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To the Victor…
Chapter 17: Change is Good
by Tog
(Part 2 of 3)

A short time later, a plan had been decided on the best way to handle the interrogation.  The man had been moved to an interrogation room, and sat alone at a bare wooden table.  Across from him were three chairs.  Behind him stood The Entimangler.

He had sat there in the silence for long enough that the opening of the door caused him to jump.  His pulse climbed, and his body temperature rose slightly.  Through the door came Mourning, Epim, and a third woman.

“Hello.  You may call me Epim.  You may already know much about me, but I thought it might be nice to put a face with the name.  On my left is Mourning Angel, whom I’m sure you know.  On my right is Kah Trin-ahl, though most of us just call her Kat.  She is here to be your legal council and to make sure that no one here crosses any lines.  May we get your name?  Also, feel free to ask anything you like before we get started.”

The man eyed each woman in turn.  As he did so, Epim made note of a small muscle in his jaw being clenched.  When the man finally spoke, his words were a complete surprise to all.

“My name is Martin Flaherty and it’s about damn time you caught me.  The stress has been eating me alive.  I haven’t gotten a good night’s sleep in weeks.”

“Excuse me.  You wanted us to catch you?” asked Epim in surprise.

“Yes!  It was the only way to get out of that place alive.  Look, we’ve got a huge intelligence network.  We know pretty much everything that goes on anywhere in the country.  We know about Entimangler’s perception limits, and we know that she was the only one from your group that might recognize me.  I had strict instructions to keep out of sight.  I took a huge risk in getting mugged that day I lost that memory card.”

Mourning interrupted, “You got mugged on purpose?  Really?”  Her tone was one of sarcastic disbelief.

“Yes.  I saw Ent starting a patrol sweep.”  He turned in the chair to face her.  “You do have a thing for Warriors, don’t you?”

“Prisoner will face front.  Neck bones can be fused to limit movement, correct?  If broken?”

“Wow!  She’s getting a sense of humor?”

“No,” said Epim.  “She’s not.”

“Oh.”  He turned back to the front.  “Let me finish, then you can ask me anything I didn’t cover, okay?”

Epim nodded, and he continued.

“Where was I?  Oh, right.  I see Ent here starting a sweep, so I wait until I’m sure she’ll be nearby and I pull out a wad of cash in front of a group of Warriors.  They mug me, and when I’m sure that Ent is close enough and watching, I tell them to take the cash, but to leave the memory card.  As soon as I was sure she had it, I called for a teleport.

“I tried to get enough information in the pictures to let you know where I was.  I figured you could get my name from the hotel registration.”

“We were lucky to find the island,” said Epim.

“Did you not see the glass on the table in the picture of the surfers?  That drink is the signature drink of the hotel where I stayed.  Everyone that’s ever been to Jamaica knows that.”

“If only we had someone here that went to Jamaica.”

“Oh.  Then how did you find me?”

“Ent spotted you coming out of the bookstore.”

“So then that wasn’t all a well planned grab at the train?”

“No.  That was a lucky improvisation,” said Mourning.

“Was the cheerleader in on it?”

“Why did you want us to find you?” said Epim.

“She was really good.  I think she may actually get some donations to the schools from a few of those people.”

“I’m tired of this,” said Mourning.  “For all we know he’s lying, or he’s here to tell us half truths and lead us away from Lista.  I say we leave him in here with Ent overnight.”

“Okay, okay.  I’ll get to the point.  I don’t really know a lot about the plan.  And I don’t know where your friend is.  I do know she’s still alive though.

“Our organization is basically one guy with a plan.  Under him are two of his trusted advisors.  Basically, if those two agree, the main guy might change his mind and go with their idea.  Under them are the departments.  I was in the Leo Branch.  Our focus is on assault and removal of outside threats.  My job was to arrange for street crime to be done in such a way so that it accomplished my assignments while seeming to be random.  That attack on the woman two years ago was my work.  I arranged for some Outcast to guard an abandoned building for me.  They were supposed to kill anyone that went into it.  Later, I sent the leader to a safe house in the Hollows that I really knew was a Troll lair.  That should have eliminated him as a threat to my position.  That was also the first time we realized just what Ent was capable of doing.

