The Hotel Martinez was a favorite haunt of the stars and the press of the Cannes Film Festival. One of the most prestigious hotels in Europe, it featured its own private beach, tennis courts and heated pool. The suites were magnificent; for $15000 a night, they had better be. Inside was the world famous "Palme d'Or" restaurant and piano bar, it had counted the likes of Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable, Simone Signoret and Alfred Hitchcock among its clientele. Fortunately, none of this awed the young man named Harbinger as he entered the foyer; it wasn't the first time he had walked in the footsteps of giants.
The person he was here to meet had been instrumental in achieving Nancy's freedom, but that didn't make Harbinger any more comfortable. Part of him still wondered why he was here. It seemed like such an unnecessary venture. But they had started this adventure together. It was only fitting that they end it properly.
"Pardonez-moi," Harbinger asked the concierge. "Je me présente: Jon Moore. J'ai une reservation."
"Bien entendu, monsieur Moore. Votre parti est déjà ici. Suivez-vous, s'il vous plait."
Very nice, Harbinger thought and nodded. The reply was elegant, smooth and completely natural. Not a hint of stilted mannerisms that usually betrayed victims of mind control. Only the barest flicker of energies in the eyes gave away the fact that the man was a slave and then only to someone who was a skilled telepath such as himself. Had he not been looking for it, even he might not have noticed.
Inside the Palme d'Or, Harbinger took a moment to look around as the maître d' led him through the crowd. The food looked and smelled superb; the head chef Christian Willer was in fine form today and he had no doubt the wine and liquor was equally matched. The patrons were all wealthy upper-class people, clearly accustomed to being pampered and well served. A pity none of them were acting on their own free will.
The thin strands of psychic energies converged to a single point seated by a table on the balcony, which offered a splendid view of the Croisette and the sparkling Mediterranean Sea. The source of those energies had her back turned to him as she was clearly admiring the view, but Harbinger knew that she must have been aware of his presence. During their corroboration, Mindshadow had demonstrated that her psychic senses were clearly superior to his. Fortunately, she was weaker than he was in other areas such as spatial displacement and raw brute force. Still, there was no way she would miss the presence of a mind as strong as his own.
"I'm so glad you could make it. I was beginning to wonder," Mindshadow smiled as she dismissed the maître d' with a thought. "The patrons that frequent this place tell me to try the Fois Gras with white truffles."
"I thought you don't require physical sustenance," Harbinger snorted.
"A habit I do need to break," Mindshadow admitted with a purr. "But until I do, I still enjoy the sensations. Besides, I was thinking about you."
"How very considerate," Harbinger replied with more than an ounce of sarcasm as he took his seat. "And for your information, the Quenelle de Homard en sauce with wild rice is this establishment's signature dish."
"Well, all that time with Autocrat wasn't wasted after all," Mindshadow replied with a raised eyebrow. She smiled as she gauged Harbinger's reactions. His facial expression was reasonably calm; far more so than his thoughts were.
"I hope you have something more in mind than just flaunting your powers on these poor helpless people."
"Hmm. Not long ago, you would have called them 'helpless fools.'"
"I'm working on it; old habits die hard."
Mindshadow looked briefly away as the vigneron came out of the bar area with a chilled vase. "Well, I hope you don't mind, but I've taken the liberty of ordering the wine."
"You're underaged," Harbinger sneered.
"So are you," Mindshadow needled back. "Besides, no one in this place is going to remember a thing, so indulge for a change."
The vigneron carefully opens the bottle and pours the sparkling wine into two tall thin glasses. The glasses then levitated themselves to the opposite ends of the table before placing themselves in front of each diner. Harbinger regarded his glass with some suspicion before picking it up.
"Oh please... if I really wanted you dead, I wouldn't waste a bottle of Chateau La Calisse '81 to do it."
"I suppose it's a relief that my death won't waste a perfectly good bottle of wine," Harbinger replied in a deadpan manner as he lifted his glass.
"Then a toast," Mindshadow proposed. "To our success."
Harbinger nodded. He couldn't disagree with that.
The meal was a mixture of traditional and nouveau. Harbinger chose a tender young chicken wing, which was stuffed with a mixture of pine nuts, parsley, and wild arugula. Mindshadow settled on a roasted milk-fed baby lamb accompanied by caramelized onions, mushrooms, and tomatoes. Appetizers of foie gras, squab, and sweetbreads arrived before the silence broke.
