|All Is Calm
Author: TheFarceHunter PM
Despite Ford's hardships with the Psychonauts, he believed in their honor more than any other agent. So when Truman's rescue sheds light on an old agent thought to be dead, will his faith be shaken as he fights to uncover the truth? SashaxMilla, some OCRated: Fiction T - English - Suspense/Drama - Sasha N. & Ford C. - Chapters: 4 - Words: 14,570 - Reviews: 1 - Favs: 1 - Updated: 07-12-12 - Published: 09-23-11 - id: 7405903
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Author's note: Psychonauts is property of Tim Schafer/Doublefine Inc. Be sure to pick up the Psychonauts game app for Mac at the app store. Your continuous support for Psychonauts could lead to further developments, including a potential sequel. Schafer is a very talented individual; let's continue to show him and Doublefine that we like their stuff! (Sorry for the tirade!)
-Four- The Acquisition-
"Let's start from the beginning, shall we?"
Razputin was elated. Finally, after waiting and driving and sitting around doing nothing, he could be a part of the mission! While Sasha and Milla went to investigate some bar where there could be more information, Agent Cruller set up a slide projector in his sanctuary and told him all there was to know about Bombay Ellison and the ever-growing case against him.
"Bombay Ellison was a successful agent working with the CIA and the Psychonauts simultaneously for quite some time. Because of the unconventional nature of our work, the two branches carry a lot of tension between them. The government doesn't want to acknowledge the success we have, because leaking information about psychics is hardly in the public's best interest. Still, we do good work here, and whether they want to admit it or not, we are an important part of national and global security. Anyways, he was a smart guy; he came in as a mediocre psychic, but there were a lot of good ideas in that big skull of his which eventually helped bring the two agencies together. It wasn't a miracle cure or anything, but at least there was increased communication and a little more respect. For a little while, that is."
"So how did he go from that to the complete psycho that he is now?"
"Son, the thing about psychics is, not everybody comes by it naturally. We're all born with the potential for those powers, but only a select few have the capacity to use them at a high level without psychological damage. Not everyone can handle using this much elevated brain activity at once. Ellison was an incredibly intelligent person with very basic abilities. Over the years, dual agents feel a lot of pressure to fit the psychic caliber of the Psychonauts, and eventually, they buckle by going back to the CIA or by doing anything possible to perfect their skills, if they haven't already decided to hide their identities as dual agents. The way Bombay improved them was through a government-funded lab. He isn't a naturally talented psychic like most Psychonauts. Sometimes, this kind of damage happens with psychics who discover their powers in adulthood, but even they are more likely to be well-adjusted than those who strap electrodes to their skulls and zap it out of themselves."
Raz understood it well; he was told by another Psychonaut at Headquarters that a significant percentage of cases were simply accidents caused by young adults coming by their talents late and coping by acting out. It was sad to Raz that so many of these people could have avoided a criminal label if they had received the guidance they needed. Hell, it could have happened to Milla, who didn't know she was psychic until the fire in the orphanage where she worked for many cherished years. Unfortunately, the system that is necessary to monitor potentially dangerous individuals rarely takes circumstance into account.
"Every once in a while, I worry a little when I see Sasha with that Brain Tumbler contraption. I know he knows what he's doing, unlike those bumbling CIA 'extrasensory researchers,' or whatever they call themselves now. Still, just thinking about how fragile the mind is..." Ford trailed off, lost for a moment in his past. The soft clicking of the slide projector broke the static of the quiet room.