“My bosses realized that Ent here may be able to identify me, so I had to lay low for a while.  That meant spending a lot of time in the office.  That meant hearing a lot of things.  Things I didn’t like.

“When I was approached, I was told that I would be working for a ‘black ops’ branch of the government.  No one officially knew we existed, so as long as we stayed below the radar, we could do just about anything.  I was told that the overall plan was to make the country great again.  Like it was back before World War Two.  We left everyone else alone, and they left us alone.  Part of the way this was going to be done was with Danforth’s new cars.  Those cars, and the technology behind them basically gets us off of foreign oil.  Part of this step was also to cut all diplomatic ties with the rest of the world.  No presence in any foreign land would mean that there would be no need for anyone to attack us, unless they wanted a fight.

“The next step was to get law enforcement and military numbers up to the point that no enemy, from a rogue nation, to a gang of street punks, would be willing to risk the repercussions.  ‘All enemies, foreign and domestic’, right?  If anyone did push us to action, it wouldn’t be some petty little skirmish, or a gradual build up of troops.  It would be a more or less constant bombardment until there just wasn’t anything left for them to use in an attack.  This holds just as true for the Ritki, other countries, or gangs.

“This would go hand in hand with a change to the justice system.  Prisons would be used for real criminals, and they’d be unpleasant.  Druggies would go to new hospitals to get them clean.  Education would be at the top of the list of things to improve as well.  These changes would all take place in a few years, when the population sees how nice the country can be with enough police to keep order.  Politicians that support the changes would be elected and the whole thing just marches on.  It was actually a really good plan.”

“What changed your mind about it?” asked Epim.

“Being in the office.  See… the thought of arranging for an attack on a hero sort of bothered me, but what we were doing was too important to have some random hero step in a wreck it all.  As I spent more time in the office, I started getting bits and pieces of other parts of the plan.  No one in Leo Branch ever knew anyone in any other branch.  I’m not even sure what a lot of them do.  I know my boss, and I know the three people directly under me, and that’s it.  So, everything that I know comes from inside Leo.

“When the 2004 elections were over, I was told to make plans to arrange an assault in Kings Row the following February.  I wasn’t told why, or the specifics, just to be sure it was ready to go, no later than the first week.  I made the arrangements, and contacted the people under me to let them know that if we were to go, it would be when the Asian player in the poker game picked a certain set of cards.  The broadcast was interrupted and we never went.  When the news of the attempted assassinations hit, I realized that my operation was the cover for it, and that got me looking at other things.

“I’ve since discovered that the main guy has at least some form of control over the press, some judges and police officers, television and movies.  The engineering branch, not sure what name it goes by, even played with time travel for a while.  The plan was to go back to huge battles in history and bring mortally wounded people back to the present.  We’d save them here, preserve the timeline, since they were all about to die anyway, and we’d get hundreds, maybe thousands of combat trained, front line melee troops to serve as cannon fodder.  My branch was supposed to train them once the R&D guys finished whatever phase two was.

“Oh, and Danforth answers directly to him.  I know this for a fact.  He might even be one of the two advisors.  If you can get Danforth, you’ll be able to get a lot of answers.”

“That was suggested months ago,” said Mourning.  “And now that I hear you say it, I realize it was just as wrong then.  For all we know this could still be a set up.  You guys grab Lista and hold her to get us to do somethin’ stupid and public.  When we don’t, you arrange for this little interview to happen to prod us into doing it anyway.  I don’t even know what to think at this point.”

“You’re wise not to trust me.  I’ve helped draw up plans to take at least two you out of the game.  As far as I know, there are a lot of others as well.  I don’t think my plans are active since I was never told to prepare anything, but that doesn’t mean that someone else isn’t running them, or that another person had a different plan that the boss liked better.  Make no mistake.  You’re in his way, and he will move you if he can’t get around you.  Sending me in here to spread a few lies is the exact sort of thing he’d suggest.  Maybe he already has.  I guess there really isn’t anything that I can say that you should take at face value.  Problem is, nothing I can tell you can be verified without announcing you have me.  And that would mean that anything he knew I did know would be cancelled or changed.”


