Change of Heart
by Charlie Ball

Alex's flight landed at Heathrow, behind schedule. The situation in Ireland had drastically reduced the amount of air travel to the United Kingdom. The few flights that still ran were now redirected to create as much of a safety margin as possible.

Surprisingly, Alex had little difficulty at customs, not that he normally did. This time, it seemed as if the customs officer was eager to get him through and send him on his way.

He had phoned his mother to let her know that he would be coming home for a little while. The general chaos that followed his performance had died down and, with the trouble that the Royal Elite were brewing so close to home, he decided that a trip home would be a good idea.

His mother had sent the driver to pick him up at the airport. Alex got into the car as the driver put his bags in the trunk. As the car pulled away, a security guard spoke into a microphone attached to his lapel...


"Is the Pied Piper on his way, yet?" asked Harbinger, all but sneering. It was bad enough that he had to waste his time bringing a second rate musician to Autocrat. It was made worse by the fact that he had to work with Brainchild to do it. Autocrat's interest in this -- musician -- still puzzled the telepath, but he wasn't ready to argue the point -- or disobey Autocrat.


Brainchild answered in a tone that implied he was speaking to an inferior.

"The driver has pulled away from the curb. Alexander should be here in approximately ten minutes... And this 'second rate musician,' as you call him, has been able to resist every previous attempt to bring him in."

Harbinger grimaced. He had allowed his defenses to drop slightly because of his impatience and Brainchild had been able to pick up what he'd just been thinking.

"Everyone is occasionally blessed by Lady Luck, Brainchild," replied Harbinger mockingly. "Dear Alex has merely been more fortunate than most."

"Fortunate or not, don't let your overconfidence interfere with our purpose today. In the unlikely event that we fail today, it will not be my head decorating Autocrat's mantelpiece."

"Don't worry about my abilities, Brainchild. Just make sure you're not humming that damned show-tune while we're working. I thought you hated Cats, anyway..."


Alex was looking out the window, lost in thought, when he noticed that the driver had missed the exit.

"Have you discovered another way home, Albert?" he asked.

"What? Oh. Sorry, sir. I must have been daydreaming. I'll just turn around at the next exit."

The driver continued on and Alex sat back in his seat. The next exit came and went.

"Is there a problem, Albert?" he asked. "You missed the exit again."

"What? Oh. Sorry, sir. I must have been daydreaming. I'll just turn around at the next exit."

He couldn't place this situation as déjà vu, as the repetition of events were far too close together, but it seemed frighteningly odd. Alarms began ringing in the back of Alex's mind.

"Pull over here, Albert."

"What? Oh. Sorry, sir. I must have been daydreaming. I'll just turn around at the next exit."

No, this wasn't déjà vu -- Alex's world had just become a broken record. He looked around quickly. There didn't appear to be anyone following them... but there was a van of some kind parked off to the side of the road up ahead...


"He's discovered that he's in trouble."

Harbinger heard the words and reacted with something close to boredom.

"So? Just have the driver lock the doors and then pull up next to us. I'll pull him out when they stop."

Brainchild allowed himself a quick grin and replied, "Okay, we'll try it your way."

He sent the mental instructions to the driver, who responded by gently reaching over and hitting the button for the power locks. He then angled the car slightly and applied the breaks. Alex saw two nondescript men standing near the van as it came to a halt. One of them approached the door of the car, apparently with the intention of opening it.

Alex spared a quick glance at Albert who was only sitting there, staring off into space and absently humming along with a tune on the radio. This is one game that I don't think I want to play.

Alex prepared himself as the approaching man stopped about ten feet from the car. Alex kicked with all of his strength at the door, sending it flying toward his would-be abductor. The door bounced off of an invisible wall that seemed to ripple with the impact.

Not waiting for the inevitable attack, Alex leapt from the vehicle, hell-bent on attackig the figure directly. He started a cartwheel, intending to turn it into a vaulting kick. Unfortunately, his hands were violently yanked from under him as his legs came over his body.

"Now, now, Alex. Is that any way to treat your new comrades?" Alex was unfamiliar with the voice, but the man clearly knew who he was. He also didn't like what the man's statement implied.

Harbinger turned to Brainchild and asked, "Is this what everyone has been going on about? He's no more trouble than a bothersome fly. What's the difficulty?"

Brainchild merely smiled and nodded in Alex's direction. Harbinger turned back toward Alex in time to get hit in the face with a kick that sent him flying several yards. He stopped before he hit the ground, righted himself and glared at Alex. Then he started to advance slowly.

Alex spun to face the other, shorter man. He began to run toward him, but suddenly his limbs didn't seem to want to obey his commands. The image of the shorter man shimmered, resolving itself into that of a young Oriental. After a moment, Alex recognized him as Kat, short for Katsuyari. He had met him several months ago through Gerry and Jessica before he had left for Juilliard.

"Despite all of the trouble you've caused us," he said, "I feel I should thank you, Alex. Having to work with a -- uhm, lesser -- telepath can be a terrible burden. I've been wanting to do that to Harbinger for quite a while now. But, as you might imagine, there are rules that discourage internal squabbling among the Elite."

Harbinger? The Elite? thought Alex. Then that would mean that Kat is actually--

"Brainchild. Yes. Now, we're going to spend some time together and when it's done, you'll have a little change of heart."

"Not bloody likely," replied Alex with contempt as he tried to regain control of his limbs.

"Oh, Avatar said the same thing," replied Harbinger. "Well, I suspect it was the equivalent, anyway. My Babylonian is a little rusty. I'd love to get started now, but working at the roadside is so plebeian. You're going to sleep now. When you wake up, you'll feel very uncomfortable. I, however, will feel much better."