The slide was a photograph of a group standing in a cubicle with a small window at Psychonauts Headquarters. Farthest from the window was Ford Cruller, and though he still had white hair and wrinkles, there was a light in his eyes that Raz had never seen before. Sasha and Milla stood beside him, smiling as though they were in the middle of a conversation and were caught off guard by the photographer. Raz noticed how young Sasha looked, though the picture was pretty recent. His eyes were still covered by his trademark sunglasses, and he still projected the image of the awkward, analytical scientist, but the energy in his pale face was somewhat livelier. Milla's usual compassion and physical beauty gave her the aura of youth, and the Agent Vodello in the picture radiated the same genuine kindness. Next to Milla was a wiry, blue-eyed woman in a short sleeved, teal Psychonauts uniform. Her lightly pock-marked face wore an impish smirk, and one of her arms wrapped around the waist of a short-statured woman with a distinctly feminine, freckled face. She smiled gently through a pair of sad gray eyes, which were framed by straight, dark hair. Her lavender dress fit loosely on her underweight, ivory-hued body. Ford changed the slide to another picture of the two women, standing together by a marked-up whiteboard as they addressed a small group in what looked like a debriefing. He pointed at the blue-eyed, lanky Psychonaut, who tensed her jaw in frustration at the group as the dark-haired woman beside her spoke with a pleading look on her delicate face.
"This is Agent Mari Hann. Her partner, Agent Lena Frey, is the young lady next to her. The two of them started the Ellison case five years ago, after my run-in with him ended with our duel. The investigation began when the guy went batty after going too far with the procedure meant to boost his psychic abilities. The result was devastating: he became hell-bent on destroying the Psychonauts in any way he could. He tried to bomb Headquarters, made several threats of assassination, even started kidnapping and experimenting on civilians and Psychonauts of lesser skill. In his first moments of gaining all that power, he had more pure strength than any psychic I have ever seen. He didn't know how to use it yet, and that was the most dangerous part about him. I was really full of myself then, young beyond my years, you could say. I thought I could subdue him without any help. I cornered him, and as soon as I brought him down, he entered my mind and...well, you know what happened after that." The slide changed to a blurry picture of Ellison. He was nothing short of grotesque: oily, thin hair hung limply over a deathly pale face that was so deeply scarred, the skin looked like it had been shredded by a cheese grater. His left leg muscles were deformed to the point of looking like dried meat, and as Raz looked closer, he thought he saw a few gaps where fingers once were.
"After his attempts to create a psychic army failed, he started tinkering with his own brain again. This time, his abilities and his intellect skyrocketed. He became calculating, which was quite a bit harder to arrest than the impulsive guy we were dealing with beforehand. Several top-notch Psychonauts were kidnapped, tortured, and brainwashed to kill Grand Head Zanotto. After some very close calls, Hann, Frey, Milla, Sasha were recruited to the case. We tracked him to his hideout three years ago, but Mari and Lena were caught in a scuffle with Ellison and the whole thing went to hell."
Raz was baffled. These agents analyzed Bombay Ellison's every movement, every depraved thought, for two years, and they still were unable to take him down. Ford was destroyed by him, and not even Sasha and Milla, with the help of these other two capable agents, could do anything to put an end to his machinations. With his newfound power under control, he must have been unstoppable. And after such a long hiatus, how much stronger was Ellison now? Sure, extracting Grand Head Zanotto was no challenge, but Raz could tell there was more to it than meets the eye. The madman was toying with them. But then what? Would Ellison follow their tracks back to HQ? The guy was cocky, with a messianic complex and fractured psyche, but he was smart and not entirely masochistic. He wasn't about to cross their turf alone. No, Raz thought to himself, something much bigger was planned for the Psychonauts. Something to remind them that Truman's life was a gift, and that they had no reason to believe that Bombay Ellison had relinquished any real control.
"But Agent Cruller, it's been three years since he caught them. Why kidnap Grand Head Zanotto now?"
