25 Jul The Houseguest
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"The Houseguest"Written by Kara O'Connor
Estimated reading time — 50 minutes
The man finished the rest of his meal, threw the wrappers and other garbage into the nearest trashcan, left the tray in the proper place, wished the crew a good rest of the night, and exited the restaurant. His name was Michael Cannon, but he went by the codename Pathos. Years ago Gerard Ripley had found out about him, seen his potential, and convinced him to join his gang, Basilisk. Like most of the other high-ranking members of Basilisk, he had special powers. Since childhood, perhaps since birth, he’d had powers related to trauma. Since he could perceive the trauma experienced by others, he could also perceive people’s emotions. This made him a compassionate counselor. He was grateful that he had a role that allowed him to use his God-given abilities to help people. Thankfully Ripley never forced him to use his other power, and he didn’t have to use it very often.
He reflected about the call that Ripley had made that evening. When he heard about the physical, psychological, and emotional damage that the man Ripley was trying to help had suffered, he agreed that he was needed. He was glad that the location given was only a relatively short bus ride away, and he prayed he could provide the help the man needed.
As Pathos walked along with his thoughts, a hoodlum stood hidden in the shadows and observed him. He only got a glimpse of Pathos’s face, but overall he guessed him to be in his thirties or forties. Though his clothing wasn’t fancy, he gave the impression of being financially secure. He carried himself well, but the hoodlum had run into plenty of victims whose composure and bravado had disappeared when they were attacked or even threatened. The hoodlum smirked as he anticipated an easy robbery.
Pathos came to a halt at a bus stop and leaned against the signpost. The hoodlum checked the surroundings. Seeing no witnesses in sight, he stealthily left his hiding place and approached his intended victim. Once he was within a couple yards he took out his switchblade knife and flicked it open. Pathos moved slightly at the sound, but otherwise made no response.
“Don’t turn around or you’ll regret it!” barked the hoodlum.
“Am I to assume that you’re a mugger, then?” asked Pathos calmly.
The nonchalance of his intended victim caught the hoodlum off-guard, but he replied, “Yeah, this is a mugging! Now fork it over!”
Pathos slowly raised his hands up past his head. The hoodlum saw him shudder and then tense his muscles as if he were experiencing some strong emotion. Pathos paused before asking, “I hate violence. Isn’t there some way we can work this out?”
“Yeah, by you forking your wallet over!”
“You think I’m playin’!? Your money or your life!”
Another shudder ran through Pathos’s body, but his voice and overall demeanor stayed unruffled. “Listen to me. You don’t know who you’re dealing with, what could happen if you keep this up.”
“Oh, what, you’re going to tell me that I should walk away right now and thank my luck that I won’t find out what you can do to me?!”
“That’s it in a nutshell. Please, let’s talk this over and find a better way. Believe me, that’s the best option for both of us.” He used the tone of a father warning his child. “I can guarantee that if you keep going, you’re going to regret it. I don’t want to have to-”
“Man, shut up! I’m not going to tell you again! ‘Your money or your life!’”
Pathos sighed, and the hoodlum suddenly felt tightness in his chest. Pathos moved his arms, but instead of reaching for his wallet, he took his right hand, touched his left wrist with his right index and middle fingers, and made a swift swiping motion. The hoodlum suddenly felt a sharp, burning pain in his left wrist. He cried out and dropped the knife in shock. Pathos then touched his right wrist with his left index and middle fingers and made another swiping motion, one more forceful than the previous one. The hoodlum felt an even more intense pain in his right wrist. He cried out in fear again and clutched the wrist. He was astonished at the sharp, sudden pain, but he was even more astonished to look and see that were no visible wounds on either wrist, no discernible reason he should be feeling this pain.
Pathos turned to face the hoodlum. His eyes glowed with both anger and sadness, and underneath those eyes were dark shadows which gave him a weary look. “I told you I’d prefer to work this out, but you chose to threaten me.” He jabbed his right arm with his left index finger, causing the hoodlum to feel stabbing pain in the same area. He continued, “Do you know what the word ‘pathos’ means? It’s a Greek word meaning ‘suffering,’ ‘experience,’ or ‘emotion.’ My powers allow me to experience the emotion and suffering of others, and to cause others to experience the emotion of suffering as well.”
He quickly drew his right index and middle fingers across his abdomen, causing the hoodlum to clutch his belly and drop to his knees, his every muscle tensing as a result of the pain. “This is the pain you have inflicted on others.”
Pathos ran his index fingers across his arms, causing the hoodlum to feel searing pain in his. He watched with a somber air as the hoodlum began to cry, then took out a cell phone. “I’m calling the police. Don’t make me hurt you any more, okay?”
The shocked hoodlum nodded. As he listened to Pathos call the police, he wondered what exactly he had come across.
The police officer who came to the scene several minutes later paused when he saw Pathos. He had occasionally heard stories of this man, the man called Pathos, inflicting harm on vicious criminals. Each case was similar. Pathos’s shaken, frightened victims had been found subdued by the infliction of pain, yet they didn’t have one single physical wound, and in each case Pathos had acted to defend himself or a third party. Not once had Pathos been the aggressor. After recovering from his surprise, the officer nervously approached Pathos. Pathos soon put him at ease with his politeness and humility. The hoodlum confirmed Pathos’s story and allowed the officer to arrest him without a struggle. The officer gave Pathos one last look. Though he figured he didn’t need it, he found himself telling Pathos to be careful. Pathos quietly thanked him and told him to do the same.
After the policeman drove away with the hoodlum in custody, Pathos sighed and once again leaned against the signpost. When he was threatened, he had shuddered and tensed up because he had experienced for himself the suffering that the hoodlum’s victims had experienced, the stabbings and slashes that the hoodlum had inflicted in his cruelty and greed. After that he had shuddered because he knew that he would most likely end up having to inflict that same pain. His ability to experience the suffering of others had given him a pacifistic nature. When he inflicted trauma on another person, he was also inflicting it on himself. He preferred not to harm anybody, but sometimes he was forced to. He took consolation in the fact that he had tried to prevent it, and in the fact that the hoodlum had inflicted that pain on others (and thus had gotten a taste of his own medicine). He hoped that the hoodlum would reform and forsake his violent ways (resulting in one less source of trauma), stared into the night sky, and tried to move past this latest experience to focus on the task ahead.
Daniel felt groggy as he woke up. When he came back to full wakefulness, he noticed his surroundings and became alarmed. As he looked around the room, he realized that he must be in some sort of small clinic. On the right side of his firm yet comfortable bed was a table with a plate of cookies (of all things), a wastepaper basket, and another bed, and on the left there was a mini fridge and a cabinet. On the opposite wall was a desk with a chair, a door, and a smaller room he assumed was a bathroom. On the wall to his right was a door. On the wall to his left there was a set of double doors. He wondered what this could mean. His captors had kept him in a stark cell with only a hard mattress, a toilet, and a sink for water. Though these conditions were much better than the ones he’d had to endure for these long weeks, he still felt uneasy. Were his captors playing some kind of trick on him? Had some third party had gotten involved, and if so, who and why?
Slowly he rose from his bed and took a couple unsteady steps. Then he froze in place because he had looked through the windows of the double doors and had seen two men outside. One was Hispanic and Daniel guessed that the other was Korean. They wore almost identical outfits consisting of turquoise shirts, blue-grey pants, a dark gray belt, and short reddish-brown boots. They both wore dark blue jackets, but the Latino’s jacket had red orange sleeves and the Asian’s had silver sleeves. Attached to their belts were wide pouches which gave them the appearance of wearing fanny packs, but also resembled the utility pouches Daniel knew that some mercenaries wore. The duo suddenly noticed Daniel, who tensed and prepared to defend himself as they headed in his direction. However, they showed signs of neither malice nor haste as they came inside.
“Don’t worry,” the one with the silver sleeves told him. Confirming Daniel’s assumptions as to his ethnicity, he added, “You may call me Kim.”
“I’m Estes,” said the one with red orange sleeves. “You doing all right?”
“What’s going on here?” demanded Daniel.
“We freed you on our boss’s orders.”
Estes gave a proud and somewhat devilish grin. “Well, pumping a place full of knock-out gas tends to quiet down any guards inside. Plus, Kim and I have special abilities.”
Daniel realized why he had been so groggy and slow to wake up, but he wondered what the “special powers” comment could mean. Shelving that question for a moment, he asked, “You said on your boss’s orders. Who is it you’re talking about?”
Instead of answering the question directly, Kim pulled out a radio from his belt. “He’s awake, and I think he’d like to speak with you.”
“Good,” replied a voice on the other end. “I’ll be up shortly.”
Kim put the radio back in his belt and told Daniel, “There’s one thing you should know. Our boss is unusual.”
“What do you mean?”
“You’ll see,” Estes told him. “Don’t worry about it.”
