Super & Real
Jack Hurst looked up as the brilliant light consumed the two enemies. His grin widened as he saw the sweet victory at hand. The Devil’s most powerful agents had been defeated. That they decided to stand up to their Lord at all proved the Dark One’s most twisted arrogance. This battle had proven, at long last, that none could stand up to the grace and the power of Truth. The Lord conquered all enemies, no matter how far they had fallen. He turned to the crowd as their silence grew to an uncomfortable crescendo. The noise that followed rose from quiet to almost deafening in seconds.
The Lord clapped his hands and a sound of thunder prevailed over the group. They went silent. “Bow to your Lord!” Jack cried. “Show your devotion to Christ!”
One by one, they all knelt.
“Rise!” The Lord commanded. They all rose.
Jack turned to his Lord. “What now?” he asked.
“Let us begin our most important mission,” He spoke.
Jack turned to the crowd, his Lord amplifying his voice once again. “Followers of The Lord!” he announced. “Go forth and bring me the enemies of God!” The Lord waved his hands at his mouthpiece’s words, and the barriers went down. The crowd spread out as the two stepped off the platform and it returned to the concrete below.
A distance away, sirens could be heard as the crowd parted. “I see we have attracted attention,” The Lord reminded.
“Let me greet them,” Jack said.
The police cars stopped at the edge of the crowd. Seven officers exited, wearing body armor and carrying assault shotguns. Jack stepped forward, unafraid. “Officers,” The Lord greeted, gesturing at Jack.
Jack spread his arms out. “I am not armed,” he said to them, “and also, I am not afraid.”
“Maybe,” the officer at the front said, “you can tell us what the hell is going on.”
“I am simply bringing The Lord’s message to the masses,” Jack said. “I am only opposing the forces of darkness.”
The officers looked at each other. “There was a fight,” the main officer said. “Did you kill them?”
“I defeated only agents of the Devil,” Jack replied. “They had sworn to destroy The Lord, and so, they were struck down by His awesome power.”
The officer levied a shotgun at Jack. “You’re under arrest for murder!” he swore. The other officers drew weapons.
“No,” The Lord simply said.
A flash of light exited his eyes and their guns dissolved into dust. Several of them reached for handguns, only to find them gone. “What the hell’s going on?” one shouted.
“You will not be harmed!” Jack shouted. “All you have to do is swear fealty to the Lord!”
“We can’t let a murderer go free!” The lead officer shouted.
Sorrow painted itself on Jack’s face. “Please,” he begged, “don’t oppose Your Lord.”
“I won’t let a murderer go free!” he shouted, reaching for Jack.
The Lord put forth a hand, and a light shone all around the man. His hand stuck out from the light for just a moment. The officer’s entire body then vanished in an instant, without even a scream of pain. “All who oppose The Father,” The Lord said, “oppose Me. And none who oppose me can gain eternal life.”
A scream passed between the officers and the crowd. “Pledge yourself to your God!” Jack admonished. “Then you shall gain eternal life!”
The clamor died down as the officers knelt before their Lord. “Rise!” The Lord said, and they obeyed.
“Bring the enemies of God’s light to Him so that they may be dealt with,” Jack ordered.
“The forces of Satan hide from the light,” The Lord said. “You will have to bring them out of the darkness for them to be dealt with.”
“I’m sorry! Forgive me!” one young officer cried, stepping forth and bowing his head.
“Oh, child of God,” Jack said, placing a hand on the man’s bowed head. “All is forgiven, for you have sided against evil! You have sided with The Lord!”
“What do you want us to do?” Another officer said.
“Find those who claim to have powers,” Jack said. “They are affected by Satan and we have to either convert them to the Lord’s ways or destroy them.”
“This way,” The officer said, leading them to a vehicle.
Jennifer did something she hadn’t expected to; she woke up. A burning sensation passed throughout her entire body and she stifled it with a twist of energy manipulation. It hurt to stand as steam vented off her skin, her knees popping as she forced herself erect. She flexed her arms and fingers as the pain passed and left. “Oh, fuck,” she uttered, getting used to standing.
“Holy shit,” Jericho said, pushing himself up, and then collapsing into a chair. He shook his head. “So, did we make it?” He looked around.
They were in the cabin. “Looks like you sent us back a bit,” Jennifer said. She reached over and helped the burning power to leave his body. “So, how does this work?”
