Pair Creation...and Annihilation
David van Domelen

   "Welcome to my crazy uncle's ranch..." were the first words Jenny heard after fighting her way back into consciousness. The last few days had been a blur...her actions increasingly being taken away from her control. It seemed like nothing at first, but as she became more apathetic to what she was doing, she found herself taking more and more outrageous actions. It was like she was watching a movie with a lookalike in her role, or something. Alot of the scenes of that 'movie' were things she really wanted to forget doing, things she desperately hoped were just dreams, but now seemed to be real. She slowly opened her eyes.
   "I'm sorry you got dragged into this, Jenny," said Sam. "We thought we were being careful about our identities, but I guess no precaution is enough when the bad guys can read minds...." Weakly, he trailed off, realizing how ludicrous his explanation might sound. But Jenny had spent a few days under another's control...she could readily believe in mind reading. She levered herself up in the bed.
   "Um, Sam...what the hell has been going on? I mean, I can figure out most of it now, but I want you to tell me, okay?"
   Sam sat down next to her and sighed. "How far back do you want me to start?"
   "The beginning."
   "Well, I don't know that, so I'll start as far back as I can. Y'see, out there," Sam gestured toward the ceiling, "there's this interstellar Civilization. They decided that Earth is ready to be led into their 'august' ranks, so seeded the planet with these devices called Rechargers, which could grant the user certain powers, with a few hefty limitations. I found one of them, and became a member of the Patrol, the organization responsible for guiding new races into Civilization by peaceful means."
   Jen interrupted, "So, you were one of those people who was shot up by gang members a few months ago? Your disappearance was because you were injured?"
   "Yep. Took a bullet right in the back, laid me up for weeks. Dan also got a Gauntlet, those are the things you take into battle since the Recharger is too bulky, and he lost it when he violated the Code. Y'see, Patrollers aren't allowed to harm anyone's unCivilized. So, when he avenged my apparent death by killing the punk who shot me, he lost power and dropped a few stories. Broke both legs."
   "And the crazy uncle Max...?"
   "Well, he is a founder of Karlmax. Simon Karlson. He found a Recharger, but decided he couldn't abide by the Code, that Earth was not yet ready for such peaceful protectors. So he found me and Dan, and got us up to a private clinic before it was necessary for our identities to be revealed at the hospital. He also found this scientist who was able to analyze some of the Patrol stuff and make some gadgets for using in the 'good fight'. Ask me, Karlson's a bit obsessed...but he pays well, and so far he is trying to just do what is right. Anyway, we formed the Machine to try and clean up the stuff too messy for the Patrol to take care of on their own. Sometimes I get in trouble with my Recharger for working with them, even though I'm careful to never violate the Code myself."
   Jen paused for a moment. "Okay, I guess I can believe that...I mean, I've seen some of this stuff first hand already. But what the hell was that thing that took me over?" She shivered at the memory.
   "I have no idea. That's something the Rechargers apparently have decided to keep mum about until asked specifically...and mine still isn't giving me any straight answers. Astra, the strong girl, thinks they might be some kind of ancient Enemy to Civilization, but that telling us right off about the menace would create unnecessary panic. And as we now know, they have some kind of mind we survived, I don't know. And I was the one to save the day! We're still trying to figure that one out."
   "So...we're stuck here now? I mean, I can't go back to Denver. Obviously ever punk with a gun and a reason to hate your guts will be gunning for me. And Ted too. And what about my career...such as it is? I don't want to live on Karlson's charity for the rest of my life, you know."
   Sam looked a bit uncertain. "We're still discussing that. Right now, we wanna make sure neither of you took any permanent mental damage. You were unconscious for a day after we got back here, you know. Probably because you were controlled longer, or something. Ted was up and about before the rest of us had recovered from the attacks on our minds, and he's already asking to join the group...he thinks the whole thing's pretty neat. Karlson thinks Ted needs to get a more mature attitude towards the whole thing before letting him anywhere near a powersuit. Ted and Dan are driving back into Denver today, to help Ted move out...and let them have some time to talk. Dan's been out of sorts lately, I hope this helps him calm down a bit."
   Jen smirked. "Well, I'd think Ted would be happy to have an excuse to get out of Colorado."
   Sam nodded, with maybe a trace of humor in his eyes, but a slight frown on his mouth. "If you feel up to standing, I can show you around the place some..."

