A Change of Pace – Chapter 62

“You know I’m a grown man and can take care of myself.” Topher grumbled as Daisy hovered over him.

“I’ve seen what you call taking care of yourself; fast food wrappers in your truck, and overflowing laundry hamper, nothing but spoiled milk and condiments in your fridge, yeah you totally know how to take care of yourself. Now eat your Jell-O.” Daisy continued to hover until Topher spooned the gelatinous red semi-solid into his mouth.

“Delicious.” His gulp was audible as he forced it down. “Give my compliments to the chef.”

The hospital still moved at the controlled level of chaos it always did, but with his own room Topher and Daisy didn’t have to deal with it. Ever since Topher had taken a shotgun blast to his vest and broken several important things, Daisy had been spending a lot of time with him. She was part warden and part nurturer, making sure he had everything he needed, but then also making sure he was actually using everything he needed.

As far as men went, Topher wasn’t such a baby when he was hurt. Daisy had known special forces operators who’d been perfectly ok running around the jungle with two bullet wounds in them, but the minute they got home with their wives they acted like standing up to get food was excruciatingly painful.

<Wait…what…?> The image of men in green camo patterned fatigues and painted faces running through a hot, damp jungle was too vivid; too real.

Daisy’s head swam and her vision blurred. She seemed to be drifting in and out of the hospital room she was standing in. One second she was hovering protectively over Topher, and the next she was getting swatted in the face with a damp leaf the size of a car door. Daisy reacted, pushing the leaf aside so she could keep on running with the rest of the team; but then she was back in the hospital room with Topher.

“Are you ok, babe?” Topher looked concerned as Daisy slowly lowered her arms.

<No, no I’m not.>

                “Yeah, I’m fine. Don’t worry about me. We need to make sure you get better so we can have a Christmas Eve celebration that doesn’t involve a hospital bed and Jell-O.”

Topher still looked concerned, but he accepted what Daisy was saying. “The Jell-O actually isn’t too bad. Can you grab me another?”

Daisy sighed, shook her head, and muttered, “men,” as she exited the room and went to look for the food cart.

“Hey, Daisy…”

“Lookin’ good, Daisy…”

When you visited the hospital as much as she did you got to know the nurses and doctors on staff as well as the cops who were guarding all the injured members of the failed raid. For the most part, the cops acted like college frat boys. There was some good natured teasing about her looks, and how lucky Topher was to be “tappin’ that”. It was all in good fun, because if it stepped over the line she would stomp on whoever was stupid enough to make such a sexist comment. So far, it was a bunch of guys who cared for Topher, and because she was with him, she was an official member of the family.

The doctors and nurses were another story. It was no secret that Daisy had a scary, intimidating way about her when she wanted to; and her bursting into the hospital right after Topher got brought in didn’t help. The cops warmed up to her, but the nurses and doctors had to deal with her wanting constant updates on Topher’s progress. Deep down Daisy understood that they were busy and had things to do, but Topher was her man and she wasn’t going to let him be neglected. So, she wasn’t surprised when they started calling her “that red-eyed demon bitch”.

Daisy actually thought it fit, and she would legit become their worst fucking nightmare if they didn’t get Topher another cup of Jell-O. The two women manning the nurses’ station in the middle of the hall saw her coming and tried to find anywhere else to be.

“Martina!” the short, plumb Hispanic nurse was unfortunate enough to be the closest. “Please grab me another Jell-O cup. Thank you.” There were “please” and “thank you” in the statement, but there was nothing polite about Daisy’s tone of voice.

Martina grabbed a Jell-O cup from a tray on the counter, tossed it to Daisy, and quickly walked the other way. They might think she was a bitch, but they called her a demon bitch; the first word being demon because deep down Daisy scared the crap out of them.

Daisy didn’t give a shit about any of it.

“Here you go.” Daisy returned to Topher with the Jell-O cup. He opened it and began to slurp it down. He looked like a big man-child as he did it, and that made her smile. “Ok, last call. Is there anything else I can get you before I go?”

“You’re really going to be gone for a few days?” Topher gave her puppy dog eyes.

“Stop it,” she laughed, lightly slapping him on the shoulder. “It’s a business trip that’s been planned for a while. I have to go, and I’ll be back soon. Don’t tell me the big strong policeman can’t handle a few days without little old me.”

“I’ll be fine. I’m just worried about whoever you’re going to see.” Topher stared levelly at her as she tried to feign ignorance. “Don’t try and fool me. I know your fire and brimstone look, and you’ve had it on your face on and off for the last twelve hours.”