“Some guy had the power to reset himself in time just to before he died,” Jericho said. “I enhanced it to a few minutes longer. Our other selves are gone, but we’re here. We went back during the gap.”
“That’s fucked,” Jennifer said, sitting down.
Emily heard the clamor and left her room. “Oh, hell!” she exclaimed. “What happened?”
Jennifer looked up with an exasperated look. “Your husband just killed us,” she said. She gave a ‘what have you’ gesture. “Thanks to Jericho, we’re alive.”
“Oh my god,” she exclaimed, taking a seat. “What has he done?”
“He’s proven he’s willing to kill anyone who doesn’t bend a knee to his fake Jesus,” Jericho pointed out. “He’s turned into Jim Jones with a walking nuke.”
Emily’s hands covered her eyes as she wept. “I’m sorry.”
Jennifer walked over and draped an arm around her. “It’s not your fault,” she told the housewife. “You didn’t know.”
“How…how could he have done this?” Emily replied. “He was such a nice man.” She stuck an arm out in an incredulous gesture. “He gave back to the community, for heaven’s sake! He’s the most giving man I know!”
“He’s convinced he’s God’s righteous man,” Jericho said. “He believes he’s doing the work of The Lord. Any act of cruelty can be justified this way.”
She wiped her eyes. “I can’t believe this,” she uttered. “I trusted him.”
“I can’t imagine what you’re going through,” Jennifer said, “but let me assure you, I’m going to keep you safe.”
“I promise,” Jericho added.
Emily sank back into her seat. “I…I know I can’t ask you not to kill him,” she uttered.
Jericho and Jennifer exchanged a glance. “I can’t promise you that,” Jennifer reminded.
“I know,” Emily shot back, blinking tears away.
“If we don’t stop him,” Jericho reminded, “society might come undone.”
“It’s a horrible thing,” Jennifer said, “but I’ll say this: if it is in any way possible to stop him without killing him, I will at least look for it.”
Emily coughed in surprise. “You…you mean it?” she said.
“I can’t promise it is possible,” she reminded the woman, “but if it is, I’ll try.”
“Just remember,” Jericho explained, “that if he isn’t dead when he’s stopped, he’s going to spend the rest of his life in prison.”
Emily nodded. “Thank you for at least humoring me,” she said.
Jennifer gave her a tight hug, then stood up and walked with Jericho to the kitchen. “Let’s plan this carefully,” he said. “He’s stronger than both of us. It’s been shown he can kill us easily.”
“Worse than that,” Jennifer added, “he can nullify most of your powers.”
Jericho flexed an aching arm. “I know,” he replied. “And the pain was worse this time than last time. You know what that means.”
“We can’t use your ‘go back a few minutes’ power as a get-out-of-dying-free card,” she finished. “It’s not going to be easy.”
Jericho closed his eyes. “We need allies,” he said. “No one I know is either willing to help or knowledgeable in the relevant areas. That leaves your friends.”
Jennifer looked at him with shocked eyes. “You want to put them in the path of this monster?” she said, almost gasping. “You can’t be serious?”
He put his hands on her shoulders. “Look!” he said. “I don’t want anyone else to die, either!” He took a deep breath and pulled back. He collected himself. “I don’t want to put anyone else in danger. But we can’t do it. Your friends are knowledgeable.”
“Yeah,” Jennifer replied. “They’re all geeky enough to be decent supers.” She folded her arms. “Goddammit, I can’t believe I’m even considering this.” She thought about it. “Fuck!”
“You’re a really powerful character,” Jericho said. “But maybe your friends can turn into more powerful characters!”
Jennifer thought about it. “Wait,” she said.
A light went on in her mind. “Son of a bitch!” she said, pounding a fist into her open palm. “I fucking didn’t even think about it!”
He shook his head. “What?”
“First time you met the fake Jesus,” Jennifer explained, “he damn near turned your powers off.”
His mouth fell open. “Oh, fuck!” he uttered. “Why couldn’t he do that to you?”
“Think about it!” she shouted. “Flight, speed, strength, the sensing stuff, these aren’t my powers!”
“You’re Manny Voren,” Jericho said, realizing. “Your power is turning into Michelle Delanter from the Furious Thunder comic!”
“This ‘Jesus’ can’t be all-powerful,” Jennifer explained, “because if he was, he’d be able to turn my powers off.”