Daniel tried to keep an eye on the duo as Kim went to the mini fridge and Estes headed toward the table between the beds. Kim retrieved three bottles of cold water while Estes brought over the plate of cookies and set them on the foot of the bed. They began eating and drinking and motioned for Daniel to do the same. Upon seeing them eat and drink the provided food and water with no hesitation and seemingly no ill effects, he reluctantly did the same. The gulps of water on an empty stomach caused pangs of pain. After eating a cookie the pain subsided and he continued his meal.
Suddenly Daniel realized something. “My stuff! Where’s my-” Estes pointed out a satchel underneath the bed. Daniel dug through it, found a picture, and hugged it close to his breast, struggling not to cry from the emotion as Estes and Kim gazed in confusion and surprise.
True to his word, the boss entered the clinic shortly after Daniel’s repast. Daniel gulped, and for a minute all he could do was stare with wide eyes. The boss wore a dark blue hat and trench coat, and underneath the coat was some kind of silvery-blue chain mail. What was unsettling was his head and form. The boss was half-man, half-iguana, and on top of that his skin was light blue. A row of white spikes ran down his head and along the tail Daniel could see poking from the bottom of the coat. His legs bent backward at a curved angle, and each of his hands and toes was clawed.
The iguana man addressed Daniel. “Hello. I am Gerard Ripley.”
Daniel stammered, “You…You’re the one who has that gang, Basilisk!”
Ripley gave a proud grin and tipped his hat. “That’s me.”
Daniel remembered that Basilisk was notable for having members with supernatural powers, and once again he wondered what sort of powers Kim and Estes possessed.
His thoughts were interrupted by Ripley noting, “It looks like you’re in good shape.”
“What do you know about it!?” demanded Daniel.
“Not as much as you might be assuming,” Ripley told him. “I don’t know who is responsible for the experiment performed on you, but I found out about your case, and so I decided to rescue you.”
Daniel looked at him warily. “What do you get out of it?”
“The primary thing is that I was able to rescue someone, possibly save a life. However, I will admit that I’d like it if you decided to join Basilisk.”
“What if I don’t?”
“Then, like I said, at least I performed a good work in rescuing you.” He pointed out the doors in turn. “The double doors lead to the balcony. We’re on the second floor. The door over there leads to the clinic bathroom. The door I came through leads to the stairway. The door opposite the double doors opens to a corridor leading to the elevator, though if you turn the corner you’ll also come to the stairway.”
Daniel observed the iguana man for a moment, then without another word he grabbed his satchel. Moving quickly and warily, he left through the last door Ripley had pointed out. As he turned the corner, he expected someone to come through the other door and stop him, but no one did. He descended the staircase, expecting to hear, but never hearing, someone in pursuit. He came to the first floor and stared down a long corridor which was devoid except for a few pieces of furniture. At the far end was a window and a set of double doors with a decorated shield hanging over them. There were doorways and open doors all the way down the corridor, but all the rooms were dark. He noticed that there was a doorway situated in the stairwell. He cautiously opened it, propped it open in case it was a trick and he needed to retreat, and exited the building. Outside he found surprisingly well-kept grounds, including a garden, a small pond, a gazebo, and some trees. Surrounding the property was a short fence consisting of seven layers of bricks. It would be easy to scale it and leave. He took a couple steps forward, but something stopped him. He stood there in thought for several moments before turning and re-entering the building.
When he returned to the clinic, he found the trio still there. They didn’t seem a bit agitated by his departure, nor did they seem surprised by his return. Ripley smiled. “Whether or not you decide to join, you’ve made the right decision by staying. We hope to make your stay a beneficial one.”
Daniel was intrigued by the counselors that Gerard Ripley had provided for him to help soothe his psychological trauma. All three were members of Basilisk, but none of them were really criminals, which gave Daniel hope that Ripley didn’t have some sinister criminal plan for him. He had to admit that the three had been very friendly and helpful to him.
He had already formed a friendship with Michael Cannon, codenamed Pathos. Pathos had shadows under his eyes, giving him a weary look no matter his mood. He had a quiet, humble nature, and it was evident that he also had great reserves of inner strength. Due to his ability to perceive the trauma of others, he had compassion and understanding, but was angry toward those who tried to justify or dismiss cruelty. He was a pacifist, though he could “put the hurt” on someone if the situation called for it, and he primarily served as a counselor.
Daniel also got along well with Dago Estaban, codenamed Dharna. Not to be confused with “dharma”, dharna, literally meaning “placing”, is a method of non-resistance in which one fasts and sits by a person’s doorstep to obtain compliance for a just demand, such as repayment of a debt. It ends when the demand is met or the practitioner dies. Dago had earned that alias through his determination and patience. He had a casual attitude, displayed by him usually wearing his jacket tied around his waist, but he also had a no-nonsense attitude toward his duties and treatment of others. He had a good heart, using the resources he gained from membership in Basilisk to serve as a philanthropist. He also seemed to know about suffering. Daniel wondered if Dharna’s arm tattoos, resembling barbed wire, were meant to be symbols of some past suffering.
As interesting as those two were, Daniel was most intrigued by Simon Lee Kirby, codenamed Sacrifice. First off, though the emblems were usually worn underneath his shirt, Sacrifice wore a necklace with both a Latin cross and a Star of David. It reminded Daniel of Elvis Presley, who purportedly said he wore both a cross and a Star of David because he didn’t want to miss out on Heaven due to a technicality. Sacrifice’s devotion, kindness, and humility were obvious. When Daniel complimented him on his character, he thanked him for the compliment, but also told him, “My righteousness is as filthy rags.” Daniel was also fascinated by the fact that even though Sacrifice was grateful for every day, he had a nonchalant attitude toward his life, genuinely not caring if he lived or died. Sacrifice sometimes had to leave to use the bathroom during their counseling sessions, and every time he did Pathos and Dharna, worthy of respect themselves, watched him with an air of sadness and respect. Daniel couldn’t help but wonder what that meant.
One afternoon Daniel was having a session with Pathos and Dharna when Sacrifice entered. They exchanged greetings and Sacrifice once again became alone in his thoughts. He had just had a discussion with Ripley. They had realized that there was only one reason Daniel’s captors would experiment on someone, granting them increased power, and then subject him to psychological torment: they wanted to create a killing machine. Ripley and Sacrifice both agreed that they needed to help Daniel recover from his trauma. Whether or not he agreed to join them, they couldn’t allow him to become a mad dog.
Sacrifice’s thoughts were interrupted by Daniel suddenly asking him, “How did you get involved with this bunch?”
“Hmm? Oh.” He smiled. “That’s a fair question. What happened was Ripley and I met one night. He learned my story and offered me a position.”
His expression became serious as he began to share his story. “You see, we’re not entirely different. Like you, I got my powers as the result of an experiment. However, I wasn’t captured by someone and used as a guinea pig. I conducted an experiment on myself. I used to work as a lab worker, and I experienced…a traumatic incident. Both the Old and New Testament say that vengeance is the Lord’s, but sometimes it’s hard to remember that.”
Daniel thought of all the dark fantasies he’d had about taking revenge on his former captors and agreed, “Yeah. It is, isn’t it?”
“After the incident I desired to gain superpowers and become an avenger. I knew about some experimental ionic energy particles and decided to take a calculated risk.” He glanced at one of his arms. “After obtaining the particles, I began injecting them into my bloodstream every day over a period of several weeks. I only injected small amounts at a time to give my body a chance to adjust. The experiment was a success, granting me my powers.”
He concentrated and became surrounded by a fluorescent blue violet aura. His clothes merged into his body, which had turned fluorescent blue, and his eyes turned completely white. He explained, “I have heightened abilities and am nearly invulnerable, and in this energy state I’m even more powerful. I can use this energy to burn others if I want and also fire energy blasts.”
He resumed his normal form and sighed before continuing. “I’m sure you’ve noticed my frequent bathroom breaks. My health problems are directly related to how I obtained the experimental particles. Do you want to know why I call myself ‘Sacrifice’?”
He turned his back to Daniel and removed his jacket. Judging by the reactions of Pathos and Dharna, they knew what was coming. Dharna turned to regard him with the same air of sadness and respect, only now he looked more unsettled. Pathos refused to look, instead staring ahead in thought. After setting his jacket on a chair, Sacrifice pulled up his shirt. On the left side of his back near his hip he had a curved scar.
Realizing what had happened, Daniel exclaimed, “What in blazes?! You mean you…”
“Mmm-hmm.” He re-tucked his shirt. “I know it’s grisly, but I got the particles and a young woman got a life without dialysis, so it worked out for the best.” As he put his jacket back on he added, “Don’t feel sorry for me. There are lots of people all over the world who did the same thing I did, but they often didn’t get anything for it. They got swindled by heartless monsters which made promises and then didn’t deliver on their end of the deal.” He shook his head angrily. “They’ll get what’s coming to them someday.”
He turned back to Daniel and noted, “We all have something wrong inside us, in different ways.”
