Arc 1, Bittersweet 12

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This idea really does make a lot of sense.  My powers could complement the tactics of a lot of vigilantes.

I paused, considering.  “I am definitely interested, but the devil’s in the details.”

Mirage looked at me, and smiled.  “Yes, details are very important.  On that note, I think this interview is over, unless you have more questions for us?”

I don’t know enough to ask more questions.

“No more questions, Mirage.”

“OK, Zeke.”  She turned to her right and spoke to a man in the seat next to her. “Let him go, Fiction.”

Let me go?

I blinked, and the world changed.

I blinked again.  No more changes.

I was no longer in an underground facility.

What the fuck?

I could see windows with blue sky and white clouds above the heads of a bunch of people surrounding me in a circle.  I was restrained by straps on my arms, legs, waist, and forehead.  In my peripheral vision, I could see various pieces of equipment taped to my body.

What the hell is happening here?

“Somebody better get the straps off him now, or he’s going to shift intentionally.”  I knew that voice.  Blindside.

That’s why I’m not freaking out, I guess.  He’s suppressing my emotions.

I felt the straps starting to move, and within seconds they were loosened, and the equipment taped to my body had been removed.


I had been lying flat on an oval pedestal.  In something like a hospital gown.  In full view of at least a hundred people.  It felt like I had a pair of boxer shorts on, at least.  I could feel myself scowling as I quickly sat up and twisted right, placed my feet on the ground, and prepared to stand.

Mirage’s voice, “We needed to test you, sorry.  We understand that you are going to be upset with us for a while.”

How perceptive of you, it’s almost like you can read my mind.

Several people in the circle around me made noises of amusement.

I saw movement, peripherally to my left, and turned my head in that direction to see what was coming.  Mirage, Anne, and Danny were walking towards me.  Danny saw me looking and gave me an ‘OK’ signal with his left hand.  His right hand was being held by Anne.  I could feel myself relaxing a bit.

Are they real?

“Yes, they are the real Anne and Danny.”

Not being able to trust my own senses is beginning to get very old, very fast.

“We have noticed that when you shift, and then shift back, your emotions are subdued.  Before Blindside releases you, we will take you to a place where you can shift, and then let you spend some time with your family, after you shift back.”

I simply stared at Mirage for a few seconds, then nodded.  “I’m guessing that since you are speaking to me now, with all of these others present, you either have some sort of leadership position, or are responsible for communicating with me for some specific reason.  I’ll want to talk to you, by videoconference, while I am Strangest, soon.”

That way you can’t mess with my mind, even if you have powers that work through video.

“Certainly.  Anne and Danny were awake and aware for the last couple hours, and will be able to explain some of what happened, but you will have questions afterwards, I’m sure.”

I have questions now, but they would come out with too many four letter words mixed in.

I nodded.  “Fine.  Take me to where I can shift, please.”  I looked out the window as I stood.  Definitely no glass houses.  It looked like we were in a small city or large town, with few buildings on the skyline over half a dozen stories that I could see.  In the distance I could see a large body of water.  A few seagulls flew by.  This was almost certainly not Atlanta, though it might be on the outskirts of Savannah.

Unless what I’m seeing isn’t real.

Blindside beckoned to me.  “This is reality now, Zeke.  No games.  No deception.”

I stood, and walked towards him.

Mirage’s voice.  “Anne, Danny, we’re going to let Zeke shift to calm down a bit before we bring you together with him, OK?”

I turned to look at Mirage, Anne, and Danny.

Anne’s voice, clearly irritated.  “Why do we have to wait?”

“Blindside’s power is muffling his emotions to keep him from shifting.  He looks calm, but he’s rather unhappy right now.  When he shifts and shifts back, he should be calmer and you can talk to him.”

Until they mess with my mind and piss me off, again.

I faced Anne and explained, “They’re right, Anne, it will take just a minute after they get me to a place where I can change.  Speaking of changes, Mirage, I want my clothes.”

