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by Marc Singer
To the casual passerby, the Miresco Building in downtown Washington, D.C. was a boring three-story building. And indeed, its three stories of offices did fairly boring work, mostly involving the transfer of money between coded accounts.
But to people who actually knew what it housedpeople like Dan Carter, who was even now entering the lobbythe Miresco Building was extremely interesting. Because its five sublevels (not marked on any surviving map or blueprint) were home to the Special Intelligence Resources Command. SIRECOM. The government's elite agency for dealing with superhuman "Omegas."
The SIRECOM headquarters was fairly close to FBI headquarters, a convenient locale. It was also near Ford's Theatre; Dan always wondered if that had been a little joke on the old man's part. Over the years, many people had objected to SIRECOM's mere existence, and some of them were people in very high places; but they were gone now, food for worms and tabloids, and SIRECOM was as strong as ever.
Dan picked the correct elevatoron this Thursday, it was number threeand pressed the HELP button. His thumbprint checked out clean, naturally, and the elevator sank down to the first sublevel (although the lobby indicator showed the elevator rising to the second floor). Even though he was one of SIRECOM's senior agents, Dan still had to go through a litany of security checks. He didn't mind. He liked to see the agency stay on its toes. A little paranoia never hurt anyone. Except the bad guys.
Once he was cleared, Dan headed straight for the armory. He was going after the Benson girl and the geezer, and he would be prepared this time. They were powerful, but SIRECOM's technicians had over thirty years of experience in designing anti-Omega weaponry. And with a highly lucrative defense contract going out to Dynamax Labs, SIRECOM had the very best technology to work with.
However, a security guard intercepted him along the way. "Agent Carter"
"Special Agent Carter," he growled.
"Special Agent Carter, sir, there were some big developments in St. Louis and Chicago in the last couple of days." He handed Dan a file folder, which Dan swatted away.
"I know all about it. Ms. Washington's precious Seekers screwed up in St. Louis," something which made Dan smile inwardly, "and in Chicago we've got Carlinton dead, a bunch of Omega kids on the loose, and Dynamax Labs thinking it can play superhero. Why doesn't somebody call Moulder and tell him to clean up his act or I'll clean it for him."
"Uh, yes sir," the guard stammered. "Also, the Director said that she wanted to see you as soon as you came in."
Dan kept walking towards the armory, while the guard tried to keep up. "Well, you can tell Ms. Washington that I am on assignment." Then he turned back to face the guard. "No, just tell her that I'll see her when I have the time." Dan resumed his march, leaving the guard in his wake. Washington was the last person he wanted to see.
But he had no choice. She was waiting for him in the armory. "Why, Special Agent Carter, I thought you'd show up here." Washington was smirking, that I'm-a-whiz-kid-friend-of-Bill grin Dan hated.
"If you'll excuse me, Ms. Washington " he always accented the Ms a little too heavily"I'm on an important assignment."
"One that I never okayed. One that I never even knew about. One that cost us two agents and attracted a lot of attention." The smile dropped, and Washington was all business. "Your extracirricular bungling is going to cost you big time, Carter."
Dan moved past her, and pushed into the armory's storage room. (A hapless clerk nearly blew a circuitDan always had unlimited access to the room, without having to fill out any paperwork, but the Director was standing right there watching him.) As he nosed through the many shelves of gear, Dan said to his supposed boss, "Since it was extracirricular, you can deny ever being involved in the mission. And this time, it would actually be the truth." Dan's turn to smile: you-know-I've- got-you.
"Oh, it's not SIRECOM's status that's in danger. It's yours. You could keep doing these unauthorized jobs as long as you got results, but this time you screwed up. And your ass is going to be fired."
Dan disappeared behind the shelves for a moment, then came up behind Brenda Washington, grabbing her. No more smiles. "Now you listen to me, lady. You even try to reprimand me, and you'll be out of SIRECOM before you finish your first sentence. Maybe the President says you run this place, but you don't run me."
Washington wasn't fazed in the least. "Oh, I know that, Carter. I know that you and the other old boys still take orders from Owen. That senile bastard seems to have forgotten that he's retired."
