There was a lilt to his voice that made her smile, even though she appreciated the double entendre. She’d broken up with him on a technicality a couple months earlier, and it had stung him badly. He played it off, made her believe there was nothing to it and that he was fine, but she could tell. To be fair, she had loved him for years, so of course she could tell when he was faking it.
The problem was he wasn’t just going dark these days – he was going through black and out into a side of darkness that would quite possibly kill him. So she worried.
He was the best damn darksider we had. Ah. Darksiding. Perhaps I should explain. See darksiding is a dangerous yet vital part of SUPERi’s… Err… Perhaps I should begin where all good stories begin, at the beginning.
The Supernatural and Unusual People and Events Research Institute has two basic functions. First it has to make people think it’s cool. Then it has to be cool. I kid, in a way. But seriously, it is cool. And it does have two basic functions. It studies and documents powered people and weird events to
harness their power and optimise their effectiveness in the event of a catastrophe, and
figure out how to make more of them, for the greater good of course.
Sometimes, in the course of saving the good people of Earth, we encounter a being so full of malice, so evil that regular containment just won’t suffice. I say sometimes. It happens all the bloody time. People, beings, creatures so full of hatred that there is no hope for rehabilitation, no second chance. In the old days they would be packed off to some high security prison somewhere, and we would hope to all the reasonable deities they’d stay there. But these were powered beings, so they seldom did.
Then some strange, brilliant geezer had figured out that mind control can be harnessed. The psyche can be changed, with the right stimulus. And that’s what darksiding is. The providence of stimulus. We long ago discovered how to move between planes, so entering the mind isn’t a problem. The trick is to make the mind believe you are part of it, not an invader. Make it not even notice you until your work is done. Darksiding is to espionage what open heart surgery is to cardio-pulmonary resuscitation.
There are the safeguards, there have to be. The two devices are attached to either side of your head, one to prevent your memories from being displaced, and the other to prevent the host from discovering your presence. Otherwise darksiders would find themselves trapped in the consciousness of the most despicable humans known. Or worse, consumed by the evil they find. Experience is a great teacher. Heartless, but great.
She needed him to be safe. She knew he wasn’t supposed to be at work, but since she had broken him how could she be the one to refuse him?
One of the regular darksiding tests is the Lioness. You’re put into the mind of a hungry lioness as it pounces on a tasty zebra. You can’t stop it from leaping, but you have about two seconds to stop it from sinking its teeth into the hapless zebra’s neck. If your lioness merely swipes at the zebra, or bites on juicy midriff instead of neck (without taking off a chunk, of course), you’re allowed to take the test again. Some of the funniest stories of darksiding are of trainees who suddenly developed the urge to take a bite out of the people they encountered after failing the test.
Anyway, three weeks back he’d taken the Lioness without the safeguards, and without his monitor. That’s understandable, as your monitor is usually the person who knows you best. Since she’d broken his heart, it was kind of obvious he didn’t want to be with her. But it meant that if anything had gone wrong that the computers couldn’t handle, he’d have been fried without her to pull him out.
The Doctor, the head of the institute, had been absolutely livid. He’d been taken off darksiding duty and ordered to undergo one on one counselling sessions with The Doctor. He huffed and puffed, and huffed some more. Then he acquiesced.
The Doctor’s office was a quaint cross between an old study and the bridge of a starship. In place of an old hardwood desk, there was a massive console in matte black. There were shelves of books, but they were vivid white with gunmetal accents. The shelves, that is, not the books. All the chairs in the room, looked like Starck, continuing the black, white and gunmetal theme.
“Recline,” The Doctor said.
He sat on the chair, and leant back. He jumped a little as the back of the chair kept on going until he was almost perfectly horizontal. Probably a Starck-Dyson lovechild then, the chair. At least it was comfortable. Very comfortable, actually.
The sessions went by him in a blur, and The Doctor seemed to think he was making good progress. One more week and he’d be good to go. He’d started to forget about her, even. He smiled a grim little smile at the thought of her. He wasn’t completely out of the woods yet. He walked down the corridor to The Doctor’s office. The door was ajar. Weird. The Doctor’s door was never ajar. He walked in cautiously, unsure of what he’d find.
It was… Wrong. Everything looked wooden, old, terribly dated. It smelled musty. It felt dreary. The man seated in the old leather armchair behind the heavy oak desk was definitely not The Doctor. Heavy set. Olive skin, green eyes, and an infuriating smirk. He didn’t think. He couldn’t. He launched himself across the room, tapping the emergency button in his buckle as he did.
It was an ingenious little invention, the emergency button. As it was in a conspicuous place, it had to be made to not respond to random taps. Thus it was of course biometrically linked to the wearer. Fingerprint authentication was instantaneous, but not enough. It had a little sensor that read heart rate, surface temperature, and a few other tasty bits of information, did a few quick calculations, and decided if the tap was an accident or a matter of galactic security. It was rarely wrong.
In the time it took for a security squad to get to the office, the man had beaten him. His initial lunge had been evaded easily, and it wasn’t by any means a fair fight. Parry. Hit. Laugh. Dodge. Hit. Hit. Laugh. It was a deep, rumbling, infuriating laugh. A Santa-esque ‘Ho Ho Ho!’ from the lips of a bully. It was all too easy for the man, and all too frustrating for him. He was about to launch into another wild lunge when familiar, but unwelcome arms encircled him, pulling him away the way only she could. He watched the rest of the fight from the door, leaning on her for support, angry at himself for being so vulnerable.
The man was subdued, eventually, but gave as good as any could give in return. Sheer force of numbers won out, and the man was soon strapped into a comfortable chair being inundated with polite requests about The Doctor’s whereabouts. To no avail. Not a peep could our combined forces get out of the man, and without The Doctor’s expertise, we were at a loss.
He’d been treated in the hospital wing, but was not allowed to participate in the interrogation as the man kept on laughing at him, and it was unproductive for him to keep losing his temper. She kept him company, and that made things both better and worse.
“I have to do something. I have to.”
She’d heard him say that a million times already. She patted his shoulder awkwardly.
“Let’s go in.”
“You’re not allowed, you know that.”
“The Doctor is not here, and besides, do you have any better ideas on how we’re supposed to find our noble leader?
“No,” she admitted, “but it’s too dangerous. We don’t even know what we’re dealing with here.”
As much as that was true, he wasn’t having it, and she was inclined to let him try. They spoke a little more, and agreed. She made all the arrangements, and in a few hours the man was strapped in the same chair in a different location. She put the safeguards on him and calibrated the darksiding interface to his mental spectrum. As he had a shortcut, it didn’t take long at all. She looked up and gave him the all clear.
“Going dark!” He yelled, grinning.
As I said, she appreciated the double entendre. He was about to darkside into a mind that to them was quite literally, dark. What she didn’t know was it wasn’t only dark to them. It was dark, period. In ten minutes she had lost the connection.
He was in his seat, cold and unmoving, but breathing steadily.
This is no mistake. This is the first part of an allegorical 2015 end of year review. It’s so brilliant it’s scary!
The second part will be published at midnight tonight with a special giveaway for first readers. You don’t want to miss it! Before then we have two drafts in between. Stick around for posts at 6 pm, 9 pm and then Chapter 2 at 12 midnight. 🙂