"...we are engaging in an unauthorized incursion into another country...
To be rather pompous about it, we are watchmen for the world ..."
---Doctor Simon Litchfield to an unnamed CIA 'Black Ops' agent,
in an airplane somewhere over the Atlantic.
(As documented in: Ghost Rockets of Sweden, by John Murray)
Sed Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes?
(Who Watches the Watchmen?)
By Bill Wolfe
Based on the Nightwatch series created by Jeff Williams
# The Present #
Tom Weldon didn't need a maid, but he often wished that he had one. He was a meticulous housekeeper and had no problem at all giving his small Arlington home its weekly thorough cleaning, but laundry was another matter altogether. He hated washing clothes and had—at times—paid handsomely to have it all done at the little Korean tailor shop located in a decaying strip mall just down the street. But he had actually purchased a top-of-the-line washer and dryer set a few years back. So when he started running low on the boxer briefs that he favored, and was forced to dip into his old stash of faded boxers, loose elastic and all, he knew it was time start another laundry campaign.
His other indicator that the time had indeed come, was the rank odor emanating from his sweatshirt as he sat down at his computer and started logging on. Two hours at the gym and the two mile jog back home had seriously augmented the faint staleness he had detected when he had given it a cursory sniff this morning, before throwing it over his head and heading out for his Saturday 'light' exercise regimen. He couldn't remember if he'd worn it twice, or only once before today.
Perhaps this line of thought distracted him, but he didn't notice that the first 'regular' email he read that day wasn't actually on the list when the screen first came up. And he also didn't notice that he had selected a different email than the one which did load first. If he had been paying attention, he might have wondered if no matter what email he selected, this would be the first that he would see. The message title was the kind that he normally would have trashed, unless the sender was someone he knew. And since this was his public account, he was used to seeing junk mail that had somehow made it past his filters.
||Saturday, September 20, 7:42 AM|
||What would a 1956 centavo be worth today?|
The Cruzeiro (₢) was the monetary unit of Brazil from 1942 to 1985. It was divided into 100 centavos. In 1967, Brazil issued new cruzeiros, with one new cruzeiro equal to one thousand old cruzeiros. Old banknotes were revalued with a simple handstamp, e.g. a "10 centavos" stamp on a 100-cruzeiro note.
In 1986, Brazil switched to a new currency unit, the cruzado. One cruzado was valued as 1000 (new) cruzeiros.
In 1990, Brazil switched back to the cruzeiro name for its currency, using it until 1993, when it was replaced by the Cruzeiro Real. One cruzeiro real was set equal to 1,000 cruzeiros.
Tom Weldon pondered this odd little email for a few seconds, did a quick calculation and then realized two things. First, he didn't know who sent him this strange message and second, he would have to know the current market value of the Brazilian Real to finish the calculation. The first part was easy. Three times since 1967 the currency had been devalued by a factor of one thousand. It would take a billion 1956 centavos to equal one modern centavo. Even if the centavo of today were worth a penny...
He briefly considered a quickie search on one of his bookmarked currency converter sites, but decided to just trash the thing and get on with the rest of his correspondence. He was meeting Miranda later that evening for drinks and a concert and with a little luck, he would certainly need to be wearing clean undies. Even the prospective drudgery of laundry day couldn't kill the momentary shiver of delight that ran through him. His mind was on other things as he clicked the stylized X on the top of the screen, deleting the email.
ex-policeman confesses to murder of street kids
BRASILIA, Brazil (CNN) -- A third former police officer confessed Saturday to shooting to death a group of Brazilian street children as they slept. Marco Aurelio Alcantara, who goes on trial next month, was identified by one child who survived the shooting and later identified him.
Marcos Vinicius Emmanuel, the first former policeman to go on trial for last year's shooting deaths of eight children, confessed, and was given a 309-year sentence for his crimes. Even though by Brazilian law, Emmanuel will only serve 30 years, the conviction is seen as a major step forward for human rights, since no Brazilian policeman had ever been convicted for murdering street children before.
Human rights groups believe about 1,000 homeless children are shot each year, many by squads hired by shopkeepers. Off-duty policemen are believed to sometimes participate in the squads.
The boy with no name was calm, his breathing even and regular as he sat cross-legged inside the upturned orange crate. He sat unnaturally still for an eight year-old. The alley was well-lit by the noonday sun, and though the slats in the crate were spaced up to about two inches apart, his dark skin and brown eyes blended with the shadows, making him almost impossible to detect unless he moved. And he wouldn't move until it was time. He found the faint smell of rotten oranges emanating from green, powdery smudges on the inside of the crate to be quite pleasant and wondered if, perhaps, there might be something wrong with him. How could such rot and corruption have a pleasant odor?
The two boys, Lúcio and Chivar, should be ducking into this alley any time now to divvy up the take from their morning's pickpocketing and petty larcenies. They were both in their prime... twelve years old, lean and fast. The street consensus was, that if they lived long enough, they would both be candidates for one of the real gangs. Chivar carried a broken chainsaw chain and he knew how to use it. He also had a sister who was fourteen and for a few reali, Chivar would let you have her. Lúcio, however, was the one to watch-out for. He was smart, very smart. He could read a little and he had an uncanny instinct about when to run and when to make a move.
But yesterday, Lúcio had managed to do something that nobody had done in a long time. He had managed to take the boy with no name—now waiting patiently in a fragrant orange crate—by surprise. But more terrible than this, Lúcio had also taken The Boy's one true possession. And The Boy was waiting patiently in this stifling, stinking crate to take his treasure back.
The beating he had been dealt by Lúcio had been nothing. Papa Carlos could do better than that dead drunk and without ever taking his hands from his pockets. But these two had taken The Boy's treasure and he meant to get it back. The Boy remembered how Papa Carlos had smiled when he had given the gift to him. He had smiled and he had said, "This is you, boy. This is you."
It was early in the day and Papa Carlos was still only drinking beer, so his hands had been steady as he carefully tied some scrap twine about the treasure that The Boy had found in his morning begging cup. His nimble fingers had expertly tied the twine first around the treasure, and then into a woven necklace. Papa Carlos had been amused—no anger at all in his voice—when he had asked The Boy who it was that had given him such a valuable gift. And his hands had been almost gentle when he hung the gift around The Boy's neck. Until yesterday, The Boy had only taken it off once, and that was to replace the rotting twine that Papa Carlos had used that day...that day when his hands had been almost gentle.
The Boy hadn't wanted to take it off even that one time. But he knew in his heart that sooner or later, the twine that Papa Carlos had used, would break. So it was with great care that he had found a quiet place—in the gutter beneath a rusted car on the side of the street—where nobody could see him. He shivered as he removed it to replace the twine. He knew fear while he carefully broke the twine, marveling at how easily it snapped. He hadn't even intended to replace the twine but he had found something better. He had found a single torn shoe in the trash behind the Blue Tree Tower Hotel, where the rich americanas and americanos stayed. Though he looked, he could not find the mate. What good was one shoe? Why not throw away both of them if one is ruined? He was about to toss it back into the pile when he noticed that the shoelace was really a strong, sturdy leather strap cut very thin and very long. His treasure had stayed upon his neck ever since it had been placed there by Papa Carlos, placed there with almost gentle hands. And he had removed it only once; for the strap from the rich lady's shoe. Since then he had not worried that he would loose his treasure, not by accident, anyway.
But he had lost it, yesterday, in the market. It had been taken from him by force, and by force... he would reclaim it. Today he would do the bad thing and take back his treasure. He had never actually done the bad thing on purpose, but he knew that he could. The bad thing was always with him, though he knew by instinct to hide it at all times. The bad thing told him when there was danger, and when to hide. It told him when to warn the Ethiopians that it was time to close up their little sales tables of rip-off trinkets, and run.
The Boy would never do the bad thing for the few reali that he had earned begging from the turistas and watching the streets for the Ethiopians. He knew, though he couldn't tell you how, that not all the Africans who set up their illegal trade tables in the Mercado were from faraway Ethiopia, but everybody called them the Ethiopians, and they almost always paid for information about where the controle alfandegário, the customs and tariff officers of the Brazilian Trade Commission, were patrolling. Paying a street waif who never failed, was much easier than loosing your trade goods to the corrupt officials, with maybe a beating thrown in for good measure.
The Boy was sure that he knew how Lúcio had managed to snag him and pull him between the crowded stalls in the noisy, busy mercado. Lúcio had acted upon impulse. The bad thing would have warned The Boy, otherwise. Had Lúcio taken even a moment to plan his moves, The Boy would have known it and the older boy's hand would have closed on nothing but air. It was even fair, in a way, that Lúcio should take The Boy's money. After all, he had actually managed to catch him.
