What happened to the reporter? Who is the reporter? Where's the other two sides of technology and mages? Why does a white mouse suddenly have mental powers? Can you actually use alcohol to substitute for water in scrying inside a bowl? Why do people believe that science and magic are incompatible? What kind of beverages would Derek order to get a response from a bartender?
Lost in the Desert in a Town with No Name
by Kent Lee


I'm out in the middle of a desert. I did ask for some time alone to think. Baking in the middle of the desert wasn't what I had in mind. Currently, my powers were astral vision, shapeshifting, and telekinesis. I added speed to my portfolio of active powers, and broke the sound barrier by foot for periods at a time. There wasn't even any windows around to shatter. In about under twenty minutes, I made my way to a town. It looked a little more like an army base, what with the wired fences and everything. Still, it looked like a town, with a church, general store, post office and all the other accoutrements required of a town. My shape altered to look like an Oriental young man. An organization named RANDS was looking for Scott Summers, my false World Examiner reporter identity. Nobody would think of looking for Derek Wong.

******

The reporter's name was Arlissa Aldzinjal. Why she was ordered to a place that was baking in the middle of the desert made no sense, so she twisted the facts around in her head. Now the orders were addressed in the name Malachite. She was one of the Twelve, the elite of an organization dedicated to protecting the world in a less public manner than the superhero teams. Pulled from elite forces around the world, interviewed with the founder him or herself, through a privacy mask and a shadow cloak that forced eyes to look away from the blurring sight. She hadn't thought such technology existed yet. She knew much more now.