"It's the psychology of how he works. Despite all the intelligence we had on him back when Lena and Mari were on the case, Ellison went off the map completely after they were rescued from his hideout. Lena was spared, miraculously, but Mari...she was declared dead from a stroke a few days later. Lena had a head injury that resulted in Truman removing her from the case completely and placing her on an extensive medical absence, almost as long as mine. According to sources, the girl was hysterical, demanding to see Mari's body and refusing to accept that she was dead. After the funeral, Sasha and Milla were temporarily sent on another mission, since they were likely to compromise the case from their strong investment in it. They were in immediate danger; Ellison became the kind of killer who targets those who interest him, those who put the most effort into catching him. He intends to send a message of dominance, that no matter how much you try to take him down, he'll always find a way to stay in the dark until he's caught you. I was out of commission then; I could only get updates about the case from those still willing to associate with me. In fact, I haven't been able to hear or see anything about it for myself until our trip to the warehouse. Zanotto did the right thing; he knew that his two star agents would be most effective when they had a better idea of where the target was, but by the time they could return, there was no trace of him at all, physical or psychic. To cover your tracks like that requires a level of psychic ability that we have never seen before. In terms of answering your question, Razputin, I think he decided to come back after so long to prove that he still runs the show, and that there is still more to come."
"Well, now that he's come back, he's left some kind of a fresh trail, right? There's still some time to scout out his aura. Sasha and Milla had Agent Hann's necklace, the one with the memory from six months ago. I remember them talking about it after we rescued Grand Head Zanotto. She didn't die at HQ! Her partner wasn't crazy or sick- she was on to something! With you kept out of the loop, and Agents Nein and Vodello powerless by being reassigned, Ellison was free to do whatever he wanted. And because the case is so high-security, there wouldn't be more than one or two other agents involved or even near Agent Hann to question if she was dead or kidnapped. The hideout...this mission...it really was too easy. What is this, some kind of cover-up? I'm not a conspiracy theorist, but this is looking pretty messed up to me."
Raz stood up and paced, moved by the buzzing of confusion in his head. Ever since he read the pamphlet for Whispering Rock, he was inspired by the Psychonauts and their status as an elite force for justice. Now that he finally joined the ranks of those he admired, young Razputin was unable to describe the frustration and disbelief he felt at seeing the heavy implication of corruption. "We need to do something fast. With some luck, maybe we can find Agent Frey and get her help." As his legs took him towards nowhere in particular, Ford stopped him with a gentle hand. He knew how fishy the details were, but as even he didn't know the full extent of the Agency's culpability or specific names of all guilty parties, he had to make sure Razputin kept a level head. Mari implied in her notes that Zanotto was the only one to blame, but they couldn't be sure of anything yet.
"Hold your horses, boy. There are still a lot of things we don't know yet. Let Sasha and Milla find out how deep this goes, then we'll move in. As for Lena, ever since she was taken off the case, she refused Truman's offers to let her back in on regular cases and has since worked incognito. I know she's out there, but we can't get her involved again until we know what we're working with. And like me, there's only so much she can do, since we can't do anything inside the system. Now, I know this doesn't seem good, and this case may very well lead to the kind of arrests you hoped you'd never see. It is quite unusual that you've witnessed such rotten business on your first missions." The elder Psychonaut leaned down to look straight into Razputin's eyes. "This is not who we are. Unfortunately, things like this can happen- we are only human beings, after all- but that's why it is up to people like you, me, Nein, and Vodello to make it right."
If not for a mentor like Ford Cruller, the bud of this legend in the making may have been clipped. Or, even worse, it may have been tainted by the acceptance of immorality, bearing fruits of an equivalently self-serving perversion of the law. But the solidity of Razputin Aquato's moral being, enforced by the epic wisdom of the old hero, could stand the debacle with Oleander and any other shock to the Psychonauts' honorable foundation. The boy's eyes burned with a strong and youthful fire.
"Sir, you're absolutely right. Now we just have to wait and see what we're up against. But when it's time to get back into the field, I'll be ready."
Morgan's Pub was a dirty, old bar a few miles away from the city, where Psychonauts Headquarters fit snugly and surreptitiously among sleek, contemporary banks and corporate offices. Sasha adjusted his glasses as he and Milla coolly entered the joint. There was nobody around except for a tattooed couple in the next room playing a round of pool, and the bartender, goateed and dressed in a black collared shirt and old jeans. He noticed them and waved.
