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New Fiction: Reunion (Chapter 2)

February 18, 2002

I've been drawing a bit more, trying to adhere to a tighter schedule. This has left a bit less time to commit to Wide Awake. Nonetheless, here is the second installment in the reunion of the Catalysts of Liberty.

“This is preposterous,” Blythe stated flatly. “You’re going to tell us what “really” happened? Is this some sort of joke?”
“It’s no joke. Think back, each of you. Think and remember the events of Colorado.
Blythe, Peppersmith, and Wellington stood by the fire’s glow and each, in their own way, began to recall that fateful night.

October 29, 1979:

The twins stood atop the massive concrete wall of the Hoover Dam. Young, innocent youths with young, innocent eyes. Two small children who should have been at home, asleep in their beds. They stood atop the 5,500,000 ton man-made edifice at 2:15 a.m. prepared to cause its obliteration. They were twins—Jem and Jan, though history would come to regard them as the Twin Engines of Destruction. And no one knew they were there. No one knew what they were planning to do. Their lives would not end surrounded by police and other law enforcement officials. It was their secret—Jem and Jan’s. Yet, how could they know—how could they possibly know—that days earlier and thousands of miles away from Lake Mead and the Hoover Dam a petite woman named Shelley had intercepted Jem’s thought waves? And Jem’s thoughts had been quite clear and quite unsettling—it had been as if Shelley had been eavesdropping on a phone conversation via crossed lines. Jem’s thoughts were not his and his alone—they were open to Shelley. Though Shelley was quite certain that: 1. Jem could not hear her thoughts, and 2. Jem was unaware he was transmitting to Shelley.
For whatever reason, Shelley had intercepted Jem’s thoughts and although the experience had lasted but a few moments, she’d heard all she’d needed to hear. She knew the time, location, the stakes, and the players. She had only to convince her teammates that the threat was genuine.
During the early morning hours of October 29, the teenagers strode confidently atop the dam wall. They’d walked nearly half the length of the dam’s 1,244 feet. Any resistance they’d encountered had been dealt with quickly and savagely. Security guards and dam personnel had been murdered with carefree abandon by the twins who, dressed as they were entirely in black and with blonde hair, looked akin to young SS storm troopers. Gates, fences, and locked doors had been torn through with as little effort as one might exert when opening a can of soda. The boys danced across the dam wall ready to topple the 5,500,000-ton structure.
“Just what the Hell do you children think you’re doing?” Wellington asked as he and his fellow Catalysts emerged from the shadows. A conflict emerged—multiple sparks of energy, bright lights, and raw power were unleashed by the combatants. In seconds the children who announced themselves as the Twin Engines of Destruction had all but killed the Catalysts—would have done so, in fact, had Blythe, as the Never-Mind, not gone “into” the psyche of Jan, who he’d foreseen as the weaker of the twins. Within moments, he’d planted the necessary seeds of doubt and mistrust in Jan’s mind and soon Jan was attacking, with unparalleled violence, his brother Jem. Theirs was not a mere fisticuff—they savagely, brutally annihilated and tore each other apart until all that remained was blood and guts, shattered bones, and the stench of death which soaked slowly into the concrete. Blythe struggled to his feet and stood next to the carnage smiling a maddening smile. The others looked on, horrified. Shelley grabbed Blythe by the shoulders and screamed: “Are you insane? What have you done here?”
“I didn’t do a thing. They did it to each other.”
The Catalysts stood atop the dam, the silence of the night interrupted only momentarily by the dam’s turbines. They’d averted a catastrope but could not escape the fact that two children were dead as a result.
“By the way,” Blythe said, “I don’t think they were acting independently—not entirely.”
“What are you talking about,” Peppersmith asked as he wiped blood from his lips.
“Only this: Just before he died, Jan’s thoughts turned to someone he called The Head.”
“The Head?” Shelley asked.
“Yes. Jan called out to this Head. I saw images in Jan’s mind. I think there were others like he and Jem only, you know, alive.”
“Can you locate them?” Shelley asked, wearily.
“I think so.”

They’d reached the U.S.-Canadian border at approximately 4:30 a.m. They were flying low to avoid radar detection.
“We’ve just crossed into Canada,” Peppersmith noted.
“Uh-huh,” Shelley replied, as she piloted the tiny craft.
“We’ve no jurisdiction here.”
She looked at him but made no reply. Upon Blythe’s instruction, Shelley landed the craft in a wooded area approximately 75 miles south of Calgary. The ground was snow covered and the air cold. Blythe led them thru the wilderness until, several hundred yards distant, they reached a large hill, at the base of which there appeared to be a great loading dock. Several unmanned trucks were parked near the platform.
“We’re here,” Blythe said, matter-of-factly.