Jericho’s hand covered his mouth as he pondered. “Son of a bitch,” he uttered. “He’s a similar type of power to yours.”
“Depending on how powers work,” Jennifer fired back, “Jack’s power might even be a sibling to my power!” She thought about it. “You couldn’t change when you copied my power?”
He shook his head. “It wasn’t that,” he said. “It’s sort of, well, you know,” an embarrassed red painted itself on his cheeks. “I couldn’t imagine being anything other than myself.”
“But you copied my power,” she said.
He nodded. “I did.”
“Then let’s go,” she announced. “Because I know some people who are about to become really powerful allies.”
“Already?” he countered. “I thought you were against it.”
“Either we do this,” she reminded, “or we all die. Given those odds? Fuck it.”
Her phone rang almost the moment the words left her mouth. Seeing the name, she almost smashed the accept icon. “Jennifer?” Davis Wilson shouted. “Oh, fuck! You’re alright!”
She almost laughed. “Yeah?” she said. “Well, let’s just say that I don’t think we’re going to be able to do this on our own.”
“Way ahead of you,” the FBI agent said. “My superiors have spoken to the President and there’s going to be a formal statement not an hour from now where we give our formal declaration that we do not bow to terrorists, even if they look like every painting of Jesus ever.”
“Finally, a voice of reason,” she replied. “So, we need to meet.”
“Who’s that?” Jericho asked. She tossed the phone to him. “Hello? Who is this?”
“I’m…Davis Wilson,” he replied. “Is this…Jericho Torvalds? So that was you that’s been working with her.”
Jericho gave a half shrug. “If you’re working with her, you’re alright with me,” he said. “I’d like for us to meet and attempt to gather allies.”
“I agree,” Davis answered immediately. “If you can somehow get here quickly, I’d appreciate it.”
Jericho paused a moment. “Where are you?”
“Washington D.C.,” Davis replied.
“Alright,” Jericho answered. “Give me a few minutes. I think I can make it.”
Jennifer saw him hang up the phone and stand with his eyes closed, focusing. “Alright, everyone!” she shouted, getting Emily’s attention as well as her kids. “Time to go!”
The trio came forward, surprised. “Where are we going?” Emily asked.
“Away from here,” Jennifer said.
Jericho motioned. “Got it,” he announced. “Take my hand. Everyone form a chain.” The group formed a chain of hands held. A few seconds later, they vanished from the house.
They rematerialized in a thirty-foot by thirty-foot conference room of some kind. A grizzled old man with white hair and a frustrated expression painted on his face gave her a nod. “Looks like we’re in deep shit,” he said. “Sam Louis.” He extended his hand. He saw the busty redhead as a symbol of youthful naïveté but didn’t say anything.
She shook his hand, resisting the urge to roll her eyes. “Jennifer Black,” she introduced. “This here’s Jericho Torvalds, and the family behind us are the wife and children of Jack Hurst.”
“So, you brought them,” Davis said, appearing from behind his supervisor. He brushed his curly brown hair away from his face. “We’ll be working with you to keep you safe and working to bring this whole ordeal to a close.”
“This may be a stupid question, but I have to ask,” Emily ventured. “Are you going to kill my husband?”
“If he surrenders without taking further action against our government,” he explained, “we’ll try to take him down non-lethally.”
“But,” Sam cut in, “he keeps this up, he’s going to be treated as a terrorist and be taken out.”
A conflict played out in various expressions over Emily’s face. “Okay,” she simply said.
“Let’s get down to the important business,” Jericho interrupted. “Do you have anyone who can help us?”
“Yeah,” Davis said. “When this whole thing blew up, people came forward. Not a whole lot, mind you, but some important people.”
“We’ve got some potential allies of our own,” Jennifer said. “Their names are Annie Wilson, John Stephenson, and Edward Mitchell.”
“Alright, let’s get something ahead of time,” Sam interjected. “You have to meet this guy we met.”
Almost as if on cue, a mid-forties gentleman in jeans and a sweatshirt stepped into the room. “Oh!” The man said, approaching Jennifer. “I’ve been wanting to meet you.” He extended a hand. “Name’s Raymond Weiss.”
Jennifer shook his hand. “Jennifer Black,” she introduced. “How can you help?”
