‘White room’ continued…
The derailing train passes through the scene entirely. Reggie, responding to “last man standing,” continues to fight against the rest of the group. However, the little girl in pigtails and a prissy dress maintains her innocent, longing look at Reggie in the hope that he would help her find her teddy bear named Theodore. Unlike Thaddeus who had offered his help to the little girl at his own demise, Reggie takes a different approach and attacks both the girl and Steve with a double-hand attack. He misses the girl and only merely harms Steve.
Thaddeus, standing at the brink of what appears to be a massive and deep landfill that stretched to the horizon, decides to run back into the fray of activity to the recently-conscious and breathing body of Matthew, who lay on the elevated train track.
Reggie attacks again, in the same way he did just prior and stuns Steve, but minimally.
Matthew gets up from is prone and dangerous location. With great anticipated vengeance, Matthew attempts to pick Reggie up telekinetically by the head with enough force from just barely crushing the skull, but fails, resulting in a mere fluff of air to pass by.
Steve responds to Reggie’s incredulity and simply walks up and knocks him out in one swing.
The little girl didn’t like being electrocuted and begins transforming into a monstrosity. In what could have been a delayed attempt at saving Reggie from becoming a corpse, Steve timidly explains, “I know where your teddy bear is at; I can show you.” In a brief pause of acknowledgement and consideration the little girl reverts back to her original unassuming figure and batting her long eye lashes with unfeigned gentility walks up to Steve. With her arms twisting down into her clasped palms she asks “You know where Theodore is?”
“Yes I do,” Steve replies with confidence and a little conceit thinking that he might have just saved Reggie from a premature beheading. “Oh!” the little girl replied with dainty rapture and relief, “Let’s get there!” Playing the part well and with due caution, Steve takes the little girl by the hand as they skip together toward Theodore and the raging field fire.
In fear of the little girl, Thaddeus tries to hide nonchalantly behind Matthew, recovering from having been recently thrown several yards, as she and her new chivalrous Beast-Prince prance by.
Suddenly, the world around them is no longer a dry corn field with a raging field fire and Steve is no longer holding hands with the little girl. Instead they find themselves to be in a dry desert with wild thistles, thorn bushes where the fire was located, and Steve embracing a cactus of similar proportion to the girl. “Ow,” he says in serious deadpan, “This is one messed up room.”
Recovering more quickly than the rest from the sedative which enabled them to undertake this adventure, because of his high metabolism, Steve has a momentary flash back: Dr. Dhalsim injecting him with some sort of serum and the doctor didn’t have any irises or pupils. Having lost his short term memory due to the sedative, Steve tries to put the puzzle together and suspects that Dr. Dhaslim may not be the advocate he presumes to be.
Coming to, and despite the fact that things are changing around them, Reggie maintains his personal grudge against Steve for knocking him out, and delivers a full force attack. “I’m going to chuck a cactus at you, just so you know!” Steve threatens before he becomes slightly dazed by the electrical stun. Steve responds with a beleaguered growl at Reggie.
Matthew then counters Reggie with a telekinetic grab and while he does it, he notices a gleaming silhouette of ancient ruins in the background. Due to Reggie’s defensive preparations, Matthew was unable to mentally grapple any part of him.
Thaddeus takes another moment to recover… and then sees a camera appear right in front him. Curiosity impels him to pick it up.
Again, Steve recalls another memory: Dr. Dhalsim shaving off patches from Steve’s chest hair. He turns around and yells loud enough for everyone to hear, “Stop! Something is not right about all this. Like, we need to get this figured out before we end up killing each other. There’s…. You guys need to stop because there’s something here that’s not right! I’m remembering some stuff that I don’t exactly like.” With a resolved and justified pacifism, Steve begins to casually walk back toward the rest of the group.
A phone booth close by, of which none of the crew members were aware, begins to ring, and ring incessantly. Reggie ignores Steve’s warning and resumes his previous disposition by attacking Steve once more. “Did you not hear what I just said?!” Steve blared. “Stop, or I’m going to come and kill you!”
Thaddeus views the saved images on the digital SLR that he picked up and sees first person images, as if they were from his own eyes. The images are much like the memories Steve recalled. He considers that the phone is still ringing but also that its right next to Reggie, who seems to be attacking everyone without hesitation. With super-speed, Thaddeus makes a move to get into the phone booth to answer the phone without being seen by Reggie.
“We were told to battle.” Reggie yells at Steve. “We were told to %&#@! battle. We were told to fight! Last man standing, so go down already!”
“There’s more to this than you know!” replied Steve, “and if you hit me again I’m going to kill you!”
“Then go down!” Reggie concludes with a slight maniacal giggle.
Thaddeus makes it to the phone and answers it. Suddenly, everything goes completely black and everyone experiences intense cranial pains of massive, crippling migranes, dropping them all to the ground. Things begin to flicker and everyone experiences a shutter of random images for a grueling moment, which ends just before inducing epilepsy. Everything becomes white again, much like it was at the onset of their experience here. They hear the voice of Dr. Dhalsim in their minds or through some intercom system “This is Dr. Dhalsim some
- pening to the syst - ority - please I need you - dat - will try to —-” As they listen through the static breakup for anything else with which they might piece together the information, a startling and obnoxious sound breaks the dreadful silence.
“Cock-a-doodle-doo!” But all they see is each other in a white empty void. “I think we’re asleep,” Thaddeus prompts hoping to shine light on the odd circumstances. “Or some kind of simulation-type-thing. We’re not actually here…”
Reggie offers his intelligent reply, “Hrmm.”