“I have them.  Here, Dad, catch.”  Danny pulled a strap off his left shoulder with his left hand, then tossed the attached cloth bag a little to the right of me.  I caught it out of the air.  It seemed heavy enough to contain my boots and clothes.  Good.

“Thanks, Danny.”

Anne looked at me, then at Mirage and Blindside.  “OK, can we do this, so I can spend some time with my husband, whose mind you have been playing with for the last couple hours?”  Danny nodded too.  Neither of them seemed angry though, just impatient and irritated.

Are they messing with Anne and Danny’s minds too?

Mirage looked straight at me. “No, Zeke.  We aren’t messing with their minds.  They know exactly what happened, but not all the reasons why.”

It’s really hard to believe that after the last day or so.

“We understand, Zeke.  Go, follow Blindside, shift, and spend some time with your family.”  Mirage waved at me with a little grin and a shooing motion, like I was a cat and she was trying to get me to move towards Blindside.

I waved to Anne and Danny.  “See you two soon.”  Danny waved back.  Anne blew me a kiss, I blew a kiss back, and then turned to face Blindside and nodded.

Blindside led me to an elevator.  A very large elevator.  Large enough for vehicles, and the presence of a few black rubber smudges with tire tread patterns made it clear that it had, in fact, been used to move vehicles.

Blindside hit the hold door button, then pressed the bottom floor button, marked ‘Ga’

“The garage has been cleared.  It’s far below the rest of the base.  You can shift there.  If anyone is there, they shouldn’t be, and you should call us on the elevator phone and let us know.  Anne and Danny will be waiting here when you return.”

I looked at the floor indicator.  We were currently on floor six.  “OK.  I’ll be back shortly.”

Blindside stepped out of the elevator and I hit the door close button.  The elevator moved downwards very quickly.  I felt it when I moved out of range of Blindside’s emotion dampening range.

They really need to stop fucking with my head if they actually want me to work with them.

I tried to resist changing until the elevator stopped moving, but that didn’t work.  Too much anger and fear and frustration popped into my head all at once, adrenaline flooded me, and I shifted.  I very briefly felt a human mind almost directly above me before it was out of my range.  Probably Blindside, next to the elevator.

When the elevator finally stopped, it was obvious why it was so far below the ground.  The garage for the facility was apparently a natural cavern, and a very large one at that.  Or rather, it had been a natural cavern.  The floor had been flattened, and the ceiling reinforced by beams.  Stalagmites and stalactites had been removed, in most cases, except where they came together and were substantially thick, offering support to the cavern ceiling.

Curiosity won out, briefly, and I poked my head out the door of the elevator.  Lots of different vehicles.  Very few of which were expensive looking.  Just a bunch of normal looking cars, trucks, and vans.  There were several other elevators that I could see over the tops of the vehicles, on the other side of the cavern.  I spotted a few ultralight aircraft with folded wings as well.

Enough sightseeing.  Time to change back and go spend some time with Anne and Danny.

I shifted back into human form.  Grumpy and irritated, but not to the point where I had to be concerned about shifting again without further provocation.

I pressed the elevator’s hold button, quickly tore off the hospital gown-like thing, and put my clothes back on.  As I was pushing my right foot into its boot, I pressed the button for the sixth floor.

The door of the elevator closed, and I felt the acceleration in my legs as the elevator picked up speed.  When the elevator opened, Anne and Danny were waiting for me, and nobody else was around.

Are they really Anne and Danny?  How many invisible people are watching me?

Danny was holding what looked like a smartphone and looked up as I took two steps forward and picked up my wife in both arms, hugging her.  She hated that.  I was more than a full foot taller than her, and she did not like being off the ground.

I hadn’t done that to her since we were dating in high school.  As she grabbed my right ear with her left hand, she not-quite calmly said out loud.  “I love you, Zeke, but I’m going to hurt you, if you don’t put me down.”

I immediately put her down, apologizing.  “Sorry Anne, it was the only thing I could think of on the spur of the moment that I could use to tell if it was really you.”