So at first, The Boy had only stared at Lúcio, with silent curses at himself for allowing this to happen. He watched, perhaps even with a touch of appreciation, as the older boy expertly frisked him, finding even the two, folded five-reali notes he had pinned inside his shirt. Lúcio had merely grinned when he poured the contents of The Boy's begging cup into his own bulging pockets. He had even handed the empty cup back to The Boy. Transaction complete, nothing personal...just business. But then Lúcio's eyes had dropped to The Boy's neck, to the sweat-stained leather shoelace with its precious cargo.
Chivar's back was to them, guarding the relative privacy of the garbage-strewn space between the stalls, he tensed slightly when he heard Lúcio's muffled curse, uttered as The Boy's metal cup impacted his forehead. But he relaxed to the familiar sounds of Lúcio punishing The Boy a little for his impudence. There was no mistaking the short, violent sound of expelled breath or the staccato series of rabbit punches to the belly that were Lúcio's hallmark. Three or four quick jabs to completely silence your victim, and they could not cry out for several minutes, even as the real punishment commenced. The sounds of Lúcio's kicks and punches permeated out a little ways into the bustle of the crowd but Chivar's practiced scowl was sufficient to turn any concerned faces back toward their business.
Chivar was more than a little surprised that The Boy had decided to fight Lúcio like this. He knew that The Boy was no stranger to the streets and in many ways this was a simple procedure, well-known and understood by all parities. Perhaps this meant that The Boy had been carrying something valuable. If so, Lúcio would find it and take it. This also meant that Chivar must be very careful if Lúcio decided not to share this unexpected bounty. Lúcio must never suspect that Chivar did not trust him to divide their take, evenly. Lúcio must continue to think that such an idea would never occur to such a loyal, but stupid, street partner. Chivar knew that Lúcio sometimes stole a little from their partnership, and that was okay...because Chivar had his own plans. Lúcio needed him, for now, but Chivar knew that it was only a matter of time before Lúcio decided to dissolve their partnership, permanently. Chivar intended to be long gone before Lúcio was ready to act on this.
Even so, Chivar could not help but wonder, when later, Lúcio told him why the little bastardo had decided to fight. It didn't make any sense at all! The younger boy had been alone and had been caught by Lúcio fair and square. It was only proper that he loose his day's earnings. And according to Lúcio's account—he had accepted this transaction as any child of the streets should. But then, when Lúcio had taken this worthless trinket from The Boy's neck, the smaller kid had gone loco. The carefully knotted leather strap was worth many times what it supported—and the strap was worth nothing. It must have had some sentimental value...which meant that if he could talk Lúcio out of it, he could probably trade it back to The Boy for another few reali...he decided to pretend to take a fancy to it the next time they divided their spoils.
# The Past #
The office was a little cool for Jack's taste. These stupid Brits never did quite get the hang of air conditioning. Jack had been working for these Farsight nuts ever since the CIA had 'opted out' of the MKULTRA Project, for good. Though it had hung on for another decade, September 11th had been the final nail in the Project's coffin. If your Remote Viewers and Future Scanners couldn't give the Agency a heads-up for an event like this...
And Jack wasn't sure he blamed them. He hadn't even been that involved in the psychic stuff. His area of expertise with MKULTRA had been in the field of brain physiology. Even though MKULTRA's cover had been blown back in the 90's, one of their little-known interests had been a sub-project called 'The Perfect Concussion.' Simply put, there was some decent evidence that you could hit somebody in the head and not only knock them out, but induce a perfect short-term amnesia that would make it impossible for the subject to quite pin down even the time if the attack—and perhaps even anything they may have seen up to a week before the blow. Imagine being able to erase up to a week's worth of memories from say, a diplomat or a trade representative. Maybe they would just wake up in a hospital with a bandage on their head and a perfectly explainable reason for their amnesia. It would save a lot of messy questions about missing time and interrogation techniques and things like that.
The theory was sound—it happened with fair frequency out in the real world in car accidents, with boxers, kids playing baseball without a helmet—but recreating it in the lab had been a nightmare of trial and error. The results had been sketchy, at best. After repeated attempts at slightly different angles and with varying amounts of force, there were a few 'volunteers' who would never quite speak clearly again. Jack's reports did not reflect his growing concern that slight differences between each individual's bone structure and shock sensitivity would make a standard impact approach impossible to implement. Unlike many of his cohorts in the project, he wasn't too surprised when Congress pulled the plug on the whole thing. From what he understood, the Remote Viewing and the Foresight sections weren't doing too well, either. But his association with MKULTRA had given him the contacts and the resume to land this sweet little stint with the Farsight Institute.
He had one more 'field test' of a client before he could call it quits for the day. This one, at least, was a second-tier trial. She had apparently done pretty well on her first audition. For what these goofs paid for their 'tests,' they should get at least three chances to make their case. Oh, Jack knew that the whole field trial initiative was a minor scam. Everybody thinks they have some kind of psychic power and for a nominal fee, the Farsight Institute will administer a fairly scientifically-sound test. The test cubicles were completely sound proof with a comfortable reclining chair and adjustable lighting. It was supposed to make a difference for those who had the farseeing talent, and for all Jack knew...it did.
He had read Mrs. Farley's file, of course, but the file hadn't contained a photo. Too bad, if it had he would have been prepared for the nervous-looking, pudgy bundle of flowery dress and even more flowery perfume that scurried into the testing cubicle. Clutching the straps of her tiny handbag with both hands, like it was the only thing holding her up if she were suspended over the Grand Canyon, she burst through the door when he opened it and immediately made for the test chair.
"Got to get this nonsense over wif' by five, mind you," was her version of a conversation opener. "It's me 'usband who finks I've got the sight, inn'it'? Not me."
Jack was a little taken aback. This situation was a new one for him. Most people were nervous, but excited about exploring their psychic abilities. For the most part they were fairly well educated—if a little gullible. This dowdy mum could have been in the cast of the dancing flower sellers from My Fair Lady. He glanced at the clock set high over the two-way mirror at the back of the room. 3:42 in the afternoon. It would take at least fifteen minutes to attach all the sensors for the EKG and the simplified EEG. He was truly beginning to dread that conversation when he noted that she was already unbuttoning the front of her floral nightmare of a housedress. She has been through this once, he thought.
"C'mon you," she barked. "Jus' cause me old man finks I'm usin' some sorta witchery to know 'at 'ees been up to no good, don't mean I 'ave to waste my time 'ere when 'Arrods is 'avin a sale on 'andbags."
Without quite knowing from where, a line from that same movie started repeating in his head: "...In Hartford, Hereford, and Hampshire, hurricanes hardly ever happen..." Jack decided he needed to watch more modern movies. "Pooor Professor Higgins...Pooor Professor Higgins..."
At this moment she finished the last of the buttons that had barely contained her generous bosom. The brassier beneath looked like it was built to strangle an ox but Mrs. Farley was giving it a workout that would have made its design team blush with pride.
"Fancy these, do ya?" And she wasn't entirely wrong about where Jack's eyes had lingered. Though she had missed the reason by a mile. Trying to re-affect his professional air, Jack stifled an involuntary shudder and started gathering the small tape sensors he would have to stick to various parts of Mrs. Farley's ample anatomy. He had intended to use Lisbon, today, as his focal point. But for no reason he could determine, he decided to direct Mrs. Farley to try and image someplace more exotic...Brasilia, the Capital of Brazil.
"Out by five, eh Mrs. Farley?" Jack was using his best 'brisk professional' demeanor. "I think we can manage that if we skip the usual chit chat." He took a deep breath to steady his nerves and decided that he could possibly beat that by ten minutes, if he hurried. "Just lean back in the chair and try to relax. We'll be ready to start in just a moment."
"Yank are 'ya?" Mrs. Farley's eyes showed a glint of interest for the first time. "Me nephew Billy lives in Chicago. 'Ave you met 'im?... ."
Jack worked as she droned on about her idiot nephew in America. Out by five? he thought. Out by 4:30 if I have anything to say about it. Jack did a quick mental calculation. Four in the afternoon in London would be noon in Brasilia. It was one of the little tricks he had developed for dealing with these trials. If Mrs. Farley said she could see the city but it was nighttime, he would know right away she was faking. Though for the life of him, he didn't think this one was likely to try and fool him. She seemed nearly as anxious to get this thing over with as Jack himself.
"While I'm getting set up, Mrs. Farley," Jack's voice had taken on a more soothing quality. "I'd like to ask you what you know about the capital of Brazil."