After a pause of contemplation, a figure flies into view with another loud crow to usher in his entrance. The figure is of a man, slightly handsome, with a gallant, bouffant mohawk resembling a rooster’s shapely comb. The man isn’t very tall with trim pants and a tight, plane t-shirt. He greets the crew staring blankly at him. “Hey queers! Hahaha!” He says ending with the kind of loud laugh that make you cringe with fierce resentment and boiling rage. “What are you? Dr. Dhalsim’s new playthings? Hahaha!”
Again, with his insufferable, frat-boy laugh, the man pulls out an incredibly large mallet from nowhere as if he were a Looney Toon and throws it at Steve, hitting him square in the solar plexus but with no injury. “Huh, okay,” the figure concludes as if accepting a challenge.
“Who is this guy?” Steve says somewhat to himself.
The man then flies past Matthew and slaps him in the face before Matthew has even a thought of defending himself and almost getting knocked out in the process.
Maintaining a defensive position, Reggie looks to Steve for some explanation. “The #$*& dude! Pardon me… what’s going on!?”
“There’s something bigger going on here, we need to stop attacking each other and figure this out because something about this room isn’t right,” answers Steve.
Thaddeus chimes in with “Pretty sure this room isn’t real.”
“Wow. Perceptive,” Matthew groans.
“No I mean that none of it’s real.” Thaddeus reiterates, trying to explain in better detail.
“How perceptive,” Matthew repeats with the same mocking sarcasm and a little more enunciation.
“I think we all new this,” Reggie explains, attempting to say the same thing to Thaddeus that Matthew was, except with a little more tact.
“We walked into the room…” Matthew said, instigating some sort of response.
“Well, we started changing shapes, honestly, and it became less uh…” Reggie trailed off trying to find the right words.
Not noticing due to their deep conversation, out of the blue, the crew realizes that their new visitor is in a high-speed school bus heading directly at the both Steve and Thaddeus. Thaddeus quickly skirmishes out of the way.
Once again they hear the voice of Dr. Dhalsim by some unknown means saying “the system has been hijacked. You are not where you are. You are in a simulation. You are in my laboratory with —”
“Shut up old man!” The cocky figure interrupts almost as if he was able to put the doctor on mute. “Hahaha!”
Reggie charges toward Steve with the purpose of electrocuting the bus by his superpowers but his blast just misses his target.
Matthew telekinetically grabs the busdriver’s head to pull him out of the bus and upon the successful grab, the bus disappears. The figure hovers in the air momentarily as Matthew maintains his grasp. All of the sudden, Matthew finds himself falling from the seat of a dunktank where he was just standing and into a small pool of water, which breaks his concentration. “Hahaha!” The smug man laughed his arrogant laugh again and crows like the rooster.
“This guys a douche bag,” Steve says, again sort of to himself. “What do you want?”
“That’s a good question. I want a strawberry milkshake! Hahaha!” the guy replied with asinine wit. “You need a shower.”
With complete loss of what to do, Thaddeus stands dumbfounded whereas Reggie, being a man of impulse, decided to attack the man again, and that with a pretty significant hit. “Hahaha! That tickled,” the man replied just before he directs a thunderbolt of the heavenlies where Reggie stood, creating a small and smoldering crater of cinder in the ground. Reggie felt so invigorated by the electric shock that he may as well have drank five 5-hour energy drinks in quick succession, save the fact that he steamed with smoke. Then the man slapped Steve in the face.
In fear of being slapped like the rest of the crew, Thaddeus runs away.
Reggie attempts to shock his actual self, the one which resides in Dr. Dhalsim’s laboratory, in the hope to disrupt whatever power might be holding them hostage within this simulation or at least the program. Although he successfully shocked himself, his goal was unaccomplished.
Meanwhile, the conceited man picks up a shovel and leaves in alone in such a way where it stands erect all alone. As a defensive act, Matthew desolidifies, and Thaddeus takes a moment to regain his loss of physical power, and Reggie prepares to dodge anything that might come against him.
Also with a loss of what to do, Steve performs his most instinctual act and moves to swing at the man, figuring that a once tried and failed attempt at diplomacy with the man leaves no other option. Steve misses.
Reggie attacks the “douche bag” again with an electric blast resulting in a common response. “That tickled again. Hahaha! What ARE you guys? Dr. Dhalsim’s playmates? Huh?”
“You already said that,” Steve points out.
“This is how you do it,” purports the man to Steve like a boxing coach as his right fist grows five times bigger and swings at Steve with a loud BOOF! Steve flies high into the air, but then stays there, a few meters above everyone.
Picking up on the fact that this guy is able to manipulate everything, Thaddeus concentrates in order to grow himself, unsure of whether it will work. Remarkably, Thaddeus manages to increase his own size to a colossal scale. Considering the possibilities, Thaddeus then takes one step and stomps on the man with super-speed while successfully missing everyone else. Thaddeus pounded the man facedown into the ground.
Reggie caught on and tried to recreate the same thunderbolt attack the man did to him and with almost identical precision in sound, shape, and effect, the man now lay in his own small, steaming crater of embers.
Matthew yells over to Steve, “Hey big man, don’t freak out,” leaving it at that.