"Hey guys, what'll it be?" Sasha approached the table. No one was here to get in the way of their questioning, he thought, so he might as well get to the point.
"We're looking for John Dougherty. Is he around?" The bartender smiled out of the corner of his mouth, pleased to have a memorable enough persona to be asked for.
"Yep, that's me. What can I do for you?" Sasha discreetly searched the bartender's mind for any trace of Agent Hann. The two Psychonauts gathered the man's identity and braced themselves for a struggle. He knew exactly who she was. Milla posed the question aloud.
"Are you familiar with a Mari Hann?" John leaned into the counter and scratched his chin.
"Mari Hann, eh? Yeah, we were buddies in college. She and I used to go fly fishing after Econ class. Great gal, nice ass. Not much in the way of tits, though."
"That is unnecessary," Sasha muttered in disgust. "We're from the P Division: Agents Nein and Vodello." He paused to scan the room for psychic interference as they passed John their badges, and he was satisfied to find there was none. Even the couple playing pool was gone. "We're here because we have a discrepancy in our data and need clarification. We understand that this is no longer solely our case, and we are in no way attempting to interfere with your branch's jurisdiction." John looked at Milla in confusion.
"Does he always talk like that? You spoon-benders have a lot of nerve coming here, stating your business so openly on a case like this one." He narrowed his eyes at them, irritated that a few Psychonauts would come over and meddle with CIA business. He was stationed undercover in that crappy bar for a reason; he was working with Mari on the mission to catch that psycho, Bombay Ellison, but there was more to it than that. Ellison primarily targeted psychics; he was a dangerous terrorist, of course, but he wasn't a top priority, with terrorist threats in the Middle East on the rise. What Agents Nein and Vodello didn't know was that this was no longer just a security issue. Much had been done to keep Grand Head Zanotto from sniffing out undercover inspections, and the fact that two extremely high level Psychonauts were aware of CIA involvement could ruin the entire investigation. The fact that Mari Hann was sent to her death while her captor escaped cleanly was yet another example of how the Psychonauts were in need of reform as a government security branch, and the incident, along with her acquired intelligence, revealed a need for intervention. Unfortunately, the information on her flash drive was not enough for the courts to get involved.
The Psychonauts Agency was born of strange circumstances, and thus it collected around it a complex atmosphere of self-regulation despite its economic dependency on the United States Government. Since they were a discreet branch under the thick cover of scientific experimentation and taboo, and since they were so successful in locating numerous dangers to national security, they adhered only those closest to the Commander in Chief. Ever since the Cold War, the government threw a significant amount of money into Extrasensory Research, but with the Psychonauts as the only successful outlet of many embarrassing attempts, the budget's previous pork-barrel reputation was stunted in the early 2000s. The two intelligence agencies attempted to work together and combine resources, but the Psychonauts were used to their autonomy. The Grand Head, Truman Zanotto, was suspicious of their partner branch, and withdrew as he was convinced that collaboration would lead to an invasive bureaucracy and CIA appropriation of the shared funds. Through years of navigating the legislature and surviving threats of complete dissolution, the Psychonauts emerged as what it is today: a top-secret organization with a cult aura to CIA agents assigned to monitor its activity from time to time, in order to determine their efficacy and ability to manage a highly restricted budget. In these tough economic times, the current statute let them act to the letter of their own law, so long as they kept quiet, produced results, and could run themselves cheaply. They managed to do well enough, but with research to fund and salaries to pay, there were plenty of concerns that further cuts could endanger the division. John Dougherty was one of the few in position to make sure the psychics kept in line, and he wasn't about to abandon his post any time soon.
"Again, we are here to offer evidence to you, Agent Dougherty." Sasha continued in his deep monotone. "Potentially incriminating at a high level of administration. Agent Vodello and I are currently acting without the consent or knowledge of our superiors. We could lose our jobs for accessing Hann's old files, in which she hid a note to find you. They have a level 9 clearance code, and even though we are two of only four Psychonauts on this case, that is above our authority. Obviously, you have the upper hand. We have no desire to, nor can we at this juncture, report on these findings to our division."
