There aren’t any other tests. For the next several days DeMarcus is left alone in his room. His gag only comes out when they feed him and the guards are openly pointing their guns at him while he does so. No more steak, now it’s mostly just sandwiches. What did he do that was so wrong? Was getting tired of this really a big surprise?
On the third day, Sean comes to his cell. He whispers something to the guards and all but one of them exit the wing, slamming the metal door down the hall on their way out.
It’s a surprise, they’ve never met anywhere but the dark room. He can make out details he never noticed before, such as how old the man really is. The lines around his eyes were hidden somewhat by the darkness but here they stand out. He’s at least eighty. He looks to be in good shape for his age but he’s thin to the point you start to wonder if he’s sick. He’s let into the cell by the one guard who waited; a guard who promptly locks the cell after they’re done before following the others out of the wing.
The man stands, waiting for DeMarcus to offer a seat. The only place to sit other than the floor is on his bed and he’s not really in the mood to share it at the moment. He’s sitting right in the middle and hasn’t budged.
“Feel like making room? Standing’s torture on my knees.”
He considers telling the old man to kick rocks but he can’t tell him anything and while he could flip a few gestures, fighting probably isn’t the best way to get back in their good graces and get home. He moves to one side of the bed.
“Thanks, I appreciate it.” He sits on the bed, trying to move himself against the wall. After a moment he groans and stands back up. “Forgot something.” He reaches around behind DeMarcus’ head and releases the clasp on the back of the gag. It slides free from his mouth. Gasping, he greedily sucks in air, happy not to have to fight for every breath.
When his head starts to feel better, he looks at Sean. “Guess you figured out that I’m not a threat at this point.”
Sean sits back on the bed, moving back against the wall. He puts his hands behind his head, trying to get comfortable. “Something like that. I want to talk to you anyway and I’m pretty sure you aren’t going to be an issue. I want to talk about that opportunity we discussed. I’d really like you to come work for us. If this goes well, it could even turn into a permanent thing. You need a job, SSC isn’t reopening anytime soon I can assure you. There’s massive media coverage about how the security wasn’t good enough. Personally I don’t think that’s fair but nobody’s asking me.”
Is he still having issues with oxygen? None of this makes any sense. “How can I work for you? My power’s are gone. That’s why I’m not wearing a gag right now.”
Laughing, Sean reaches up and takes off his glasses. His eyes are icy blue, startling on a man his age. Maybe that’s why he wears the glasses. “You’re not wrong, but we think we can change that. We’d reintroduce you to the chemicals. It wouldn’t be the same as last time where you breathe it for hours. We’d do it gradually. Now that your body’s used to it we think it’ll take to it easily. Shouldn’t even make you uncomfortable. We’ll keep the amounts low enough that it wears off easily. You can have a normal life, we’ll just get you going before missions.”
There’s a part of him that wants to consider the offer. Now that the powers are mostly gone he kind of misses them. He can think of a lot of ways they could be useful. That’s more power than any person needs though. He wouldn’t trust himself with them long term. As soon as he thinks about Jesse the decision gets easy. “I don’t want my life getting messed up worse than it already is. I have a good record. I figure I can get a job easily enough. Plus, you don’t know that stuff won’t kill me this time. I got lucky last time but no one should survive that level of those chemicals.”
“We really don’t think it’s all that dangerous. If I thought you’d likely end up dead I wouldn’t ask.”
“Thanks, but I have too much to go back to, not taking the risk.”
Sean sighs, stretching out more. “That’s pretty much what I figured but I had to try. You’re valuable. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve learned a lot from studying you and studying this stuff but there’s no guarantee someone else reacts the same way. We’re considering giving a couple of agents a chance to try it but that needs approval.”
“That’s your thing. Do you all agree I’m clean though?”
“Oh ya, no issues there. All the tests we’ve run have consistently shown the results trending downward and this last week we didn’t pick up anything. The higher ups wanted to keep you longer and see if they eventually came back but all our scientists think there’s very little chance. It hasn’t been bouncing up and down in effectiveness, it’s been a straight line down. You might have a tiny bit of persuasive ability left in you but nothing major.”
“When do I get out of here. Where even is here anyway?”
“You’re still in San Francisco. We have facilities all over the place. No reason to take you somewhere else. As for when you get out, today.” The man reaches up and pulls the ear plugs from his ears. “I appreciate you cooperating. I know you didn’t have a lot of choices but you really have helped your country just by going through the tests and letting us learn from you. If you ever change your mind on that job, get in touch. I’ll give you a card. It’s just a number to a burner phone but you can call it.”
He takes a set of keys out of his pocket and starts unlocking the handcuffs keeping his wrists together. He can’t believe for the first time in weeks there’s nothing locked to his body. He’s finally free to move as he sees fit.
“Thank you. I know there was probably pressure to hang onto me. I’m almost sorry I can’t help you with it. Almost.” He climbs to his feet but Sean’s still sitting. The older man glances at his feet and groans. He holds out a hand to ask for help and DeMarcus grabs it and pulls him up.
“Easy. Don’t pull my shoulder out of it’s socket. Otherwise someone else might make you stick around. Let me walk you out.”
He follows the man through hallway after hallway until they finally reach a front door. There’s a set of clothes that are surprisingly big enough to fit him laying there in a nice stack. His wallet and keys are stacked next to it with one of Sean’s cards sticking out of the wallet.
Sean smiles, and offers a handshake. “I’ll give you some privacy to get changed. Then you can see yourself out the door right there.” He points at a large metal door. “There’s a few hundred bucks in goodwill money in the wallet. There’s a cab waiting outside which can take you home. Tell Jesse I said hello. You can tell him whatever you want about this but if you do want to stick to the story, you’ve been in New York getting treatment for a head wound which is now healed. You couldn’t talk with the injury. Your call.” They shake hands and Sean walks out of the room.
He’s alone with only the entrance before him. He changes into the clothes. The tank top’s a strange fit but it’ll do. The shorts are a bit tight but he can make it work. There’s no shoes. Apparently he’s supposed to stick with the terrible ones he’s had for weeks. He can always change at home.
Stepping out the front door, his eyes almost can’t handle the sun. It shines incredibly brightly. It’s warm out. There’s even the sound of birds in the distance. He can see the cab sitting at the far end of the parking lot. Crossing through the lot, the wind blowing through his hair, he decides today’s going to be an awesome day.