# The Present #
Tom Weldon's office in Arlington was as quiet as it ever got. The small ticks and creaks you notice in any older structure fade into the background most of the time. Other times, however, his suite in the L'Enfant Building, would moan and sigh like an old man settling onto his favorite park bench—ostensibly to feed the ever-present squirrels—but in reality he was there to watch the parade of scantily-clad young ladies. Some of the groans the old walls could produce might have made a harlot blush. Tom's last patient left nearly an hour ago and he had just finished typing up his notes on his computer. This computer had been certified clean by Stephanie and was not connected in any way to any outside source. Stephanie had also added some password encryption that she claimed would take her an hour to break. Tom rather suspected that she could waltz right through it without breaking a sweat, but told him that because she believed it would take anyone else that long. If they were good, that is.
Tom sat back and stretched his tired shoulder muscles. He was through with typing for the day and it was time to start going through the phone messages. He routinely turned his office phone off when he was with a patient so as not to break the flow of the session. He scratched the back of his head, and as he speed-dialed the code for his voicemail, he thought about the worth of an old Brazilian Centavo.
The first two messages were from patients confirming appointment times. The third, however, was something completely unexpected. Though the caller didn't identify himself, Tom recognized the voice immediately. It was Ian Callow, the Chief Cook and Bottle Washer for The Nightwatch Institute's, so called, Lower Echelon. He usually doled-out the riskier assignments and was one of the sneakiest, most petty and most infuriating human beings Tom had ever met.
"I don't like these things, Weldon. How secure is this service? Well, never mind that, now. I have a job for you. A paying job...and the customer has asked for you, specifically. Be at the place where your engineer friend likes the lobster at seven tonight. Seven sharp! Don't be late."
Tom sat back in his chair, the phone clutched tightly in his hand as the synthetic voice of his voicemail carrier listed his options.
"If you wish to save this message, press nine." Tom was stunned. Callow had called him personally?
"To delete this message, press seven." Callow knew about The Cannon Moon? Had Simon told him? Never! It wasn't possible. Simon Litchfield was one of the few aspects of his entire Nightwatch affiliation that made the whole business palatable. And it didn't take Tom's sharply-honed psychological evaluation skills to know that Simon hated Callow.
"If you would like to send this caller a voice message, press two." Tom pulled out his cell phone and turned it on. He had Simon's private number listed under 'Chinese Take-Out' in his address book. He didn't like being ordered around like this, but since Simon was apparently also a victim of Callow's summons, he should at least ask Simon whether he should show up or tell the wrinkly old bastard to take a flying fu...
"To return to the main menu, Press three. " It was almost five, he wouldn't have any problem making Georgetown by seven. At least he wouldn't have to change clothes. His customary black slacks and black T-shirt would suffice for The Cannon Moon, and he always brought a sport coat with him when he worked. Some of his patients appreciated a more professional demeanor. He assumed they accepted his large, silver, Wild Turkey belt buckle as a personal affectation. Only Simon knew it held a few little surprises—just for emergencies.
"To review these options, press five." Almost absently, he pressed the seven button to delete Callow's message. For a moment, he pondered just how 'deleted' the message actually was. The old man's paranoia was catching, it seemed. About the time he scrolled his cell phone's address book to 'Chinese Take-Out,' he saw the caller ID for the next—and last—message on his voicemail. Simon had called him exactly two minutes after Callow had hung up. If Callow had sounded vexed, Simon was downright pissed-off.
"Tom, if you get this message in time and if you feel up to it, go ahead and keep that appointment I just heard about. To answer your first question, I don't know anything more about it than you do. Second, I haven't seen you in a while and one way or another, you won't be picking up the tab for dinner. And third...third, I might just need you there to keep me from throttling that son of a bitch right there in the back room. What do you think, Tom, would Gillian help me get rid of a body?" Simon's voice paused for a moment, leaving only a soft digital static on the line.
"Seriously Tom...Mister You-Know-Who freaking knows better than to invade my personal space like this. It might just be important. The decision is yours, old pal. But if this isn't something Earth-shattering, I can promise you that this will not happen again. See you soon. Bye now."
Tom briefly considered going home, taking a run around the park, maybe going to the gym for a little light weight work, and jogging home for a well-deserved shower and some Chinese takeout. The back of his head itched, a little, and he scratched it absently as he decided what to do. The Cannon Moon Café did serve an excellent grilled chicken salad...cripes!...who was he kidding? If Simon thought he should show up, then he would. Though he wasn't at all sure he could stop Simon from killing Callow then and there...especially if Tom happened to be pinning the frail little man's arms behind him, at the time...
# The Past #
Mrs. Farley was full of surprises. Jack had done a hundred of these second-tier trials and for the first time ever, it looked like he had a live one. From the beginning, Mrs. Farley had spared no effort in disparaging his choice of cities for Viewing. She'd never even heard of Brasilia and knew nothing about it. From her reclined position in the chair, she could see an overhead projection controlled from Jack's console. As per procedure, Jack had selected a globe projection centered upon London. With the push of a few buttons, he rotated the topographical image to highlight the location of the city of Brasilia, located east and a little south of the widest part of the continent. There was no city grid and no country lines, just a bright spot on the map where the city should be. And that was all Mrs. Farley needed.
"I see a big city aw'right," she stated. "Plain as the nose on my face, inn'it? And Gor'amighty, don't it look like a big old airplane sittin' there on the top o' that flat mountain an' wif all that pretty water all aroun'."
Jack was stunned. His screen showed an image of the city taken from high altitude and the legend stated that it had been designed to be the image of a huge butterfly...but it really looked more like an airplane to him, too.
Jack was taking furious notes, he was even wondering whether some of his old colleagues in the Firm might be interested in something like this. After all, not all black projects disappeared just because there was no longer any support along 'official' lines. He was so distracted by this line of thought, that he missed the fact that Mrs. Farley was saying something else.
"...an a right little street rat 'e is, from the looks of 'im." Jack was about to interrupt but he caught himself. There were three recorders going and he was sure he would be reviewing every second of this session.
"He's got a glow about 'im like an angel, 'e does. But bright! Bright like lookin' up at the stadium lights at a football match! Blindin' like. An' the sun is so terrible hot it's like I'm sittin' inside a parked lorry wif the windows all rolled-up and the seats scorchin' the 'ide off ya'."
Jack noted with some alarm that she was sweating profusely, and her pulse was up to almost a hundred. Only a very few remote viewers claimed to be able to actually feel anything when they were tuned into a location. Her EEG was off-scale on all but the digital monitors, but it was the look of rapture on her face worried him more than anything. She looked almost beautiful lying there, sheer wonderment on her countenance. It was a look he imagined that saints might have as they gazed upon the face of God.
"Jus' drew me to 'im, 'e did. There I was lookin' down on the city and I feel 'im down there buildin' up all this...this shine...and boom! There I am floatin' over a dirty alley down along a right busy street an lookin' at 'im plain as if I'm there. Ain't 'e a sight to see? Ain't 'e the most lovely little boy? Wha' ? Can you 'ear 'im? Can you 'ear his voice?"
Jack spoke Russian well, a little Greek and enough Spanish to get his face slapped, but he was suddenly very glad that this was all recorded. Because chunky, dowdy Mrs. Farley began to speak in a rapid staccato language that Jack could only assume was Brazilian street Portuguese.
If he had understood a word of it, he might have lost his too-heavy English lunch all over his console. For he would have heard:
"Papa Carlos gave it to me and I will have it back."
"No, Please. I don't want you to put it in my mouth, Papa. It smells bad and it makes me choke."
"Papa Carlos smiled when he gave it to me. His hands on my face and on my head were filled with love for me when he gave it to me."
"I'm sorry, this was all I could collect from the turistas, today. They were very stingy! No Papa Carlos, I promise I will do better tomorrow! "
"This is not pain.
This is not pain.
This is not pain.
It is for my own good."
"I am worthless and I bought a melon with Papa Carlos's money last week. I deserve this. Papa Carlos does this because I am worthless but he loves me. "
"She is too young, but if Papa Carlos takes her into the back then he will not want me to do the thing for him."
"He gave it to me and it is mine. The two of you are too strong to get it back any other way. I will do the bad thing to get it back from you. I will do the bad thing to get it back."
"She is still crying. Why is she still crying? She is eight or nine, maybe. This cannot be the first time it has happened. Where did Papa Carlos get her from? How can she cry so much? Why does she call for her mamma as if this was a person who cared about her? Is she some kind of rich girl?"
"They are coming soon, I must think of nothing else."
"She bleeds from down there. He didn't let her use her mouth."
"I am worthless."
"I am nothing."
"I will do the bad thing when they are looking away from me."
"She still cries. Two days, and she still cries. Maybe I will hold back to make Papa Carlos angry and he will leave her alone for a while, until she understands. Soon she will understand and she will not cry."
