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An Habitual Offender, Chapter 2

An Untitled Story

The nav computer showed an ETA of 10:15 AM local time. He adjusted one of the radio receivers to pick up the BBC World Service. He realized that he’d been listening to the Beeb for years... must have left a shortwave radio behind in the duplex. Or maybe some toy Barney cooked up.

Somewhere near the Azores he remembered that an important question had been overlooked. He activated the satellite phone. A computer answered. “Please hold. Mr. Engelhart will be with you as soon as possible.”

After about a minute Barney came on the line. “This couldn’t wait?”

Kevin realized that it must still be the middle of the night back there. “Sorry, but no. What ever happened to the heroes? The villains?”

A long silence ensued. “They stopped coming. We thought our time was done.”

Then Kevin was silent for a long time. “We disagreed on that, didn’t we? I mean, Jim and I disagreed.”

“Yes. You wouldn’t even listen to the Big O. I must admit that you were very persuasive, but subsequent events proved you wrong.”

Kevin sighed. “So I was... I would trade my life for his. It would be simpler.” Barney did not reply. Kevin looked at his wristbands. “Something’s changed, hasn’t it?”

“Given what you have told me about the bracelets, we must conclude that this is so.”

“Something the O hadn’t planned for.”

“Agreed, with reluctance. I’m too old for this.”

“So am I. But I’ve heard the calling. Something’s driving my actions.”

He heard Barney yawn. “Well, the Big O and I, we used to talk... about things, about the future... Well, contingency plans, really. He asked me to look after the rest of you. That’s why you’re not under sedation in a secure undisclosed location.” He yawned again. “Anything else?”

“Nah, not right now. Get some rest, you’ll need it. SexJet out.” He terminated the call.

Now to place another call, this time to the E.I. offices for London. “Fiona MacDonald, please. This is Mr. VanEvery.”

She picked up a moment later. “Good morning, Mr. VanEvery. How can I help you today?” What a magnificent Scots accent! Deeper than he might have expected from a woman, but right for her all the same. Whoever she was. What?

“Umm... I’m en route to the village of Tadley. I’m in need of a bit of British currency.”

“Certainly sir. Where shall we meet?”

“Outside the pub. I’ll be the shabbily dressed Yank.”

“Very good sir. I’ll arrive by helicopter, and have a car meet me. This should not take very long.”

“Thanks.”
“Will you need the car today?”
“Umm, no... I haven't’ driven in a very long time.” Then of course there’s that no license thing. I’ll violate British airspace with a UFO, but I’m afraid to take a chance on driving. I can remember how to fly but not how to drive a car?

“The driver can take care of that for you. I only ask that you return me to my helicopter.”

“Oh! Yes, of course. I hadn’t thought this through.”

“I will arrive within two hours. Will there be anything else?”

“Not that I can think of. Umm... thank you and goodbye for now.”

“Goodbye, sir.”

He’d be in Tadley in about half that time. He scanned the stealth mode section of the instrument panel. Some systems were not active. “Rig for silent running.” He adjusted the controls.

He queried the computer for possible landing sites. There was one about three miles from the village that looked good. The jet was smarter than she used to be, capable of seeking cover on her own now. Her new skin could mimic her surroundings for camouflage, and she had a battery of non lethal deterrents available for her use.

The jet began drifting lazily port to starboard, the autopilot following his course. He leaned back and rubbed his eyes. Then he looked at what few clothes he had with him. A couple of pairs of jeans, two t-shirts, two et cetera. One decent pair of motorcycle boots. It took him a while to remember Barney sending this stuff over.

He landed near the edge of a wooded area. He rolled up the wings and floated on engines one and two into the trees. Satisfied, he throttled back and set the jet down.

He sped through the shut down procedures, then changed, and changed his clothes. Nice to have some shoes now that he had to do some walking. He exited the jet, checked his bearings, then started walking briskly towards Tadley. He tried to keep on ear open for the sound of a helicopter.

He found the lane and was on his way to the greater road. Soon he could hear the sound of vehicles. He started pondering which side of the road he should walk on. He felt disoriented for a bit.

In a little less than an hour he was seated on a low stone wall near the pub. He tried to look inconspicuous, but alas, he failed. So he tried to look like a harmless idiot. Success. Passersby began not to notice him.

Perhaps ten minutes later a Jaguar sedan passed by. He caught a glimpse of long hair in the back seat. Perhaps... He waited and watched the car park. The left rear door opened. Out stepped a very beautiful woman. Ms. MacDonald was every inch the proud Scot. Pale skin, green eyes, long, wavy, dark red hair. She was clad in sensible business attire of high quality, yet his mind’s eye insisted on seeing her in tartan. Must be the scarf.

As she turned towards him, the breeze lifted her hair and it flashed in a bit of sunlight. The sight struck him blind. The bottom dropped out of his mind and his heart; he fell a long way into darkness... all the way to Hell and back in a nanosecond. But the truth of the memory eluded him.

He shook his head and returned to Tadley. Ms. MacDonald was one step away from hailing distance. He looked into her eyes and thankfully, did not see someone he knew. He forced a smile.

“Mr. VanEvery, I’m Fiona MacDonald.” She smiled. A very nice smile she had. “You made it easy for me to spot you.”

Her voice had made him expect someone older, but now up close, he placed her in her early thirties. “Everything about me screams clueless Yank, doesn’t it?”

“In a manner of speaking.” He thought she was being extra super polite now. “But we can deal with that if necessary.” She extended a hand towards the pub door. “Mr. Engelhart said that you’d be hungry...?”

He hoped that the vertigo he’d felt earlier was just caloric deficit. Say it enough times and maybe you’ll buy it. Yeah, right. “Well, he was right about that. Thank you.” He stood up and made a martial arts-style bow. He found himself glancing at her left hand. Nothing on the third finger. Good... What the fuck am I thinking?

When he straightened back up he saw her looking at him in a most intriguing way. “He also told me not to be alarmed at the quantity...?”

He blushed a bit. “I am very hungry. I forget when I last ate.”

The lunch rush was over and so they had no trouble getting a table away from the other patrons. He ordered two pints, she asked for Earl Gray. When the server had left, Fiona passed two envelopes across the table.

“Each contains one thousand Pounds and five hundred Euro in smaller bills. I hope this will be enough for the next day or so?”

“Oh, my, yes.” He held the envelopes in his hands. He looked down at himself. “Can you help me find a jacket? A men’s clothing store? I...” He groped at the air. “I know so very little about the world in which I find myself today.” He looked at Fiona. She was thinking.

She was beautiful when she was thinking. “Mr. Engelhart said that you might need an... interpreter?” A hint of a smile, then one of her eyebrows went up ever so slightly. “I’m beginning to understand.”

They server returned with their drinks. They ordered; well, he ordered. She said that she’d eaten earlier and perhaps just a biscuit or two. Kevin drank deeply into one of his pints. “Ms. MacDonald –”

“Fiona.”

“Fiona, I’m Kevin. Thanks. I’m hoping Barney sent someone who understands that there’s a need for discretion?”

“Mr. Engelhart said I was the right person for the job. He also gives out large sums of money in the pursuit of ‘discretion’.”

“Good. When we’re done, forget you ever saw me.”

“If I must.”

“Well, I’m in the country illegally, and I may be mentally unstable.”

Fiona said nothing. She merely raised her eyebrows.

“I’m trying to find an old friend that may not want to see me. But please understand that it’s necessary. His name’s John dePebble.” He pulled a scrap of paper from his pocket. “This address is around here somewhere.”

“You have interesting friends.”

“We... uh... had some interesting times together.”

Fiona sipped her tea and waited.

“What do you do at Engelhart Industries?”

“I’m a Senior Scientist with the Advanced Projects Group.”

“Top Secret?”

“Of course.”

“I apologize for taking you from your work. I was... working. Working on an advanced project back in Houston. Freelance. That’s why I’m here.”

“Mr. dePebble has commissioned some unusual devices over the years.”

His food arrived then, distracting him from the hint she’d just dropped. His hunger gave him no time to talk.

Afterwards they found him a jacket. Plain canvas work gear, utterly unfashionable in a sort of gray that would blend in well with the background. But it did have a delightful number and variety of pockets. He stashed the two envelopes. “We must get you back to your helicopter.”

“If we must. I’m rather sorry I can’t meet Mr. dePebble today.”

“I apologize, but I must speak to him in private. He may turn me away and I don’t want that to reflect badly on you if he’s a client.”