******

So, I shapeshifted into a rat and thought.
Fact 1: Two unknown organizations are after me. One of them is named RANDS. The other has mad scientist-demons, fire devils, Japanese road spirits, drought spirits, nightgaunts, doubleheader felines, and giant chickens.
Fact 2: While I've seen plenty of the purely supernatural, I haven't seen any mages or robotic influences.
Fact 3: I was pretty sure that drought spirits didn't die. But how did I know if my aunt wasn't fooling me, and I was actually killing sentients? She said the only way to kill a supernatural was on their home plane or by a mindwipe. My aunt has one of those, and it doesn't look anything more than gloves. So my aunt must kill them. So she's probably been telling the truth.
Fact 4: I've been using too many powers. Levitation, shapeshifting, astral vision, speed, armor, expulsion were all being used. The only ones that haven't been touched are dragonfire and strength. Dragonfire was just frankly scary, with the unpredictable forms it took, even though it was really pure positive energy masked in different forms. Balance has been touched, simply to keep two powers operant. Heat vision hasn't been touched. Strength is for knockdown fights that drag on too long. I have no intention of letting myself be hit by opponent's weapons. Animation was a little tricky, and I wasn't too keen on the idea of bringing inanimate things to life. The invisibility power was flashy, but compared to the rest of the powers I had access to, it was not much. Still, most people don't get any powers at all, and rely on the human machine to do incredible things. If I had these powers, I should be able to do things even more incredible.
Fact 5: I needed a tactical analysis on my battles. I was simply going through them on sheer power, which is a bad idea. I reviewed the fights. The first one with the drought spirit was just a little weird. Why should a drought spirit blackmail farmers in New York upstate? How come it knew le moullinet? I let it sneak up invisible behind me. I was lucky. It thought I was a legend. There was the movie stars later which was kind of nice, but I'm not much of a point and look person. I'd rather be a trendsetter, rather than follow somebody else's life.
Fact 6: Something struck me as weird, when that woman followed me out the window in the conflagration. Wouldn't most people scream their head off? Admittedly, my presentation was less than sterling, but that should only add to her feeling of uneasiness when I suggested she jumped first. Either she was simply shell-shocked, or she knew something I didn't. My second battle was with a fire devil, a road spirit, and a giant chicken. They knew I could use telekinesis, and was immune to energy blasts, absolutely careless of me. They could also track me, but only when I actively used my powers. One of them had let it slip it took them three days.
Fact 7: I needed to review if I had followed my rules of engagement in the three fights, and one rescue I had been involved in. Did I keep a low profile when not actually fighting? The rescue had been very low profile, and I made sure of that by blending in with the official fire department. The mad scientist-demon had heard of Scott Summers, ace reporter. Did I enter combat quickly and efficiently? Well, the first one was quickly, but certainly not efficiently. The second I was attacked, meaning I could be tracked somehow, probably through use of my powers. The third was by accident. Did I approach a fight the same direction? I'd only been in three, and I doubt any of the methods had been duplicated. Did I take the opposition down as fast as possible? I could be faster. Sow misinformation about my powers, and alter my appearance at every encounter. Well, there was Scott Summers ace reporter, anonymous grizzled miner, and anonymous (Adam Brady), fire fighter whom the fire captain had immediately been suspicious of. I was going to have to come up with a suitable name for the miner, Rock E. Canyon, maybe. Of course, there was always me, Derek Quan, to come back to.
Fact 8: Today's Saturday, so I don't have to worry about classes until Monday. Oliver and Samantha are probably arguing over what they're actually seeing. Oliver likes contemporary, and Samantha likes classical.
Fact 9: I'm supposedly a guardian of magic, sought after by three sides of a conflict. There's the supernaturals who believe that they are vanishing and are fighting for their very survival. The supernaturals also believe that when the last of them dies, the sun will not rise up tomorrow. The technologists believe their superscience is the way to the future to ensure safety from demons, and evil sorcerers. They destroy any magic, whether benign or malignant. The sorcerers simply hunt me because they believe they can harness my powers. My aunt's viewpoint is that the supernaturals and technologists are right. They simply apply it inadvisably, since science is a way to safeguard from magic, but it's currently put a stranglehold on by the people, since the space program has a lack of interest, there's a general outcry against using genetic engineering on crops, and that the current President has spoken out against stem-cell research. I thought that was kind of dumb. The national government's not going to have genetic research, which lets all the foreign governments and corporations get ahead in such research. Then again, no one's thought that our current President was intelligent. Magic has it's own dangers, with evil magic being more alluring and an easier path to power. It's especially seductive, since if one does fall into evil magic, one goes into the Void, which is simply nothingness. It sounds better than it actually is. The sorcerers are dangerous, because they wish me for acquisition in addition to their familiars, demons, imps, and arts.
Fact 10: I fuse both magic, and science, because nothing dies when I walk into a room. My aunt also fuses both magic and science, but her inherent powers allow her to kill magic or science at will, although it also deactivates her own devices.
Fact 11: Did I really have the right to destroy a physical form simply for blackmail? My aunt would say yes, but I don't actually know. It did attack me first though. So I can claim self-defense. Also in the second case. The third case was an accident when I slammed into the start button, but I can claim self-defense, after all.
Fact 12: I was carrying a basketful of socks when I transformed. That explains where it went. Well, I made up a fact listing floating in front of my eyes. I needed to get home. I was in the body of a rat, that I had no instincts how to use, and the senses of a human. I was lost in the middle of a desert in an army base, and I had to get home in time for dinner. Plus, the laundry's probably done by now.

******

"I sensed something here." The two mages squatted by the laundromat. The Chinese woman was still at the counter.

"It was probably your imagination." The two guys were clambering all over the laundromat.

"You've been drinking again," the tall guy muttered to himself, sotto voce.

"No, I know what you're thinking. I haven't touched a bottle of Jack Daniels since yesterday," the short guy said indignantly.

******

The Chinese woman shook her head. She got all the nuts. First, there was one who dressed in a lab coat and came every week even when the washer he wanted was out of order. Second, there was the guy who wanted to know if the machines broke down. Now, there were these two guys clambering all over the machine. Sure, they had paid fifteen dollars to use the machine, but they weren't even washing any clothes.

******

The white mouse thought. It had been enhanced by the Eph-3 drug injected into her system. That was it how it was able to locate a cabal of black mages, find the secret of effective magic, and turn the cabal into her puppets. The psychic powers that had been bestowed on her weren't shared by her companion mice, as she walked through their minds. She had also walked through the minds of those technicians, scientists, and doctors who had given her the chemical. She didn't understand much of it in those first few days, but she did realize that she was smarter than the technicians. One had even suggested that rats were not equal to human beings! She ran away that very night, locating a bunch of human tools that would be suitable for her purpose. Running away isn't hard for a mouse that can fly. She had turned him dreams into nightmares about mice. She hadn't quite succeeded, because she didn't yet understand the mindset of human beings. But with the power she bestowed upon these black mages, she believed that she would find out their strength and weaknesses by the way they behaved with such power.