As Daniel absorbed everything he had just learned, he understood the awe that Pathos and Dharna had for their associate. It wasn’t just because of his power, but also because of his toughness and heart. He found himself wishing that he had that same inner peace.
Daniel had stayed at Gerard Ripley’s hideout for weeks now, sleeping in the clinic, exercising in the gym, and visiting the garden when he needed to unwind. His body was fit and healthy, but there were still problems.
Ripley had some of his top men pay him visits in order to help with his recovery, but due to the abuse he had suffered at the hands of his former captors he continued to suffer flashbacks and nightmares. He also had trust issues. Ripley was smart enough to know this and during one evening visit he told Daniel, “I can’t say that I blame you, but I’ve noticed you’re still suspicious of us.”
Daniel replied, “Like you say, you can’t blame me. Even though you and other members of Basilisk have helped me, I can’t shake the notion that I’ll be betrayed.”
“So, you want something to prove that I don’t have ulterior motives? That’s understandable. I thought that might happen, which is why I brought this up to the clinic.” Ripley went to the cabinet, brought out a mask and a small vial, and set them on the table next to Daniel’s bed.
The mask looked metallic, had loops toward the back with straps attached to them, and resembled a leopard’s head. However, the leopard’s eyes were blindfolded, and there was some kind of gag in the mouth. “I found this artifact, and a formula for the powder that goes with it, in Pakistan,” explained the iguana man. “It’s called ‘The Binding Mask’.”
Daniel began to grow alarmed, “What are you going to do to me?”
Ripley opened his mouth to reply, but the henchman codenamed “Pathos” told him, “I’ll take this one.” Ripley gave a nod of understanding. Daniel looked at Pathos. The codename came from his ability to understand suffering, and to inflict it on others, if need be. It seemed to Daniel that Pathos could look into his very soul, that he need not explain his inner demons because he already knew. Pathos asked him, “What’s the gas chamber training they go through in Basic Training?”
Daniel was surprised by the question, and he figured that Pathos already knew the answer, but when he replied he found the words spilling out of his mouth. “They-They had us put on our protective masks and enter a chamber filled with tear gas. They had us exercise a bit to get our breathing rate up and had us practice quickly removing and re-donning the masks. Then they had us remove our masks, inhale some of the tear gas, and file out.”
“They forced you to breathe in tear gas? Why? Were they being cruel?”
“No, they wanted us to make sure we knew how to use the masks if we had to. That’s why they call it ‘Mask Confidence Training’.” Starting to see what Pathos was getting at, he added, “It was to protect us.”
“What was the worst part?”
“Well, the tear gas wasn’t fun, but you recover quickly once you get to fresh air. The fear, the apprehension, was the worst part.” He reflected, then managed a smile, “I was tough, tougher than a lot of them, so it was easy for me.”
“Good for you. You see, you suffer for a little while, but there’s a benefit. Don’t worry about it.” He patted him on the shoulder.
Daniel turned back to Ripley. As he watched, Ripley detached the portion of the mask with the “gag” and the end of the leopard’s snout, removed a small compartment from the segment, and opened the vial. He poured some of the powder from the vial into the compartment, resealed the vial, ignited the powder through the holes in the compartment, and allowed it to smolder. He reassembled the mask and moved toward Daniel. Despite Pathos’s pep talk, Daniel started to feel fear arise in his chest.
Before he could react, Simon grabbed his wrists and held them tightly behind him. The experiment previously conducted on Daniel by his captors had given him increased strength, but the experiment that Simon had conducted on himself had granted him even greater strength. In addition, Estes pinned down one forearm while Kim and Dago pinned the other. Ripley bound the mask to Daniel’s face and then pressed his hand against his chest to pin him down further.
With the mask containing no eyeholes, and having only two air holes in the snout area, Daniel could hardly see anything. What little he saw was obscured by wisps of smoke. Remembering Pathos’s words, he tried to relax. With every breath he inhaled the fumes from the burning powder, and soon he began to enter a dreamy, tranquil state. Within a couple minutes he heard Pathos tell the others, “He’s okay,” and felt the arms release him, but by that point he had stopped caring. His muscles relaxed, his eyes closed, and he drifted further into the altered state.
Hours later, when he recovered, his head felt clear, but his muscles felt tired. Now in the recreation room instead of the clinic, he reflected on what had occurred. Under the drug’s influence, he had done whatever Ripley suggested that he do. He was thankful that the iguana man wasn’t perverse.
Though he became simply Ripley’s puppet while in his trance, Ripley merely had him do activities that were strenuous, such as traversing up and down the main corridor on his hands and knees, or embarrassing, such as washing his face in the koi pond, rather than perverse, cruel, or self-destructive. He even allowed him to take a shower after his visit to the pond.
He saw Ripley standing before him. “Are you all right?” he asked.
“Yeah,” replied Daniel.
“There’s something you should know. That wasn’t the only mind-control drug I possess. I also have a drug which works by injection. Just a small bit of that puts someone in my total control, unless they’re immune to poison.” He paused to let his words sink in and continued, “I hope this convinces you that I’m not interested in controlling you, in taking away your freedom. If I were, I would have done that from the beginning. I always had the ability. I just have no desire.”
Chapter One: Band of Brothers
Looking out at the scenery, Daniel had to admit that Gerard Ripley had made the best decision. The iguana man had told Daniel that he knew someone in Kentucky who could help them with his case. After Ripley explained the situation, Daniel mulled it over and finally agreed to the trip.
“How are we going?” Daniel had asked. “Are we flying, or going some other way?”
“We’re driving there.”
Daniel stared in disbelief. “You want us to travel from California to Kentucky by car?”
“That’s right. Long-distance car trips are certainly not unheard of. I think it’ll be beneficial for you.”
He was right. Although the trip had been long, and at times draining, it had given Daniel a chance to unwind. He hadn’t been allowed to take a turn at the wheel, but that just meant he had time to rest and reminisce. He spent a lot of time just gazing out the window at the scenery. Both the natural beauty of the diverse landscapes and the man-made splendor of the diverse cityscapes touched something in him. At times he felt at peace. Other times he thought of trips his family had taken when he was growing up, remembering good times, bad times, and times that were both at once.
They had recently passed grassy fields and slate hills, and now they were driving through a small town. Up ahead, next to a local government building, was a monument with a howitzer, a few plaques, and a number of small American flags.
“Pull over up ahead,” instructed Daniel.
Estes, who was taking his turn at the wheel, understood and obliged. Daniel thanked him and exited the parked vehicle. Kim followed him so he could pay his respects as well. Kim was humble about his service, noting that military service was compulsory in South Korea, and he merely did his duty to protect and help others. However, something about his tone & demeanor, as well as the reverence Ripley, Estes, and the others had toward him, suggested that Kim was selling himself short- that his actions were more heroic than his modesty permitted him to reveal. It made Daniel think of his late brother, but then again, so did a lot of things.
The two solemnly gazed at the monument to the community’s war dead. Though he wasn’t from there, Daniel smirked in pride as he read a line stating that during World War I, that city didn’t have a single man drafted; they had all volunteered.
Daniel thought back to a counseling session he had had with Simon and Ripley. “You’ve improved since you’ve been here,” Simon told him.
He was referring to not just his physical health, but his mental health. In fact, his psychological state was what had shown the most improvement. When he first arrived, Daniel frequently had flashbacks and nightmares that led to violent outbursts and fits of crying or screaming. On the other end of the spectrum, he sometimes had spells in which he stared into space like he’d been given zombie powder. Though he still suffered the fits, spells, and whatnot on occasion, they had decreased in frequency and intensity. His temperament had also improved, leading to fewer and less dramatic mood swings. He had suffered from trust issues due to the torture he had suffered at the hands of his captors, but his rescuers and new comrades had worked patiently to reassure him and help him heal.
Daniel was happy for the progress he had made, but he stumbled over his words. “Well, I… you all… you all have helped me a lot. You’ve been good to me, all of you.”
“Thank you. I’m glad to hear it. However, I point it out not so we can have praise, but so you can have encouragement. Think of your progress and be of good courage, and don’t bottle up your feelings. You’ve been through the mill- not just the experiment that gave you increased strength & abilities, but also the psychological torture those monsters subjected you to.”
Daniel lowered his head. Simon continued, “Due to the trauma you’ve suffered you have flashbacks, nightmares, fits, mood swings, etc. You have triggers- and I mean you really do have triggers, unlike these whiny college kids who are offended by everything.” Daniel chuckled despite himself. Simon finished, “You know what you have, right?”
Daniel chuckled again, but this time it was a brief and sardonic chuckle. He replied sadly, “Yeah, I know, and the irony’s not lost on me. I never saw combat, and yet I have combat shock.”
