~ a short story

~ art source

Adam’s first conscious memory was of the film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, watching it with his mom, who was reduced to a mess of tears awash with some mix of hope and despair at the sight of the finale playing out before them on the screen. He perched only inches away from their small Emerson, eyes affixed to Jimmy Stewart’s ragged, black and white form sifting through the manufactured letters from back home, wondering about how triumph may emerge.

Behind him on the couch, mom watched him as much as the movie. Leaning forward, eagerly drinking in the drama, letting it move her. They shared the experience. Together, they sweat. The fan was on and window opened. Even so, it was not enough flow to spell the still, humid air of their half-paid tenement.

In the midst of Paine’s retreat from the Senate floor, a door slammed from within their own house. Father returned from work. The volume of his re-entry into their lives told them both he’d be on a warpath tonight. Adam averted his eyes for a moment; mom drew off the couch to sit on the carpet right next to him. She drew him close with a hug, their eyes fell once more to the small, moving picture. Grey clouds rumbled outside. The damp smog of the city air wafted in.

At the denouement, with Mr. Smith unconscious and Mr. Paine confessing, she quietly cried in the ensuing chaos on the Senate floor, as she always did.

“Adam dear, he won in the end! Yay!” she said to her boy, raising his arm, trying to coax more of an emotional response out of him.

But Adam was silent. Not oblivious. He watched the end with a discerning eye, soon a grin. Five years old, on the cusp of entering kindergarten on the following Monday, one storm gathering outside and another building to a rage only a room away, he turned to his mother and said something neither of them would ever forget.

“He gave everything he had. Everything … to grow them a conscience.”

Conscience? Mary was not aware he knew such a word. They’d thought him precocious. Baby Adam rarely cried; his first word had been “God.” Many other odd utterances followed. Something in his eyes told her he was special, special in ways she’d never fully understand herself…

“Everyone should listen to him,” he finished, whispering, mirroring Mr. Smith’s final yearning declaration. He stared off. Adam’s eyes were lit with twin fires going through the screen and far beyond it. They made his mother shiver with goosebumps.

While the credits rolled, Adam reached out to grab his mother’s hand. His little grip was warm. Mary’s heart began to pound in her chest. The boy looked up into her eyes as if searching for something. He smiled pleasantly when he found it, and finally began to cry himself.

“Adam?” she asked him, choking up again, not understanding.

Rain poured outside. Soft patters and distant lightning backgrounded Adam’s face as he grinned through the mild tears, holding her hand.

“You,” he pointed at her chest, at her heart. “…are already like Mr. Smith.”

Mother embraced him, patted his small head. Adam rose from his seat soon after, turned from her and retreated to his room. He passed by his drinking father without a word, still carrying that smile. His mother watched him go, her beautiful son and his strange behaviors, beautiful words. She wondered at his strange and beautiful heart.

“Close that goddamn window!” yelled father from the kitchen, starting to slur his words.

What kind of person are you, Adam? Mary found herself asking, as if the answer was by this time determined. Quickly, she rose to shut the window from wind and rain.

From there, the boy carried a conscientious conception inside of his heart. About his mother, about the world, about himself. And he wielded a promised power. It would not take long for him to bring it to bear in the world around him.

~

Two weeks later, a shouting match broke out between his parents. One of many that young Adam experienced in his first truly conscious years. This was the first he’d intervene in. And consequently, the last one there would ever be.

The fight started like all the others. In the dull and quiet hours after dinner, he in his bed and his parents out in the living room, father would grumble something and then shout it. Mother would begin to cry, and then scream too. Eventually, something would slam or crash. Or mother would yelp in fear or pain. The silence would return.

Tonight the volume and the emotion was the same as before, progressing toward these ends. Except for one difference: young Adam rose from out of his bed and walked through his door and into the hallway. Courageously, he peeked around the corner and saw the titans in the midst of their war. Father’s hand was trembling with potential violence.

Compelled by the unnerving quiet soon to be vanquished, Adam did not watch for long.

He stepped out of the shadows. His father’s red eyes remained on mother, while hers fell to him. A restrained murmur through clenched teeth reflected her fear at his nearness to her husband’s looming outburst. Wordlessly, she displayed a trembling hand to try to stop her son from coming within range. Composed and with placating eyes toward his mother, Adam reached out his hand to an oblivious father. The old man breathed hard and fast, eyes locked onto his wife, the mother of his child, seeing her as anything but in that moment. Back turned, he hadn’t noticed the approach of his boy.

At the touch of his son, blood returned to his knuckles. Father soon found his fist unclenching. Adam’s tiny palm, enclosed around his right index finger, was unfurling it. Easily, without even trying. Father’s visage finally flashed down to his son, gifting him with a rare look square in the eye. The first given since the day of his birth five years ago. Adam never discovered the source of his hesitancy up to then. Adam later guessed it was because his father knew from the moment he was born that he would surpass him.

