Fleet Week and the Paragon Council
A great time of the summer as the Bridgeton Port-of-call festival hits its high gear. Sure, last week brought us the Starburst Parade and the lesser attended Junior Starburst parade, where the locals could cheer on other local inhabitants and those how have been here sufficiently long and made enough of a positive impact on the local culture or society to be welcomed as one of the troop. Business sponsored floats decked in a myriad of colors, each speckled with lights and starshine, flood through main thoroughfares as hordes of overly sugar saturated onlookers cheer the possible banality or interesting strangeness that might turn the next corner. Theater troops, soldiers, and charitable organizations, all in uniform and costume, strolled the avenues, advertising and waving to the masses while traffic comes to a standstill and the train system completely loses its time table.
The Junior Parade is for their children.
That spectacle, while advertised nationally, really was only for the locals to enjoy before the real celebration arrived on the decks of destroyers. I’m not just using hyperbole, here, as much as I am given to that vice. Most of the ships I saw moored in the river were destroyer class boats. When the men and women in white uniforms disembark, they find the carnival awaiting. Again, no hyperbole, they turn most of Riverside Park into a huge carnival with Ferris wheels, funnel cakes, and con games masquerading as easy pitch and toss games. It flows easily into the Weekend Market of art stands and street performers into a mass of vacationers and those who would profit from vacationers. In a homespun, middle America with drastic progressive leanings, expensively cheesy way it’s quite a bit of fun. If you are around town during this time, I do recommend it, even if it’s just to see.
Oh, I should note, several changes to the town other than the fairs and festival. It’s louder, but that comes as no surprise. There is music everywhere, mostly from the street performers who now guard every corner downtown like performing sentinels. Keep a roll of dollar coins in your pocket. Never hand out the bills. It’s oddly brighter. Don’t ask me why, other than maybe, the practiced and dramatic effort to clear detritus and grime as much as they can without chaining the homeless and dragging them to some other location, far away from any tourist. Trust me, as progressive and forgiving as they can be here, if given a chance, they might actually do it. Why? The third change. Bridgeton has four scents most days of the year; pot, beer, water, and urine. Guess which one blankets the city? If you guessed beer or water, get your head in the game, will you? Pot? Nope, but I see you have been here before and thought it through. Good for you, half points. Nope the real aroma over most of the city downtown make you wonder how little sanitation there could be for a place which looks like the residents take care of it… mostly. Even walking over the bridges, high above the water, the air reeks of former beer. If you walk around long enough, you stop noticing it. Funny, last year this never came up. It makes me wonder how much of a utopia they are building in San Niebla that most of the bad homeless decide that Bridgeton is a much more welcoming place. Still watch your feet. You have no idea what you are stepping in or where it came from. Another of the things we ran from when leaving San Niebla.
The soldiers and sailor make their way around the city, for all the food carts, fine dining, and indoor glow in the dark mini golf, the city welcomes the newcomers and asks them to enjoy themselves, make themselves feel at home, knowing full well that their stay is temporary. It’s an actually positive salute to the brave souls who defend this country on the ocean waves. As a side note, I ask you sailors, I saw you at the minigolf places. Really? Why there? Ok, ok, not for me to judge. I was there too so what does that tell you?
So what a day to be detained by an extro-governmental, paramilitary organization, huh? It’s not like I plan these things.
They caught me on the way back from another interview for a maternity leave job, my third interview with the same company for the same eight week position, I might add. (Note: I managed to land another position later, temp to perm, but I’ll talk on that later.) One of the uncharacteristically warm days brought out my feet and strolling seemed a good enough pass time as any, and yes, I mostly got used to the smell. Mostly. In times like that a cup of the Omega Strength blend of coffee from the Caffienator covers up a lot, or you inhale the scent of the aromatic day of waste and pot just before sipping the warm fluid and question your life choices. I get mine in decaf. So drink in hand the anxiety of another day job hunting and coming up empty, I walked down Gardner Ave. I had maybe two minutes to enjoy my beverage when a non-descript van rolled up. Now, when I say “Non-descript,” I couldn’t have put it any more succinctly. The vehicle looked expertly crafted to resemble absolutely everything you see on the road. I barely noticed them before it came to a stop by the side of the road. Even then I was more than a little oblivious to the situation until several men in black suits, again, cut and strategized to be completely forgettable, exited and head my way.
