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A QUESTION OF MOTIVES
by Jeff McCoskey
==Ten. Niyen. Ate. Seven. Six. Fiyev. Fore. Three. Too. Won. The quick browen fox umpt over the lazy do.
==A weke ako I brot diyenamax to its neze. Nothi is too bi for the I of ustis. ODAMIT.==
Brian slammed his hand on the editing console, stopping the recording. "This voice recognition is getting worse not better." Brian knocked his cup off the console in a fit of pique.
"Man, what is with me? I just shook America's biggest corporation to the ground, and it's not enough?" Brian paced around the interior of his mobile home. Newspapers, magazines, and scores of videocassettes littered the den area, all describing the charnal house of cards Brian's video had unveiled. In Time Magazine, police in Detroit sifted through the demolished remains of the central facility still trying to confirm reports that Tazakles himself went down with the ship. In Newsweek, a SIRECOM strike force cornered a quartet of researchers who immolated themselves and thousands of pages of notes. 20/20 interviewed a sociopathic scientist who defended the brutality in the name of science, going so far as to declare Dynamax had discovered a cure for Aids. New York Times reported on the hundreds of self-proclaimed Omegas, all claiming to have escaped the horrific Dynamax experiments, forming a class action suit. (Brian expected his missing brother-in-law to be a part of that selfless undertaking.) Special Senate Investigations, bankruptcy proceedings, criminal charges, it had become a media-driven cacophony of terror and plodding beaurecratic response. For once the story was larger than the media's ability to tell it.
Brian had called Hot Scoop! twice since the story broke, getting put on hold each time. Brian didn't believe Rutledge was trying to cheat him out of his balancethere was too much money at stake in the Eye of Justice to risk ill-will. The Aussie reporter was just too busy these days. Ian Rutledge had promoted himself as "the man who unveiled Dynamax," making himself and by extension the Eye of Justice household names. Brian's stylized scales-and-eyeball graphic appeared as a matter of course with most broadcasts on the Dynamax subject. About the only facet yet unrevealed was the Eye of Justice's identity, no thanks to Rutledge.
The panel van parked on the Georgia Tech campus had turned out to be a Hot Scoop! camera van after all. The third night after the initial broadcast, when the video took off like wildfire, Rutledge had unveiled the footage of his meeting with Brian. Hot Scoop! had thoughtfully digitized out Brian's head, but Ian himself had evidentally been miked and the exchange was broadcast nationwide (the money part editted down).
Brian had kicked himself for not realizing it at the time. Why else would the anchor himself make the drop, if not to later appear on television? The video was not of great quality, but he had been assigned an <i>identity</i>, a silhouette. He was no longer just a melodramatic name.
Brian had briefly considered going public himself, cashing in on his notoriety, but common sense prevailed. He had after all broke into a Federal Penitentiary. It was doubtful America's diligent beaurecrats would forget that.
So Brian had spent the days since the initial broadcast in a general sense of unease. He had tried to convince himself that this unrewarded notoriety was what was bothering him, but that didn't explain the unspent wad of bills from the film's sale. Brian sighed heavily and again grabbed the wad of bills from his cookie jar. This time, his eyes were studiously focussed away from the photographs of the scores of recovered Omega bodies as he left.
Brian glanced at himself in the rearview mirror nervously, then beeped the horn. Sharon had just left her house and was headed for her car.
"Brian?" she called from across the street.
"Hey Sharon, figured I owed you a few rides to work." Sharon took a few steps towards Brian's 'new' truck. It was an '89 Ford pickup, but well cared-for. Brian had brought down the price since he paid in cash. "You'd be my first...passenger," he grinned.
Sharon laughed, then gave him a queer look, recalling their last encounterparticularly the alcoholic odor.
"Hey, don't worry. I gave up that new mouthwash. Lemme pay you back, huh?"
Her momentary indecision gave way as she seemed to come to some internal decision. "Sure Bri, thanks." Sharon winced as she climbed into the passenger seat.
"Aerobics still bothering you?"
"I guess I'm not in very good shape."
"Your shape looks fine from where I'm sitting." For once, Sharon laughed at his lame flirtations and Brian chuckled with her. They made comfortable smalltalk through light morning traffic.
As they pulled in to the mill parking lot, Sharon started. "Oh, by the way, I need you to run me by the Big Brother/Big Sister Office this evening. It'll give you a chance to check the place out...." Brian groaned good-naturedly. She playfully batted his arm. "Now, be good. You might find something you like there."
