Yesterdays and Tomorrowsby John Coleman
March 24, 1941, 9:40 AM
Rainey limped down the steps of the Century City Police Department. It had been less than two weeks since he had sprained his ankle at the attack at the Courage Cafe. He marveled at that. Has it really only been two weeks? It seems like a lifetime.
He lit a cigarette and blew smoke into the chill morning air. He turned to look at his companion, the man who had been at his side since his life had become a whirlwind of chaos and violence. Hogan looked much as he always did...angry and on the verge of exploding. The big man ripped open the door of his sedan and thrust himself behind the steering wheel.
Rainey climbed in the passenger door and sat next to him. “You okay, Hogan?” He knew better than to ask, but couldn’t help himself.
Hogan started the car and then sat in silence for a moment. “Fuckin’ Feds,” he said at last.
Rainey nodded. “Yeah,” he agreed. “I’ve met those two before...Stone and Curry...they’re the ones that had me taken off the Chronicle.”
Hogan scoffed. “Well, they just had me suspended. And Dolan, too, for helping us out. Told me I was lucky they didn’t arrest me for obstruction.” He slammed his fist into the steering wheel. “Obstruction of justice! Can you believe that shit?”
Rainey nodded. “They threatened me with the same thing. Probably would’ve done it, too, if they didn’t need the evidence we had on Hilles.”
Hogan cranked the car into gear and pulled away from the curb. “They’re just mad ’cause we did their jobs for ’em.”
Rainey tossed his butt out the window. “Even with the info we gave them, it’ll be days before they sort it all out. They seemed pretty shocked to learn that Hilles was a German spy.”
Hogan laughed at that, catching Rainey off guard. “If what Malone told you is true, then Hilles ain’t shit no more.”
“Good point, Hogan,” Rainey replied. “Sad to hear about the Fade, though. That kid saved my life.”
Hogan nodded. “Mine, too. And he tried to save Duke, too.”
“You got justice for your partner, Hogan. I got justification for myself...the Mystery Men are real. Seems like we both got what we wanted. So what now?”
Hogan didn’t even hesitate before answering. “I’m gonna relax. Do nothing until they figure out if they’re gonna give me my badge back. That’s it...I don’t want anything else to do with Mystery Men or German spies or masked craziness.” He took his eyes off the road for a moment and glanced at Rainey. “How about you?”
Rainey thought about what Malone had said to him last night, just hours before the Feds had found them.
“Paradox says you’ll be needed again, Karl,
“ the detective had said to him. “He said you’re job is to chronicle our actions. That you are the one that will tell the world about the Mystery Men.”
Rainey frowned at that. “What do you mean ’our actions’, Malone?”
The private eye had looked away at that, sighing deeply. “He just asked me to tell you to expect a call at some point. That he still needs you. He wanted me to tell you that.”
’You didn’t answer my question, Malone.”
Malone shrugged. “I’ve got to stay with them, Karl...they need me. That’s all I can say, really.”
The detective had grown restless and got up and paced around the hotel room. “Look, I’ve got to go. Take care of Hogan.” He stuck out his hand and Rainey took it and shook. “I hope to see you again someday, Karl.”
Hogan repeated his question and Rainey snapped back to the now.
“Me, too, Hogan,” he said. “I m gonna just relax and do nothing. I’ve had enough of Mystery Men to last me a lifetime.”
March 24, 9:45 AM
Gerald Stone sat in the interrogation room of the Century Police Department looking at the papers scattered on the table before him. He ran a hand through his thinning hair and cast a sidelong glance at his partner.
Curry blew out a long breath. “Well,” he said, “this is pretty much a total mess.”
Stone nodded and picked up a handful of papers then tossed them back on the table without even looking at them. “You got that right. We can’t even use most of the evidence that Hogan and Rainey provided. I mean, I have no doubt that Hilles was a foreign agent, but whether or not we can prove it and what we do about it...well, I just don’t know.”
The door to the room opened and Special Agent Locke came in. He closed the door quietly and turned to face the two of them. “I’ve released them,” he said, his voice barely above a whisper.
