Twenty Questions

Textual Poaching Alert: Rising Stars is the property of JM Strazcynski and, despite the fact that it is physically impossible for me to do as much damage to the characters as the folks responsible for RS: Bright have done, they're all his to do with as he will. Including, apparently, lending them out to gibbering buffoons. No profit sought or achieved.

Bloody Ink First Line for Everything Challenge: "I can see dead people. I just wish they'd fuck off."

I can see dead people. I just wish they'd fuck off. Pardon the language, sir. And present company obviously excluded.

When the flash hit Pederson and granted all of us our powers, it did so with a purpose. (Or so John tells us.) It created a select group with the collective ability to accomplish anything. Anything. Hunters, gatherers, inventors, protectors. Between us we could move mountains, raise the dead, control the weather, cure disease.

And it would have been nice if we had figured any of this out before we had started killing ourselves, before we had become fugitives from justice, before we had irrevocably exiled ourselves from the rest of the humanity we desperately wanted to be a part of. And otherwise totally fucked things up. But we didn't, and, well, that's the way the cookie crumbles.

But back when it was all innocent and there were no mystical theories about higher purposes, when our powers were still gifts and every day was like Christmas because we never knew what new ability we'd discover in ourselves - would we fly? could we talk to animals? did we become invulnerable to heat or cold or fire or water? - I already knew my path.

I talk to dead people. Or, really, they talk to me. Constantly. Without regard to what I'm doing at the moment, without care about who else might be trying to talk to me, without concern for whether I want to hear what they have to say. They come in packs, not working together like a pride of lions, but every spirit for themselves in search of their ultimate goal - my attention, my ear.

When it first started happening, I was enthralled. It was cooler than any movie and certainly more fascinating than anything else going on in my life at the time. Because for the first time, I was special. Not 'Special', that chosen euphemism for all of us, but unique.

In a small city like Pederson, we - the Specials - were a commune unto ourselves. And by the time my ability manifested, I already knew my place in the pecking order - not very high. I couldn't fly, didn't have super-strength, wasn't pretty like Chandra or freaky like Randy or Josh, wasn't a jock like Jason or have any other talents that the others hoped that they'd get, and I certainly wasn't the golden child like Matthew. I was in no cliques, had no best buddies, and so nobody missed me when I decided that the dead were more fun than the living.

And why wouldn't they be? For the first time in my life, I was the one everyone wanted to be near, the one everyone wanted to be noticed by. I was like Chandra, the absolute center of attention wherever I was. So what if nobody else could see my throngs of adoring fans?

I learned a lot back then. Family secrets, criminal secrets, who really was the one who had bought the beer before the DUI fatality, what someone really thought of their spouse or their kids or their neighbors. Even within Pederson, which isn't home to anything interesting except for us, there were secrets. And I was the chosen receptacle for all of them. You know that saying 'dead men tell no tales'? Well, I was living proof it was bullshit. Dead men will talk until they can't talk anymore.

I could have used my power for some good deed - if the Police Department would have let me. I could have solved every homicide, gotten all the information that the police would need to convict killers. But they wouldn't let me, the same way they wouldn't let Matthew follow in his father's footsteps and be a cop. John says that that - gathering information - is what I was supposed to do in the original setup, when we 113 were supposed to be creating a new society, back before Stephanie Maas turned out to be... well, before she cracked and everything came tumbling down and the original plan went out the window, never to return.

I could have set myself up in private business, helping the recently dead sort out the affairs they didn't get a chance to settle before they died. Pass on the account numbers of the secret savings account, let the wife know where the insurance certificate was, tell the kids that their mommy loved them very much one last time. But I never got the chance.

You see, I was a bit of a voyeur back then. Even though I had spirits coming up to me at all hours, I'd go looking for more. The interesting ones, the ones that weren't eighty-year-olds dying in the hospital or college kids dying of alcohol poisoning. And, well, let's just say I got cured of that habit the hard way. Curiosity didn't kill the cat, but it did kill my interest. And my appetite for a week. And my sex drive for a lot longer than that. It's the only homicide I ever tried to resolve ('solve' is just an inappropriate word; it's rare when someone doesn't know who killed them).

Once I recovered a bit, I spent some quality time with the city maps and a compass, measuring out the radii from every cemetery and hospital and hospice and dangerous traffic intersection and any other place where people died with any regularity. And when I found a spot that wasn't close to any of them, I moved there. The house was dirt-cheap - lots of traffic noise - but I didn't care. For my purposes, it was blissfully quiet.

The quiet didn't last. Too many dead, too much of a need to talk to someone who could listen, too much whatever. I was safe in my noisy-quiet house, but going outside wasn't much fun. I'd be set upon on my way to the supermarket, found out as I tried to go for a haircut or a movie. And as I grew older, my powers grew stronger and the dead that I wouldn't have been able to hear when I was sixteen were now within my reach. Had I been reaching out.

I stopped going out. I ordered clothes from catalogs, had my groceries delivered, and found a job where I could telecommute. I became a hermit because I couldn't deal with the masses of spirits waiting for me outside my door, couldn't stomach wading through the ethereal throngs and being assaulted by their babbling. Especially because I had so few friends who were alive and who could balance out the cacophony of the dead, cut through the sea of secrets and plaints and confidences and regrets.

It was both a lonely existence and a crowded one, devoid of contact and yet devoid of privacy, but it was a life. Until everything came crashing down: A phone call from Randy saying that Clarence was dead, the fourth one in such a short time. If only we had known then. A phone call from John, who never calls anyone, explaining what he needed from me and why. Setting up and then listening in on his conversation with Clarence, which somehow made the whole thing more real than hearing the news from Randy had.