Tears burst from Caine’s eyes. These were the first tears of his life, as he could consciously remember. At the touch of his son upon his hand, upon his right that he’d used so often to grab and to hit and harm, the old man began to tremble and break down. He wept in the arms of his son, hugging him like he’d hugged his own ailing mother for the last time.

Mary watched with stunned silence. Moments later, she fell to her knees alongside her husband and hugged them both even harder. The dull pain of her still-healing black eye flared up again, as it had when watching Jimmy’s impassioned plea for justice play out on the Senate floor.

Then and there, something inside of Adam’s father shattered, and something else had grown. Something he’d had, and lost.

With his special touch, it was something Adam restored.

~

“A conscience,” Dom proclaimed aloud, simultaneously proud and lamenting in his tone.

“Quite a gift to give, pal. How do you anyway? How is that your gift to give?”

Before the glowering man in the cell, kneeled Adam. Grown and bearded, his exact age was still unknown to Agent Dom. Adam’s files were lost, or never created. He only knew the worldly myths, some of the stories Adam himself had told to his followers. The second hand intel. Before his apparent vow of silence began. Before he understood our intentions…?

This was one. Adam’s impoverished and dramatic childhood, the son of a tyrant and a martyr. Later, a happy couple.

“Whatever happened to your old man? To dear mother?” Dom asked, expecting and receiving no answer. Adam grimaced, appearing to focus on nothing in particular, resolute in his refusal to answer his questioner.

But how do I know these stories to be true? Dom wondered. How deep does your manipulation go? How powerful are you, truly? Is your conscience clean?

“Does it matter? You abandoned them long ago…” Dom said aloud, hoping to incite the restrained man, the source of his latest interrogation. An agent to a higher power himself, Dom resorted to cheap tactics now. Though at this point he felt confident he’d receive next to nothing from the subject. New angles were coming.

Hands bound behind him in electromag steel restraints, body locked into an unmoving position, Adam gave no response. On the blank wall before him he drew mazes in his mind, the soldier’s mindful duty, to distract and soothe sanity. Outside the room, he heard no sound and still listened. For many days now, only the voice of his lone torturer could be heard. Free to move when alone, Adam was bound and forced to heed his captor for a few hours every day. He had answered some of Dom’s questions initially, to gather information, but shut down soon after. Even through the grip of pain. There was no sense in talking now; he’d lose the trades and it might extend these conditions. He’d wait. For their next phase, whatever it was. He learned quick the minds of his captors. And there was nothing he’d ever do for them, even if it meant his death.

If I die and this gift goes with me… so be it.

“Oh c’mon. Kidding,” Dom pleaded, waving his hand. Adam could not spot a blemish or a crease on the man’s face and attire. He sneered, breathed short and crisp bullets of oxygen. Adam sniffed the air for effect, searching for sulfur, to amuse himself.

Adam knew this man. Not in name but his role. His actions reflected him as an enemy to everything Adam stood for. And he also knew that Dom, his agency, his government, would not kill him until they were certain he would never be of use to them. They’d exhaust every possibility before then. That was the type of man he was, the type of machine he enslaved himself to. He was a hunter.

And I’m the kind of prey they’ll chip at forever.

Adam glanced up to him as a fresh silence beckoned between them.

“You ready to tell me the truth, Adam?” Dom coaxed again, brow raised.

“Agent Domini Rockfell,” Adam spoke with an unwavering tone, not mocking and not presuming anything more than the barest familiarity in his announcement of the man’s full name. He’d given it freely at the start of their “negotiations”, to establish rapport. Shortly before jolting him with prolonged electroshocks.

Dom popped his jacket from his chest with gusto. “That’s me!”

“I’m not your pal,” Adam stated through gritted teeth.

Dom shrugged. “I’ve tried…”

“Maybe you could answer one of my questions,” Adam said.

“Oh?” Dom emoted surprise.

Adam straightened himself to square with the large man standing before him in his eighty-thousand dollar suit, wondering why he was like this.

They don’t make ’em like they used to.

He made himself comfortable as best he could, restrained to his seated crouch on the cold steel floor, a dozen cameras watching, a dozen more sensors flashing his presence here amid the latest installment of their many conversations. Dom crouched to meet his gaze at eye level, a devilish smirk panning across his rugged features. Groomed stubble and slicked blonde hair revealed a vain attention to detail Adam could not relate to. He pondered if their shadow audience checked all the same boxes. The ones watching from Langley and Quantico. Or which special attribute they crucially misaligned on that placed this one here on-site and all the rest of them elsewhere. This would be protocol for the first quarter of confinement.

The edge coming up now. How soon might I see some new faces?

Adam flexed his jaw and cocked his head, his beard shuddering as it hung off his face in wild bunches. His eyes bore a hole through Dom. In the metal receptacles where his hands were confined to waggling in unseen prisms of roiling, unknown liquid techno-preservatives, Adam willed his workman’s digits into a full extension flex. Trying with every ounce of his being, Adam energized his full body into tension. His mind raced, his gut set aflame. The exertion was enough to enliven him back to his task at hand:

Escape.

