“Don’t speak unless spoken to. Do not make eye contact. Do not stare. Answer honestly and absolutely do not lie. He hates liars,” the assistant said, leading the finely dressed Mr. Washington down the corridor. She spoke rapidly and firmly, a well rehearsed spiel. She slicked Washington’s hair back and picked some stray lint off his coat, which caught him off guard.
“Is there anything else I should know about?” Washington asked as she adjusted his tie.
“Just be yourself.”
They stopped before a plain looking set of double doors. Plain, yet imposing. Oppressive. Washington swallowed his anxiety. It was show time. This was twenty years of work, all culminating to this moment. The assistant nodded, listening to instructions. She wasn’t wearing an earpiece.
“He will see you now,” she said.
The doors opened of their own accord. Fancy, Washington thought. He stepped inside.
The room was akin to a boardroom; a long table, lots of chairs, that sort of thing. A lone gentleman sat at the head of the table. He wore a simple light grey suit, so light it was almost white, with a white shirt. No tie. He also wore some sort of silver tiara that didn’t go with the rest of his wardrobe at all. In fact, it looked like he put it on at the last minute.
There were several monitors in the room. One was of a beautiful vista showing nature at its finest. Another had a POV chess game. Another seemed to show open heart surgery. Washington wondered what their purpose was.
“Please have a seat, Mr. Washington.”
Washington approached cautiously. He was about halfway down the table when the man held up a hand. Close enough. Washington set his briefcase with interview notes down in front of him.
“Thank you for agreeing to meet with me.”
“No, thank you for coming here. Life was starting to get a bit… boring before you showed up.”
“I thought a man in your position would be too occupied to get bored,” Washington observed.
“You know what I mean.”
“I’m afraid I don’t,” Washington replied. Where was this going?
“Hmm. We can do it this way, I suppose. After all, the game is still young.” The POV chess player made a move on the board, capturing a knight and causing his opponent to shake his head in frustration. “What sorts of questions can I expect from you today? I assume this is for… an article? A documentary, perhaps?”
“Superhuman interest story,” Washington clarified.
“Ah. Not a hit piece, I hope,” the man chuckled.
“An exposé. Fact based and neutral.”
“Now where’s the fun in that?”
“Um, right.” Washington placed a recording device on the table and clicked it on. “I’d like to begin with your origins. Where you came from, where you grew up, all of that.”
“My origins aren’t nearly as interesting as my destination,” he said, already sounding bored and annoyed. He sighed. “But I guess every story has to start somewhere. I was born in the early 1900s, somewhere in the Southern United States.”
“Um, you’ve aged very well.”
“What I mean is, you don’t look a day over 30.”
“I learned to arrest the aging process in 1932.”
“19- wait, 1932?” Washington said, scribbling madly in his notebook.
“Yes. Keep up or we’ll be here all day.”
“Right, okay, sorry. So you were born in the South. When did you say, exactly?”
“I didn’t. Records weren’t much to speak of then. I only know my approximate age. By now the exactness doesn’t matter all that much.”
The chess player’s opponent made a move and nodded, satisfied. The chess player tapped his fingers absently.
“Do you happen to know where?”
“I don’t. The details of my birth are more… fantastical than factual. My grandmother was the one who told me the story and she liked to embellish a detail or two. She was quite a storyteller. I was born the son of freed slaves. Or perhaps a freed slave and a carpet bagger. Their identities changed every time she told the story. Either way, she told me my birth was a miracle; said my parents had been childless for years, unable to conceive. Then a strange glow came over the night sky and days later, my mother was with child. I was born in a blizzard, the worst we’d seen in a century, so the story goes. Froze cattle solid where they stood and picked up homes right off their foundation, carrying them into the next county. This was the world that greeted me. My life would only get more interesting from there.”
“A fascinating origin. Would this glowing in the sky possibly be the 1910 comet that presaged the first superhumans?”
“One could extrapolate that, but there isn’t anything in the way of proof. Sorry in advance to your fact checkers, Mr. Washington.”
“We’ll make do. Now, when did you first learn about your gifts?” Washington asked.
