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November 28, 2022

Red Light 2

By Mel Trent

Jack slumped in the backseat of Brian's car as Brian drove to Agency headquarters. His head hurt, and things weren't going the way he wanted them to. He still would have preferred to leave Julian out of the whole thing, but he could accept defeat in that fight. Having Brian involved, on the other hand, was a development he could do without. It brought up too many half formed questions based on things Jack could no longer remember and on his instinctive distrust of Brian. Fortunately, Julian was in a better position to ask questions, and he didn't waste time.

"How did you know where we were?" Julian asked.

"Tricks of the trade," Brian said.

"Describe them."

"You wouldn't understand."

"Maybe not, but you're not getting out of answering the question. And don't just say magic and expect me to be satisfied with that."

"It's a tracking spell."

"Doesn't that require some piece of the person you're tracking? A strand of hair, a fingernail cutting?"

"Yes."

"What do you have?"

Brian hesitated "Foreskin." He said it as quickly as he could get away with, knowing neither of them would ask him to repeat what he had just said.

Julian said nothing. He glanced at Jack in the rearview mirror, but Jack wasn't looking at him. His eyes were closed, and he was rubbing the scar on his temple. Julian frowned.

"You've known since I was born," Jack said without looking up.

"Before that," Brian said.

"Why the fuck did you let the Agency get to me in the first place?"

Brian concentrated fiercely on driving for a moment.

Jack was tempted to strangle Brian right then and there.

"What else have you kept from him?" Julian asked. "You know he doesn't trust you, and I don't have any reason to. You can get more cooperation out of both of us if you just tell us everything."

"Truth is never that simple, is it, Julian?" Brian asked.

"That sounds awfully like you think you know something about me that Jack doesn't."

"Would you know if I did?"

"Why is it so hard for you to be honest, Bennett?" Jack asked. "Why do you insist on being as manipulative as the Agency has been? If you'd been honest with me from the beginning -- "

"What? You wouldn't have gone after Azrael? You wouldn't have ignored the whole problem for your selfish little childhood love affair? Bullshit, Jack. You wouldn't have done anything differently, and you know it. You pretend you want to save everyone, but it's all about you. I'm not saying that you don't care about the rest of them. I know you do, but you've never been able to look past what the Agency did to you. I don't blame you for that one bit. How could I? It's awful. But it's not the point."

"Then what is?"

"Making sure it doesn't happen again."

"But it already has. It happened before me, and it happened when they were done with me. You think I fucked up when I tried to rescue Az, but you fucked up worse. You didn't stop it when you had the chance. And now I'm supposed to clean up your mess?"

"Your mess, Jack. Remember, you dug that shit up all on your own."

Jack pressed his fingertips to his eyes and said nothing more. There was no point in arguing. Brian wasn't going to suddenly become honest, and Jack wasn't going to suddenly stop being angry. All that mattered was stopping the Agency once and for all.

"They got to someone you love, didn't they?" Julian asked. "A child?"

Brian tightened his grip on the steering wheel.

"That's not the thing you think I'm keeping from Jack, by the way. He knows my mother was psychic. He knows I'm latent. But I'm a detective, Bennett. I don't have to be psychic to see what drives you."

After a long silence, Brian said, "My daughter. This was before the Agency was called the Agency. The Agency always tries to blend in. They would put us all in concentration camps and call it done if they could get away with it. People fear what they can't understand and hate what they fear. The Agency uses that to perfection."

"We're not helping matters any," Jack said.

"No. It's too late for that."

Brian parked a block away from the Agency building. Jack glared at the concrete box and wondered how he could have ever thought working for the Agency was a good idea. He must have thought he could break it from the inside, but he had never fully understood what he was up against. He still didn't, but he was going to find out even if it was the last thing he ever did.

"Jack," Brian said.

"What?" Jack asked.

"Where's the jump drive?"

"It's safe."

Brian didn't ask for any more details. He knew Jack wouldn't tell him, and there wasn't much he could do about that. "I was just following orders," he said. "They sent me to the hospital to bring back ... something of you. They didn't say why. I never asked. I could tell you were special when I saw you in the nursery, but I didn't know what it was I was seeing." He turned to Julian and grinned. "He was an adorable baby."

"I've seen the pictures," Julian said.

"Let's please not talk about my fucking baby pictures," Jack said.

"You reminded me of my daughter," Brian said. "I knew when she was born that there was something different, something powerful, about her. I saw the same thing in you. When I went back to my superiors with what they asked for, I told them we needed to do something before it was too late, but they said no. They wanted to see what you were and what the Agency would do to you. They wanted to rack up more evidence. They didn't count on the Agency putting a computer in your head or you working for the Agency, but even then, it was wait and see.