"I have no tears."
"His hands when he put it around my neck were gentle."
"This is you, boy. This is you."
"His hands when he gave it to me."
"They are coming."
"They do not see me. I am a mouse in a box and they do not see me."
"I made a mistake and you caught me."
"Now you have made a mistake."
"You didn't know. Neither of you could know but you made the mistake of taking from someone so worthless that he has no name."
"You made the mistake of taking the only treasure I have. Of taking from one who can do the bad thing."
"I cannot hold back the bad thing any more. I am bursting!"
"Take it! Take it all! The bad thing is loose and it is your fault!"
"Take this like you took my treasure!"
"The bad thing is so much stronger than last time!
"Your screams are nothing! Only I can hear them! Nobody else!"
"Who is there?"
"Who is there?"
"Run away lady! Run away! Do not look at the bad thing!
"It sees you...English?"
"Run. Run. Run away now!
So very cool!
A man behind a desk?"
Jack broke free from his wide-eyed shock when Mrs. Farley's back arched so high that he heard the vertebrae snapping. Without thought he leaped from behind the console and reached for her hand. What he was going to do, he hadn't a clue. His last coherent thought in this world was: Her eyes are bleeding!
The smoke alarms wailed inside the offices of the Farsight Institute. It took almost an hour before the first of the Fire Officers from the responding Fire Brigade came stumbling out of the building. Scotland Yard was brought in. It looked like someone had set off some kind of incendiary bomb in one of the rooms. Though there was no smell of accelerant, the two people inside had been burned beyond recognition. No piece of electronic equipment had survived within thirty meters of the room, in any direction. The official explanation for the deaths was an electrical accident.
On an island that has not appeared on any map made since 1769, or perhaps in a remote mountain village with only one road leading to civilization, or maybe it is just a gated community in the 'safe' section of suburban sprawl somewhere in the world; there were more screams.
They all had felt it, some had seen and some had heard, but all knew what had happened. It was Brasilia again. The teams would have to go back and try to find the boy. He wasn't dead, after all. He must be seven, maybe eight, by now. And he was hurting. As good as he was at hiding himself, they knew him now. The teams would return and they would spend as long as necessary. With the modern human technology, the transportation, and especially the unlimited funds now available to them, The Collective would never again have to leave one of their own to suffer.
The images they had all felt were different, this time. This time they had some names, they had good mental images of the two dead boys, Lúcio and Chivar. This time they even had the poor woman's own images of The Boy. She had been an intermittent operant and had actually been known to The Collective for her spotty telepresence abilities. But she had never demonstrated the ability to tune to other minds. And her husband was right about one thing, she knew what he was up to even when she couldn't possibly know. She had never been very strong, but The Collective's dossier on Mrs. Farley did mention that she claimed to have her good days...
A few among The Collective noted that though they all had felt Mrs. Farley's last moments—once she connected with The Boy—nobody had detected a peep from South America. Everything they experienced had been retransmitted by an untrained and normally substandard telepath. Had poor Mrs. Farley not been Viewing it already, the violence done to the boys in the alley would have been completely hidden from them all. That such carnage could be wrought without their knowledge disturbed many in The Collective. But others were intrigued. Nobody in The Collective's millennia-spanning, written history had ever been able to shield himself like this. And what power he had. What potential.
# The Present #
Tom was early to the Cannon Moon Café, he had taken the Metro and since he was heading into town, the cars hadn't been too crowded. Rather than be the first to arrive, he scratched the back of his head and decided to take a little walk along the canal. It was a quiet time of the evening, just after six and most people were either eating their dinner, or were getting ready to go out for a later, more civilized dining experience. The walk gave him a little time to think.
He had recently begun to rethink his involvement with Nightwatch. His relationship with Miranda was beginning to show signs of becoming truly serious and for the first time in his life, Tom Weldon was beginning to realize that his wellbeing could well have an impact on the lives of others. And some of these others were people he cared about, very much. He had taken risks in the past that, quite frankly, should have left him dead or crippled. He had always accepted those risks by judging their cost against his own personal worth. But how could he judge what his worth might be to someone like Miranda? If he simply 'didn't come home' after one of his hush-hush assignments, what would happen to her? Her bipolarism was manageable, for now, thanks largely to her barely-healthy faith in Tom. He had taken a huge chance allowing the relationship to blossom, could he afford to risk the damage his 'disappearance' might cause?
It was a few minutes to seven when his meandering stroll brought him, again, to the frosted double doors of the Cannon Moon Café. He hadn't decided anything, but he knew down deep that if he could find a way to—at least—cut back on his involvement in the riskier side of this business, he was going to take it. With a deep breath and a squaring of his substantial shoulders, Tom cleared his mind of its confusion, even as he entered the madhouse which is a good local eatery with its rattling dishware, shouting wait staff, and the scathing din of hungry humanity relaxing after a hard day's work.
It wasn't an easy trick, this ability to focus the mind on the task at hand, leaving the flotsam of stray thoughts behind. He had learned it far in the past, when he had another name, another physique, when he was, in essence if not in fact, another man altogether. It had served him well during his many changes, physically and psychologically, and he had no reason to believe it would not continue to serve him.
And he thought, Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself. I am large, I contain multitudes. As he caught the eye of the owner of the Cannon Moon, he silently thanked Mr. Whitman for his wisdom.
Tom was, as the saying goes, a big fan of Gillian Eckelberry, the owner and chef of the Cannon Moon Café. The place must be busier than he thought. As the owner, she spent most of her time in the kitchen or out 'making the rounds' at the tables, talking to customers and generally making sure that everyone was happy with both the service and the fare. But tonight she was pitching-in during the rush. There she was, carefully navigating between tables, juggling a loaded tray and a pitcher of water...and still, she favored him with a lovely smile when she looked to the entrance to see who had come in. It was all the greeting he could hope for. He realized, perhaps a little sheepishly, that he had been absent from this entrance for far too long. He had actually made it here from the office in what? Thirty minutes? He was far too good a psychologist to try and read anything else into his absence than plan old laziness.
Gillian expertly swooped upon a table of four, three attractive women and a very nervous-looking teenage boy. From their body language, the three were obviously coworkers, professionals from one of the many law offices or government contractors headquartered in the area. They were chatting away comfortably while the young man sat excluded, trying desperately to look cool and unconcerned but Tom could tell that the kid was out of his element. If he had to guess, he would say the kid was the little brother of one of the ladies, and was in town for a visit.
As she sorted out the orders, Gillian was—in turn—inconspicuously sized-up by all three ladies at the table...and dismissed. Perhaps they saw that glint of gray in her neatly coiffed hair. Perhaps they noted a certain bounce that bespoke a bit of adipose tissue where none may have been a decade ago. Had they looked closely, these young women may have seen a line or two radiating from her eyes, or a crease in her forehead. But whatever they saw that made them judge themselves superior, Tom knew it to be false. Gillian's beauty far transcended their own youthful prettiness. While their passing might turn a lecherous eye, Gillian Eckelberry's movements caused the hearts of good men to liven, if only for the moment. If the boy didn't react to her at all, he can perhaps be forgiven. At fifteen, most women over the age of thirty or so, are ancient, and thinking about them in that way is even a little sick. But given time, he might just learn better.
With a flash of warmth, she returned her smile to Tom and motioned for him to follow her. As he caught up with her, she nodded towards the simple wooden door of the 'back room.'
"Three of them waiting for you in there, Tom." She paused and let him scoot by her in the narrow confines of the kitchen entrance. Amidst the savory smells wafting through the swinging doors to the kitchen, Tom noted the subtle incense of her Norell. This, along with the close contact necessitated both by his bulk and her own supple fullness made for a moment of awkward, nearly whole-body contact. Tom would have to admit that he rather enjoyed the sensation—but only under mild torture and a liberal dose of truth serum. He was about to continue when he noticed a worried frown had replaced her beautiful smile.
"Three?" he nodded toward the door.
"First one must be Callow," she said. Tom knew that Simon had, in the past, complained to her about his 'boss.' "Second is an Indian gentleman, very nice, very polite; Pakistani, perhaps. Hard to tell when they speak English well."
"Simon's already in, then?" he asked.
Again, a worried frown. "Yes. And Tom, I know you're his friend. . .so."
"Go ahead," his reassuring look was both well practiced and completely sincere. Whatever she had to say, Tom would treat with circumspection and tact.
"Simon's in a foul mood. This Callow fellow calls me this morning and starts ordering me to get the back room ready for his meeting with Simon. I tell you, I almost told him to kiss my..." she paused, perhaps a slight blush. "...to kiss-off, anyway."
"Just out of curiosity, why didn't you?"
