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"Well, Dave, he didn't come home last night... Can you..."
"No, listen, are you sure? Did you check the backroom yet? I know..."
"I know you just got there Dave, listen, I'm just asking 'cause you know sometimes Theo gets busy and just sleeps in the backroom."
"No, I'm not worried... Just could you..."
"Thank you so much, David."
"Yeah, I'm still here. Did you find..."
"He left a note?"
" 'Civic Duty Calls?' 'Don't let sales go down the shitter?' Is that it?"
"That's... that's it?"
"He didn't mention where he was going?"
"He didn't mention, say... his WIFE? Or his CHILDREN?"
"God... Dave... I swear to God..."
"I can't believe him sometimes, Dave."
"Hahaha, No, no, don't worry about it, thanks though."
"You're a sweetheart, Dave."
"Thanks, listen, could you do me one more favor?"
"When he comes back into work, and we both know he'll stop by the restaurant before he comes home, tell him his daughter almost missed her recital because he was supposed to take her."
"Yeah, you can tell him I'm pretty pissed, Dave. Thanks."
"Okay, Dave, thanks, bye.
The soldiers had been heading south.
He turned off the radio. Seems like the press found out about the assassination, after all. Now, no one was talking about anything else. Another car changed lanes, allowing Worth to speed past. His mind went over the information he had picked up.
Harold Epes. 55. Black hair. Short. Swept back. White around the temples. Old school wire framed glasses. Fond of classy suits. 1331 Drumont Lane. Lowtown. Southside.
Gang territory? What part of Lowtown isn't? Nothing too bad. We set him up in a clean area. Nothing too serious. Who is he? He's the original Syndicate mentalist who was responsible for holding the president's mind for ransom a few years back. I thought he was killed. Witness protection. He read his interrogator's mind and ratted on all his mates to save his own hide. If he's witness protection why are we going after him? He bypassed security once. Yes, and he told us how he did it. He could have lied. We couldn't crack into his thoughts. We're going to go check up on him.
Worth drummed on the steering wheel absentmindedly. Regardless of whether Epes had anything to do with this or not, he'd have to expect that people were coming to "meet" him. Worth took his foot off the gas while he quickly dived into the mind of the driver in front of him. He slipped out, the driver changed lanes, and he sped along his way. He was curious to meet this Mr. Epes and see if he was truly powerful as they said. It would be a little exciting if he were. Worth just hoped he got there before Epes skipped town.
Or was killed.
Karen put her hands up to her face.
Karen turned around and smiled at her daughter. Her face was perfectly composed. Just like always.
"Mommy, I wan cookie."
Karen picked up her daughter and shushed her. The little girl wrapped her arms around her mother. She squeezed her neck as she begged, "Pleeeassee."
"No, baby, no sweets before lunch."
Karen kissed his daughter on the forehead who, dejected, immediately began squirming to get loose. As soon as her little feet hit the floor she took off running to her playroom, her mind already set on games to play with her toys. Karen watched her girl run and felt herself swell with familial love.
Then, she remembered Theo. He was a good man. He hadn't always been, but he was now. He was also a workaholic. He didn't used to be that, either, but he was now. She was responsible for both. When they first met in school, he had been a terrible kid. But, he changed. For her.
She never knew why.
There is a small portion of the population who, for whatever reason, are inherently immune to any sort of mental probing. That's what drew Theo to Karen: he couldn't get inside her head. When he couldn't do that, he could never take advantage of her. She was mental adversary he could never overwhelm. He found that undeniably attractive.
She changed him. He was terribly addicted to minds. He feasted on the information flow. And, before he met her, he didn't care about getting caught. He didn't even worry about it. It was his love for her that changed his "feeding" habits. He couldn't break the addiction, but he could control whom he hollowed out. He had spent a lot of time brooding over how to deal with his problem, and it seemed like he had come to some sort of a solution. He waited at night and picked up gangbangers and street thugs. He opened up a restaurant so he could dispose the bodies. He didn't make great money, but it made his wife happy that he worked hard. And it let him get his fix.