“That’s not funny,” the man pouted with his once fluffy mohawk mangled and disfigured. “That’s not fair!” The man wills Steve into Ronald McDonald in order to get a real laugh, but picking up on the power-play and the battle of egos at hand, Steve wills himself back. Then, figuring he can do pretty much whatever the heck he wants to, Steve attempts to lunge himself several meters at the man. In addition, Matthew uses his powers to propel Steve. “Don’t freak out. Don’t freak out!”
Steve literally flies several meters fist first, hitting the man so hard that the man flew equal distance the other way like a Newton’s Cradle made out of bodies and fists. Except this Newton Cradle doesn’t have a returning force. Instead, both men landed face down into the ground.
Thaddeus figures that since he can manipulate himself, and the cocky figure can manipulate other people, he’s going to do the same and attempt to rip the man halfway down the middle, but due to doubt and inexperience, Thaddeus’ will wasn’t strong enough to overcome the other man’s will.
With the same notion, Reggie tries to roll the man into a human reefer, but also fails.
The man then disappears and as far as the rest can tell, they are the only ones present. Little did they know, the man teleported himself inside the colossal Thaddeus in the attempt to disrupt internal organs. Thinking then that there is no more threat, Thaddeus returns to his normal size. The man inside Thaddeus squirms around in Thaddeus’ skin trying to get out of the tight sack of flesh in a comical amorphous oddity.
Tired of the games, Reggie attempts to will himself out of the simulation, but fails. Matthew, previously having a good idea in dealing with this person now becomes a little daunted with the strangeness of circumstances. Completely freaked out and paralyzed with a nightmarish occurrence, and hearing his undesired guest muffling in angst from within, Thaddeus stands completely overcome. The man bursts through Thaddeus’ skin, leaving Thaddeus looking much like a T-800 Terminator after going through a semi wreck. The man slaps Steve again in the face. “Hahaha! Nice try. I’m in control loser. Hahaha!” said the man, ending with another crow.
Becoming rather peeved, Thaddeus makes another attempt at destroying the man with his willpower, but this time by shredding the man into pieces instead of one rip down the middle. Thaddeus fails again.
The guy then flies up to Steve, who is still face-planted in the ground from his super-human leap, and drums on Steve’s behind. “Hahaha!”
Matthew tries to telekinetically take the guy’s hand and shove it down the guy’s throat. Matthew does this successfully, with the guy’s hand detached from his wrist. “Ha ha!” Matthew torts, mocking the guy’s annoying laugh.
With his third and last attempt, Thaddeus strains his willpower to rip the guy in half and manages to succeed, with half of a hand in each half of the mouth. The man wills himself back to normal save his dislocated hand, and like Thing from Addams Family, it started crawling toward Matthew.
Steve gets back up and makes himself colossal with the attempt to intimidate this guy while Reggie wills the guy away. With an inverse effect, Reggie disappears but still able to experience everything from a third person view. Thaddeus attempts to will the man into an inanimate object, namely, a fence post.
Reggie wakes up and finds himself inside a reclining pod with a clear encasement above him. Dr. Dhalsim notices Reggie’s consciousness and tries to explain the scenario.
“The person you are dealing with, his name is Gallus. He used to be an intern here a few months ago. He is a genius and technophile. With his seemingly endless wealth which he inherited, he must have replicated this machine and perhaps improved on it. Somehow he has entered into our programming and hijacked the system. There is little that I can do from this end. You must go back and defeat him together and the only way to defeat this egotistical narcissus is to make him give up somehow and leave. He doesn’t like to lose and he loves to be the center of attention.”
Upon returning back into the collective cognitive simulation Reggie wills the rest of the crew to hear his thoughts internally “Ok, guys. Cliff note version here: Dhalsim says this dude was an intern, said he’s hijacked the system and that he’s an egoist. And highly suggestive Dhalsim was that we work together and F him up, more or less. Want to discourage him. Dhalsim said he doesn’t like to lose anything either. That’s about it.”
Gallus wills Steve’s gi to disappear resulting in a nude monster, in the hope of embarrassing him. Meanwhile, Thaddeus, thinking that Gallus literally doesn’t like to lose items, attempts to incept a thought into Gallus that he has locked away his keys or forgot where he put them, but the attempt fails.
Reggie wills the rest another shared thought: “Working together, you guys wanna try and hold him, keep him trapped?”
“Hey you know that I’m like really big right now and I can just pick him up, right?” asks Steve with the same silent thought sharing.
“It’s the mind, it’s all with the mind,” Matthew challenges.
“Well, you hold him still,” said Steve.
“It’s all with the mind, though,” Matthew maintains.
Breaking up the cycle, Reggie chimes in with a new thought. “Or we could ignore the crap out of him. An egoist who’s being ignored is going to be awfully discouraged quickly.”
“I was just going to try and lower his intelligence and make him retarted,” offers Matthew, “So that he can’t utilize his abilites.”
“See, that’s where my idea of turning him into a fence post…” Thaddeus said before being interrupted by Steve.
“I like Reggie’s idea. We just have to go about our business. Like if we all just —”
“Ignore him!” said Matthew, helping Steve finish.
“If we all just ignore him,” Steve said, ignoring Matthew, “Maybe we all just talk to each other and just leave him.”
“Sounds good.” Matthew concludes the mental conversation and speaks out, “Hey, anybody up for McDonalds, ‘cuz I crave McDonalds.” With that, out of his own mind and willpower, Matthew creates before them a McDonalds SuperCenter, complete with playgrounds and other high-functioning amenities such as self-flushing toilets and free wi-fi. In competitive fashion, Gallus transforms the McDonalds SuperCenter into Bowser’s Castle. Thaddeus pays no mind and keeps walking towards it as if it were nothing out of the ordinary.