Curry sat up. “You released them? Why”
Locke eyed him sternly, and Stone was happy that he wasn’t the target of that look. Locke was an intense guy to say the least, and ever since he had shown up in Century and informed them that they would be answering to him, Stone had been uneasy about him. Curry had complained to their supervisor, but he had told them that Locke’s status gave him such authority. Locke was the director of the SHED, a special division of the Bureau, and he was authorized to commandeer any resources he felt necessary to perform his task.
“We’ve gotten everything out of them that we can. Without finding Patrick Malone, we can’t fill in any of the gaps in their story,” Locke said. He folded his arms and gave the table full of papers a cursory glance. “What concerns me more is how much damage Hilles did before this all came to a head.”
Curry shuffled through some of the documents until he found the one he was looking for. They had gone through the shipping manifests for Hilles’s export business and found a number of inconsistencies. Along with several other documents, they had come up with estimates of resources and funds that Hilles had funneled back to Germany. “According to this, our best estimates are that he provided Germany with over...”
“I’m not interested in estimates, Curry,” Locke said, cutting him off. “Our analysts will work on the figures. You two are field agents...I’ll be needing you for other things.”
“Like what?” Stone asked.
“I want you to investigate that warehouse fire from the other night. The owner of the warehouse was David Barry, who was a pupil of Samuel Klein’s. Several bodies were found inside that warehouse, but we don’t think that any of them were Barry or Klein. I want you to find him and Patrick Malone. They should be able to provide us with more answers about the so-called Mystery Men that were involved. And hopefully, that info will lead us to finding Klein.”
Stone shook his head. “I don’t get it, sir. Why is that our priority? We just learned that a prominent American business man was actually a Nazi agent. Why isn’t that what we’ll be focusing on?”
Locke turned his angry glare on Stone. Stone felt his mouth go dry.
“The investigation into Hilles and his connections to Germany will be turned over to other agents. You two are working for me, now...which means you are working for the Strange Happenings and Events Division. That’s the aspect of this case that we’ll be covering. Is that clear?”
Stone didn’t really have an answer. He tried to find his voice, but couldn’t. Luckily, Curry spoke up for both of them.
“Not really, sir,” Stone’s partner said. “We don’t know what we’re looking for or why. All we know is that it involves these Mystery Men. I mean, we know they exist....we’ve seen the aftermath of their actions. But we have no idea who or what they are, or where they came from, or what they want.”
There was a tentative knock on the door. “Enter,” Locke said, actually raising his voice above the menacing near-whisper that he normally used.
A short brunette poked her head into the room. Her eyes darted about the room nervously until she found Locke. “The...man...you were waiting for is here, sir,” she said.
Locke nodded. “Send him in.” She darted back through the door. Locke turned back to Curry. “I believe that you two will be getting some of the answers you’re looking for.”
Stone looked at Curry, but his partner only shrugged in response.
The door opened again. In walked a man who immediately struck Stone as being strange. His features were not outstanding; he had pale blue eyes and graying hair beneath his wide brimmed hat. He wore a long trenchcoat that nearly brushed the floor behind his boots. His eyes scanned the room immediately upon entering, and he nodded at both Stone and Curry, raising a hand to the brim of his hat and tipping it in greeting. He then faced Locke and shut the door behind him.
His clothes are a bit out of the ordinary, Stone realized, but it’s more than that. There’s something...different about him.
The stranger just continued to eye Locke, clearly not at all intimidated by the man like most people were.
Locke smiled. It seemed false to Stone, who had never seen the him do it before. “It’s good to see you again, Henry.”
The stranger chuckled a bit at that. “No one’s called me that for years, Locke.” He grabbed a nearby chair, turned it backwards and straddled it, his arms resting on the chair-back. “What’s this all about?”
Locke gestured to Stone and Curry. “Curry, Stone...this is Special Agent, Code Name: Ranger.”
Stone quickly looked at his partner. Curry was just staring at the stranger, eyes as wide as Stone’s must have been. Both of them had heard the stories about the man called Ranger. He was practically a legend in the Bureau. He was rumored to be the most accomplished field agent that American law enforcement agencies had ever had.
“Ranger is the first known Mystery Man,” Locke went on. “And a founding father of the SHED.”
Ranger’s eyebrows furrowed at that. “I left the SHED years ago, Locke,” he said, his voice touched with a slight accent that Stone couldn’t quite place. “Once Garrett stepped down as director.”
Locke nodded. “Old Man Garrett had a different way of doing things. But this agency has grown beyond the small operation that the two of you began. And like it or not, I’m in charge now.”
