A green and sliver Subaru pulled into the dirt parking lot above Louis' Diner. Inside the car, Sandra McCovey checked her makeup and attempted to put her hair in some semblance of order. She had spent the night driving to Boise.
Granted, it was her choice. Whoever this Chris Reid character was, he didn't scrimp. He had wired her more than enough money for a first class, round trip airline ticket and a three-star hotel downtown. He had also sent along a rather nice selection of itineraries that she could pick from, along with directions on how to get to the diner.
Sandra looked down at the ancient restaurant and smiled. The place was an absolute throwback, but not in the kitschy way that you'd normally expect. This place simply hadn't been updated in well over fifty years. It had a beautiful view though. Sandra presumed that her soon-to-be boss probably wasn't interested in trying to impress her. Actually, the fact that he was offering to bring her up and buy lunch was pretty much unheard of. Normally, she was the one who had to kiss up.
Of course that was when she had Tiffany and Alexis around to close the deal. 'No!', she thought, 'I'm not going to get myself all bothered, particularly not before I meet a prospective client!'
Sandra gathered her attaché and portfolio and made her way down the hill toward the diner. A grandmotherly woman met her and showed her to a booth with a "Reserved" sign. Well, not so much a sign as the word "RESERVED" written in marker on a placemat.
"Is Mr. Reid here yet?" Sandra asked.
"The man who reserved this table. Mr. Reid?"
"Oh, him? No, he's not been in yet, but I suppose we'll probably hear from him shortly." The woman smiled then turned toward the kitchen and yelled "CLEM!! Watch the Pastries this time!!"
Sandra smiled back as confusion began to creep into her mind.
Several cups of decaf and random moments of small talk with the waitress later, Sandra checked her watch. Mr. Reid was over forty minutes late. She felt herself growing annoyed. She always prided herself on being prompt for any business deal, and expected the same from others. 'Perfect, I drive all the way up here and get stood up. This is JUST what I needed. Granted I could stay over in some hotel... if I hadn't already sent that money to the lawyers. Good going, Sandy! Way to dig yourself deeper.'
She continued to mentally beat herself. 'Heck, I don't even know if this Reid guy is legit. He might be some sort of total perv looking for nudie shots or somethingi, then I've got to get in my friggin' car and drive all the way back home and I'm back to square one. What was I thinking! I should have just insisted on a phone conference instead of getting myself hooked like a trout.'
There was a chime at the door. "Sorry, I'm late, Ms. McCovey. I was delayed by..."
Several cars came to a screeching stop as the large pane glass window in a spray of glass and grit. Hidden near the center of the explosion was a figure dressed in dark gray.
Chris hit the ground and rolled a few extra feet. "Ah, I see you remember me."
Sandra McCovey leaned out the window and began screaming unprintable words, venting the frustration she felt toward the one responsible for putting her sisters behind bars, her career in shambles and generally ruining her life.
Chris sat up and said nothing. He simply waited for Sandra to finish venting. Occasionally, he dodged a few of the heavier forms of aggregate that the Sand-Wytch hurled to emphasize a point.
Eventually Sandra stopped screaming and began crying. Chris waited a few more seconds before getting up and calmly walking to the front door of the diner. "Mind putting that on my bill, Ginger?"
"Already done, hun. We were looking to replace it anyway," the old waitress said as she wrote on her pad.
Chris removed his hat and mask and reached out a hand to Sandra.
Sandra looked at Chris through swollen eyes.
"Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Christopher Reid."
Sandra stared at her cold home fries. Although they were good, they weren't what left her speachless. No, that was due to the latest in a long line of similar statements originating from to the gentleman sitting in her tailgate next to her. "You want me to what?"
Chris finished chewing and washed down his waffle with a sip of luke-warm coffee. He would have preferred eating inside of the restaurant, but considering that the Diner was a bit of a mess, and he was once again to blame...
"Basically, I thought you might like to have a student."
"You mean to teach photography?"
"That would be what you would tell anyone who was to ask."
"Please, call me Chris. The last person who called me Mr. Reid wore a habit."
"Mr. Reid, " Sandra said, not willing to give in to informality, "The skills I posses cannot simply be taught like some sort of card trick. They require years of study, careful training, and frankly should not be taught to simply anyone. You, of all people, should realize the danger that such power can..."
"I'm not asking you to teach anyone. He already knows the trick." Chris said in a casual tone.