He reached for his suitcase. He paused. He really wasn't the sort to just leave with the television on, even if he had no intentions of ever returning to the house. He quickly walked back into the living room and turned it off.
Then, he felt something press into his mind.
Boss, what you're offering is— We'll be rich. We're already rich. You're already rich. There is no way we can go through with this and— And what? And not be caught. Or be hunted down. We'll be target. Forever. We'll have nowhere to hide. That's where your wrong. What do you mean? We've figured out a loophole— — —
Epes knew that feeling. Someone was in his head! Rooting through HIS memories! He quickly blanked his thoughts. He felt... something continue to pry at his old recollections. He closed his eyes and concentrated fully on keeping his mind fastened down. He felt the pressure grow in intensity. He struggled to fend it off. He pressed his back against the wall as he slid to the floor, totally engrossed with the battle in his mind. His body trembled. He breathed a sigh of relief as the pressure lessened. Only seconds later he realized he had relaxed too soon. The cold invisible fingers of someone else's mind were prying out his memories. As soon he managed to lock one small portion of his mind up, he felt another immediately be assaulted. This power struggle continued for several minutes, moving from section of the brain to section of the brain. Epes finally felt the pressure relent almost completely as he closed off the last section of his mind.
Then, it was there again. Assaulting different fronts, switching off rapidly. But, Epes had built up his fortifications well and the intrusions went nowhere.
He open his eyes wearily and exhaled. Although the pressure was no longer on the offensive, he still felt its presence. Someone was still in his head. One of the now protected portions of Epes's mind began actively scanning all nearby sentience for hostile capabilities. Unbeknownst to him, his assailant, too, was one of those people with an untouchable mind.
Epes was becoming very, very concerned.
H...Hello? he thought.
Outside of the Epes house, Theodric Worth sat in his truck; hands on his chin, a broad smile across his face. Epes was good.
I know you're in here, Epes thought. I know someone is in here. What do you want?
Worth rubbed his hands together as he contemplated what to broadcast back.
What do you want?! Epes commanded.
The president is dead.
Epes bit his lip.
So they've come, he thought out of reach of his assailant.
The president is dead, Worth thought. It is believed that you may have been involved.
You once took the president's mind hostage.
Yes, Epes thought, Yes, I did. And I have paid dearly for it. I'm a marked man. The Syndicate has a huge bounty out on my head and I have to rely on the government for my protection. Even dogs know better than to bite the hand that feeds them.
Worth paused. Perhaps, though, you have information on how the deed was accomplished. Could have been accomplished. You slipped through security once.
I told you government dogs everything. That was part of my deal when I sold out my Syndicate acquaintances.
Maybe you did. Maybe you didn't. I'm going to need access to your mind, Mr. Epes.
And if I don't give it to you?
I'll take it.
Worth's pupils began to dilate; they expanded until the hazel of his hazel eyes were swept over by blackness. Then, the black began to shrink, the whites of his eyes taking over more and more space as the blackness diminished into nothing.
Memories. To-day was unusually warm. Did I leave my car keys in my jacket? Burnt the coffee. Damn. Someone spilt some drink on his [my] tweed. Completely messed it up. Sounds. Sights. Smells. Everchanging. Revolting. Overwhelming. The sound of breaking glass, the stench of something like eggs and something much worse, and that revolting stain on my –[his] –suit. He may as well curse it out all over again. It doesn't matter though. Not any more. There is an intruder in the midst; only he isn't amongst his presence but engulfing it. I must know where he is and I should be given the time to guess. He may have heard the deep, grumbling sound of a hard-worked motor engine pulling slowly, but briskly up the driveway. It is singing, perhaps. A deep, flat tone. It's hard to tell from this position. Is it a song of anguish?
Epes began to shake.