"And you seem to have forgotten that Mr. Owen still has a lot of friends in this town. If you keep trying to cross him, or me, then you're history."
Brenda Washington assumed that meant she'd be fired. Dan knew much better.
History as in Ford's Theatre. And the Dallas School Book Depository.
Driving the speed limit was really trying Anne's patience. Especially since she knew she could probably outrace the car. But Anne didn't want any police pulling her over, and discovering that they'd netted two fugitive Omegas. Even so, every muscle in her body was screaming for her to flee to Chicago as quickly as possible.
But Harvey said they should go nice and slow, and he was right. Too much speed, too much haste would just get them noticed. And so their drive to Chicago, avoiding major cities and interstates, took days.
Originally, they had planned to fly out to Chicago, to warn the powerful young Omegas there that the psychic vampire known as Deathbringer wasn't necessarily dead. But Anne realized that the authorities would already be scanning every airport in the Washington, D.C. area, looking for themditto for train stations and bus terminals. Getting her boyfriend, Rich, to rent a car had been the safest, albeit slowest, move.
Speed might not have been so important to warn about Deathbringer, though. After all, it had taken nearly fifty years for him to return after Harvey killed him. With luck, it would take even longer for a second rebirth.
On the other hand, luck was something that had pretty much run out on Anne and Harvey.
Just like I ran out on Rich, Anne thought. She'd barely seen him at all since this whole mess began, and only had a few minutes to say goodbye before she and Harvey lit out for the Midwest. And most of those minutes were spent telling Rich that she was an Omega...
"I don't believe it!" [Rich had said.] "You mean that you were the Omega who trashed Otto's neighborhood?"
"Keep it down, will you, Rich?" They were alone in the motel room, but the walls were thin. "Yes, that was me. And my grandfather, too. But the government agents did most of the trashing."
Rich was stunned. "You can't mean that you and Otto both became Omegas yesterday."
Anne looked at her feet. "No, we've both been Omegas all our lives. The rest of the world just found out yesterday."
Rich calmly stared at her. "You've always been Omegas? I don't believe it."
Anne lifted Rich over her head with one hand. Then she let go; Rich stayed up in the air. "I would never lie to you, Rich."
Once she lowered him to the ground, Rich did a good job of acting calm. "So what now? You just run off somewhere and we never see each other again?"
"I'd like to promise that I'll come back," Anne said, promising herself she'd keep up the tough-girl act, "but I would never lie to you."
... And that had been that. They muttered some goodbyes, but Anne really didn't know if she would ever see him again. Or what he would think of her if she did. After all, she and Harvey had used him for sanctuary and transport, and now she was leaving him.
A few other cars were on the road, but mostly the landscape was just endless fields of crops. Harvey was asleep in the passenger seat; Anne's telepathy could pick up residual impressions from his dreams, but she tried not to eavesdrop. She was truly alone.
Get behind me, Peg!
Harvey's long-dead wife dutifully slipped behind his massive frame. By God, those bastards would have to go through him and his invulnerable red-and-blue costume before he'd let them harm Peg.
There were too many of them. Brilliant, bald Leo Luxor; the obscene parody of life called the Doppelgangster; Qwertyuiop, who could rewrite reality as he saw fit; and brutal, brainless Gotterdammerung, who had already killed Overman once before...
A burst of green radiation leapt from Luxor's gun, driving Harvey to his knees. Next came a blow from the Doppelgangster doublegangster gangsterButch pair of legs sticking out of the rubble
"Grandpa? Are you okay?" It was Anne's voice, booming from all around him. Harvey started rocking gently back and forth. It was getting lighter...
Too late, Gotterdammerung was charging him. It's twilight for you, old man, you can't resist the swelling tide of ragnarockandroll music playing your swan song. And Qwertyuiop (Zxcvbnm Abracadabra) controls the power of words, isn't that all you are Overman? just a bunch of words you're more a comicbook than a man you're just a story and the story's over
The four-color villains crumbled into lifeless husks, dust swept aside by the purple-skinned Super Siphon. The villain who could drain all of his powers, put Overman underground. Then the purple skin ripped apart, revealing an SS uniform: Deathbringer, who stepped over the fallen Harvey and grabbed Peg.