I might have ignored them, as was their preferred method, I think, but I was a geek, and not just any sort of geek. At their hips, I noticed strange and out of genre holster belts they wore, brown leather and electrified, the circuitry inlayed in the hide. On the man left of me, I saw a huge firearm, far bulkier than your standard side arm with side canisters for some fluid or pressurized air. On my right, a wizard’s wand protruded. I should note, the wand looked like a wizard who knew Nicola Testla on a first name basis constructed it from a rare and forbidden metal found only in strange orbs from the sky or deep in the earth to be extracted by ancient dwarven hands. I am oddly specific in these descriptions as I knew these items well, too well. I read about them in various blogs talking about mad scientist devices that have never been replicated. Suddenly my drink didn’t taste too good anymore.
The one on the left approached, an older gentleman, probably in his 60’s with grey hair and a scent like tea that steeped for several generations. He held out a badge I had never seen before and called my name.
Like any idiot or innocent, I said, “Yes?”
The second, tall, lanky wearing a pair of goggles, stepped forward. “Please come with us. We have questions for you.” I watched him offer me one hand, while his other slipped to his holster.
“Couldn’t you ask them when I was getting coffee?” I offered, holding the cup high.
“Sir.” The first one said. “We are all friends here, and I can assure your safety if you comply, however, there are people in positions who have need of your presence. So we can either walk calmly into the van, where we ride as friends, or we can not travel as friends and our guarantees expire. What will it be, sir?”
“Isn’t that a good way for me to get killed?” I asked.
“I think we have someone who doesn’t know the situation, Mr. Hartnell.” The second one said. “Shall I fetch him?”
“Indeed, Mr. Tennant.” Mr. Hartnell said to his companion before holding his hand out to reassure me. “I believe our associate will answer all your questions, at least for the moment. Mr. Collins?”
A tall foppish looking man climbed out of the driver’s side and strode confidently towards us. Unlike his fellows, his outfit could be seen from space and probably several alien forces that looked down on the tiny blue marble with envious eyes suddenly looked away in blinding terror. The coat in particular swam with strange colors, shifting design patterns and high neon overtones. I wish I could describe it more, I really do, but it would require me making up dozens of words in the English languages that the brain could barely track let alone find any real definition before it would retreat to bad behaviors trying to scrub the new concepts from the memory. Mr. Collins pulled on his lapels, stately, then brushed his shoulders of non-existent dandruff.
That’s when I passed out. Pity. That coffee costs five bucks.
A couple of gentlemen in nice suits helped me up. I must have tripped on whatever crap was in the side walk. (I wish I was just being colorful. I really do.) They kind of looked like the gentlemen who approached me but the vehicle of no interest was gone. Oddly the sun had drifted farther to the horizon that what I remembered and a slight twilight decended.
“You ok, sir?” the tall one asked, brushing me down.
“I’m fine.” I found my feet and blocked the hands. “Thanks for assist.”
“Not at all.” The older one said. “Just being neighborly.”
“We managed to catch your drink too.” He said, passing me my cup, complete with name and seal. I was impressed and thanked them immensely.
“Not a problem. Just watch where you are walking.” The tall one said. “Good day.”
They left. Nice fellows. Funny, my coffee was ice cold….
When I returned home, I found a letter, a small manila envelope. Nothing to strange about that, except that it was in my front pocket. I completely missed it until I fished for my house keys. Inside, small medallion, barely the size of a quarter and a top, like the one from Inception, fell out. It was well made top, brass, polished, and expertly carved. Small letters and indentations ringed the edge. The medallion however, pricked something in the back of my skull, the image of a ivory broach, a silhouette of some type that I had never seen before but hints of previous lives with the Victorian bauble wafting past my psyche. While it had the same hues, I don’t think it was ivory, real or imitation. It shimmered red and green like some soapstone I remembered seeing as a kid on girl’s jewelry, but felt like silk. I put it down near my writing computer as I found a clear surface to spin the top. Sorry if my house is a bit cuttered at the moment. Getting ready to move soon. Hopefully to a better apartment.
I found a wide flat space on desk and gave the top a spin. The indentations and letters caught the wind as the thing spun around and around. Suddenly, in the virational hum of metal on wood combined into a resonance, a tone, that formed the shape of two words.
Then I remembered.
When I awoke, after strange dreams of ancient technologies, the air around me felt like a coffee bog, hot, sticky, and more than a little sweet. I saw nothing other than a speckling of light that swam in front of me. I figured it was the after effects of the coat before the bag over my head whipped away. I half expected someone to either make ransom demands or just yell, “Ta-da!”
