[tab=30] Maxwell sat in the chair opposite Dalton, looking like he and his dark blue suit had been chiseled from an ancient stone. “He played us both, John. He knew what buttons to press and what we’d do if he pressed them.”
[tab=30] Dropping the phone on the closest table, Dalton gritted his teeth. “Why! Why did he do this?”
[tab=30] Maxwell held up one of his large hands. “He wanted to hurt us. He wanted to hurt PsiGrow, he wanted to put a financial spear in our side.” Maxwell walked across the private lounge and found a refrigerator, taking a bottle of beer out of it. “He plummeted your stock.”
[tab=30] Wiping his face, Dalton asked, “By how much?”
[tab=30] Maxwell took a drink. “A man breaks into a highrise window of a Fortune 500 company during a meeting, shoots three men—including the CEO—attacks four more, putting two of them in a coma. Then this man sets up a bomb in the company's on site warehouse, using the CEO's phone as a detonator. Maxwell took another drink. “He did enough.”
[tab=30] “You know more about this than you’re saying.”
[tab=30] Returning to the table where Dalton was sitting, Maxwell said, “That man is a telepath. More specifically, he’s the telepath that escaped the facility where we developed PsiGrow.”
[tab=30] “Wait,” Dalton said, almost jumping up. A pain shot through his arm and he cradled the sling across his chest. “This guy, the guy who shot me… our drug is made out of this guy?”
[tab=30] “Yes. He provided the sample that opened the genetic lock.”
[tab=30] “He was supposed to be dead.”
[tab=30] “I know,” Maxwell said. “He said I wasted my one assassination and hung up.” Maxwell shook his head.
[tab=30] “Our operation blew up when you called back. We’re lucky no one was down there.”
[tab=30] “I imagine he orchestrated that too.”
[tab=30] “If he didn't, Saint probably did.”
[tab=30] “I doubt it. Someone’s been bleeding Saint's accounts dry and sending him threatening letters.”
[tab=30] Rolling his eyes, Dalton said, “I don't see how. He got one of the largest bonuses last year.”
[tab=30] “Really?” Maxwell asked. “Then why did he have letters in his office saying you were blackmailing him?”
[tab=30] “What? That's insane.”
[tab=30] “Are you sure? Do you know how to fight a telepath?”
[tab=30] A knock came from outside the study. Dalton groaned as he marched across the room. He opened the door and barked, “What is it?”
[tab=30] “There is a call for the Senator,” an aging maid said without looking up.
[tab=30] “Who is it?”
[tab=30] “He said he was The Former.”
[tab=30] Dalton looked back and said, “The Former?”
[tab=30] Maxwell nodded. He settled into his chair, bracing his hands into the armrests. Maxwell started breathing faster and some of the color left his face. Running his hand over his face, Maxwell said, “I’ll take it in here.” After the maid left, Maxwell said, “Lock the door.”
[tab=30] Dalton collected a bottle of beer and sat. “What’s that mean, The Former?”
[tab=30] “Der Former. He has… unique capabilities. He claims to have a record of things before they happen.” Finding the lounge phone’s speaker button, Maxwell pressed it and announced himself.
[tab=30] A cold voice bearing an indistinct European accent spoke. “Commander attacked you, yes, Mr. Dalton?”
[tab=30] An eyebrow lifted when Dalton heard his name. “Who is this?”
[tab=30] “Yes,” Maxwell said, again holding up his large hand.
[tab=30] “Did Commander reveal himself to be the man I mentioned, Senator Maxwell?”
[tab=30] Giving a sharp exhale, Maxwell said, “Yes.”
[tab=30] Dalton’s face became bitter, unsure of who to accuse. “You knew about this?”
[tab=30] “Of course, Mr. Dalton,” Der Former said as a matter of record. “My intervention was deemed too lofty a price to pay, especially for an unsubstantiated claim.”
[tab=30] “If you can deal with this *beep*,” Dalton said, “then do it. I’m sure I can come up with the money.”
[tab=30] “Do you have two psionic amplifiers, Mr. Dalton?” There was silence before Der Former continued. “I thought as much. Senator Maxwell?”
[tab=30] “Are you willing to part with the amplifiers now?”
[tab=30] A prolonged pause hung on Maxwell’s face. “In exchange for dealing with Commander.”
[tab=30] “Of course,” Der Former said, drawing out the last syllable. “It seems as though I should apply a penalty for your tardiness. A late fee.”
[tab=30] Dalton clenched his fists and his teeth. He saw Maxwell glaring at the phone, suppressing an objection of his own.
[tab=30] “I will take your silence as agreement with the new terms. What I require in addition to the amplifiers is the current location and medical history of Kathryn Angel. She was born twenty-three years ago in central Arkansas. I’m sure you can find her. Have your man bring the information when he delivers the amplifiers to me. He should know the place.”
[tab=30] The call cut off, leaving behind nothing, not even a dial tone. Dalton took a harsh swig of beer and cringed. Maxwell rubbed the bridge of his nose before taking out his cell phone and searching its contacts.
[tab=30] “What did you just do?” Dalton asked in the softest of tones.
[tab=30] Maxwell put the cell phone to his ear and said, “Find everything you can on a Kathryn Angel, twenty-three, born in central Arkansas. That’s all I know. Eight AM.” He hung up and dropped the phone on the table.