She shrugged and smiled. He found himself noticing that she adapted quickly. She was sharp, but then she’d have to be for Barney to trust her with his most secret secrets. Kevin opened the car door for her and they got inside. “To the helicopter, please.”

They took another road out of town. About a mile on there was a large pasture with an E.I. helicopter resting upon it. The car stopped and they got out.

“I am on twenty four hour call until you convince me that my assistance is no longer necessary, Kevin.”

He certainly liked the way his name sounded when pronounced with a scottish accent. “Thanks again. I’ll be in touch.” Then he thought, convince her? She’s a very determined lady, isn’t she? She began to turn away from him, but he reached out to stop her. “Fiona – I... I haven’t had the pleasure of a woman’s company in a very long time. Thank you for putting up with me.” She smiled and he bowed again. He watched her walk to the helicopter. What a strikingly beautiful woman. He got back in the car, handed his scrap of paper to the driver and they were off.

He stepped out of the car a short time later in front of a medium-large English Manor House. He could feel himself thinking the capital letters. The sign on the door read ‘World of Music Productions’. Vaguely familiar somehow. He opened the door and went inside. An ultra-tasteful mix of antique and modern styles graced the reception area. He walked over to the desk.

“Hello. Would you please tell Mr. dePebble that Mr. VanEvery needs to speak with him most urgently? Thank you.” He was desperate to sound more confident than he actually was.

The receptionist took her time looking him up and down, calmly assessing his threat level. With reasonably satisfactory results from her scan she punched some buttons on her switchboard, waited a moment, then repeated the message. She cringed a bit at whatever was coming out of her headset now. “Sir, is this really necessary?” Pause. “That is exactly what he said, sir.” More pausing and staring off into space. “Video? Of course, sir.” She punched a few more buttons. Long pause. Kevin began to sweat. Finally, she blinked. “Yes, sir. In the Library.” She disconnected and stood up. “This way, sir.”

“I apologize for whatever he said. I should have warned you that he might not be happy to see me.”

“No worries, sir. Have you been in the country long?”

“I’ve only just arrived. A... colleague from long ago.”

She led him through a couple of hallways, then opened a large door. Classic English Library. A beautiful room with the far wall mostly windows and he was guessing northern light.

“He’ll be with you shortly sir. Can I get you anything?”

“Not just now, thank you.”

She nodded and closed the door behind her. He walked over towards the windows. He wiped his brow. If this doesn’t work, it’s over before it started. What am I going to say?

Another door, in a wall closer to the windows, opened. John dePebble didn’t really look much different. Only a bit of gray in the hair, still six feet tall and sturdily built. Black on black wardrobe, naturally. He’d always had a way of staring darkly, even in the brightest sunlight. His gaze was much darker this day. He closed the door behind him, then walked over to the windows. He turned to face Kevin, then leaned back against the wall and stared at him.

“I’m sorry that I had to disturb you.”

John said nothing.

“I’m sorry for a lot of things. For all the things I can’t change.”

Nothing.

“Something’s coming John. I need your help. There’s only three of us left.” He saw something in John’s eyes when he said that. Another clue? John rode in the third seat portside. Who rode in the second seat?

John let go of a great, heavy sigh. “Satin Peter told me you were coming.”

At the mention of that name Kevin felt his skin crawl. Satin Peter, the demonically possessed double necked bass and guitar combination. John leaned forward and put his elbows on the windowsill. He stared outside for a while. “I’ve had some time to think about it.”

“Ah.” Of course he should have known that he couldn’t approach undetected. Approach undetected... That thought led to the release of another chunk of memories. He couldn’t speak for a time. John must have been saying something to him, but he couldn’t spare time to hear it.

He couldn’t hear anything because he saw her face. Blue-gray skin, blue-gray hair, searing blue-gray eyes. A proud and strong woman, with her brow a bit stronger and her nose a bit straighter than any human woman’s. A Warrior. Queen of the Barbarians... Hanna. Her name was Hanna. And he had loved her from afar. It was wrong, but he had never been able to help himself.

“Kevin, are you listening to me?” John was annoyed.

“No, John, I’m sorry... I was remembering things.”

“Were you?”

“Yes... sorry... please come back to Houston with me. Something bad is going to happen and we’ve got to be ready.”

John covered his face with his hands and groaned. “I can’t just leave right now. I have things to attend to.”

“How long do you need?”

“A day or two.” He looked up at the sky. “I can’t believe I’m saying this.”

“You know it’s the right thing to do.”

John continued to look up, somewhere past the sky now. “ The Big O would come to my room sometimes, and we’d talk. All through the night on occasion. Once he mentioned that there was always a chance that he’d overlooked something... I guess I never forgot about that.” He dropped his head down now and sighed. “I suppose you need a place to stay.”

“Well, I would like to move the jet. I didn’t want to land here until after we’d spoken.”

“The jet.” John shook his head, clearly displeased. “Well, I suppose we’ll need it. Barney can’t fly.”

“Thanks. Yeah... umm, well, I’ll be back soon. Got anything to eat around here?” Kevin charged out the door and was gone. John had been about to say something else, but could only shake his head.

Kevin got into the car and asked the driver to return him to the village. He was feeling better. He wanted to walk back to the jet in order to take time to sort through these recently arrived memories.

The afternoon had turned cloudy and cooler. He shivered a bit and turned up the collar of his jacket. He put his hands into a couple of his recently acquired pockets and began walking. Soon he was turning onto the lane leaving the sounds of village and road behind. Millions of leaves rustled softly on the breeze. It was all very green around him, a green that is never seen in cities.

Parts of him felt better than they had in a long time. There were still many gaps in his memories, but the ones he had felt as comfortable as a favorite pair of jeans. The was enough of a framework now that made him feel as though his head belonged to him again. He hoped that he could keep it.

Hanna. He was going to see Hanna soon. It was going to be very, very, painful. Hanna was Jim’s beloved. Jim’s death was on Kevin’s hands. “Ah, hell.” He walked on a bit more. “Hopefully she’ll kill me. I deserve no less.”

About an hour had passed. He’d returned to the spot where he’d quit the woods for the lane. He stood there, looking around. He hadn’t seen anyone the whole time but of course he really hadn’t been paying any attention. Now though, he sensed something. Some part of his combat skills were reawakening. He moved nearer to a tree that had a cluster of bushes around the base. He heard a metallic click.

He hit the ground as the first automatic weapon opened fire. A moment later a second weapon began emptying its’ magazine in his direction. He was pinned down and missing a fair amount of presence of mind. He didn’t remember that he was the Angry Man. He was afraid.

Then he heard another sound, a kind of thumping. An instant later an Engelhart Industries helicopter was overhead. The logo was the same, but the sleek corporate number had been replaced by an angry, sullen war machine festooned with lethal-looking appendages. The chopper spun on its’ nose and he could now see through the open side doors. The gunner’s position was manned. He thought he saw a flash of red hair... Fiona?

One gun continued firing at him. The other one was firing at the helicopter now. The chopper paused for a moment and Kevin saw a blur detach itself from the belly of the craft. A bright, but utterly silent white flash lit up part of the forest. The guns fell silent.

There was just enough room between the trees to bring the chopper down. Before the wheels touched the ground Kevin leapt up through the side door. His face was pressed into the deck as the chopper charged back into the sky. He turned his head towards the gunner, who kicked a headset over towards him. He put it on, then braced himself. What he heard next made him kind of happy and kind of dismayed.

“I wasn’t expecting to see you again so soon, Kevin, but Mr. Engelhart believed that you were in imminent danger.”

“I’ve got to get back down there, Fiona!”

“As soon as we’re certain that the area is secure.”

Kevin pulled himself into a seat and put on the harness. He could see part of a tactical screen in the cockpit. Something read ‘Negative’ and the pilot spoke. “No human life signs.”

Kevin looked over at Fiona. Inscrutable in her helmet and face shield, she was studying a smaller version of the tactical display on her gunner’s console. She leaned forward to look at something more closely.

“You do take your R&D seriously, don’t you?”

“We do what is necessary. Once we’ve investigated this large, cylindrical object perhaps we can set you down.”

“That large, cylindrical object is my advanced project. It’s safe.”

Fiona stared at him for a very long time. Then she raised her shield and stared at him some more. Her next words surprised him. “Ian, set us down please. I shan’t be returning with you today.”

Barney’s found some exceptional talent. He watched her profile as she secured the weapons systems. What a woman! Then the chopper was on the ground. She removed her helmet and motioned with her hand towards the grass. He took off his headset and followed her out the door. The chopper was off the ground as soon as they cleared the rotors. When it was quiet enough, he extended his arm towards the trees. “This way to my advanced project.”