******

< < <RECEIVING TRANSMISSION> > >
To: Control
From :I
The Kirlian sensor alarms have been detecting brief flashes of something powerful in the surrounding vicinity of federal desert. The intermittent alerts report a mile-wide radius aura of the magioform. It also appears to be in motion, as each alert location appears in different sections. The target has been recorded at covering over seven hundred and fifty miles per hour. Sending area, map sectors, and recorded positions of acquired target. Requesting containment units to handle situation.
< < <END TRANSMISSION> > >

******

< < <RECEIVING TRANSMISSION> > >
To: I
From: Control
Three containment units from surrounding countries are converging on location. ETA of United States West Containment Unit E and F and will be in one hour. ETA of Canada Containment Unit X, Y and Z will be in three hours. ETA of Central American Unit S and T will be in four hours.
< < <END TRANSMISSION> > >

******

I push open saloon doors to get away from the blistering heat. Inside, the air condition is a welcome relief from the desert temperature. Scott Summers shows up again. My brilliant plan, if I may be so modest, is to shake the hornets from the nest, and hope that whatever falls out will net my requisite fish of information. Gray coat, gray fedora, red sunglasses, the whole enchilada, and I even start out with a little wave.

"Howdy, folks. Stop me if you've heard this one. A man walks into a bar. He says, 'ouch'." Okay, there's really only a few people, such as the bartender, some old people playing cards, four guys in army uniform, the sheriff with a copper star on his vest, and the waitress. They all turn at the beginning of my quip, and the entire bar falls silent. By the time I finish, I've got the impression that I've just been awarded the name of unwanted troublesome drifter. They keep staring at me for several minutes after I finish.

"What? What? Have I got spinach in my teeth?" I check, just in case my shapeshift did leave spinach in my teeth. Then I realize that I'm holding a basketful of socks.

"Don't worry about the socks. I just found out where lost socks go to when they get separated!" I announce cheerfully.

"So." The sheriff , who has only the copper star, and no name that I can read, saunters up to me. "Just passing through?"

"Yup. As soon as you can point me in the direction of the New England East Coast of the United States, that's where I'm headed," I suddenly remember, I've still got a New York accent of English. The sheriff and assorted patrons of the bar which bore the title of All Bar None would presumably have Western accents.

"You're a city slicker. How'd you get here?" The sheriff asked, a bit menacingly. He also had an operative six-shooter in his holster, I noted in passing. The powers I had were astral vision, telekinesis, speed, and shapeshifting.

:"Would you believe that I got lost in the desert from a plane crash, and that I've been hiking for days?" I asked in my most charming manner. It didn't work.

"The nearest flight is over a month from here. You're wearing hat, coat and sunglasses. That spells troubles in these parts, son," the bartender answered, not even looking up from polishing the glasses.

"Okay, how about I'm actually a paranormal who's gotten lost while fighting a mad scientist-demon who's out to refine socks into a form more palatable for hellish inhabitants?" I offer. Simultaneous snorts from the card players are my only response.

"No one's seen you on any of the trails that lead here. You show up out of the blue. You concoct outlandish stories or falsified stories to justify your existence here. You've been hired by McYochlol haven't you? Not only does the Scottish entomologist expect us to sell, he's hired city muscle to persuade the recalcitrant residents." The waitress appears to have a college education based on her choice of idioms.

"I can honestly say, I have no knowledge of whatever you're speaking about. Oh, can I get a bottle of soda?" I ask the bartender disingenuously.

"We don't have soda, son" The bartender grunts.

"Tea?"

"Nope."

"Coffee?"

"Nope."

"Water?"

"Nope."

"Pig's blood?"

"Nope."

I was impressed. He didn't even twitch at the last request. "So what do you have?"

"We've got whiskey."

"And?"

"That's it. "

"A most broad selection of beverages, honored tender of the law exam, but I think I'll pass on the refreshment aisle." I make a courtly bow, and see over half a dozen deadly looks aimed my way.