Ranger laughed. “If you say so, Locke. What is it you want from me?”
“There are a number of Mystery Men that have been active in Century City. I want you to find them and bring them in.”
March 24, 10:15 AM
Malone headed down Chesapeake Avenue, trying to gather his thoughts. The morning air was cool, and helped clear his head after being cramped up in Dave’s workshop all night. He had a lot to think about, and felt he needed to get away from everyone else in order to think clearly.
In a little over a week, his life had irrevocably changed. He couldn’t even begin to really comprehend all that had happened to him. Whatever the man called Mr. Left had done to him, it was becoming pretty obvious that it was more than he had thought. And it was also obvious that whatever it was, the change was permanent.
He had been trying to deny that...hoping that it would just slowly leave, that his body would fight it off like an illness. That didn’t seem to be the case though.
Now, he was faced with a decision. Paradox had told him that he wanted Malone to stay with them. He said that their mission was all important, and that they would need him if they had a chance to succeed. Hilles was just the tip of the iceberg, according to Paradox...and that scared the hell out of him.
He just wasn’t sure that he fit in with them. Each of them seemed to look at him like he was a ticking bomb and that he would explode any second. He couldn’t really blame them; the first time he had turned into Blackwing, he had tried to kill them. The only one of them who had treated him like he was still a person had been Andy...and he was gone now.
Malone just wasn’t sure that he was a part of their world. One thing he was sure of, though, was that he was not a part of the normal world anymore, either. He had met with Karl Rainey last night, and it was awkward as could be. He just felt out of place talking to the reporter. Certainly more out of place than he did when dealing with Paradox and Champion and the others. Maybe his place was with them. He just wasn’t sure what to do.
He turned a corner....and immediately came to a halt. His eyes narrowed as they took in the sight before him. A small wooden sign hung above a shop door. The sign swung in the cool morning breeze, the metal rings that held it to the post screeching faintly.
Mother Bones, the sign read, Fortunes Told.
It couldn’t be, he thought.
Not for the first time that week, he felt as if there were large invisible hands moving things all around him.
He walked up to the store, opened the door, and stepped in.
March 24, 10:20 AM
Champion removed the bandages from his shoulder. There was barely a mark to show that he had been wounded in the fight with Hilles. His knuckles still throbbed a bit, but considering that his hand and four fingers had been broken only two days before, he was willing to accept it.
“Are you sure it’s a good idea to let him out on his own?” Dave asked Paradox yet again.
“It’s what he needs to do, Dave” the young man replied, as he had already explained at least twice.
They had been cooped up in one of Dave’s warehouse workshops since the fight with Hilles. Champion couldn’t blame Malone for needing to get out. He had managed to get out for a bit when he brought the Fade’s body to St. Mary’s Hospital. He had left him there on the sidewalk outside the emergency room exit and then ran off. It seemed lousy to just leave him there like that, but there was little else they could do. None of them knew if he had any family or friends, or even where he lived. And they couldn’t risk any kind of confrontation with the authorities. Especially a soldier who had gone AWOL.
Afterward, he had stayed out for a while, enjoying the cold night air of the city. He took his sweet time getting back to the warehouse, where arguments like this had become the norm.
“If he turns into that thing again, he’s liable to kill somebody,” Dave went on. “You know that , right?”
Paradox had been tinkering with one of Dave’s gadgets. He dropped it to the table and turned to face the inventor. “I’ve already told you all this,” he said through clenched teeth. “He needs time to think about what he wants to do. We’ve got to give him that time.”
Champion tried to use this opportunity to change the subject. “Are you sure we have any time to spare? The authorities are after us for sure...it’s only a matter of time before they narrow down where we could be. I don’t think it’ll be safe to stay here too much longer.”
Paradox nodded. “I’d like to be gone by this afternoon, if possible. Mostly what I’ve been waiting for is for Professor Klein to recuperate. Hilles and his men left him in a pretty bad way, and he’s just now starting to recover. I’m hoping that today he’ll be able to travel.”
“Actually,” Sara said as she entered the room, “that won’t be a problem.”
Paradox turned to face her. “He’ll be able to travel?”
“Well, he is doing much better,” she answered,” but he won’t be coming with us.”