"I reckon I might," said Brian, waggling his eyebrows to Sharon's exhasperated sigh.
Ian Rutledge stepped out of the New York sound stage to the back stage area. He'd just finished taping his third talk show that week. His face and voice were a household name, and Ian couldn't keep a straight face if he tried to say he hated it. His Atlanta office had told him the Eye of Justice had called twice now, but they'd been unable to start the trace in time.
Next time he called they'd have to pay him, or he'd get suspicious. Rutledge wasn't interested in tampering with his meal ticket more than necessary but what a scoop to find his true identity. A 'Hot Scoop!' laughed Ian to himself as he lit a cigarette.
The street door swung open abruptly, and two hands seized the reporter, dragging him out into the back alley. A strong, smelly hand clamped over his eyes while another pinned him to the brick wall. The sounds of a New York street were maddeningly close.
"What the hell...?"
"What happened to your accent, Bruce?" muttered a coarse voice in his ear.
Ian quickly put it back. "What ah you doing?"
"Call it an exchange. You know who this Eye of Justice is. We want to know."
"What's the exchange?"
Rutledge swallowed nervously. "O-Oi don't know. He was masked when we met. Oi payed in cash."
"Not what you've been hinting to the media, Brucie. Donaldson and Chung say you know. Maybe you'd like to see our contribution to the exchange first?" There was an explosion in Ian's gut that showed like fireworks in his covered eyes. He had to fight not to retch.
"Oi ss. Sweah. Oi don't kngg." Another voice muttered something Ian couldn't make out.
"Looks like luck's with you Brucie. Think about it. We'll expect an answer next time." The hands shoved him back into the soundstage, and slammed the door behind him. Ian didn't even consider opening the door to identify them.
Brian walked to the mill's parking lot, automatically heading for the motorcycle parking.
"Bri! Over here remember?" Sharon called him back to his new truck. Brian felt an inexplicable surge of distaste as he spotted his big blue Ford.
"Guess I'm not used to being a vehicle owner," said Brian as he caught up to Sharon.
"Sure you don't mind driving me by the office?"
"Heck yeah, no problem. Need a hand getting up...?" Brian started to help Sharon into the high passenger's seat.
"That's ok. I'll manage." Sharon's face was set as she tried not to show her discomfort. "You got a good deal on this. Looks like a good truck."
"Yeah, it's alright," said Brian noncommittally. "So you're finally going to get me in to see the program."
"'Bout time! It's only been two months of begging." They bantered back and forth on the short drive to the Big Brother/Big Sister Office.
It didn't take Brian long to appreciate Sharon's depth of involvement as he silently watched her conduct business at the office. He'd expected this to be another of the million humantiarian projects she'd dropped during high school. To the contrary, Sharon was the financial manager of the Calhoun office and spent most of her time coordinating funding and authorizing expenditures.
An hour later Brian escorted her out, unable to escape carrying the application forms which he could return "when he was ready."
"Hope that wasn't too boring for you."
"Not a bit. You've come along way since the days of losing your UNICEF donations. They're wasting you at the mill."
"Hah. Don't remind me. Nah, the mill's just a job, but this gives me something to do, y'know rewarding. Don't laugh." Sharon closely watched Brian's face, but he showed no signs of laughing at her. "I really don't have much besides work and it just makes you feel good at the end of the day. I know I've been pushing this on you, but, well heck. Think about it? You'll never look back and regret doing it."
"Sure Sharon. I'll think about it."
The ride home was the first time Brian could remember Sharon acting insecure since she'd dated Roger in high school. She was smiling and even giggled once, of all things. The ride ended too soon, as did Brian's brief respite from his doldrums.
When Brian pulled up to her house, there was a Mercedes in the drive. The license plate read ROGERB. Brian slid past the awkward moment by pretending he didn't see it.
Brian knocked on Greg's door, not ready to go home yet. The door swung open at his touch. Greg was sprawled out on the his couch. He stirred slightly as Greg came in. PB, Greg's dog, just looked up and verified Brian had no food, then lay back down.
"You look like shit, man," opened Brian.
"I feel like shit. These pricks from SIRECOM want us to run the prison for eight hours then answer their goddamn questions for another twelve. Like 'howcum you didn't know anything?' 'how could this go on for ten years without a whisper?' 'aren't you the ghost of Adolph Hitler?' Now they're talking about criminal neglect charges if we don't know anything and murder if we do. I always thought we were the good guys y'know? Now all those paychecks seem like blood money."