Daisy wanted to tell him not to worry, but she couldn’t bring herself to lie to him. “It’s going to be an interesting meeting. I haven’t seen who I’m meeting in a while, and it might not be a pleasant reunion.”

“Do I need to worry about anything?” Daisy immediately saw the question as two-fold.

The first part was if Topher needed to worry about her getting hurt. He didn’t know she was the infamous, legendary Hero, Reaper; but he knew she was tough as nails and could give and receive a lot punishment. If she said this wasn’t going to be pleasant than he suspected the person she was going up against had to be powerful. The second part, which was more ridiculous in her opinion, was if he had to worry about their relationship. Daisy had been intentionally vague, and he couldn’t help but wonder if this was an old boyfriend she didn’t want to tell him about.

“No. We’re good.”

It would have been nice to let Topher in on the specifics of Mastermind. He would undoubtedly recognize the name. It would help her to lean on him with her flashbacks. Dr. Johnson had worked wonders with her anger issues, not that the nurses at the hospital would agree, but he hadn’t been able to stop the flashbacks. They’d come on suddenly and end quickly when some external stimuli triggered them. It was usually little, abstract things; like grown men acting like babies when they were hurt. Still, it wasn’t doing Daisy’s psyche any favors. Scrambled up memories surfacing at random times were making life a little difficult. As an HCP professor, a former Hero working to renew her certification, and a concerned citizen who was taking an increased interest in the local Super gang she needed to be one hundred percent focused on what was happening right in front of her.

“Good.” Topher’s tone said he only half believed her, but he knew better than to pressure her.

<He’s a good man. Despite being a baby.> He groaned and shifted position just as she was having positive thoughts about him.

“Do you need me to get the nurse?” Martina couldn’t have gone too far.

“No, I’ll be fine. You just be careful, ok.” Topher smiled with a pain Daisy knew all too well. It wasn’t a physical pain. It was the pain of not being able to act.

“I will be.” She leaned in and gave him a long, lingering kiss. “After all I’ve got the Phillips’ family Christmas extravaganza to partake in. Word on the street says it’s pretty intense.”

Topher smiled. “You don’t know the half of it. And by the way,” his smile turned conspiratorial, “my sister decided to fly in from D.C., so be prepared to be interrogated.”

<Son of a bitch.> Daisy kept the smile on her face, but inside she grimaced. <So much for a relaxing holiday; and now I need to get another gift.> She added running Topher’s sister through the HCP database to find her an impressive gift to her list of things to do.

She gave Topher one last kiss goodbye, and then she was out the door and headed to the airport. Apparently, her meeting with Mastermind wasn’t high enough on the DVA or ForceOps radars to warrant a teleporter. John hadn’t straight-up laughed in her face when she asked if Colonel Ford would be dropping by to take her to see the old advanced mind. In typical John fashion, the HCP dean was polite in his response, but Daisy knew the old shifter well enough to know he’d done a normal person’s equivalent of laughing at her.

“Here.” He said after explaining why the commander of ForceOps Counterterrorism Unit couldn’t drop by to pick her up. “You’re flying commercial.”

Bad news was that she was in coach. The HCP wouldn’t even spring for business class. But the good news was it was a straight shot from Orlando to Raleigh, NC. From there she had a car rental waiting, and she would have to drive from Raleigh to Fayetteville; home of Fort Bragg, SOCOM, and ForceOps command.

Being around a bunch of soldiers was almost guaranteed to bring more flashbacks; but as long as they came with answers she was fine with it.

It had been a long time since Daisy had flown on a plane. When you were a Hero you knew people, and one of those people was usually a teleporter. A teleporter was like that kid on your college dorm room floor who had a car. Everyone wanted to make friends with them so they could get a ride. Some things never changed, and Daisy was feeling that loss right about now.

Security took longer than usual with her. She didn’t know if it was because the TSA guy was a bit of a creep, and using his authority to check her out; or if it had something to do with her red eyes. Some people were bigots, that was just the way of the world, but it almost made her late for her flight.

After everything short of a strip search, Daisy made it to the gate just in time. It was a good thing she only brought a small gym bag with her because being one of the last people on the plane meant that there was no overhead baggage space left.

<One carry on, and one bag to stow under the seat in front of you my ass.> Daisy grumbled as she stowed her bag in the first open spot she could find; which turned out to be several seats behind where she was assigned to sit.

If that wasn’t bad enough, the airline companies had apparently thought it was a good idea to scrunch people together like sardines since the last time she’d flown. Being six foot three was not a good thing when you were shoved into a middle seat between a college kid flying home for winter break and a fat business man who smelled like ham. She was going have to endure an hour and a half of the kid glancing sideways at her boobs, and the guy’s stench.