   Like some kind of American suburbia, summer houses all cut from the same blueprints lined the lane. Russia's new freedom of property sales had caused a boom in such buildings, although Brian couldn't remember what they were called. Not that it mattered least one of them could be called doomed if he suspicions were right.
   In 1948, a relatively secret research installation had stood on this piece of land, where several captured Nazi scientists worked for the Soviets, continuing some of the horrible experiments that would later get some branded War Criminals. By 1960, no physical trace remained of the installation or of most of the scientists, as deStalinization took its toll on official history. But a few records remained, and Janssen had found them while searching for evidence on Professor Richard Wier of the Machine. And he knew that the crowning success of this lab would not have been found by those razing the buildings, as it had sunk out of sight on its own. From his position above the landscape, Brian could find no trace of the old buildings.
   He quickly descended into a small patch of trees, since his grey clothing wouldn't hide him against the cloudy sky for too very long. Pulling off the mask and sweeping his hair back with one hand, he walked up to the cookie- cutter row of houses...Dacha, was it? He frowned. If they were called Dacha, it would be a dark irony indeed that one of the horrors to come out of research at Dachau would rest beneath them. Brian disliked irony almost as much as coincidence.
   With winter closing its icy fist over the area, there were few people around. Those that were here were mostly just checking on things to make sure nothing had been damaged or stolen in the past month, and ignored the grey-clad man.
   Brian pulled out a small map he had copied from memory...he had clearance yes, but he still couldn't take anything out of the records room without getting specific permission. And he didn't want to let anyone know he knew about this place until he'd had a chance to investigate it. He looked about him, trying to locate a particular outcropping of rock labelled on his map. Finding it, he went over to it. Then he took a number of measured paces to the north, then to the east, and stopped. Good, he was in an empty bit of land, so he wouldn't need to try explaining ripping up a house. Concentrating, he formed a scoop out of force fields, and felt the Gauntlet tingle against his arm. Carefully, he began to dig. As he dug, he put up the image of a tent to at least delay being seen at his work.
   10 meters down he started scooping out pulverized bedrock, and quickly saw that the 'hole' in solid bedrock was roughly man-shaped. Scowling, he created an Archimedes screw and rapidly pulled up the gravel.
   Beneath it was a man, clad in nothing but gravel and some tatters of a grey prison-like garment. He looked like a Russian peasant, one of the many killed by Stalin's orders. His body was well-muscled like one would expect of a laborer, but it seemed to glow from within. The man's eyes opened, and he spoke.
   "Are you an angel?" he asked in Russian. Fortunately, weeks of poring over documents at the old KGB HQ had helped Brian brush up on that language.
   "Just a man, here to see that justice is done," he replied as best he could.
   "Ah, at least you are of the house of Israel, I can hear it in your voice. I had feared that my lack of faith when the butchers came for me had comdemned me to Sheol. An eternity of darkness. If I moved, I sank faster, toward utter damnation in the pits. So here I lay...for how long?"
   Brian created a stretcher to pull the man up with. "As far as I can tell, over forty years." The man was heavier than he looked! It took nearly all of his will to lift the man out of the pit.
   "Forty years! wife, if the butchers let her be...would be dead. And my son was killed before I was...maybe this is Sheol after all." He stood up on the stretcher, and immediately began to sink through it! Brian thickened the force field, wondering if there was something about this man that disrupted fields, similar to the affect Astra had.
   "You must help me be able to stand on the ground of my land again, friend. I could not bear that horrible sinking almost drove me mad."
   Brian shook his head. "I'm afraid I don't know how to help..." Before he could suggest others who might be able to, the man shouted out in anguish.
   "Then if you cannot help me, kill me! I cannot endure this living hell any longer! Kill me!"
   Brian dispelled the tent and started to move the man over toward the rock outcropping, a stronger foundation for his fields. "I'm sorry...even if I thought I could kill you, I may not. But I know some people who might help..."
   "No! I cannot wait any longer! To see the sky again and be tortured by knowing I might have to endure another eternity under the earth...I'll make you kill me!" With that, he leapt at Brian, murder in his eyes.