"My day was all right, and yours?"
"Huh. Yeah, sorry Bri. I'm not much good for company about now. It's all too much y'know? I mean, part of me wants to tell those spooks to fuck off, but part of me is wondering the same thing. How could this go on without anyone knowing? I mean, not even a rumor? C'mon. It's just too surreal. Did you ever know anything about it?"
"Only what I saw on tape."
"You're lucky, you got out before the fun stuff. Shit Brian, even if I manage to stay out of jail, who's going to want to hire me after this? This'll be second only to Auschwitz as a resume builder."
"They're not closing down the Fort are they?"
"Just a matter of time. There's no place else that could hold these Omegas right now, but as soon as they build one you better believe they'll shut us down. Name just doesn't have the same ring it used to."
Brian made agreeable noises.
"Bri? Lemme catch up with you later, huh? I'm exhausted and it'll be another long one tomorrow."
"Sure Greg. Just gimme a buzz if you need anything."
By the end of the week Brian had not managed to shake his malaise. All the articles and tapes lay in the bedroom with his video gear. His struggles with his voice recognition firmware were fitful and unsuccessful, and made up the extent of his vital activity. If it weren't for Sharon, Brian wouldn't even have driven his new truck, preferring to stick with his dirtbike.
Then the aliens landed.
Brian called his big brother Chip.
"Bri? What's up guy?"
"You seen the news?"
"Yup. I, ah, whew, it's something ain't it?"
They were silent a moment. Chip spoke up. "You all right about this, kid?"
"I guess. I mean we came through Shiva. Corruption in SIRECOM. Dynamax. This is just another thing, right?"
"Been a hell of a six months hasn't it?" They laughed. "I don't know how to feel about these Harrakin, but at least we get to hear about something besides Dynamax and the Eye of Justice now."
"Everything's crumbling around us," said Brian. Chip started on his end of the phone. He heard something in Brian's voice deeper than even an alien invasion.
"That's one way of looking at it."
"How else can we look at it, Chip? In six months we've been shown our beliefs, our Government, our Businessmen our biology, and our uniquness are all lie. How much can we take?"
Chip was instantly all seriousness. "Woah, woah, just a sec, Bri. A lot of that may be true, but don't for a minute believe that impacts your beliefs."
"But gods and aliens..."
"...and bears oh my." Brian laughed in spite of himself. "They're all nothing more than Tempest, Benson, or any of the other powerful Omegas. Listen to me Brian. Tempest saved the planet through his own actions. This Eye of Justice stopped the slaughter of hundreds of people. Overman pulled the plug on SIRECOM, but he did it with the help of the Seekers. No matter what else happens these guys are doing the Right Thing. Because it's in them." Silence greeted Chip's words. "Bri?"
"Yeah, I'm here. It's just, I mean, these guys don't seem that noble to me."
"Ok, maybe Hauptmann and the Eye are bad examples. Cashing in isn't what I'm talking about..."
"What do you mean cashing in?"
"You've seen the tape of Rutledge buying the Deliverance video. You can't tell me he's not giving a cut back. And you must've seen Hauptmann in that Overman costume."
"You think these guys are mercenaries?"
"Not at first, I'm sure. But they're getting too caught up in money, fame, all that. They've lost sight of what's important. They're the ones that'll be lost in all this god alien/stuff. You and me, all we've got to do is keep our faith, and keep our fiber. We'll get through. Don't lose sight of what's important Brigods, aliens that stuff is gonna rock our world in ways we can't forsee or control. But we still go to bed with ourselves every night..."
"Ok! Ok! I get the message," laughed Brian. "You can stop lecturing now."
Chip laughed too. "Well, you're not the sharpest of guys. I'm never sure unless I lay it on with a sledgehammer."
"Beating received. Hey Chip? Thanks man, you're a rock."
"Don't worry about it, kid. You're hearing the improved spiel. The version I had to give to Denise was a little less polished."
The rest of the conversation dealt with aliens, and was as light as could be hoped for.
The phone rang on Ian Rutledge's desk.
"Rutledge. It's your friends from New York." Since the aliens had landed, Rutledge was yesterday's news. Dynamax had not so much faded from the headlines as been blown off them. Hot Scoop! switched from Dynamax rumors to alien speculations to stay competitive, but Ian had become just another voice, not the central one. Ian and the Eye had had their fifteen minutes of fame and now the world had moved on.