"So are you certain you won't reconsider?" Mindshadow posed.
Harbinger took a moment to think it over, then shook his head. "No. Sorry, but I can't. The game just isn't attractive to me the way it is to you. And I have other matters to take into consideration."
"Speaking of which, where is Nancy? Don't you think it's rather unfair for her to miss this?"
"She's safe. And she isn't the type to indulge."
"You two would be safer with me, you know. The Elite didn't all die."
Harbinger waved dismissively. "Mastodon's a moron; he's lucky to find his own ass with both hands. And Baroness' time powers won't help her find us. The only one I'm worried about is Brainchild."
"Oh don't worry about him," Mindshadow reassured and smiled cruelly. "I... took care of him."
"He's dead?" Harbinger asked with some hope.
"Oh no, that wouldn't be any fun," Mindshadow giggled but Harbinger's expression made her stop. "Let's just say, he's going to have a lot on his mind for the rest of his life."
"I guess I'll have to take your word on that."
"The only one I would worry about if I were you would be Autocrat. He's sure to consider you persona non gratis, and, well, you know the rule of our profession."
"The one about seeing the body before pronouncing death? Yeah..." Harbinger frowned. He had hoped for Autocrat's death most of all. Being lost into the unknown wasn't certain enough for his comfort. "But even I have a limit to wholesale slaughter. The last thing I want is to subject Nancy to that kind of lifestyle."
"Oh pooh," Mindshadow dismissed. "There's more than one way to skin a cat. Conquest doesn't have to involve mass slaughter. Frankly, I found the Elite's plan in Ireland incredibly wasteful. My method is far more elegant than the Elite's."
"And you think that makes any difference? Autocrat's methods were different, but the goal remains the same, doesn't it?" Harbinger underscored his point with a sneer. "You think there's any philosophical difference between showing power physically, financially, or telepathically? Sure, your way doesn't leave any dead bodies. But in the end, there's ultimately always victims."
"Perhaps so. But that's been true since the dawn of time, isn't it? Ghengis Khan rode over the bodies of the Siberian people. Washington engaged in guerilla warfare against the British Empire. Napoleon lead a war of conquest over Europe and the Russian people did he not? Horatio Nelson ended the lives of thousands of French and Spanish sailors in the name of power."
"Don't make me laugh!" Harbinger scoffed. "You're comparing yourself to the likes of Washington or Nelson?"
"And why not? The difference between Washington and Napoleon is that Washington won in the end. If he had lost, he would have gone down in history as a terrorist against the British Empire. If Napoleon didn't end his conquest in Waterloo, the French would probably consider him the Founding Father of their empire."
"And you are planning on following their footsteps?"
"Why not? One can be a conqueror or a follower. Most people don't have much choice, but destiny gave me one. I choose to hold power over others, rather than have it held over me. In the last month or so, I've acquired almost limitless wealth and influence and I didn't have to decapitate a country to do it. At this point, I can make the worldwide markets dance up and down to my whim with just a few hypnotic suggestions to certain people."
"Then why bother going any further?" Harbinger replied pointedly. He looked around the room to underscore his point. "You already have everyone here under your hypnotic control. No doubt you have thousands more scattered throughout the world. You already have more wealth than you can possibly use. What more do you want?"
Mindshadow paused as the waiter came by and served their next meal course; lobster served over thin-sliced artichoke hearts and local baby green haricot beans and baby squid stuffed with red peppers and seasoning, sided with spicy, crisp vegetables. "Now that's a silly question to ask, coming from someone who lives in a flying fortress."
"I'm scuttling it as soon as I get matters settled back home. And no, you can't have it."
"Pity," Mindshadow replied dryly. "Now I'll just have to make my own."
"That still doesn't answer my question." Harbinger gestured at the ostentatious meal. "You don't even need to eat and any material wealth you could want, you apparently can make with your telekinetic control over molecules. What can you possibly gain that you don't already have?"
"You know, I'm disappointed." Mindshadow shook her head. "For someone who spent most of their life watching the Elite, you have such a small point of view. You're right; if wealth and a comfortable lifestyle were all I wanted, then I would probably just sit on what I already have. What can I gain? Power." Mindshadow stared at Harbinger as her eyes sparkled with purpose. "The power to decide what people throughout the world will want. What they will think. How they will feel."