The jet had taken on a mottled yellow and forest green pattern. It recognized him and opened the airlock door. Kevin heard Fiona’s footsteps cease. He looked at her. She was staring intently at the jet, tracing every line and curve. “This is an older craft, recently refitted.” Smart girl. “I’ve never seen anything like it in the files.”

“No, I don’t suppose you would have. Consider this Barney’s first advanced project, and I guess the most secret for a time. Won’t you come inside?”

“You couldn’t stop me if you wanted to.” Then, with an impish grin, she dashed ahead of him and mounted the ladder.

He smiled. I like her! She’s fearless. He followed her inside. She was in the middle of the aisle, turning round in place, taking everything in.

“This is amazing! Purpose built, yes?”

“Yes.”

“I see you have an E.I. flight engineer’s console. A Mark II, I should think, judging by its’ age?” Then her brow furrowed, and she moved forward for a closer look. “No, something’s not right...” She stared at the small placard on the console. “A... Mark I? How can you have a Mark I? There is no Mark I! It was just a proof of concept – dismantled!” She turned to look at him, a mix of surprise and fear on her face. “I’ve seen those records. Who are you?”

“I’m Kevin VanEvery, and I’ve known Barney for over twenty years.”

Her face showed that she clearly wasn’t satisfied with that answer. Then curiosity got the better of her and she sat down in the seat by the Mark I. She reached out and delicately, reverently ran her hands along the controls. Familiar things, at first, then... “Wing Geometry... Magnetic Grapple... Laser Cannon? Low Earth Orbit Configuration?!” She turned to face him. “Those aren’t in the files. I ask you again, Mr. VanEvery, who are you?”

He sighed. “ A ghost from the past. It may not be safe for you to know anymore just now.”

Fiona frowned. “Macho rubbish, but we’ll get to the bottom of that later. Would you please take me to my laboratory? I’ll need my traveling gear.” Her tone brooked no argument. Clearly this was a woman who expected things to get done.

“Umm, sure... of course.”

She looked forward. “Why is there no co-pilot’s seat?”

Whatever he had wanted to say caught in his throat, and he felt dizzy again, falling heavily into the second seat portside. Part of his fevered brain believed that the seat was still warm. he cold smell her, feel her.

Then he felt something cool on his forehead. Fiona’s hand. “Kevin, can you hear me?”

He could barely manage a whisper. “Yes. I’m sorry.” Then his voice gained some strength. “I warned you didn’t I?”

“Warned me? Ah, yes, you did.” She removed her hand. He missed it instantly.

“I will never intentionally harm you. As long as I am lucid, I will defend you with every ounce of my strength.”

“A bit dramatic perhaps, but thank you none the less. Do you think that will be necessary?”

“If you hang around me long enough.” Fiona said nothing, she merely waited, as ladies do. “I wasn’t expecting to need a copilot... But would you care to take Barney’s seat again?”

“Again? Barney was your engineer?”

“We built her together. We christened her the SexJet.”

“Then we’ll need to replace that seat when we get to Houston. I have over four hundred hours in high performance, multi-engine jets.” She reached out and touched the curving wall of the cabin. “Her children... and her grandchildren. She’s beautiful.”

“Thank you.”

“Many things are suddenly coming together for me. Now more of our projects make sense. I see the history...” She turned back towards him. “When are we leaving?”

“Two or three days, I think.”

She nodded. “Excellent. Now we should leave here before someone comes to look for those two twits I railgunned.”

“Wow.” Then he laughed.

“What is it?”

“It just occurred to me that I now have a scottish engineer!” He stood up and bowed to her. Lady MacDonald, shall we light our candles?”

She grinned from ear to ear again, looking fabulous. “Brilliant!” She sat down beside the Mark I and commenced her labors.

A short time later the jet was floating out of the trees on engines one and two. “Most of the time I controlled everything from here.” He waved at his instrument panel. “But when I had my hands full Barney would help me with the more complicated stuff. It’s time to unroll the wings. Would you do that for me, please?”

“Wait a tick. Ah. Just so.”

The plane rocked slightly as the wings, which had been wrapped up tight against the fuselage like jelly rolls, assumed a slight gull wing configuration with upturned tips. The laser cannon were located just above where the wingtips began to curve up. Above each cannon was a letter O, designed to look like a band of gold seen from an angle. The center of the O was black and had a golden trident pointing out and forward. The SexJet was a high winger, with the fuselage below. Kevin knew that by now her skin was back to the usual pale, creamy yellow color. Barney hadn’t been able to explain the color of her original skin, but somehow it was right.

“Full Burn!” Kevin slammed the throttles forward and heaved back on the stick. One thousand, two thousand, three thousand feet per minute. A missile aimed at the heart of the sun. Kevin looked back at Fiona. She was enthralled.

“How fast can she go?”

“Mach six plus.”

“Brilliant!”

“Where’s your lab?”

She turned to her console and worked the keypad. “Coordinates programmed in...” She giggled. “Captain.”

He smiled and took the plane through a barrel roll and an Immelman. “It’s been too long.” He put the jet back on course. “Well, I’ve already messed around way to much for discretion. I’ll let you fly her to Houston if you like.”

“I like.”

“You will. I’ve got a target drone, and I know you’re a hell of a shot.”

“Brilliant!”

He checked his panel, then leaned back in the seat. “ETA thirty minutes.” He couldn’t stop himself from looking at her and smiling. Fiona didn’t notice as she was studying the various systems and panels on her side of the jet. Just as well, he was feeling downright goofy. It felt so very natural to work with her, as though they’d known each other for years. I’m beginning to feel alive again. I’ve been away from people for far too long. I forgot how to be human, didn’t I? They made me forget everything. Well, I can’t blame them. I was an unguided missile hell bent on destruction.

Then he frowned. Now what? Martyrdom? With an innocent on board? Fiona’s in danger just for being near me, and I’m blowing everyone else’s cover. Is it just habit that I’m treating her like part of the team? Am I being stupid? I suppose she goes to Houston often enough that she’ll be fine on her own.

Fiona had been working her keyboard the whole time his mind had been wandering. She muttered something under her breath that brought him back to the moment. He turned to look at her and saw that she was staring at him. That mix of surprise and fear had returned to her face. Uh oh. “There is more to you than meets the eye, Kevin.”

“I can’t deny that – but I am one of the good guys.”

She raised that eyebrow again. “I’m not so young that I don’t remember how things used to be.”

“I’m not sure I follow you.” Though that doesn’t sound at all bad, now that I think about it.

“The jet’s memory is quite long.”

Whoops, here we go...

“You are one of the Offenders. The Angry Man, yes?”

He tried to smile and failed. He felt pretty crappy all of a sudden. “Guilty as charged.” He hung his head. “Guilty, guilty, guilty.”

Fiona sounded surprisingly calm now. “Life just got more interesting.”

“Barney and John dePebble were also on the team.”

“And the others?”

“Psychon, I can’t remember if I ever knew his human name, he rode third seat starboard. Hanna Barbarian, second seat port.” He felt his eyes tearing up, there was nothing he could do. “Our leader... and my copilot...” He was having difficulty breathing now. “... was Dr. Celluloid... Jim – Jim Sherwood. He’s dead. I failed him.” He wiped his eyes. “I talked him into one more mission. Everything destroyed because of me.” He turned towards the front window and buried his head in his hands. He began crying in great, heaving sobs.

The nav computer bonged the destination alert. He didn’t register the sound. Fiona quietly took over flight operations from her console. She instructed the jet to land itself on the rooftop helipad of her lab building and commence standby procedures. The SexJet is a smart girl, Fiona thought. She could do with a better name though.

Fiona turned to look at Kevin. He was still lost to the world. She’d learned a great deal about him in such a very short time. What, all of four hours? Six since she got Barney’s email?
The tragic ones were easy to read. They always want the world to acknowledge their pain. The world never does, though. Too busy.

The jet throttled back engines three through six and began descending on one and two. The changes in the ship alerted the pilot inside Kevin, and that part of him took over. “What? Right. We’re there. Thanks... sorry for that. What’s next?”

The rapid changes in Kevin unnerved her somewhat, but she resolved to continue to work with him. She needed him lucid, though. “I’ll need thirty minutes or so to get my gear loaded. Then I believe we are returning to Tadley?”

Kevin was wiping his face off. “Yeah, I guess so.” Then he was startled. “Oh shit! John! What if somebody’s shooting at him? What about Barney?” He turned to his panel.