“Why not?” Paradox asked. “We need the information he has...his knowledge.”
“I’ll let my uncle explain. We talked about last night, and I’m not sure I could explain it to you if I tried.” She seemed exhausted. Despite having found her uncle and bringing him to safety, there was a sadness about her. She wasn’t really ready for all of this, Champion realized. At least, not like he was. With the possible exception of Paradox, none of them were ready for any of this. He rose from his seat and made his way over to her and placed a reassuring hand on her shoulder. “Everything’s going to be all right,” he said.
It wasn’t until her big brown eyes looked up at him that he realized he wasn’t wearing his mask. His hand fell from her shoulder and he stepped back.
Dave stepped between the two. “You don’t know that, so stop saying it. We have no idea how everything is going to be. All we know is that we’re involved in things that are way over our heads and we have no plan on what to do about it.”
“Not quite, Dave,” Paradox said. “I have a plan.”
Dave held his arms out wide. “Perhaps you’d like to share it with the rest of us then, huh?”
Paradox looked about at each of them. His gray eyes seemed to be measuring them. It reminded Champion of his hours in the labs at Fort Nicholas, groups of scientists in white lab coats looking at him the way engineers looked at a tank. He didn’t like it.
“We’ve got to go to Europe,” Paradox said at last.
“Europe?” Dave nearly yelled. “How are we supposed to go to Europe? In case you’ve forgotten, there’s a war going on over there.”
Paradox whirled at him. “I know what’s going on over there, Dave,” he said. “More than you do, believe me. And I’m getting tired of you arguing about every little thing.”
“Little thing? You want us to go to Europe in the middle of a war and you consider that a little thing?”
Champion nodded. “As much as I hate to agree with him, Paradox, he does have a point.”
Sara spoke up. “What would we do in Europe anyway?”
“We’ll find more allies there,” Paradox answered. “People like us who will join our cause. We’ll need more help if we’re to have a chance of winning.”
“Winning what?” Dave asked. “What is it that you want us to do? We can’t stop a war...not the four of us. It’s insane!”
Paradox ignored him and sat back down, retrieving the discarded gadget and tinkering with it some more. Dave just shrugged his shoulders and looked at Champion and Sara. Champion didn’t know what to do. He’d wait to talk to Klein, and then figure it all out after that. The Professor hadn’t really spoken to them that much since his rescue, and Champion really wanted to get some answers out of him.
The small storefront was cluttered with a number of half unpacked boxes. Newspapers that had been used as packing cushioning lay scattered about the dull wooden floor.
He turned to see the old woman sitting at a table in the back corner of the room. It seemed like the table and the candles upon it were the only things that had been unpacked.
She was almost exactly as he remembered her, wispy white hair and heavily wrinkled face. Her one good eye was locked on him and it seemed to glimmer with secret knowledge. Her withered hands were idly shuffling a deck of cards. Her thin lips were pressed together in a slight smile. “I’ve been expecting you.” She gestured at the chair that sat across the table from her.
He only hesitated for a moment before walking over and taking a seat. He laughed a joyless laugh. “Decided to come to Century and trouble me more, huh?”
Her smile faded and she almost looked hurt. “Please, Patrick,” she said. “I would never trouble you. I actually helped you. I told you exactly what you needed to hear to survive the ordeal ahead of you. If you had not listened to me, then we would not be having this conversation now.”
He shrugged. “Who could say?”
Her eye gleamed. “I can.”
He laughed at that. “So it’s not me that brings you to Century...then what is it?”
Her hands shuffled the cards some more. “This city...it is destined for great things. There is a power here...an old power, ancient...and I felt I should be here. Surely you have seen some of this yourself...?”
He thought a moment and then nodded.
She returned the gesture. “So here I am,” she said. “And here we are. And you have questions.” Her hands shuffled through the cards like a casino dealer.
“I suppose I do,” he said. “But I don’t know if I want the answers.”
She chuckled. “Such is the way with important questions...they are often a double edged sword. But you will ask them anyway, won’t you?”
She didn’t wait for an answer, but instead began placing cards down on the table in a random pattern. Malone was no stranger to the occult or mysticism. He had seen his fair share of card readings back in Massachusetts. Yet the pattern in which she laid the cards was not one he was at all familiar with.