She thought about that, briefly.  “Are you sure it’s me now?” She said, grinning, as she wriggled her left hand, which had not yet let go of my right ear.

Not really, but if they got that deep into both of our heads to pick up relationship issues from twenty years ago, I might as well enjoy the ride.

“Mostly sure.”  She twisted my ear a bit.  “Ow.  Ow.  I’m sure, I’m sure.”

Mostly sure.

She let go of my ear and I leaned in for a kiss and a hug.  Danny was just staring alternatively at us and the smartphone, waiting for us to get done with the stressed-out middle-age married-people greetings.

I looked around us.  “Are we just supposed to chat together in front of an elevator in the hallway, or did they say something about a place where we could sit down or at least relax a bit?”

Danny waved the device in his hand.  “Blindside left this for us.  It’s got a route finder.  Not quite as good as the system in the glass buildings, but it’ll do.”

“Glass buildings?”  How did Danny know about that?  Had the Enclave people messed with my family’s heads too?  I shook my head, getting angry, but trying not to.

Anne looked at my face and certainly noticed I was getting worked up again.  “I saw them too, Zeke.  We will explain a bit better when we get somewhere a little more private.”

I nodded.

Danny waved his hand in a ‘follow-me’ gesture as he turned and started walking down the hallway with us in tow behind him.

A few turns and several hundred horizontal feet of walking later, roughly broken in half by a short hop down three stories by elevator, we were entering into a small apartment.

“This is our assigned apartment, if we decide to stay, it says.” Danny commented as we approached a door.

The apartment was a small place, but not cramped.  We walked in, closed the door behind us, and looked around briefly.

I walked over to a too-short couch and sat down on it, sinking deep into the cushions.  Getting out of the couch would be a pain.  I patted the seat next to me, but Anne sat on my lap instead.  After seating herself on me, she turned ninety degrees, putting her head on the armrest, and stretching her legs towards the other end of the couch.  Danny would need to sit in one of the two recliners, or pull up a chair from the kitchen table.

“At least this apartment has carpet.” Anne said with a grin, looking at Danny’s back as he explored the kitchen.

Danny opened the fridge and freezer, each of them contained a few things.  He pulled out a plastic bottle of something the right color to be orange juice from the fridge, looked at the label, popped the cap, and then sniffed carefully above the opening.  Apparently satisfied, he then walked over to the cabinets around the sink and started opening them until he found glasses.

Anny had apparently heard Anne’s comment but took a little time to think about it before replying.  “I kind of liked the decor of the place in Dad’s head, Mom.” He said.  After a pause, he asked, “You two want orange juice?”

I was thirsty.  I didn’t remember if I had eaten or drunk anything since the ‘run’ with Mirage earlier by the barn.  I remembered picking up an apple and a drink at some point, but had no memory of eating them.

“Yes, that would hit the spot.” I replied.

“Yes please, Danny.” Anne said immediately after.

Anne and I held hands, resting all four of our hands, clasped, over her stomach.  She wriggled a little bit to adjust her position against my lap and the armrest.  Pleasant thoughts and sensations ensued, but I didn’t act on them due to Danny’s presence.

Shortly after the sound of pouring, Danny walked back into the room, and Anne started to sit up on my lap.  I gently held her down, and she looked at me, puzzled, until Danny handed us both sports drink containers with sealable lids.  She accepted her drink and carefully drank a couple small swallows while she stayed reclined.

I drank down a third of mine in one go, then set it to the side on an end table.  Anne handed me hers as well, and I set it next to mine.

“Space Elves, Zeke?” Anne said as she poked me in the stomach.  “With super powers?”

“Ah, no comment?” I replied.

“Telepaths living in glass houses.” Danny said, grinning, as he sat down with his own drink.  He looked a bit irritated as he leaned back into his seat.  All the furniture in here was built for people shorter than Danny and I.