Milla continued, recognizing that Sasha's clinical personality wasn't getting through to him.
"We think Mari may still be alive, John. She clearly wanted us to ask you for help. Our mission, given to us by both branches of the government, is to catch Ellison. If the Psychonauts administration is in any way responsible for interfering with our assignment, we are more than prepared to work with the CIA to do the right thing."
Milla's tone was very sincere, and John reconsidered as he remembered what he was once told about the world-class psychics' records. They had, several times, endangered their lives and careers for the resolution of cases and the country's safety over the Psychonauts' position. And yet, the Grand Head, who was clearly not best friends with the other division, kept them on the case which he may have been influencing. But what choice did he have? They were truly the best the Psychonauts ever had, and they were most likely the only hope he had left to keep the situation under some semblance of control. He stared at them as he processed the disconcerting information. The official report stated that Hann died from a stroke after surviving captivity in the target's hideout. The autopsy was conducted normally, with a CIA representative there to sign off on it. However, the information Agent Hann was carrying was highly sensitive, and her last communication with John was brief. Their superiors knew she was about to be deployed to Ellison's location, and although Truman's possible knowledge of her dual-agent status was enough for motive for working with the psychopath, they didn't have enough for a warrant without a spoken agreement or evidence of a faked autopsy, neither of which were present on the disk Mari gave him before her field assignment. It was strange, though. In his last conversation with her, she seemed to know more than she was letting on. He pressured her to talk, but all he could get from her was that look of angry determination she wore more and more as her work deepened. This was an uncanny personality shift in Mari Hann; she began her duties as a strong-willed kid, but towards the end, she was driven by a rage and stubbornness that John wasn't quite able to understand. She was willing to risk her life for some extra information, but for what he didn't know for sure. The investigation to determine whether or not Hann was truly dead was still open, and John knew in this moment that the Psychonauts' two superstar agents were, ironically, the two best equipped to help him.
"Come with me." John opened the door behind him, leading to a large office with a wide-screen computer and bookshelves full of meticulously organized files. In a lighter moment, Sasha would have expressed admiration for the space, in comparison to the utter chaos that was his lab. Truth be told, there was not even time for humor. John handed them a small box, in which Milla pulled out a small flash drive. This was all that Mari was able to gather at HQ before she was sent to her supposed death. They explained the entire situation: the necklace, the memory, the ease of Truman's rescue, and older details of the case. They detailed all they could remember when they went in as the rescue team for Mari and Lena after their mission fell apart. Agent Dougherty offered them coffee, which Milla politely declined. She was jittery enough with all she had to process at once. Sasha, knowing he was in for a longer night than he hoped for, gratefully accepted.
Sasha Nein and Milla Vodello were professionals, and it was their dedication and class that rose them far further in the ranks of the Psychonauts than their finely-tuned skills could take them alone. It is why, in their assessment of Mari's and Lena's graphic rescue that cannot, in good conscience, be fully detailed here, they only now allowed themselves to feel the full weight of their friend's status as a dual-agent. Throughout their time at the Academy, Sasha could tell that Mari was not bound for the same caliber of psychic development as he saw in the others. Her skills, though they burned with a brutal intensity (since they were fueled by anger of a source unknown to Sasha), were unwieldy and had no easily measurable track of improvement. He and Lena thought that maybe she was a late-bloomer, and perhaps it would only take a little more time before she learned to control her abilities. But it didn't happen that way; even upon Milla's entry into the Psychonauts, Mari, in particular, her shooting skills and telekinesis, was unpredictable. It wasn't obvious to him at first that she was an outsider, a member of the government who managed to have enough psychic in her to use as a cover. No, he couldn't believe it for sure until the pressure started to crack her. She wasn't a poor psychic, per se, but she was not by any means excellent. She was far happier in the intellectual side of Psychonauts business; when profiling criminals or analyzing research results, her colleagues found her much stronger in her performance and steadier in her mood. It wasn't until Ford's meltdown when Mari, brought out of the library by the shortage of field agents, visibly lost her patient but intense self. It was close to the time of their last deployment when Lena, having brought her partner back many times from paranoia and night terrors, finally broke down and admitted the struggle to Sasha. They discussed the possibility of her being a CIA agent with Milla and Ford, and they all agreed not to bring it up to Mari and to do all they could to protect any cover she may be trying to keep. They knew that if she was running an investigation, they had no right to jeopardize it.