“Why are you the only one?” Adam at last asked his captor, eyes digging for the answer within Dom’s twin abysses.

~

An adolescent Adam passed on advancing his education in college and decided to travel. School held an ominous limitation, every word placed and rubric designed. Dissonance, indoctrination, consent. Every moment, he felt it being manufactured. He wouldn’t see or touch enough in a conventional path.

He decided he’d get to know his neighbors all across the globe.

Out in the world was where he came into his own belief about how he could contribute. He was special. And from a young age, Adam did not wish his power to go to waste on the world as he saw it. On TV, in books of history and in full view of the live oppressions and revolutions taking place on social media, young Adam observed and grew. Sheltered and impoverished for so long, in cinema he saw how the world desperately needed him. Someone like him, that could do what he could do. Ego-led or not, this truth appeared absolute.

The world needed to be turned upside down.

On the streets in the faraway world, among the realms coded as “advancing”, where the people are left to their own devices, where common cruelties source from class predators and inhumane institutions alike, Adam learned of just how much was missing. Within leaders, within companies, within the hearts and minds of those manned at the levers, everything important was nowhere to be found. And he learned of how much of the scarcity, as the prime pulsing heart of so much global immiseration and horror, was utterly manufactured.

Manufactured here, for thee. Manufactured back there, for me. Either way, enforcing the status. Upholding this present. A decadent world that wasted so much.

In police raids and drug dens, over apartheid walls and along the march of warlords, at investor conferences and Presidential tours, he made his marks with simple actions. Guised as a volunteer traveler of myriad different initiatives and NGOs and corps, Adam walked the “Global South” with an eye ever to the towers. Less surveillance, more decentralized roots to start the work with. As a one man vanguard of charisma and stealth, he ascended them easily and made his differences felt.

A handshake here, a conversation there. The brush of a body or the sleight of a personal effect into place. Long gazes of compassionate concentration upon a chosen mark. In shadowing the sources of power, Adam found his opportunities and seized them. His own power took effect into the world via a concerted connection with her key constituents. In the wider communities, among the people, so often, his power never fell into play at all. He found it didn’t need to.

Adam gave out consciences to politicians and policemen, to heads of state and executives, unto the many-faced wielders of weaponry, coercion, control. Over his travails marched a raw peace, a novel justice. Murder and exploitation fell away. New perspectives birthed between ruler and ruled. Truly, an abolishment of such terms for neighbors. Through trailing over his diligently chosen path, he gifted a bleeding-heart view of life never before helmed by such machines and institutions and systems. Class fell away. Resource flows redirected themselves along new, de-complexified routes, ones antagonistic to previous markets and mores. He ‘cured’ people of their greeds and prejudices; he freed them from their unconscious captures. Away from external and economic and extinctive forces. They returned themselves to the hearths of the community their ancestors acculturated and then, somewhere along the way, abandoned. He returned them to the people, to learn and grow as human beings were meant to.

This was his goal. Mostly, in many places, he succeeded. The peace was all the evidence he needed to keep his march.

Adam would name his gift “clarity” and not salvation. And he’d never call himself a hero. He never named himself at all. His aliases were insignificant and forgotten. Adam’s work required no conversant intervention on his part, no relationship, and no second encounter. The touched took it from there. This work he did out in the world, for over a decade, was done anonymously. Always on the move, an untitled shade without name, place or legacy beyond what he knew himself.

At least, for a while.

This kind of power could not go unnoticed for long. Consciously or no, purposefully or not, every single action Adam took out in the world made him an enemy of the hegemonic empire at the heart of the modern world’s turning.

Adam, or “The Holy Ghost”, as he came to be codenamed by the agency, would spend the next half decade of his life on the run from the long reach of the United States.

~

“We hunted you. And like we always do, eventually, we found you,” Dom exclaimed, his back now to a quietly meditating Adam. He turned to his prisoner, the ever-present flicker of anger spawning once more in his heart.

Why don’t he fucking talk? Why won’t he cooperate? Doesn’t he know the power he wields! Doesn’t he understand-

Dom took a deep breath and straightened his tie. Adam opened his eyes. An aura of an especially heinous rancor drew off the g-man. There was a clarity of intention within his countenance, constant despite all of the emotional flux there. Truly, it terrified Adam.

“You know what every other lil’ commie and pig alike we interviewed in your known locales calls you?” the agent asked, before filling in the answer himself.

“Jesus.”

Adam did not blink. Dom sighed, shrugged, crossed his arms.

“Abba. Deus. El-Shaddai. All-Father. Yahweh. Sovereign. God. The list goes on.”

Dom keeled down, spit his breath out like venom.

“Those cyber-soldiers we had to send into the Strip to apprehend you? You know, the ones you couldn’t turn into fucking lambs with your psycho-whammy?” Dom asked, his voice titillating. “Those machines were specially developed. As with many breakthrough innovations, we made them out of desperation, not unlike in war times, to solve an unsolvable problem: You. So thank you. For that.”