"Seven years ago, I was still just following orders, but nothing went according to plan. Things would have been very, very different if I'd been allowed to do things the way I wanted to. But I can't trust my instinct. It isn't logical. It's paternal, and that isn't what's going to bring the Agency down. I want to do this the right way."

"What is the right way?"

"I wish I knew. I'm not following orders any more."

Jack shifted his attention back to the building. He wondered about the Fraternity's internal politics. Something wasn't right there if Brian was suddenly willing to stop doing what he was told. Brian was a creature of order; he believed that a properly structured organization was good; that logical external motivation was better than messy internal motivation; and that power, used properly by the proper people, could not corrupt. Maybe all that had been true for a while, but now? Apparently not, but Jack had no sympathy for anyone who didn't question authority when it clearly needed to be questioned.

"What are we doing now that we're here?" Brian asked.

"I'm gonna go have a chat with my recruiting officer," Jack said. "You're gonna wait here."

"But -- "

"There's no sense in all of us getting killed."

"Fine. But if you're not back in half an hour, I'm coming in."

Jack got out of the car. He wouldn't be back in half an hour. He wouldn't be back at all.

Detective Sasha Killington knew Jack better than anyone realized. They had been friends since college, and while she wasn't aware of details, she knew enough. After Jack's stroke, the Agency had tried to get Sasha out of the picture the way they had Sam, but she had convinced them she knew nothing. She had stopped taking her medication and waited. She was surprised that it had taken seven years.

Detective Donovan Archer had been in the homicide division for six years before the Agency had recruited him. He had worked with Julian for three of those years and had introduced Julian to Jack. When he and Sasha had gotten the order to bring Jack in that morning, he'd suggested they talk to Julian first rather than go to Jack's apartment. He had figured Julian would go to Jack, and he had hoped they'd leave town or at least lay low until whoever or whatever had murdered Dr. Tobin was caught.

"Jack'll go to headquarters," Sasha had said when they left the police station. Donovan was disappointed that she was right.

"We need to stop them," Donovan said. Jack and Julian were coming up the sidewalk.

"No, we don't," Sasha said. She got out of the car and headed towards them.

Donovan followed a few seconds later.

"Jack!" Sasha called as she jogged towards Jack and Julian.

For a second, maybe less, Jack was afraid that Sasha would betray him somehow. He had never been quite sure what she knew, and she, wisely, had never told him. It was unlikely the Agency had turned her against him but not impossible.

She stopped in front of him and grabbed his hands. "Don't think that," she said. "Don't ever think I could turn on you like that."

At the touch of her hands, wisps of memories floated through Jack's mind. He closed his eyes and watched. They were Sasha's memories of things he had told her and things she had figured out on her own. Not as clear as first hand but still helpful. It didn't fill in any gaps, but it made the gaps less wide.

Jack opened his eyes. "Cooties?" he asked.

Sasha grinned. "Circle, circle, dot, dot."

"I'm sorry I ever forgot that."

"Sam was so pissed at you."

"Thanks, Sasha."

"I wish I could do more."

Jack pulled the jump drive out of his pocket and put it in Sasha's hand. He said nothing, but she nodded. She put the jump drive in her pocket and hugged Jack.

"If you go in there, you're gonna die," Donovan said.

"Yeah," Jack said. "And?"

"You can't ... "

"That's never stopped me before."

"But -- "

Sasha took hold of Donovan's arm and started to drag him back to the car. "Come on," she said. "The files on the drive are encrypted. We can get Jack's cousin to crack them. I think you'll get it once you see the files."

Donovan acquiesced. He didn't understand what was going on, but he knew better than to try to change Jack's mind. Like Sasha had said once, Jack was the irresistible force and the immovable object all in one.

"By the way, Donovan, my cousin really likes you," Jack said. "You should ask her out."

"I think you scared him," Julian said as he and Jack continued up the sidewalk.

Jack shrugged. "He's always been skittish about the psychic thing," he said. "He'll get over it."

"So how do we play this now?"

"Clear the building and watch the rats abandon the sinking ship."

"You're sure Leland won't get away if you do that?"

"I'm sure."

Jack pulled the front door open. Julian stepped into the lobby, and Jack followed. As soon as Jack crossed the threshold, his red light swelled. For a second, the lobby was gone. There was only the light and the sadistic whisper that had hounded his nightmares for more than twenty years. I'm coming for you, and you're going to pay for what you did to my brother.

The red light and Ramiel's whispered threat faded back into the lobby of the Agency headquarters. Jack felt a trickle of blood run from his nose. He wiped it away with the back of his hand. Wait your turn, asshole, he thought.