In order to deprive Gallus of any attention, Steve starts a casual conversation with Reggie while still a colossal beast “Hey. So, how are things going? How’s your day?”
“Swell, how’s your day going?” replied Reggie with feigned cheeriness and a failed attempt at bringing Steve back down to normal size.
Gallus shrinks to a miniscule size and Thaddeus continues to walk into Bowser’s Castle before Reggie succeeds in scaling Steve down to normal proportions.
“Oh, my McDonalds. Oh well,” Matthew sighs and then joins Steve and Reggie with casual conversation. The three suddenly hear the weak E flat key of a mosquito. Reggie laughs inside, confident in the fact that he is a giant bug zapper. Gallus lands softly on the back of Reggie’s neck but for the greater good Reggie resists to do what he would normally do.
“So how ‘bout that McDonalds?” Matthew offers.
“I think we should just talk about how kind of lame all this is,” Steve declares openly.
“This is lame. Yeah, like who turns into a fly?” said Matthew.
“This whole thing, again, you know, I’ve seen, you know, I’ve seen a lot worse. I’ve seen, you know, guys who are smarter than him and you know.” Steve putters out.
“Wait, I gotta ask a question here,” said Matthew changing the subject. “Why are you so furry?”
“Uh, it’s kind of a long story,” Steve shares.
“Hey, I have all day,” Matthew points out.
“So, you know, I wasn’t always like this, believe it or not.”
“I truly want to know, though.”
Thaddeus continues to walk toward the no-longer-McDonalds very casually.
“Dumb, huh? Have you noticed the Bowser’s Castle?” asked Reggie. Overcome by his impulses, Reggie zaps Gallus like a bug, almost scorching Gallus through and through. Gallus flakes off Reggie’s neck like a small carbon leaf drifting from a campfire. “Wait, what were you guys talking about?”
“Oh, he was just asking me about my fur. You know, the raving story.”
“You are quite furry,” Reggie concludes.
“I am, you know. Most people don’t act to well to it but, hey, I do what I can.”
“I think it fits you well,” Matthew shares.
Agreeing with him, Reggie says, “It does. It’s a nice grey-black color. The color of a panther actually?” Steve and Matthew hum in a trail of affirmations and pronouncements agreeing with Reggie’s epiphany.
Gallus shows up and his body is covered in golden hair, much similar to the proportion of Steve’s fur, and says, “Hey guys, check out my hair!” as he models off his mane and rooster-like mohawk. “My hair is pretty cool right?”
As a group, the rest continue to ignore Gallus. “So do you need to use anything in your hair?” Reggie continues.
“The same thing you guys do, I mean, I shampoo it, try to keep it clean.”
“How much does shampoo cost?” asks Matthew.
“I have to use the pet shampoo.” Steve confesses.
“Hey check out my hair!” Gallus says trying to fit in.
“I’m like you guys in a lot of ways, you know,” said Steve.
“What color is your skin underneath?” Matthew asked.
“We can shave you,” Reggie offers.
“Well I don’t know —”
“Guys, check out my hair!” said Gallus, still trying to be included. “Don’t you think its cool hair?”
Steve continues, “I don’t know if that’s gonna happen, but um, is there anything else you guys wanna know about me? We never had chances to sit down and talk to each other, you know.”
“My, what big hands you have,” marvels Matthew.
“You know what they say about guys with big hands and big feet, eh?”
“So, you do realize you’re [still] naked, right?” Reggie prompts.
The group’s rather juvenile conversation successfully discourages Gallus enough to persuade him to put his attention elsewhere. “This is dumb!” he said. “You guys aren’t fun.” With an exasperated sigh, he disappears and everything around them returns to just before the phone call. Realizing the circumstances might cause Reggie to return to his previous engagement of attacking everyone, Matthew attempts to telekinetically grapple Reggie before anything else happens.
Everyone then slowly awakes from the collective experience and each find themselves inside a capsule in a reclined position, with several cords and wires attached to their bodies, completely in the nude. Nothing much different for Steve who somehow happens to be naked every once in a while for odd reasons. Each capsule’s clear, domed lid depresses air and unlocks, opening slowly on mechanical, hydraulic hinges.
Dr. Dhalsim is noticeably frantic about the laboratory room, speaking with the psychologist-textbook-looking gentleman with a beige turtleneck who Reggie witnessed speaking with the MIB during their first visit to Maxwell. A few lab workers are working about the room, monitoring and performing menial tasks apparently avoiding the frustrated venting of Dr. Dhalsim. As the four dismount from their pods, they begin to recall memories of entering this room, having bathed, receiving physicals, and even being injected with drugs for the procedure which both enabled them to be induced into the collective simulated experience and temporarily removed their short-term memory.
One of the female lab workers puts a clipboard back near Matthew’s pod station and say “hi,” causing Matthew to desolidify in an awkward poof.
“Dhalsim, where are my clothes and what the F?” says Reggie getting to the point.
“Oh, excuse me!” Dr. Dhalsim responds in his Malayalani accent, having forgotten that they were there. “I do not know what is going on! I need to go meditate. This is not right! This machine is supposed to be completely secure from any type of hack. Nobody should even know it exists!” Looking to the man in the turtleneck, Dr. Dhalsim throws his hands up in the air and spouts, “You deal with this! I need to go relax!”