“That came years later, when I was a boy of about nine or ten. Turned back a lynch mob with the power of my thought alone. The Great War was over, you see, and the men coming back from Europe were right mad that a bunch of women and coloreds had taken their jobs from them. Heh. It’s funny. You’d think the nation would be grateful that the “lessers” of society had taken up the slack while our boys fought overseas. But no. The whole nation turned red that summer. Riots tore across the country. Most times the police stood by, if not take part in the destruction themselves.”
The man sighed, looking distant and distracted.
“Lot of good people were killed,” he continued. “Killed because they dared to do the work. It’s the same story you hear again and again. After a while, you start to wonder if things will ever truly change.”
The chess player took his opponent’s bishop. Check.
“But that’s why you started down the path you did. Because you wanted to make change.”
“I wanted to stop the hate and fear that almost put my father at the end of a rope!” the man’s voice went several decibels higher. The scenic view of nature was interrupted by a flock of birds. A shot rang out and one of the birds fell out of the sky. “When the mob showed up at our door I felt something deep inside their heads and hearts. As they screamed for my father’s blood I witnessed the simple nature of man. His true nature. A supposedly intelligent species ruled by emotion and sentiment, no different than the tribes folk that hunted the mammoth.”
A deafening pause filled the room. The man sat down. Washington didn’t remember seeing him stand.
“So what did you do?” Washington asked.
“I defended my family, of course. That power I felt for the first time in my life came spilling out of me. With my mind’s eye I probed deep into their souls and found the fear buried there, gnawing away at their humanity. The true reason for their hate, their rage. Driving them to murderous acts. Acts they would have called savage had they read about it in adventure dime novels. So I reached out and I grasped that fear. I turned it loose. And it drove them off. They never bothered us again. I’m sorry, I think I strayed from my story a bit.”
“No, please, continue.”
“It didn’t take long for word to spread. My community and the communities around us were, then as now, very religious and very superstitious. I was a boy given gifts by God. I was a spawn of Satan come to curse this land. Sometimes I was both. People came from far and wide seeking me, hoping to heal their sick family member or give counsel on a future endeavor. Sometimes they’d ask me to curse someone who owed them money, or their white neighbors before they killed again. The crowds, small at first, grew as my legend grew. It wasn’t long before I realized I couldn’t stay there. My family would forever be in danger because of me. So I left home when I was about twelve or thirteen. And that’s when my adventures began.”
The man paused. The activity on the heart surgery monitor picked up as the patient seemed to be experiencing some acute distress.
“I’ve been meaning to ask, um, about these screens,” Washington probed.
“Specifically that one,” he pointed to the surgery screen.
“Oh, don’t worry about him. He’s in good hands,” the man said, winking. Then a pause. Then, “Tell me, how much do you know about the history of this world?”
“About as much as the average joe. Maybe a little more so,” Washington replied.
“I see. And how much do you know about the secret history?”
“The what now?”
“Don’t be coy with me, Mr. Washington. I know you’re aware there’s a way things appear to be and a way things really are. Take for example your knowledge of… well… me.”
“I wasn’t aware your existence was that much of a secret.”
“Isn’t it, though? I’m the secret head of a shadow board of directors behind the biggest conglomerate of private interests on planet Earth. Or something like that. I don’t really know because there isn’t even really a title for it.”
“What are you saying?”
“What you’ve suspected for a while, I’m sure. That there aren’t a hundred entities that control world affairs, or even a dozen. In fact, there are only three. One of them being me.”
“I don’t… ah, haha… I don’t…”
“You’re here under the cover of an interview. A superhuman interest story, right? The life and times of an interesting man to pad the pages of your publication. It’s a perfectly ordinary and unassuming reason to seek me out. You sought me through official channels, contacted the proper persons to arrange this meeting and so on. But your motive slants away from “interviewer” toward something far more interesting. But what? That’s what I’m trying to figure out. Because to have heard of me at all means you’ve beaten several levels of memetic and psych-repulsor defenses. Defenses which guarantee that no one who seeks me out will find me. In fact they will have been mentally redirected from doing so for whatever reason their own minds will come up with. The very reality of you being here right now in this very moment, means there is more to you than you’re letting on.”
“I’m… I’m just a reporter.”
“Your act is starting to amuse me less and less. Tell my why you’re really here, Mr. Washington.”
“I’m here to get to know you. To get your story out. That’s all.”
“Funny. Your mind betrays you. Even though you believe you’re telling the truth, there is something you’re hiding from me.”