Why didn't you ever tell me the truth, she asked, and then she was gone, dried husk to feed the Death Siphon's growing hunger. Your turn next, Hauptmann, then I'll be the kind of overman to reign over mankind...
But the purple Nazi was gobbled up by a man in a tight black outfit with an Omega on the front, wearing an Uncle Sam hat. Uncle Sam, gobbling everything in sight, going for his granddaughter now. I am waiting for you in Washington, he says, with a big smile and a tongue thrusting out from his blood-red lips, a distant musical chord that wailed tales of rape and murder. I am waiting for you and I will own own owen you.
Harvey woke up sweating, to find Anne looking at him. She rolled her eyes and said, "That was a weird one, wasn't it?"
Richard Cage had been calling in sick ever since Anne turned up on the run. On the run from the law, and it seemed on the run from him as well. And although Anne was kind enough not to come right out and say it, she didn't seem to think she'd be coming back anytime soon. If ever.
For all of the b.s.ing and the timewasting and the running around with his sleazy old high school buddies that Rich had done when Anne was still around, Rich found that his life was amazingly empty without her.
On Tuesday, after Anne and Otto (why did she call him Harvey?) left town, Rich just drove. And drove.
On Wednesday, Rich woke up before dawn and saw no reason to get out of bed.
On Wednesday night, Rich went drinking, and found that you can't drown sorrows. But sorrows, especially with the assistance of alcohol, can drown you.
On Thursday, Rich should have slept late to nurse the hangover. But that was the day Rich was kidnapped by a team of psychotic secret agents.
Rich never heard them enter his apartment, or his bedroom. He became dimly aware of them as they shook him to consciousness, but couldn't see a damn thingit wasn't just the headache, someone had taped over his eyes!
Rich started flailing and kicking wildly, but to no avail; people were firmly grabbing his arms and legs. Suddenly, Rich's empty worthless life became very precious; he tried to scream, but a gloved hand clamped his mouth shut. Weird fears of rapist burglars raced through his headthey were only slightly allayed when his assailants taped him into a chair.
The hand stayed clamped around his mouth, and a voice whispered in his ear. It was a deep, serious voice, but there was always the hint of a giggle lurking in the background. As if the speaker couldn't believe the unbelievable performance he was giving.
"Okay, Richard, you just do what we say and you don't get hurt. First, no yelling. One scream, and we kill you. And the autopsy will never show how we did it, either. You got that?" Richard nodded his head. The man's breath washed over him, halitosis coated in Tic Tacs.
"Good. I'm going to ask you some questions now. You will answer these questions quietly and truthfully, and if you raise your voice then I'll show you whole new worlds of pain. Understood?" Rich nodded again, and the hand was slowly removed. Rich's heart was beating like a jackhammer, and even if he'd been inclined to scream, Rich had a feeling his lungs couldn't find the power to do so.
"First question: what do you know about Anne Benson....?"
For some reason, Rich told him everything.
Cornelius Owen was tending to the mice when Dan Carter called him. This time, the news was mildly good; after three days of fruitless searching, Owen was beginning to despair of ever finding this 'Otto Blume'.
"The boyfriend talked his little head off," Carter said into his secure cellular phone (some officials in the FCC who shared Owen's views had arranged some untappable means of cellular communication that most of the government still didn't know about). "We shot him full of sodium pentothal while he was sleeping, and now we can hardly shut him up."
"And did this young man say anything of interest?"
"Oh, he sure did. He rented a car for Little Miss Benson and the geezer, and they drove off for parts unknown. We, uh, pressed him for more details, but the kid doesn't know where they're going."
Or, thought Owen, the Omegas deleted that knowledge from his brain. They could do thatinvade your mind at any time. Made them damnably dangerous. "We can ferret out their whereabouts on our own. What about the old mandid the boy have any information about him?"
"Yeah. The old guy was here Monday nighthe even twisted up the kid's kitchen sink. We got a nice set of fingerprints from the metal."
"Splendid, Daniel!" Owen pounded his hand onto the small cage, frightening the mice inside. "Send them directly to medon't let anyone else record them, and for God's sakes, don't let anyone check them against a database. And wipe the original prints from the sink. Anything else?"