Dom wheeled around, stretching his arms out with arrogant ease. Adam wiggled his fingers still, priming them, twitching his body into constant readiness.

“And now,” Dom continued. “Like the drones from yesterwars, they’re becoming the norm. Virtually intelligent soldiers, able to shoot and evade with minimal oversight in combat zones. Hard to kill; easy to have die. Able to be minutely controlled at a moment’s notice, to boot. They are the future of warfare. You changed how we fight, Adam.”

Adam said nothing, no emotion sourced from his weathered features. He thought of his mother. He prayed for the soul of his father.

“Don’t you get it, man!” Dom rushed back to him, talking down to his prisoner.

“We want you to help us help the world! Build it up. Protect it. Work with us! That’s what we really want… Don’t you care about your legacy? About using your power for good? You’re wasting away in here, you know…”

Adam couldn’t help but make eye contact, flash a deadpan grimace. Psycho.

As if he transferred the thought, Dom shook his head. “This is how the world will see you now, Adam.”

Agent Dom walked over the steel door and its control pad, as if to leave. Instead, he keyed something as he spoke. “We don’t want you here, Adam. We want you free. We want you out in the world doing the kind of work you already want to do. Saving people.”

As he barked his propagandic pitch once more, the featureless walls of the steel box — the same bright and sterile vision Adam studied for 92 days now he’d resided here — shuttered into a translucent view of his surroundings. It was a view he had yet to see. Beyond his box, he saw other cages. Rows and rows of steel cubes, fellow cells, with apparent one-way screens into their interiors. Adam could make out other men, other creatures and eye-catching objects, very few empty. They were arranged in a grid as far as the horizon of his position allowed him. Apparently housed within some larger complex as more beaming lights replaced the sky above, Adam finally saw the scope of his prison.

With arms wide, Dom gloriously proclaimed to Adam the reality of their locale.

“This isn’t a blacksite, Mr. Holy Ghost, it’s a living museum. One for the world to see. One day…”

Adam peeked the surrounding cells. He recognized some faces. Dissidents and revolutionaries, freedom fighters and “terrorists”, previously reported dead, alive and well, confined in similar micro-quarters. These warlords and assassins were reading and sleeping, or being interrogated or tortured by automated machinery.

Adam saw other things too. Objects. Artifacts. Creatures. An old book on a pedestal. A set of sun-dried and cracking scrolls suspended in a beam of dim light. A pair of twin children, golden-skinned, naked, eyes glowing. They might have been dolls. A pterodactyl shot around an enlarged cube squawking soundlessly, its wingspan half-drawn. An inert mecha rested in the center of a Tesseract, sitting cross-legged with sword and cannon for arms. A black ooze, grotesque and alive and lurching against the glass. A spiraling mass of wings and eyes, bright as the sun, flickering through the cube every other moment. Teleporting. Fellow supers and metas; they were trapped.

The cubes, uniformly situated, stretched to the walls. Adam guessed around 80x80. Nearing 7,000 allies, weapons of will and knowledge. Other supers, gathered by the agency to sit together and rot while they leeched us for as much as they could take… Out of sight in the furthest sections, he saw gleaming jewels or crystals the color of space. Solid and liquid assemblages moving with minds of their own. More than a few daemons stared right back at him.

Finally, Adam saw children being led by a guide, on the outside, walking the corridors and pointing. Guests. School children on a field trip. The guide moved in a way Adam recognized: adroitly, lifelessly. Adam searched for the children’s eyes.

The only other conscious beings here: Dom. And these children. Children, here! Adam’s heart began to blast in his chest. He noted Dom ignoring the notifications from his wristwatch. They think children are beyond me! Because I have never touched a child. No accounts, no evidence. Because it’s never happened. So they assume… The sick bastards. Because they would have…

The g-man believed the surge in vitals to be related to the revelation of his imprisonment alone. Adam, holding back a revealing smile, would work to keep it that way.

“The agency’s vast black op loot collection, on display. An arrogant display of power, nonetheless satisfying for us, eh? For the visiting children of the ruling class? Quaint,” Adam surmised aloud. His eyes rose to the ceiling of the larger complex, to its far ends of sensors and screens. “Remote. Secure. The cutting edge. Completely automated?” he asked with raised brow, his inquiry genuine.

Dom grinned, hand to his heart. “A one-man show. Don’t you feel special?”

“I’ve always felt special,” Adam returned drolly.

Dom began to laugh. “So you do have a sense of humor? Where the fuck has that been?!”

As if appeased, the g-man faced the absurd array of objects, people and artifacts, with arms behind his back and chest out. The body of an athlete, likely pumped full of enhancers, filled out his suit with pride. Adam stared at the back of his suit, at his utility belt of trinkets for discovery and violence. A full suite.

“We are an empire, there can be no debate. We may be conquerors, Adam. But we want to do it right. None of us chose this. The work’s been done. We gotta keep it rolling. We do the best we can.” Dom looked back at his prisoner with a pleading expression.