“This whole thing,” he explained, gesturing, “these powers, these transformations, all of it may seem like we’ve been put in a movie all of a sudden, but I assure you, this is not chaos. There is an explanation, and I believe I’m on the verge of finding it.”
She cocked her head in confusion. “What?”
“Let me take you back to the beginning and explain,” he said.
“Doctor Weiss,” a blonde male assistant piped up, “have you checked the latest equations?”
“I’ve been,” he replied. “But it’s been hectic lately.” He turned away from the board. “You are?”
“Alan Jordan,” the assistant said. “I’ve been transferred here from Caltech.”
“Ah, Mister Jordan,” Raymond said, turning back to the whiteboard and checking the equations again. “As you can see, these have been pissing me off for the better part of a week because I simply can’t figure out how to get them to work.”
“If you need anything, Doctor,” Alan announced. “I’m right here.”
“For starters,” Raymond said, reaching into his pocket, go get me a Diet Doctor Pepper from the machine upstairs, and get yourself something too.” He handed the man three one-dollar bills.
“Yes, sir!” Alan said. “Oh and thank you!”
“No problem,” Raymond said. He set the pen down and stood back, folding his arms. “Mother fucker.” These equations kept stumping him and it resisted any attempt for his mind to wrench the solution out of him. It was a problem that kept him from making the breakthrough he knew he could etch his career in stone with. A light in the corner of his vision distracted him as it painted across his whiteboard.
His head drifted in the direction of the window. The sun was going down, and the evening sky was…
Multicolored beams of light streaked across the sky in every which direction.
His hands fell to his sides. “What in the fuck…?” he stammered, involuntarily drawn to the window. A long second passed as he stared, mouth agape, before his hands frantically jerked towards his other pocket for his cellphone. It clattered to the floor. “Shit!” He snatched it and bolted for the door.
His feet tore down the short hallway to the door leading into the University’s outside courtyard. He stared up at the evening sky in bewilderment. A single point, high above the evening sky, served as the center of a constant outward stream of colored bursts of light. Each one streaked far across the sky and out of sight. Every color a human eye could see emerged from a single point of white light and shot outward. His cell phone camera took footage. “Holy…shit…” he uttered.
The center point flashed, and the streaks of color stopped.
“Oh my god!” he shouted, dashing for the door. He had to record this.
He made it five steps before his face met the grass. “Ow,” he groaned, pushing himself to his feet. His hands drifted over himself, checking to see if he was hurt. He wasn’t.
Back in the lab, he plugged his phone into his lab PC and watched the video. As he watched, it was almost as if the pulses of light triggered something in his eyes.
“My mind,” he whispered.
He caught it the moment he did it. He’d spoken involuntarily. What did this mean? It made sense, he realized. Something was different. It didn’t make logical sense at first, but he focused intensely on it and it came to him. He could sense something resembling a switch in his brain. Not a physical one, he figured, but rather, a mental one that he could flip. With a nervous chuckle, he whispered, “This is crazy.” Then he flipped the switch.
Thoughts lit up like a thunderstorm.
The moment he looked at his coffee cup, he had a very accurate estimation of its volume. His eyes drifted to the video. His thoughts processed at incredible speed. “Specific alterations to the laws of physics,” he whispered, his thoughts alight. “It’s impossible, and yet, it’s here!” The skeptic in him told him he could simply be crazy. So, he turned his attention to the whiteboard. He stared at the formulas that had puzzled him. The answer came to him semi-immediately. He found his fingers scrawling it on the whiteboard almost the moment it came to his mind.
He stared at the writing in disbelief. He didn’t even have to double-check it. “Months of work,” he found himself uttering. “And here it is.”
His hands went to his mouth as he resisted the urge to scream. His teeth chattered.
“No,” he uttered. He shook his head. “What the fuck am I saying?” Alterations to the laws of physics? How had he gotten that from colors shooting through the sky? How had his brain landed on that idea? “I’m…smarter,” he realized. He took a picture of the whiteboard with his phone, then cleared the board and began scrawling a second set of equations on them. These equations had bothered him for the past eight months. They’d frustrated him so that he shelved them altogether once he got this new project.
The answer came to him before he had finished writing the original equations on the board.
