"It is the duty of men to judge men only by their actions. Our faculties furnish us with no means of arriving at the motive, the character, the secret self. We call the tree good from its fruits, and the man, from his works."
-Ralph Waldo Emerson, sermon, October 15, 1826
Somewhere in Upstate New York, Thirty-Six Hours Post-Hartsdale, Day 2
A hard sun climbed slowly over the sleepy dell, a brushing gale excused itself passed every branch and leaf, the gentle swaying the telltale sign of its passing. In the furrowed glen was cut a swath of marsh, the reeds rising up from out of the rippling waters calm to greet the morning sun. A friendly blue-gray mountain loomed over from the background, casting shadows like it was smiling gently down upon the world down below from its frosted heights. The mellow golden disk swelled up on the eastern horizon, whereas in the west a herd of mountain sheep wended their way down from the winter barren highs and into the lush green lows. They had come far to graze in the delight of this sweet grass dell, the pastures making emerald skirts upon the banks of the glade and huddling under the shielding-canopy of the glen's foliaged trees. It was too bad the whole scenic setting was marred by a black Lincoln rolling up a gravel road cutting through the trees, to rest at the haunches of a low hill, which rose up to look out over the marshy glade waters, a picture of tranquility until the thrust of blaring engines.
Motorized cacophony was the mark of the intrusive Lincoln, and an engine with problems; it was matte black from the battering it had taken under tremulous travel upon down-beaten back roads, and at times off roads as well. A rustic log cabin was the black Lincoln's end destination, and as harried as the vehicle might look, its passengers were by far the worst off. Three people the dell's numbers totaled when the vehicle at last pulled up at the base of the hill. Two were for the cabin perched atop that low rise, and the third was for the glade, sleeping. This glade had no fishes however, for the waters were profaned by the bloated slumber of the third. Just as no bubble issued forth from the glade, the roar of the engine died down so that all was once again peaceful. On the surfaces anyway, of men and waters.
A door drew open slowly, and a bedraggled male drew himself from out of the depths of the black motor craft. The key was drawn out of the ignition much the way a knight might draw a sword from its sheath, though the male simply placed the car key in his pocket without much a due; (he was more dangerous than any knight, anyway.) With the needle on a dial deflecting far further to an E than an F, it was with relief on the part of the male that he had arrived here at last when he'd recognized that the needle might have met the E far too quickly. Moving to the front of the vehicle, there was a click and the hood flicked up of its own volition. The male could have pulled a handle under the dash to make the same clicking occur, but why bother?
Smells of motor oil and grit wafted up from a now cooling engine, with a tad too much heat and metal atrophy in places so noted by the male. It took him only a moment to glance at everything, and he understood where the minor dissonant sounds were coming from. Now normally a person wouldn't have heard these noises under the normal mechanical running clamor, but the male was special. Counter intuitively, where the male had forgone the process of manually unlatching the hood instinctively, when it came to actually working on the engine, he rolled up his sleeves and dove right in, almost as if by long habit. The man moved with a fluid precision that was both natural and well practiced at the same time. There was just something about touching and fine tuning an engine that was almost as familiar as fixing watches; perhaps not comforting in it's insignificance, but familiar just the same.
Eleven minutes later the male heard a sudden groan from the vehicle's other occupant, and with the fineness of his hearing attuned to the slightest sounds in the engine, the groan was quite defining. Which was why the male abruptly raised his head without thinking, and there was a loud bang as metal hit cranium, smash. A few pejoratives and expletives later, and the male had wiped off his hands on a rag, and gone to see to the now conscious Lincoln occupant. Where the first male was simply haggard looking from lack of sleep (a condition in relation to hours of driving,) the second was the truly worst off (in comparison to both the former and the Lincoln.) His blue eyes were puffed up, his nose crooked, and one lip was both split and swelling. Bruises and scrapes marred the exodermis of the wakened male, and he was bound in several layers of office tape. A distinct discoloration in the lower extremities of the second male informed on just how tight the makeshift bindings really were. The first male, a man of dark looks and strong features, opened the door without touching it, and reached into the Lincoln to gain a hold on the second, severely beaten male; pulling him out of his seat and dumping him onto the ground.