"Good even' ma'am's, sirs." A Scottish gentleman wearing a kilt, a cap, and a tunic, wielding a cane limps inside, followed by two bodyguards. Outside, one could see the car he came in.

******

Aldzinjal was currently laying down beneath the car. As soon as she saw the car was coming, she had rolled under the spot where the car would stop, keeping her hands and feet in. This position was what granted her an excellent view for her camera lens. She snapped photographs of the diner, of the bodyguards, of the Scotsman and of the patronage of the diner the moment it swung open.

******

"Good evening. "I toasted the Scotsman with a saltshaker. The other customers in the diner simply muttered and looked darkly at me and the Scotsman.

"You're new in town. I'm not exactly popular because of my effort to save the endangered iridiscent-shelled desert beetle. This is one of the few habitats it still lives in. I'm McYochlol, Ron McYochlol." He holds out a hand, which I shake.

"Hah! That's just an excuse to pocket the place, and then mine it with oil rigs, never mind the poor beetles," one of the gamers snarl.

"We haven't seen any oil, and we have seen the beetle. If you want proof, ask the Environmental Protection Agency," McYochlol contests.

"Too much money," the bartender shoots back. They notice what I'm doing.

"What are you doing?" they all ask at the same time.

"I'm writing this down for a newspaper. I can see the headlines now! Small property owners claim that large ranch is attempting to drive them out of business! Large ranch claim environmentally responsible mentality as sound defense!" I draw the headlines out of the air, imagining how well it would go with a newspaper. My pen and pad are handy for such activities.

"I highly doubt that such opportunities are what drew you away from the urban hubbub of the East Coast. Why exactly are you here, Mr...?" McYochlol draws attention to the fact that I haven't introduced myself yet.

"I'm called Summers, Scott Summers, freelance reporter," I claim.

"Mr. Summers. Why are you here? You are wearing a coat, there is no airport within miles, and flight paths do not even come within a ballpark distance of this place. I suppose you are going to claim you are a law-abiding citizen and not wearing a coat as a disguise of some sort? Especially in this heat." MacYochlol snorted at the absurdity of me wearing a coat in the middle of the desert.

"Good morning, sirs, ladies." My attention is drawn to the two men screaming government agents in their black suits, black ties, white shirts, and shades. They are also all wearing some sort of firearm.

"Good evening, and please look at the tube." I instinctively close my eyes. There's a bright flash of light that reaches through my eyelids, but the hypnosis doesn't work on me. Then again, I was wearing sunglasses, so perhaps that was not actually necessary.

"Right. Now, what you hear is that this man never came here, and all you had was a nice normal night. Mr. Summers, if you will come with us please? We promise you will come to no harm," the other man said.

"As long as you don't flash that bright light thing at me." I open one eye.

"We will not." I opened the other eye, and followed them into a black car. I had no idea what powers they knew I possessed, and I hate operating without enough information. So, I decided to go on the assumption that they didn't know much of what I could do, otherwise, they would be trying to liquidate my existence, instead of trying to recruit me.

"So, Mr. Summers. I hear that you're a reporter." I dub one Bright-light man, and the other Number 2. This is a common technique in an interrogation. Use the suspect's name while not giving the interrogator's. Of course, since Summers doesn't exist, it didn't quite work the way it was supposed to. If they had addressed me as Derek or Mr. Quan, that would have been worrying. As it was, I can discard Mr. Summers anytime his identity becomes too inconvenient.

"So, Mr. Gleason. Have you had a scoop in the Bacon City?" I ask, with sincerity.

"You're a real comedian, Mr. Summers. You do know, of course, that this could be the last anybody sees of you, right?" Number 2 is playing bad cop to Bright-light man's good cop.

"It's the last great adventure," I reply innocently.

"You're a funny guy, Mr. Summers. Really funny. How funny do you think you'll be with both your legs and your arms broken?" Number 2 asks.

"Now, I'm sure we can avoid unpleasantness. Mr. Summers will cooperate. Besides, we promised that he would come to no harm. Both of us did," Bright-light man reminded Number 2. I enjoyed the little drama that was being enacted for my benefit. They were a little transparent, but they appeared to be new on the job.

******

"Look, I'm telling you, there was something in the washing machine!" the short, fat guy said desperately.