“Ian’s watching Mr. dePebble’s residence. He has two more hours of fuel.”

“Oh. Thanks. I’d better call Barney.” Which he did.

Barney answered at once. “You okay?”

“Yeah, Fiona got me out of there. How did you know?”

“Somebody shot up my car.”

“What the hell is going on?”

“You’re asking me? How should I – Heck, did you see John?”

“Yeah. Said he needed a couple of days, but that’s all changed now. Fiona says E.I.’s watching over him. We’ll be back there in about an hour. I was going to stay there.”

“Okay. Keep in touch.”

“Thanks for saving my ass, Barney.”

Barney was quiet for a bit. “Sure, man. Don’t forget to eat something. Later.” He broke the connection.

The jet had landed sometime during the conversation. Kevin finally noticed that the engines were quiet. “Oh.” He turned to Fiona. “Thanks. Are you always going to be one step ahead of me?”

“Possibly.” She looked most inscrutable.

“We’d better hurry. Anything to eat around here?”

“There must be something.”

They left the jet and went downstairs. The entire lab was on alert, flashing lights and everything. It all seemed a bit much to him. Several cases were waiting at the base of the stairs. There was a man standing near them. “Thanks, Ashwin. This man needs food. Bring him whatever you can. Kevin and I will load.”

“Um, okay.” Ashwin took off down a hallway.

Fiona grabbed a couple of cases. “Lets get these upstairs.”

Kevin picked up the other four. “Right.”

Some of the cases fit into storage compartments, the others they strapped into seats. Fiona had her MacBook up and running right after that. The laptop and jet got acquainted, and began chattering away. She placed a headset on her ear and muttered a bit.

Kevin heard the turbo-pumps begin to whine. The sound always sent a thrill up his back, but it was different this time, almost frightening. He hadn’t pressed the button. He looked at Fiona. She was standing in the aisle where she could see all three stations at once. He began to realize that she had preflighted the jet with a few voice commands. Just like that.

“Ashwin’s got a snack for you, grab it and let’s be off.”

Kevin exited the jet and saw Ashwin approaching with a bag and a bottle. Kevin stuck them both in his left hand so that he could shake Ashwin’s hand with the other. He was about to say thanks when he heard the chuff-chuff of the igniters. Too late. He mouthed a thank you and shrugged his shoulders, then turned and boarded the jet. The deck rocked slightly as number two lit up. The airlock shut a moment later and conversation was once again possible. He remembered that they had to shout a lot in here... always so much going on.

Fiona was smiling, big and radiant. She was having fun. “Ready for take off Mr. VanEvery. You have the con.” She giggled and sat down in the flight engineer’s seat, stretching her long legs into the empty space in front of her.

He thought her flight suit didn’t detract from her looks at all. So much had happened so fast. The adrenaline’s back, isn’t it?

Kevin flopped down on the pilot’s seat and ran engines one and two up to a hundred percent. The SexJet sprang up into the air, yawing about ninety degrees to face West. Then all six engines kicked her hard towards Tadley. Then Kevin frowned. He reached for his instrument panel and called Barney.

“That was quick.” Barney sounded a bit amused.

“Barney, what the fuck – machine guns?”

“A taunt, I should think, upon reflection.”

“Oh... right.”

“They know us and we don’t know them. Nyah, nyah, nyah.”

“Right. They’re pissing me off.”

“The three of you should stick together until you’re back over here.”

“Right. Thanks.” Kevin broke the connection. He looked out the windshield and grimaced as the sun hit his eyes. He closed them and heard Fiona’s voice.

“Windshield. Pilot. Dim.” A black spot appeared on the windshield, blocking out the sun.

Kevin’s face relaxed into a smile. “Thanks. That’s a neat trick. Could you –” When he looked at Fiona he forgot whatever it was that he was going to say. She was brushing her hair out, and the afternoon sun had set it ablaze. The intense deja vu returned. His mind reached for a memory and found nothing. Who was she? What was her name?

“Sorry?” She was giving him a break and he knew it.

“Uh, tell me how you’re doing that.” He waved towards the windshield.

“The Mac’s doing most of the work right now.” She began wrapping her hair up. Something so familiar... “But the SexJet –” She shook her head. “I sound so silly saying that. The jet’s got the right software now. They can speak and learn each other’s secrets.” She looked at Kevin, and raised that eyebrow. She nodded towards her laptop. “Pandora knows E.I., and E.I. knows the jet. Something like a letter of introduction.” She reached for the pen pockets on her left sleeve and extracted two carved wooden hairsticks he hadn’t noticed before. Bun secured, she was back to business and she didn’t look so much like...

He felt calmer now. “Pandora? I like that.”

Fiona smiled. He realized that he wanted very much to keep her smiling. “Thanks. When we get to Houston we can upgrade the Se –” She paused. “The software of Lady S. so that you can have a headset of your own.”

“What about an external RF input?”

“Doable. I know how Barney codes. Another comm subroutine. We’ll have to upgrade your transceiver, though, for a secure channel. Do you have it handy?”

Nothing fazed this woman. “Umm... not exactly. Later, okay?”

She stared into his eyes before answering. “Of course.” Then she seemed distracted, staring off into the distance. “Ah. Ian... yes, you can go now, we’ll be fine.” She found Kevin’s eyes again. “Tadley already.”

“Right.” He got up from his seat. “Would you care to take over? You should continue your training.”

“We’ll be thanking you, sir.” Fiona got up and took the pilot’s position. John’s place was already visible. There were fields in back of the house, and she aimed for a two track close by.
Kevin was in the engineer’s seat, watching the blinkenlights. She had a light touch, but the jet felt steady. He didn’t feel the urge to reach for the controls that Jim’s loosey-goosey flying always gave him. “Now, those two buttons on the one and two throttle levers activate the thrust door sequence. You want to squeeze them both at the same time, then throttle back the other four engines.”

She did so and the jet slowed down. She had a good feel for it, the jet was floating like a soap bubble over the grass only a few moments later. The jet gave up the last of her forward momentum only when the skids made contact. She throttled back and then Kevin felt the jet’s weight begin to load the struts. Nice. Good landing.

“Shut down. Thank you.”

“I’m sorry what?” Kevin shook his head, startled.

“You said ‘Good landing’.”

“Oh. Well, it was.”

Fiona smiled. “The scanners are clear. We can exit safely.”

“Great. Let’s go see what’s up with John.” Things looked about the same as before. He couldn’t see any bullet holes from here. They began to walk towards the house.

A young man with tats and piercings came up the path to meet them. “I’m Dave. John sent me to show you to your quarters. He said he’d see you at supper and then there will be more time.”

Fiona waved a hand at the house. “Lead on, MacDuff.”

Dave led them inside and up the stairs to the third floor. “This floor has apartments for artists. We don’t have anybody staying with us just now, so take your pick.”

Kevin looked around. The hallway was luxurious. He couldn’t imagine what the rooms would be like. “Thanks. Any one will do for me, so Ms. MacDonald can have first choice.”

Fiona grabbed a door handle. “I travel a great deal, so any room will do for me as well.”

Dave shrugged. “Just ring if you need anything. Oh, yes – Ms. MacDonald, a Ms. Fotheringale left a message for you. We weren’t sure what was up, John hadn’t told us anything yet, but she insisted you were coming, and that she’d send up some things from home.”

Fiona smiled. “Bonnie’s such a dear.”

Kevin looked at her. “You guys move fast.”

“Barney values adaptability very highly.”

“He was always wise beyond his years.”

Dave cleared his throat. “If there’s nothing else? Good. Supper will be at six o’clock.” He nodded at them and then walked off down the hallway.

Fiona opened the door of her apartment. “Shall we retire? It’s been a busy... what, six hours?”

“Wow, is that all?” Kevin opened the door across the hall and looked in. “Nice. Can’t remember when I had a chance to rest my head.” He looked down at the little bag in his hands. “Hope I can find a toothbrush around here somewhere.”

“Be seeing you.” Fiona turned and closed the door behind her.

Kevin entered his rooms. Sitting room, bedroom, huge bathroom. A shower would be pleasant... what to do about clothes, though? He decided to worry about that later and undressed and got into the shower. He turned the hot water full on and just stood there, soaking it in. Nice. So good to be warm. Wish I didn’t have to go back to work. Should’ve retired when I had the chance.

He got out of the shower, dried off, and shaved. Afterwards he noticed that fresh clothing had been laid out for him. The official rock and roll uniform of jeans and a black t-shirt. He wondered if John kept the basement full of such things. He passed on the ugly plastic slipper things with all the holes, though.