"Well, the kid met with our fugitives on Tuesday morning, and he said the girl kept referring to the old guy as"
Owen couldn't restrain himself. "Harvey?"
"Yeah... how'd you know?"
Owen was laughing. "Knowing is my business, Daniel. You've done very well. Start tracking our fugitives; the rental company should have some data on their car. Oh, and get rid of the boy."
For a moment, Owen only heard the hiss of the connection. Then Dan said, "Well, that may be a little problem, sir. It seems that the guy works for the Americans for Full Disclosure."
"That watchdog group?" Owen pronounced 'watchdog group' as if he were referring to the lowest form of life on Earth. And in his mind, the Americans for Full Disclosure were just that; they were even friendly with that bleeding-heart Senator Graves, who had forced Owen into retirement back in the seventies. They all reeked of being Omegasymps. "We don't need those bastards butting in again."
"Uh, yeah. If the kid turns up dead, they would make a lot of noise in high places. And I don't think we can cut Rich loose. I, uh, I'm sorry to break this to you." Dan waited for the expected tempest of rage.
Owen lifted one of the mice out of the cage, petting it gently as he cradled the phone between his neck and his head. "Not to worry, Daniel. Just keep hold of the boy for a while; perhaps he'll make a good hostage. You've done excellent work. Let me know how the search goes." After he hung up he said, very softly, "Harvey... after all these years, I've found you, 'Overman.'"
Dan Carter stared at his phone for a moment. "Well, I'll be damned." Then he turned to the still blindfolded-and-bound Rich. "Looks like we both got off the hook today, kid. Now you get to call your boss and tell him you've got a stomach virus or something..."
As Dan moved to give Rich the phone, he stepped over a pile of multicolored magazines. Noticing them, Dan smiled. "So, you're a big fan of Overman, too?"
Owen was not the kind of man to spontaneously dance, but there was a certain spring in his step as he took the mice to his meditation room. Inside was a large glass tank, its floor covered in sand and rocks. Sun lamps illuminated the artificial terrain. Owen gently placed the mice into various corners of the tank, and sat down to begin his morning meditation.
Owen knew that his good friend and bitter rival, Jarvin Tazakles, liked to clear his mind by playing chess. Owen wasn't surprised; Tazakles was an egotistical fool, and chess was right up his alley. Tazakles probably thought the game mirrored life, full of intricate manipulations and gambits. And he probably fancied himself a grandmaster.
Owen knew better. Life was deadly serious, hardly a game at all. The best-laid plans so often went awry... a good player had to adapt. Evolve. Because there were no rematches.
Slowly, slowly, a pile of sand stirred, unwound, uncoiled into a beautiful desert-brown rattler. She snapped across the gleaming sand, and sank her fangs into a plump white mouse. Owen relaxed, and opened his mind... another day, another struggle for survival, had begun.
Overman. I am waiting for you.
U.S. Route 35 shot through Indiana like a beam of light dipped in asphalt; every so often, the beam would warp around a small town, and Anne and Harvey, drawn towards its mass, would occaisionally stop the car and get out to stretch or eat.
Late Thursday evening, Anne and Harvey stopped in River Junction, a little town of some considerable importance in American history, as it was only founded after future President William Henry Harrison killed several Indian tribes led by Tecumseh at the nearby Tippecanoe River.
(This killing also caused Tenskwatawa, brother of Tecumseh and the Indians' spiritual leader, to place a curse on the American government, one which has reportedly killed every President elected on the twenty-year mark, starting with the aforementioned Mr. Harrison and culminating with John F. Kennedy.)
Anne and Harvey were in the Li'l Teepee Diner, trying to digest some bad burgers as they analyzed Harvey's dream. They couldn't say it out loud, since somebody might hear, so Anne relayed their thought's telepathically.
"I'm telling you, grandpa, I wasn't reading your mind at the time. You were subconsciously broadcasting your dream to me." Suddenly, yellow fireworks burst within Anne's minda new thought. "You must have the same mental powers I doI mean, how else could I have gotten them? But you just never realized the mental possibilities."
