execution of desire. It can take the open hearted man as well as the closed. Recognize that, and you will always have a choice. Sometime the choice is your death, or the death of others. You find yourself at a peculiar crossroads of freedom. Your benefactor sets you adrift, promising that you are free of her. But she is really putting distance between herself and you because you killed a member of her adversary’s faction in the land of the Tyrant of A Million Eyes."
The sun was almost gone, the very edge visible at the horizon.
She was starting to fade, her substance becoming suffused with stars. “Do you really want to be free?”
"Yes." I truly meant it.
"Then be free." She said. "Embrace yourself. Embrace that you are the creation of the sum of the choices you have made. Now you move forward, as a golem of technology and magic. When you are ready to learn, the chance for the choice to begin your education will present itself. Be open to it."
She was almost gone and I felt myself sliding into sleep. “Beware your father.”
"I had no intention of ever contacting him. He can continue to know I don’t exist."
"But he is your father, you must accept that too." She said.
"I do accept it. I don’t have to like him."
And I went to sleep. The next day I felt like a brand new man. I was still depressed, but damn if I did not feel good. I got dressed and strolled over to Cafe Dumond on Decatur St, to greet the day with excessive amounts of sugar and caffeine.
I gorged for half an hour, eating multiple orders fried pillows of dough blanketed with powdered sugar; and chased with chicory infused coffee loaded with cream and sugar. I was considering another order when someone shot me.
I guess they wanted me to see who ended me, because the assassin boldly stopped on the sidewalk in eye-shot, blew a whistle and shot me. The bullet flattened against my forehead and fell onto the table. The shooter and I locked eyes, his were ark, and he looked very scared, face determined. He raised the pistol again, put it in his mouth and fired. The entire back of his skull exploded and he slumped forward, leaving his spirit standing where he stood.
Then and only then I felt free to act. It was familiar angry and bitter instinct. A strand of darkness traced through with lines of light extended from my tongue, streaking down the street to seize the newly released spirit and drag him into my mouth. He tasted like steak crusted with a chocolate infused blackening spiced with with a warm bloody center.
I took a bite of beignet. No one seemed to have seen what just happened, all attention and chatter was on the man who made a very big mess of himself on the street. I picked up the flattened bullet and ate it, chasing it with the last of the coffee.
"Not going to do that too often." I muttered. I did not feel guilty… just creeped out.
I picked at the remaining beignets, waiting for my server to return so I could pay.
"Are you alright?"
Felix was standing nearby, he was dressed normally, in a blue t-shirt with a white dreamcatcher print t-shirt, orange shorts and black trainers. With his short brown hair and plain features, he would have been unremarkable except he was big. His uniform made him seem less impressive.
I had not realized how much interest the shooting caused, the area around me was empty. “Physically, I am fine.” I replied.
"Diplomatic," he replied. "Would you mind if I sat?"
"Go ahead." I said. "When the restaurant recovers, I’ll order more food."
"I do not mean to pry." He said carefully. "But you seem lost. I know your former comrades’ commitment to your end has been… enthusiastic, but…"
"I’ve lost my education." I said carefully. "Years of… life… gone. The arts, the narrative base of science, it’s there… but… the genius… the spark that made me learn, that sent me to pursue the knowledge, as it was brought to fruition, the seed and the world and path it spawned, is gone. It’s been taken transmuted into a tree of project maturity. It’s floam and xylem surge with mystery. The fruit of that old life still lives and it comes for me, even as I float painless but riven. Hope, the memory of hope, the genesis of focus, the blueprint, all gone. If this is success… it is hollow."
Felix was quiet. The servers came back, faces tense, many people used the confusion as an opportunity to skip out on their tabs. She was surprised when I stayed. I have her two-hundred dollars. Guilt was finally settling in. The horrible, self serving thought brought even more guilt because I was thinking about the effect I have had on the lives of normal people, is the same thing I hated in mutants.
"I am truly what I hate, just by existing." I whispered.
"He’s tired." Felix explained to the server. "Come on Henri." He said taking my hand. "Let’s get back to the hotel."
I let him lead me away from the French Market cafe, down familiar streets, made unfamiliar by a mounting weight threatening to topple me from…
"Wait…" I was hoarse. "I need a moment."
"They want your head." Felix whispered urgently. "It’s not far."
"What do they think I have done?" I whispered. "I gave them years of service. Years. I gave them my… time… my glory… my future… teaching community college, working in silence in hiding."
Felix looked around, frowned and led me to a nearby alley. He reached under his shirt and I heard a faint hiss. He lifted me by my upper arms, my weight as nothing. He brought me so close, I could smell minted almonds on his breath. “Willa… is one of ours.” He said, voice a whisper. “She told us… everything.”
I felt my mouth working. Embers of anger drowning out until I could finally speak. “What?”
"The attack was supposed to, earn your gratitude, but… things went wrong… we did not tell the cars the plan… they saw you as… they wanted to help. They were not wrong, we were."
The damn broke. But it did not release violence, or hunger, or even hate. Confusion and sorrow riddled me and I sagged..
"It’s alright, the privacy field hides us." Felix whispered. "It’s alright. Illena will be here soon. We’ll be out of the city."
My weight fell forward, limp. Felix pulled me close, turning to shield me from the mouth of the alleyway. I clung to him and I realized… he was a very big man. I pulled back he was looking down at me. “It’s going to be alright.”
It seemed possible in that moment. I saw something in his face. I wasn’t reading him wrong. I reached up and I kissed him full on the mouth, inhaling the mint. He kissed me back and I felt the break of his tongue against my lips. And he held me away at arms length.
"No… no." He said. "I can’t… this is completely unprofessional."
"I don’t care!" I said.
"I can’t… you don’t understand. I’m sorry… but no."
"It’s because of what I am?"
"Yes." He said adding lamely. "But… it’s going to be alright. I promise."
"It’s never going to be alright again."
I heard the bark of tires on asphalt behind him. He gathered me up in his arms and rushed to a red sports sedan. Illeana Djukovega sat in the driver’s seat. She checked the street and nodded once and Felix bundled me into the back seat.
"Stay back there with him." Djukovega said. "Keep him calm."
"But…" he sputtered.
"Felix!" she snapped.
He did as she asked. The engine revved and was joined by the whine of turbines. The car rapidly rose into the air, accelerating over the river and began climbing.
"It’s going to be an hour or so until we reach the base Mr. Cardinal." Agent Djukovega said. "Try to rest if you can."
Leaning against Agent Felix, I went to sleep.