He dressed himself and looked at the clock. Another hour and a bit. He stretched out on the bed. A classic four poster, two hundred... three hundred years old, maybe. The pillow was soft and cool beneath his head. But after a minute or so that dizziness, that vertigo returned. He tried to move, but that only made things worse. He simply couldn’t do anything about it. He lost consciousness.

After a time he opened his eyes. He flung himself off the bed and onto the floor. He didn’t know where he was. He thought about changing into the Angry Man, but then there was a knock on the door.

"Kevin? It’s Fiona. Are you ready?”

It was a pleasant sounding voice. Fiona, yeah right, Fiona. I remember now. I’ve got to talk to Barney about these fainting spells, though. “Umm, yeah... just a moment.” He got up off the floor and looked around for his boots. He shoved his feet in and opened the door. Fiona looked fabulous. She had on a long sleeve black t-shirt, naturally, an ankle length straight denim skirt, and brown leather flats on her feet. Simple attire, but the filling made all the difference. That, and that million watt smile of hers. In what sort of world have I found myself? It’s so easy to be with her. I keep thinking that, don’t I?

“Well, here’s your chance to meet John.” She took his arm, which surprised the hell out of him. He hoped that he hadn’t flinched. They walked off down the hallway.

John was waiting for them in the dining room. The table was set for three. He looked Kevin over intently before speaking. “Good Evening, Ms. MacDonald. You’ve fallen in with a rather weird crowd, I’m afraid.” He took her had and kissed it. He could always do stuff like that and have it look cool.

Fiona made a bit of a curtsey. “Thank you, sir.”

John looked at Kevin. “Kevin.”

“John.”

“How do you feel?”

“Functional, I guess. There’s still a lot that I don’t remember.”

“Hmm. Well, let’s eat. I was too busy for lunch, and now, given that you have a traveling companion, I sense that things have changed.” John motioned them towards the table. He stepped ahead and pulled a chair out for Fiona. She thanked him and sat down.

Kevin took the seat opposite her. Wine was waiting for them. “Somebody took a shot at me. Barney, too. Fiona works for Barney and she got me out of trouble.”

John smiled at her. “Well, thanks are in order, I see.”

Fiona blushed a bit. “Mr. dePebble, I was wondering if there would be another Pan-African Sound Truck disc coming out any time soon”

John looked up, trying to remember. “About four months, I think. They’re really just getting started.”

“I also loved your Underground Asia and Bhangra compilations.”

John bowed to her. “Thank you. Your taste is impeccable.”

Kevin looked at her, wondering what this music was. He’d like to know because he remembered liking music. It would be nice to hear music again. But back to business. “John, what exactly did Satin Peter tell you?”

“I take it we can speak freely?”

“Fiona’s learned a great deal in a few hours. She’s a Senior Scientist with the Advanced Projects Group.”

John stared at the table and took a deep breath. “The Angry Man is coming. Prepare for a long journey. There is danger.”

Kevin nodded. “That’s really all I know as well.”

John looked up at him. “And just like that we’re back in action.”

“Yeah.”

John fell silent and started in on his soup. Kevin and Fiona copied him. After a bit John paused. “Satin hadn’t spoken for a very long time before this... what two months or so ago?”

Kevin nodded in agreement. “That’s about when it all started. The Big O returned my wristbands. At least, I guess it was him, who else could do that?” He held his left hand up to show John. “Somehow they began to restore my memory.” He didn’t notice Fiona’s sudden change of expression. “I feel parts of myself... reincarnating.”

There was a clatter as Fiona dropped her spoon. Both men looked at her. She forced a smile and shrugged her shoulders. “Sorry. I’m a bit of a prat sometimes.”

John smiled at her. “No worries.” He looked back at Kevin. “Have you spoken with him?”

“No. Just Barney.”

“Mm.” John put down his spoon and pushed his bowl away. Servers appeared to remove the bowls and present the main course. “Thank you. Please wait until I call for anything else.” They nodded and departed in silence. John looked at Fiona. “The Advanced Projects Group?”

Fiona smiled. “I’ve had the honor of prototyping some of your ‘special requests’ as we call them.”

“Then you have my eternal gratitude, Ms. MacDonald. My studios are now second to none.” John bowed his head. Fiona blushed again. “I’ll see to it you have permanent VIP status with World of Music.”

“Oh, sir...”

“John.”

“J – John, I don’t know what to say. Thank you.”

He smiled at her, then turned to Kevin with a more serious expression. “Do we know what we’re dealing with?”

Kevin shook his head. “Nothing. What scares me is that they knew I was here.”

“Perhaps they were coming here, and were alerted to your presence.”

“Hmm. Well, they could have seen me leaving Houston, and guessed.” Kevin pushed his chair back a bit. “I’d better stand watch tonight.”

“Of course. Same old Angry Man.” John picked up his fork and went to work. Nothing much was said while they ate. Everyone was busy thinking.

Desert was an apple gallete with an excellent tawny port to wash it down. John spoke to the servers. “That will be all tonight, thank you.” They withdrew, and he looked at Kevin. “You know, it’s just like the old days. The knowledge that there’s something to do. Doesn’t matter so much what, let’s just go do it.”

Kevin smiled. “Yeah, I guess we always did sort of figure things out as we went along.”

“You sound more introspective than you used to be.”

“All that time I spent vegging out.”

“Hmm.” John took another sip of his port. “Well, we’ll get back to Houston and make plans with Barney.” He looked over at Fiona. “Kevin, I think you’d better escort our guest upstairs. She looks tired.”

Fiona looked quite tired. “I’m afraid I’m a bit tipsy. Thank you for your hospitality, John.” John bowed his head towards her. She got up from the table, looking a bit unsteady. “Kevin, I believe I’ll need some help.”

Kevin and John stood up. Kevin took a moment to clasp John’s shoulder. The years fell away and they were comrades once more. Kevin felt a little better. Then he continued his way around the table and offered his arm to Fiona. He’d had a lot of wine, but alcohol was practically fuel for him. Fiona gripped his arm tightly as they left the room.

They moved out into the hallway. Fiona leaned against him. “Thank you sir, I drank too much.”

“Well, you’re safe with me as your escort. I’m generally not much trouble to ladies.”

“Really?”

“Kind of shy, you know?”

She didn’t say anything for a bit. They went up the first flight of stairs. “What happened to you?”

“Somehow I lost track of my memories. Now they’re coming back. I’m still trying to figure that out.”

“The functioning of memory has been a subject of intense curiosity to me.”

“Really?”

“Really.” It was time to mount the second flight of steps. Fiona took hold of Kevin’s arm with both hands. “I’ll have to think about that.” She leaned into him again, a bit more closely than was truly necessary. “But I’m really tired just now.”

“That’s all right. I’ll be standing watch tonight.”

“Merci, monsieur chevalier.”

“I’ll take that as a compliment.”

“You should. Ah. I recall this being my room.” She put her hand on the handle of the door. She looked up at him, serious now. “Be careful out there.”

“Absolutely.” He bowed his head towards her. She smiled, opened the door, and slipped inside. Kevin turned towards his room. His smile devolved into something more snarky, more cynical. He needed a marker.

He entered his room and went straight to the desk. After searching a couple of drawers he found a black chisel tip marker. Perfect. He put it down on the desktop and changed into the Angry Man. Then he picked up the marker and walked over to the mirror. First he scrawled the word ‘Shoot’ across his chest. Then, checking in the mirror, wrote ‘Me’ below the first word.

Satisfied, he opened a window and leapt out, floating slowly to the ground. He walked out the front gate and took up his sentry post. It was very quiet. He found himself thinking that he should show up very well on night vision goggles, if there were any out there.

After a time he began to see it. He’d been too busy, around too many lights to be able to see for literally weeks. Faintly at first, something like the aurora borealis. Then vague images stirred inside the glow. Rising and ebbing, strange things... The stuff that dreams are made of for a man whose brain was remade to not require sleep. Didn’t someone once say ‘Some of my best friends are hallucinations’? Thus did he pass the quiet night.

Morning found him standing there, completely still. He felt a bit tired, his joints were stiff. The rising sun caught him in the face. He blinked and looked down at his chest. The marker scrawl had begun to flake away. He stretched and some more fell off. He used his glove to remove the rest.