"I could never lift stuff with my brain, Annie. Just my muscles."
"No, that's what I'm saying. You always were lifting things with your mind, you just assumed muscles were necessary to lift them. And your invulnerabilitythat's just a skintight force field, like the ones I threw up around you before. Applying your telekinesis against whatever's attacking you. Once you started identifying with Overman, you must have begun limiting your powers to only the physical-force ones he had."
Harvey's mind turned a rich green as it contemplated the idea. "I suppose that works... but I've never done mind-reading before. Or mind- broadcasting."
Fuzes sizzled, popped, and before long a bright orange idea was raging in Anne's head again. "Sure you did. All the times you bossed the family around. All the times you got your way. With everyone except me."
Harvey blushed (physically and mentally). "I never meant to brainwash my own family, Annie. I didn't even know I could." A hesitation, his mind blank white, and then... "I suppose that would explain why all those boyfriends of yours split up with you, though."
Deep, dark red enveloped Anne. "What?"
Harvey's blush grew worse. "Well... I never really liked any of them, and maybe I kind of thought you should split up, and then you always did... " In the physical world, he grinned sheepishly.
Anne broke off the connection; she didn't feel like sharing her emotions any more. "God, grandpa, you've been running my life all these years!"
"Well, not running it, not on purpose anyway "
"What if I didn't really want to run out on Rich? Or any of the others? Oh, jeez." She pushed her greasy half-eaten burger away and stood up. "I've got to think this over." Anne slid out of the booth and headed for the doors. Harvey just hunched over his plate, ashamed.
Before Anne made it to the doors, a hairy arm reached out and grabbed her. It was attached to a hefty man wearing a CHARLESTON TRUCKING cap. "Hey, honey, I knew you were too fine to waste your time with gramps over there. What do you say to a night of fun with me?"
Momentarily, Anne considered wrenching his arm out of its socket; but that would attract attention. Besides, violence wouldn't solve anything; Anne tried something else. "What would your wife say if she knew you were out chasing girls half your age?"
"What makes you think I'm married, sweet thing?"
"The ring on your hand, which had better let go of me now."
"Well, I like my hand right where it is. And what my wife don't know won't hurt her."
Anne's mind reached out, lashed his for the merest fraction of a second. "Marlene is already hurt, Steve. And deep down inside, you know she knows. Why don't you stop torturing her?"
Steve recoiled, but didn't let go. Fear entered his eyes. "How the hell did you know my name, girl?"
"I'm not your girl, Steve. Or your sweet thing, or your honey. You already have somebody who should be all those things to you." She shook her arm, flipping Steve's hand loose. "Maybe you should spend more time on her, and less panting after young girls."
But Steve wasn't buying it. Dammit, why didn't she pay more heed to the beer on his breath, or the growing lust in his mind? Anne had to end this before they started a scene. Time to test her theory on Harvey's mind-broacasting ability.
Steve stood up, took his cap off, and said, "I'm sorry, ma'am. I guess I just don't respect women much. Perhaps I should start, and the best way to start is by respecting the sanctity of my marriage vows." He promptly returned to his seat and turned around, ignoring Anne. The man next to Steve started asking if he was feeling okay.
Harvey had noticed the commotion, and come up beside Anne. "What's going on here?" he asked.
"Nothing," she thought-broadcast in reply, "I just found that I'm capable of playing the same mind-games you are."
Dan Carter was playing the role of Good Cop for a change; while his subordinates tracked down the rental car, he'd brought Richard Cage to a safehouse in Northwest D.C. (blindfolded, naturally), untied him, and offered him a drink. Now he was trying to talk comics with Rich, but the kid was refusing to talk.
"I want a lawyer," he said. "And my two phone calls."
"For Chrissakes, Rich, I'm just asking you about Overman. Paranoid, aren't you?" Inwardly, Dan admired that. But still, why be paranoid about Overman, of all things... unless... that Blume guy was an Overman fan too... "You don't think Overman is wrapped up in all this, do you, Rich?"
Rich didn't say a word, assuming that told Dan nothing. But in fact it told him everything. Dan's new line of thought was interrupted by a phone call.
Damn old man, can't leave me alone for two hours... "What is it?"