"You're crazy," Harbinger shook his head. "What possible good would it do you to decide what people are going to think on a global scale?"
"Because I can. Because I don't want to settle for second best. I don't know about you, but my powers are still growing with each passing day. This..." Mindshadow gestured to the crowd around them, "is nothing. Haven't you ever wondered what it would be like to push your powers to their ultimate extent? Don't you want to see what it would be like to see a world shaped by your will?"
"No!" Harbinger shouted. "I don't! Because I've seen it all my life! I've seen just what kind of misery and pain power like that can cause! And you know what? Even if you do succeed, so what? You'll never be satisfied! I watched Autocrat gain power year after year! Each time, I thought he would eventually be satisfied, but it's never enough!"
"So what are you wanting to do?" Mindshadow sneered. "You want to live a quiet life in society?"
"What's wrong with living with society?" Harbinger retorted. "It's not weakness to want peace and friendship!"
"So how exactly are you going to live? Are you really going to finish high school? Get a job?" Mindshadow probed with a condescending manner. "Work for a boss who decides your level of prosperity and pay your taxes to a government that could care less about your needs? It seems like such a waste that a mentalist of your caliber is going to be using that potential to ask people if they want fries with their order."
"I'll find a way to make it work," Harbinger swore. "No, I'm not going to waste my time with the trivialities, but that doesn't mean I'm going to take over the world either. There's a middle ground that can be reached."
Mindshadow sat quietly as the waiter took their orders for dessert. "Well, suit yourself. I'd recommend the cream cheese sorbet with fresh wild strawberries, infused with Grand Marnier. Chances are, this'll be the last time you ever see a decent meal if you want to be a working class stiff."
Harbinger settled for the restaurant's exquisite petits fours and an exotic coffee. "Play your power games if you want. But remember this. Your telepathic powers may or may not be stronger than mine. But even if they are, my mind is my own. My will isn't going to be pushed around like these poor fools. And that applies to my sister as well. You want either of our wills, you fight to take them."
"Keep your illusions," Mindshadow dismissed. "I have bigger goals than wasting my time on one or two people."
Harbinger ate the sweet-layered cake in silence. He hoped that she meant what she said; A battle of wills between the two of them would not be pleasant, if it came to that.
"...along with my experiences studying the metahuman phenomenon."
Dr. Simon Kress nodded and smiled at the young man as he finished his introduction. He was a mid-level researcher with the Rand Corporation, a corporate think tank that specialized in metahuman issues. A colleague at the University of Southern California had referred him to this young man. At first, he had his doubts; Jonathan Moore seemed a little young to be a college graduate, despite the degree he presented. But Dr. Jake Bartlow assured him that Mr. Moore had earned the credits listed on his transcript. "And what made you decide to pursue metahuman studies, Mr. Moore? Forgive me for asking, but you seem a little young to be so intense about the topic."
Harbinger nodded at the expected question and framed his response accordingly. "We all watched with horror at the recent events in Ireland. Even before those incidents, I could see that the safety and security of mankind was at risk. Clearly we are at a crossroads in our society. It's vital that humanity and metahumanity come to terms."
"Well, Dr. Bartlow says you were one of his best assistance in his recent research paper detailing the mistakes that were made that led up to the occupation."
"Dr. Bartlow is too kind. He's a very nice man." He should be, Harbinger thought to himself. After all, he had mentally nudged the memories and experiences into place. A part of him felt badly about the whole affair. Mindshadow's recent taunts echoed through his head as he did so. Was he really changing anything? Was it hypocritical to tell her that he was pursuing a normal life if he continued to use his powers like that whenever things got tough? Well, yes it was. But he really did know a lot about metahumanity; that much wasn't faked. And if his knowledge provided a legitimate value to this company and society, then did it really matter what references he had to forge? To be sure, he wasn't the first person to make false claims on a resume.
"I was looking over his research thesis before our interview. What conclusion would you draw from his theory?"