Jack headed for the nearest fire alarm. Gina, the receptionist, was yelling at him to stop. He didn't. She stepped out from behind the desk as if there were anything she could do to physically prevent Jack from pulling the alarm. She stopped when Julian intercepted her.

"I think you probably want to run right about now," Julian said.

"I think you're probably right," she said. She went back to the desk for her purse and then bolted out the front door.

Jack pulled the alarm. Within seconds, people were spilling into the lobby and through the front doors. He watched them with something that might have been contempt. It was more complicated than that. He barely remembered the detectives he'd known seven years ago, and he was sure none of them knew what he knew. Still, he could hold them in contempt for the roles they played in not questioning what the Agency was doing.

Sue stood out from the crowd as if she were drenched in glow-in-the-dark paint. She tried to move calmly with everyone else, but she was terrified. She kept looking around as if expecting something to jump out at her. She wanted to run, but she didn't know if she would be heading into a trap or if the trap was already sprung.

Jack pushed through the crowd and blocked Sue's way to the door. She stopped when she saw him. "We need to talk," Jack said.

Sue turned away from him and tried to go back the way she had come, but she couldn't fight the flow of bodies.

Jack put his hand on her shoulder. "I'm not gonna hurt you," he said.

"Why should I believe you?" Sue asked. "You're insane."

"Tell me what I wanna know, and you won't get hurt. Okay?"

"And if I don't?"

"I'll dig through your mind until I find it. And that will hurt. You know why? Because I don't really know how to use my powers. You turned me off before I got a chance to learn anything."

"It was for your own good."

"Bullshit."

Sue said nothing.

By then, the lobby had cleared. Jack pushed Sue towards the reception desk and turned around to lock the doors. He could see her reflection in the glass and watched, a little disappointed, as she turned and pulled a gun.

"Jack!" Julian yelled. He started to move towards Sue to stop her, but he wasn't going to get to her in time.

Sue fired three shots. The first went high and wide and shattered the glass of the door. The second would have hit Jack's left shoulder, and the third would have been right between his shoulder blades. Neither shot got to him. A shikigami took the bullets for him. He turned around and looked at the dying spirit on the floor. He could feel it dying. He wanted to scoop it up into his arms and hold it and apologize to it for everything, but he couldn't move. The sensation of its' dying was overwhelming. If trees felt anything when their leaves went from green to red and fell off, that was how it felt. In Japanese, it whispered to him, Don't worry about me, fox child. My sisters are many. You've never been alone. The shikigami broke apart into wisps of fog and vanished.

Julian had Sue handcuffed but not quite subdued. She struggled in his grip, trying to jam her heels down on his insteps. She wouldn't have gotten anywhere if she had gotten away. She knew that, but it didn't stop her from trying.

Jack picked up Sue's gun as he walked towards her. He pressed the barrel to her forehead. She gasped and froze. "Did I say I wasn't going to hurt you?" he asked. "I think I'm gonna have to take that back now."

"You won't kill me," Sue said. "You had to kill someone once, and you hated it so much, you won't even carry your gun. And that was self defense. This would be cold blooded murder. You're not capable of that."

"I didn't say I was gonna kill you. You don't deserve to die." Shikigami swarmed out Jack's hand and peeled the gun apart. He dropped the scraps, yanked Sue away from Julian and dragged her down the hall to the nearest office.

He shoved her into the office hard enough for her to stumble and catch her hip on the desk. When she had steadied herself and looked at him, he saw she was more afraid than she had been before. A minute ago, she had been so sure he wouldn't hurt her. Now she had no idea what he was going to do. Good.

Julian grabbed Jack's arm and pulled him back out into the hallway. "What are you doing, Jack?" he asked.

"I'm ending this shit once and for all," Jack said.

"But you ... this isn't like you at all. I mean ... "

"It's not too late for you to go."

Julian shook his head. "I'm not going anywhere."

Jack put his hand on the back of Julian's neck and kissed him.

Sue had gotten herself into the chair behind the desk and was trying desperately to find some position that didn't put pressure on her bruised hip or her cuffed wrists. Finally, she just slumped in the chair and drew her legs up so that she was curled there like a frightened child. "If I tell you everything, will you let me go?" she asked.

"Hell no," Julian said. "You tried to kill him in front of me. As soon as he's done with you, I'm arresting you for attempted murder."

Sue laughed. "You're a cop. I should have known. Jack always did have a thing for authority figures. Frankly, I'm surprised you're so young."

"Okay, this is not about my taste in men," Jack said. "Not about my fucking baby pictures or -- "

"I knew Sam would fall in love with you the moment I met you. Such a handsome and brave little boy. Rebellious where Sam was so by the book. He was always attracted to the wild ones. I didn't think he'd keep your secrets, though. That surprised me. That you could tell him every subversive move you made or thought you had and he kept his mouth shut for you. Even at the very end when talking would have saved his career, he chose you. He gave you my name, didn't he? I know damn well you didn't remember me. We passed each other in these halls hundreds of times after that, and you never reacted to me."