It wasn't Owen's voice. "You sound awfully testy, Dan. Are you in a secure place?"
"Hold on a second." To Rich, he said, "I'll let you fume about your superheroes for a minute, okay?" Dan left the room, carefully locking itthe electronic keypad and reinforced steel would keep Rich nice and snug. Then Dan stepped out onto the street for a minute, the only place he could be certain to avoid both SIRECOM's bugs and Owen's.
"What do you want, Tazakles? I'm a little busy."
"Dan, Dan, is that any way to treat a prospective employer? I'm just wondering if you can tell me why this Benson girl has got dear old Cornelius so upset."
Dan prowled through Georgetown, keeping his voice low. "For the last time, I'm not going to double on Mr. Owen."
Tazakles chuckled. Dan could hear the click of chesspieces in the background. "Dan, I'm not asking you to betray him. I just want to know why he's so interested in one little person."
"Forget it." Dan scowled at a young couple who were staring at himwere they Omegas? How could Dan be sure?
"Dan, don't be hasty. Dynamax has made some nice Omega spinoff products: something to take that grey out of your hair? Something to remove those crows feet, to restore those dulling reflexes...?"
"Dammit, Tazakles "
"Don't pretend you aren't feeling the pinch of middle age, Dan. Dynamax can more than compensate for that. Just answer one simple question: why the Benson girl?"
Dan stopped outside a comic store, gazed at the cheap comics within. "It's not the girl. It's the old man." Just turned 79; that would make him about the right age.... "Hehe thinks he's Overman."
"Owen thinks he is? Or the old man does?"
"Either. Both. I don't know."
Tazakles was speechless (and wasn't that a rarity?). Then he said, "I see. You've been most useful, Dan. I won't forget this."
Dan hung up. He knew Owen wouldn't forget, either.
Half a continent away, Jarvin Tazakles turned to his chessboard. White king captures black knight.
Anne had filled up the gas tank and was ready to go, when hairy Steve came back. With four really big buddies. "Hey, girl!" Steve criednot an auspicious beginning, Anne thought. Instantly, she tried to dim their anger, but they were too many and their emotions were too strong.
"You messed with my mind, girl, and I don't like that." They were standing several feet away, in a semicircle around the car, but Anne could smell the beer and feel the rage. "But now I'm back and I intend to get what's coming to me." Some of Steve's friends hooted.
"Look, Steve," Anne said slowly, raising her hands in the universally-ignored gesture of peace. "I just did that 'cause I didn't want to start trouble in the restaurant. It was wrong of me, and I'm sorry. Let's just call this off before somebody gets hurt, okay?"
Steve hiked up his belt a bit. "I don't think so, honey. I don't care who gets hurt, long as you and me have our fun. Now you can ditch Grandpa Munster here and come with us, or we can take you away."
Harvey jumped out of the car and told them to get lost, which only provoked the truckers. One swung a tire iron into his stomachand was astonished when it bent around Harvey.
"Oh, Lord," Steve slurred. "He's an Omega! Somebody call the damn cops!"
Anne smiled grimly. "We can't let that happen, fellas." Anne nudged her mind, and one of the truckers, who was running for the mini- mart, found himself running on thin air. She "heard" another one think about punching Harvey; in a flash, Anne ran over to him and patted him on the stomach. The pat had enough force to knock the wind out of him.
Harvey grabbed his antagonist and started twisting the tire-iron around his arms. What a showoff, thought Anne. She telekinetically grabbed a gas hose and snaked it around the legs of the fourth trucker, tripping him. But then Steve tackled her, breaking her concentrationand causing her to drop the man she held in mid-air. Anne heard something break as he landed on one leg.
Anne was picking up thoughts from Steve, quite unwillingly, as he tried to wrestle her to the ground. You dirty Omega bitch I'm gonna screw an Omega dirty dirty... Anne also saw some of Steve's past "flings," none of whom had been fortunate enough to be Omegas.
She kneed him in the groin. Hard. The impact actually kicked Steve a few feet up into the air. He didn't even have time to whimper, as he hit the ground unconscious. Anne stood up and told him, "You should be glad I didn't 'Lorena Bobbit' you, you bastard."