“I never consented to you entering my mind,” Washington said, sweating now.
“I didn’t have to. You’re practically screaming it. “I’m telling the truth please believe me!” A mark of someone with something to hide if ever I’ve seen it.”
“Well, I guess there’s no helping it then.”
Washington pressed a hidden button on the recording device, enabling its true function. The lights in the room dimmed. The screens flickered. The man arched an eyebrow. Then the pain started.
“What… what is this?” he asked.
“It’s a device that, funnily enough, mirrors the function of your little tiara there. Only in reverse, suppressing your abilities.”
“How is this possible? Nobody knows. Nobody…”
“But I do. I’ve been hot on your tracks for years.”
The nature screen fizzled as the hunter dropped their gun and vomited in the grass. The chess player fell, spasming on the floor. The surgeon dropped their tools and fell to their hands and knees.
“You… how… you…”
“I’m aware of your long and storied career. How you mold men’s minds to fit whatever whims entertain you that day, changing lives. Forever.”
“Ah. So it’s… revenge.”
“I wanted to get your whole story down for the record. But since you saw through my own defenses, I guess we’re going to skip ahead to the fun part, where you pay for the lives you’ve ruined and the people you’ve hurt.”
“Who… Who are…”
“My name is Richard. Richard Robinson,” he said, opening his briefcase. “You destroyed my father’s reputation and left my family destitute; my community in shambles. It’s taken me two decades to find you. It was worth the wait.”
Richard removed two rifle parts from the briefcase and assembled them into one futuristic rifle piece. He removed a scope next, made from the rarest minerals on Earth. The hunter began tearing his clothes off. The chess player kicked and screamed as people tried to help him. The surgeon grabbed the sharpest implements around and began using them on himself.
“I am more than… I… ffffffffuck!”
“I trained myself to resist your tricks. Augmented my body to overcome your abilities. Sharpened my will into a fine razor point, focused on the goal of finding and killing you. Your reign of terror is over Mr…. Mr….”
“What’s wrong, Richard?” the man asked.
“Your name. I can’t… your name is…”
The man sat up straight in his chair and fixed his suit. The screens behind him shut off one by one.
“That was quite a painful experience. Luckily I was trained to resist torture in ’36 and psychic torture in ’41.”
“Why can’t I remember your name?” Richard screamed. He aimed the rifle at (=+=). The rifle ended up pointed under his own chin.
“You guessed wrong about the tiara, as you call it. It doesn’t heighten my powers, it limits them. Focuses them. By reversing its function, you only served to overwhelm my senses for a moment, but also removed my self-imposed handicap. It was a simple matter to realign myself and overcome your little doohickey there.”
The man crushed the recording device with his mind. Richard tried to move, but his psychic defense chips had been fried by the man’s sheer overwhelming power and he was now a hostage in his own body.
“You’ll pay. I don’t care if it takes another two decades you’ll pay!”
“What, you think you’re leaving this room?” the man asked, amused by Richard’s determination.
“I’ll never stop.” Richard began to move the rifle. “Never.” The rifle was level now. “Never!”
“Amazing. Your trained mind. The implanted anti-psyker servo-motors in all of your muscle groups, designed to resist my psychic manipulations. You even installed an electronic autonomic bypass server to keep your essential functions going, even if I willed your heart and lungs to stop. Simply amazing. You rebuilt yourself from top to bottom to fight me. It’s really quite impressive.”
“I will avenge my father. My family. My town. What you did to them… I will…”
“No. I have an idea for you. You will be much more useful to the world than being a petty avenger.”
The man approached. Richard tried desperately to pull the trigger but his finger was stuck. An oversight in the psycho-motor function override protocol.
“Damn you! You turned my father into a pedophile! My mother into a cannibal! My sister into a deaf mute sex addict! You warped their minds and made them monsters! You tore through my town and upended everything!”
“I don’t remember the event in question. As you’ve seen, I’ve lived a long and interesting life. It’s hard to remember every life I’ve affected. But you. You I think I can use. I need a strong will like yours. An unbreakable will. I just need to twist your core motivation ever so slightly.” The man reached out and touched Richard’s forehead. “Aaaannndddd there. Now you work for me.”
Richard lowered his rifle. The man, his best friend in the world, needed him. He would do anything for him. He would be there for him. Always.