“Tall, dark, beautiful women for the boy to be infatuated with.”  Anne looked at me.  “Fortunately for you, there didn’t seem to be any alternate motive there for yourself.”

I was getting upset again.  “Ah, OK, I see that you saw what I saw then.  I’m going to have to take this up with whoever leads these people.  There was no need for them to do that to you two.”

Anne put her finger on my lip, and tapped it twice.  I pretended to try to bite her finger.  “They were testing you, Zeke, and they let us watch, as potential advocates or something.  I wasn’t sure exactly how we would have been of help to you, but apparently whenever they judge people, they try to have family or friends present.”

Some sort of trial?  I wonder if I passed.  That might explain why I could never see who was asking questions at the end, until I spoke to Mirage, who I knew.

“Umm, OK.  I guess that makes a little bit of sense.  Maybe they let you watch so they can tell from your thoughts whether or not what I was doing was normal for me?”

Danny spoke up.  “Mirage said Fiction’s power is to disassociate a mind from reality, plant very basic ideas like story plotlines, and broadcast whatever the affected mind comes up with to fill in the gaps in an area effect around the affected mind.  He has to be touching you for it to take effect.  He can’t control anything, other than the most fundamental framework of the suggestion.  Others with mental powers can interject thoughts but his power insulates the affected from commands.”

Anne followed right behind, continuing to explain.  “For you, he merely implanted the suggestion that the second teleporter took you to a safe place, the Enclave, where you would need to establish a relationship with the others, and let you build the story from there.  We were watching everything from your eyes, hearing all your thoughts, even though we have no mental powers.”  She paused.  “None of the others interfered with your story until the end, when they started asking you questions.”

At least that’s what you were told.

“So everything up to the second teleporter is true, but I was given the psychic whammy after I came through the second teleporter, strapped to a chair in a medical gown, and subjected to some sort of choose your own adventure trial in front of my family and a bunch of mind reading strangers?”

“Exactly.  I’m very proud of you.  You surprised most of them, I could tell.  There was a lot of chatter in the room.  None of it was loud, but it was clear that they were expecting something different.”  Anne snuggled up to me.  “I especially liked the part where you imagined a beautiful young woman for your son to potentially interact with, responsibly, but didn’t even have any dirty old man thoughts for yourself.”

If there is a God out there, thank you. The wrong thoughts there could have done terrible things to my marriage.

“I liked that part too, though I wouldn’t have minded a few dirty old man thoughts.”  Danny grinned.

Anne turned her head to look at him, then shook her fist at him, mockingly, but said nothing.

Danny just grinned.  “Space Elves and dark beautiful women, Mom.  We have sooo much ammunition.  For years.”

I know I was blushing a bit.  That might be the first time Danny ever actually managed to embarrass me using only words.

“They told us that you were going to be angry with them, and that you might think we were programmed to help them continue to control you, somehow.”  Anne paused.  “They wanted us to help them convince you they were not messing with either our minds or yours on any level deeper than the sensory level.”

“And?” I replied.

“Danny and I thought about it and realized that it was a stupid idea.  Trying to convince you logically that these people weren’t messing with our heads would be absurd.  Especially since neither Danny nor I could rule out that they really were messing with our heads.”

“These people are truly weird, and difficult to get along with, but at least they didn’t abduct us all, like what happened to Danny and me earlier.”  Anne said.

“They didn’t abduct you, you mean.” I replied, softly.

“Well, yes.  Sorry, Zeke, I was being a little self-centered there.” Anne apologized.

“I can’t wait to tell Grandpa and Grandma Collins about the space elves!”  Danny said with a grin.  He looked at my expression and started to laugh uncontrollably, leaning back in his chair.

I slowly traced my hand down Anne’s leg and removed her right shoe.  It was one of her casual flats.

Anne smiled at me and wriggled a bit in my lap.  I almost forgot what I was doing.

I casually lifted the shoe to my shoulder like I was going to drop it behind my back, then whipped it forward quickly, striking Danny in the middle of his chest with the thrown shoe, startling him.