Wait a minute, she thought, why the hell am I lecturing an unconscious guy? Man, I've seen too many action movies... she yelled at Harvey, who was hanging another trucker up on a light-post. "Can the drama, we've gotta move fast!" They both moved very fast indeed; they hopped in the car, and Anne floored it.
"So," Anne said after she caught her breath, "I can be Thelma, but you make a rotten Louise."
"Never mind, grandpa. I think we just blew our last shred of anonymity. Somebody's going to call the cops."
Twenty minutes later, State Trooper Darryl Buford, who was in charge of the roadblock on U.S. Route 30 (near the Illinois line and the Chicago boundary), saw a car approaching fast.
Coming from the direction of River Junction, all right. These could be the scum who attacked those truckers. Ah, now they're slowing down. Course, if they are the perps, we've got 'em dead to rights. Unless, Darryl joked to himself, they can move cars.
It stopped in front of the roadblock. A blue Rent-a-Car... Darryl tensed as he realized that fit the gas station attendant's description.
Darryl walked up to the car, using his best State Trooper Swagger; it was eleven-thirty P.M. and he was wearing sunglasses. He shined his flashlight insideit was only a young woman and an old guy.
"What seems to be the problem, officer?" The woman was cute. Very cute. And she certainly didn't look like a mugger.
"We're looking for a couple of fugitives. They beat up some people pretty bad. Say, uh, where are you folks headed?"
The woman was trustworthy. Completely trustworthy. "Wisconsin. Officer, we don't exactly look like we could beat anyone up, could we? We're harmless."
"Yes, you're harmless." Why did Darryl suddenly feel like he had a hangover?
"We can go on ahead, right?"
"Yes, you can go on ahead." Darryl waved, and a police car rolled aside to let them by. "You folks be careful, now. There's some dangerous people out there."
The woman smiled. "Oh, we know that. And officer?"
"These aren't the droids you're looking for." By the time Darryl wondered what that meant, the woman had rolled up her window and driven off, leaving the trooper and his roadblock far behind.
It wasn't long before the truckers awakened, and Darryl's head cleared, and the police realized what was going on. By then, the mysterious Omega assailants had vanished.
But they'd left their mark. An amateur cameraman had caught some footage of the five truckers being carried away in ambulances. Within the hour, it was circulating on all the major networks, along with a description of the two fugitive Omegas and a brief interview with an embarrassed Darryl Buford. It was seen by Dan Carter, and Jarvin Tazakles, and Cornelius Owen. And when they combined this footage with some inside information in their posession, they all knew what the trajectory of Washington-to-River Junction-to-points northwestward meant.
The Omegas were converging on Chicago.
Once again, a little violence near the Tippecanoe River had set much larger events in motion.
Anne was really pushing her luck (what little was left), doing 80 and hoping no more cops were around. "Sometimes, grandpa, it seems like somebody's out to get us."
"Somebody is out to get us, Annie. Lots of somebodies by now."
"Oh, yeah." For a moment, there was just the impression of lamppostsa sign of civilization at last, hallelujah!whizzing past them. "Having villains makes it more comfortable, doesn't it, Harvey?"
"Makes me a hell of a lot less comfortable." Harvey quickly turned around and looked for police cars.
"No, I mean, without villains we'd all just be paranoid. There would be no sense to any of the bad things that happen to us. And any trouble we'd get into, might be trouble we deserved." Rowhouses and industrial parks were clustering by the side of the road, welcoming the two lifelong citydwellers back to the cruel comfort of the metropolis.
"But you see, grandpa," Anne continued, "as long as we've invented these evil mastermindsgovernment agents, or redneck thugs, or even comic-book badguyswe can sleep easy knowing that there is a reason for all the bad in the world. We aren't crazy, or unlucky. And we have a scapegoat on which to blame all of our fears and tragedies."
"Annie, from that point of view, most people see us as the villains."
"I know that, grandpa. I know.... Turn the heat on, will you? I feel cold all of a sudden."
They drove under a sign reading WELCOME TO CHICAGO.
END OF PART FOUR
To be continued in Legacy, Pulse, and Covenant!
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