[tab=30] “Are you going to tell me what you just did?”
[tab=30] Wiping sweat from his forehead, Maxwell said, “Commander went after our East Coast operation. I’m sure he’ll go after the West Coast, soon enough.”
[tab=30] “And this Der Former will stop him?”
[tab=30] Maxwell’s gaze turned to stone. “Der Former has old technology. If he wanted, he could unmake the world.”
[tab=30] Morrison opened his briefcase and passed Maxwell a folder. “Here.”
[tab=30] Maxwell thumbed through the pages, seeing several pictures of a young woman. Everything from a copy of her driver's license to her voting record was on hand. She worked in a lab at a university, had no exceptional skills outside of playing high school basketball.
[tab=30] “The only thing I couldn’t find was her high school records—but I know she graduated because several colleges confirmed they got her high school transcripts.”
[tab=30] After several minutes of looking through the pages, Maxwell asked, “Who is this woman?”
[tab=30] “Just some smart hick.”
[tab=30] A slow shake came to Maxwell’s head. “No,” he said. “This can’t be right.” Maxwell closed the folder and asked, “If you wanted to set a trap for someone, what would you do?”
[tab=30] “Use their kids as bait. Or maybe a wife.”
[tab=30] “Or a girlfriend.”
[tab=30] Morrison shrugged. “Same difference.”
[tab=30] “Our people always knew Subject 837 was hiding something, that there was someone he didn’t want us to know about.”
[tab=30] “So we’re after an investment banker?”
[tab=30] Maxwell’s eyebrows raised. “No, we’re after a telepath with combat and espionage skills.”
[tab=30] “This Angel woman’s got a boyfriend, an investment banker named Hill.”
[tab=30] The file flew open again and Maxwell skimmed through several pages of text, along with an occasional picture of a Kathryn Angel. A picture of a studious young man with light brown hair stuck out of the bunch. A brief description was paper clipped to the picture. “James Hill.”
[tab=30] “Yeah,” Morrison said. “That’s him.”
[tab=30] Maxwell looked up. “This isn’t our man. This is not the man who called me yesterday afternoon.” He looked out the side window, noting the growing density of the traffic. “We should watch him anyway. Do we have copies of all this?”
[tab=30] “Then put together a team to collect those amplifiers.” Maxwell shoved the file back in the folder. “Take all this with you.”
[tab=30] Der Former walked into an aged cave filled with occasional roots. The walls had been sculpted in many places and a stone floor had been added. A culture was clearly represented in the atrium’s aesthetic, one forgotten by any respected historians.
[tab=30] Der Former took position in the center of the atrium after pressing a switch on a wall to his left. Large stones started to grind off one another in the distance. He draped his cloak over his shoulder and body, covering the seams of his gold armor as he stepped back into the shadows. Long brown hair framed Der Former's mask, which was embedded in his skin from his forehead to his nose. His gray eyes locked onto the tunnel on the opposite side of the atrium.
[tab=30] A motor purred and lights in the hallway showed something was coming. Morrison, outfitted in a military-grade body armor, entered the atrium with an M-16, securing his position. A pair of forklifts drove in next, each bearing wooden crates. Two more men followed, each outfitted just like Morrison.
[tab=30] “What the hell kind of place is this?” Morrison asked. He pulled at some of the roots as he lowered his rifle.
[tab=30] “Some mysteries are beyond common knowledge, ” Der Former said. Rifles came to bear on Der Former’s position, but he did not move. “You are making a delivery on Maxwell’s behalf, correct?”
[tab=30] “Yeah, but he didn’t say anything about this.”
[tab=30] “Because he has never been here.” He pointed at the back wall of the atrium with a gold plated hand. “Put the crates over there.”
[tab=30] Morrison stepped forward with his rifle in hand. “Who the hell are you?”
[tab=30] “You may call me Der Former, Mister Morrison.”
[tab=30] Morrison stowed his weapon and waved the forklift forward. “How do you know who I am, living in this cave?”
[tab=30] The forklifts drove to the back of the atrium and started lowering the crates. “Think of me as your new guardian angel,” Der Former said. “You don’t have to understand to benefit from my aid.”
[tab=30] “You’re supposed to give me something in exchange for the crates.”
[tab=30] Der Former looked at the forklifts pulling away from their delivery. “Yes, to stop Commander.”
[tab=30] “Well? Where is it?”
[tab=30] “When necessary, you will have my aid.”
[tab=30] “You’re not turning that thing on until you give me what I came here for.”
[tab=30] “The machine is not finished, so I cannot turn it on.”
[tab=30] Morrison frowned and his men started to lift their weapons. Even the forklift driver had a rifle. The quartet started to ease around the atrium, trying to surround Der Former.
[tab=30] A burst of flame twisted around Der Former, reaching out to each man in the room, but touching none of them. The tongues of fire grew into columns and blocked Morrison and the others from stepping forward. When they tried to jump to the sides of the flames, a new spark would ignite, building a wall in the center of the atrium.
[tab=30] Der Former walked to the crates and began tearing them open without any tools. When one wooden panel lay on the stone floor, Der Former looked over his shoulder and said, “The four of you may leave now. Please tell the Senator that I will deal with Commander shortly.”
[tab=30] Without objection, Morrison ordered his men out. He wasted no time following them.