Before me, a clean, respectable office sat, complete with oversized desk reserved for important people. A cool faced woman in her mid fifties in a smart business suit, grey with over tones of light blue sat at the desk, pouring a cup and fragrant tea from a delicately crafted tea set. Over her head, a huge seal stood, as if for some government agency. She poured a second cup and sat it before me.
“Thank you, Gentlemen.” She said nodding to them. “This won’t take long.” Footfalls preceded a closing door.
She sipped her tea a moment before she spoke, her accent expertly crafted to sound like a Transatlantic to hide something of a British undertone, a voice that carried confidence and authority without strangeness. “I would normally offer you a cup, but I am afraid that courtesy would have to wait. I cannot allow you to drink it while it’s too hot for you, and we have had to disable your limbs, so I’m afraid you would not be able to hold your teacup correctly. For that I apologize. Simply dreadful manners. But then again, this is Bridgeton. Perhaps later you may drink, when it’s cool.”
She finished her tea before placing it back on the tray, a slight tinkle of china, before she returned to me. She looked at me for a moment, knitted her hands before her school-marm face, just underneath her oval glasses that made her seem more Victorian somehow. In her shoulder holster, she kept a device which caught and kept my attention. Even from the butt, I knew what it was. The soft azure glow of course gave it away. I pulled my gaze from the device back to her. Her blue eyes started into me, just looking. After a moment she nodded to the two gentlemen behind me, one with bag in hand.
“Let me answer some questions for you right away, shall I?” She said, rising to her feet, standing straight, her suit so crisp apples fell from trees in envy. She didn’t smile or even readjust her glasses which slid down her nose like a pair of reading glasses from the early 40’s. “Do you know where you are?” She started pacing slowly, turning towards the windows. “I can tell you that you are not far from your home. I’ll even tell you that this is the corner of Harrison and Pine, eighth floor, in a mercantile building you never bothered to read the name inscribed over the door. I can tell you that because this is a rented office and when next you come here, the walls will be stripped and all traces of us will vanish, assuming you can remember where any of this once we are done.”
She turned to face me, intently, from across the table. “Why you are here, always the second question, is a much longer question to answer but will become clear to you once you answer things for us.”
“Who are you people?” I asked, more as a sarcastic remark but I needed to know. She pointed to the seal above the window that looked like emblem for the state department for some other universe’s America. Scrolling on the bottom, a Latin motto stretched around small cogs and a red and white checkerboard.
“Quis custodiet ipsos custodies.” She recited. “Do you know what that means, Mr. E?”
Without thinking, I blurted out; “Of course I know that means. I’m an Alan Moore fan.”
She looked at me, expectantly, her hands drifted behind her back. After a moment of silence, she raised her eyebrow.
I sighed, “Who watches the watchmen.”
She said, leaning forward, eyes locked on mine, “We do.”
Quietly, she took a seat, she took a deep breath before continuing. “My name is Mrs. Plummer, head and Chief Operations Officer for the Rothchild Institute. The Institute was established to monitor, track, and ultimately control the metahuman population that might become a danger to the general populace. Our mission is one of study and safety for all involved. We work closely with most governments and your local government has seen fit that we have this little chat, so please understand, if I were to think that you were a detriment to our objectives or evading the truth from me, I could have you arrested on a number of charges, the exact number of which we would determine based on your level of deception, or find a nice place in the river to throw you in the dead of night. This is not a threat against you nor is it an assurance of malice on either of our parts, just a reminder of the situation you find yourself in and I wish to impress the importance of a truthful attitude. Are we understood on that concept?”
“Rothchild Institute?” The name sounded oddly familiar, something SubRosa would rant about just as I was tuning out. I remember seeing several posts about the Rothchild institute and how it was connected to something more, something…I saw the device again and knew. ”You’re the Paragon Council.”
I started to sweat.
“Good sir,” She said her hand touching her heart in mock distain. “We no longer apply that moniker. The Paragon Council is an establishment of fear and paranoia, resorting to less than ethical and barely legal actions to reign in the events that almost lead to Ragnarok in Southern Alaska. An act, I might add, that might have prevent a near cataclysmic event and the loss of fourteen hundred square miles of American soil. It was a vile, underhanded, and illustrated a poor time in the nation’s past not unlike the House Un-American Activities Committee. How can you compare our organization to something so vicious and cruel? The sheer gall.” Then she stared me down with that icy blue stare. “But I think we understand each other.”
“Good.” She smiled carefully again, a half smile, more quiet politeness. “So tell me, do you have any idea why you are here?”
“No.” I said before I blurted out like a total fan boy. “But I know what that is.” I had to point with my forehead, as my hands stayed on my arm rests, locked.
