Ragged gasps for air define the days after DeMarcus Dodson is dragged unconscious from the campus of Secure Solutions Chemical. Most of the time he’s kept unconscious. The few times he wakes up his mouth’s filled with a gag so tight no air can get in. Since a football injury broke his nose as a teenager he’s always struggled to breathe through it. His body’s fighting to get the oxygen it needs and half the times he wakes from his drugged state it’s only his body fighting for air that pulls him from his sleep. His captors increase the dosage of drugs and he slips away again.
Waking in a chair for the first time, he starts to wonder if something’s changed. He’s not strapped down. His hands are handcuffed to the chair but they aren’t particularly tight. That’s good since his wrist is in a cast and it hurts to move. He can’t get loose but at least the cuffs aren’t adding any pain. His legs are free and he tries to stretch sore muscles. How long has he been out?
A mostly pitch black room prevents him from seeing much of anything. An old looking wooden table sits inches in front of him, a table with many years of wear on it. A single light swings above his head, a simple one with a shade which makes sure the table’s lit but keeps the rest of the room dark. Even that looks to be on it’s last legs. The gag’s still in his mouth and he has a feeling it isn’t coming out any time soon. Whoever has him, they know what he can do.
There’s no way of knowing what the rest of the room holds. Whatever it is, the light never reaches any of the walls. The room could be five feet across or twenty. There could be people standing right out of sight, observing his every move. Considering he’s tied to a chair though he can’t imagine they’d be learning much.
A creak behind him lets some light into the room. Not much, but for a moment he’s pretty sure he can make out a wall near the far end of the table. His eyes don’t have time to adjust so he can’t be sure. There’s a clicking noise and the light’s gone. Whoever opened a door, they’ve closed it. Footsteps fall behind him and he realizes he isn’t alone.
A tall, thin man circles the table. He’s older with grey hair, wearing a dark pair of sunglasses even in this room. A small scar runs down his cheek. Dressed in a suit which matches his hair, he has a sly grin on his face as he leans his hands on the table.
“Hello DeMarcus, good to meet you. You can call me Sean. Well, you probably can’t at the moment actually. But when we get this all cleared up you’ll be able to.” His voice is loud, strangely so. It takes a moment for DeMarcus to notice the earplugs sticking out of each of the man’s ears. Even with a gag in his mouth these people aren’t taking any chances. “I want to start by apologizing for the way you’ve been treated over the last week.” A week? It’s been a week? He knew it’d been at least a few days but after this long Jesse has to be worried sick. “I can assure you it was necessary though. After the chemicals you were exposed to and the strange reaction you had, we needed to make sure they weren’t going to kill you.” Nice excuse, this has all been for his good. He’ll believe that when hell freezes over.
Gesturing forward, his eyes go wide and he tries to get a message through the gag. Smiling, Sean doesn’t make much move to react. “I know that makes it hard to communicate. I’m sure you can understand our concern though and why it has to be in place. I’d like to go back and forth though. I have an idea.”
He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a frayed notebook and a pencil. He sets them on the table and then pulls a syringe out as well. He stands and walks to DeMarcus’ side and rubs his right arm. He realizes he has no shirt on. He’s wearing only a pair of shorts. Taking the Syringe, he pushes it against his skin. The needle’s not small and he grunts as it enters his arm. There’s no way to resist. He’s surprised when the contents aren’t injected.
“I want to make you a deal DeMarcus. I’ll release one of your arms, the one that isn’t injured. You can use this pencil and paper to communicate and we can have a conversation. If you make any move to try and shake that syringe free, or to reach for your gag, which is secure I might add, I’ll have to inject that. Nothing too dangerous mind you but it’ll knock you right out. I want you to nod your head if you agree.”
Seeing no other way out of this, DeMarcus nods his head. A jangle of keys is heard and then he feels the clamp holding his right arm in place released. He’s glad to have his arm free and briefly considers trying to grab for Sean. That seems like a bad idea though. What would he gain? His other arm would still be locked to a chair.
Sean returns to his seat and pushes the pencil and paper toward him. “Now let’s get started. Let me tell you a little about me. I work for the government handling vigilantes and people with powers. Been doing it a long time. After this little incident, I think that now includes you. Rude awakening I know but with the level of power this could potentially give you we have to tread lightly. Do you understand what happened to you at your company and what those chemicals did to you?”
It takes a moment to realize the man’s waiting for him to write something. He grips the pencil, wondering if it could be used to try and escape. That seems unlikely. If this is a government facility, there’s no knowing how many guards are outside. Instead he writes, “Sort of” on the paper.