Danny yelled out “Ack!” as he kicked with his legs in reflex, and knocked the chair over, with himself in it.

Anne smiled at me and took off her other shoe and tossed it over the chair at Danny, whose legs were still sticking straight up in the air as he continued laughing hysterically.  He saw the second shoe coming and knocked it aside.

Anne started to talk, doing her best to imitate a stereotypical villainess voice, “Remember, Danny.  You’re probably going to get married sometime in the next few years.  I have baby pictures.  On the cloud.  Password protected.”

There was a brief pause before Danny responded, as he was having difficulty wheezing out a response between laughs.  “My space elves…”  he gasped for air “are no match for your baby picture judo.  Please forgive me, and have mercy.”

We all busted out laughing.

OK, this is my family.

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  1. syphax1

    I laughed for a solid minute at about the tenth line or so. But damn it, you’ve crushed my dreams for this being the kind of super hero story where Elvis and Jimmy Hendrix have formed a crime fighting/musical duo. I honestly thought that was the way this was going since the words ‘space elves’ appeared.

  2. underwhelmingforce

    So just two questions, which will probably be resolved I’m the next chapter, what was the in-universe reason for that, and why are Anne and Danny okay with this? They seem to have bounced back very well from having been kidnapped.

    • farmerbob1

      The in-universe reason for what? Using a superpower (Fiction’s) to help judge someone’s mental character?
      Anne and Danny are definitely still going to have issues that I need to explore.

  3. DeNarr

    Honestly, this just seemed kind of annoying for a reader, and the type of think that would have me going “Oh hell no!” if I were Zeke. They complain about him being suspicious, yet they continue to mess with his mind, and literally trap him in a mental delusion. I’d be on the next teleporter to Gorgon to stay away from those kind of people. Seriously though, what did they gain by doing that? Why not just ask him those questions instead?

    • farmerbob1

      Fiction’s power allows others without mental powers to see the world created by the person he is targeting. In essence, Zeke was just telling a little story about himself and others, making things up as he went along. The way he treated others in his subconscious mind was very important. as a measure of what kind of person he is.

      Zeke’s powers are about as unfriendly and difficult to work with as powers can be. The Enclave is trying to understand him, test him, and keep themselves safe from him, all at the same time. Zeke recognizes this, but it’s still irritating.

  4. lead

    If he didn’t agree to join –or failed their test(that they have no authority to judge)– they looked to be prepared to possibly save lives by effectively killing someone and remaking them how they see fit. The arrogance of these vigilantes is mind-blowing; that they call themselves ‘good’ or even ‘grey’ is sickening. To be brainwashed and remade is a fate worse than death, and they’re happily prepared to do just that to anyone they deem dangerous.

    A person is a collection of thoughts, memories, and connections that naturally evolve and change over time, and these vigilantes are screwing with the foundations of personality/individuality; for fucking around in someones head, they are just as bad as any murderer. The fact that Zeke didn’t accidentally kill all the mentalists in the room with an empathy rage-supernova after getting jerked around so often is surprising.

    I would have joined Gorgon as a lieutenant in a heartbeat if they pulled this mind-rape evilness on me, if only to destroy them and any last shred of any organization or person these vigilantes have ever contaminated.

  5. amit amin

    This was probably the funniest thing I’ve read you write so far. I laughed for a solid five minutes. So good. I also should have trusted you to improve as an author, and should have maybe doubted the space elves thing a little, instead of trying to rationalize it.

  6. jacobpaige

    Honestly, after their repeated displays of their casual attitude towards raping his mind, I’d tell them to go f’ themselves and work for Gorgon instead. The worst thing he’ll do to the MC’s family is murder them, but at least they’d still be themselves when they died. Though of course, this is assuming that he wants to continue to ignore all the many, many contacts and relationships he’s established over the course of his career while building his multinational corporation that caters strictly to obscenely powerful people who value him and the services he provides greatly.

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