“It’s nothing to be ashamed about. You’ve talked about being tough, and you’re right. Having this condition doesn’t make you less tough, less of a soldier, or less of a man- it just means you have a condition. A number of people, both military and civilian, have post-traumatic stress disorder- war veterans, police officers, firefighters, nurses, survivors of violent crimes and natural disasters, and even victims of cruel and constant bullying. There’s a stigma associated with it, but it shouldn’t be that way. A person who lost a limb or who had a heart condition shouldn’t be shunned or viewed as weak, and neither should someone with a mental illness.”
Daniel nodded. He spent a few minutes in silent thought. Ripley told him, “I hope that prior to this you weren’t the type who would despise someone with that condition.”
Daniel looked up at Ripley. His eyes rapidly grew hard and then burned with fury. He arose from his seat in a flash. “What kind of question is that!?”
Estes and Kim, moving calmly yet swiftly and resolutely, took defensive positions in front of Ripley. Ripley himself casually moved an arm to a better position for removing a weapon from his coat or belt, should the need arise. Simon leaned forward slightly in his chair in case he needed to take action.
“How dare you ask me that! That’s something only a monster would do!! I’ve been arrogant in my life, and I’ve done bad things in my life, but I’m not that kind of a-hole! I’m tough, but I’m tough for real, not one of those mofos that tears down others to try to look tough!! I don’t knock down others to try to prop myself up! Only a lowlife does that!! I always helped and supported my comrades! Anyone who was at Basic Training with me can tell you that, and anyone who doesn’t is lying! If you don’t believe me, then put the Binding Mask back on me, or inject me with something, and ask me again! If I were still in the service, I’d help any of my brothers-in-arms! I don’t look down on people unless they’re apathetic or hateful or something! How can you- How can you even ask me that question!? How dare you!!!”
He stood there steaming in anger, his breath starting to become ragged as a result of his outburst. Ripley observed him, then smiled. “I’m glad to see your heart. If you had turned out to be hateful, then I would have had no use for you.”
Daniel was surprised. “You… You would have abandoned me?”
“No. I still would have helped you recover so you wouldn’t become a killing machine, and I still would have been glad I rescued you. However, I probably would have turned you over to the proper authorities so you would be locked up where you couldn’t hurt anybody. You could have all the power, abilities, and training in the world, but if you were cold-hearted and didn’t have character, I’d have no use for you. I came across as insulting your character, but I was trying to prove it, and now that it’s been proven, you’ve justified the trust I’ve placed in you.”
Daniel was moved by this. He felt both amused and honored by the fact that just like he had placed trust in Ripley, Ripley had placed trust in him as well. “Yeah, well… that’s good to hear.”
The tension in the room began to dispel. Daniel sat down again. Simon told him, “Devastated cities can be rebuilt, dry bones in the valley can have new life, and you can rise up and help others despite these setbacks in your life.” Daniel thoughtfully nodded in agreement. Simon added, “Your character reflects well on your late parents.”
The compliment caused both pride and sorrow to well up inside him. “Thanks. Ma and Pa were the best. They worked hard to raise us right- me, my sister, and my late brother.” He swallowed hard.
“Take as much time as you need.”
“Let me tell you, my brother was one of the greatest soldiers who ever lived.” His voice took a reverent tone. “If I could be one-tenth the man he was, I’d be the proudest man in America. He was a hero- a real hero. He had medals, accolades… and he would have earned twice, maybe three times as many if he hadn’t-” His voice broke. “-if he hadn’t come home in a box.”
He felt tears sting his eyes. Feeling they might start streaming down, he pointed to his eyes and announced, “See this? This is pride right here! My brother was a hero!”
Simon nodded in agreement. “I would have liked to have met him.”
“Yeah. He would have liked to have met you too.”
Daniel felt like a burning fog had formed in his brain and was infiltrating the rest of his system. His face felt flushed, his chest felt tight, his nerves felt on fire, and there was an uncomfortable feeling in the pit of his stomach. His entire system felt displaced and strained. He stood up. “Excuse me.”
He calmly went to the clinic bathroom and locked the door. Then he immediately grabbed a towel, fell to his knees, and crammed as much of the towel into his mouth and face as he could. He let out a muffled scream that shook every fiber of his being. Then he sobbed openly, both for everything and for nothing in particular. When he regained his composure, however long that was, he arose, washed and dried his face, and rejoined the counseling session.
“Are you all right?” asked Simon.
“Yeah, I’m okay, thanks,” replied Daniel.
In the present Daniel and Kim stared in silent thought for several moments. After a while Kim patted Daniel on the shoulder as a gesture of camaraderie and they turned to head back to the vehicle.
It was no surprise that Ripley and Estes had also gotten out to pay their respects. Ripley didn’t have any relatives in the service, but the iguana man had respect for those who had sacrificed so much. The fact that lizard people were barred from serving in the United States military was a divided issue. Some lizard people felt that they should be allowed to fight for the country they loved and that had given them such opportunities; others said they were relieved that they wouldn’t have to risk their lives for a country that looked down on them. As for Estes, he had his own story.
One day, as Daniel, Kim, and Estes were talking, Daniel had asked Estes, “Did you have anyone in the army?”
Estes looked uncomfortable. “My father and some of my other relatives.” Daniel started to say something, but Estes held up a hand to stop him. “It wasn’t the U.S. army, nor was it a choice.” His expression hardened and his hand took a hard grip on the cup he was holding. “I was born here; Papa wasn’t. You can bet, though, that if he had served in the U.S. Army, he would have been an asset.”
Daniel nodded. Estes gazed at his cup in sadness. “I thank God he got out of there, and that I was born here. With my powers, who knows what they would have done to me over there.”
Daniel started to reflect, but his thoughts were interrupted by Estes holding the cup toward him. “It might not be perfect, but here’s to America.”
Daniel smiled and tapped Estes’s cup with his own. “To America.”
As the four headed back to the vehicle, Daniel thought about everything Ripley and his allies had done for him. Not only had they rescued him from those monsters that had treated him so cruelly, but they had also helped him heal and grow stronger. They had also provided him with equipment so he could eventually become a vigilante and use his abilities to the full to help others. From the very beginning Ripley had made it known that while it would be nice if Daniel were to join Basilisk, it was only an option. Whether he joined was entirely his choice, and there would be no hard feelings if he decided not to. He had read the Basilisk by-laws and code of conduct, and he knew that there was nothing that would violate his moral code. Reflecting on everything, he made a decision.
“Ripley,” he called.
Ripley stopped and turned to look, as did Estes and Kim. Daniel silently raised his right hand. Ripley immediately understood. “You’re making this choice of your own free will?”
The iguana man grinned warmly. “Excellent. This decision was yours to make, and I’m happy that you made the choice you did.” He came up to Daniel and raised his right arm. “You swear to uphold and abide by the Basilisk code?”
Ripley took out a needle from his coat, took Daniel’s hand, and pricked his ring finger three times. Daniel looked at the marks- three pricks in two rows. The top row had a prick on both the left side and the right side; the bottom row had just one prick on the left.
“Those dots represent the letter F in the Braille alphabet,” explained Ripley. “It represents ‘Fidelis’, the Latin word for ‘Faithful’. Had you thought about a codename?”
“No, I hadn’t thought of that. I just now decided, and there’s been so much other stuff on my mind.”
“That’s certainly understandable. Let’s see… You have a great love of country, and have shown great loyalty, so how about Devotee?”
“Yeah… Yeah, I like that.”
Ripley nodded and then shook his hand. “Welcome to Basilisk, Devotee.”
Estes and Kim shook his hand and gave their congratulations as well. Daniel smiled as he drank in the feelings of belonging and acceptance.
Chapter Two: Debriefing
When the quartet arrived at their destination, they saw a man peering through the window of the front door. The man turned to call someone, and shortly afterward he and a young woman exited the building. They watched as their visitors exited the vehicle.
Ripley nodded in greeting. “Hello, Missy.”
“Hello, Ripley,” Missy replied. Referring to the man beside her, she added, “This is my assistant, Kent.”
“Pleased to meet you,” Kent told them. The thing that was most noticeable about Kent was the volume of hair grease he used. Estes could appreciate that. Estes was the only member of Basilisk that carried a folding brush and mirror in his weapons pouch.
Missy turned her attention to Daniel. “This must be the young pup you spoke of.”
“Yes, this is Daniel alias Devotee,” replied Ripley.
Missy looked surprised. “Alias? Does that mean he’s a member of your group?”
“That’s right. He made the decision to join earlier today.”
“That explains it. It doesn’t matter either way. It’s just that I didn’t remember you calling him a member when we spoke earlier.” She approached Devotee and extended her hand. “I guess congratulations are in order then.”
Devotee accepted her handshake. “Thanks.”
“I have to say it means a lot that you agreed to come here to meet with me.” They all understood her meaning. Her late father was a terrorist who was responsible for the deaths of over three dozen soldiers. After his deadly attack on the military base, he had committed suicide to avoid capture. It had taken Missy years to recover from the trauma.