Sliding the pad across the table, Sean has to lift his sunglasses to read in the low light. His icy blue eyes peak out, but he smiles when he sees what DeMarcus wrote. “That’s more than a lot of people would have. Great job. To be clear, you were exposed to some seriously heavy duty mood altering chemicals. It was never meant for that kind of application. Even if it was tested and worked, it would have been used in small doses to make people suggestible. You breathed the stuff in for hours. It’s a miracle you’re alive. After that you dealt with people and they all seemed to listen to you. Doing whatever you told them to. Is that more or less right?”
He slides the notebook back to DeMarcus. Grabbing the book, he writes down, “Pretty much. I have trouble breathing through my nose.”
Sean laughs at this. “Look, I don’t like the gag and all that. I truly am sympathetic. I’ve dealt with vigilantes my whole life though and I know you never underestimate powers and what they can do. You could run the world with your powers if left unchecked. My bosses won’t like me saying that, but you’d have figured it out eventually anyway. If you think about that, you know I’m right. Now, I don’t know that you want to do that. I’ve spent the last week talking to everyone you know to get an idea of how you’ll handle this. Most of them speak positively, though the further we go back in your past, the less that’s true. I found some people in Atlanta who had some pretty negative things to say. I’m sure you can guess who.”
DeMarcus squeezes his eyes closed. Atlanta’s not a place he’s thought about for a lot of years. That’s by design. That was another life. He nods, telling Sean he understands what he means.
“I thought so. Now look, I don’t think you’re an enemy. I think you’re a good guy who put his life on the line to save his coworkers. Not a lot of people would have done that. You could have locked yourself down in the first room you came across and been safe. Made sure you went home to your boyfriend. Instead you risked your life to run through that place, dodging bullets and protecting people. A lot of people are going home to their families because you did. You should be proud.”
He reaches across the table for the notebook. At first Sean tenses up, his eyes closely following DeMarcus’ hand. When he realizes he only wants the notebook he hands it back. When it comes back all it says is, “How are they? The people in the rooms? The guards?”
Sean reads it for a moment and then looks up at DeMarcus. This time he removes his glasses, “You mean they didn’t tell you? Shoot, you were supposed to already know.” He looks down at the ground, not eager to answer the question. DeMarcus knows that isn’t a good sign.
All he can think to write is, “I’ve been unconscious pretty much since they brought me in here. I don’t remember anything since they grabbed me.”
Sean nods his head slightly. “That explains it then. Someone probably did tell you. You were just too out of it to remember. Let’s start with the good news. Everyone you shoved into the rooms and locked down? Fine. Even that girl you left in C wing. She’s smart by the way. Glad you protected her. Now the worse news. You know the other guards? The one who went outside, you know who I’m talking about?”
“That’s him. He’s going to live. Tough guy. Probably never walk again but he’ll live. The rest mostly weren’t lucky. The three other guards inside, two of them were outright slaughtered. The only one who survived was a woman. You know her.”
“That’s the one. She was shot in the side. Bled a lot, they probably thought she was dead, but it wasn’t actually that serious. She’s going to be alright. Good thing too, lady’s got three kids.” DeMarcus closes his eyes for a moment and thanks anyone listening for saving her. Leaving her was one of the hardest things he’s ever had to do.
“My partner Anton? Never showed up for work.”
“We’ve been looking for him but so far we haven’t had much luck. No clue where the guy is, seems like he fell off the earth. Can’t go into much more detail than that I’m afraid. We still have an ongoing investigation.”
Nodding, he watches Sean put his glasses back on. If he was previously willing to seem human and try to connect, that stage of their meeting’s over. “What do you want?”
“You’re to the point Dodson, I appreciate that. I won’t waste your time if you won’t waste mine. These kind of powers need to be closely monitored. We have a few paths forward, but all of them involve some sort of monitoring. You’re not getting around that. First though we need to establish what you can do. How broad the range of these powers can be. We’d like to run some tests. Some are the type you hook someone up to a monitor for. Others will be live, in a room. We’ll need you to cooperate for those. Putting the gag in at the right times, things like that. Are you willing to work with us? If so, I promise I’ll try and get you home as soon as we can.”
He considers the offer. Finding out more about what he can do sounds pretty good to him too. So far, everything he knows is just a guess from what worked. “What does Jesse know?”
“Nothing important.” DeMarcus’ eyes go wide and he considers grabbing for the man with his free hand. They haven’t told Jesse anything? He must be freaking out. “He thinks you had to be airlifted for emergency surgery. You’re in New York as far as he knows. Not able to talk at the moment and not wanting to see him but you’re okay. We’ve even been sending him messages from you, letting him know you’re alright.”
“Can I send him one?”
“I wish we could allow that. There’s way too much chance you slip something in we miss though. No, you won’t be communicating with home until we finish. The sooner we get going though, the sooner we’ll be done.”
“Why haven’t we started then?”