First-male frowned slightly as the second turned to glare up at him with raw unabashed hatred. It brought a grin to the first man's face to see that emotion, and he kicked the second man in the gut swiftly, enjoying the sickening thud of ribs bruising. The second male took in a sharp intake of breath and winced at that; getting kicked in the ribs can hurt a lot. If not for that deep hatred to cling to, even the battered second male (as hard as he was,) might have given in to the pain. Instead, he simply turned to the first male and spit a mouth pull of blood onto that one's pants, smiling through blood stained teeth and laughing. The second male had dealt with a lot of dark people in his time, and a mere beating, no matter how severe, was only that, just a beating. He wouldn't crack from this, (at least not yet.)
Hartsdale Facility, Five AM, Day 1
What's the point of it all? It's been nothing but murder and mayhem since Linderman died. There used to be procedures, order, and now, well it seems everyone is pulling off everything by the skin of their teeth and not by much even then. Whatever happened to doing things by the book, and keeping it on the level? It's all gotten so personal, so vicious. But then I suppose that's to be expected, I mean now that family is at stake for everyone, how can they not afford to take it personal? And then there's little old me, no family left to speak of, or more correctly: either none left whom I'd ever want to speak to, or none who are presently willing to speak to me. I wonder how Miguel is doing; it's been too long since…!
- Rafael Ramirez, Senior Assessor, Introspection
Ramirez sat in about the only intact chair left in the building, and frowned slightly, his eyes staring off into space. Abruptly his front shirt pocket began to vibrate, and he pulled the blackberry from its resting place. Rich brown eyes glanced down on the instant text message speculatively, it seemed he had been summoned at last, and an hour past his supposed contact date. It was nothing new though with a Board stretched halfway round the world, across most time zones, it took them a while to join in on the waiting teleconference. Some might have just woken up, others just planning to go to bed, and everything in between. They could make him wait six hours if they chose really, and there was nothing a simple IA flunky could do about that. It hadn't been that much different in his old job with politicians, but at least they had been predictable. The Board on the other hand was nigh incalculable as to their mindsets. 'Sides, Ramirez knew it wasn't even his place to calculate them; just report to them on what they wanted calculated.
A rather large flat screen console appeared as a panel of wall slid back to reveal the viewing construct. It was built into this single surviving office, and bore eight square partitions in the screen, each one having a face within it. Eight, minus one of the nine active members of the Board, were present via teleconference, and their faces ran the gamut from quietly amused to consternation, from offended to distracted, from stone cold to late-riser risen-too-early. A fair mix of ethnicities, they watched him as Ramirez moved from out of a sitting position to stand respectively with his head bowed and arms folded behind his back. There was a small communications device affixed in one of his ears which extended a mike towards his mouth, a mouth whose lips worked into a moist state of preparedness, and a heavy throat cleared. Ramirez raised his head to look at the camera affixed over the wall-mounted flat-screen straight in the lens, effectively looking each board member in the eye.
It was a hard time to be an assessor, since he would not be the first messenger to be shot, and quite literally so, for bringing forth very bad news. The Deveaux Archives would cost enough resources to repair as it was, not counting what couldn't be replaced, and now Ramirez was going to add to the bill. Loss of human life not withstanding for these Boards members, (and it irked Ramirez that it did not withstand,) there were just some things that were one of a kind, and others that once lost, could not be accounted for. Ramirez eased into his assessment delivery with the one bit of good news in the situation, the male and female recovered from the dome were stabilized and healing nicely. This seemed to please a few of the Board members, whereas most remained unmoved or unreadable, save for where one went so far as to flinch ever so slightly. It wasn't that the mild facial flicker should have been noticed, gone so fast so as to never have been, but there was a reason Ramirez had been made an assessor, and a senior one at that, he noticed those sorts of details.
Near as he could tell, it was a rather straightforward assault, the person or persons responsible had stormed the main floor through a rear corridor, and all those in their way were cut down. No metallic trace indicated what kind of blade had been used, other than it had been very precise and very fine. From there, when the corridor had opened up onto a main lobby, the room had been flash frozen by whatever means, and what little resistance had been put up beyond that met liquefaction. The same thing was done to the armored doors of one of the executive lifts; from there the assailant(s) had made there way up the elevator shaft to the top floor. There were no finger or shoe prints to indicate any contact with the shaft walls or cables, so either they had worn gloves or flown up the shaft. At the top level, more liquefaction, and after that, well it became blurry, and far harder to discern. There had been a lot of thermonuclear activity, and then… "Well suffice to say," concluded Ramirez, "Someone made Bob angry. Very, very angry."
