By the time Hood realized what was happening, his car door had already been torn off and he was flying several feet through the air. He only saw the fleshy blur of an enraged Hercules.
“This violates so many rules, you *!(& pricks!” Hood said, as he fell into a roll on his own front yard.
Jon shrugged. “Hercules is currently unaffiliated. And he’s a citizen of an extradimensional realm that doesn’t have good relations with the United Nations.”
“No one would want to do the paperwork,” Hercules agreed, while he rushed over and caught Hood before he could resist. Holding Hood up by both arms, Hercules turned him around to face Jon.
“You were working with the Silver Scorpions,” Jon said, matter-of-factly.
“Oh, come on, Jon. This is beneath you.”
“No, I’d say getting someone kidnapped is beneath you,” Jon replied, carefully betraying no emotion.
Hood looked thoughtful, and for a moment Jon thought he would talk. Then, suddenly, Hood swung his legs up and put Hercules in a chokehold. Soon Hercules fell, shaking the ground. However, Jon had already activated his gem, which made the chaos of the moment looking just like a slow ballet. Calmly, he pulled out an innocuous golden object, which looked like a small spear. He pointed it at Jon and fired. Even if he wasn’t distracted by Hercules, Hood, even with all of his martial arts training, wouldn’t have had much time to react.
Suddenly Hood looked around. Strange ultraviolet shadows slid and floated around him. The sky was filled with shimmering lights, giving the familiar landscape of his own house the appearance of an alien world. An odd creature, resembling a cross between a manta ray and a giant butterfly, flew past him, making a bizarre gurgling sound as it went.
“What the hell did you do?!” Hood shouted.
Jon shrugged. “I just put you slightly out of sync with our normal dimensional frequency. Kind of nifty. It was in the Final Guard’s trophy room. I learned it was the preferred weapon of one of their regulars from the ‘80s, Professor Paradox.”
Hood began to violate his first and most important rule by letting himself feel panic. “Has getting laid by that supercriminal totally turned you evil? You could kill me.”
“Oh, calm down. You’re not so out of sync anything here can hurt you. Physically, anyway.”
“When they find out…”
“They already know. Do you really think the Technocrat would let me take even a stapler out of the confiscated weapons room without a reason? I snitched on you the first chance I got.”
“There’s nothing to snitch!” The Hood screamed defiantly. But then, sheepishly he added, “Nothing I meant to happen, anyway.”
Something in his voice made Jon’s resolve soften, just a little. “Look, if you were ever my friend…if you get in trouble, I’ll talk to them. I promise. Just tell me what happened.”
“They contacted me. Before you ask, I know it had to have been a burner phone,” Hood shook his head. “They flattered me, talked about how unfair it was that the guy who got me hooked again was let go just because he was the right guy for one job. But I swear, on the years we were on the Rooks together, I didn’t know they were going to kidnap him. They just said they had evidence he was getting the Vandals back together, was plotting something big. They just needed someone to help keep a watch over him. They even showed me the proof, or what I thought was the proof, but now…” Hood shook his head.
“I see”, Jon said flatly, as he pressed a button on the device again, causing the strange lights and beings to vanish and returning them to the front yard of an isolated rural house out in northern California.
“What now?” Hood said, more to himself than Jon.
Hercules was in a pose signaling that he would attack again, but Jon stopped him by holding up his hand. “Now if you want a chance of not getting suspended or worse, you’re going to give us what information you have, and then we’re going to wherever they’re keeping Amar.”
At that very moment, Amar was hooked up to an inclined hospital bed. His head was shaven and wrapped in sterile white bandages. Wires of green and blue and purple colors ran from glowing connectors strapped to his skull to a large terminal that buzzed contently.
Grant Devas looked bored as he observed Amar and the machine. His assistant Tonya stood beside him, tapping detailed notes on a tablet that she carefully but not obviously kept from the anxious eyes of Jeremy Sanchez. Just like he was a high schooler again giving a class presentation, he shuffled his feet nervously. “What do you think?”
“Of what you’re trying to do here, I find the potential intriguing,” Devas replied. “Of my providing financial backing, I will have to consider the proposal carefully.”
“If it’s the legality you’re worried about, my lawyers already have arguments. I mean, he’s not just a criminal, he’s not even…”
Devas shook his head. “I’m not too concerned about that, especially if we’re talking about U.S. law. I’m talking about potential, Mr. Sanchez. Potential.”
The tremble in his voice was the only suggestion of anger. “What greater potential could there be than using telepathy to literally reprogram the minds of criminals? Using the living mind of a criminal telepath to do it no less?”
Mr. Devas chuckled, an unnatural sound. “You may be right, Mr. Sanchez.”
The talks continued. Mr. Devas preoccupied his mind with the question of whether Sanchez allowed his desperation to show because he could not help it or because he genuinely thought it would sway him. In any case, he had already decided not to fund his little plan for a criminal-free paradise. His only job now was to make Sanchez believe it was possible he would agree, while keeping Sanchez eager enough to agree to share some of the technology.
“What do you think, Tonya?” he asked as the limo pulled onto the interstate, on its way back to the airplane.
“For lack of a more elegant and scientific term, I would say Jeremy Sanchez is completely deranged, and you have been stringing him along.”
Mr. Devas smiled, but only internally. He could not let Tonya see how much her crude bluntness amused him. “Quite right. Also, our people just told me he’s burned through the inheritance and the company’s resources. Within a year, his entire operation will be running on fumes, at best. I presume you know what to do?”
“I’m already thinking up the best way to hint to him that the only thing keeping us from agreeing is the fact that our tech team wants to look at his schematics,” she said.
“I did mean what I said about potential. His obsession with law and order and his personal vendetta against the telepath have completely blinded him. Imagine hacking not just several minds, but the entire collective unconsciousness of humanity…” He smiled, looking out at the thick rain drops that hammered away at the window of the limo. “Just imagine…”
Back inside the former Galaxy Knight’s compound and inside Amar’s mind, he – or rather the psychic representation of himself – laid on top of a barren mountaintop. The shadow of an ancient monastery whose towers scratched impotently at the sky, fell over him. He was a child of four years again.
A voice spoke, coming from nowhere and everywhere. “Poor Amar. Punished over and over for the same crime.”
“Who are you?” he said. In this dream, although he had the body of a child, he spoke with the voice of an adult.
“You just managed to reconstitute your ego,” the voice said. “Don’t undo all your hard work by overtaxing yourself.”
Amar looked around, his eyes eventually fixing themselves on the baked brick walls of the monastery. This is where they took him, crying and pleading for his mother, leaving him to be trained by the priests of Enki in the arts of truth-reading.
“The earliest, most primal memories are the only safe place for now,” the voice said. He realized this was also his voice.
His child self tried to stand, only to crumble into the dirt. No, this isn’t reality. This is my mind, he gently reminded himself. He willed the source of the voice to him. In an instant, the monastery was gone. Instead, seated on a throne with his legs thrown over the armrest, was himself. Only he was dressed in his own costume as the Exile except it was more ragged somehow.
The figure who was him smiled down on him. “Oh, good. I was wondering when you would get around to asserting yourself a little.”