Epim walked into Zach’s lab.  Zach was standing there, beside a relatively tiny desk, and behind the desk, Heather, who made the desk look large.

“Epim, good you could make it.  I take it things are at a stalemate with our guest?”

“Yes, Zach.  We finally get a good break and we can’t trust it.  Tell me that you have some good news.”

“I’ve checked the samples you gave me from Lista several times.  Each time I get one of two conclusions.  The first is that she is absolutely human and there is no way to explain her powers.  The other is that she is not human at all, but some form of warm blooded, reptile.  Even more unusual is the fact that the same sample is actually both at once, but it can look like either.  I can’t nail down the reasons for this.  My best guess at the moment is that the Lista we know is a shape-changer.  Possibly, whatever event blocked her memory, may also be blocking her shape-changing ability.”

“Can any of that be used to help locate her?”

“Not that I can see, no.”

“And you say that she changes into some form of reptile?”

“Well, ‘changes’ isn’t really the right term.  A few years ago there was an interesting study done on human facial recognition.  They took two photos of famous people and made them the same size.  Then they took one and brought it out of focus slightly.  Depending on how far away you were when you looked, either person was easily recognized.  It’s as if the blurry photo was a ghost hovering over the clear one.  As the viewer moved back, the blurry image became dominant.  At one point though, either could be seen with only a slight shift in focus.  I’m seeing that same effect with her DNA.  It’s either human, or not, depending on what I’m trying to see.  It’s very intriguing.”

“You said there were a few things you wanted to see me about?”

“Yes.  In keeping with the non-human theme, it would seem that Sliss has hit his version of puberty.”

“That would explain the acting out when he brought Twitch in.  He’s not going to be getting aggressive is he?  Like attacking people for territory?”

“There is no way to know.  It’s possible.  I would keep a close watch on him, and fill in the others when you can.”

“Okay.  Anything else?”

“As a matter of fact.  Have you noticed anything odd about Entimangler lately?”

Epim paused.  “I think she made a joke yesterday.”

“You’re not sure?”

“Not really.  It was one of those thinly-veiled, mock threats that Tog does from time to time, but I don’t know if she was serious or not.  What do you suspect is happening to her?”

“I used her DNA as a control for my tests with Lista’s.  We had a large quantity of data from her arrival, and I wanted to be sure the machines were still calibrated correctly after the anomalous results from Lista’s samples.  I got different anomalous results from Entimangler’s.”

“Different how?”

“She is also changing.  Not puberty, but a metamorphosis.  I think that her race has some built in survival mode that will allow a member, having spent enough time away from the colony, to create a new one.”

“She’s going to be a queen?”

“Not quite.  It looks as if she is going to be more adaptive and more independent, two traits which will serve her well in setting up the new colony.  The most recent samples indicate that she may be capable of hermaphroditic reproduction.  She will be able to lay the first set of eggs for a new colony.”

“Here?”  There was some alarm in Epim’s tone.

“Not likely.  She will probably find a safe place, far from people.  She may not even be aware that this will happen.  She may not know why she’s even doing it while it’s happening.  I suspect that very soon, she will develop wings.  Some time after that, she will begin making extended trips for no reason that she can explain.  Not long after that, she will lay her eggs.”

“And then what?  You’ve got an odd look.”

“My guess, and that’s all it really is right now, is that once she lays the eggs, she will seal the nest and guard it from the inside, until they hatch.  She’ll then die, and the first meal of the new colony will be her.  It’s not uncommon with Earth insects.”

Epim could say nothing.  She leaned back on the counter behind her as the full meaning of Zach’s words hit her, over and over again.  “How long ‘til it happens?” she finally asked.

“There is no way to know.  It might be weeks, it might be years.  I might be wrong about it.  At any rate, there should be some indication before she leaves.”

“Well.  Thanks for the information.  I think I need to be alone for a while.”

“Understandable,” said Zach as she walked out of the lab.

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