"So after we extracted them, Lena Frey was still unconscious. There was some bleeding in the brain, but it was not as severe as Agent Hann's condition. Mari's eyes were open, but she appeared to be unaware of her surroundings." Sasha said after a quick sip of coffee. "At the time, she wasn't able to speak, so she took down her testimony as soon as she was able to write in her case files. Needless to say, it wasn't very coherent, but we do know that she was Ellison's guinea pig for electrode treatments. We went with Agent Frey to see her the day before she was declared dead. She was asleep, which was more often the case than not. Agent Frey was still unwell and required supervision. It looked to us that they were both receiving proper treatment and so we had nothing to find suspicious. When Mari died, we were upset, of course, but we believed based on what we saw that the medical staff did everything they could for her. That is, until Agent Cruller found the necklace in Ellison's warehouse and noticed a recent memory. We did more research as quietly as we could, and Mari's files led us to you."
As Sasha detailed all they knew, Milla held the disk in her hand and received a faint projection of Mari's voice in her ear. It wasn't current; Agent Hann placed it there as a memory, but in it Milla could gauge the agent's recent energy levels. They were low but steady, indicating to Milla that Mari was currently comatose, and had been for months. Milla wished that she could reach out to her friend and tell her that they were on their way.
Zanotto was catching on; the voice whispered wearily, he was looking over his shoulder constantly from making deals with the enemy, but I couldn't hide the consequences of forced psychic development. I just wasn't strong enough. Funny, it's way easier to admit now that I'm almost dead. It ended up being a good thing, actually, since going back to that hell-hole was the perfect way to uncover all the dirt. I knew what was coming to me, but it had to be done this way. Death sentence or not, the only way to bring the Grand Head down for everything he's involved in was to go on that mission and let Bombay Ellison take me again. I know it seems so stupid to put myself in this situation, but if I survived, you wouldn't have Ellison's admission of the scheme before you, nor would Truman be involved with a murder. John doesn't know about the extra device in the Grand Head's office, where everything you can see and hear is recorded in physical form. I know, I know. Why so late? The CIA is far too impulsive when it comes to the Psychonauts. They would have rushed in and ruined it all before Zanotto confessed to everything. As you'll see, he was threatened. As soon as Ellison's powers were elevated but not under control yet, he said he'd go after Truman's family. Our fabulous Grand Head, being the coward that he is, couldn't admit to being incompetent and risk the government shutting it all down or slashing the budget. So he tried to convince Ellison to back off his kid and his wife by taking most of the competent agents off the case long before Ford's duel. He took money from the case and allocated them to other research, too. Things only got worse after Ford was beaten down. He's the only Psychonaut Zanotto really cares about, so the deal was broken for a while and the heavy hitters- Sasha and Milla, if you're there- were sent in to end it. But by then, he had mastered his newfound power. The game changed. To appease him, once Truman thought that I may be keeping tabs on everything, I was fed right back into the scene. It's as good of a rotten deal as you can get, if your opposition is unstoppable. Truman gets just enough calamity to prove that the world still needs Psychonauts, but it's all at arm's length. Whoever is listening- Lena, Ford, Sasha, Milla- I hope, more than anything, that Truman Zanotto does not bring you down with him. None of you were a part of this, and I tried to keep you out of harm's way. The Bombay Ellison case was parasitic enough, but this senseless corruption made it unthinkably horrible for everyone. I am so sorry. The only thing that I can offer any of you is whatever extra punishment the Grand Head receives from his clear part in my death, along with any new crimes he's likely been involved in since. All I have is there for you to see.
