In This Sign

In This Sign

Fan fiction by Michael J. Watkins

 
He walks feverishly along the sidewalk. The high humidity is taking its toll on this ‘seasoned citizen’. “Geez?”, he thinks to himself, “Can these mosquitoes get any bigger?” He already knows the answer to that question and disregards the thought moments before again slapping the side of his neck.
 
Finding the coffee shop, he leaves the freshly gassed-up rental. He enters, wipes his forehead, and resettles his straw mesh hat - the one smartly decorated to match the floral pattern of his shirt.
 
“There you are!,” exclaims the professor. “I wondered were you had gone and lo, I saw this place and it was no longer a question.”
 
“I couldn’t resist. This is the first decent coffee shop we’ve seen this whole trip. Where are we again?”
 
“Na-cah-dish.”
 
“But it’s spelled n-a-t-c-h-i-t-o-c-h-e-s, how do you get na-cah-dish out of something with two T’s in it? Why did we have to take the back roads? I-49 would have been faster.”
 
“It is difficult to know if you are being followed on a main thoroughfare. Less traffic on the back roads.”
 
“Come-on, is that really such a concern?”
 
“Yes, it is, as a matter of fact - and it is not a bad habit for you to pick up as well. You must always be alert in this line of... with our hobby. Oh, good, here comes a waitress.”
 
“What can I get for you guys?” the waitress asks.
 
“Grande’ Latte with hazelnut and amaretto,” answers the student.
 
“Greek, extra strong?” the professor inquires..
 
“Greek? That’s not your usual poison,” the professor’s protégé interrupts.
 
“D’uzcream?” inquires the waitress.
 
“Did I scream? Is that a word?” asks the protégé, causing the waitress to giggle mildly.
 
“She asked if used cream. No, I do not, but…?” the professor gestures to his student.
 
“No cream for me either, thanks.”
 
Moments after the waitress leaves, the student continues, “Professor, what are we doing here?”
 
“I told you, I am taking you to see a specialist. A shaman if you will. He will help determine where your talents lie and how the Foundation may best utilize them. Besides, you need to learn that there is more to this than just computers.”
 
“So, what? He looks into his crystal ball and says, ‘ you’re a hacker,’ or, ‘ you’re a mercenary?’”
 
“Something like that, my boy.”
 
“Where do you train for something like that? And what if I don’t like what this guy has to say?”
 
The professor smiled. “Consider him something of a guidance counselor. It is up to you what you do with his findings.”
 
“Me… and the Foundation, right?” The student’s skepticism rang through his words.
 
“You must maintain the proper mindset,” the professor answered. “Working with us, you will experience things that addle most human beings. The goal is preservation of the human race - and the Foundation’s secret operations. Everything else is secondary.”
 
The waitress returns with their orders, and the young protégé asks, “So, what’s your name?”
 
The professor corrects his student before she can reply. “That is not necessary.”
 
“It’s ok,” she says, pulling her hair back. “I left my e-mail address under your napkin.”
 
Excitedly, the student pulls out a card from underneath his latte. “Nicole Mae.. winkymouse@…”
 
“You guys here for the carnival?” she asks.
 
“Why, of course, miss,” the professor covers. “Is there anything you recommend we see?”
 
“You have to see this gypsy lady. She’s got this crystal ball and… well, you know how most fortune-tellers are vague or ask leading questions? She doesn’t. And she’s always dead on.”
 
**********
 
“Ohhhh, ahhhh… Spooky, spooky stuff!” the student jibed.
 
“Yes it is,” the professor answered flatly. “Very interesting décor. What do make of that?” The professor pointed to a cross on the wall, complete with a robed Jesus with outstretched arms.
 
“That is odd.”
 
“A nod to the locals,” a voice comes from behind a nearby curtain, followed closely by an elderly woman draped in non-descript robes.
 
“Madam!” the student exclaims, startled. “We’re here for a reading. What do you do? Tea leaves, cards…?”
 
“Whatever you wish.”
 
“Cards, then,” the student replies, and the gypsy withdraws a worn deck of tarot cards from a pocket, then sits across from the visitors.
 
“Ah,” she begins, pointing to cards as she lays them out, “this one says that you are smart. This one tells me that in some things you are quick and others not so. And this third card says that you are green but will season quickly.”
 
“Anything more specific?”
 
“You have not given me anything specific, young man.”
 
“Let’s leave.”
 
“Try to go with it, kid.” pleads the professor.
 
“Seek out the conqueror!” the gypsy blurts out.
 
“Yeah,” the pupil sneered. “I’ll be sure to do that.”
 
Moments later, as the student pulls out from under the tent flap, the professor grabs his arm. “Something is wrong,” he says.
 
“You got that right. We’re wasting our time.”
 
“No, seriously. We made contact with the other agent and she told us the gypsy was our next contact.”
 
“What other agent?”
 
“Think, about it. At the coffee shop, what happened?”
 