He yawned. That was weird. I don’t recall doing that very often. Hmm. It’s been happening lately. He backed slowly through the gate and into the yard. He believed that there were no enemies about but he still moved behind a tree before he changed. Because he was watching the road he did not see Fiona watching him through his open window.

She nodded once, pushed her glasses up, and disappeared inside before he turned around. He walked to the front entrance and went in. No staffers about this early. He wondered how many of them lived about the premises. Probably quite a few. He looked around the foyer/lobby place. The signs of vast quantities of money were apparent everywhere. The decor had the scent of very new cash.

I’m glad the old gang is doing fairly well... even though things didn’t exactly work out as planned. He found the front stairs and went up to the third floor. He walked down the hall to Fiona’s door. He knocked. “Hullo, Fiona. It’s Kevin. I hope I’m not too early.” He’d just realized that it was rather early. Day and night didn’t have such a distinction for him as they did for other people. Still a fucking dweeb around the ladies, aren’t you, old man?

Fortunately, Fiona answered straight away. “Wait a tick – I’m almost ready.” Perhaps a minute later she opened the door. She still looked great. Charcoal gray slacks, dark brown clogs, the closed in the back kind; and a bright green, long-sleeved silk shirt. He thought she might have a bit more makeup on than she did yesterday, but it still seemed a very natural look. And... glasses? Smaller oval wire frames... that light brown metallic they call ... champagne gold? Polar silver?

“I didn’t know you wore glasses.”

“I had my contacts in yesterday, but I prefer the glasses when things get busy.”

“Oh. Well, I suppose you’re right about that.”

They walked up the hallway towards the stairs. She was on his right, looking about at the furnishings and the walls. Kevin looked at her. Fiona was... five foot seven, five foot eight? Just tall enough. Tall enough for what? He wondered what she usually did at work, and if the past day’s weirdness wasn’t really too much for her.

Fiona’s voice broke his reverie. “Will we do something amazing today as well?”

Okay, that took him by surprise. “I don’t know. But we’re just getting started. After breakfast, maybe.”

She laughed and fired up that million watt smile again. Damn. Men would sell their souls for a smile like that. I did once, didn’t I? What was her name? She was everything and I can’t remember her. He put these thoughts aside again and focused his attention on Fiona. “You don’t think we’re going down to early, do you?”

Fiona shook her head. “Somehow I don’t think so.” She looked around the hall again. There’s something queer about this place.”

“Umm... yeah. You’ll find out about that eventually.”

Fiona raised her right eyebrow.

“Careful on the stairs.” He was avoiding the subject.

John and breakfast were waiting in the dining room when they arrived. He greeted them and waved them on to the serving dishes. Kevin stood behind Fiona, fervently praying that his stomach would not start growling. He reached for the spoon in the scrambled eggs. Then, a memory. A cafe in the old Galleria. A giant tray of... hot dogs? Sausages? Psychon seizing the tray and dumping the food into his mouth, eating it all in three or four great bites. Pandemonium. Apologies. Bribes. Now that was a kick in the ass!

When they were all seated at the table, John spoke straight away. “Satin Peter said that we should leave this morning.”

Kevin was surprised by this sudden change. “Is that okay for you?”

“Yeah, I’ve got good people here. They can manage.” John saw that Fiona was staring at him. “Satin Peter is my instrument.”

“And it tells you things?”

“He does. He’s my... cohort in all this super foolishness.”

“Foolishness?” Kevin was a bit miffed.

John was smiling at him. “At least I’m not an underwear pervert!” Now he was laughing hard. “That’s what they call guys like you nowadays!” Then he couldn’t say anymore until he’d laughed it all out.

Kevin didn’t know what to think. He needed his interpreter. He looked at Fiona. She was smiling too. “Fiona, is this true?”

She was looking a bit embarrassed now. “Well, it is a term that one encounters on the internet.”

“Oh my.”

At the end of breakfast John pushed himself back from the table and yawned. “Well, I’ve been up all night packing and signing papers. I’m ready to lug my stuff out to the jet. See you there.” Then he was up and out of the room, albeit at a rather fatigued pace.

Kevin inhaled his last two bangers and chugged his coffee. Then he remembered that Fiona was not part of the team and he really shouldn’t be eating like the Tasmanian Devil in front of company. You are such a fucking dweeb! Trying to save some bit of face, he carefully put down his fork and cup. Then he wiped his mouth with his napkin, folded it properly and set it down. He sighed inside his mind. “Do you need any help with your bags? I’ve nothing much, as you’ll recall.”

“No, there’s just the one, and a few bits, but you should close your window –” She stopped rather abruptly, turning a bright red.

For once Kevin was alert enough to understand that he should ignore the subtext. “Oh, thanks. I’d forgotten all about that... Shall we be off? I promised you some target practice if you’re still interested.”

Her skin began to return to its’ usual porcelain pale blue, and a fleeting look of gratitude passed across her face. Then she cranked her accent up to full. “Are you askin’?”

Wait, wasn’t this some sort of traditional Scottish ritual? Didn’t he hear this somewhere? How did it go? ‘Are you dancin’?’ Are you askin’?’ Right. “I am.”

Fiona had regained enough composure to smile again. “Well, then I will.”

Some twenty minutes later Fiona and Kevin were walking up to the jet. John was standing outside the airlock with Satin Peter in a soft case slung on his back. “I’m ready.”

“What, no amp pants?”

John flipped him off. “They’re in the plane, asshole! I was hoping to get some sleep on the way over, and those things are like sleeping on rocks.”

Fiona was looking at Satin Peter. “Amp pants? You have recently commissioned some upgrades, have you not?”

John nodded. “Indeed I have. Just to keep my hand in it, don’t you know?”

“Again, I am honored.” Fiona was enjoying this. “Shall we be off?” Then she climbed the ladder and went inside.

John looked at Kevin. “You say Barney sent her to you?”

“Yes. I needed a handler.”

“She’s sharp.”

“You don’t know the half of it.”

Lady S. began to hum, and a series of clicks and clacks issued from various places about her anatomy. Fiona had begun her preflight checks. Kevin extended an arm towards the airlock. John grabbed the ladder and Kevin did a very quick walkaround of the jet. When he got to the ladder the turbo-pumps began their old, familiar whine. Kevin frowned a bit in the airlock. Does she not understand that pushing the button is the fun? As he entered the cabin he could hear the engine spooling up. Fiona was seated at the Mark I. She looked back at him. “Preflight complete and engine number one ready for ignition, captain.” Then she smiled at him.

Kevin looked towards the main instrument panel. The button was blinking ‘Ignite’. She’d done that for him. She did understand. She had nice in abundance, didn’t she? He quickly took his seat and strapped in. Then he pressed the button. A cheap thrill, to be sure, but a thrill nonetheless. The plane rocked slightly as the engine fired. The button lit up for engine number two. He pressed it.

They were over the ocean in half an hour or so. Cruising at forty thousand feet with an airspeed just above mach four. John had pivoted the two rear seats towards the aisle, reclined them both and made his bed. He could sleep anywhere. Kevin unstrapped himself and got out of his seat. “Your turn.”

Fiona stood up and traded places with him. When she was strapped in, she looked over at him. “It’s rather unusual to have a cockpit with left handed and right handed joysticks.”

“Yeah... but I found it very easy to train my left hand to fly. We wanted to stick with one set of throttle levers.” He looked down at his left hand. “I don’t know... I think something was done to me to make my left hand more useful.”

“Hmm.” Fiona was looking around at things, thinking again. “Explain to me how target practice works.”

“Well, the target drone is something like a cruise missile, capable of exceeding mach two. We set the lasers to training mode, release the drone and chase it. It’s programmed for evasion, escape, and attack. It has a low power laser for firing back.”

“Simple enough.”

“Slow down to about mach two. Then push the jet really hard on your attack. The drone will get more aggressive if you hang back.”

“Hmph. I can frag with the best of them.” Fiona tightened her grip on the throttles and stick. “Good thing I’m left handed.” She pulled back on the throttle levers and watched her instrument panel as the jet began to slow down.

Kevin checked his readouts. “Lasers set, drone ready for launch.”

“Airspeed mach two point one. Launch target drone.” Fiona sounded very businesslike just now.

"Oh, by the way.” Kevin knew he was being a bit mean by interrupting her. “If you fly her right, you just might hear her... singing.”

Fiona raised that right eyebrow. “Singing?”

Kevin looked inside his head. The memory was there, pretending that it had never been gone. Sometimes, in the thick of battle with the engines burning hot and the wings shaking, the vibrations would build upon one another setting up some sort of resonance or standing wave or something. At times like these the hull would ring a bit like a tuning fork, but not really, the sound rising ever so slightly above the din. He’d always wondered if he’d heard something like that somewhere before.