She thought that was the end of it, but no. Murphy’s Law was in full effect today, because the moment the plane started rumbling down the runway was the moment the baby started to cry.

And the crying lasted the whole trip.

By the time Daisy landed in Raleigh she was ready to spend a small fortune on a private teleporter in order to never have to set foot on a plane again. She also wouldn’t be eating ham for the foreseeable future. The college kid even had the audacity to ask for her number. She let him down a little harder than necessary, but being gawked at for an hour and a half had her on edge; especially when the plane’s roaring engines brought on a flashback of her jumping out of a plane and into a firefight.

She sent a silent prayer to the benevolent god of rental car companies when she got her small four-door with no trouble, and didn’t hit any traffic as she got onto the I-40 East toward Fayetteville.

The drive was as normal as anyone would suspect. It was just the road and trees for a while. A person could lose themselves in the rhythmic passing of the dotted yellow line. Small towns popped up every few minutes; advertising everything from hotels, to gas stations, and even adult entertainment. The more prevalent that latter became the closer she knew she was to her destination.

The trip wasn’t without its moments though. About halfway to Fayetteville, Daisy had a flashback. She was in a car, but nothing like the small foreign model she was in now. This was an SUV with thick, black tinted windows, men in suits, and a gun rack in the back seat. She didn’t recognize the man she was talking to, and she couldn’t make out the words; but it looked important.

Coming out of the flashback was almost as unnerving as the flashback itself. She was going seventy-five in the middle of an interstate, and a stupid squirrel was sitting in the middle of the road.

“Squirrel!” she yelled, stomping on the breaks and stopping just shy of the munching animal. It ran off into the woods beside the highway, and Daisy got a lot of angry honks as she composed herself.

<I really need to figure out what the hell is going on.> So far this trip had just been one shit show after another.

When Daisy finally arrived at the town outside the military base she didn’t dawdle. Fayetteville wasn’t the nicest of towns. She’d learned long ago that towns that sprung up outside bases tended to be mediocre at best. There were exceptions, but they were just those…exceptions. She proceeded quickly through the town, ignoring the pawnshops and fast food chain restaurants, and headed straight for the base. The DVA had set her up for the night at a hotel just outside the base.

Traffic got heavier the closer she got to the base. It wasn’t near lunch or the end of the day, but there always seemed to be a constant stream of people leaving and entering the base.

Daisy looked over as she passed a sign. “Fort Bragg: Home of The Airborne, ForceOps, and Special Operations Forces,” she read.

She thought the sign itself would have been fancier, but it was plain wood with white painted block letters, that were chipped in a lot of places. Not what she imagined when entering the headquarters of ForceOps and the Special Operations Command for the United States Military.

Daisy didn’t have time to dwell on it. She veered her car into the visitor’s lane which looped to the side and away from the main gates. She didn’t need a flashback to remember this part. Not just anyone could walk onto a base, especially this base. You needed to have business there. So Daisy parked her car and walked into the small building sitting a short distance from the gate. The military police were manning both buildings and all of them were armed.

“I’m here for a meeting with Colonel Ford.” Daisy told the sergeant at the desk when it was her turn.

What followed was five minutes of phone calls that ended with a, “please wait here, ma’am.”

Daisy didn’t have to wait long. In less time than it took to make the phone calls a man popped into existence in the middle of the visitors building. He was tall, thin, and had a tan that suggested he hit the tanning bed regularly or just spent too much time in the sun. He also wore the same uniform as the rest of the soldiers Daisy had seen, but with a special patch. A three headed dog, snarling and dripping spittle seemed like it was ready to leap off the fabric.

<I know that patch.> Men in black running through a sandy desert leapt into her mind.

“Ma’am,” the soldier said politely. “I’m here to take you to the Colonel.”

“Thank you…Lieutenant.” Daisy noticed the single gold bar in the middle of the man’s chest. “Lead the way.” She didn’t have time to remember more about the patch before the officer took her hand and they vanished from the visitor’s building.

They reappeared outside of another building. The building looked like any other building on the base; except that it seemed to be concealed in the middle of the woods. The lieutenant waved for her to follow as he led the way into the camouflaged building. They passed a man on duty at a desk near the door. He was wearing the same patch, and a shocked expression passed across his face.

“As you were, Master Sergeant.” Daisy looked back over her shoulder after they’d passed and the Master Sergeant was still looking at her with his mouth hanging open.

She didn’t think it was because of her looks.

“The Colonel has thirty minutes set aside for you, Ma’am.” All Daisy could do was nod as the lieutenant knocked on a door with the colonel’s name, and position written in big black letters.