That got a reaction, it seemed the prospect of Bob angry (and that is to say well and truly angry,) was enough to make even these incalculable people blanch. Bob had been found in a metal dome of his own transmutation, having put himself between an unconscious Elle and the assailant(s). It seemed in desperation, he had risked his own life by using key elements in his own body to make the dome. Ramirez knew the senior Bishop family member to be a demanding and often austere parental figure, but at the end of the day, he was still a father. Ramirez wrapped up his report with an estimation on repairs higher than he would have liked, and a death toll upon final tabulation closer to three hundred than two. Even if the senior assessor wasn't shot for his message, they still effectively grazed him. It would be his job to assess Bob once the balding man was in a state to receive questions. They might not have shot him, but Bob Bishop still might.
Somewhere in Upstate New York, Thirty-Eight Hours Post-Hartsdale, Day 2
A splitting headache cracked through the second male's psyche, a perfect match to the new lump on his forehead where a telekinetic blow had knocked him out. He just came awake, and through his puffy lids his sharp blue eyes squinted under a too-bright sun. It wasn't any hangover, but a mal-attentive caretaker who was responsible for this headache, and even mild morning light through cabin window did him harm. About the only thing to pierce through the haze of splitting pain and receding comatose was the smell of fresh cooked eggs. The very concept of that smell was enough to make the second male screw his face up in confusion, and after mumbling 'ow' and failing to bring a hand up to block out the morning light, bits and pieces of memory began to filter through. The abused male recalled where he was and where he had been. With this new surge of coherence, the pain of his headache and the brightness ebbed away a little bit, and he began to gather his bearings.
Right now he sat bound in a hard wooden chair at a rustic little table, in a smallish log cabin that still smelled here and there of sap. The smell of cooking eggs was coming from the caretaker, who was holding the eggs in his hands, and flashing glows of quick irradiation into them. So these eggs weren't cooked so much as nuked, figure that: the supposedly mighty man before him was also a walking microwave. That little factoid would keep himself from thinking about the futility of his own situation. Plus the eggs did smell good. The second male had to cling to every bit of happiness and lightness he could, he knew, or else his captivity would surely break him, no matter how much he might wish otherwise. Of course, bravado was also another useful tool in keeping yourself from breaking, to stay sane and in control. Yeah… in control.
The first male, with his dark eyebrows and cruel smile, was now concentrating on keeping his quick bursts of radiation in check. A collection of charred and blistered black eggs sitting next to the raw white ones on the table gave tale to his earlier experiments. He heard his guest wake up of course, but paid him no mind, having done the latest round of bindings himself. (Though, not wanting to have to drag a handless and footless invalid around, the first male had loosened the second male's bonds somewhat more than in his previous bindings.) There was a strip of tape over the second male's mouth, as it was that he gagged him with a large stone. It would give him peace for now, and it worked, because at last he got the ratio between heat and duration down, so that two steaming eggs were plopped down on a plate in front of the bound male.
While the second male might have made a quip over the inability of his situation to even try to eat those eggs, the second male kept his mouth shut, by choice and by lack of options. Even without the gag, the man realized that he was actually hungry, not having had more than a stick of road jerky in the last day or so. And again, damn him, but those eggs did smell good to his empty belly. It was with passing alarm that the battered male watched the caretaker raise a hand and point at him. His blue eyes were steeled, expecting the worst, but instead of being dismembered right then, he found the tape on his mouth yanked away, and the stone dragged from his maw with all the tenderness of a velociraptor raping a porcupine. 'Eat,' was all that the first male (his caretaker) said, not caring to waste time on the frivolities of conversation. There would be time enough for the second male to start talking later.
As it was, dignity was lower on the bound male's list than starving to death, so without any further prompting, he wolfed down the eggs shell and all, hands free. Excellent, preened the first male silently to himself, taking his time to de-shell his own breakfast in this log-sod hovel. It wasn't as ideal as the caretaker might have preferred, but it was remotely isolated, and with no one else around for miles. That more than made up for its lack of descent amenities. Running water came from a pump, which in turn came from a well. No electricity or oil for heating, lighting, or cooking, and it was too warm a time of year to use the stone hearth. But the cellar was cold and full of supplies, and the cabin was properly vacated. The man of dark looks had been here before seeing to that, when making certain contingencies. He could hole up here for a while, until he had extracted the information he wanted; the information he needed. After that, well then the second male could join the third (the cabin's previous owner,) at the bottom of the glade, as just another bloated corpse. Yes.