“Hello, my name is Stewart,” the gentleman says to the naked crew unabashed with a foppish accent of the Queen’s English. “It appears to me that the gentleman you experienced has, well, outsmarted me. I designed this system and I didn’t know it was foolproof. But… oh, rather…”
“You thought it was foolproof but you found out that it’s not,” says Steve, assisting the man.
“Right, right. So I have a lot of work ahead of me.”
“Geesh, proper British overhere,” Matthew remarks.
“Sorry, my language files are being refurbished and downloaded. Sorry.”
“Is this guy a robot?” asks Thaddeus.
“Are you speaking to me in the third person?” Stewart asks.
“I’m speaking to people other than you,” Thaddeus defends.
“I’m right here,” said Stewart, challenging the social dysfunction.
“Robotsrah, uh umm…” said Matthew attempting to collect his wit. “Obotsray estionquay?
Being the direct one, Reggie jumps in. “Mr. Wonder, are you a robot?”
“Mr. who?” Stewart questions.
“I am a robot.”
“I am a self programming machine and I wear this human suit of armor for my disguise.”
“Who programmed you?” Steve queries.
“I don’t know.”
“Did he just say he was self-programmed?” asked Thaddeus, again, ignoring the elephant in the room.
Despite being address in the third person, Stewart answers, “Self-programming,” emphasizing the last syllable.
“There’s gotta be some sort of core program in order for it to build off of,” adds Steve.
“It’s a learning system. This is simple enough, c’mon,” says Reggie.
“Well, you don’t have to entertain me, I have a lot of work ahead me. Dr. Dhalsim is incredibly frustrated.”
“So where is this guy, this guy that outsmarted you?” asks Matthew, trying to gather information before he loses the opportunity.
“The only information I have is that he recently acquired a significant inheritance from a dead relative. He was an intern here two months ago. Found it a bore. Decided to do his own thing and apparently he’s made a duplicate of my system. Yet, he’s got the power somehow to hijack mine which means I have a lot of defenses to create. He calls himself Gallus.”
“Gay-lus is what I think he is,” retorts Matthew.
“Ah, very clever, very clever! Well,” Stewarts prompts, “I suggest you get some clothes on and relax or recover, as it were.” The men all fall silent, awkwardly remembering. “Alright then,” Stewart offers another prompt.
“Is there any clothes to be put on?” Thaddeus asks.
“Ah,” Stewart says, not really sure since he is merely in charge of the IT and had nothing to do with the lab testing previously undertaken.
“That would be helpful for putting clothes on,” Thaddeus says making a confident point.
“Indeed,” buttresses Reggie.
Stewart directs them to their clothes hung up next to their corresponding pods and lacking the emotions a normal human would have in making the men feel silly to ask for what is right before them, Stewart hands each man their vestments which have all been washed, pressed, and folded with precision.
“Do you know how long it will take for me to get those creases back,” Reggie sighs.
“You washed my lucky jersey!” exclaims Thaddeus in horror.
Meanwhile, Dr. Dhalsim sits in solemn silence in an adjacent lounge, sipping from a steaming mug. Reggie makes his way there and Thaddeus follows, thinking that he could desperately use some coffee after the disturbing experience of someone inside of him.
“What’s up, what’s going on?” Reggie asks the doctor while Thaddeus pours himself a cup of hot coffee. “How’s about how the train video went?”
“Video?” Dr. Dhalsim softly asks. “That is not a bad idea,” he says with another sip from the mug he holds just an inch from his slouched head.
Matthew, entering the room asks, “What was that? Like, what was that whole thing about?”
“What whole thing?” questions the doctor.
“Like that whole room. The whole us being wired up.”
“You were in a room, huh? Dat is very interesting. You guys were in a collective experience designed to test your physiological responses to stress and other stimuli. It is meant to train you on your acute physical and psychological abilities, especially your animal insticts. We had to put you through a simulation in order to correctly calculate some of your physical and physiological conditions.”
“So what did you calculate?” Matthew continues.
“Oh gosh. Well sir, you are deathly allergic to cats,” he says shuffling through an unsorted pile of papers.
“No I’m not,” laughs Matthew.
“Yes you are,” insists the doctor.
“No I’m not.”
“Sir, my calculations say you are deathly allergic to cats.”
“Are you talking about the female gender in a derogatory way, ‘cuz…”
“No!” says the doctor, getting heated. “I’m saying you have an allergy that can kill you.”
“I really don’t!” Matthew insists with more laughter. “I have cats!”
“Huh,” concludes the doctor as he rubs his bald scalp. “Wait, what is your name? Oh, you are right. I am mixing you guys up. You have high cholesterol.” Then addressing Thaddeus, “You’re allergic to cats.”
“I am!?” Thaddeus pouts, barely swallowing his most recent sip of coffee.
“Yes,” the doctor resolves, glad to have discovered the discrepancy.
“That’s pretty good to know,” marvels Thaddeus as he thinks of the possibilities had he never found out.
Meanwhile, Steve snoops around the lab and while nobody is looking, snags a vile of the sedative used to induce them into the previous procedures.
“Oh wait, I’m mixing you up again. He has high cholesterol,” the doctor says pointing at Steve through the partition window into the lab and thumbing through more papers. “You suffer from insomnia.”