Before Alex could say a word, he felt a stab of pain in his head and he lost consciousness...


Some time later, Alex awoke in a dark room. At least it seemed dark. He couldn't tell if his eyes were open because he couldn't feel them. In fact he couldn't feel anything. It was as if his entire body had become numb. He couldn't move, either, even to turn his head.

The dreams were bad -- worse than they'd been in years. He kept reliving the day of the crash over and over again. He'd lost count of the number of times he'd felt the car roll... and then watch the paramedics try to keep his father alive long enough to make it to the hospital.

He thought he could make out voices, but they were muffled as though heard through several cushions. He concentrated on the conversation but was distracted... the sound of the roadster's engine...


"... I still don't see why Autocrat wants a second-rate musician as a member of the Elite..."

...the ball was in his hands...

Not again!!

"Less talk, more concentration! And don't let him near that part of his mind yet! If he should regain access before we're done..."

...the car began to roll...

I -- WON'T -- LET -- YOU -- DIE -- AGAIN!!

"Why not? What are you afraid he's going to do, hum a few bars from Cats at us?... Holy Christ!..."

...The Music swelled at his command, seizing both his father and himself, floating out of the seats, the safety belts snapping with barely a thought...

Brainchild and Harbinger found themselves thrown out of Alex's mind and in the grasp of a massive force, immobile and barely able to breathe. They rose above the floor, quickly picking up speed as they headed toward the wall. The straps that kept Alex's body from sliding off of the table were snapping like dry pasta.

"I told you... to keep him away from it!" screamed Brainchild, as he tried to free himself from Alex's grasp.

"Bitch about it later!" Harbinger retorted, gasping. "We need to get him back under control, now!"

Brainchild thought quickly. Their control of Alex was slipping fast and if they didn't do something now, it would be too late.

Follow my lead -- precisely, the Oriental yelled telepathically, and the two desperately pushed their way back into Alex's mind...


Alex landed on the grass at the side of the road and watched the wreckage of the car burn, thick columns of black smoke rising high into the air. He looked up at his father and smiled, ecstatic that he was able to save them from certain death.

"I'm very proud of you, son. You've done very well."

"Thank you, Father. I'm glad you're okay now."

"I've waited a very long time for you to be able to do that. You know that you can do things like this whenever you want to right?"

"Well, I hadn't thought about it, Father, but if you say so, it must be true."

"You're a very good boy. I think I can share a secret with you now."

"A secret? Is it a big secret?"

"One of the biggest secrets ever. It's so secret that your mother doesn't even know."

"It must be a very, very important secret."

"Yes, it is, it's sort of a secret mission, but it's very important."

"A secret mission? I've never been on a real secret mission before. Can I help you with it? Please?"

"I would be very happy if you could help me with it. You see, the world is full of weak and wicked people who thrive on chaos and ignore the advice of the wise. If they are not stopped and destroyed, they will one day destroy the world along with themselves."

"What can we do?"

"They need to be shown the way to order, the way to wisdom. People like us need to lead them to a better way of life, one where the wise and powerful are obeyed so that all who live may benefit."

"I want to be wise and powerful, Father."

"I'm glad to hear that, son. Take my hand and I will show you to two people who can teach you what you need to know. When you have learned, they will bring you back to me."

"Okay, Father. Can we race there?"

"Another time, perhaps. For now, let's just walk."

Alex smiled and grabbed hold of his father's gauntleted hand. He could feel the faint thrumming of the power that flowed in that hand and was glad that he would be able to help with his father's mission...


Harbinger and Brainchild spent another day, the second since they had abducted Alex, reinforcing Brainchild's improvised plan. Alex learned all of what was expected of him eagerly since his father had wished it. But even though his father had given him into the care of these two, Alex never quite got over his dislike of them. Perhaps it had to do with the way they would glare at him when they thought he wasn't looking.

When it came time for them to rejoin his father, the two presented him with armor and instructed him to wear it before they went to meet Autocrat. He did so, but before they could activate the device that would send them to the Celestial Keep, Alex took the initiative and used the Song of Transport to take them there.

Alex arrived on his feet, but Harbinger and Brainchild stumbled upon their arrival, ending up splayed on the floor of the Audience Chamber. That brought the sound of snickering and open laughter from some of the others gathered there. Baroness tee-heed, Mastodon boomed enough to rattle the walls, Rook and Proctor showed their boisterous amusement, and even the Yeomen snickered and hissed. The only one present who made no sound was the Emissary, who only nodded to Alex in acknowledgement of his presence.

There was a silent undercurrent to the laughter. The older members of the Royal Elite glanced at one another to be sure they weren't the only ones that noticed how similar Alex's armor was to that worn by Autocrat's dead son, Metatron.

Alex looked upon the magnificent form of his father, resplendent in the armor that, at his slightest whim, could unleash Death upon any who opposed him. He kneeled before Autocrat, awaiting his pleasure, happy to do so until he was bidden to rise.

"Welcome home, my son. It is good to finally see you where you belong. There is a task I would have you undertake that will announce to the world that you have assumed your rightful place."

"You need but to state it and it shall be done, Father," said Alex with reverence. Autocrat commanded him to destroy the military unit that was, even now, advancing on one of the areas that Autocrat rightfully held.

On his way out, he spoke to Harbinger and Brainchild.

"My apologies for the rough landing," he said. Turning to Harbinger, he added, "but it's probably all you can really expect from a 'second-rate musician.'"

Alex gained some small satisfaction at seeing Harbinger pale slightly as the Song of Transport carried him to the battlefield...

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