If his chair hadn’t been behind him, he’d have collapsed onto the floor. His fingers dialed a number. “Doctor Weatherford?” he said. “No, I don’t give a shit what time it is where you’re at. You know that problem you were working on? For achieving fusion? Check this out.” He texted a picture of the whiteboard to his colleague and one-time mentor. Then he had to hold the phone at arms’ length because of the volume of the screaming on the other end.
Seven hours later, he stood in a lecture hall at Oxford in London, after hours, surrounded by at least a dozen of the world’s leading experts in various fields of science. “Gentlemen,” Raymond explained, “I think we can safely say that I’ve become a lot smarter. The question is, why?”
“Let me tell you something,” a gray-haired scientist said. “I sent this to a friend of mine, and he had to be hospitalized after he fainted and hit his head on his bathroom sink. This is…” he let out a gasp of a laugh in surprise, “a fucking magic trick.”
“Putting it mildly,” another colleague said. “Most of the people I talked to about this said it would require sci-fi level artificial intelligence to finish these.”
“You’ve single-handedly moved at least eight fields of science ahead fifty years, Doctor Weiss,” Doctor Weatherford said, “and that was just the stuff you showed me.”
“We’ve already seen rumors of people who can catch fire at will without burning,” Raymond explained, “and even though there’s no news media confirmation yet, there’s a viral video of a guy in India standing in front of a freight train and healing before the train even finished passing over him.” He brought up on the projector every video or image rumor he could find. The news agencies were staying uncharacteristically cautious about their reporting. “I don’t think this is religious bullshit or anything like that. I believe we’re witnessing selective alterations to the laws of physics.”
“This could be a mass hallucination,” Doctor Weatherford offered.
Raymond pointed at him. “You’re right!” he admitted. “I absolutely thought of that. But think about what that would mean.” He pointed at his palm for effect. “Let’s see. For years I seemed smart, but not smart enough for this,” he gestured at a stack of print-outs, “and then suddenly, one night, I produce work so revolutionary that it would easily put me in the same category as Newton and Einstein.”
Several scientists folded their arms. “Difficult to imagine,” one said, “but not impossible.”
“I’ll freely admit it could be bullshit,” Raymond said. “As a scientist I have to concede the possibility. But you, Charlie,” he gestured at his Canadian colleague, “you’re the optical expert. You tell me what those lights were caused by.”
Charlie pondered it. “I don’t know,” he admitted. “But you’re talking about magic.”
“It could be science from another universe,” Raymond said. “Or, other dimensional physics leaking into our universe. In any case, it behaves like science. You turn your car’s ignition key, you don’t cause a random effect each time. You get a specific result each time as long as the damn thing’s working right.”
“Ray,” A younger scientist said. They looked at him. He pointed a remote at the projector and changed it to a TV news station.
The news was reporting multiple videos of one of the guys that could cover their body in flame at will and not get hurt. The man in India with amazing healing appeared next, as he was attracting a religious congregation.
“If this is a mass hallucination,” Raymond said, “it’s the biggest, most dramatic mass hysteria in history.”
“What do you recommend?” Doctor Weatherford asked.
“Put any project aside that isn’t of the utmost importance,” Raymond said, “and start studying this.”
“Ok, that’s a good idea,” Doctor Weatherford replied. “I’ll get in touch with everyone I know.”
“Thank you,” Raymond said.
The next few weeks passed by in a whirlwind of activity. Several universities across the globe put him on jets and flew him to various corners where people kept developing superpowers. He fought the urge to scream out of either joy or terror at the thought of his discoveries. The patterns kept leading him in the direction of other dimensional existences, but even with his incredible new intellect, the truth lay just beyond his reach.
“Are you sure this is the way?” Alan said, holding the scanner up.
“I’m sure,” Raymond replied. “We can detect certain distortions that signal different abilities.” He pushed his way through dense rainforest, hacking away with the machete as his boots crunched down on foliage. “There’s a radio distortion zone in the middle of this jungle here, and we’re sure to find our guy there.”
“I just hope he’s friendly,” Alan replied.
The foliage gave way to an open area, where the ground had been cleared and leveled and a hut sat in the middle of a circular area a third of a kilometer in diameter. They stepped close to the edge of the dense jungle and saw that the bumpy floor became smooth and clear precisely at a point along the circle, almost as if cut by a razor. “Here goes nothing,” Raymond said, pushing a hand outward.
The air became a solid wall at the beginning of the circle. A transparent wall bristled with light near the point where his hand rested on the solid surface. “My God,” Alan swore, looking on.