“Ok.” Matthew says, as if accepting his fate.
“And you have a stigmatism.”
“I do have a stigmatism,” laughs Reggie, already aware of the fact and wonder if the past two hours of testing was completely worth it all. Suddenly Maxwell and the attractive Asian female walk into the lounge looking significantly distraught. Maxwell walks directly to Dr. Dhalism, takes a look at the other men in the room in hesitation, and then looks as if to resolve sharing what he came to share in front of everyone anyway. “The Orbital Operation is destroyed.”
Dr. Dhalsim slowly mumbles the same words back to himself.
“Is my allergies only to like house cats or large felines?” Thaddeus interrupts the moment.
“The orbital what?” asks Reggie, trying to get back on track.
As if his day hasn’t gone bad enough, Dr. Dhalsim looks to Maxwell with weakness and sighs “What?”
“We lost communication three days ago. We finally just heard contact and four are dead; the last one we don’t know,” explains Maxwell. Dr. Dhalsim sighs, shakes his head, and sips from his mug, zoning out.
“What is going on? What is all this?” said Matthew demanding an explanation.
“Like Orbital —” Thaddeus begins to ask Matthew.
“Everything! What is all this!?” Matthew insists.
“We have… We had a team trying to recover some lost things and we seem to have failed,” Maxwell offered a weak explanation. Kineta, softly pats Maxwell on the shoulder and in her choppy Engrish says “It will be o k.”
“No it won’t!” Maxwell screams, swiping her hand off of him and stomping out of the room in a way that would make anyone forget he’s 192 years old.
Kineta shrugs. “I am sorry for him.”
“It’s all good. Frustration and what not,” Reggie says trying to throw the death of their team under the rug.
“I was just trying –” Thaddeus tries again and gets interrupted again.
“Seriously?! What is going on here?” Matthew asks with showing exasperation. “Nobody wants to answer these questions. Like, I came here because I was trying to escape some craziness and…”
Saving the embarrassment, Reggie chimes in, addressing Kineta, “before he puddles himself, what is going on? What – what’s Orbital Operations? What are we doing here? What do we need to be trained for?”
With a breath, Kineta begins to explain and hesitates. She looks to Dr. Dhalsim and after an affirming nod from him, she continues as Steve enters the room. “We had a team of mutants named The Garrison. They were five – our core. We sent them to The Jupiter Asteroids… how do I explain all this…” After collecting herself she continues to explain in her broken Engrish the remission of the gold standard in 1933 from the US market. Since then, the United States has been printing money without the gold reserve which, over time, may cause a great depression much like the 1920s only greater. However, recently, there has been a gold mining excavation from heavy metal asteroids within the solar system primarily by mutants who are able to withstand the environmental conditions in outer space. The current location was attacked by unknown entities and basically ransacked the operations, destroying communications three days ago. The Garrison probably attempted to recover what was left. Communications were just restored but not by the Garrison, showing evidence that at least four are dead. This has been in operation for a handful of years and has more than replenished the gold reserve in the U.S. so much that it is able to fund this very laboratory and everything connecting to this unit.
“What am I in!?” demanded Matthew, trying to get something more specific. “Somebody please help me out here!?”
“Sounds like a whole bunch of stuff I don’t really care about,” Thaddeus blurts, without considering the lives of those lost or the feelings of Dr. Dhalsim.
“You don’t care about gold?” Matthew confronts, missing the bigger picture.
“Can’t eat gold, so…”
“Well you can actually,” challenges Steve.
Kineta goes on to explain that the Orbital Operation had a lot of influence in the survival of mutants, especially in the Greater Northwest area.
“Well, I guess, thanks,” offers Thaddeus.
“You don’t have to thank me,” Kineta expresses, refusing ownership. An awkward silence permeates the room.
“Did they say who it was attacked by? Do we know who it was attacked by?” asks Reggie, digging for more information.
“No. We don’t know,” she says. Finding misplaced between Dr. Dhalsim and Kineta, Matthew relocates to the other side of the room and Reggie asks, “Dr. Dhalsim, <ahem> what can we do to help? Or rather…”
“Why exactly are we here?” asks Thaddeus, looking for the meta information before the specifics.
“Why exactly are we here. That’s – that’s what I meant to say,” said Reggie.
“Why are we here? Dhalsim?” said Matthew joining in. “Dhalsim? Why are we here? Dhalsim!”
“I heard you, I heard you!” the doctor spats, trying to collect his thoughts to answer them satisfactorily. With a more intense tone of voice he continues. “You are here because you cannot go anywhere else! You might be killed, you might be shot! You are mutants. We are trying to protect you.” He begins to lose steam. “We are trying to help you. We are trying to create… I don’t know. What am I doing? You’re the ones who can knocking on our door!”
“Sounds like an existential problem.” Thaddeus remarks.
Ignoring the comment, Dr. Dhalsim continues. “You want to help? Perhaps we can put you to work. Let me give me a second, ok?” He walks out.
Thaddeus whispers to Steve, “Should we even believe in all this crap?”
“I think there’s lot that we don’t know but at this point there’s not many people we can trust. He was a colleague of a dear friend of mine and so until I have to believe otherwise we have to trust him,” Steve articulately declares, as if resolving a new course for the rest of the group.
“He was there when you were captured, dude. He was there when they pulled you out. Not “captured” but he was there when you were in that cage,” Matthew offers as a promotor fidei, perhaps alluding to the shackles Steve was in as a cage.