Or so Kevin thought. Jim didn’t believe him, but Kevin knew that Jim just wasn’t in touch with the plane the way he was. Jim was always focused on his KAR. They’d argue about it like they argued about so many things. Very spirited debates, going at it the way Buddhist monks did. But once upon a time, Hanna and John had both very quietly mentioned that they had heard it too.

Fiona had to call him back. “Kevin?”

“Let’s see what happens. Drone away.” He leaned back in his seat to watch and hang on. He tightened his straps. The drone streaked out from under the jet’s belly. It ran in front and banked hard to starboard, disappearing from sight. Fiona pushed the throttles to full and turned after it. The heads up display had gone active when the drone launched. Red and green circles chased a yellow triangle. The drone changed direction and Fiona turned hard to port, throwing John out of his bed.

“Oof! Whatthefuck?”

Kevin called over his shoulder. “Target practice, bro. Strap yourself in!”

John managed to grab a seat before Fiona pulled Lady S. up hard. He held on, gritting his teeth. “Fuckin’ A.” There was a thump thump thump as the lasers fired short bursts.

“Argh.” Fiona ground her teeth and followed the drone’s corkscrew path down through the sky. The stick was vibrating in her hand as she pushed and pulled harder and harder. Lady S. was shaking and rattling now, reacting to the extreme forces put upon her. The drone pulled up vertical and Fiona followed. Climbing, climbing back above forty thousand feet... almost to fifty thousand. Fiona became aware of a throbbing in her head, back behind the ears somewhere. Maybe a headache. Ignore it. Done soon.

The drone pitched forward and began a vertical dive. Fiona pushed the nose of the jet down. As Lady S. passed the top of the parabola the near weightlessness set in. The throbbing in Fiona’s head became a ringing, rising up and down like the Buddhist singing bowls she’d heard in Bhutan.

Kevin saw the look of astonishment on her face and smiled. He could hear it too. Then she fired. Beep! A clean hit. Lady S. continued to sing as she dived towards the drone and the earth far below.

“Good shooting.” Kevin looked around the cabin and could see the ground rushing up below him. Fiona was still holding the dive. “I think she likes you.”

Fiona began to level the plane out. “She’s a smart girl. I like her too.”

“Why don’t you slow down so we can recover the drone. We should be on our way.”

“Of course. Jolly good fun, though.” Fiona’s smile was bigger than ever.

“Now can I get some sleep, oh, ye mighty right stuffers?” John was calling from the back of the jet. He looked rather rumpled now, pulling himself up from the floor.

Kevin laughed. “Sorry. We’ll be good from here on out.”

Fiona sighed theatrically. “Do we have to?”

She... is really fun to be with. She could have been a good super if she’d had the chance. Are all women like this? She’s the only one I’ve spoke to since... no, they couldn’t all be this amazingly cool. Could they?

“Yes, Fiona. We shouldn’t ruffle John’s feathers any further. Please resume course to E.I. Houston.”

She pouted a perfect pout, then turned away from him and engaged the autopilot. Kevin and Fiona switched seats and he called the drone back to the plane. It had been in standby mode since it was ‘hit’ and was loafing along a hundred yards off to starboard. It banked to port and a couple of minutes later the doors on the plane’s belly thumped shut. He ran the engines up then leaned back in his seat and watched the world go by. Fiona picked up Pandora and began studying windows very intently. She was quiet for a long time.

Somewhere over the Gulf of Mexico she emerged from her meditations. John was still sleeping. “Pandora’s learned a great deal about Lady S. today.” Kevin was beginning to understand Fiona wasn’t much for preamble. “I’ve got a lot of ideas about how to make all her new components work better together. If I’d known what was going on I could have figured this out sooner, but Barney was begging for help with no questions asked.”

“Really?” Kevin got out of his seat and sat down in the aisle beside Fiona. “Tell me, please.”

“He’d once promised never to ask me to drop everything and work on something for him. So when he did, I couldn’t help but be curious.” She pointed to her screen which, of course, was unintelligible to him, but she could see what she needed and that was fine. “You may not be aware of this, but all of the new modules Barney gave you are from the APG, and most of them were fabbed in London.”

“I didn’t know the group existed until you told me about it.”

She looked at him a moment before resuming. What was she thinking? “Every module has its' own processor. They can communicate electrically, optically, and wirelessly at the same time. What we have here is the makings of a very large Beowulf cluster.”

“A what?”

“We can integrate all these processors with the mains, and turn Lady S. into a flying supercomputer. She’ll be a genius when I’m done with her.” Fiona was looking very pleased with herself.

“Wow.’

“I mean, if that’s okay with you and Barney.” She’d suddenly turned self-conscious.

“Of course! Of course it’s okay!” Kevin was nodding vigorously. “I can’t wait to see what you can do.” He put his hand lightly on hers. “You’re a genius yourself.”

She turned away, embarrassed now. “They call me the übergeek back in London.”

“Fiona, you are totally badass, and it’s a pleasure to fly with you.” Kevin gave her hand a squeeze, then let go and went back to his seat. He glanced out of the corner of his eye and saw her smiling as she stared at Pandora’s screen.
About two hours later Lady S. was settling into her cradle at Building Seven. The umbilical connected automatically as Kevin and Fiona shut the jet down. John was actually awake and gathering up his things as cradle and jet retracted inside the hangar.

The radio beeped. It was Barney. “Hi. I’ll be over in a couple of minutes.”

John came forward and pressed the button. “Hey, Barney.”

A pause. “Hey, John. It’s been a while.”

“Yeah. Sorry.”

“Okay.” Barney beeped out.

A horn tooted to signal that the cradle was locked down. The trio removed their gear from the jet and stacked it away from the various automated gantries that were approaching Lady S. The machines began to tend her skin, to clean and fuel her.

Kevin watched for a bit, then whistled softly. “Barney’s been busy while I’ve been away.”

Fiona watched with him for a bit before she sat down at a console and fed her ID card into a slot. She began typing and spoke to them without looking up. “Why don’t you two gents run along and do whatever it is that you need to do. I’ll be here when you get back.” She typed some more, then stared at the results. “Give me twenty four hours.” Then her work absorbed her.

Kevin looked at John and shrugged. “Let’s find Barney.” As they approached the exterior door it opened and Barney stepped inside. He smiled at John, grabbed his right hand then threw his own left arm around for a fierce hug.

“Lazy sod. You should’ve called more often.”

“I’m so lazy.” John stuck out his tongue.

Barney let go of John and looked past him towards the depths of the hangar. “I see Fiona’s already at it.” He looked at Kevin. “I’m expecting great things from her. That’s why I’ve indulged her so shamelessly.” Barney looked back at Fiona for another moment. “Let’s get something to eat, eh?”

Kevin grinned. “Lead on.”

The three men left the building and walked towards Building Two. Kevin looked back to see if the door had closed. “Barney, where did you find her?”

Barney stopped and turned around. “She started college at age twelve. She got her first doctorate at eighteen. That’s when I hired her. She got another Ph.D. two years later.”

“Wow.”

“She’s smarter than I am. I reorganized the Advanced Projects Group for her, but after eight years with E.I. she burned out and tried to resign.”

Kevin was puzzled. “Tried to?”

“I wouldn’t let her. I told her to go on walkabout. Take months, years if necessary. I said she’d still be on the payroll and would want for nothing as long as she promised to contact me if she changed her mind.”

“I... wow.”

“After a year I got a postcard from Bhutan saying that she’d be back in London in a few months.”

“Then what happened?”

“I sent her a list of things I hadn’t been able to figure out and asked her to pick whatever interested her. Or she could do whatever she wanted, no questions asked.” He looked at the door. “She said she wanted to learn how to fly and move into weapons research.”

“Weapons?”

“I asked her once how she reconciled her research with her newfound Buddhist beliefs. She looked me in the eye and said ‘I’ve got to learn all I can about babylon if I’m going to bring it down.”

“Holy shit!”

“I decided then that when I was through with this place it would all be hers. She’ll be someone to watch in the future.”

Kevin was blown away. “Holy fuckin’ shit!”

Barney clapped John on the shoulder. “C’mon.” The two men began walking and Barney leaned close to John’s ear. “How’s he been?”

“Basically normal.”

“How’s his memory?”

“Spotty.”

“No crises?”

“None.”