She placed a card in the middle of the table, and surrounded it with another card on each side. She then dealt four stacks of two, framing the central cards. Finally, she placed another stack of two off to her left.
She raised her eye to him. The lid of her missing eye twitched a bit, momentarily revealing the empty cavity beneath. A chill rippled through him. “Would you hear what I have to say, Patrick Malone?”
I can’t ever escape this shit, he thought. No matter what I do, my life has just gotten more and more weird. He realized that that is exactly what she had told him the last time they had spoken, when she had explained that he was “Marked” and that he would always attract supernatural forces. He wasn’t sure if that realization made him want to laugh or cry. A double edged sword, he thought wryly.
“I suppose I would,” he answered her at last.
She nodded, as if his answer had been a formality. “What is your question?”
He thought about this. There seemed so much he wanted to know, but he had no idea where to begin. He decided on a general question. “I have a group of...friends. They want me to stay with them, but I am not sure that is the best idea. Should I stay with them or go off on my own?”
She reached forward and flipped the card at the center of the table. Upon it was the image of a stone tower, flames showing in its windows. Lightning struck from the sky overhead, threatening the tower.
“There is a struggle ahead for this group of people,” Mother Bones said. “They face great conflict.” She flipped the card immediately to the right of the central card. Upon it was the image of the moon, its rays shining down from above on what appeared to be two dogs. “The outcome of this struggle is uncertain, but what is at risk is not.” She flipped the card opposite that one, the one to the left of the central card. Upon this card there was the image of an androgynous being, surrounded by the length of a scaly serpent eating its own tail. “The world,” she hissed. “Their struggle may determine the fate of the world.” She flipped over the card above the central one, revealing the image of a woman pouring water from one cup into another. “Balance is needed....unity. You must stay with this group of people and do what you can to help them. You will be needed.” Finally, she flipped the card below the central one. Malone’s breath caught as he saw the image on this card. Even if he had not been familiar with the Tarot, hew would have recognized the card’s significance. Upon it was the image of a cloaked figure astride a horse. In its upraised hand the figure wielded a long hafted scythe.
“Death,” he said in a whisper.
Mother Bones shrugged, her bones audibly creaking with the gesture. “But for whom? Or for what? This card does not symbolize death in the physical sense...but is more symbolic of change. The death of what we know and the birth of the unknown.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Death is the one constant that we all face. Your friends as you call them will face it more often than most...and some will succumb to it. But this card indicates that their actions will change the world as we know it. They are a powerful force...and you must stand with them.
“The tower indicates a great struggle. You and your companions will travel to the land torn by war, seeking allies to strengthen your cause.” She flipped over the first card in the upper left stack. On this card was the image of a man seated upon a throne, wielding a sword in one hand. She flipped the card beneath this one and laid it crossways over the top. On this card was the picture of what appeared to be a holy man. “The knight and the archer,” Mother Bones rasped. “These are the first two allies you will seek. They oppose each other, and will destroy one another unless you can prevent it.”
She next flipped over the first card in the upper right stack. Upon this card was the image of a woman swathed in white robes. “The wise woman,” Mother Bones explained and flipped the next card, which had the image of a chariot drawn by two horses, one black and one white. “As ancient as the foe you recently faced, she will bring guidance and purpose to your quest.”
Malone tried to ask what the hell any of this meant, but she kept on going. This time she flipped the first card of the lower left stack. The picture of a man seated upon a throne and holding a scepter adorned this card. “The great one, the paragon...he will be born of your struggle.” She flipped over the second card, revealing a picture of the sun. “His light will shine like a beacon for the entire world.”
She moved her wrinkled hands to the right, and turned over the top card of the bottom right stack. Upon it a robed man was pictured standing beside a table. On the table were four items, a sword, a cup, a staff, and a coin. The man held a wand up to the heavens. About his head was a halo, twisted into the sign of infinity. “The impossible man,” Mother Bones said.
“Paradox? What can you tell me about him?”
She flipped over the next card in the stack, showing what appeared to be a numbered wheel...or maybe the face of a clock. “He is a bringer of change. He should not be, but is. He can not do, but does. His power is greater than it seems...he unmakes what was made. He seeks to undo a great harm.”
“Can I trust him?”
“He has many secrets,” she said and her eye looked up at him from the cards. “You have caught a glimpse of these secrets, yes?”