They moved quickly and silently guided by the moon and several flashlights. The Catalysts stepped onto the loading platform and walked through a tall, metal door. Expecting resistance, they were quite surprised to find the facility (which was, they agreed, state-of-the-art in design and structure) quite deserted. They walked down long, sterile corridors that seemed to have no end. Finally, they reached a double door, not unlike the doors to an operating room, and stepped through. They had, in fact, entered an antiquated-style operating theatre complete with candles and a wooden surgical table. The room was dimly lit. Atop the table lie what appeared to be a human cadaver; however, so mutilated were the remains that one could not entirely be certain of its genus. Flesh had been turned inside out and hung off the table in long, stringy strips. Various organs lie next to the body, and blood-soaked blankets and gauze were draped across parts of the torso like tinsel garland on a macabre Christmas tree. They stared, partly intrigued, partly revolted, unable to entirely turn their eyes from the sight. There was a faint drip-drip-dripping sound, as if from a leaky faucet. It was then that Wellington saw the twisted wreckage that was a small mountain of flesh and bone. The torsos had been gutted as badly as the soul on the table and tossed aside as if they’d all been part of a slaughterhouse assembly line. Blood ran off one body and onto the next like a twisting river of plasma.
“Hell on earth,” Peppersmith said, as bile rose from his belly.
There was a faint, high-pitched sound, followed in quick succession by a half-dozen similar bursts. The Catalysts followed the sound with their eyes. The noise originated from the room’s ceiling and they watched as the rectangular metal object, which was approximately 2’ x 2’ x 1’, slowly began to descend. Atop the flat surface of the self-controlled unit sat the head of a man who may or may not have been in his 50s. Electrodes protruded from the back of his bald skull which looked distorted—oversized--as if it were made of putty; veins bulged on the front of the head and a circular 3” band secured the head to the mechanical apparatus. It continued to descend slowly and then hovered at eye level with the Catalysts.
“You will allow me to introduce myself,” it said, through a voice that was liquid and rippled, not unlike an amateur ventriloquist attempting to speak through his puppet while simultaneously consuming a glass of water.
The Catalysts stood quietly—mesmerized and horrified by both their surroundings and at the appearance of the stranger who was so very far from human. Peppersmith, who was slightly taller than his colleagues, was afforded the most optimal view of this—being—and was more than slightly fascinated by the multitude of colored lights and electronics contained on the minute, metal flying device.
“I am The Head.”
Despite the ever-increasing smell of bile, death, and decay that perfumed the room, Blythe and Shelley both laughed aloud at this declaration.
“Yes, I suppose it is rather humorous. I myself was quite aghast when this responsibility (and its subsequent requirements) was bestowed upon me. But I learned soon enough--the body is weak and susceptible to disease as well as temptations of the flesh. However, remove the body and that what remains—the mind—is all the stronger.”
Blythe interrupted: “Listen, you second-rate guillotine poster child, we want--”
“Answers. Yes, I am well aware of your wants, just as I’m aware that the Twins are dead. I trained them, you know. And these…others…you see before us. I was their mentor and, like the Twins, they were to be part of an elitist combat regime. Recently however, I realized that their combined physical power could not begin to match the immense mental abilities that would await me were I to absorb them, body and soul. Unfortunately, I arrived at this realization after the Twins had been dispatched to Colorado—such sustenance they would have provided me.”
“Mental abilities?” Blythe asked. “Mister, I’d knock your block off if someone hadn’t already beaten me to it.”
“You think yourselves my better. I see that a demonstration, perhaps, is in order.”
The mysteries of the mind: How do we reason? How do we focus on individual and on multiple thoughts? Why do thoughts change? What is right? What is reason? What is being? Why do we love and hate? What is death? Countless questions were all unleashed like a great tapestry being thrown across a vacant floor. The Catalysts were mere fodder to The Head, and he picked through the darkest, most recessed caverns of their minds. He exposed their fears, indulged in their most cherished and personal memories, exploited their deepest secrets, and stole their joys with no more concern than a child might steal a piece of penny candy from a supermarket counter. The Head stripped their minds naked and raped them repeatedly. Yet, even the supremely powerful Head was caught unprepared when the Catalysts, who had each been struggling against The Head’s unmatchable power, suddenly ceased their resistance and opened their minds willingly and forcefully. The influx of mental force shook The Head to his being. As he struggled to maintain control of the Catalysts, he momentarily let slip his command over the mechanical apparatus that maintained his elevation. The device teetered then veered up and to the left rapidly. The flying craft stuck the ceiling, damaging its gyro and resulting in a helter-skelter spin. The Head, torn between his lust for control of the Catalysts’ minds and that of his own survival, was unable to regain control of the falling craft before it nose-dove violently into the mound of corpses. The Head was ripped from its life-giving craft upon impact and rolled awkwardly down the hill of flesh and across the floor, finally coming to rest at the foot of Wellington, who instinctively kicked it across the room. Peppersmith, Blythe, Shelley, and Wellington each staggered from the operating theatre, anxious to breathe air that was untainted by death.

They stood by the fireplace as the snow began to fall once more outside. The years since the event of October 29, 1979 seemed to be not so distant.
Blythe was the first to speak: “We returned to the states. The FBI interrogated us with regard to the events at the Hoover Dam.” He looked to Shelley, “You stated on record that we, that is, Mr. Peppersmith, Mr. Wellington, and myself—had acted irrationally and that I’d been personally responsible for the deaths of the Twin Eng—for Jem and Jan. The following day you reported several statements to the same effect to the press and added that you ‘surpassed’ us with regard to crime-fighting ability. We, uh, pretty much went our separate ways after that.”
“And that’s what you remember—each of you,” Shelley asked.
They nodded collectively.
“You remember the Twins, you recall the smell of blood from the operating theatre, and the death of the being known as The Head.”
Once more, they nodded in agreement.
“Walk with me,” she said, leading them from the elegant living room through a formal dining room and through a narrow hallway at the end of which was a door. Billy Joel’s The Stranger reverberated through the walls as the quartet stepped through the door and into a room that was modestly furnished in pieces that seemed more suited for a young, struggling individual—and Shelley was neither young (despite physical appearances to the contrary) nor struggling. She walked across the room and opened what appeared at first to be a closet but what was, in reality, a stairwell that led to the basement. Shelley clicked on the light switch and a bulb of insufficient wattage flickered slowly to life. The stairs were narrow and draped in shadow; Shelley’s guests and former teammates descended slowly into the unknown.

NEXT: REUNION continues.

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