Adam marked him as not believing a word of his own speech. Lies came subtle and unconscious, like breathing, to men like him. Adam consciously restrained himself from rolling his eyes. “You have to rule. You wish to rule well.”

Dom nodded. “We want to build the world as our industry sweeps over it. If we are going to be the ones tasked with such responsibility, we want to be able to offer solutions. You are a solution, Adam.”

Adam chuckled. Dom shot him a sidelong glance.

“Don’t you mean weapon?”

Dom was stupefied. “I don’t get it with this! How can we even use your ability like a weapon?”

“Are you asking me?”

Dom grumbled and clenched his fists by his side, hot air condensed the glass in front of his scowl.

Adam shook his head. “You’ll find a way. With your scientists and psychomancers, working day and night. All of them socios…” Adam pondered aloud. “You know, I should’ve went and touched them first. I shouldn’t have started at the roots of your regime, out in the outposts. I should have begun at home in the hearth. Why not just sever the tree in half with a few good hacks?”

“You cynical son of a bitch… I don’t believe it with you! And they call you Jesus.”

“I don’t even know how it works,” Adam repeated himself from interrogations before. “I’ve had my mind clean my whole life. My body. My soul!” he screamed. “What if that changes? Violently. With drugs and psychotortures. What if it’s already happening?” Adam shook himself in place like a savage. “I bet you the next time I touch someone it will be to turn them mad. To turn them into a slave. What then? I give you that? Never. NEVER!” He stared back out the window, into the cubes.

“And I don’t think you’re telling us the whole truth!” Dom returned.

“You’ll never find out,” Adam said, hoarse. “If you put me in the field, I’ll advantage every freedom I have, no matter how slight, to escape or kill myself. That’ll be it. I will never be your asset. You either let me go now, or keep me in a cage forever. You’ll never get anything from me beyond this. Negation.”

Adam spit the words from his gut, telling the truth of his will. No reason not to now.

Dom spun around, arms up. “Don’t you see the opportunity you have here, Adam? Throwing it away. If you’d only agree to work with us, you’d be able to influence the course of history. Talking and touching the ones we direct you to. Nothing too hard. Nothing too bad. It’s safe, and you’d be helping people. Same as you did before. You could be our top agent. There’d be some freedom in it. Besides, we house better intel than you could ever gather, a single vagabond on the streets, shuffling from one underground to another. Useless! You need us as much as we need you…”

Dom cut his words off with a long breath. He shook his head slowly, something hardened in his voice.

“Adam, I won’t lie to you any longer. Practically everyone you touched is gone.”

Agent Dom paused, to let the meaning of his swinging words touch down. Adam’s heart sank but he showed the man nothing. How many… His mind fell to familiar faces, the allies from his past. He tried not to think of the implications of the word. ‘Gone.’ Impossible. Were they massacring…? All those towns. Villages. No. There was no way. More mind games. He’s still working me.

“Everyone important,” Dom qualified, after letting him sit with it. “At the very least dispossessed from their former wealth and influence. Or dead. Full disclosure. We were thorough, Adam. And we always will be. There’s no future out there for you as long we are here, in power. You either work with us. Or you never work again.”

Adam crinkled his face, only partly for show. The potential futility of his ‘work’ did strike him. Against them… their murderous reach cast over the globe… what can any of it mean in the end? They won’t let me break the bones of their enterprise, mess with the system they overlord. As long as I’m committed to doing what I have been, they will be there to oppose me. To hunt me… Doubling down on the play surprise at state-sanctioned murders being ordered, Adam slammed his eyes shut as if in pain. Give him what he wants for now: Pain. Just wait… Be patient.

“Do you know how we found you?” Dom raised his voice. “Do you know how we even figured out someone like you existed — a true blue supernatural human being, heretofore unimaginable with your telepathic powers? We consulted with the artificial intelligence birthed from out of the digital primordial soup of the Internet. Not even our allies know about it yet. We are using it — Her — for everything now. Including advanced surveillance. Reactive, even predictive, surveillance. Patterns flowed from inside of the Scape, from out of the us-time heatmaps of the A.H.C. that were impossible. Multiple S.D.’s outside of acceptable norms. They permeated our global power coefficients, lowered them in real-time, in record time. In a mere matter of months of your activity. Weeks in some instances. Accelerated political and economic shifts both, from the pop and the corps. From the lawmakers and enforcers. Rogue alterations from stem to stern. Bloody unbelievable. Your little connections were hurting us in ways we, even She, couldn’t anticipate. And would soon enough… Well, that was the plan, wasn’t it? Your endgame.”

Empathic, Adam mentally corrected his captor. He let his eyes wander, not answering, feigning ignorance. It enraged his captor. Truly, he enjoyed hearing the truth of such insider panic from his life’s work. As long as it was true…

“To bring us down! Your own country,” Dom snapped, screaming with an unsightly anger, feigned or not. Adam shrugged and Dom grinded his teeth, shook his head. The consummate actor. Or real psychosis. Mind games. 93 days of conversation and torture, torture and conversation. Just the two of them. They were so wrapped up in each other’s minds now that neither could figure out what the other really thought. Neither could discern what was or wasn’t mind games. They were both mad.