Malone remembered the dream he had the other night...of being on the shore and looking out at an island along with Paradox and many other people. He nodded.
“He has many secrets...but you must trust him. He is central to your cause.”
Malone’s eyes narrowed. “What cause? Why can’t you just tell me straight out what I want to know?”
Mother Bones shrugged. “It is the way of things. Ask the sun why it must set...you will get the same answer. But your cause,” she looked back down at all the arrayed cards. “Your cause I can tell you more about. You seek to stop those whose symbol is the crooked cross. And those that work for them.”
Malone thought abut that. “You mean the Nazis?” he asked, thinking of the symbol on their flag.
“Perhaps,” Mother Bones said. “Theirs is the symbol of which I speak, though.”
Malone sat back. He tried to take it all in. If he was going to listen to what she had told him, then it looked like he and the others would be heading off to Europe to fight the Germans. And it seemed like at least four more people would be joining them. His mind couldn’t quite grasp it all.
He noticed the last stack of two cards unturned. He looked up at Mother Bones to find her gazing at him almost sadly.
“What about those two cards?” he asked.
She reached down and placed her left hand atop the stack. “Are you sure you want me to reveal these last cards, Patrick?”
He eyed her left hand resting on the cards, and he realized what they must be about. “Yes,” he answered her, though he barely heard his own voice.
She flipped the top card over. The card showed a horned creature, with legs like that of a goat and great bat-like wings sprouting from its shoulders. There was no mistaking this card.
“The devil,” he said.
“Not directly. Symbolic of the devil’s agent,” Mother Bones clarified, and tapped a finger on the card, at the image of a man standing below the great creature, below his left hand. “The Left-Handed man.”
Malone’s fists were clenched and he was on the edge of his seat. “Will I find him?”
She nodded. “The number of your meetings shall be three,” she said. “So twice more you will find him.” She flipped over the final card. This card depicted a great angel in the sky, blowing a great trumpet. Below the angel, many people emerged from what appeared to be graves, arms outstretched to the figure above them.
“What does that mean?” he asked.
“Judgment,” she replied without hesitation. “Your final encounter shall bring judgment. It will be a final reckoning.”
“When? And what will happen?”
Again, she shrugged. “I cannot say for certain.”
He stared at her, and she seemed almost frightened by the look on his face. “I do not control such things, Patrick. I just catch glimpses of them...and feelings...and relate what I see. I cannot reveal that which I cannot see. You understand?”
He didn’t, but he nodded. He’d heard enough, anyway. Twice more, he thought. He realized that despite his desire to confront Left again, he was terrified of the prospect. Angry and confused, he stood from the table.
“Good-bye, Mother Bones,” he said.
“For now,” she said. “Like the Left-Handed Man, the number of our meetings shall be three. I will see you once more.”
He scoffed. “I doubt it.”
She smiled. “Of course you do, Patrick. Of course you do.”
He could take no more. He left her shop and started heading back toward the warehouse, his mind racing with the actual meanings of her reading.
Professor Klein entered the room. He seemed in better shape than when they had found him, but still a bit weak. Sara jumped to give him a shoulder to lean on, but he shooed her away. “I’m fine, fine,” he said to them all. Sara did not help him as he made his way to an open chair, but she did stay nearby.
He looked about the room at them all, his gaze lingering on Paradox longest...and then he smiled. “What amazing company I find myself in, yes?”
Champion returned the smile. “I reckon we could say the same, Professor,” he said. He had always liked the old man, who had often warned him to keep himself on guard around the other scientists and doctors.
“Joseph, Joseph,” the old man said and shook his head. “Do not liken me to you. I am a simple man...a simple creature...by comparison.”
Paradox rose from his seat and stepped toward the old man. Sara took a small step closer to him as well, nearly placing herself between the Paradox and her Uncle.
“You are hardly a simple man, Professor Klein,” Paradox said, paying no mind to Sara. “You have unlocked the secrets of the Blood.”
The old man squinted up at Paradox. “You sound like Hilles, young man.”
Paradox was caught off guard by that. He stammered, losing whatever he had been going to say.
“He is right, though, Professor,” Dave said. “Champion already told us that it was you who helped give him his abilities.”
“Not me, not me,” Klein said, waving Dave’s words away like a swarm of gnats. “If I unlocked anything it was with a key that some one else handed to me.” He thought about that for a moment and shook his head. “No, no....more like a key they slipped into my pocket.”