"That's just it, I don't know." Gillian seemed truly perplexed. "There I was, fuming mad and grumbling about Simon and his boss and who do they think they are and..." her voice trailed off as she scratched the back of her head, not so much loosing momentum but more like she was just trying to recapture what she was feeling at the time. "...and the whole time I was cleaning out the junk from the back room, dusting the shelves and chasing the spiders into a bag."
"Bag?" Tom had to ask.
"Don't see any reason to kill the little guys just for setting up shop in the wrong place."
Tom had no argument for that. "That doesn't sound like you, Gillian. Shyness isn't one of your shortcomings."
Her laughter was like sweet music. "No, it doesn't make any sense to me, either. I guess I was just glad that Simon was going to be coming by, maybe. It has been quite a while since I've seen him."
She didn't sound too convinced and neither was Tom, but this was neither the place nor the time to delve into it, so he continued. "Is it too late to ask for a Wild Turkey and coke?"
"Already there," she answered, distracted by a loud crash and shouts emanating from the kitchen.
"Simon Litchfield to the rescue!" Tom joked, turning to head towards the back room. His watch read six fifty-nine and fifty seconds.
"Funny you should say that," she called over her shoulder as she bustled toward the kitchen. "It wasn't Simon who ordered it. It was the other fellow, the one with the foreign name."
She disappeared through the padded, swinging double doors with the little round windows set at eye level. From the kitchen there were more shouts, followed immediately by muffled laughter. As Tom put his hand on the door to the back room, he heard more laughter and the sound of broken glass being swept into something metal. He paused and again focused his mind, as he had earlier. What was going on here?
The heavy wood-slat door opened onto a tableau that Tom would swear he could never forget—though it turned out he could. Simon was sitting in the seat facing the door, to his left was Callow and to his right was a plump little dark-skinned man wearing a white suit, bright red shirt and a thin black tie. The empty seat at the table was obviously for Tom, inasmuch as there was a tall glass with ice, two unopened bottles of Coke, an opener, and half a bottle of Wild Turkey.
Simon was sitting with his arms crossed, his khaki shirt creased and flawlessly starched. Only his eyes moved as Tom came in. His head was turned slightly left and he was staring at Callow with a look of...it was a look Tom had never seen, before. On anyone. And Tom Weldon was very good at interpreting body language and facial expressions. If he had to guess, he would have said that Simon was struggling with some immensely complex equation, though he barely moved and only his eyes were darting between Callow at the table, and Tom, standing dumbly at the door.
He had expected Simon to say something, some kind of greeting—probably angry or even apologetic—but it was Callow who spoke up. The darkly –hued, stocky man remained silent, staring intently at his two table mates, he didn't even look up when Tom opened the door.
"Doctor Weldon, my boy," Callow was effusive in both his gestures and his words. "Do come in and have a seat, but please latch the door first."
Tom briefly considered staying put, ignoring this Bizzaro version of Callow and waiting for Simon to say something. He didn't even take the trouble to mention that he disliked being called 'Doctor.' He felt an odd...tickle...in the back of his mind and decided to just latch the door and take a seat. Whatever was going on here, Simon needed an ally in this room.
"That's a good fellow," Callow was obviously putting on some kind of show for the mysterious—and silent—stranger. In the absence of clues from Simon, Tom decided to play along and simply take his seat. "Always prompt, Doctor Weldon, yes indeed, you are a very prompt young man. I like that about you, have I ever mentioned that? I like that about you. Yes." Callow was looking at his watch, as if he has having trouble focusing his eyes. "Don't be late!" I told him. "Seven o'clock sharp, and by my watch he opened that door at seven zero zero point zero zero. Sharp!"
Tom was in his chair by the time Callow finished his weird impersonation of a doddering fool. He had an almost overpowering urge to pop one of the coke bottles and pour himself a strong one. He reached for the bottle opener—one of the new affectations of American culture seemed to be the rediscovery of the bottle opener...not to mention the non-screw top cap. Very retro, apparently. He really needed a drink. He swallowed, involuntarily. He realized that he was salivating! Inside his head, alarm bells wailed, whistles blared and multicolored flashing lights pulsed. Tom Weldon had never needed a drink in his life. Literally, never. In an act of pure will, he carefully placed the Coke bottle and the opener on the table top and clasped his hands, interlocking his fingers. Simon still hadn't moved, except for his eyes.
Tom looked to the stranger in the room. His dark skin made it difficult to judge, but Tom could tell the man was blanched, straining. He had a sheen of sweat on his forehead though the room was cool, comfortable. Still resisting the urge to pour that drink, Tom nodded his head toward Callow, "Is he drugged?"
"Drugged?" Callow snorted, loudly. "Hardly so, my boy. Hardly so!. I am very simply in a good mood. Mister Agarwal, here, has just relieved several...shall we say...fiduciary burdens from the Nightwatch budget. Oh yes, when I said he was a paying customer, I was—perhaps—understating the point."
Tom carefully unclasped his hands, the tickle in the back of his mind intensified to a dull itch. Tom leaned forward ever so slightly to adjust his balance and surreptitiously placed his feet flat on the floor. Something was very wrong here and he had an idea where and how to start clearing things up.
In a graceful move that would have made a ballet dancer pout with envy, he shifted to the right and rocketed the back of his hand in a perfect line directly into the nose of the still-unspeaking Mr. Agarwal.
. .except he didn't move...
He was locked, frozen in place with his hands unclasped and his feet planted. The dull itch was now a throbbing ache as he strained to move. Tentatively, he tried his voice.
"Well, this is interesting," his voice was much more calm than he felt. "I imagine that if I stop fighting it, I will find myself able to move, again. Is that so, Mister Arga. . Argawal?" he ended on a questioning, almost pleasant note.
"Agarwal," the little man's voice was cultured, educated. "I am Pasteel Agarwal, Doctor Weldon. And you have my very sincere apology for what we have done, and for what we are about to do to you. But our need is very great, and if it is not too late, with your help we can save more lives than you can count." He might have continued, but Callow interrupted.
"That's what we do at Nightwatch," he still seemed entirely disconnected. "We save lives. We saved the world not too long ago, you know. We actually saved the entire world. And though the great unwashed masses may never know it. Other people do. Important people. Powerful people know the role we've played over the years in keeping the entire population alive, and well...and blissfully, gratefully ignorant. That is precisely what we do." Again, his voice trailed off. All that was missing was the mumbling and Callow would have fulfilled his role as the pontificating drunkard in a made-for-TV drama.
"I think Mister Callow is finished, for now," Agarwal was speaking to no one, in particular. But Callow seemed to come to life, a bit.
"Yes, quite," Callow's brisk persona was well worn, comfortable. He was finished with his part and would leave the messy details of the assignment to his underlings. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a yellow sticky-note.
"Here, this is a charge number for a special account we have set up to meet all Mister Agarwal's needs. Any resources you need, even if it is just consulting with one of our people over any aspect of this assignment, make sure you give them this number to charge their time to." Callow was absently rubbing the back of his head as he spoke. Tom could sympathize. Since he stopped trying to attack Agarwal, his own discomfort had subsided to that same dull itch he had felt, before. Witnessing Callow's actions, however, reminded him that he had been feeling that peculiar itch, all day.
"Mister Agarwal's...organization has been most generous," a puzzled look was slowly crossing Callow's face. "You are to treat this assignment as cost... .as cost plus." Callow had begun to check his pockets like he was looking for his keys. "What am I forgetting?" His comment was directed at his new best friend, Mister Dollarsign. "Dinner?"
"I think not, Ian." Agarwal said. "I don't think you approve of the cleanliness of this establishment."
Callow looked about the room which was—though tidy—not really meant for regular dining. "Certainly not," he stated. "No. Not at all up to my standards. I believe that I shall not dine here, tonight." Aspects of his normal nasty disposition were beginning to assert themselves. "As a matter of fact, I believe I will try my best to forget all about this Cannon Moon Café, completely. It's not my kind of place, at all."
"What an excellent idea, Ian," Agarwal's voice was soothing. "Perhaps you would like to go straight home to bed and bath, with maybe a little Bach to soothe your nerves while you contemplate the best ways to allocate your unexpected windfall."
"Capital idea, that." Callow had already dismissed the Cannon Moon from his thoughts. "You gentlemen make sure you take good care of our friend Mister Agarwal. Customers like him do not come along every day." Callow had paused, his hand on the simple latch to the heavy door. "Anything he needs, gentlemen. Anything...oh and..." his hand lifted the latch. "Do not forget to charge all your expenses...your legitimate expenses, that is...to the number I have given you." And he was gone, swallowed up in the sudden din of the crowded restaurant as the open door momentarily flooded the room with sounds and scents. The relative silence inside once the door was closed, was almost oppressive.