That’s about when they noticed that Kevin was not with them. They looked at each other, then looked back. Kevin was about ten paces behind them. He was standing, but his body was completely rigid. His face was red, sweat pouring down his cheeks and temples. His teeth were clenched and the corners of his mouth were pulling back into some hideous rictus. His eyes... his eyes were seeing somewhere else.

His teeth parted. He sucked air in. Barney thought he looked ready to scream. “LINDA!” Then his knees buckled and he fell down, pounding the ground with his fists and forearms. “Linda!” Then some incoherent noise. “Linda! Linda!” Followed by more wordless screaming.

John covered his eyes. “Oh, fuck.”

Barney nearly tore out some hair before he stopped himself. “Not now!” He grabbed John and pulled him along. “You grab his left arm and I’ll grab his right. We can’t let him change now!”

They ran across the gravel and grabbed his arms. Kevin resisted weakly. The pulled him to his feet and his head fell back and lolled about. They had dragged him a few feet when he raised his head, looked at Barney, and his eyes came back. “Kill me, man. I can’t live with this.” But his eyes went blank again, and the bellowing resumed. They brought him kicking and screaming into Building Two.

“We’ve got to get him into my lab before he explodes!”

“Great! Then what?”

Barney looked at John with wide eyes, clearly nonplussed. “I don’t know! I’ll try something.”

Before John could respond Kevin went completely limp and they had to struggle to regain their balance. John shook his head. “Brilliant.”

They hauled him into an elevator and rode it to the top floor. Kevin’s screams were growing more ragged and labored now. John hoped he wouldn’t puke in the elevator. The door opened onto Barney’s lab and they pulled Kevin towards an exam table. Before they got there Kevin collapsed to the floor and commenced dry heaving. The sound was ghastly, and John was certain that Kevin’s stomach was about to turn inside out.

Barney grabbed a hypospray and jammed it against Kevin’s right arm. Something hissed its’ way through his skin. His body convulsed, then he flipped onto his back on the floor. He stared up at the ceiling. He was trying to speak. John leaned closer. “I can’t... (gasp) live with... (gasp) this...”

Her name was Linda Mallory, but for quite a few months he had only known her as Linda, the Most Beautiful Girl In The World. Preserver of the Universe at least twice, she was the most powerful psychic ever to walk the Earth. Linda, his first love. She had loved him so intensely, with fire and passion beyond comprehension. Tempestuous life and loving that he knew that he’d never feel again.

Snatched by that piece of shit Dr. Shockwave. Drugged unconscious and strapped down beneath a laser. Him at the far end of a labyrinth of ice, everything too thick to break or melt quickly enough. He had to fly faster... faster than he’d ever flown before. Using the force beams from his hands to increase his speed to something incredible.

He wasn’t fast enough. He saw the laser fire. He wasn’t strong enough. Her face registered shock. He wasn’t good enough. He had ample time to know that she was gone before he crashed into something that fell down around him. He blacked out, and when he awoke he realized that he was too weak to move.

They removed Linda’s body before digging him out. Hanna’s face was the first one he saw, and her tears told him that what he had seen was truth. He could remember screaming and screaming for so long. Hanna held him, would not let anyone near him, until the screaming stopped. That must have been what kept him sane.

Hanna. I’ve got to see Hanna.

He opened his eyes and tried to sit up but found that he could not move anything but his head. He was strapped to the table in Barney’s lab. He looked around until he saw Barney. “Hey. The straps were probably a good idea. I think I’m back now.”

John leaned over him. “How do you feel?”

Kevin closed his eyes and took a few deep breaths. “I want to throw up, then I want to die.”

John looked at Barney. “What do you think?”

Barney shook his head. “Not yet.”

Kevin burped and retched, turning his head to one side. John backpedaled quickly. “How long was I gone?”

Barney came out from behind his console. “About three hours. I gave you a sedative.”

“Did it work?”

“Well enough. You don’t react the normal way to many drugs, but I was in a hurry.”

“I feel like shit.”

John leaned over him again. “You look like shit.” He straightened up and looked at Barney. “Barney, can we do something for this guy?”

Barney walked over to another console. “Step back, John.” A moment later something shook Kevin from head to toe.

“Ugh. What was that?” Kevin felt the nausea returning.

“Ultrasonic cleaning beam. You’re not so filthy now.”

“Thanks.” Kevin looked at them, John and Barney looked at him, nobody looked pleased. He could only hope he looked calm. “Am I still a threat to society?”

Barney’s eyes narrowed. “You tell me.”

John spoke before Kevin could answer. “What are you going to do with these memories?”

Kevin closed his eyes and sighed. Being strapped down did spare him the trouble of holding himself up, an activity he really had no interest in at this time. “I have no fucking idea. They were with me every day... they’ll be with me everyday.” He was getting sniffly. “I’m sorry for being such a fuck-up.”

“Let him go, Barney.” John was satisfied. Barney came over and loosened the straps.

Kevin didn’t move. He was still pretty scared and freaked out in general. “Fiona didn’t see that, did she?”

Barney shook his head. “No. We’d left the building already.”

“Barney, I told her that I might be mentally unstable. I’ve had some minor... episodes. Please don’t tell her about this one.”

Barney smiled that sad smile. “Sure. Besides, when she’s working she rarely notices anything.”

“I’ve been having these fainting spells too.”

“What? How often?”

Kevin had to think for a bit. “Every two to four days.”

“How long?”

“Somewhere between one hour and twelve.”

“Since when?”

“Since I got the bands back.”

Barney scratched his chin. I’ll have to think about that.”

Kevin sat up and swung his legs over the side of the table. “What time is it?”

“Sixish.”

“I was thinking I might go for a fly. Maybe some cold air would clear my head.”

Barney looked at John again. John shrugged. “Let him try.”

Barney looked back at Kevin, frowning. “There will be no accidents, incidents, or episodes, is that clear?”

“Yeah. It’s not like I’m enjoying this stuff, you know.” Kevin held up his hands. His bracelets glinted in the bright lights. “I’m not even sure if I’m in control, or if these things are controlling me.”

Barney was shaking his head, clearly not liking the sound of that statement. Kevin got off the table and changed into the Angry Man. First he checked his wrist gauge. Full power. Good. He reached up to his right earpiece, placing all of his right fingers and thumb in certain places. He squeezed simultaneously and the earpiece released from the cowl. He repeated the process on the left side.

He removed the electronics from each one and handed both bits to Barney. “Would you take these to Fiona, please? She wanted to upgrade them as well.” Then he reattached the empty covers to his cowl. “I don’t want to go over there just now...” He looked down at the floor. “She reminds me a little too much of Linda.”

Barney and John were a bit confused by that statement because the two ladies were nothing alike. Linda’s hair had been a fiery red gold that had gotten brighter as more of her powers expressed. Fiona’s hair was that sort of deep, dark red found only among the Scots. Linda’s eyes over time had become golden brown, but Fiona’s were green. Linda had an oval face, where Fiona’s was more round. Linda was three or four inches taller and Fiona was, well, curvier. But they let it slide, chalking it up to confusion and emotion.

Barney put the gizmos in his pocket. “C’mon, John, let’s drop these off and go find some beer, whiskey, and cigars.”

John and Barney followed Kevin out of the lab and onto the fire escape. Kevin stood there for a bit, hands on hips, looking at the sky. How he loved it up there. He turned and waved. “See you guys later!” Then he leapt up, and up into the sky.

Barney and John stood there watching Kevin fly off. Neither spoke for a time. Finally Barney shook his head. John looked at him. “What?”

Barney sighed, pulled the gizmos from his pocket and looked at them. “It just occurred to me that without these, we have no easy way of tracking him.”

“Is there a hard way?”

“I don’t know.” Barney put them back in his pocket and began descending the stairs.

An Habitual Offender by
Kevin L. Corridon is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

kelson.philo's picture

The bit with Dr. Shockwave

The bit with Dr. Shockwave really was quite good. It shows a clear understanding of Angry Man's limiations.

Cool! Thanks!

Always nice to hear when the stuff works.

Wow!

It's taken me nearly half an hour to read off the screen, and my aging eyes are complaining! Any chance of shorter chapters? If not, I shall do print outs, and read them in bed!

yes, I know it was long...

The rest are shorter, I promise. It's long for two reasons: one, I needed to set up stuff for later, and two, I made a creative decision that limited the total number of chapters; well, chapter titles actually. The titles are taken from issues of the comic series. What survives of the canon that I have striven to adhere to. Fanfic'ing my own work was in interesting experience!

Mine eyes are aging as well, so I understand how you feel.