“Uncle Samuel,” Sara said to him and placed a hand upon his shoulder. “You’re not being clear. Tell them like you told me.”
He looked up at her. His shaky hand found hers on his shoulder and he clasped it tightly. “Oh, Sara, my Sara” he said. “You are right, as always. Let me start again.”
After he began again, it was obvious why he had been such an accomplished teacher back in Europe. He was a likable old man, and he could be talking about physics or about paint drying and make it interesting. Champion had seen it before; little creative outbursts like this were like a break from the routine and bleak atmosphere of Fort Nick.
“Imagine my mind is a chalkboard...I spend years scribbling formulae onto it...theorems and proofs...ideas. Everyday, I build up on the ideas from yesterday...moving toward the ideas of tomorrow.
“Sometimes, though...it isn’t so easy, no, no. Sometimes the ideas lead no where. And I am forced to erase it all and start again. After this happens enough times...it can be so frustrating, yes...you are left with ideas scattered about the chalkboard...little islands separate from one another, with no ideas to connect them.
“So you erase those ideas that you don’t know how to salvage...(you can’t save them all can you?)...and you keep those ones that you just can’t let go of. You go to bed unfulfilled...like the formulae on the chalkboard.
“Now imagine one morning, you wake up to find all the blank areas of the chalkboard filled up...new ideas that you never even thought of are stuck in between those ideas you did have...like little bridges connecting the islands.”
He shook his head and ran a hand through his thin, white hair. “Let me tell you all...finding that is much more scary than finding the chalkboard entirely empty. Oh, yes.”
Sara looked up from her Uncle, facing all of them.
Champion didn’t know what to say. He had never been much of a student...but he thought he got the gist of it.
Paradox did not seem so sure. “Are you saying that these ideas were not your own?”
The Professor shook his head. “Some, yes...many more? No.” He turned to Champion and then to Dave. “It is why I was always so mistrustful of my own knowledge. It is why I always tried to keep others safe from it.”
Paradox ran a hand across his mouth. “It doesn’t really change anything, though. Regardless of where it came from, those ideas can still help us...”
“No, no,” the Professor said, waving his hand once again. “There is more. Hilles had a man working for him...he could read minds. He could force open your mind as easily as opening a book. He tried to force open my mind...to get a look at the chalkboard. But once he had managed to get inside...the chalkboard was empty.”
Sara rubbed his shoulders. “It’s okay, Uncle Samuel,” she said. “It’s okay.”
Dave looked stricken. “But...if those ideas weren’t yours...”
Paradox finished the thought. “...whose were they?”
The room was silent for many moments as they each pondered that idea.
It was Sara who broke the silence. “Uncle Samuel is going back to Fort Nicholas. His return will keep them distracted and off our tail. Leaving us free to find our way to Europe.”
Each of the men turned to look at her. She shrugged. “Strange things are happening in the world. Strange things that maybe only people like us can deal with. I’m not going to pretend I know what needs to be done...but together, I think we can find our way.”
Paradox nodded enthusiastically. “That is what I have been trying to tell you all. We are the only ones who can do this.”
“And I think that we owe it to the Fade,” Champion said. “To Andy Marovich. He died so that we could win...but that was just the first step. To not see things through would mean he died for nothing.” He turned to Paradox and eyed the young man. “And I won’t have that.”
Paradox nodded again. He turned to Dave. “What do you say, Steelhawk?”
The Professor laid a hand on Dave’s forearm. “This is why I told you not to let the government get their hooks into you,” the old man said. “So you could be free to act with only your own conscience to guide you.”
Dave shrugged. “All right,” he said at last. “I suppose this means you’ll be wanting to use one of my planes, too, huh?”
The door opened and they all turned to find Malone walking into the workroom. He stopped and then slowly pushed the door closed. “What’s going on?”
“We were just deciding what to do next,” Champion told him.
Malone nodded, considering that. “You know what I say we do? I say we head over to Europe and see if we can’t find ourselves some more friends to help us out.”
The middle aged detective smiled at the looks on all their faces. “What?” he said. “You guys don’t think that’s a good idea?”
Metahuman Press is © and ™ 2005-2008 Nicholas Ahlhelm.