Book reviews, art, gaming, Objectivism and thoughts on other topics as they occur.

Jan 16, 2006

Fiction: Paul

As told by Dakota Sue

I sat on the secretary’s desk in the crowded waiting room where Mr. Rose had dumped me and contemplated the twitchy young guy producing a truly horrendous array of clicking noises.  It took some time for my brain to pick up that he was working on an extremely tiny computer.  He looked at me, apparently feeling my bemused stare.  His eyes widened slightly.

“What happened to you?”

I touched one of the scabs on my face.  “Those job interviews are killer.”

“Maybe you need to find some easier work.”

“I’d be happy to hear suggestions.  I’m not entirely certain what I’m here waiting for in any case.”

“This is the government; we wait.”

“Why are you here then?”

“I’m avoiding my desk and finishing this report.  I’m Paul.”

“I’m Susan, I got shoved in here on extremely short notice, so I really don’t know what’s going on.”

Just as I got the words out of my mouth the doors in the back opened and two old guys tromped in, looking like they’d seen some abuse in their time.  One leaned on a cane, and the other had some ugly scars down the side of his face.  

“Greetings, you may all refer to me as Mr. Archer,” announced the man with the cane pleasantly.  He had long white hair and reminded me of Rose, but Elves don’t really get old.  “You will now please take the door to my left and get in the elevators.”

I put down what was left of my paper cup of coffee (now sodden and beginning to leak), and heaved myself to my feet, making my way down the hallway to the elevators.  There were four of them, open and waiting, but without buttons, controls, or even floor markers anywhere.  The crowd sorted themselves out as I wondered whether there was some deep significance to your elevator selection and then said screw it and took whichever one was emptiest.  

The next room was done up in some dreadful neo-Industrial style; everything was made out of metal, and not well-made either.  I almost cut myself on the rough back of my contoured-for-your-discomfort chair until I learned not to touch anything that wasn’t polished down.

Paul joined me at the table, or maybe I joined him.  All I saw was a faint flicker out of the corner of my eye and there he was, looking rather pleased with himself.  I opened my mouth to question him about this phenomenon when the old guys made their second appearance.  This time the scarred guy, tall and black and imposing, did the talking.

“I am Horatio Powers, director of AEGIS.   You are here because we are forming a new anti-terrorism squad specifically targeting metahumans.  The code for this project is 615.  Only six of you will be selected for positions in Mr. Archer’s squad, which means you will also report to me as your superior officer.”

Archer spoke up again, his words following Powers’ so closely I wondered whether they’d been rehearsing in front of a mirror.  “The first examination will be a psychological questionnaire.”  He turned to the side slightly and I noticed the pile of papers and pencils behind him.  “Answer the questions and when you have finished remain in your seat.”  

Paul raised his hand.  “I’m done.”   Sure enough, he was.  The two old guys ignored him and stalked out.  In step.  I could just tell that I was going to fit in here.  Paul appeared perplexed.  “No, really, I’m done.”

No one else seemed in a hurry to move, so I grabbed the pile of exams and started throwing them to people, inaccurately, but I was pretty sure they could all survive having a test smack them in the forehead or knee. Then I sat down and started trying to fill out my own.

Question 1: Are you a patriot?
A.  Yes
B.  No
C.  Die American Capitalist pigs
D.  All of the above  

No really, I’m serious.  The essay questions were even worse.

Free Response 3:  In three paragraphs or less, describe the events leading up to your twelfth birthday without using the letter N.  

I took a stab at it to show willing, but I was pretty sure I was going to wash out at that point.   I got fed up and tossed the exam into the center of the table.  I fidgeted for a while and then peeked over my neighbor’s shoulder to see what he was doing.  Across the table Paul was harassing a guy that could be a pilot; he was wearing a flight suit in any case.

“So, what’s your name?  What kind of powers you got?  You think you’ll make the cut?”

The (possible) pilot grinned.  “Q.  Stuff.  Probably.”

“Q?  Really?  Your parents not like you or something?”

“It’s a code name.  You might want to think of your own if you don’t have one.  It helps in this type of business.”

I grimaced.  “Code names are for pansies in spandex suits.  Stick with your real name, it confuses people.”  The guy next to me finally looked up, probably because I’d almost put my nose in his ear turning around.  I glanced at him, wondering whether he’d get upset.  His eyes didn’t quite match; one was larger than the other and appeared to be made out of metal.