I hadn't waited for Randy's warning to all of us that the government was coming to get us. I was already running, had already been long gone by the time they came for me. None of Paulson's men thought I'd even try and Jason, poor Jason, he didn't think that Lionel the Walking Séance could get past him and Matthew, the strongest of us and the bravest of us. But I did because I knew all about running and running from the living is actually a lot easier than running from the dead.

So I ran. For ten years, I ran. And if I had thought it was hard to avoid the dead in tiny little Pederson, I wasn't prepared for what it's like on the lam. After my first few disastrous stays in big cities like New York where death happens so often, so spectacularly, that the ghosts are all over, like two separate metropolises overlaid one on the other, occupying the same space in violation of every law of math and science, I stuck to the country. Rural towns, preferably up north where the howls of the Indians slaughtered by pioneers and the cries of children caught by smallpox epidemics and starvation were quieter than the sounds of the lynched and beaten and the almost rhythmic whispers of the spirits of the slaves. There's no spot in America that doesn't have its shame, but the rush of voices gets dulled by time. I went up to northern Canada for a while, but I couldn't stay - the quiet spots aren't as common as you'd think up there and it was just easier being a drifter here in the States.

I realized I could fly a couple of years in - I hadn't been able to do it before, but with so many dying either at the government's hands or at Stephanie's, the power was getting redistributed. I had probably been able to fly since they had come to get us, but I hadn't known how many of us had died. We don't feel it happening, not the way we can sense each other's presence. So I learned the hard way, taking a header off an incline I had been climbing. That was a surprise. A pleasant one, though, during a time when almost all of the news was bad.

Eventually it ended - Stephanie was overcome, Chicago reclaimed, and while we didn't get to return to the lives we had fled a decade before, we did win the right to try to build new ones. But we had also lost something terrible - the Doc. Doc Welles, our father figure, our protector, our everything. He had survived to see his greatest fears realized and, according to John, we now owed it to him to realize his greatest hopes.

So we did what maybe we should have been doing all along. We became heroes. Not necessarily the caped crusaders flying through the air and stopping crime - that's always been Randy's gig - but whatever we could do. Some of it was small stuff - building houses for the homeless, feeding the poor, getting medicines for the elderly - and some of it wasn't. Jerry burned down every cocaine field in South America. Jason's self-imposed penance was nuclear disarmament. Laurel... Laurel turned a desert into a verdant land, both literally and figuratively.

Over the last few years, we've made a difference. We've also made enemies, from pharmaceutical companies to almost everyone in the UN. Our government, the one we paid our taxes to protect us, well, they've always been our enemy. They wanted to kill us when we were kids and haven't stopped looking for a way to do it since.

The government's been wanting to kill us for the better part of four decades. But they made a mistake, you see. They waited until we were heroes to try it. Stupid move.

Of course, I'm saying 'we' like I've been part of this. I haven't really. I mean, I've kept up on the news - the internet's a great thing, sir, and it's a shame you never got to see it. But I've had to do what I've had to do. Namely, find some peace and quiet.

I've got me a house where none of the spirits can find me. Nobody's ever climbed up that high, so nobody's ever died up there. It's quiet, so quiet that I can actually complain about the wind whistling. I'm by myself for the first time since I turned thirteen.

You wouldn't think there's a lot to do up there, but I've got my project. You talk to as many people as I have over the past few decades and you start to notice things. Patterns. Coincidences that happen too frequently. Rumors, innuendoes, secrets that all lead to something that's so much bigger than the sum of their parts. And I'm going to figure out what that something is. I'm pretty sure it's more practical than whatever secret project Brody and John are up to. And it'll be my contribution to making the world a better place. I'll finally get to do something for the living.

That's actually also why I'm here today, sir. Remember what I said about the government making a mistake by waiting until the Specials were heroes before trying to kill us? They weren't too subtle about it and now the public is against them. We've got the people on our side for the first time ever and Randy wants to press the advantage. Yeah, Randy. Mister Goth Superhero wants to run for president. It's not anything I could have seen coming - and I don't think that reflects poorly upon my project because I don't think John saw it coming, either, and he knows Randy better than anyone. But you know what? I think he'd actually be pretty good at the job. All those years wiping out crime, all those years speaking on behalf of first us and then everyone... He'd be good at it. He's damned good at ordering people around and, well, what else is there to being President? No disrespect meant, sir.

Randy's got it all figured out - he's got public support, but no political power. He can't run on either of the parties' ticket - all other things being equal, he's not really either a Democrat or a Republican. Maybe a Libertarian with an overly developed social conscience. John says he's a benevolent absolutist, but I think he was just trying to tick Randy off. It's a brother thing, but I'm not supposed to know about that. What can I say? The dead like to confess and marital infidelities are usually right at the top of the list.

But back to Randy and what he needs. This is where you come in. He can't use the existing political machine, so he's got to work around it. And maybe destroy it in the process so that it doesn't come back to bite him in the rear later on. I'm sure you can see the logic of it. You've done it yourself a few times.

So I'm here to ask for your help. I'm an information gatherer and you, sir, are a font. I'm starting with you first because, well, John didn't need to point you out as the obvious place to begin. You've had a long time to organize your thoughts, I'd imagine, and everyone here senses how important this moment is. I can tell because they're all waiting quietly and, trust me, they never wait quietly. Never.

I suppose the first question is obvious, Mister President. I told you about how most homicide victims know who killed them, so... Lee Harvey Oswald: fact or fiction?


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