"'Knows the trick?' What do you mean, 'knows the trick?' If he's already an accomplished wizard, he certainly doesn't need me telling him what to do. Heck, I'm a one trick pony."
"He's not an accomplished wizard. He's a seventeen year old kid who just figured out how to turn downtown Boise into a rock garden."
"A rock garden?" Sandra said in puzzled disbelief. Then she remembered the newscast she'd heard briefly on the drive up. Something about huge crystal pillars forming in Boise due to some bizarre natural phenomenon. "Oh, come on! You mean to tell me that was done by some freaky seventeen-year-old kid? Look, I've been doing this for twenty years, and the most I've been able to do is summon a few twenty-pound rocks. And let me tell you, doing that takes a lot out of you."
Chris winced, remembering his own experience with those rocks. "Yeah, I know."
It had been a long time since Sandra was really able to talk about her 'hobby'. Plus the whole idea that there was someone out there that powerful, but that untrained, sent her mind reeling. "Having enough control to summon something like that takes incredible force of will. Maybe a group of Summoners, but not a lot of folks decide to become Summoners. Well, I did because I could never get the hang of the other stuff,even though it drove Mom nuts, but to just suddenly be that powerful you'd have to be..."
Sandra stopped talking.
She knew of a group that was that powerful. Her mother had spoken of them in whispers. They were an old race, older than the world. They were gods who were so attuned to their elements that they were inseparable from them. But, they were the stuff of legends, warriors, architects, engineers of inconceivable power. The Ancients had gone. They disappeared suddenly and a without trace a to take their place amongst the stars.
"...the Al Ma'tals," Sandra whispered.
Chris gulped down the last of his coffee. "Yeah. Ji.. err, my associate to the north called him that. He said that this kid was a Silicon Elemental."
Elemental? Al Ma'tal? Sandra felt a chill slowly climb up her spine. "And you want me to train him?"
"I will pay for your expenses, within reason of course. As I said, you are not to mention what he is to anyone other than myself or individuals I introduce you to directly. Nor do you disclose that I am your direct employer. Ms. McCovey, I will say that what I am asking you to do involves a good deal of risk. There are individuals that are very interested in killing this person and would stop at nothing to see that happen. I, however, have made a promise to someone I respect greatly to see that never happens. If the first line of defense is killed, I know that you are more than capable of taking care of yourself, and possibly the Elemental."
Sandra hadn't really listened to what Chris had said. "I... I'm not sure..."
"I can understand that," Chris said with a bit of a shrug. " I'm not going to push you for an immediate answer, although I do need one before you depart Boise." Chris produced a card. "This is my residence. Feel free to stop by at any time. Do not call me, or you'll put your student at risk." Chris stood and collected the breakfast containers.
"Ms. McCovey, I'm not going to force or coerce you into doing this against your will, but I sincerely hope that you consider accepting my offer. Regardless of your decision, I look forward to your answer. Good Day... oh, and please use this for your current expenses in Boise. It has a limit of $400. That should be enough for today?"
Sandra looked at the debit card. On the back was a small post-it with a pin number. It was registered to her. She nodded, absentmindedly.
"Very well, I'll see you before you leave, then." And with that, Chris turned and walked to his car.
Sandra didn't watch him drive away. She sat in silence, staring out at the horizon from the back of her car.
"Hi, can I help you?" JB asked.
The woman standing at the door looked a bit uncomfortable. "Uhm, yes. My name is Sandra McCovey and I'm here to see..."
JB smiled widely and waved her in. "Oh, Hi! I'm JB. Come inside, come inside."
Sandra's lack of comfort grew. She hadn't really planned on going in. "Well, uhm, ok..."
"Can I get you something to eat or drink? Zrng made a batch of brownies earlier, but then he's evil that way," JB called back as he jogged up the stairs to the main area.
"Ooh, they do kind of smell good," Sandra said. She hadn't really eaten anything since breakfast, and it was getting toward mid-afternoon.
JB smiled and started slicing into a pan. "Here, let me get you one. Do you want tea or milk or anything?"
"No, I... uh, well if you're having tea already, I'll have a cup, too. "
"No problem. Hey, sorry Chris isn't around, but I'm guessing you're here with an answer. He told me someone might be stopping...," JB stopped carving and looked at Sandra with a cocked eyebrow, "Aren't you?... You're the sandblaster chick, aren't you?" JB said with a grin as if remembering an old friend.
It was a bit disconcerting to Sandra. She smiled demurely and shook her head. "The, uh,... I'm sure you're mistaken."