“The only thing that stands out is that you ordered Greek coffee. You only drink black.”
 
“I also ordered it extra strong. Greek coffee, by definition, is really strong. Are you seeing the pattern yet?”
 
Realization dances across the student’s eyes. “Ordering extra strong Greek coffee was a signal, right? So when she responded with D’uzcream then handed me her email address, it was the answer!”
 
The student pulls the card with the email address out of his wallet. “But it’s just an emai…” Then he notices the faint writing on the backside - ‘Seek out the sign of the conqueror.’
 
“What does it mean, professor?”
 
“As with all things today, that is for you to figure out. Think about it. What else is there?”
 
“The cross! The sign of the conqueror! The gypsy didn’t come in until we noticed the cross.”
 
“Alright, this is progress. Let us return to the gypsy. This time, press her about the cross.”
 
“Got it.”
 
Moments later, movement outside the tent catches the student’s eye. “Professor, isn’t that Nicole? Who’s with her?”
 
Nicole stands with a man in a gray suit. When he notices them, he springs into action, diving toward the student, but he is intercepted by Nicole, who grapples him in melee.
 
“Run! now, boy!” the professor screams.
 
“I’m on it!” the student answers, diving under the tent flap and looking about for the gypsy. “Where are you?”
 
“Who sent you?” comes the gypsy’s voice from behind a nearby curtain.
 
“Seph Moeller!” the student says. “Seph sent me.”
 
“Sapham,” the gypsy calls to the professor, outside, “Your pupil dies if he cannot pass this test.” and then to the student, “Who sent you?”
 
The student’s blood runs cold as he hears the hammer of a pistol pulled back behind the curtain.
 
“Sign of the conqueror, sign of the conqueror…” he worries, grasping the card tightly in his balled fist. Then, opening it up in a fit of comprehension, he blurts out the waitress’ screen name: “Winkymouse sent me!”
 
“Very good,” comes the voice as the hammer released. “Come. We have much to teach you.”
 
“Away with you!” yells the professor, pushing through into the tent. But all that remains within is a collection of baubles, fetishes, and knick-knacks.
 
His student was gone.
 
A Start (In This Sign, Part Two)
Fan fiction by Michael J. Watkins
 
Confusion fills The Foundation’s newest trainee. The world closes in on him. The man in the gray suit wants him dead. The fortuneteller appeared to want him dead, but now seems to have changed her mind. His professor can’t see him in the gypsy’s tent. The trainee would cry out to him, but the big guy with his hand clamped over his mouth seems to have a different agenda. And then there’s the voice in his head.
 
**********
 
"Be quiet and stop squirming!” The trainee does as he’s told.
 
"That’s good. Follow us and stay quiet. Sapham and Nicole will handle the other agent. Babba Yaga will handle the disguises.”
 
He has a hard time figuring out who’s doing the 'talking’. The voice is in his head.
 
"Babba Yaga says don’t worry about that till later.”
 
Huh???
 
"Babba Yaga also says to calm down, you’re making everybody skittish.”
 
The trainee looks for the fortune-teller but can’t find her. There’s this middle-aged gypsy woman right in front of him but there’s nothing particular about her. He looks behind him for the other guy but all he sees is this big, Günter-looking man.
 
"Follow her,” says the voice in his head.
 
The trainee looks back at the gypsy. Looks around her to the rest of the carnival. Who’s the muscleman talking about?
 
"Don’t look at her. Just follow her.”
 
**********
 
Nicole has seriously pissed-off the guy in the suit. He knew he’d lost his target when the old man didn’t find anything in the tent. No matter He might have pay for botching this assignment but he’ll feel a lot better after he’s retired this bimbo.
 
A scissor-kick shakes the pest from his legs and he dusts himself off.
 
"Do you know how expensive it is to get this thing dry-cleaned?” he asks, using a left backhand/right handed punch.  
 
"Wouldn’t know,” she pulls her head back to avoid the backhand, "but after selling your soul and your principles to the Shop,” she blocks/punches him the jaw with her left fist, "I figure you can afford it.” His head snaps back and he spits out a filling.
 
"Don’t go preaching to me,” he lands a blow to her ribs and follows through with an elbow to same spot, spinning her. "You Gen X-ers ” he’s interrupted when she follows the spin with a right fisted backhand, "don’t understand how the world really works.”
 
"Ok, enlighten me.” She starts a right roundhouse kick but pulls her foot back into her chest when he easily blocks it, using the increased momentum to spin around, mid-air. As she uncoils, her left foot lands a kick straight toward his head and she plants her right foot into the ground, planning to end the maneuver on her feet.
 
But the kick never lands. The agent’s seen this move before. His head dodges left and he grabs her shin and steps back, leaving her doing the splits.
 
With a quick pull she extracts her foot and topples on her knees.
 
The agent steps into a finish strike. In desperation, Nicole holds up her hands. "Not in the face!” she blurts out to him.
 
Huh?!?
 