Mr. Agarwal stood with much more grace and fluidity than most would expect from one so stocky. He spoke as he moved to the door to reset the latch. "What an annoying fellow," he said. "He should be, though. He's been perfecting that technique for most of his life."
Tom found his voice. "Whatever you're using, buddy. You have to know that you can't hold us like this, for long." He had tried to make a move when Callow had the door open but had once again found himself simply sitting there, motionless. And once again he found that when he stopped actively fighting it, the tickle, the presence in his mind subsided. He could still feel it, but it was tolerable. What was beginning to bother him was his increasing desire...need...to pour that drink. He could almost hear the rationalizing mental commentary. I will just pour the drink. Smell it. Wouldn't it be grand to just inhale the aroma of Wild Turkey...with the sizzle of the freshly-opened Coke tickling your nose? The ice is melting, already. Wouldn't do to water it down, now would it? Ill just pour the thing. I don't have to take a drink if I don't want to. With an effort, Tom focused his mind to clear away the obviously foreign thoughts.
"Who me?" Agarwal took his seat. "I'm not holding anyone." His voice was quite sincere. "Suffice it to say, Doctor Weldon, that my talents lie elsewhere. Were you dealing with only me, I would have had to render you unconscious from your first suspicion. You are far too fast and able for me to take a chance that you would overpower me."
"Then, who?" Tom was truly puzzled. "Where?"
"All in good time, sir. All in good time." Mr. Agarwal took a sip of the white wine in front of him and sighed. Then he directed his comments to Simon.
"Doctor Litchfield, I have to tell you that although your mental technique is flawless, there is no possible way for you to break through at this stage." His body language indicated that he was in real distress. "Honestly Simon...oh, do please forgive my use of your first name, like that. I have been watching you for several years and I am afraid that I have come to consider myself rather like a friend."
"Watching?" Tom had to almost physically prevent himself from reacting. "What do you mean by watching?"
"In a moment, Doctor Weldon, I promise." Agarwal seemed to be trying to decide something. Finally, Tom could tell, he made up his mind. Tom had seen this hundreds of times during his therapy sessions. Do I tell him? Is it the best thing to do? And usually, the patient felt much better, afterward. He hoped Agarwal had made the right choice, as well.
"Doctor Litchfield, would it surprise you to know that there is not one person interfering with your mind, right now. There are eleven." He paused, to let this sink in. "If you would just emulate your psychologist friend, here, I can promise you that the physical discomfort you are trying to ignore with that bawdy, most ungentlemanly mantra that you keep repeating over and over in your mind, will lessen to the point where you will hardly notice it, at all."
Very slowly, Simon's hands, which each been lightly resting on the opposite arm, began ball themselves into fists. His jaw somehow, without actually moving, set itself in such a way that it matched the sudden determination in his eyes. He was making his move. Tom knew what to do. Frantically, he tried to thrash his body, scream, bite his tongue in an attempt to use the pain to focus his concentration. He didn't budge, but the throb in his head—no, in his mind—increased to a blinding buzz. Was this what Simon had been fighting all along?
"Doctor Litchfield...Simon...please!" Agarwal leapt from his seat and retreated to the opposite side of the room. "Simon, you are risking a severe cerebral hemorrhage doing this."
"Fifteen!" Agarwal looked at Simon in wonderment. "We have fifteen people holding you down, now. Don't you understand? If you broke free you might injure me but it would do you no good! They are in the..." A scowl of anger replace his concern. But it was self-directed. Even in Tom's state he could read this man's body language, easily. He had almost said something he shouldn’t. "They are hundreds of miles away from here in a quiet room. You cannot, simply cannot, stop them."
From the corner of his eye, Tom saw Simon's hands lowering flat to the table. He looked like he was about to stand. Despite the roar in his mind he doubled his efforts to break free, he managed a definite twitch of his shoulders, enough to rock him a little in his chair, but then the cacophony inside his head became a high-pitched keening scream that overwhelmed his senses and his ability to even feel the rest of his body. He couldn't help it, he just gave up. Total submission, it was like trying to lift a tank. No matter how badly you needed to do it, you just had to surrender to the inevitability of the impossible. For just a moment when he relaxed, he caught a fleeting mental glimpse of six people in a room, holding hands and concentrating. He seemed to be looking right at a thin, haggard man with bloodshot eyes and a scraggly beard. His view was from above, as if he were floating at the ceiling. Outside he could hear crashing surf and he had just the ghost of a hint of a smell. Jasmine?
"That's enough!" Agarwal barked. "He's too stubborn. Too strong. Knock him out! Now!" And Simon slumped forward onto the table, face down. The glass of red wine that had been sitting in front of him went skittering out, bottom first, as his lifeless hand knocked it, aside. All the fight went out of Tom at that moment. The buzz in his mind diminished to the lightest of feather touches. Now that he knew what it felt like, he had a feeling that he would always know when one of them was present in his mind. He needed a drink. Badly.
"Mister Agarwal, when he wakes up I suggest you be someplace else," Tom said. "And I can't demand it, but at least one of the...individuals...you have sitting in on my little crew is a raging alcoholic. I would like that drink now, but I don't want to know what it feels like to feed that urge."
"Take Bobby out of the pod," Agarwal's tone was calm. "Yes, I'll tell him." The heavy man took a deep breath. "You'll know it when he's gone, Doctor Weldon. But I must tell you that if you were to try something violent or if you attempted to call attention to us, in here. You would still fail. The new lead in your control pod lacks Bobby's ability lock up your muscles. Her forte is Grand Mal epileptic seizures. Do I make myself clear?"
"Oddly enough, I think I'm beginning to make some sense out of this." The need for a drink was replaced, quite suddenly, with a completely normal, very strong desire. Tom paused for a moment, to make sure that this wasn't some last-ditch mental trick. He decided that if it was, he couldn't tell the difference so he might as well assume the best.
Perfectly clearly, Tom heard a male voice with a strong Scott's accent in his mind.
"BASTARD!" was all it said.
"Wino!" Tom spoke aloud. He wasn't sure if he was heard. And he wasn't in the mood to play around, either. With slow deliberation, he popped the top of the Coke to let the fizz settle, then he picked up the bottle of Wild Turkey and unscrewed the cap. He'd never noticed just how sensual these motions, scents and sounds could be. He was sure that Bobby was gone, but apparently a certain residue remained. He also realized that he had, in fact, resisted these people. And with more success than they might have known. He quickly doused this thought and focused on the moment. If they didn't already know, there was no reason to help them figure it out. "Okay, Mister Agarwal. You better talk fast before Simon wakes up or you're very likely going to have to kill us, both."
# The Past #
The Boy—he had his name, now—was being hunted. He didn't know why they wanted him, but they did. He suspected it was because of what he had done that day. That day when the bad thing had gotten away from him and innocent white people had died. He knew it wasn't because of the boys he had killed. Nobody would care about two more dead street children. He didn't call it the bad thing, anymore. But he didn't call it a gift, either. Sometimes he called it his whiskers. One of the games the street children play is to catch a rat in the garbage and poke its eyes out with sharp sticks. They then release the creature back into the streets. Those that survive often seem to use their whiskers to sense both danger and food. They will sit upright, whiskers twitching like mad, and then either scramble to safety or pounce upon whatever their meal for the day might be.
He could hear the hunters, sometimes, when they used their minds to speak to each other. Some he could hear well, others he could barely detect unless he was very close. And there was one—a short, stocky dark-skinned man—that he could see, but not hear at all. He had picked up a little English, by now. And his Spanish was getting better all the time. But he only recognized a few of the words these hunters spoke to each other. He had set several of the smaller children, those with quick minds and quicker feet, to follow those that he knew of. They were the invisible ones, running in packs and sleeping on the street. Fat, well-fed outsiders, like these, were simply not equipped to see them. It had been almost two years since he had killed Lúcio and Chivar... .and those others...in the alley. His treasure was now secured around his neck by a stout, stainless-steel chain.
When the hunters called out to him, he ignored them. Sometimes he ran. All would build the shimmery walls around their minds, and though he was sure he could break through most of their walls, he knew from experience that he could not do so without being detected by them all. He had tried it once and they had almost caught him. The hunter's wall had held against his assault. She had also caught a glimpse of him with both her mind and her eyes. She was too slow to catch him but he didn't need to understand her words to know that she was directing the other hunters to her. They moved to surround him, calling to each other, but he hid from them in plain sight. He built his shimmery wall as strong as he could and then he paid another boy to trade clothes with him. He made his wall bigger to encompass both of them and then moved the other boy's mind to make him run from all foreigners. He made the boy forget their transaction, then he curled up on the sidewalk beneath a ragged piece of burlap and pretended to sleep.