JB pulled out a chunk of brownie and put it on a plate. "No, I recognize you. Wow, I'm sorry about the whole confusion back then, but you understand that we had no idea either." He put a second on a plate for himself, and walked back toward Sandra.
"Maybe I should come back later." Sandra said as she started to rise.
JB handed Sandra her brownie. "This is about Mark isn't it?" JB said, rather seriously.
"Did Chris mention anything about a Silicon Elemental to you?"
"Uhm, I'm not really supposed to..."
"No, wait, look I'm sorry, it's ok. Please, sit, and at least finish your brownie. Chris told me a few things about this, and we've got a fair amount of shared experience. You can trust me, really. I'm assuming that you're the one he asked to help tutor Mark."
"Well, yes. He... Chris.. never told me what the Al Ma'tal's name was."
JB rolled his eyes. "Ugh, great. And I just did. "
"No, it's ok. I'm just here to return this and say 'No'." Sandra pulled out the ATM card and started to place it on the table.
JB suddenly became a bit more animated. "What?? No, please. You can't!"
Sandra held up her hands. "I'm sorry, but this is far bigger than what I can do. Besides, I don't think you can trust me."
JB straightened and said plainly, "Well, now you're just being dumb."
"I beg your pardon?" Sandra said, feeling a bit insulted.
"What do you mean 'we can't trust you'?" JB said as he took a forkful of brownie.
"Well, excuse me, but the two of you did manage to get my sisters sent to that gawdawful Facility place. You don't go there for jay-walking you know." Sandra said with as much sarcasm as she could muster.
"Oh, and so you were the one responsible for robbing the jewelry store and the string of thefts before that? Pretty good trick, considering that you not only had air-tight alibis, but also had recorded appearances over three hundred miles away. Sandra, you weren't the one commiting those crimes. Heck, you didn't even know about them." JB responded.
"How are you so sure?"
"Because I watched you blow a fuse when you found out."
"I could be a very good actress, you know."
"Sandra, I'm Chris' brother," JB said, as if explaining why the sky is blue. "I know the difference between someone acting like they're ticked at a sibling and someone who really is. You were. The only reason you didn't unleash on them is because they're family. An actress wouldn't have made that distinction. "
JB had a point. "I suppose."
"And as for not caring, if you didn't give a damn, you wouldn't be sitting here."
Ok, two points. Still, Sandra wasn't going to let him know that. "What? I.."
"You would have simply emptied that debit card and took off. Instead I'm guessing you probably didn't even use anything on it?"
Three points, game. "No, I.. I filled up my gas tank."
Sandra leaned back a bit. JB was right, and it irritated her. The fact that JB even echoed the little voice in her head irritated her more.
"Sandra. Look. I really don't know you, but I think I know what you're thinking.", JB paused, then asked, "Did that sound anywhere near as confusing as I think it did?"
"Good, I thought it was just me. Anyway, Mark has a gift, but needs to be guided, and I'm not just talking about his power. He's a good kid, but a little messed up right now. There's no one else he can turn to, no one else that understands what he's going through, or how to handle the responsibility. You didn't screw up, your sisters did, and they're paying the price."
"They're paying too much!" Sandra spat. "What's going on is too cruel. You know I haven't even been allowed to visit them since they got sent there? All it's been is one dead-end after another!"
JB shrugged, "Ok, well, maybe we can help you with that. Kind of use the system to get you to see them. Would that help?"
The flicker of hope, regardless of how faint, was still very attractive. Sandra didn't show it. "Yes, I suppose."
"Ok, then. I'll get working on it."
Sandra sat thinking a bit longer. "But I can't be a mother to this kid, I mean, I've got my own responsibilities."
"And so does Chris. He's not leaving you alone on this. Hey, he may be an insufferable jerk at times... Ok, most of the time, but deep down he's a pretty decent guy. I think he really cares about making sure Mark turns out ok. I'm also pretty confident that he has no intention of turning him into some spandex-wearing idiot."
Sandra hadn't really thought about that angle, but felt relieved. "You sure?"
JB laughed. "He's getting enough of that from me. Hey, he hates being a superhero, but he feels it's his responsibility. Chris is funny that way. He does a lot of things that he dislikes doing because he feels it's better for someone else. I know he jumped through some pretty nasty hoops to make sure you were cleared. He was the one that found all the evidence to clear you, not the defender's office. "
"I see." Sandra had wondered how that evidence had surfaced so quickly.