“What is your business?” a heavily accented voice projected out of the forcefield in front of them.
“I just want to help understand the science behind the powers that are appearing,” Raymond replied.
The forcefield pushed inward. “Step in,” the voice said. Both scientists stepped into the indentation. The bubble expanded inward, pinching off the outer wall and encasing them in a bubble. “Come on.” They stepped forward, nervously taking slow steps, as the bubble followed as they walked closer to the hut. The wooden structure more closely resembled a house in a western American suburb than a jungle hideaway, but they came to the door and their bubble adjusted size to avoid damaging it.
Inside, the wooden floor remained clean as they realized they stood on more forcefields, these just millimeters thick, and they made their way to the center room. The well-lit, rustic interior belied the exotic location. They saw a man, white with a tan, lounging in a loveseat. He took a drink of his beer and gestured to the couch opposite him. “This is amazing,” Alan said. “I mean, how did you pull this off?”
“It’s not difficult,” The man said. “After all, I discovered I could make forcefields of any shape, and even make them impossibly sharp, so it really only took time.” He leaned forward. “Name’s Ricardo.”
“Ray Weiss,” Raymond said, shaking the man’s hand.
“So, you’re a scientist?” Ricardo asked. He gave a hint of a chuckle. “I wondered when the eggheads would come out to take a look under the hood.”
Raymond returned the laugh with a smile. “I figured,” he began, “you know, if we’re not all going crazy in the biggest hallucination ever, there’s got to be a rational explanation.”
“Hey, I get that,” Ricardo replied. He got up to get drinks from the kitchen. “I went out here to get away from the religious nuts that started showing up. The villagers leave me alone except to trade for supplies, so, I’m eager to get the word out there just like you are.” He returned and handed sodas to his guests. “I don’t have to give you any blood, do I?”
“No,” Alan said. “We’re just here to study the way you affect things around you.”
Raymond took his backpack off and removed from it a collection of various instruments and power cells. “I’m mostly interested in how these things that seemingly violate the known laws of physics interact with the known laws of physics.”
Ricardo looked at each device curiously. “Those don’t look like normal devices,” he commented.
“They’re not,” Raymond said. “I’ve had to modify them given theories we’ve developed recently that are not even all published yet. I’ve discovered there are types of interactions and particles that don’t correspond to what we’ve known before.”
Ricardo shook his head. “Dumb-person speak, please,” he joked.
Raymond thought a moment. “According to the Standard Model of particle physics,” he explained, “Prior to the Lights in the sky, we knew every particle that is relevant to most people’s daily lives.” He paused for effect. “Not every particle, mind you, just every one that matters to ninety-nine percent of people’s daily lives. Before, if you wanted to have a new particle, say, to cause spoons to bend from you thinking about it, it would be impossible, because if such a thing existed, we would have known about it.”
Ricardo thought about it. “So,” he ventured, “we’d have made it in some particle accelerator?”
“Exactly,” Raymond replied. “Now, though, they’re reporting new particles in particle accelerators, and some of them are radically different than anything we’ve seen before.”
“So,” Ricardo thought out loud, “What does that mean?”
“There appear to be things entering our universe that can selectively effect the known laws of physics.” He continued setting up his equipment.
“Good lord,” Ricardo replied.
“You don’t know the half of it,” Alan shot back. “We’ve been to eight different countries and seen about a dozen different patterns depending on the superpower itself. There’s repetition but often we find a new pattern.”
“Either way,” Raymond said, “if this is magic it behaves like a science. There are patterns to figure out.”
“Which means the religious nuts are wrong again,” Ricardo said.
“Once again, the religious nuts are wrong,” Raymond confirmed. He removed several devices, each one about the size of a toaster, and connected to a central large box. “If you could, I would appreciate you setting up a forcefield around yourself that I can attach these to.”
Ricardo surrounded himself in a bubble that had small projections which served as stoppers to prevent the devices from sliding off. Raymond placed each one in its specific spot and turned the large center box on, attaching a cable from it to a tablet.
Alan looked at the readings. “I’m not as up-to-date on this as you are,” he mused, “is this a new type?”
“Kind of,” Raymond said, giving the readings a cursory look. “We’re going to have to run this through the computer, but I think we’ve got aspects of multiple types here, as well as a little bit of new.”