   More experienced at combat, Brian dodged aside, amazed at the man's speed. The man landed on the rock and immediately sank several inches. Instead of trying to leap up again, he cannily grabbed a handful of the gravel he was creating and threw it. Brian's hastily erected shield was perforated by the stones, which still had speed enough to puncture Brian himself like buckshot. Biting back his scream of pain, Brian took to the air so fast that the man below had no chance for a second shot. When he looked back down, he saw that the man's rage had subsided, and he was carefully lying down on the rock, where his sinking slowed to a snail's pace. Brian was losing blood internally, although he'd managed to patch the holes with force fields. He needed medical attention fast, but didn't need to answer alot of questions. He turned South and poured on the speed for Israel.

   Midnight, a few days later. Sam couldn't sleep, but Jenny could. He decided to let her sense both staying up.
   He worked out in the gym, trying to remember some of the moves he'd used when he'd been in high school gymnastics. He'd just about gotten the pommel routine figured out again when Astra wandered in.
   "Shouldn't you be asleep or something?" asked Sam as he wiped off some sweat. She had an odd expression on her face, as if she wanted to talk about something, but was embarrassed to.
   "Oh, I gave up trying to sleep a few weeks ago. I just don't now. It lets me read more, anyway. What're you doing up?"
   "Trying to get tired enough that I can sleep, actually. But you look like you want to talk about something. Am I correct in guessing that Dan is that something?"
   She nodded and shrugged sheepishly, looking for a moment like the teenager Sam suspected she used to be under that force field body. "Um, like...did you know he, you know..."
   "Gay? Yep, have for a few years, since when we met." Sam smiled a little at the memory. "He tried to pick me up. I was new in town and chose the wrong bar to hang out in on a weekend... wrong if you're looking for members of the opposite sex, anyway. I was just starting to realize that maybe something was not quite 'right' when he sat down and struck up a conversation with me. He seemed so... normal, I guess... that when he finally did hit on me I nearly choked on a pretzel. Once I recovered from the pretzel and the shock, he laughed and told me a few places I might have better luck finding a date at. He gave me his phone number in case I wanted any more local advice, and I left. I'm a bit embarrassed now at how fast I left. But I kept the number, and eventually called him back on some pretext...anyway, we've been pretty good friends for years. When we both found Rechargers, we decided to work as a team, kinda like superheroes in the comics." Sam turned away. "Didn't work out like in the comics, though. I got shot, he killed the guy who shot me, both of us ended up nearly dying. I'm beginning to wonder if maybe his injuries got to him more than he'll admit...he's been acting out of character since we started this Machine gig."
   "You mean, he's not always an utter asshole?" asked Astra.
   "Were you?"
   Astra started to get up, anger in her eyes, then sat back down. "Touche."
   "Well, before we got the Gauntlets, he was a really laid back, nice guy. I mean, when he blew up at you the other day, I was almost too shocked to keep you from killing him. I've never seen him let someone get under his skin about his sexuality before. Ever. And he knew that you're not the most tactful or mature person on Earth..."
   "Gee, thanks."
   "De nada. I mean, even considering the stress of Ted being kidnapped, he shouldn't have torn into you like that. But you shouldn't have attacked him, either...especially when he was out of his suit."
   Astra looked at her feet, clothed as they were in permanent boots. "I'm sorry about that...but he really pushed my buttons there. I mean, the mental attacks we suffered in Denver only barely hurt me as much as what he said. And no, I don't wanna talk about it any more right now. Besides, how was I to know he was gay? He didn't act gay."
   Sam sighed and let her change the subject. "I don't know if I can explain it to you as well as he explained it to me, but I'll try. When he realized he was gay, no one came up to him and said 'Congratulations on your choice of the Homosexual Lifestyle. Here's your Owner's Manual, a list of bars, some mannerisms you should affect and a 90 day Warrantee should you decide you want to trade it in for Bisexuality or Heterosexuality. Oh, and keep the receipt.' He didn't figure it out until he was in College, and by then most of his personality was set. Being gay didn't change much at all, except who he dated. Oh, yeah, some gays are 'visibly' gay, with lisps and particular hairstyles or whatever's vogue this year...but not all, and certainly not Dan. Ted, maybe sometimes." Astra didn't look too convinced, but Sam decided that if she had more questions on that, she could ask Dan. Nicely.
   "Does Captain Justice know about Gaymask?"
   Sam winced at the nickname, and hoped she didn't use it in front of Dan. "I think so, and I think he doesn't really care. And don't call him that to his face, please. At least not while he's still in his bad mood." Sam then took a moment to look at Astra. Something about her appearance had been bugging him for a while...but he couldn't put a finger on it. Now he could.