“Enter.” Daisy got the strangest sense of déjà vu from everything that had happened in the last minute. It didn’t take a genius to figure out that she’d been in the building before. “Have a seat Ms. Meyers.” Before she knew it the door was closing and she was alone with the man she’d fought beside in the desert.

Daisy didn’t see any reason to beat around the bush. “How many times have I been here?”

Colonel Ford just smiled and shook his head. “This isn’t about you. This is about Mastermind and your meeting with him.”

Daisy frowned, but she knew the look on the man’s face. She wasn’t going to get anything out of him. “Then where is he?”

“He’s at home. He’s old and doesn’t get out as much as he used to,” Ford replied casually. “You’ll meet him there tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow! Why tomorrow?”

“Because we need a chance to brief him on the situation.” Ford said it like it was the most obvious thing in the word.

Daisy took a mental step back and realized it was the most obvious thing in the world. What Ford had admitted to her and John back in the HCP was above Top Secret. It broke laws, could lead to impeached Presidents, and would probably royally piss of the American public if they found out. With trust in government at its lowest point in a long time the dissemination of information like this needed to be carefully contained. Logically, it all made sense; but that didn’t mean Daisy wasn’t going to do everything to get the answers she came for.

“So how will this work?” She conceded the colonel’s point.

“You and a squad of my soldiers will travel to this address tomorrow.” He let her see a piece of paper. “You will talk with Mastermind. You will accept the answers he gives you, and you will go home. Then my men and I can get back to the job of defending this country.”

This was a different Colonel Ford than the man who’d spilled the beans back at the HCP. This was a ForceOps colonel playing on his own turf. He wasn’t going to be bullied by Daisy here. She’d have to be smart to get what she wanted. Thankfully, the colonel had already made the crucial mistake.

Daisy had Mastermind’s address.

“It there anything else I should know?” Daisy asked. The lieutenant said she had thirty minutes, but the colonel seemed committed to getting this done in five.

“Yes.” The teleporter placed his arms on the desk and leaned forward. “Be prepared to not like the answers. It might even be better if you didn’t know them.” He looked her straight in the eye and she could see he wasn’t bluffing. “But that’s your choice, he sat back with a shrug. “You’ve been warned.”

When he didn’t say anything else it was clear she was being dismissed. Daisy got up and left. She didn’t thank him for his time because he’d barely given her any; and she didn’t say she’d see him soon because he wouldn’t be coming tomorrow. Instead, she focused on how she was going to ditch the inevitable surveillance team and sneak off to meet Mastermind tonight. She needed a candid conversation with the advanced mind, not some carefully rehearsed and redacted talk.

She already had a plan formulated by the time the lieutenant deposited her back at her rental car.

Daisy took her time settling into her hotel room, just like any other person who’d been traveling all day. She’d already spotted the surveillance team that was waiting for her when she got back to her car. There were actually two teams, both driving grey Ford Fusions. She didn’t know whether to be pissed that it would be harder to evade them, or impressed that the colonel took her abilities so seriously.

The teams had taken up positions at the front and back entrances to the hotel, so she couldn’t get out without them knowing. Well…she couldn’t get out without them knowing if she left in a conventional manner. The best way to ditch a tail was to be unconventional, and she had just the eccentric exit strategy. It required her to buy a second room for the night under an alias, and request that room be in a specific location, but it was going to be worth it. She just needed to wait for the right time.

The right time came after Daisy finished eating room service. She’d been watching the two four-man teams, and right after she finished eating four soldiers, two from each team, went off to grab their own food. They hand minimal eyes on the hotel now. Daisy exited the room they knew she was in, and walked down the hall to the second room she’d rented. Once inside she quickly changed into the jeans and hoodie that she laid out earlier. She pulled the hood up over her head, hiding her blonde hair, and looked herself over. She couldn’t hide the height or the eyes, but the baggy hoodie hid enough.

Hoping her plan would work, Daisy went over to the window and opened it. She was on the top floor of the three story hotel. Her secondary room was on the side, in the blindspot between the front and back entrances. Her hope was that with the teams being short-staffed while half of them did the dinner run she could slip out; and by slip she meant fall.

Daisy didn’t hesitate as she hopped into the window and stepped out. She just imagined she was stepped onto a staircase, where the first step was over thirty feet beneath her. Anyone who saw her probably thought she was suicidal or seriously badass; thankfully, she didn’t hear any screams as she absorbed the kinetic energy of the fall with her legs.

Then she strolled casually into the night, like she was just another person out for a walk.