On the streets of beautiful Brasilia, such sights are just part of the background, no more interesting than a discarded water bottle. Two of the hunters had walked right past him. One of the others caught sight of a dark-skinned boy running down one of the many side streets near the park and wearing the shirt The Boy had been seen in earlier, and broadcast the description and location to the rest. The Boy stayed where he was for an hour, fearing a trap, before he decided it was safe to move.
Some of the people in the streets had started calling him Kari Mirim, a native Guaraní name which means Little Owner. He was still small, but he had accumulated much. But many just called him The Boy. And The Boy was beginning to make a name for himself. He had carved out his own little empire spanning two or three blocks near Parque da Cidade, which is close to the airport. No matter who hires them, the police death squads do not enter Kari Mirim's territory. Those who do, have a tendency to start shooting each other, instead of the scores of abandoned children sprawled out on the sidewalks like so many discarded empty sacks. And for the deaths of the dozens of men who mysteriously died, their pants unzipped, The Boy felt no remorse, at all. Within his domain, for the time he was there, at least, nobody used the street children unless the child agreed, and the man paid the child for the privilege.
It was years before he found out how he was caught. The dart took him in the neck as he was sitting by a dry fountain, counting his inventory of bottled water—just liberated from the delivery truck the night before—to be sold to thirsty turistas as they left the hotels. The Boy had a few trusted salespeople who spoke enough English, German and Spanish to accomplish this. He was just beginning to build his network. He was only ten, after all. Just before he lost consciousness, The Boy saw his hunter approaching, the dart gun—a one-shot, slim plastic tube that he easily snapped in half and dropped into the overflowing gutter.
The man was darker than most, and though he was from South Mumbai, not South America, he blended into the population, quite well. Also, he had lived on the streets there, and later in New Dehli, so he knew how to dress, to move, how to watch. Not only did he have the strongest mental shield that The Boy would ever encounter, but the stocky man could make his do things that The Boy had never imagined. Though he would learn, eventually.
The little girl the hunter had hired to show him where The Boy could be found, was hungry. But he did not buy her betrayal with food, or even with money. He knew better. He had watched her for an hour before going into the modest clothing shop across the street from the little piece of sidewalk she had claimed for the day's begging. In the window of that shop, hung a pretty floral dress that was just the right size for a healthy six year-old girl. Or perhaps for a dirty, barefoot nine year-old, who had never had a decent meal in her short memory. Without ever touching her mind, he observed that she never went more than a minute without a longing look at that little dress. He estimated that the dress would be a little large for the girl, but he made sure to have the saleswoman make a show of taking that dress from the window display.
As the man crossed the street, the little girl's eyes were filled with hatred. He had taken her one slim dream from her. But he had the dress...it was so close...perhaps she would get a chance to snatch it from his hand. When he first approached her she assumed he was local, though soon enough his accent gave him away. The girl had her suspicions about him, but the children of the street will often trust a foreigner over any of the adults they encounter. Foreigners often use you, but they almost always pay. He promised her the dress, but he knew better than to give it to her before she showed him to his target. He also promised her money for food, and he delivered. He could have given her more, but such wealth would only make her a target for her peers. What she didn't know and would never find out, was that he also later convinced the only decent orphanage in the district to take her in, paying an equivalent of their year's budget for every year the girl stayed. The Collective took very good care of those who helped them.
# The Present #
Simon seemed to be resting comfortably. Tom—who had some experience with what a drug-induced sleep looked like—would have sworn that he was simply snoozing, stretched out on two large sacks of potatoes in the storeroom. This so-called Collective was allowing him to move freely, though the presence in the back of his mind was distinct and undeniable. As far as he could tell, they were only watching, monitoring his thoughts rather than shaping them.
He had taken a little time to reflect on the hour's events as he and the strange Mr. Agarwal had gotten Simon situated, cleaned up the spilled wine and finally settled in for some serious discussion. These people could influence minds—apparently from a distance. They could also affect the way the mind controlled the body, but not all of them could do everything. They had their limits, they could be fought...as Simon had demonstrated...but Tom lacked the training and focus to do so effectively.
"I know you have questions, Doctor Weldon," Agarwal began. "And I appreciate your restraint up to this point. I promise to tell you as much as I can."
Tom instantly changed his mind about the first question he planned to ask. "I haven't promised to keep any secrets," he stated, flatly. "What makes you think I won't tell everyone who might listen and then turn around and publish this in every psychology journal I can think of?"
"As I am sure you've surmised, we could stop you from doing either in a variety of ways. But the path we have chosen is much more...secure, from our standpoint."
"Dead men tell no tales?" Tom's voice was calm. He had faced much worse fates in his time.
"Oh heavens no, Doctor Weldon. We rarely kill even those who deserve it. You will simply not remember anything you say or do from about the time you put your hand to the latch of this door," Agarwal indicated the stout wooden door leading to the main dining room. And paused, probably considering the best phrase, "up until the time we are all completely finished."
"Lost time?" Tom was almost amused. "Don't you think that might make a fellow like Simon, here, a bit curious?"
"Doctor Weldon, please," the offended look on his face was full of humor. "We're not amateurs. You will have a complete set of memories concerning the entire episode. They simply will not be real. As a matter of fact, my people are laying the foundation for them as we speak."
"Relax for a moment." Agarwal's voice shifted. He was apparently speaking aloud to someone else. "Give him a glimpse of the overlay."
Tom felt a momentary buzz of activity from the presence in his mind. Suddenly, he realized that along with the actual memories of this evening, he also remembered sitting down with Callow, Simon and Agarwal. Simon was angry with Callow about calling the meeting at the Cannon Moon and insulted him several times. Callow got angry, told Simon to do his job and stormed out—but not before he twice mentioned the imperative of using the special charge account for all work related to the mysterious Mr. Agarwal. The duality was fascinating.
As suddenly as it began, it was gone. "That was weird," was all he could think to say.
"We use the actual event—the smells and sounds of the room, the fixtures and lighting and people—and we simply direct your mind to fill in the details from a simple template." Agarwal paused to try and gauge Tom's reaction. "It is tremendously effective. Memories are never quite detailed, as you know. Unless you have an eidetic memory, what you usually retrieve is more like a synopsis than an accurate record."
"So how many of you are there?" Tom had decided to go for broke. There was no telling what information might be useful, later. "And more importantly, why doesn't anyone know about you?"
"A few do, several have known about us for short periods of time—as you and Doctor Litchfield will—and though our number is great, we represent only a small fraction of the total human population. I'm sure you understand why I won't be more specific than that."
"So are you guys actually running the planet?" Tom was almost afraid of the answer to this one. Agarwal's answering chuckle relieved him more than he would have guessed.
"Oh no, Doctor Weldon, though I am quite sure that we could, we simply do not care very much about your petty political and religious squabbles. I quite assure you that we interfere with your business only when it directly impacts our own existence. You have my word on that." The latter was delivered with a solemnity that Tom found almost refreshing when dealing with Nightwatch business. The man actually expected his word to mean something. And perhaps because he did have that expectation, Tom was inclined to give it some credence.
"We could have used your help with a certain comet, recently." Tom ventured. The media attention had started to drop, but the close call with comet C'thulhu was still part of every news cycle. Nightwatch's involvement was known only to a few.
"What makes you think we didn't?" Agarwal seemed a little surprised by Tom's statement. "You don't think you folks managed to do all that...coming together... on your own, do you?"
"Hey, we worked damn hard to get so many governments and organizations and traditional enemies all combining their efforts to..."
"To no avail, until we stepped in, Doctor Weldon." Agarwal looked Tom in the eyes; his body language portraying nothing but sincerity. "Do you really think that all the crews of the Tesla Beamships would have spontaneously decided to make off with their hideously effective weapons, rather than turn them over to their respective, legitimate governments?"
Tom recalled a secure message he sent to Miranda from the Comm Center on the Yorimasa when they were only a few days out from Earth.
"...Frag 1's crew *pirated* the gun-ships rather than follow the plan. The Old Man let them go, rather than try & shoot them
down. He gave them the order to fly the guns to the parking orbit, but the gun-ship crews stuck together and ran for it. We caught some radio traffic between them and Frag 1 that explained the whole plot. It started even farther back, when the ships were first built. The strongest construction was put in to the Tesla ships...the one set of ships that couldn't afford to fail. Apparently, they also knew what a danger these things represented, too much of a danger to keep them around even for the protection they offered. What was the Admiral supposed to do? Shoot rockets at something that can shoot back Tesla Beams? We'd all be dead now if he had. Granted, I learned later that he *did* have everyone ready to fire off everything they had. The gun crews asked to explain, he listened. They want to keep the guns away from Earth. Too dangerous and disruptive to keep. Herndon argued, but they were adamant. For the good of mankind the damn things had to be destroyed. The crews set the ships on autopilot, shut down the com systems, shut down all but the rudimentary flight systems, and as soon as they're convinced there's no danger of the ships being recovered, they're abandoning the Tesla ships to deep space..."