   "What're you looking at me like that for?" asked Astra, standing up and checking herself, as if she thought he saw something hideous crawling on her.
   "How did you fit in there?"
   "I mean, it's pretty obvious that you weren't six-foot-seven in real life before you found the Recharger. But your body's pretty trim...I can't figure out how you'd fit in there."
   "I was short, okay? You know I don't like to think about my old body, now that I'm stuck in this one."
   "But...if you were short enough to curl up in there, or really short to not have to curl up...your neck's way too long for that."
   "Whaddya mean? I had to make the neck really squat to I could put my head in the head of the construct. I really hated the no-neck look, too..."
   "Haven't looked in a mirror lately, have you?"
   "Why? I don't change. I'm stuck in one shape...or..." She looked into one of the mirrors in the gym, then put her hand up to her neck. Her neck wasn't too short. In fact, it was almost too long....

   "So, Richard...what have you found?" Karlson walked into the small office of his 'pet' scientist, who was hunched over his computer.
   Wier turned around to face his employer. "Mister Lyons's suggestion seems to have been correct. Astra was not frozen in one form, as she had thought. So far, she's altered subtly since she joined us, evening out certain imperfections in her proportions. In fact, it is ludicrous to assume she was frozen in the first place...if she was frozen in one shape, she would be incapable of moving. I have been analyzing high speed films taken of her from the past two days, and I have yet to find that her movement is even discretized at the macroscopic scale."
   "Um, could you rephrase that for a poor stupid businessman?"
   "Sarcasm ill suits you, Simon. I had thought that maybe her inability to change shape at will was the result of limited computer power in the remains of her Gauntlet, which by the way is still inside her. I had thought that she was limited to a set of images that would allow her to move, much like animation. If that theory had been correct, a high speed film would show that jerkiness of motion. However, there are changes between every single frame taken. Her motion is as continuous as ours is. This suggests that the Gauntlet computer still has as much memory as ever, and that she should be able to assume any form she thinks of."
   "So why doesn't she?"
   "I'm not sure yet. My best guess here is that her self-image is what keeps her from disappearing, and her image was frozen as the Astra construct. Only by holding firmly to that image was she able to survive. And as an adolescent, it must be difficult to alter one's self-image with impunity. As she gains confidence in herself, she may be able to change shape more freely. Only time will tell. But she should not try to change shape too freely yet. She may destroy herself thusly."
   "Hmm. Okay, I'll tell her to hold off on trying it. Any ideas yet on this imagery Sam picked up to help him defeat the mental attack? Or on how he was able to pull power from Astra?"
   "The second is simple. Astra must now directly tap the power source of the Rechargers from within...otherwise she would have died when the jamming field was turned on. And Samuel was able to tap that instead of his own Recharger for a moment.
   "The first is not really in my area of expertise. It seems more metaphysical than physical...and although I have championed fairly radical scientific ideas, I have never thought much of the supernaturalists. But the 'Might serves right' phrase is from King Arthur's court. This also matches the sword imagery. Perhaps a subconscious identification with a knight of the Round Table on Mr. Lyons's part helped him overcome his crisis."
   Simon shrugged. "I guess I'll need to find a psychic."

   "...lars and Sense for November tenth. At the top of the business news is Karlmax's announcement of several revolutionary patents in the areas of broadcast power and other advanced technologies, along with proof that patent applications by Magnum Inc were based on stolen material. Magnum denies such claims, but cedes that Karlmax has the more advanced patents and a stronger overall claim to the technologies. Stock of Karlmax's electronics division soared ten and an eigth points on the news, and Magnum stock dropped three, padded by reports of higher fourth quarter earnings anticipated. And now for a look at the<CLICK>"
   The television in the opulent office was turned off, and the screen retracted out of sight. Karlmax was getting to be annoying. Especially with the good PR it was getting from its ad campaign that tried to discourage people from playing superhero. But, thought George Mounts, CEO of Magnum Inc., an asset recovered by his Moscow branch might help tip the scales in this new battlefield. A strange man with the strength of an army...and the weight of one. Magnum's R&D boys were working on a way to use force fields to allow him to have free movement...and information from one of his more mysterious backers was going a long way toward success in that.
   He'd clawed his way up from his humble beginnings as Giorgo Montessi, and George Mounts was not about to stop clawing.

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Copyright 1994, 1997 by David van Domelen