Devotee replied, “Well, one thing I’ve learned is that we’re not our relatives.” He looked down sadly.
“Ripley told us about your brother. We’re sorry for your loss.”
“I trust you’ll keep his spirit alive.”
Daniel started to brighten. “Thank you. I intend to.”
“How was your trip?”
“Long, but good.”
“That’s good to hear.” She turned to the others. “Come on in. I’m sure you’re ready to stretch your legs.”
Kent held the door open and everyone entered the building. The corridor seemed sterile, but the rooms beyond that had a homely feel to them. The living room furnishings included a couch, some chairs, and a table displaying some pictures. Among the framed photographs were childhood snapshots of Missy and her late mother. Daniel looked at the pictures for a while before taking a seat.
“Would anyone like something to drink?” inquired Missy. “We have water, various sodas, milk, and some sweet tea. Of course, it’s about time for supper too. It’s a tradition in our family that on the evening guests come, we order in or go out to a restaurant so no one has to worry about food or chores.”
“What kinds of places do you have here?” asked Daniel.
“We have a diner, a Mexican place, a couple Asian buffets, some burger places, some chicken places, and a couple pizza places.”
Ripley announced, “The three of us-” He gestured to Kim, Estes, and himself. “Twi-Night, Foam, and I- tend to attract attention wherever we go, but if Devotee wants to go somewhere, that’s fine.”
Daniel looked surprised, but delighted. “What’s the diner like?”
“Oh, it’s great,” Kent replied. “They have steak & potatoes, fried chicken, salmon patties, peach cobbler-”
Daniel chuckled. “Did they tell you I’m from Georgia?”
“What? No.” He grinned. “Isn’t that something? If I’d known that, I would have mentioned a different dessert so it didn’t sound like a stereotype.” He added, “The Braves got rid of that one jerk, right?”
Daniel chuckled again. “Yeah, they got rid of him some time ago.”
Kent, Daniel, Estes, and Kim talked baseball for a while and then Daniel decided he was ready to go. He and Kent freshened up a little before getting into Kent’s car and heading to town. Missy retrieved some take-out menus, selected one, and handed it to Kim. “Here’s a great place. They sell pizza and sandwiches, and also rent movies. Most of them are bad slasher films, but there are some good ones too.”
She retrieved a small notebook with a pencil tucked into the spiral binding and a folded news article tucked halfway between the pages. It was the same book she had taken notes in when she had spoken with Ripley. Among the notes were the following:
- Patient experienced traumatic events prior to his captivity, including the death in war of his older brother and the murder of his parents.
- Patient was abducted and used as a guinea pig in an experiment which gave him increased power. His captors then forced him to relive traumatic moments in his life, making his mind unstable.
- Patient has been receiving counseling for PTSD. His progress is good, but further counseling is advised.
- Patient has insinuated that he was driven to acts of violence as a result of trauma. His captors wanted to create a killing machine.
Missy asked Ripley, “Do I have everything straight?” and handed him the notebook.
Ripley read through the notes. “Yeah. He’s been through some kind of ordeal all right.” He started to hand the notebook to Kim.
“Read the article,” Missy instructed.
Ripley took out the article, unfolded it, started reading, and smiled in grim satisfaction. Estes and Kim looked at the article and, upon realizing what it described, gave the same grim smile. The article told how a SWAT team, acting on a tip, had raided a facility in California. Many of the guards put up little resistance, as though they were coming out of drug-induced stupors. The matter was being investigated, but several arrests had been made for conspiracy to perform illicit human experimentation, unlawful imprisonment, and other illegal activities.
“This is the case that article refers to?” asked Missy.
“Oh, yeah,” replied Estes. “That was fun. We rescued Devotee from those creeps, then let the SWAT team do the rest.”
“Go ahead and keep that if you want.”
“Thanks.” Estes refolded the article and tucked it into a compartment of his weapons pouch.
Ripley explained, “With the evidence that was seized there should be no reason for him to testify, but he’s recovered enough that he can if necessary.”
“Do you know who the mastermind behind this is yet?” asked Missy.
“I’m afraid not, but when we do find out who’s responsible, it will be a bad day for them.”
“I just met Devotee today, but he seems like a nice guy. He seems like the kind who’s always boasting about how tough he is, but you could trust to look after your invalid granma.”
“He can be brash and arrogant, but his heart is in the right place. Now that his psyche is healing you can see the kind of man he is.”
“It’s clear he cares about family. Does he have any family left?”
“He has a sister. She lives in Georgia with her husband and children. He’s made contact with her, but right now he has no plans to visit or even have an extended conversation with her.”
“It’s not that there’s bad blood,” interjected Estes. “He says they’ve been distant ever since their parents were killed, but things aren’t strained. He’s just… not ready to see her.”
Missy thought of her own brother and noted, “I’m sure he has guilt he’s carrying around, not to mention fear. It just needs time and effort.”
Kim added, “You probably saw him looking at those pictures. When we broke him out of that place, we also got a bag he had. Shortly after he awoke and we introduced ourselves, he wanted to know where his stuff was. He got into his bag and dug out a picture.”
“A family picture?” guessed Missy.
“Right. He showed us later that it was a picture of his parents. He hugged that photograph close to him like a child, like it was the most important thing in the world.”
“I’m sure that to him it was the most precious item in the world. You can’t blame him.”
“Heaven knows we don’t. We were moved when we found out what it was and what the story was.”
Ripley spoke again. “He wants to use his powers and abilities to serve as a vigilante. We’ve provided him with equipment in addition to counseling and moral support. In addition to armor similar to my own, we’ve provided him with a special shield. Since he generally hates firearms, this shield will be his primary weapon as well. He’s told us that he’s going to put a picture of his family onto the back of his shield as a source of encouragement.”
Estes had looked at Ripley eagerly when the shield was mentioned. Ripley knew this without even looking, and he smirked & told him, “Go ahead and tell the story.”
Estes grinned and reported, “When we gave him the shield, the first thing he did after slipping it on his arm was use it as a mirror. Looked at his reflection like, ‘Oh, you beautiful doll!’ You can’t blame him for that, either.” He gestured to his jacket and the rest of his outfit. “I know when I got these duds I modeled them in the mirror for I don’t know how long.”
Missy nodded. “It’s a proud feeling when you feel like you’re part of something and you can accomplish something.”
After the three gangsters had written down their orders, Estes handed the notebook and menu to Kim. Kim removed some papers from his jacket, set the notebook & menu on top, and handed the stack to Missy.
“Some reading material, eh?” She set the stack on her lap. “I have a question. I’m honored you came to me, and I certainly appreciate the offer to reimburse me for any help I can provide, but why do you need me? For one thing, that Pathos fellow can read people’s traumas, can’t he? Or is it that he can tell people have experienced trauma, but can’t tell what caused it?”
“Usually he can tell what caused a person’s trauma,” replied Ripley. “That’s not the issue here. It’s a matter of building trust. If Pathos learned someone’s trauma and then blabbed it, no trust would be established. By learning a person’s past, but keeping it between the two of them until the person is ready to share with others, Pathos shows he can be trusted and forms a bond. By encouraging someone to share, but letting them do it on their own time, we show we can be trusted and that we care. Daniel wants to share more, but at the same time it’s painful. We could have employed drugs or hypnosis, but we thought it was best to see you.”
“That makes sense.” She looked at the notebook and smirked at the desserts on Ripley’s order. Who would have guessed that a lizard man could have such a sweet tooth?
She picked up the phone and dialed the number. “Hello, this is the Mester residence. I have some out-of-town guests here. First we have a barbecue rib sandwich with fries and a wild cherry milkshake… next we have chicken strips, zucchini slices, apple fritters, cheesecake bites, and a Pepsi… then we have a barbecue pork sandwich platter with fries & a Pepsi… and finally an Italian hoagie platter with fries & a strawberry soda… Mmm-hmm. That’s right… Yes, do you have either Sleeping Beauty or The Muppets?… That’s good. I’d like to rent both of them… Okay… Thank you, sir… Goodbye.”
She hung up the phone and explained, “I think we’ll need something whimsical before the night’s over.” She added, “Here in Kentucky we know about horses. Sometimes, when a horse is unstable, a lamb or kid is put in the stall to be a calming influence. I think one of you should come into the room with us to be a calming influence on Devotee.”
Both Kim and Estes raised their hands. Ripley nodded that it was okay for both of them to go. “Okay, then,” responded Missy. “That settles that.”
Missy started reading through the papers, pausing periodically to ask questions or offer commentary. After the food arrived she, Estes, and Kim went to eat at the kitchen table. Ripley stayed in the living room, noting that he didn’t like to eat around others because he had germs. Ripley could be tough and fearsome, and he was definitely an intimidating figure, but he also had a compassionate side. Missy could tell during their previous conversation that he genuinely cared about Daniel’s recovery and well-being regardless of whether or not he joined Basilisk. Ripley was respected by his men not as much for his power as for his wisdom & concern.