“But he was trying to help,” Steve says.
“He was the first person who came to help me.”
Giving in to Steve’s reason, Matthew tries to get at what has been nagging him for some time. “So what color is your skin?”
“Look at me. Use your eyes!” Steve shows them the patches of hair shaved from his chest to reveal a grayish colored skin at which point Maxwell and Dr. Dhalsim re-enter the lounge.
“I can use your guys’ help. But I can’t give you a lot,” says Maxwell.
Thinking of his little sister who must be terribly missing her older brother, Thaddeus states, “I have certain responsibilities that I can’t ignore.”
“What exactly is our situation here? You’re saying that you’ll help us but there’s only so much that you can do…” Steve inquires.
Maxwell clarifies. “I can give you a place to stay. I can guarantee you a level of protection. I can give you connections. Basically, if you want to help me, you will become a part of my team.”
“And what about family?” Thaddeus asks.
“I guess that’s all up to you,” Maxwell says and after a long pause asks, “So, uh, you wanna help?”
“Sure,” Matthew gives in.
“I only have one question for you,” Steve shares.
“Am I able to have access to a laboratory?”
“You can use this one,” offers Maxwell.
“From the sound of it we don’t really have much choice. It’s either get killed or help you,” Thaddeus complains.
“Well, you could take your chances out there or we could ban together,” Steve offers as a better light on their options.
“Yeah, either get killed, or help him,” Thaddeus presumes.
“Well, I don’t want to send you off to space real quick. But assuming you’re all in, there is something I need looked at. I’m really busy and I can’t do it right now,” Maxwell says.
“I’ve got a question,” Reggie states.
“Sure,” says Maxwell.
“Have you heard of a forest with a stone gate in it?”
“Is this a trick question?” asks Maxwell a little confused.
“Never mind.” Reggie says and then saying under his breath “That’s a big old negative.” Back to Maxwell, “Well, uh, I’m in. So what’s this side mission?”
“Oh, um, we had someone who has also gone missing and I need you guys to find him. Last time he was seen was about a week ago. I’ll give you his file. It’s in my desk right now, so I’ll bring that by and you can look at it. I’m worried about him because he was a new recruit like you guys and he just disappeared. Perhaps Kineta can go with you. Is that okay with you?” Maxwell asks Kineta.
“I can go with them.”
“Are you sure this is a good idea that she comes? I think…” Thaddeus trails off looking for support.
“Sure, we can get started on this,” Steve says.
“Alright, I’ll be back with the files from my desk unless you guys want to come with. It’s only a few blocks away.”
“Whoa!” Matthew interjects, “We’re not at Maxwell’s house anymore,” he states obviously still recovering from short term memory loss due to the drugs.
“We’re at Dr. Dhalsim’s house,” everyone says in semi-discord.
“How did we get here?” Matthew asks.
Steve laughs. “We all jumped into a van. I had my hot cocoa from Tilde. And I had to ride in the back because I’m too much weight.”
“Oh, riiiight,” Matthew recalls.
“How are we getting here, are we walking or… six blocks?” asks Steve.
“Yeah we can walk,” Maxwell replies.
“Fifteen minutes,” Reggie chimes.
“That’s not a good idea,” mumbles Matthew.
“Oh, c’mon, let’s go, you’ll be fine,” Maxwell insists.
Maxwell leads them through an underground tunnel back to the building where his office is located.
“Why did we drive before?” asks Matthew.
“Because Dr. Dhalsim wanted to show us his sweet ride,” jokes Steve.
During the commute, the new recruits pass by several interesting sealed-off areas like a garage harboring a massive aerospace/flying machine and an herbivorium. Taking an elevator up to Maxwell’s homeless shelter, the group is greeted by a spastic “Mawy Chrithmath! Mawy Chrithmath tiiiiime!”
“Hey bud, how are you?” Reggie politely engages, “Merry Chrithmath.”
“This guy,” Reggie laughs, returning with a kind “Fawis Navidad.”
“Uh, girl,” Thaddeus says disrespectfully to Kineta, “What’s up with this guy?” She shrugs in response, trying to overlook the offense of being addressed as ‘girl’. The group finally makes it to Maxwell’s office and he pulls out files after unlocking is desk. After thumbing through a few he finds the file of importance, hands it to Steve and says, “You’re in charge.” The file consists of nothing more than the background and personal information which was scanned during their first visit to this office of a young adult.
Scanning through the details, Steve reads some important details. The person of interest is named Timothy Coney, in his early twenties, and he’s a mutant. His mutant powers enable him to duplicate himself by calling his own self from the past or future into the present. He’s been living on his own. Tim’s criminal record is pretty blank and his academic performance is unremarkable. Recently he’s been in psychological therapy for anxiety and depression about the future.
“So what’s the plan, what are we doing here?” Matthew asks.
“Where was this guy last seen?” Reggie offers as a more formal question.
“Here at the shelter,” replies Maxwell. “He said he was going home and he was supposed to return with his stuff and stay here more permanently. He never came back.”
“Has anybody been to his place?”
“We drove by it. No activity.”
“Are you sure he really wanted to join,” asks Thaddeus, starting to become the group skeptic.
“He seemed genuine.”
“Was he a spy?” asks Matthew.
“Maybe he was just telling you that so he can get free —” Thaddeus defends.
“Free wi-fi?” Maxwell retorts sarcastically, “We can play conjectures all day but I still need you to find information.”