"You probably just filled your scrying bowl with alcohol instead of water," the tall, skinny guy opined.

******

The white mouse watched two of her black mages. She had given them power to tap, to convert it to any effect they wished, and they were wasting time bickering about the laundromat. Of course, there had been a signal burst from the laundromat! Why else would she have bothered coming to them in their dreams at night and pointing them at the laundry machine! Did they think their goddess would willingly dwell in such a place? The flare of energy had been of such concentrated power, that it was visible for every mage in a mile in every direction. She decided if they did not find the way in the next fifteen seconds, she would cause cardiac arrest in the fat guy. Not a fatal one, but enough of an incentive to double their efforts. She did give second chances, unlike humans.

******

"Hmm. Why don't we just do a reading?" The skinny guy asked. The fat guy and the skinny guy paused, and tuned into magesight. There were the remaining traces of infernal use, as well as something unknown. If they didn't know better, they would have sworn it was a human with a supernatural template laid over it. But that was impossible without the help of a god. They would have noticed a god in the area, it was kind of hard to miss one with their arrogance, power, and grandstanding. Either a god or something entirely new, something that was thought impossible by both sides, technological and magical. It could be someone who could incorporate both magic and science, and not have them cancel each other out due to incompatibility.

******

I inventory the possible escape routes, all weapons, analyze threat levels, and my own tactical responses with the powers I currently possessed. The windows were made of aluminum oxynitrate, which is a bit tougher than the bulletproof glass polycarbonate used in banks. It was blackened with electrochromatic paint. There was also the fact that the back windows had bars consisting of depleted uranium. How did I know this? Simple. I asked what the bars and windows were made of.

"No magioform's ever escaped. It's too heavily modified against magic. Also no one can track us, because the paint can change color. It's electrochromatic," Number 2 boasted. I couldn't see a thing about it. I wasn't about to switch to astral vision, though, because I doubt that Bright-light man or Number 2 knew I was infused with the power of twelve Chinese spirits.

"So what's our destination, oh fearless soldiers?" I laid back and inquired. The response to this was a stony silence. It was a shame too, considering their loquaciousness about the architecture of the automobile.

"What, you can answer my questions about what's the car made of, but not where I'm going?" I ask huffily.

"Nope." Number 2 was being laconic. We drove round and around and around and around. A smart move for people who want to lose people is to drive up a nearby hill, down a hill, and make comments such as look out for that ravine, and things like that. I needed the eidetic memory practice, so I concentrated on whether we turned right, left, bumped, rose or not. When we finally left, we were inside a corridor lit with hall lights, and there were five other black-suited agents.

"It's amazing Mr. Summers. You've managed to pull about three containment units. Most magioforms only need one." Bright-light man whistled like he was impressed.

"The ones who discovered the tracks are on their way. If they are correct, we will need quite a bit of containment on this one." The woman on the right murmurs.

" We wish to debrief you Mr. Summers. If you will follow us?" Bright-light man plays friendly cop, offering courtesy. Number 2 just glowers at me. I step and follow Bright-light guy. If they're wearing black shades, my red sunglasses should protect me. I keep an eye on their little metal tube thing though. Should doesn't mean will.

I sit down in a small room, and I take the interrogator's chair. It doesn't actually matter, since the light moves to focus on me instead, and the interrogator's chair becomes the suspect's chair. So I close my eyes, fold my arms behind my head, and put my shoes on the table.

"Mr. Summers. We have reason to believe that you know about a wild magioform and that it accompanies you. Now, we know you are not a magioform, because you haven't attempted to deactivate the hypnotizer. Magioforms are dangerous beings, Mr. Summers, and left uncontrolled, they cause an untold amount of damage and destruction. We wish simply to harness the magioform and to prevent it from causing excessive devastation to the surrounding area," Bright-light man offers me the sales pitch.

"So you have tamed magioforms? What does deactivating the hypnotizer, which I presume is the little metal tube, have to do with beings of pure magic? Why are magioforms dangerous being? How many magioforms have you harnessed? What are you using it for?" I ask brightly in the persona of Mr. Summers. Bright-light man shifts, while Number 2 answers.