She nodded, almost impressed. In a quick, smooth, and less than threatening action, she pulled out the device and placed it on the desk, in the middle of a huge green deskpad. It looked like a space age version of a 40’s ray gun designed and hand crafted by someone in the mid 1850’s who had never seen anything like it. Chromed channels and barrels refracted blue light from the central core as a soft mist emanated from the mirrored focusing lenses.
I looked at it in awe. “How did you get your hands on that?” I asked, like a total moron not realizing that I was someplace I didn’t know, unable to use my hand, and staring at a person wielding one of the most powerful freeze cannons known to man who looked back at me like I was a specimen.
“Can you tell me what it is, first?” She said, gesturing to the weapon before returning hands to a tent.
I sighed awestruck. “The freeze cannon. Capable of projecting a beam of almost absolute zero. Originally designed to be used by firefighters dealing with massive coal fires and gaslight accidents. One of the eleven amazing inventions of Professor Sydney Fox. Commonly called the Wondrous Eleven.”
She smiled, almost pleased. “Actually, Professor Fox created thirty two “wondrous” machines, of wish we have managed to recover seventeen.”
“It’s amazing, never been replicated.”
She picked it up with a quick flick of the wrist, like a magician and pointed it at me. “Would you like to see it in action?”
I was about to scream, “Please don’t!” when she let off a blast of frost, freezing my tea. The whole cup and part of the desk sparkled and glistened with frost for a second before she brought her fist down, shattering the cup and making a narrow hole in the desk. "Oh, dear. It would seem your tea has gotten cold. Such a shame."
I stared still breathing hard as she reset the safety and adjusted the controls.
“It would seem you are correct. Well done.”
“I know things.” I said, almost proud.
“So it would seem.” She said, returning her weapon to her holster. “And that brings us here, to your,” she forced the words, “nice little berg. It would seem that not only are you well researched, approachable, and dedicated to your work…”
“I’m not that dedicated.” I mumbled. “I only put out a post a week.”
“Dedicated to your obsessions.” She interrupted forcefully. “You have already attracted some attention.”
“If you say so.” I said, my eyebrow raising.
“Indeed. There are several parties that will be contacting you soon, or might have already done so. We would be interested in contacting them as well.”
“You want me to talk to people for you?” I asked. “Don’t you have legion of agents that do all that for you?”
“I would hardly call them ‘legion’” She laughed. “They are hardly that many. And in most cases you would be correct, but there are several that have managed to avoid so much as a conversation as of late. After years of waiting, they resurfaced and started talking. We believe that they will talk to you.”
“Why me?” I said. “Why would they be interested in me?”
“Because they like your blog and they are not interested in talking with us.” She said so directly I felt it in my guts like a face-hugger celebrating its birthday. “We are not asking for much, just to let them know that Mrs. Plummer is interested in talking. They will understand and more than probably tell you I am dangerous. As you can see from this conversation this is both true and misleading.”
“I’m not a spy.” I begged. “I’m just a dork who has his obsessions and a series of bad career choices. I’m not even that good at lying.”
“I know.” She said. “According to your file, you tried to become a paladin once, isn’t that correct, lived by the moral code of chivalry?”
I went silent again.
“Then consider this, just be my messenger when you can. You will know who to tell. Tell them I want to talk. Tell them…” She paused, breathed, straightened then spoke again. “Tell them Xenex is aware.”
“What the hell is Xenex?” I really had too much to process and a new name left me staggered.
“It doesn’t matter.” She said. “Just tell them. Oh, and know that you will be monitored. I will know when you tell the right person. Hell, put it on that blog of yours if you like. Enough of the metas read it. Tell them Xenex is.”
“Sure.” I shot back. “But please contact me by email next time. This is really freaking me out.”
“Understandable.” She said, pushing her glasses back up her nose.
“Then I believe our business has concluded for the moment. Thank you for your time.”
“Sure. Whatever. Happy to help.” I said before sagging. “Please let me go.”
“Why, Mr. E.” She said returning to her tea. “You are already back on the streets and forgetting this entire event.”
The top finished spinning just as I wrote that last line and I blinked. I know I wrote it. My fingers are on the keyboard and my usual writing mix is playing on the speakers. I remember writing the words, just not what they mean in context. I’m reading this to myself wondering what these words meant. I know they happened, but after that, I might as well be editing for someone else. Strangest thing. Also I can’t find that broach I wrote about.
Strangest things, huh?
Well, Keep dreaming, all.