Eric stares in awe at the audaciousness of the aura surrounding the AMPS “A” Team Officer. He certainly understands the elaborate lengths the average American went to when telling the tales and triumphs of Berlin’s long and storied career. The ‘Patient Zero’, a true martyr, boldly placed his head on the metaphorical chopping block awaiting Humanity’s judgement for the crimes and virtues of all Manifestation. Berlin always kept moving forward, and now his larger-than-life persona was growing in scale, heading directly toward Eric’s general location. The young man’s eyes push high up into the hero’s broad features trying to decipher his intentions, and all he finds is a stonewall pushing toward him, but since Eric is no person of particular interest, Berlin must be heading for the double door directly behind him. However, immediately upon coming to this conclusion a shadow slides up to Eric’s side; Berlin’s face shifts from unmovable to a “flexibly friendly” incarnation that appeared far too foreign.
The man who had abruptly popped into view is of an average stature, grinning profusely, and slouching. He sports a shining cue ball head that sways slightly with every step, softly shuffling out about fifteen feet from Eric before stopping to gesture to Berlin, who was around thirty feet away and closing when Omar slaps Eric’s left shoulder / upper back area freeing his beaten brown sneakers clear of all contact with their familiar confidant, the floor.
It takes Eric’s nervous system one tile to relay the message. Plus the three tiles Eric requires to realize what had transpired, another three and a half tiles to surmise his assailant, and one and a half tiles more, nine squares in total, for him to register he had missed his opportunity to land with any grace or lack of injury. Half a tile later, Eric flops on the multi-purpose surface flailing like a rag doll.
Eric arises erroneously embarrassed for losing face in front of Berlin, who is now less than six feet from the boy, oblivious, and oblivious to the empathetic embarrassment and incredulous point-and-roll laughter of the two latecomers with Eisner and Mario a moderate distance away.
“So, Sleeping Beauty awakens?! How’s this ‘morning’ treatin’ ya, ‘Rump’?” Berlin’s smile emerges like a soldier coming back from a war. The man he is addressing is an arm’s length from where Eric now stands, grinning ever greater, hazy eyed with a messenger bag loosely hung over his highly casual, heavily wrinkled clothing.
“Fack you, guy,” ‘Rump’ jovially replies in absurdly contrived accent, with such overt facetiousness a robot could ‘get it’. “How much more of spaceboy do these kids have to sleep through, today- ‘Oh, captain, my captain’?”
“Astro-boy’ll get the job done, as long as some of the wilder mutts don’t gnarl at ‘im…”
Joe exited the side door of the auditorium, assured he had no direct tail. The two were preoccupied, and had much business to attend to. Regardless of the safety net, Joe knew his movements must remain subtle at this proximity. He nonchalantly dropped a small metallic object from his left jacket pocket when taking the corner, only removing his left hand for an instant, before shielding the conspicuous orange glow that began to illuminate the dark jacket. After a few seconds, the light spectrum shifted bands, painting the corners of Joe’s roaming vision. The scan was clear; the target remained within the projected window.
Joe began to engage his wrist watch quickly, and attempted to be as unassuming as possible, before he strode along the side of the enormous corridor the frivolous slacker was sputtering through half-baked. Nearly three minutes had passed since he had scoped the two lazy slouches conversing in the glass hallway, but conveniently, the mark needed to relieve his bladder, probably after becoming bloated with Mountain Dude and the eroding fragments of what used to be functioning kidneys. Ermen’s guard had appeared to falter for a few brief moments less than half a minute after the loaf emerged, pants damp with what was hopefully sink water, holding a skateboard like a loaf of bread.
Joe had a twenty minute head start, conceptually, that is, as long as everything go according to what he had projected, and should they not, he was already moving in the direction of the Academy Dormitory Sanctuary’s local alpha grid, a “well-hidden” group of quite upscale houses about two miles east north east from the auditorium. Should the following arrivals be hostile, he’ll have time to set up, ensuring a safety-net, and strategic advantage.
…Walter Berlin reaches out and mimics a biting motion with his left hand near the shorter, more comfortably aloof individual. This process turns the out-of-character dean of delinquents framework just enough to notice the entranced gawker sponging up any dirt the men may fling. Berlin recovers in force, slightly raising the level of his voice, and enunciating with some effort: “While Mr. Spaceman’s lecture topic is highly important, all of the subject matter will be covered more in depth in the concurrent class. I’m glad to see a face so clearly eager to learn.”
‘Rump’ leans in without Eric noticing to whisper, “Say something.”
