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Guest Writer

by Jack L. Martingale

rom the shadows where I stood smoking, I watched five thugs follow a burly older man out of the Terminal Bar and into the parking lot.

I'd been inside earlier, letting coffee nurse me through the few dark hours before my train would leave, but I had been smoking undisturbed and staring up at the full spring moon for a couple minutes, wondering whether I wanted to go back inside and start a fight.

Now it looked like I'd get to watch one instead, because the old-timer had reached the circle of light under the parking lot's one functional streetlight.

He stopped and turned, and I recognized the stance and expression ...

The expression was the one you get when you start a better fight than you even wanted, and the stance was the one that says, win or lose, you intend to finish it.

The thugs silently fanned out to flank him at the edge of the circle.

I took off my glasses and stared. As I watched, the old man looked at each in turn and, one by one they froze. The color ran out of their faces, then out of their clothing (which had mostly run to basic, practical-if-predictable bad-hat black) and kept running until they were faint translucent, then transparent, then gone.

The old man dropped the fighting stance, and his expression went from bellicose to blank.

I put my glasses back on and walked toward him, badge-case out, saying, "Sir? I need for you to remain where you are while I ..."

"Who the ball-busting blazes are you, bub? Don't involve yourself in this, officer. Walk away. I work for ..."

"I know who you work for, I know who you're supposed to say you work for, I know where you live, where you drink your nightly beers ... I know more than I'd like to know about you, Mr. Hodde.

"I also know that those five goons posed no threat to a man of your abilities. You could easily have taken them out, but that would have meant your instant departure, and we wouldn't have been able to have this intimate and informal chat."

He glared, jaw clenched in hatred.

I continued: "Maybe you'd like ... you'd like to make a denying retort to that now, but you can't, can you, sir? You shouldn't have tried to shut down the experiment on your own, against orders. You particularly shouldn't have tried to disappear the other participants. Oh, not simply because their murders were wrong, though Lordissa knows that would've stopped anyone but a sociopath like yourself ..."

I could see him struggling for words, there in the cool March night breeze. The sight stoked my rage, warming my heart.

I continued: "Really, the reason you shouldn't have killed anyone at all, much less those in your care, is much more concrete than any ethical or moral abstraction – your group wasn't the only experiment, or the first, or even the most successful ...

"Ours was. The outfit you work for answers to a higher authority, and that higher authority answers to the outfit I work for. Until now, you had no need to know."

I continued to hold him there, silent and immobile, unable to flee or scream, while I played back the dying terror and pain of his victims from my mind into his fear and pain centers.

I took off my shades, concentrated a little, and all the color ran out of his features. I concentrated a little more, until he had softly and silently vanished away, like the five thugs I'd sent along before him.

I took a breath, pocketed my badge and walked back into darkness. As I vanished, grinning, like a Cheshire calico, I lit my pipe, chortled, and thought: Call me Boojum.

Jack L. Martingale will neither confirm nor deny membership in any governmental or extra-governmental intelligence organization, and claims to be an agent of no such agency. He insists that the above account is fiction, and when confronted by the datum that the freedom of information act contains no requirement that U.S. government classified files be released as non-fiction, he has, on more than one occasion, been known to softly and silently vanish from our offices. We have his e-mail address, though; anyone wishing to obtain it should submit queries to John F. Piper through cognomen_832@hotmail. And visit our archives.

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