So be it, repeated Adam. He flexed his toes and steadied his breathing.

“When we investigated in tandem with Her Voice’s guidance,” Dom coughed, loosening his tie. Adam could smell the sweat pouring from beneath his suit. “We came to your trail. With minimal hard evidence or direct links, the sentient algo led us right to you… And remember, Adam, She could be yours.”

When Adam offered no reaction at the prospect of allying with the Artificial Intelligence he’d revealed only moments ago, Dom kept on, frustrated.

“It was impressive, honestly,” Dom said, feigning candor. “You left a folklore of unreal benefaction in your wake… From a cavalcade of leaders formerly loathe to charity, bought and paid for and at our beck and call… suddenly displacing their own power unto the people, no longer picking up the phone. Decades of installation and scaffolding. Gone! In a few months’ time, a mysterious stranger at a public dinner here and a faux fundraiser there. That’s all it took. For you. We saw what you did with elections, too. Throw violation of international law in with… mass mind rape!”

“That’s not what it is,” Adam said calmly, then continued with more force. “But I can see how you’d think so. Why you’d find something like that so attractive. Hell, you’ve been trying for it ever since the inception of this country… And those elections were already rigged. When your lapdog fascists ended their campaigns, the people partied through the night. All of them untouched and happy to be un-executed, alive and self-determining.”

Dom ignored his words, responded with eyes away, “Course, with individual people at the locus of the changes, those made fool-minded at your slapping hands, that made it easy. Just had to replace ‘em.”

Dom sighed and put his palm against the reinforced glass of the box. Adam watched outside.

“We resolved to bring you in. But honestly, we never dreamed of putting you here.” Dom hatched real regret into his tone. He winced as he spoke of the unnecessary nature of Adam’s capture and subsequent drugging, tortures, the brutalizing if ineffective psychomancy. None of it worked so they stopped. It was not Adam’s screams of agony that had done it.

“This place is for problem children. For stuff that still needs studyin’. Not for you, not for something that’s ready to go,” Dom explained.

No moves outside, Adam studied the man they’d pitted him against. His voice had dropped an octave. Adam felt something genuine in his words; he must’ve been desperate by now. His turn with me is coming to its end.

Good. Adam swallowed hard from the surfacing of the bile in his throat at the memory of everything this one had done to him. More than once, throughout their procedures and experiments, Adam wished for death to come. Dom truly failed to realize how their prior treatment made this sudden transfer to a more mundane questioning in the last few weeks hollow and deceptive. All the pain and blood, all that screaming could not be forgotten or purged away in time. But there was nothing behind those eyes. Anyone willing to torture could never have his regard. His own countrymen could not be trusted. Certainly not those in the rulership, that would be directing his aims as an asset to the grand imperial flow. Maybe they started with torture because they already *knew* me, that I wouldn’t play ball… Pain was the only play they had.

Adam did feel regret as much as rage at the true prospects of their evil. He never allowed himself to hope otherwise, that the people running the world might be within the bounds of redemption. But to see it manifested before his eyes and upon his own body had changed him. For the worse. His memories of better days and better Men kept his heart afloat. Monsters like Dom, they reflected nothing of the brave people who threw their bodies in front of Adam, giving their lives to help his escape. Strangers he barely knew, the few and nameless in the community who he did have to build relations with over his years abroad. The ones who helped with the logistics of his traveling, who believed in his cause as he told it, those he befriended. They were there with him at the Strip, helping him hide from the metal hunters. Willing to die for him like family. Sacrifices, to no avail. Adam could never forget them.

He sighed hard and heavy. And I can never forgive this man.

“I await my awakening from this nightmare even now,” Adam said, eyes again following the field trip blocks away, returned to sight. They were elementary schoolers. Some of them wandered afar from their teacher, on the hunt for more zoo monsters to watch. He concentrated on their pathing through the prison of lighted cubes. No doubt, these were the children of presidents and senators, princes and heirs. Insider insiders. Highly educated, already used to the voices of adults in their ears, constantly pressuring their little heads. Adam focused.

“This isn’t some spectacle,” Dom said, finger pointing out to his personal farm of special beings and priceless objects. “This is how we save the world. I- We do this work. We are doing what we’ve always done. Not as imperialist America. As human beings!”

Dom slammed his hand against his palm, repeatedly, after every word. “Assessing our resources, consolidating knowledge, skills and abilities into a useful stream of assets, studying them with the express purpose to eventually allocate them to where it’s most-”

“Cut it short, Rockfell,” Adam interrupted in a frigid tone, eyes drawn away from his mark through the glass.

The g-man leered in sudden silence. Adam shot him with a gaze of terrifying confidence.

“I think I figured out what it is about you,” he said, shifting the converse. Calmly, Adam closed his eyes, ready to explain.

Dom narrowed his, then raised his voice for a final time.