"Who gives you your orders?"

"You know the chain of command."

"I'm not asking about the chain of command. That's a front. There's no way in hell the head of the Agency knows enough about any individual psychic to design the experiments. I've met the man. He's not psychic."

"I'm a recruiter, Jack. I don't know anything about the experiments on the psychics you detectives bring in. You were a special case. The only reason I knew about what was being done to you was that I had to recruit you before they could start doing anything. Yes, I received the reports, but I never did anything but pass them on to my superior. Then I got new orders to pass on to the doctors. You're sadly mistaken if you think I know any more than that."

"Who orders the experiments?"

"I told you -- "

"Give me a name, Leland. You've been doing this shit too long not to know at least that."

Sue said nothing.

"I told you I'd dig it out of your head if I had to, and I meant that." Jack let his shikigami uncoil from his hands. They shot towards Sue and began to probe at her head, not penetrating but threatening to do so.

Sue yelped and squirmed in the chair.

"When you recruited me, your boss was Anita Porter. She'd been a detective for a long time. She was your lieutenant for a few years. When she got promoted, she brought you on as a recruiter. You wanted to get out of the field. You were never cut out for that kind of work."

"Stop it."

Jack pushed a little further into Sue's head. Sue squeezed her eyes shut and grunted in pain. "Porter found out about me from the shrink I had to see after I helped the hell-hound puppy. After the thing with the pirate, he gave up on trying to help me. Not because he thought I was incurable. Because of the way I handled the pirate, he knew I was too much for him. I needed to be broken, not just cured. When Porter got a hold of the doctor's notes and my school transcripts, she decided I was the perfect candidate to try to make up for her massive mistake in recruiting Zeke Temple."

Jack stopped and pulled back a little. That was unexpected information. He wasn't sure what to do with it.

"Is that what you want?" Sue asked. She was glaring at him now, her face hard and haggard. There was the gleam of tears on her cheeks, but she paid them no mind. "Does that make you happy? The Agency's ultimate goal is pit psychic against psychic, to hunt you down with your own kind. But control is so difficult to manage. You cleave to your own kind, don't you? It wasn't the pirate that got our attention. It was the fact that you offered to try to help the ghost trapped in the wall. Detectives willing to kill the ghosts of pirates are a dime a dozen. To try to free a construction worker's ghost from the wall that killed him ... that was something special. Temple was the same way. It took him a lot longer to notice what was going on, but he noticed."

"He wasn't an experiment like I was."

"No. But then he was a fairly ordinary psychic."

"Why use psychics like that?"

"Why not?"

"Not to keep your hands clean. You don't seem to mind the blood."

Sue smiled. "It's what she wants."

"Who? Porter?"

"No. Cecilia, our patron saint, the city herself."

Jack felt sick. He stood in the hall outside the office while Julian officially arrested Sue and called it in. He lit a cigarette but couldn't smoke it. The thought of it made his stomach reel. His head hurt worse than his worst migraine but not as bad as before the stroke. His skin was slicked with cold, oily sweat, and he was shaking. What he had seen in Sue's head when she finally told him what he wanted to know was nothing like he had expected. It terrified him.

Julian came out of the office and pulled the door shut behind him. "She might spend one night in lock-up, but I don't think she'll even get a conviction on her record for this," he said. "Too many errors on my part. Not that it matters."

Jack said nothing. His head was too heavy for him to look at Julian.

"What does she mean by the city herself?"

"I don't know. There's ... something ... Pale's a ghost. Ghost of another city, of all the ink and the water and the rain ... "

"Jack, you're not making any sense."

Jack slid down to the floor and put his head down on his knees. His mind was crowded with images of the past, of indigo plantations and ships steaming up and down the river, of a young girl in an indigo dress sitting at a piano and a man in dark clothing walking up to her, clutching some kind of modified revolver in his right hand. Jack saw him stop in front of the girl. She was small, blonde and fine-boned; she could have been eight or eighteen. She looked up and smiled. Cecilia Bennett? the man asked. Cecilia Bennett nodded and stood up. She held a delicate hand out to the man. I'm so glad to finally meet you, Detective, she said.

Jack hadn't been aware that something could explode and implode at the same time, but that was exactly how his mind felt after the vision of Cecilia vanished. Blood leaked from his nose. His eyes watered with the pain.

"Jack?" Julian asked.

"She's in the basement," Jack said when he was able to make his voice work.

"Who?"

"Cecilia Bennett."

Article © Mel Trent. All rights reserved.
Published on 2011-10-24
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