Eric pulls back to functionality, slightly choking on his response, and manages to muster a semi-audible “Thank you.”
“Stiltz…” Berlin blurts eyeballing back toward the group Eric arrived with. The Dean returns to Eric and formal tones, “If you’ll excuse me, trainee, I need a word with another adviser.”
As Berlin once again sets off to trek the auditorium, he pats Eric on the back as he crosses by. Eric starts to turn, but is spun further than projected, boosted in momentum, guided by the sort hands of ‘Rump’ or ‘Stiltz’, whichever it was. “Come, Mr. Mendev, I think we should share a few secrets between housemates.” The two begin to approach Mario, and the two students with him.
Before he leaves earshot, Eric focuses all his self into hearing the conversation that begins behind him, his ears quivering with unleashed energy, Berlin’s voice reaching hears though spoken in nearly a whisper, “So I see all the chickens have come home to roost?” Eric can nearly hear the frown on Eisner’s face, but he quickly glances behind to catch a glimpse of his recruiter’s expression, immediately confirming the fact, “Oops, my bad brother.” Berlin’s voice showed no hint of sincere apology, and before Eric can hear more of the conversation these two mysterious mens’ voices fade from his ears.
The student he has shadowed easterly through campus should have been emerging from the door at any second. He set up around eight o’clock, if top of the stoup extended out from the exit at twelve. Joe checked his six, then peered outward across the city street, scanning the curb and passers by.
“He couldn’t have walked past me,” Joe began a monologue with himself, “Unless, he began to skateboard inside the building” His eyes locked on the convenience store doorway three store fronts down the northbound block. One empty Slurpeeze container longing for a refill, one skateboard in dire need of grip tape, and one stoner. Lucky stars. Joe’s target was a relatively unfashionable hippy, which Joe found to be rather inconvenient when considering the actions he was about to commit.
His target began to walk out of the store, shortly after entering, tossing a pack of rolling papers nonchalantly into the air with his non-frozen refreshment hand and hopping on the skateboard. The target began to roll slowly down the street, turning sharply down an alley two blocks down from the store. Joe went into motion, scoping out his surroundings as quickly moved into the entrance of the alleyway, seeing his target sitting down in a courtyard at the corner of a condominium complex. There were no windows facing the alleyway, and Joe felt a familiar ease settle in as he pressed a button on his wrist, now completely enclosed in metallic form, shimmering briefly as he moved towards his newest acquisition.
I had felt these disturbances shortly after their source appeared, though the induction speech at the Academy was my first real opportunity to observe him in person. What I saw terrified me. I had never seen such cold pragmatism fused with such empathy and idealism. Within his eyes burned a righteous indignation, a concoction of calculated calamitous intent and a matriarchal messiah complex. For the first time since my transformation, I felt a true fear of the unknown.
As he stepped around the corner, I saw Joe Donovan briefly flicker out of (this) reality, and a police officer strode down the alley towards the young man who’s fate would be altered by this dissonant source. The young man, who’s name was Fino Cannicus, dropped his joint in surprise as the uniformed figure marched towards him, freezing him upon the bench with a raised hand demanding immediate obedience. The officer practically radiated pure charisma, far more than any officer of the law I had ever seen, and I couldn’t understand how the young Mr. Cannicus did not notice this abnormality himself.
Fino’s manifestation kicked in, and although I was unable to hear it then, Joe would later inform me his final words were a poem whispered in a hoarse voice, raw and dry with the paralysis that had set upon the moribund Fino Cannicus. Its lyrics were thus, “Yay, the light shall pay the price, he strays away from good advice, ways the eye’s mind would devise, pray- stay at bay from rain and ice.”
Joe’s gauntleted fist slammed into the head of his target, Fino Cannicus, knocking him unconscious. He quickly glanced around, ensuring there were no witnesses, and began dragging the body of the slumbering stoner into a nearby bush. He stripped the body of its clothing, shaking himself in discomfort as he pulled off his own clothes and began dressing as Fino Cannicus. Joe knew few people had paid enough attention to his target, especially with the ridiculous beany with a brim the fashion challenged Fino had worn atop his head.
He tried to think upon the consequences of inaction as he placed a small metal cube, pulled from the gauntlet on his left arm, onto Fino’s chest. Joe began walking away, watching the countdown timer on the wrist of his gauntlet, which was now mostly hidden under the baggy sweatshirt Fino had been wearing. As he stepped back around the corner of the alleyway into the street, the timer hit zero. Joe felt the ground briefly shudder silently beneath his feet as he buried the barest trace of remorse still lingering on his face under the tow of the wave’s deepest reverberation.