“Lemme guess: I have no conscience. I never did and I never can. There is an impenetrable void within me. I’m a demon, a vampire, a soulless avatar for our world’s tyrannical rulers. Their top cop, able to efficiently liquidate their opposition without hesitation. Able to wade through the necessary pathology of the work of ruling. Like a shark through the ocean, alone and relentlessly seeking out the lifeblood of the world’s productive centers to the ends that they and they alone choose. I have no agency, no morality. No dignity. I am the footsoldier that crucifies Jesus, that makes a “good” world impossible, that works tirelessly to return peace to war. I am Leviathan! Tiamat! Beezlebub!!”

By the end of his tirade, Dom was breathless and bloodshot. He screamed the final titles into Adam’s face from point blank range.

“Very articulate,” Adam murmured, eyes shut. Dom’s heaving bulk was uneven, expectant for more. Adam returned,

“No.”

“That may be true,” he shrugged, speaking composed and slow, soaking the g-man’s attention. “Maybe you are the devil. But I think it’s more… that you believe in what you are doing. In the justifying words that bleed from your mouth. That you are right, that you have merit in your atrocious undertakings. That you are helping the world more than you are hurting it. That this is the best way of going about it, this maintenance of inherited control. Keeping all the firepower and the murder to manageable levels, while keeping the hoard, watching little people starve and burn. Better you than someone else. Yes. You are a true believer in the mission you have been tasked by your superiors with accomplishing. You believe it all. That’s it. This makes you immune. Because of this, with a look or a touch, I can’t ever stop you from torturing and killing. In other words, you are…” Adam paused. He smiled as the Devil might, meeting Dom’s eyes with a final, reciprocating displeasure.

“…a fool.”

Dom’s face lit up with overwhelming rage, his hands ready to strike his prisoner into oblivion. Soon after, however, surprise overtook all his faculties. Behind them, the door to the cell slid open. The g-man turned on his heels, hand reaching reflexively for the pistol on his hip. A small child, with wide, curious eyes peeked through the threshold.

Hands freshly freed, Adam rose from his kneel with that lone weapon lifted off his belt and raised to the back of his captor’s head. His finger twitched on the trigger, half pressing it already.

Sweat flurried from Agent Rockfell’s brow, frozen in mortal fear at the suddenly empty holster by his side and the cold barrel poking into the back of his skull.

“You… you can … control them… from here… like this?” he stammered, trying to make sense of this contingency, misunderstanding everything about the man he’d captured, tortured, interrogated, and held in near complete sensory deprivation until this moment.

Dom started to turn back, right eye bulging at the grave prospect of his error.

“And children, too?”

“Close your eyes, Noah,” Adam said. The boy peeking at the door listened.

A violent flash of a torso and arms in desperate resistance sprung into existence as the pistol discharged in near silence. Domini’s body hit the ground in a heap, eyes screaming, blood pouring out of his head. Adam bent and softly placed the weapon into his hand. This was the first man he had ever ended.

He sighed, walked to the exit of his cell.

Little Noah looked up to him.

“Thank you, boy,” Adam said.

“You are welcome,” Noah returned in a child’s tone. Not one of obedience but of awe.

Adam took his hand. “Can you take me to your friends, Noah? I want you guys to show me around here. But let’s hurry! OK?”

Noah led him through the special blacksite, the agency’s extraordinary “zoo.” Red sirens blared at the extremities of the complex, a towering, panoptic warehouse of next gen sensor and security, all of it automated. And now activated. They were on the clock.

Anticipating the coming march of animating cyber-soldiers to quell him, Adam surveyed and communed with the various beings in the cells on the way. He connected with them, each distinct and full of disparate emotions. Some of them mythical and monstrous, some of them human, some of them utterly alien. Fortunately, none of them were free from his influence. Not all of them needed it. Where there was reason there was compassion. With heart and mind in cosmic connection, Adam found he could speak many of their daemonic languages, or their sacred silences. Their relative strangeness from the baselines of the known universe named them as kin. In these neighboring cages, Adam found not friends, but family. His eyes welled up with each communion. The first hour out of his cell was spent in these ways.

Adam spoke with the children briefly. There were a dozen of them, six boys and six girls. They took their orders like second nature, as if they already had the work in mind themselves. Deftly, they’d dissembled their ‘teacher.’ Adam saw its parts neatly ordered into rows, from smallest to largest, when he arrived with Noah. With skill and wisdom beyond their years, the children ventured in pairs to release the touched subjects, gather the artifacts, and wield the weapons of Dom’s vast and extraordinary museum. Adam watched them proudly.

From the beginning, children were his universal comrades, clarified into elevated thought and action in his presence. Everywhere he went, in modest radius of his empowering gift, Adam found children capable of inspiring foresight, able to build the world alongside him as far as they wished it. Here, they were freely cooperating unto the Good, preparing defenses, independent of any will he need put upon them. Until today, Adam had simply never put ‘them to use,’ had never asked for their help, for obvious reasons.