She nails him in the groin, but his attack is already in motion. He finishes her off with a one-two blow to the head, leaving her unconscious.
 
"Been there, done that.” He had those removed a long time ago.
 
"Freeze! Put your hands in the air,” yells some rookie cop.
 
"Oh, honey, are you ok? Daddy’s here.” Sapham says, running to the bruised Nicole.
 
"I’ll be out in no time,” snickers Mr. Grey Suit.
 
**********
 
The other group makes its way to a nondescript mini-van. Out of the corner of his eye the trainee sees the gypsy fortune-teller enter the vehicle.
 
"Get into the mini-van.” he hears in his head.
 
There’s a mini-van ahead, but there’s nothing important about it. The door opens.
 
No need to look inside. Nothing special about the mini-van
 
"Close your eyes, and get inside.”
 
The trainee crawls into the mini-van. Somebody else gets in behind him, probably some high schooler looking to score some personal time with his girlfriend.
 
The engine starts and the mini-van pulls out and onto the road. Somebody’s driving; hope they know where they’re going.
 
"She does.”
 
The Günter-looking guy is speaking to nobody in particular.
 
**********
 
"He’s calming down.” says Barnard.
 
"I know. When he’s trained, his abilities will be a great asset in our conflict with The Shop,” replies Babba Yaga.
 
"I thought The Shop dealt mostly with gadgets.”
 
"They do, but they’re always looking to recruit powerful adepts. Lacking a developed program, they resort to killing our new blood.”
 
"His ability will be most useful. Active psions with his power are few and far between.”
 
"Your old life is over,” the voice says in the trainee’s mind. "What’s your name?”
 
"If you don’t already know,” the trainee thinks to himself, I’m certainly not going to help you.
 
"We’ll have to work on your trust issues,” the voice responds, "but this is a start.”
 
**********
 
Mr. Grey Suit is in police custody and Nicole is out for only a minute or two.
 
Sapham dials a number on his cell phone.
 
"This is Sapham. Scramble code 427. Five seconds on my mark.” Sapham hits the star key, sending an ERF request and a current time stamp synchronized with the other party, then hangs up.
 
5      4      3      2  he dials #427      1
 
"This line is secure,” the voice on the other end is the sweetest Sapham’s ever heard.
 
"Male. 5’11’’, 185, gray suit, Deridder Police custody, possible shopper.” Sapham hangs up.
 
It’s only 4 seconds and his phone hopped frequencies about 50 times, but one can never be too careful.
 
"Nicole, are you ready to travel?”
 
"Yea, what happened?”
 
"No time for that. We must leave before the police start asking questions. I’ve contacted Control concerning our finely dressed adversary.”
 
"S’cuse me a sec,” the rookie cop ambles up to the two of them, "Ma’am, I’d like ask you a few questions. What started the scuffle between yourself and the other gentlemen?”
 
"That creep thought he could rent me!”
 
"That’s interesting because witnesses say it happened a little different. I’d like ya to come to the station so that we can explore this a little further.” The rookie signals two more officers to come over.
 
"I assure you, officer, this is completely unnecessary.” Sapham pleads with the cop.
 
"Your daughter isn’t under arrest, sir, not yet anyway. She’ll be released once her involvement has been clarified. Jim, take her in.” One officer takes Nicole by the arm and the other holds up a hand to block Sapham from interfering. "Please, Sir, I don’t want to have to take you in as well.”
 
"Honey, don’t worry. I’ll get you out as soon as possible.”
 
"Sir, if her involvement is minor, all you’ll have to do is pick her up.” The rookie leaves in the direction of the other police cars.
 
**********
 
Some time later
 
"Very unprofessional. Your mission was a failure.” The rookie stares through the half open window of the patrol car.
 
"And yours was a success,” Mr. Grey Suit replies. "Quit gloating and get me out of here.”
 
"Don’t worry. Things are well in hand. Here, take this.” The rookie tosses Mr. Grey Suit an injection ampoule. "Pop it in your neck. I need an excuse ”
 
"No need to explain. I know what it’s for.” Mr. Grey Suit injects the serum within the ampoule into his jugular.
 
"When you wake up, you’ll be home free.” Then the rookie notices someone approaching &mdash a man in a black wool suit and red tie.
 
"Excuse me, officer,” he says pulling out a wallet and revealing a badge, "My name is Special Agent Nelson.” Placing the wallet into his breast pocket, he retrieves a folded piece of paper. "I’m taking this man into custody.”
 
"On what authority? I didn’t realize the FBI took an interest in carnival brawls.” The rookie examines the writ.
 
"We don’t. His description matches an individual with several federal warrants.”
 
"Whatever.” The rookie hands back the writ and opens the car door. Mr. Grey Suit’s eyes are wild as the rookie unlocks his handcuffs and hands him over to Special Agent Nelson.
 
"He’s all yours,” the rookie says. But not for long. That serum will make sure he never wakes up. At least, we got the girl