I supposed I could try being polite, since I’d put my nose in his business more than one way at that point, so I offered him my hand.  “I’m Susan.  And either you have a really bad case of glaucoma or one of your eyes is artificial.  Either way, not much fun.”

“My code name is Ranger,” announced Paul, “and I’m your basic speedster.”

“What’s an advanced speedster, then?” demanded Q.

“The advanced ones can run on water . . . I can’t do that yet but I’m studying.  It turns out Jesus just ran real fast.”

I shook my head.  “I’m a truck driver.  Or I was, anyway, I’m just a bit minus a truck at the moment.”

My neighbor chuckled finally and shook my hand.  There was no flesh under his glove, only metal.  “Durance.”

“Pleased to meet you.”

“Likewise.”

“Crowe!  Davis!  Fredrichson!  Keller!  Monroe!  Smith!  You’re dismissed, exit through the elevator.”  Archer had returned while I was distracted.  I looked across the table.  My exam was still there, just where I’d left it.  What a bunch of work for nothing.  Now I wished I hadn’t bothered to make up that stuff about the neighbor’s cat.  “The rest of you leave through the doors on the other side and change in the locker rooms for a free exercise period.”

Dressed in the workout clothes I resembled a domestic violence refugee, as all the scrapes and bruises were visible.  Well, almost all of them.  I sighed, resigned, and wandered out into the gym, where I began stretching in a desultory fashion.  Paul emerged a few moments later and joined me at stretching.

“So you can sprint like the devil, what else can you do?”  I asked.

He grinned and began counting on his fingers, “I can throw almost any object fast enough to put it through a half inch of steel.  Not always useful but a neat party trick.”

“Sure.  Can you run up walls and so forth?”

“Yeah, but I wasn’t joking about that water thing.  It’s tougher than it looks.  And what is your specialty?”

“Me?  I don’t like to show off.”  I grimaced as my truthful bone pained me.  “Okay, I tell a lie, but I’m trying to resist the urge.  It would probably be pointless here, anyway.”

“Actually, I’m pretty sure that’s exactly why we’re here.”

I frowned, but, well, what the hey.  “Okay, let’s try this.”  I flexed my knees and jumped thirty feet straight up, gripping the ceiling with my fingertips like a large misshapen gecko.  Predictably my short hair whacked me in the face and I was forced to spit to get it out of my mouth.  I chuckled at myself and back flipped to the wall then back down to the floor.

Almost magically Mr. Archer reappeared in the room.  “Bauer, Cochran, Jackson, Logan, Palmer, and Washington, you are all dismissed.  There are twelve of you left.  We will have a forty-five-minute recess so that you can all relax in the mess hall, and then the final examination will begin.”

Within seconds I was sprawled across a table, endeavoring not to drool while I napped.  Food?  They could keep their gray cafeteria glop.  I was taking my forty-five minutes and running with them.

“Ahem,” Archer announced and I jerked upright, blinking and rubbing my eyes.  “Your final test is a race of sorts.  You will be divided into two teams and dropped at a training site, where your mission will be to rescue the ‘hostages’ being held by a group of meta-human trainers.”

I was given a uniform.  It had my name on it.

“MacGuire, Patterson, Page, Stewart, Williams, Young, you’re Team A.”

“I am not doing any Mr. T jokes,” remarked Q.  He was apparently on Team A.  With me: I’m Page if I never mentioned it.  Don’t get much use out of the last name.  Paul helpfully began humming the theme music from the A-Team.  He was on my team, too, along with Durance the cyborg, a very attractive brunette named Nat, and a scruffy-looking blond.  As for which name matched up to which person, your guess is as good as mine.

I hate code names.

Then came the helicopter and a bunch of useless chit-chat and attempts to foretell the future and guess what was coming.  When the purple energy ray came out of nowhere and almost hit us, it was a relief.

Until it turned around and started coming back, that is.

I growled under my breath.  “Right.”

2 comments:

Martin said...

So what happens next? I'm hooked! It reminds me of Heinlein's style.

Jennifer Snow said...

Thanks, Martin. Unfortunately we've started going session by session on this, so you'll have to wait until Monday for the next installment.

It's possible there may be an interlude, we'll have to see.