It was all true. Memory after disjointed memory whipped at the speed of thought through Milla's mind, all of them one hundred percent authentic. She could only process each moment in fragments of feeling at first. A panicked voice, begging for Lili's and her mother's safety. A brittle cackle on the other line. Truman's brow furrowing as he calculatingly cancelled Agents Miller's and Fortunata's part in the upcoming mission. Another day, hairs turning grey over the budget sheet. Where wouldn't the extra be noticed? A few studies could use some help. Spread it around, Truman thinks to himself, it won't be sniffed out yet. It'll buy some time for Lili and Eleanor to make it to her grandparents' place. Much later, another call. This one cool and collected, very different from the last few. This time, Truman's voice is the angry one. Ford Cruller was everything the Psychonauts hoped to be, and now he was ripped into splinters. Sasha Nein and Milla Vodello were too close to catching the man on the other end of the phone. Too close because they didn't have him in cuffs or dead yet. Bribes offered, one in particular striking the caller's fancy. Mari Hann, that adequate psychic with the quick mind whose careful attention Ellison clearly could feel. Truman smelled the CIA on her. She isn't just a research type who was too soft for the field. Doesn't matter if she is or not, she's strange, and she's losing her grip on reality. She'll be gone soon; he wants her now that he knows she's been studying him. Ellison even ceased his attacks on civilians for her. She doesn't stand a chance. It was unfortunate that she had to die. Sure, he was wary of her, but he didn't want to be a direct cause of her unbearable suffering. Truman never wanted blood on his hands, but it was the only way to save his family. Ellison was just too powerful to fight. No embarrassing appeals for government help were going to solve anything. The only thing left to do, as much as it aged and pained him to admit it, was to give him what (or who) he wanted until a sufficient alternate plan formed.
A year passes, and Mari is strapped to a wooden plank, crooked nails boring into her skin. Uncomfortable surges of rage and pain ravage her brain as the electrodes shock her into a numbness she had ironically hoped for in her sleepless nights. But still, she wondered, how much longer do I have? Only time will tell if it was worth it, and I won't be around to see for myself. She felt regret for the havoc she wrought on Lena's future, but the only constant that burned in her mind was her thirst for Truman Zanotto's head. In its early stage, it's what brought her to the Academy to train undercover when she began her corruption case on him, when she noticed that generously funded research projects were yielding no results. It built up in her as she watched-and heard- him make ridiculous deals with the man that had killed and experimented on countless agents and civilians alike. When she met Lena, beautiful, sincere, and empathetic, her resolve to humiliate the leader of the Psychonauts may have melted a bit. But even Lena couldn't keep her away for long. Bombay Ellison and Truman Zanotto were just too dirty to slip through her fingers. Sabotaging the case, accessory to kidnapping, extortion from the Agency, they were juicy charges, but it wasn't enough for her. No, she thought to herself, she had to get him even deeper, so that he'll never wash the shame from his conscience. It had to be murder; the goal evolved to this as she realized how much this case went over her head. Whether Truman wanted her dead or not, it was going to happen. She was back in control. In control. The nasal voice of the enemy laughs again from every angle of the pitch-black warehouse. Looks like your little psychic friends aren't coming to save you. This is what happens when you try to work with them. You're an outsider if you aren't enough of a freak. They say they never turn on their own, but I knew they'd turn on you. You're just like me, you know that? Your Grand Head was happy to dump you on me, just so he wouldn't have to answer for our other business arrangements. It's funny, the voice says before Mari faints from the pain, you dying seems to benefit everyone, even you.
Another year, another memory. The voice is now much closer, so close that the breath tickles the ridge of Truman's ear. Just make it stop. Make him stop. I'll do anything. The deal can't be off; I gave her to him. I see her over in the next cell, barely breathing. How long has she been like that? Now it's going to be me. The deal isn't off, says the voice, but let me remind you of who is in charge. You gave me one last close call. Your trained monkeys almost scooped her and her little friend out of here, but you knew better than to let that happen. Didn't you, Truman? It may have been years ago, but I never forget a backstabber. Thanks for returning her to the rightful owner, anyhow. You did realize that I would tell her everything before I killed her, right?