"Magioforms resist being tamed, and often prefer destruction to capture for some reason. Magioforms are dangerous, because they run about amok, and causing damage to the status quo as it were. We protect the world from demons, gods, dragons, leviathans and other creatures that would destabilize the world due to the irrational powers of magic." I would like to point out that technically, magic is not irrational. What is magic is simply advanced knowledge of energy utilized in an application that is not generally known to the public and doesn't always work. In science, one relies on devices which always work, and can be repeated, more or less, although it doesn't always work in science either. While in magic, you can rely on it without foci even if it has no effect, it has a slight boost in self-esteem. Of course, a particularly powerful mage noted that magic and science are one and the same, it's only the scientist or magician using it that believes it's different. Magic and science are both using the law of knowledge, in which understanding brings control. Knowledge is power. Evil mages arise because of the allure of power, making bargains with infernal beings, and drawing energy from the death throes of living creature is so easy. Good mages work hard, and while the power is enormous, so is the amount of work required. Once they master the law of knowledge, most evil mages convert to good. Nobody wants to die a quick, painful death. Unfortunately, most mages choose the route to power, which is quick, powerful, and never master the law of knowledge and become lost to their respective afterlives.

"We were the ones who repelled the saurian creature in Japan. We were the ones who lost loved ones to magic, to hallucinations of mages that trapped other living creatures with their own nightmares. We lost it because of the danger it represents, when they sacrifice virgins to power their rituals." Number 2's eyes glittered with tears.

"Our goal is to eliminate magic altogether, to ensure that nothing like it ever happens again," the woman continued the emotional barrage. I've got to admit, such things do happen. However, you can't eliminate magic entirely. Otherwise, the sun won't rise, no one will look up at the stars and wonder. This is the symptom that is trying to kill the space program, and makes people speak out against genetic research, because of the dangers it poses. The solution is to educate people about mages and magic, not to exterminate it like an insect.

"Isn't that the wrong solution? Why not educate people about the dangers inherent in magic?" I inquire.

"Let loose more wannabe sorcerers who haven't a clue what they're doing?" This comes from the young kid, who's about fifteen years old. I guess they don't have a recruiting limit.

"At least, consider joining us." The woman terminates the conversation, as I'm hustled back in to the car.

"Can we get to the airport?" No one responds, so I guess not. Along the drive, I think about this. Nobody ever wakes up and thinks, I'll be evil today! I'll take over the world and become the master villain against a bunch of heroes. Well, maybe nobody. Some might. But a majority believe what they are doing is morally right, and the ones opposing them are the villains. Machiavelli succinctly explained this conundrum by writing "choosing the least bad as good."

My, my thoughts are growing dark. Anyhow, my answer would be no, but that's because I am technically the magioform they're searching for. So, they'd be obligated to kill me after I eliminated everything else. Enlightened self-interest is always a good pathmark.

******

Aldzinjal had hung on the underside of the car. She had recorded the path taken, and planted a transponder upon the axle of the wheel. She had rolled out of the side when she saw the billboard open up. There wouldn't be enough room for her to hang on the underside. There was barely enough room for the car. Using meditation exercises, she waited patiently for the car to exit. It never did from the billboard. She looked at her watching tracking the vehicle, then realized that it had vanished from the screen as soon as it had entered the billboard. She grimaced. She would simply have to plant a surveillance device on Mr. Scott Summers, instead of the car.

******

I get out at the same stop, as the car drives away. The saloon is closed, I've still get a heavy basketful of socks shifted into my coat, and the desert heat is turning to extreme cold. I still haven't figured out which way is the East Coast. I noticed a problem with stores and everything, out in the West, nobody's open twenty-four hours. They all close at two.

******

"May I ask, why a violin, Balsera?" a disembodied voice queried. The being spoken to blinked its six eyes in a rippling pattern, unfurling the black wings on its back.

"A violin was deemed the best shape to steal socks while minimizing intrusion from hostile forces," Balsera replied.

******

So, our intrepid protagonist is left in an unnamed desert town, without food or water, miles from anywhere he can run or fly to, and has been offered a chance to join the mysterious organization which eliminates magic. We also learn that sometimes clear decisions are not always so clear, and that sometimes, while Derek's viewpoint is tinged with humor and light, the other organizations are dark and tinged with fanaticism.
 

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