"You there Rutledge? Don't think some bug-eyed monsters is gonna keep us from gettin' what we want. You owe us the Eye of Justice, Rutledge. You don't reveal it on the air by month's end, we'll collect it in person." Click.
The Eye had never called back for his balance. Rutledge dialed corporate security and asked again to have his bodyguard doubled.
Brian drove his pickup around the block, catching sight of Rutledge's sedan as it merged into Atlanta traffic. Earlier in the week, he had filmed Rutledge talking to some beefy security men, obviously his bodyguards. Brian had never thought about it, but he supposed these days all public figures needed protection. Made his job tougher, though.
For three days, Brian had tailed the reporterletting him get so far before peeling off entirely. The next day he'd waited where he'd dropped pursuit and taken it up again for another few miles. Brian was in no rush. On the third day it turned out he picked up pursuit in Rutledge's own neighborhoodone of the nicer plots of the Atlanta social set. Brian drove on by again, drawing only passing notice from the bodyguards.
The following day Brian had off work. He drove the 90 minutes to Atlanta again, this time during the day. He loaded up an old lawn mower in the back of his truck, some ancient coveralls, a baseball cap and sunglasses. He smeared dirt over his license plate. At Rutledge's residence, Brian pretended to keep grounds. His video equipment was strapped innocuously to his wrists, the bulk of it hidden beneath the coveralls.
Brian filmed through each window (pretending to clip bushes) until he found what he wanted. The den, complete with computer, and the screen even faced the window. Brian looked back. Georgia pines were thick to his rear, between the next house and Rutledge's back yard. Perfect.
Five days later, Ian Rutledge got a computer disk in the mail postmarked from Atlanta.
The only marking on the disk was the stylized eyeball and scales. Rutledge swallowed and took it into his den. The screen warmed up and Rutledge keyed in the only file on the disk. RUNME.
The eyeball and scale logo filled the screen, along with the first thing Brian had said to him. "No evil escapes my sight." Text scrolled along the bottom, similar to the text on the video, except it was not phoenetic. Perversely, the "Mission Impossible" theme song played on the speakers.
==You betrayed me by filming our exchange. You still owe me
money, but how can I collect when you've proven you can't be
==We're going to run it my way from now on. First off, the
money will no longer come to me. Select now a charity to donate
my fee to:"
The screen filled with an apparent alphabetic list of charities from the phone book, starting with Alcoholics Anonymous. Rutledge tried to scroll through, but the arrow key advanced one slot and the screen flashed.
==You have chosen the Big Brother/Big Sister Program of
Atlanta. From now on all fees will go to them. When you
broadcast that the fee has been paid, you will be eligible for the
next tape. I am a fair person. I will preview the tapes you will
buy on discs like this:
The center of the screen showed a small box of video. The video was of Rutledge's home, through his outside windows. Ian turned around in panic, half expecting to see someone filming through his windows. As the theme song wound down, the scrolling narration returned.
==You see I know where you live. I could as easily document
</i>all</i> your dirty secrets for the world to see. Betray me again at
your own peril. The Eye of Justice.
==Oh yeah. The disc will self-destruct in two seconds.==
Ian's computer made a horrendous grinding noise. When he checked the disk, the RUNME file was gone. In fact, the disk had been reformatted.
Ian Rutledge paled. If the Eye could get that close to him, the New York blackmailers sure could too. The Eye probably knew all about itwhy else change things so dramatically? Ian groped blindly for his liquor cabinet, his eyes still on the scale-and-eyeball logo. Between the Eye and the mob, how could he possibly save his skin now?
That weekend, Brian walked into the Big Brother Office, his application in hand. He virtually bubbled with life, even before he saw Sharon. "Well Sharon, I decided to take your advice after all...what's wrong?" As Brian got close, he noticed the left side of Sharon's face was bruised badly, despite the overlarge sunglasses she wore as concealment.
"Just an...aerobics accident. That's really great news about your...decision Brian." Sharon's voice was halting and forced. Brian noticed a bloddy tissue next to her, which she coughed into.
"Sharon? You need to get to a hospital, I mean right now."
"No! I j-just need a..." Coughs wracked her petite body. Sharon passed out, spilling paperwork as she fell to the floor.
The Eye of Justice saves the girl. If only it were that simple.
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