John took down both of their testimonies with nervous eagerness. In fact, through the process of their cooperation, his initially coarse demeanor evaporated, leaving a rather quiet, even-tempered man. When it was finished, he broke the tame mood.
"After all this time, we connect the dots. She's been down there for three fucking years! Legally, your hands were tied; you couldn't go around asking questions after you got her out of there since there was no previous suspicious activity that you were alerted to. There was no reason to question the autopsy. By the time you could have seen anything odd or believed Agent Frey despite her incoherence, you were relocated for good reason. If you had our intel, you would have been able to put it together and we could have more of a chance to make an arrest. We could have taken him in earlier and saved her from all this if she had just given us the information, instead of hoarding it and waiting to die so she could...get some sick satisfaction out of pinning down Zanotto even more!"
"And what could you have done?" Milla replied sadly, her eyes glazing over from the shock of their beloved Grand Head's clear motive and ability to get their dear friend and colleague killed. "You had no power since all the evidence Mari recorded in plain view had no explicit admission or plans to commit all his crimes. Implications, yes, but her location, Zanotto's admission of removal of the other two agents and stealing, and Bombay Ellison's confession were through psychic projection. You couldn't access that and get a warrant without the looks of her weak projection, we know she won't be around for long. I can't believe she waited so he would be an accessory to murder! She's really lost it- she really thinks she has the upper hand. It must have been the post traumatic stress from the case and the torture she's gone through down there that is causing the delusions."
"Or maybe she was always insane. Who the hell knows? We'd better get moving! And now, we have enough to take Zanotto in." John leapt to his feet while Sasha rushed to contact Raz and Ford from Whispering Rock. "I can search him for more evidence while you and your reinforcements get Mari out of there. Do either of you have any idea of where extra devices may be planted at your HQ? Mari said there was one in the Grand Head's office?"
"I have an idea," Milla said, grabbing her coat as the three agents headed out the back door and out into the alleyway behind the bar. "The last note that sent us to you was a puzzle. It said, 'just don't break the fourth wall yet. Ask John first. There's always time to build a bridge with Pal Harold's ghosts.' That's when we knew Truman Zanotto couldn't be overlooked as a part of this- Harold and the S afterwards-"
"Harry S. Truman, ain't that a trip?" John chimed in. "Yeah, that's Agent Hann for you. Thinking she's way smarter than she really is." He laughed, meaning the comment more as a warped endearment than rebuke.
"I think you were correct earlier, Milla. Breaking the fourth wall must be referring to the acting terminology." Unlike his partner, Sasha was not wearing high heels, and could almost walk at John's supernatural pace. The CIA man unlocked the door to his white sedan and handed his coffee to Sasha as he leapt in.
"Exactly." Milla knelt over to the car window. "Check the clock. People stare at the time when they're by themselves in an office, right? Maybe that's the audience, of sorts."
"It's good enough a place as any. Obvious, but Hann wasn't an idiot. She probably understood Zanotto's paranoia well enough to put it somewhere really simple. Where he would expect a sneaky CIA agent to avoid. Check in with me as soon as you find her. I can send backup."
"We'll do what we can. We may not be able to communicate with you until after we leave the site and have Bombay Ellison under control. If we do not return in three hours, send who you can. But he is our most dangerous target for a reason. If the Psychonauts cannot stop him without serious casualties, the likelihood of-" Sasha was cut off abruptly, but Agent Dougherty's tone held a fraction of the severity of their first exchange.
"Nein, there's no time. I'll have plenty of backup; just go in there and get her out of there. I'll get the rest of the recordings and hopefully, we can place Grand Head Zanotto under arrest by the end of the day. Let's hope he doesn't have any tricks up his sleeve."