The torrents of sound and color flooded his eyes and ears. He sat there, hands wrapped around his knees, his bad knees, he shouldn't be on his knees. He tried to sit straight, caring more for his dignity than his health, should anyone happen to emerge into the room. He looked around, becoming disorientated as the room rapidly shifted through shapes and colors. There was no floor, only a black hole that was grow around him completely. Something suddenly caught his attention from the corner of his eye, but he can't trust that part of his perception anymore. He felt his stomach rise into his throat as he fell into the hole. A never-ending hole. Bright lights flickered around him from a thousand, spinning disco balls. This feeling. This indescribable feeling. Something like fear but so much more. It was everywhere, tattooed in red on his stained suit, on his moustache, in his house. The harder he resists this force, the more persistent it becomes. Not making sense yet, but it really doesn't matter at all. He is still willing to defy this new force, unwilling to be outdone in his own field of expertise. The roar of some unquestionably bloodthirsty beast sounded behind him. Red. All over, and with the smell, the sickening smell that followed on with these sounds and sights. It was such a potent smell, and it brought about – memories? Memories! No, no, no! He must resist at all costs! He knew why this was happening, if only he had the chance to assess the facts and do something. Anything. Hands. Small, ghostly hands. Children's hands groped at his face and he scrambled to escape their icy touch but he could not find his arms or legs. He was a disembodied head floating in a sensory overload. But for all intents and purposes, within all the prodding, the searching, there was the most horrible forlorn torture brought about by his inability to fight back. It filled him with such shame, but he could only cling tighter to his legs. The sounds reeled on, moaning silently, screaming, cackling, banging of pots and pans and bones and clapping hands, bringing to his eyes something else entirely different. Everything disorientated. His legs? He found his legs! He was clutching his legs in the bathroom floor. But he had been in the hallway... Thick red liquid dripped down his cheeks and off his chin.
He had all the information regarding his mind, and now he wants to believe that his lack of capacity to stand up and confront this mystery person is due to his own will, but he has it all. Including the fact that all quadrants of his brain had been infiltrated. And the little corresponding fact that the optic transmitters, audio receptors and the spinal inlet were thus taken, as well. And with that came the feeling that couldn't go away; the sights, the sounds, the evil smells that sprawled on the bathroom floor with him. He was loaded, overloaded, but his tenacity kept him fighting.
Redness, working, sound. Little ants, soldiers for a queen, somewhere in their concealed, but vast underground kingdom, a microcosmic universe reigned by order. From daybreak to nightfall they work. And work. And WORK. All day, marching, collecting, fighting, cooking, preparing and arranging hives for the offspring. He saw them all. Crawling out of the pipes and cracks in the floorboards. Covering him in red. Taking him apart. Carrying off little pieces. Working. And he was done. Working. Work. Something he had never done before. He had worked, alright, but not all the time. And he never worked for any queen, or president. Only one man. More of a partner anyway. Just one man. A man whose mind was untouchable. Epes' biggest asset had been the people – his personal preference had been mentalists. He taught young, inexperienced mentalists how to use their powers, but he only opened their eyes just enough to allow them to complete their tasks. The mentalists' kingpin, he claimed himself to be, and he was truly one of the most potent around. He kept records in his mind, hundreds of them, from the most trivial mishap, to minor corruption scams to plans for overthrowing the government. He was very familiar with the power of his mind, but perhaps, he had been too familiar. The so-called coup had been attempted, but as usual something had gone wrong and as the real army closed in to their scheme, a couple of trucks managed to avoid the authorities as police sirens and army tanks ran amok throughout the whole city.
Or so his comrades thought. They gathered into the bunker, him and his co-operatives. And in the middle was a man, pale with fright. Epes walked towards the frightened man and looked deep into his eyes. The iris of is his boss was a ghastly grey colour, and it added to his show of terror.
"How could we not see this coming?" the man asked him.
And Epes merely shrugged while the transmitter he had hidden, taped to his chest, broadcasted their location to the authorities.
He set down the sandwich and plucked out a fresh handkerchief he had acquired out of Epes' pocket. He blew his nose. He always had a problem with his sinuses in the spring.