Alan glanced back and forth between the tablet and Raymond. “So, we’ve got confirmation that there’s overlap?”
“Nothing’s confirmed until it can be replicated,” Raymond reminded, “but yeah.” He shook his head. “Wow, I mean, we’ve just barely got the equipment made to study this shit. I can’t wait until we can figure out a way to make this easier.”
“Doc, didn’t you want to record a conversation?” Alan asked.
“Oh, right!” Raymond exclaimed as the readings recorded to a portable hard drive. He got out the microphone and attached it to the camera Alan was setting up. “I hope you don’t mind.”
“Nope,” Ricardo said.
They had a chat about the lights in the sky. It turned out Ricardo had been living in Mexico, teaching English at the university when he’d discovered, one evening, that he couldn’t get out of his bedroom because an invisible wall was blocking him. After an hour of panicking, he discovered a kind of switch in his mind that could turn off the wall. A few days later he could make the walls into any shape he wanted, any size he wanted, and quickly he realized he had the power of force fields. The local community had taken to religious superstition, so he took the money he’d saved and moved to South America, deep into the jungle and used his talents to isolate himself. He’d found a nice living, using his powers to extract resources from the jungle and to trade with nearby cities.
“You don’t miss the urban life?” Alan asked.
“Sometimes,” Ricardo answered. “I just wanted to be left alone. It’s nice and peaceful out here. Did you know the force fields stay up when I’m asleep?” He reclined in his seat. “I’ve got this whole place in a dome, a third of a kilometer from end to end. So long as I’m careful to let the air circulate, I’m perfectly safe. There’s even one on the ground to keep the bugs out. It’s nice out here.”
“And if you go exploring the jungle,” Raymond extrapolated, “you can take a forcefield with you.”
Ricardo pointed. “That’s true.” He took a drink.
Alan checked his watch. “Hey, Doc? We have to get going,” he reminded. “If we’re going to make it to camp before night fall.”
Raymond smiled and extended his hand. “It was a pleasure,” he said.
“Pleasure,” Ricardo said, shaking it. “Hey, if you want, I can give you an easy way out of the jungle. Which way did you come from?”
“From the northeast…” Raymond began.
“Got it now,” Ricardo said, focusing. He saw the looks on their faces. “I can see and hear with my force fields as light and sound pass through them, if I don’t filter it out, that is.”
Alan almost gasped. “Amazing.”
Raymond thought about it. “So, that’s why you weren’t afraid of us?” he thought out loud. “You saw us coming?”
“From quite a ways away,” Ricardo said.
“See you,” Alan said, amazed.
They headed for the exit, and saw that, outside, there was a force field in the shape of a staircase leading up above the jungle canopy. It connected to a transparent covered walkway leading all the way back to their camp. “You seeing this?” Raymond said.
“Still working on believing,” Alan replied.
After almost an hour of walking, they were back at camp. The walkway and staircase down vanished as soon as they set foot on firm ground. The flat grass that marked the area just before the beginning of the jungle and the edge of the village encampment gave them a sense of relief. Their local guide ran up to them. “Gentlemen!” he shouted. “There’s an American agent looking for you!”
Raymond and Alan shared a glance. “An agent? What kind?” Raymond asked.
“Never mind that,” Sam said, power walking towards them. “I’ve come here as quickly as I can. I heard about you. You’re the scientist making waves by trying to figure this stuff out?”
Raymond looked the grizzled old man up and down. The white, perfectly combed hair contradicted the uneven scars time and years of painful detective work had left on his face. He wore a dress shirt and khakis, exactly the wrong type of clothing to wear in this environment. He really had come straight here from somewhere. Everything from his posture to his body language told of a short fuse. “I am,” Raymond said.
“Sam Louis,” Sam said, “FBI. My friend and subordinate is working on a case involving an ever-expanding collection of disjointed chaos.” He took a breath. “Okay, here’s my deal: you’re going to come with me, help us deal with a massive problem, help some powered allies of ours, and get paid for doing it.” He saw a nervous look on the scientist’s subordinate’s face. “And we won’t even confiscate your work. Look, I’ll explain everything in the car.”
“Where are we going?” Raymond asked.
“We’re taking a forty-five-minute drive to the airport and catching a flight to Washington D.C.,” he explained. “You’re in on the ground floor of the biggest event of yours, or possibly, anyone’s life.”