"Look. Sandra. I don't know what's going through your mind, but Myr... friend has this advice. Do not be distracted by the things you cannot prove yourself, instead work with the facts you know. The fact is, there's a kid out there you share certain talents with who needs someone to help him make sense of it all."
It all sounded too good. "I suppose, still, I'm not sure..."
"Ok, how about this? Try it out. It'll give me a chance to figure out how I can help you see your sisters. You can get a feel of what's going on. If you don't like it, you tell us, and we say goodbye. Don't worry about Chris, I'll handle it. If you think you can help, even better. If nothing else, it's easy money for a while, right?"
Yet another point. Sandra needed the money, and frankly wasn't doing anything anyway. "Ok, I'll try it out for a bit. "
JB smiled again as if he'd just won the lottery, "Great! That's all we can ask for. Thank you."
There was a strong note of sincerity in his voice. Sandra believed him. She really didn't know what else to say. Maybe this might work after all, provided she could stand dealing with the guy responsible for causing this mess.
The decision made, Sandra finally took a taste of the brownie. "Mmm. This brownie is good, but, it's the strangest thing.."
JB took a sip of his tea. "What?"
"I keep smelling, something.. like, scrambled eggs?"
Sandra had never seen a spit take in person before, nor one executed quite that well.
I'm Sid. What's your name?
That's a Mexican name, isn't it?
Yeah, I think so. You really don't look like a Sid.
I don't? Heh. Sorry... I think...
Oh, no sorry, don't take it wrong or anything. It just kind of struck me funny.
Well, if it's any help, you don't look Mexican.
Yeah, I noticed that. There was a guy named Mohammad who said the same thing. Nice guy, you should meet him.
Really? Well, point him out sometime.
Sure. Oh, hey, the big screen is coming on.
Welcome! Welcome one and all. My name is Professor Doom.
Charming name. Must have been a fun wedding when his folks got hitched.
Oh, be nice. We haven't really heard what the guy has to say.
Well, now that you're all finally here, I can set in motion my master plan!
"Master Plan?" Is that a good thing or a bad thing?
Don't ask me, I just got here myself.
Really? Me too.
For years mankind has suffered trying to find the answer to one question. Wars have been fought, and countless people have died not knowing if their actions were in vain. A tragic waste of resources, and more importantly, life. This horrible situation can no longer be tolerated.
Ok, great, but where do we come in?
Finally, mankind can answer this question for itself. Provided that someone is bold enough to take the initiative. No one else had stepped forward, so I was forced to do so. I decided to go straight to the source, so to speak. My loyal minions scoured the globe with only one task in mind.
Is that one of his "minions"?
Kinda looks like a cat.
Yeah, but I thought that cats walked on all fours and generally didn't carry rocket launchers.
Maybe they're kittens?
They brought back the raw samples and materials I needed to create you.
Did he just say "create"?
Yes, each of you were grown from the samples. Your DNA matches the major religious figures of history. Abraham, Mohammad, Tlamacaztequiuaque, Sidhartha Budda...
I'm a religious figure?
... and all the others. Each of you were trained in your philosophies while you grew.
Well, that explains all those Books on Tape that were scattered around my bed.
And now, each of you is ready to take your place and face off.
Because, very soon now, you will help me settle the question that has caused so much suffering among Man.
So, I'm guessing what? Round table or something?
Only one of you will emerge supreme. Only one will have the strength to rise to the top.
From the way he's talking, I'm not so sure.
Only one of you will survive the Cage Match of Destiny.
Sorry. Didn't quite catch that. Come again?
What's a Cage Match?
We start with all of you, and by process of elimination only one will remain. I've even gotten a sweet pay-per-view contract.
Are we going to be getting a cut of the revenue?
Who was that?
Some bozo named L. Ron something or other. Tried to tell me about some sort of alien conspiracy crap. Got really nervous when I told him my name though.
I'm still kind of curious about this whole "Cage Match" thing.
So, prepare! For soon, you will all meet in Boise for The Ultimate Match!
Oh, he and that L. Ron guy will get along great.
Ok, can I just take a minute here to say HOW INCREDIBLY WRONG THIS STORY LINE IS!?
Right, relax. Calm breaths, relaxing images.
Will Sandra accept her role as tutor?
How will JB help get her access to The Facility?
And will the author be decended upon by a swarm of nuns with yardsticks?
(my money is on the last one)
Tune in Next Time for:
The French Exclamation
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