“But desperate times call for desperate measures,” Adam explained to the children’s attentive faces. He told them his plan and asked for their help. They abided his scheme. He hoped mother would forgive him his sins. The children cast their small hands into the team circle, Adam broke them to their dire tasks at hand, to the fronts of the battle soon to be, with the impassioned words,

“We build this world up, conscience constantly in hand. No more human means, only human ends.” Gravely, forlornly, Adam directed them to the cockpits of the unconscious artifact machinery of the museum: the mechs and the UFOs and the EVAs. Within such structures, they could fight more securely.

Adam surveyed the cubes and the characters coming out of them. Strange and beautiful all. Strange and beautiful… Inexplicably enough, the final phase of his work would begin here. Fate worked in absurd ways. Disconcerting as it was to him, Adam moved to fortify the complex as the principal grounds for a hopefully final conflict, with child soldier mechas and daemons and angels and aliens and ageless artifacts as his marching cohort from out of an impossible, supernatural jail and onward to a fantastical world revolution against the machines and rulers of Men in this modern, fallen world.

This could turn it all upside down.

All for the sake of the future of humanity, Adam reminded himself. The very same humanity he saw within his mother’s twinkling eyes.

From out of the cubes, Adam’s army emerged and gathered. Winged creatures, angelic and daemonic, took flight and stood guard at key positions. Ms. Magdalene’s class held floating books and waited inside of armor. The captured revolutionaries and terrorists, though freed, watched behind Adam, recovering from their injuries. The complex teemed with the life of an entire swath of worlds. Like an orchestra, Adam and his allies formed themselves into small, semi-autonomous squadrons and toons, working to the tune of the whole. Six groups in all led by the paired children.

Defense, into evaluation. Then, offense. The path of his army from out of this fortress would have to be adaptable … considering the fact he had no idea where they were! They’d need to get to the walls, up and out of the site. To the command center somewhere nearby. In the arctic, or in the heat? He’d flip a coin with Noah later on a bet.

Then some more clear answers… Adam allowed himself to feel the ridiculousness, an earned levity, of his new position. From wall-staring prisoner, lost forever, better off dead… to perhaps the most powerful man in the world. In 93 days. At the peripheries of the structure, Adam heard the sounds of the steel, lifeless soldiers being deployed and constructed. Steel boots on steel ground. His army waited and bristled in silence, ready to kill them.

“Foolish as this setup was, we don’t have full control yet…” Adam explained off-hand to Gabriel, the glowing spiral of eyes and wings, humming and buzzing with otherworldly animus at his side.

The calm before the storm. BE NOT AFRAID, Gabe said into his heart, the confidence of millennia of battle under its belt.

This was never how Adam had imagined it. But he more than any understood that the mission of saving the world would never come easily, or bloodlessly. Certainly not without cracking open the systemic, self-perpetuating heart of their world, with all of its machine swords and electric shields. Every history he read was the same. If this was his war — his revolution — to wage, then Adam would fight it to the end. And from there, if he was still around, craft the next chapter of history.

“To get to the Men, we have to kill the machines,” he shouted to the children with raised fist, a profound inspiry in his tone. Breaking the nervous silence caused a raucous set of cheers and roars and other sounds. In the children’s eyes as he saw them, the reverberations and reflections of their forefathers was already deeply embedded. Into every generation there was born the same proximate eventualities. And yet, these kids understood implicitly the words he spoke. Of humane ends, of conscience. Even as young as they were, they held secrets from their fathers’ destined estates concerning what it would take. To turn the world upside down. And they were eager to get started.

The freed “pterodactyl”, looking less and less like a dinosaur and more like a dragon the more he peeked it, swan dove from the ceiling and buffeted the legion with a winged gust before flying back up. Sparks and smoke wafted from its maw; an alpha tyrant’s gaze watched the walls.

The children had taken to calling him ‘Superman.’ Adam abided by the title, but only for now. For the battle.

Like every other ‘hero’ history deemed, Adam would bear the burden of fighting for the sake of life. The sin of these children being pushed into combat against the world their fathers had built weighed upon him. He hoped material victory wouldn’t arrive with spiritual defeat; he wished it hadn’t come once already to his people. Whatever happened now, he willed his own world into being, one wall, one conscience at a time … perhaps, in the process, ending his own.

So be it.

A cynical, deprecating irony touched upon Adam’s heart then at the prospect of truly supernatural forces being required to change the world, tyrannically capitalized as it was now…

So be it.

Out of the halls and archways of the agency’s unholy ‘museum’, the cyber-soldiers showed themselves and began to march upon their barricades, skinless skulls gleaming and red eyes glaring. The humming, howling, hollering of the beasts from Under and Over the world called back in vivacity, awaiting from their ramparts. The walls rumbled; their war was beginning.

Awaiting the chaos to come, Adam closed his eyes, stroked his beard, and whispered his long time mantra to himself, now with an addendum from Jimmy:

Only human ends. Boys oughta grow up remembering that…” ~