Missy kept reading as they ate. She got to the parts which described the trials that Daniel was forced to undergo. In one instance he was the subject of an attempted hanging, a test to see if he could withstand strangulation. The experience was uncomfortable, to say the least, but he passed the test, shrugging off the experience seconds after the rope was loosened. In another instance he was bound, given an oxygen mask, and submerged in frigid water for nearly forty-eight hours. The experience had left him severely frostbitten, yet there was no lasting damage. His wounds were treated and he healed quickly in response to rest and warmth. He was back in “fighting condition” within a couple days. Missy shook her head. “Worthless monsters. Traumatizing a guy so he’s in no condition to fight back and forcing him to go through all these things.” She looked up from the papers. “Now that I know about the man, one thing that strikes me is how unnecessary this all is. He wants to be a hero, and you said he can be arrogant. What do you want to bet that if these creeps had approached him and told him, ‘Hey, we can make you a superhero if you can pass some tests,’ he would have jumped at the chance?”
“I think you’re right,” replied Estes. “It didn’t take much for him to show us his abilities- crushing a phone by squeezing it, fighting non-stop for half an hour, holding his breath for a long time, etc. It would have been a ‘Bring it on, I can do this!’ kind of thing.”
Kim added, “These are sick people to do what they did, or to do it the way they did it.”
“Since they knew about his traumas, do you think that they kidnapped him and then investigated his background, or that they knew him before this?”
“We’ve wondered that too. Either way they’re sick.”
“You’re not wrong.”
The four finished their meals and then Ripley, Estes, and Kim brought in the luggage. Eventually Kent returned and entered the house. In response to Missy’s concerned expression, he explained, “He’s taking a stroll around the property. I think he’s trying to clear his head. There wasn’t any trouble.”
“That’s good. Tell him that his luggage has been brought through to his room, and I’m ready when he is.” As an afterthought, she asked, “Did he get the peach cobbler?”
Kent chuckled. “Yeah, he did. We had a nice conversation, too. He seems like a pretty cool guy.”
Since it was a pleasant summer evening, Kent went back outside to wait for Daniel. About twenty minutes later they entered the house together. Daniel announced, “If you’ll show me to my room, I’d like to rest a little.”
Missy nodded. “That’s understandable.”
Missy led him to a small bedroom. He thanked her, moved his luggage aside, and sprawled out on the bed. Missy came back to find that Kent had turned on a game show for them to watch. While the rest of them watched and occasionally heckled the more incompetent and inane contestants, Daniel tried to rest as much as he could. Some of his physical weariness eased, but his mind was restless. After a while he got up and headed toward the living room. Missy heard his footsteps and turned to face him.
“Are you still ready?” asked Daniel.
“Yes,” replied Missy.
Chapter Three: Examination
Missy led Daniel, Kim, and Estes down a corridor and into a large room. It was obvious that it was a laboratory. Part of the room served as a chemical lab. Some of the cabinets bore warning labels, and one of them was fastened shut with a padlock, indicating particularly hazardous contents. There were various gas tanks, a first aid kit, a fume hood, a safety shower, and a large island with drawers, racks of test tubes, a sink, and gas nozzles for Bunsen burners. The other part served as a mechanical lab and workshop. There were counters and shelves with various tools and machine parts, another first aid kit, a workbench, and more gas tanks. At the back of the area a large tarp could be seen covering various machines, and in front of that a pair of robots stood lifelessly.
Daniel took in the surroundings as they walked. He looked ahead to where Missy was heading and saw a chair with armrests and a headrest. There was some kind of machine at the back of it, and above the headrest was some kind of device. Attached to the chair were the kind of electrodes used to monitor heart and breathing rates. Next to the chair was a small table in addition to an I.V. stand with some kind of clear fluid. When they got to the chair, Daniel was able to examine it more closely. There weren’t any bonds or shackles attached to the chair, which was reassuring. After glancing at the computer and processing station at the back, he gripped the helmet-like device and examined the inside of it. At the areas where the ears would be were some kind of speakers. At the temple and forehead areas were what looked like bicycle lights, and all around were what he assumed to be sensors, like the kind used to monitor brainwaves. The visor was like a clear screen. He sighed and stated, “So this is the thing.”
“Mmm-hmm,” replied Missy. “Ripley explained what this does?”
“Uh-huh. It somehow records people’s memories and allows others to view them, like a mental VCR.”
“That’s right. It’s completely harmless.” She gestured to the I.V. and explained, “First you’ll be knocked out, and then comes the helmet. I’ll be able to hypnotize you so we’ll find the memories we’re looking for. I mean, we don’t want to see someone showering by mistake.”
Devotee grinned. “Good to know.”
“I can record to a number of mediums- VHS, DVD, even laserdisc.”
“Laserdisc has the best sound and picture, so yeah, go with DVD.”
The others grinned. Missy continued, “Okay. You’re ready?”
Devotee saw movement. He turned to see that Estes and Kim had stepped to one side, allowing him a clear path back to the door. That was their way of saying it was entirely his decision. He nodded and told them, “This is why I came here. You two go on ahead.”
Estes and Kim nodded and were soon out of sight, leaving Daniel alone with Missy. Daniel removed his shirt and sat in the chair. Missy started attaching the electrodes to Daniel’s chest and noted, “I read your file. Those monsters did a number on you.”
“Yeah,” Devotee replied simply.
“One thing we were saying is how unnecessary it was. You’re a tough guy; we all know that.”
“These creeps could have approached you and said, ‘Hey, we can make you a hero if you can pass some tests.’ I can see you joining up with somebody who offered to do that. I can see it happening easily.”
His expression began to grow hard. “What does that mean?”
“What does, ‘I can see it happening easily,’ mean? I wouldn’t run with just anybody. It’s not like I’m going to ditch Basilisk to run with any group of yahoos who dangle a carrot in front of me!”
Missy was surprised, but she could understand why he reacted that way. “No, of course not! I’m sorry if it came across that way; it wasn’t my intention to make accusations or anything. It’s just that you wanted to be a hero so much that you were willing to do almost anything. Am I wrong?”
He admitted, “No, you’re not wrong. I wouldn’t have joined one of those warped terrorist groups or anything like that, but… no, you’re not wrong.”
“You wanted to be a hero so much that you would have subjected yourself to those grueling tests willingly. It would have been a matter of pride. Instead they-”
“Yeah. I see what you mean… Sorry about that.”
“It’s fine,” she reassured him. “Maybe I didn’t word my thoughts well.”
She thought before continuing. Kim and Estes had disappeared from sight, but that didn’t necessarily mean they were gone. It was likely they had ducked out of sight for a few minutes to make sure everything was okay. In any case, this was a chance to quell any doubts. She told Daniel, “Your response indicates you’re loyal to Basilisk.”
“Jeez, why do you have to make it sound so clinical? Sure, I’m loyal. Wouldn’t you be?”
“Of course. I saw you had some blowups, but I guess there’s a little fighting in every family.”
He sighed as he remembered. “I was in such a state that I would have blown up at St. Peter, Audie Murphy, and Mother Teresa. You can’t judge me by the state I’ve been in.”
“That’s certainly the truth. They don’t have to worry then?”
“No.” Devotee had become solemn. “I’m still recovering, and I might make some bad moves in the future, but I’m not going to betray them or anything.”
“I can tell you’re sincere. That’s good.”
He paused thoughtfully and noted, “It’s funny you should say, ‘There’s a little fighting in every family.’ I hadn’t thought about it like that, but… maybe they are kind of like a family.”
Missy lightheartedly told him, “Don’t worry, I’ll keep it a secret that you got sentimental.”
Daniel snorted in amusement. “I don’t care. What’s it matter at this point?”
There was a long pause, which Missy took as a bad sign. She observed Devotee as he sat stilly. Finally he stated, “My dreams have died.”
Missy turned her head so Daniel couldn’t see the tears that had suddenly formed in her eyes, but Daniel wouldn’t have noticed them anyway. He was staring down with a gaze that was a thousand yards away. “My old dreams have, anyway. I’ll keep going, work on some new dreams and making them come true. I can do that now.”
“I think so,” Missy replied. She cleared her throat so her voice wouldn’t crack. “Keep going, like you say, and you might find that your old dreams have life in them after all.”
“Yeah. I think you’re right.” Devotee sat silently as a tear threatened to run down his cheek, and then he came back to the present and said, “Let’s just get on with it.”
Missy rubbed her eyes with the thumb and two fingers of one hand as though they were just tired or irritated. “Yeah, you’re right.” She opened a drawer in the small table, took out a juice box, and handed it to Daniel. “A side-effect of the anesthetic is a bitter taste in the mouth. This will help.”