"That metahumanity can never integrate with normal people?" Harbinger paused as he gave the question some serious thought. "There's a tendency to fear what we don't understand. In the case of metahumans, there's certainly a justification for some of that fear. But we have to consider the long-term view of the issue. Not all metahumans are bombastic narcissists like Omega or world-conquering despots like Autocrat. They just happen to be the ones that attract the most attention. But many people who would be categorized as metahumans are really not much stronger than normal people. Maybe they run a little faster. Some are stronger, smarter, or a little more talented than a normal person. But that doesn't mean they don't have dreams of a better life or legitimate goals for success. The answer to your question is that I can't agree with Dr. Bartlow's conclusions. Metahumanity is an extension of humanity, not the extinction of it. And with that considered, we shouldn't exclude them from society."
"'An extension of humanity, not the extinction of it' -- I'll have to remember that phrasing for my next anthropology debate." Dr. Kress smiled, then scratched his chin and considered Harbinger's words. "But you did develop a lot of the evidence to support Bartlow's conclusion."
"The first sign of an independent thinker is the ability to consider all points of view. I can't call myself a scientist if I allow my personal convictions to color my conclusions. Dr. Bartlow's research and supporting materials are certainly first-rate. But I think that he has allowed recent events to color his judgments."
"Well, you will find people on either side of that debate here, Mr. Moore. And I am impressed with your convictions and ability to look at such a passionate issue with an unbiased viewpoint. You are a little light on your previous work experience, but I am convinced you have the talent to contribute to our firm. Do you feel that you would be interested in working as a research intern for a start?"
"As a start, yes, I suppose I can."
"If things work out, I'm certain we can evaluate your position in six months."
"That would be fine." Harbinger stood up and shook the man's hand before turning to leave. A feeling of nervousness washed through him. So this was what it was like to work with... normal people. The feeling of blandness and sameness of the people in this building was a marked contrast of distinct personalities he had felt among the Elite and other metahumans. He struggled a little with his new suit and rubbed his hand across his scalp. At least his hair was growing in nicely. Autocrat had forbidden him from having hair; he had believed it a mark of individualism that he could never earn in his eyes. Well, to hell with you, Harbinger thought. His life was his own at long last. The future would have to work itself out.
Dr. Kress filed the personnel request in an inter-office memo and sealed the envelope. It had been a very productive morning and he was anxious to see if Jon Moore could really deliver what he promised.
"How did it go?"
Dr. Kress turned around and acknowledged Dr. Charles Jones, the head of the department. "Fine sir. Mr. Moore should be able to start in a couple days after the paperwork is taken care of. He seems like a very smart young fellow."
Dr. Jones smiled and nodded. "I knew he would be. Dr. Bartlow has rarely been wrong."
"I was still surprised that you pushed for him so determinedly. Did you know Mr. Moore from a previous position?"
"Well, no, not really. Let's just say someone had put in a very good word for him."
"If you say so doctor."
Dr. Jones turned and left Dr. Kress' office and headed to the elevator. At the top of the building, Dr. Jones walked into the executive offices. As he did so, his facial expression began to turn blank. "It is done," he reported.
Mindshadow turned around in the luxurious leather office chair and smiled. "And he does not suspect a thing?"
"No Mindshadow. I made certain that I was not anywhere near him during the interview."
And Dr. Kress' mind was untouched, Mindshadow nodded to herself. Good though his power might be, there were no mental footprints for Harbinger to detect. Kress, she controlled with more mundane methods such as office memos and edicts. She would have to make arrangements to have Dr. Jones and the rest of the executive staff transferred off-site so Harbinger wouldn't happen to bump into him in the hallway or anything equally mundane. "Have Dr. Kress assign him to begin a file on the new generation of heroes. Omega may top the list, but I'm hearing some rumbles about Maestro, Blur and Knock-out. Apparently they distinguished themselves quite well during the Ireland ground war, and I'd like to know a little more about them."
"As you command Mindshadow."
With a thought, she dismissed Dr. Jones, taking
care to reassemble his mind into something resembling a personality as
he left the room and smiled. Just as she told that fool Harbinger, there
was more than one way to skin a cat. But he was too stubborn to see the
truth. Well, one way or another, she thought to herself, he would be made
to serve her. With a thought, she commanded the molecules of air in front
of her to reassemble and a tall glass of wine materialized in front of
her and levitated to her hand. Holding the glass up, she glanced at the
tiny figure leaving the parking lot through the executive window. She lifted
the wine to her lips and smiled, "To success."
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