“So where should we start?” asks Steve.
Maxwell shrugs. “Try his place.”
“Let’s start with his house,” Reggie repeats, as if he just came up with the idea.
“Let’s do it,” Steve said in his characteristic serious deadpan. “Do you, okay, so, this is just a question, just… is there a way, would you have like a vehicle or something we could use to get around ‘cuz it may look kind of conspicuous if we were running around in the street; especially if they’re looking for me. If there’s a way —”
“Perhaps a van that is green and yellow,” Thaddeus offers.
Confused with the importance of color Maxwell asks, “What?”
“Ninja turtle van,” Thaddeus states as if who wouldn’t know what he was talking about?
“I would settle with a van with no windows,” appeases Steve. “Preferably one that’s all white and says free ice-cream on the side,” he jokes.
Maxwell takes his keys out of his jeans, walks to a lower cabinet in the corner, unlocks it, and they all see it full to the brim of stacked cash. He pulls out a wad, hands them twenty thousand dollars, and says, “Go buy a car.”
“That’s not gonna get us a very nice car,” Thaddeus complains.
“Twenty thousand dollars – it’ll get us something,” Steve assures.
“Twenty-twenty-two, dude,” Matthew says but nobody can tell whether he means to ask for a little more than twenty thousand or if he’s saying the year… two years ago, since the current year is 2024. Nobody ever found out.
“We’re trying to get something better,” maintains Thaddeus.
So Reggie graciously takes the money but Thaddeus doesn’t give up. “What if one of us gets injured and we need a wheel-chair accessible van?” Reggie leaves the cash, and tired of the adversarial interruptions starts heading upstairs. After previewing the address of Tim in the file, Reggie simply resolves to walk instead of waiting for the politicking to end regarding purchasing a vehicle.
“Perhaps we’re going to need to learn to work together since all of our team isn’t here,” Thaddeus proposes, ignorant of the fact that he was the main proponent from dissolving the crew due to his adversarial contests.
“Alright then,” Steve replies, “How good are you at negotiating things?”
“Uh, depends on whether or not running away constitutes a negotiation,” Thaddeus answers in all seriousness. “You do realize that my legs bend backward.”
“Eh, if you’re wearing pants, nobody’s gonna catch on,” insists Steve. “Just stand up straight. We need to learn how to negotiate for a car.”
Uncomfortable being responsible, Thaddeus volunteers Matthew. “He’s the only one here that looks normal.”
“I can go buy us a car,” accepts Matthew.
“Not if you have to talk to a woman,” Dr. Dhalsim interrupts.
“Statistically it’s going to be a guy anyway, so,” offers Thaddeus without providing any source.
The group finds a van for sale at seventeen hundred dollars in a neighborhood dealership and they buy it after Matthew negotiates it down to fifteen hundred dollars because he had cash. The van is a utility-style design but refurbished with an artistic horse fresco on the side, covering the back windows in paint. The process of negotiation and paper-signing was expedited due to the cash on hand so much that the three who went to the dealership eventually got to their destination at the same time Reggie arrived on foot.
As Reggie knocks on the front door of 2403 East Gorgon Avenue, Spokane, he pushes it open as if it were already ajar. Slowly and cautiously, he walks inside to see everything overturned. All the furniture was trashed and the entire place seemed razed and ransacked.
“Figures,” Reggie says.
“Freakin’ crack,” says Matthew shortly behind, who changes his mind and walks back to the van.
“This place seems pretty run down,” Steve understates. “It is in Hillyard. I like the Christmas lights still up,” referring to the icicle lights on the front porch. Steve tries to perceive anything noteworthy beyond the smell of gross food going bad.
Reggie hears the sound of a kitten’s cry. He follows the sound, coming from outside.
“It seems like that guy was right about my allergies,” tells Thaddeus as he succumbs to symptoms of his allergy.
“I don’t think he was making it up,” Steve replied. “I don’t think my cholesterol is low…”
“I’m really having trouble breathing over here,” says Thaddeus, getting serious.
“Hrmm,” Said Reggie offering his sympathy.
Steve continues to look around and go into all the rooms, suspecting that his person of interest might actually be hiding around somewhere while Reggie pursues the sound of the kitten’s mew. For the sake of his breathing, Thaddeus takes himself outside and eventually into the passenger seat of the van in his special way of sitting.
Steve uncovers a phone and, in looking through it to find any information of import, he discovers that the most recent call was four days ago to SuperChin, there’s only ten numbers saved in the phone, and most of the text messages are generic conversations to mom and dad. Steve wasn’t able to tell whether there was forced entry of if there was a hasty evacuation. Written on the bathroom mirror, however, is a jagged message inscribed which reads “Got to stop it!” Steve eventually finds a laptop in the rubble and grabs it to take along.
While Steve was investigating the house the, following happened with Reggie. Seeing that the kitten is stranded in the tree, Reggie climbs the tree to rescue the animal. After picking up the kitten, he notices that the kitten has a collar and upon investigation, he finds a beautiful bronze shield-looking artifact dangling from the collar along with an animal tag with the name Priscilla. Reggie attempts to remove the collar from the kitten and the reaction he gets from the gentle kitty is something entirely unexpected. What was once an unassuming and adorable little kitten, within seconds, became a hulking feline beast with a bad temper.
Watching the scene from the van, Matthew mouths “Holy @#&§£!! What the…” Rolling his windows down, he screams at Reggie, “What did you do!?”