“Thanks.” He braced himself as she took the I.V. needle. “Do it.” He barely flinched as she jabbed the needle into a vein on his arm. Missy activated the flow of anesthetic, and by the time Daniel got the straw into his juice box to have a drink, he had begun to feel its effects. Shortly after he drained it, he found it almost impossible to keep his eyelids open. He laid his head back, and soon he was in a deep sleep.
Missy gently opened one of her subject’s eyelids. Confirming his unconsciousness, she removed the empty juice box from Daniel’s now nerveless hand and set it on the table. As she went to the computer station, she caught a glimpse of a pair of shadows as two figures silently exited the lab. She smirked at her correct assumption as to the whereabouts of Estes and Kim, then began the process of finding and recording Devotee’s memories.
Chapter Four: Found Memories
Daniel woke up sometime later. He had been brought back to his bedroom. The door was slightly open, allowing someone to peek through the door discreetly to check in on him. Various cushions, pillows, and quilts had been arranged along the walls & furnishings just in case he woke up in an agitated state & began flipping out. He saw some bottles of water and fruit juice nearby. He got some water to relieve a dry throat and an unpleasant taste in his mouth. He rested his head after draining the bottle. He had the same feeling he had when awaking from a nightmare, and he found himself quivering.
After gathering himself, he looked around the room some more. His shirt was folded neatly and lying beside him on the bed, and he also saw a portable DVD player and some DVDs. Among the titles were a couple seasons of that cartoon with those magic little horses that had adventures and learned about friendship. Who would have guessed Missy was into that? Wait, were these Missy’s or Kent’s? If they were Kent’s, there was nothing wrong with that as long as it didn’t lead to perverse hobbies. Besides, maybe they were just there for visitors to watch. Daniel was tempted to watch an episode or two, but decided to go with something else. He looked at the Walker, Texas Ranger DVDs with interest, but he decided those would have to wait until later; right now he needed something a little less action-y. He popped in a Nicholas Cage comedy, stretched out on the bed, and tried to unwind.
After finishing up in the lab, Missy came through to the living room where the others were. Kent told her, “I peeked in on him a minute ago. He’s awoken up, and he’s watching something on the DVD player. It looks like he’s doing all right.”
“That’s good. I’m proud to say I got the dosage right, and as far as I can tell the procedure went perfectly.” She held up a DVD in a blue sleeve. “It’s ready to be watched. I haven’t watched it myself yet, so I don’t know what and all we’ll see.”
Ripley arose and walked over to her. “Foam and Twi-Night told me about the conversation the two of you had beforehand. It’s a very sad thing for someone to say that their dreams have died.” He placed his hand atop her shoulder as a show of support. “We appreciate you giving him encouragement, and it’s good to hear that he’s determined to keep going.” He withdrew his hand. “I believe he has a future and a hope, and that he’s going to do great things & do some good in the world.”
“I do too. With his determination and the help he’s gotten, he can be a hero like he’s wanted to be.”
“Exactly. Speaking of help, I recently spoke with one of our top members. She had been contacted about a potential alliance. The duo was one you’ve had experience with as well.”
“Oh, them,” replied Missy, realizing who he was referring to. “Well, I do have to admit that my former rivals are good people. They really do care about others.”
“You know, too, that they’ve publicly admitted to dealing with mental illness, as have some of their allies. The timing of this is very interesting. Here we have a man recovering from trauma & trying to make something of himself, and someone who can sympathize with his situation approaches us about an alliance.
“I asked Daniel how he would feel about joining them. Thankfully he understood that it wouldn’t be an attempt to ‘pass him off’ to someone else, and that we wouldn’t feel betrayed if he decided to join them while he continued in his recovery. He had mixed feelings, so I told him to take his time. It’s his decision, just like joining Basilisk. We trust that whatever he decides, he’ll always return to us because, like you said, we’re a family now.” He nodded toward the DVD. “Whatever’s on there won’t change that. Let’s not delay things any longer.”
Missy and Kent led Ripley, Estes, and Kim to a small viewing room. Missy connected the VCR/DVD player to the TV, turned them both on, inserted the disk, and grabbed the remote control. She & the others sat down to watch and then she pressed PLAY.
The first scene was at night. Daniel was strolling & chatting with two other men. The two looked to be about Daniel’s age and bore what could be described as roguish grins. The conversation they and Daniel were having indicated a friendly relationship.
“Any idea who these guys are?” asked Missy.
“I think they might be a couple of his army buddies,” offered Kim.
“You’re probably right,” stated Estes, “but I hate to imagine these guys being in the armed forces.”
Kent agreed, “Yeah, they look like mofos, and not the good kind.”
“There’s a good kind of mofo?” Missy inquired.
Ripley scratched his snout, and as he did it seemed to Missy that he pointed in Estes’s direction.
In the memory the trio eventually parted ways. The screen became gray and silent, indicating a pause between recorded memories. That particular memory didn’t seem remarkable, but it had to have some significance. They waited for the next memory to start.
They had no way of knowing how far apart the first & second memories were, but they obviously occurred on different days because it was dusk in the second one. Daniel came out of a building and got into his car. He was about to open a can of soda pop when his cell phone started ringing. The caller ID read “Ma & Pa”. He answered it and heard a voice say, “Your folks shouldn’t have put up such a fight.”
After a stunned pause Daniel demanded, “Who is this!?”
The caller hung up. Daniel, quivering slightly, started the car. He bolted out of the parking lot and onto the road. The next few minutes showed him speeding down streets as he raced toward his parents’ house.
“I bet the poor guy wanted to throw up,” offered Kent. “I feel queasy just watching this.”
Daniel reached the house and pulled into the gravel driveway. The door to the house was partway open. Daniel parked and then dashed out without stopping to remove the key from the ignition or close the car door. He found the screen door knocked halfway down, as if it had been kicked violently by an intruder. He began searching and soon found a pair of bodies lying on the floor. The corpses of the elderly couple bore a number of bullet wounds. Daniel stood still for a moment before dashing to his parents’ side and kneeling beside them. Their still open eyes stared lifelessly. Their wounds looked fresh, showing how recently their murder had occurred.
The stunned, shaking Daniel reached out toward the bodies and then hugged them close. He began talking to them, as if denying the reality of what had happened would change it. The viewers remained silent, but they felt lumps in their throats and tightness in their chests as they absorbed the tragic scene.
The screen cut to gray silence again. When it came back Daniel was sitting in a small room. For some time he just stared at the wall.
“It’s no wonder he’s in shock,” Ripley observed.
Daniel’s trance was broken after a police officer entered the room and started speaking to him. The officer was solemn yet sympathetic, and he tried to be reassuring. However, the audio was distorted, showing that Daniel was only half-aware of what was being said. The officer asked him some questions about the phone call and the crime scene. After Daniel answered the officer reassured him that they were doing what they could to investigate. He then escorted Daniel to the doors of the police station.
A man, evidently a friend or neighbor, was waiting for Daniel. They got in his car and headed toward Daniel’s home. Daniel stared out the window and then his vision blurred. The scene went dark as he buried his face in his hands and began to cry.
The next scene had him barging into some juke joint. The place was a dive if there ever was one. The patrons and servers who were standing at the front backed away, alarmed at his angry entrance. He spotted his quarry and made a b-line toward their table.
“It’s those two guys from earlier,” observed Estes.
“I know you were involved!” Daniel shouted at his former friends. They looked up at him in alarm. He continued, “So what happened!? You told someone there was a house to rob!? Answer me!”
The two began denying any involvement in the deaths of Daniel’s parents. Soon, however, one of them tried to hit Daniel while he was arguing with the other. It was a bad move; Daniel managed to dodge the blow and counterattack. This led to an out-and-out brawl. The two landed some blows, but Daniel gave as good as he got. All three ended up injured and exhausted. The worn-out Daniel panted and glared down at the duo. He growled, “If I find out you were involved in any way, you’re dead men.”
Police finally arrived and took them all into custody. As a policewoman escorted Daniel to a holding cell to cool down, he looked at someone’s desk calendar, sighed, and hung his head.
“Is that what you were doing?” Ripley asked rhetorically and gently.
“Hmm?” asked Missy.
“Devotee told us that he missed his parents’ funeral because there was something he felt he had to do. I think we just witnessed what that something was.”
The viewers kept watching, curious as to whether it would turn out Daniel’s former buddies had been involved or not.
A new scene began. Daniel, satchel in hand, was walking close to a building. Suddenly his body jerked, as if he had been shocked or stung. He staggered for a second, and then it seemed like the ground rose to meet him as his vision went black.
When he regained consciousness, his blurry vision gradually focused. He started to take in the scene. Then his eyes widened and darted around. He was bound in a chair with metal shackles. A number of IV needles had been jabbed into his limbs, torso, and even groin.
“Well, that has to blow,” remarked Missy.
Kent replied, “If by that you mean, ‘This is nightmare fuel,’ then yeah, it blows.”
Daniel could see that the IV lines were connected to a nearby machine which held a tank of mystery fluid. He was in what appeared to be some kind of laboratory, but he couldn’t see anybody.