Tom remembered being surprised, awed and a more than a little relieved by the seemingly unanimous decision by dozens of individuals to sacrifice their careers and their lives for the good of mankind. All who went into space for this venture were willing to risk their lives, but any survivors of this blatant mutiny would be in deep shit if they ever made it home. Perhaps fortunately, none did. They were just too far from Earth when they felt that the ships were 'safe.' None had made it back and most had simply stayed with the ships until all life support went out. In Tom's opinion, they had been the finest of a fine group. True heroes, every one of them. Or were they?
"So what did you do, take control of their minds to force them into suicide?" Tom was angry, but he was too honest with himself to forget his relief that those ever be-damned beamships would not be orbiting Earth. He could only imagine what Callow and his ilk would have done with them. He decided that his anger was that he felt taken-in by his own romantic projections.
"No!" Agarwal was adamant. "Try to wrap your considerable mental acumen around the possibility that we never, and I mean never kill one of you unless we are directly threatened. We are not your enemy, Doctor Weldon. And you can feel free to thank the deity or deities of your choice that we are not!" Agarwal was breathing hard, he'd worked himself up, quite nicely. "You wouldn't survive a real conflict with us, Doctor Weldon. For all your numbers and your technology we would very simply see and deal with any threat long before you were nearly organized enough to do anything about it."
"Imagine a phone call from your President ordering your superiors not to pursue the matter. We could do this on a moment's notice. How fast can your leaders plan and execute any real offensive against us?" Agarwal paused to allow Tom the opportunity to either refute it, or consider it. Tom's nature was to do the latter. "Now imagine the mid-level bureaucrats who made the decisions as to who would be the best candidates to crew the Tesla ships. This fellow or that? Her or him? There were no real qualifications for any of these positions, we simply made sure that those who were chosen were inclined to put the welfare of their species above any petty political or organizational concern."
"What makes me think you had a Pan B, just in case." Tom was impressed, despite himself. These people certainly had to the capacity to subtly tweak minds into doing things that they might have done, anyway. And the fact that they could read the minds of all the prospective candidates for the beamship crews...
"Of course, Doctor Weldon." Agarwal seemed neither surprised nor disappointed at Tom's assumption. "I'll have you know that we had at least one of our own on all the major vessels of the fleet. Most of ours did not return, just as most of your own did not. It was a higher price than you may imagine. You see, we were in contact with our people up until the very end. It wasn't...pleasant."
"Could we have done it, without you?" Tom hated that he had to ask.
"Could you have?" This question seemed to bother Agarwal more than Tom would have thought. "Certainly you could. But would you?" He didn't give Tom time to answer. "Would you humans have put aside all your differences and worked together for the sake of your own species?"
"You don't consider yourself human?" Agarwal's point had been made. There was no value to continuing the discussion. But if these people considered themselves an entirely different race, there were more issues with which to deal.
"Oh no, Doctor Weldon. We call you by many names, to tell the truth. I called you mutes for most of my life. You are so limited by only speech and writing and body language that it's as if you cannot speak at all. But for the last few decades I've been calling you mundanes."
Tom was amused, despite himself. "B-5 fan, are you?"
"Huge," was all the grinning fellow needed to say. Tom was hooked.
"Uh..." Tom wasn't sure how to begin. "Do you guys breed..." He was going to say 'breed true', but it started to sound like he was talking about AKC poodles.
"We are no more likely to produce children with our special abilities than the mun...uh...average population. No, although we almost never marry one another, anyway. We've all discovered that reading each other's thoughts becomes difficult not to do when we spend enough time, together. Marriage is just too intimate, too close for the illusions that make a long-term relationship work. And there are other problems...which I do not deem to be relevant to this discussion."
Tom wasn't too surprised that Agarwal ended that line of questioning. He supposed that they were confident enough in their ability to make him forget all of this that they didn't really care what he learned. Which, of course, didn't mean that they would hold nothing back.
He was tired and hungry and assumed that Simon and Agarwal would be the same. He decided that it was time to get to the point. What did they want from Nightwatch? And more importantly, what did they want from Simon and himself? It seemed that they could do anything—Pun Intended—that they put their collective minds to doing. He glanced at the clock and was shocked. It had been only a little over an hour since he had opened the latch on the Cannon Moon's back room door, and walked into a whole new world.
"So give me the quick-and-dirty as to why you need our help." Tom wasn't satisfied with his own tone of voice. He sounded testy and grumpy when what he really felt was simple wonder. "But you'd better make it quick. The proprietress of this place won't leave us alone, much longer."
"My sources tell me that she is getting more difficult to...distract...from checking upon whether we are ready to order, or not." Agarwal's humor—considering he was talking about mind control and one of Tom's favorite people in the world—was contagious. He couldn't help but smile. Agarwal continued. "And they also tell me the Lobster Bisque here is magnificent."
"Then we had better hurry." Tom prompted. "She closes the kitchen at nine on weeknights."
"Oh my," Agarwal was being absolutely serious. Tom was sure of it. "After all the wonderful smells I have been tortured with, tonight. To miss out would be a tragedy."
Damn, Tom just hated it when he found himself liking someone he knew he was supposed to despise.
"In the interests of brevity, Doctor Weldon, I will give you the...what is the American phrase?...the bullet version of our plight." Agarwal paused to pour a little more wine. "One of our people is missing, and we fear that he may have fallen in to bad company." Tom could tell that Agarwal really cared about this fellow. He wondered if it was because he was one of them, or if this person held some particular special meaning in Agarwal's life.
"Can't you just contact him?" Tom was trying to think logically.
"Oh, his disappearance was entirely of his own design, I assure you." Agarwal seemed eager to explain. "His mental shielding is more than sufficient to hide himself from us for as long as he desires to do so."
"So what's the problem?" Tom was hoping that these folks allowed each other the freedom to choose whether or not to participate in their little paranormal cohort. "He'll turn up, eventually. Everyone needs a little time to himself every now and then."
"Oh, the boy can take care of himself, believe me. What we are afraid of is what he may be doing that will effect you."
"Boy?" Tom was confused. "He's just a boy?"
"A teenager, actually. He's seventeen with all the normal angst, rebelliousness and raw emotion with which you surely have some professional experience. You should also know that he is the strongest of our kind that we have seen in generations." Agarwal's speech seemed strained, distracted. "And oh yes, he may have kidnapped a dozen or so of your better technical and engineering minds. We cannot seem to locate them, either."
"Kidnapped?" Tom felt a little out of his element. Normally, on Nightwatch business, he was given the assignment as a complete package. This was more like being in on the ground floor. He found that he wasn't at all comfortable with the role he was being forced into playing. He thought, a moment. Why would a rebellious teen want technical and engineering experts? He rather got the impression that these psychics spent more time developing their mental abilities and relied upon the rest of humanity for technological advancement. "Is he building something, some kind of device, maybe?" Tom was getting a bad feeling about this.
Agarwal was visibly impressed with Tom's deduction. "Well, he was more than a little angry with us concerning how close we came to annihilation by your little comet. He thought we should have done more to stop it and that we are way too reliant upon your kind to do things right. It was really a very close situation. Your Miss Keel quite literally saved the day by bringing several important people together in one of her internet Chat Rooms. We had been working on some of these individuals for months but had no real way to connect them without risking serious mental complications." Agarwal seemed like he wanted to say more about this, but stopped himself and brought the subject back to where it was originally headed.
"He is a rash and impulsive young man. And he has good reason not to trust any of you, I quite assure you. As to why I chose to come to you? Perhaps I should mention that before he left, he did propose we look into building a psychic amplifier capable of controlling thousands of mundanes...I beg your pardon...thousands of people at a time. Do you think this might be a job for Nightwatch, or should we just file a report with missing persons?"
Tom took a long pull from his drink. It was a little watery, but he didn't care. He hated to say it, but it really did look like they came to the right place. They may not be able to find one psychic kid hiding from other psychics, but a dozen technical experts who all seemed to just wander away from their jobs, homes and families couldn't possibly remain hidden, or cover their tracks with more expertise than Nightwatch could bring to bear. He just hoped he could convince Simon to listen with an open mind, before he found a way to throttle the little Hindu where he stood.
# To Be Continued #