“I’m glad you’re awake,” a voice announced over a speaker somewhere behind Daniel. “Your bag, in case you were wondering, is in your cell, where you’ll be taken shortly.”
“Who are you!?” shouted Daniel. “What’s going on here!?”
“I think I’ll keep my identity a secret. As for what’s going on here, I think you started to figure that out when you saw all those needles in you. I’ll go ahead and confirm it, though. To be tactless, you’re my guinea pig now.”
The machine started beeping. The liquid it held began to glow and then to flow through the IV tubes and into Daniel’s body. The viewers realized that Daniel was bracing himself, likely to avoid giving his captor the satisfaction of hearing him cry out in pain and fear. They could also tell that the process was uncomfortable. Eventually the scene turned black again as Daniel passed out. The screen then turned gray.
Missy paused and explained, “I knew from your reports that after Daniel was given his powers, he was subjected to psychological torture and to all those tests. I decided not to go into any of that since we already knew the details.”
“That’s good,” replied Ripley. “Please continue.”
The next scene started with Daniel sitting in his cell. A large envelope was slid through the food slot in the door. The outside of it had a message reading, “We’ll have some company soon- some associates of mine”. He opened it cautiously. The envelope held three papers which appeared to be print-outs of digital pictures. The first had a group of mercenaries posing for a group shot, like they were a sports team or something. The second one made Daniel freeze. It was an outside shot of the group coming to the door of his parents’ house. Trembling, he went to the third. This one showed his freshly killed parents lying on the floor.
“There’s our answer,” Ripley noted grimly. “They knew him before this. They’re responsible for everything.”
Daniel crushed the third sheet of paper and flung it against the wall of his cell. He did the same to the second sheet, but he hesitated with the first sheet. Eventually he took it and began staring at it. His eyes filled with tears as he did so, but his gaze stayed fixed on the picture of the mercenaries.
Sometime later someone came and escorted Daniel to a door at the end of a corridor. Daniel looked through the window and saw the group of mercenaries from the picture file into the large room, apparently responding to a summons by his captors. The guard then opened the door so Daniel could join them.
“Missy,” called Kent.
Missy turned and looked at Kent with a mixture of curiosity and irritation. Kent, sensing what was coming, bore an expression of dread. Using the tone of a protective older brother, he warned, “Don’t look at the screen.”
Before Missy could react, she heard an enraged cry followed by rushed footsteps and then by gunshots. She followed Kent’s instruction and resisted the temptation to look at the screen. She started hearing unsettling thuds and sickening cracks. The number of gunshots deceased while the number of thuds, cracks, and cries of pain increased. She heard Kim make an angry comment in Korean, and she could guess what the translation was. Finally there was nothing but the sound of ragged breathing.
“It’s okay; it’s over,” Kent told Missy.
Missy looked at the screen to see Daniel as the last man standing; the mercenaries were all lying on the floor in various states of consciousness and injury. The voice from the speaker told him, “Very well done. It appears you managed to dodge most of the gunfire, and the wounds you did receive don’t seem to have affected you too much. You certainly did a thorough job. It’ll probably take months for them to heal, and some of them might be crippled for life. We’ll see to your wounds now. You’re dismissed.”
Daniel and his escort started to leave, but the voice added, “Oh, here’s something important. You know how you suspected a certain pair of having some connection to the raid on your parents’ house? Well, you’re right. An associate of mine came to your town and started asking questions, which they were eager to answer when compensation was offered. I decided I could use you. Your former comrades didn’t intend for anything to happen to your parents, but nevertheless, they set the ball into motion. I’ve invited them to come here, using the lure of power. After they arrive I’ll give them some special treatment, and then you can have some fun with your friends & playmates.”
“I don’t think he’s lying,” observed Kent.
“I don’t either,” replied Ripley. “It would explain how they learned about him.”
“Pause it,” Kim requested. Missy obeyed. Kim thanked her and then informed her, “Part of the way through, some of them were trying to retreat. One tried the door they came through, but it had been locked.” He pointed to some kind of barrels along the walls close to the ceiling. “I don’t know what those shoot- bullets, gas, nets, or what- but they’re clearly weapons. Someone could have activated them and stopped this, but they just let it happen.”
Missy shook her head angrily. “Hiring killers and thugs to traumatize and fight someone, then betraying them and allowing them to be attacked. ‘Scum’ is too kind a word for this bunch.” She added, “It sounds like they planned to give Daniel’s ‘friends & playmates’ the same treatment they gave him- the experimentation and torture. What do you suppose happened to them, and to all those guys?”
“I don’t have to suppose; an associate of mine told me,” Ripley informed her. “When the SWAT team infiltrated the facility, they found not only drugged guards & evidence of experimentation, but also two fearful men imprisoned in a cell, and a clinic with several seriously injured men being used as guinea pigs for various diseases and medicines.”
“It’s a wonder that none of them died. Some of the arrested guards and workers claimed they didn’t know the extent of what was going on. The truth will come to light, but those thugs can get the treatment they need before paying for their crimes.”
“It sounds like they’ve gotten some punishment already.” She pressed the PLAY button on the remote control.
Daniel was escorted to a bathroom. Before his wounds could be treated, he knelt by the toilet and began retching. His body trembled between retches.
The screen cut to gray silence before darkening to black for several seconds and stopping, a sign that the recording had ended. Apparently Daniel had been rescued before anything else could happen to him. The group sat in silence for a while as they absorbed what they had seen and heard. Finally Ripley noted, “When Pathos came to meet Daniel, he stood outside the clinic doorway and trembled for a while as he perceived his trauma. I can certainly understand why.”
Missy asked, “You said Basilisk has about 1,500 members, many of which have special powers, right?”
“I hate that whoever’s responsible for this is still out there somewhere, like in a bad horror movie, but the thing is, that guy now has about 1,500 enemies to worry about.”
Ripley, Estes, Kim, and even Kent grinned. Missy went to the DVD player and ejected the disk. “What do you want to do with this?”
“I’m tempted to crush it into shards, but it might prove useful in stopping this monster someday.”
“That makes sense.” As she carefully returned the disk to its envelope, she dryly joked, “I’ll put it in my memory chest.” The others smirked despite everything. Missy turned off the television set and asked, “So, which movie do you want to watch first?”
The vote was The Muppets. Missy suggested they all take a break and reconvene in the living room. Kent left and made his way toward Daniel’s room. He peeked in to see Devotee still watching the movie. Opening the door, he announced, “I have to say, Daniel, I would have been alongside you pummeling those guys.”
Daniel looked up. “Thank you for that.” He paused the movie and sat upright on the bed. “I know you’re trying to be sympathetic, but ‘pummeling’ is too nice a word for what I did. It didn’t bring my folks back, and it was just what that monster wanted me to do.”
“You regret what you were forced to do, so on Judgment Day it’ll be your captors who will have to account for what happened, not you.”
“Thanks. I appreciate that.”
Kent leaned against the doorpost. “Let me tell you what I’m doing here. I became Missy’s assistant as self-imposed penance for a failing of mine. It wasn’t something I did as much as something I didn’t do. I willingly became a servant as atonement for something in my past.”
“That sounds vaguely Biblical, or like one of those saint stories from Catholicism or the East.”
Kent grinned. “It does, doesn’t it? Maybe someday I’ll have a medal bearing my likeness.”
Devotee grinned as well. “I’m the same, I guess. I’m going to use all my abilities to help others, to follow in my brother’s footsteps.”
“Good to hear! We’re all pulling for you.”
“Thank you. I’m sure you are.” Devotee looked at the collection of DVDs. Resisting the temptation to inquire about the horse cartoons, he told Kent, “This is a nice collection here.”
“We try to have a variety.” Kent spied the partly open DVD case standing upright like a tent. “Oh, that’s a funny one. I’m tempted to stay in here and watch the ending.”
“Well, I’m tired, so…” He un-paused the DVD and turned the player so they could both have a view of the screen. “In case I nod off, one of us can watch it.”
“Thank you. You know, the great thing about these kinds of movies is no matter how much mayhem they have to go through, the heroes always come out on top.”
“Yeah. I like that too.”
Missy and Ripley were conversing in a corridor. Missy stated, “Kent’s a good man. I think that as we speak he’s commiserating with Devotee, doing some male bonding.”
“I think so too. I guessed that when I saw him leave the room, because of his facial expression, and the look in his eyes. I’m glad Devotee is making new friends. As I’ve said, he’s made such progress since his rescue.”
“I think he somehow sensed at the beginning that he could trust you all, and that’s why he agreed to let you help him.”
Ripley thought of the night he gave Daniel the option to leave, but he chose to stay as his houseguest. “I think you’re right, and I’m glad he did. Come what may, I have faith in him. He’s not weak; he’s very strong. He’s conquering himself, and so he’ll be able to conquer all things.”
🔔 More stories from author: Kara O'Connor
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