It was a few miles to Mastermind’s house, and Daisy needed that time to prepare herself. This guy might know more about her than she did. <Or he doesn’t know a thing.> There was always the possibility that Colonel Ford was yanking her chain. Maybe Mastermind had only been on that one mission with her and didn’t know jack-shit.

If this didn’t pay off she didn’t know what her next step would be.

There was nothing special about Mastermind’s neighborhood. It looked like your standard suburban development; cookie-cutter houses on half acre plots of land, white fences here and there, regularly cut lawns, and a few yards with kids’ toys scattered in front of them. It had to be a safe place if people would leave their stuff in the front lawn overnight.

Daisy found Mastermind’s street and then double backed to the one that ran parallel. She walked down the appropriate number of houses that corresponded to his address number and then cut through the neighbor’s backyard. A dog out going to the bathroom gave two barks at her approach, but abruptly cut off when she increased the static electricity in the surrounding area. It didn’t hurt the little Jack Russell Terrier, but it sent it running back to the house in surprise.

Daisy leapt the fence with ease and landed in the renowned advanced mind’s yard. There was a small swing-set jungle-gym combo off to the side, and an aboveground pool directly in front of her. A few of the lights inside were on, but Daisy didn’t see any movement. She snuck around the edge of the pool and hid in the shadows to watch the windows. She would have reached out with her life sense, but that would have tipped Mastermind off that someone was here. If this was going to turn into a fight then Daisy wanted the element of surprise.

<How do you surprise someone who reads minds?> The voice in Daisy’s head propelled her into action. She sprinted for the back door, closing the gap in three strides with kinetically reinforced power. <Don’t break the door. It’s unlocked!> The voice in her head pleaded.

It wasn’t the voice of someone attacking her; or it was someone trying to lure her into complacency. Either way she needed to be inside the house.

Daisy shut her mind as best she could and quickly opened the door. She darted into the kitchen, taking cover behind the granite countertop. She didn’t know what kind of defenses the DVA and ForceOps had put in place, and she wasn’t invulnerable.

“Jesus, Daisy!” The voice came from the next room over. “I’m unarmed, and sitting on my ass watching Jeopardy. No need for this to be a raid, just come and talk to me. I’ve known you were coming ever since Colonel Ford stopped by and told me you’d be stopping by tomorrow. I’m not an idiot, and I know you wouldn’t be told what to do. I’ve known you for a long time, so just come out and don’t blast me.”

Daisy rounded the corner prepared to do just that, and came face to face with Mastermind; only to get knocked on her ass by an overwhelming assault of flashbacks.

She saw him running in his brown trench coat, plain red mask, and fedora; dodging bullets and energy blasts. He was young and lean, but she distinctly remembered looking up to him. He’d been in the Hero game before her and she was learning a lot from him.

Next they were in green fatigues to match the jungle environment. They had expressionless green masks that matched their uniforms, but Daisy knew there were more lines and wrinkles on his face than a year ago. The number of laugh lines was fading.

Then he was back in the trench coat and fedora, but this time he was on the ground, motionless, and in a growing pool of blood. Her hands were coated in the red, sticky substance as she picked him up and started running. <Thanks,> he barely had enough air in his lungs to mutter.

Next she was on the ground, a huge hole in her chest. She could feel the life leaking out of her, but looking up at him gave her strength. He was yanking her like a madman, screaming for her to hold on. She tried to mouth a thanks of her own, but all that came out of an iron tasting couch of blood.

The last scene was familiar. They were in a desert, dressed in black, and men were being torn in half all around them.

“Holy shit!” Daisy fell to her knees, her hands pressed against her temple. She felt like someone had taken an axe to her brain.

“Daisy.” There was concern in his voice, but it wasn’t frail or old. It still had a strength and fortitude that Daisy couldn’t believe she’d forgotten.

“Kevin.” Daisy didn’t know how she knew, but that was his real name. Her hand grabbed the air, and quickly found his. “What’s wrong with me?”

“Shhh,” he cradled her head to his chest and rocked back and forth. “It’s ok. I’ll make it all better.”

Daisy could just feel the tears leaking from her eyes before the headache spiked to unbearable levels and she lost consciousness.

 

***

 

“Ugh,” Daisy groaned as she regained consciousness. “Wha’ the shit was tha’?” she tried to work more saliva onto her tongue to battle the cottonmouth.

“Shhh take it easy.” Kevin’s gentle voice sounded like a gong announcing the impending Mongol invasion.

“Ugh,” Daisy repeated, her hands finding her temples.

She felt like she’d drunk an entire fifth of tequila and then gotten kicked in the head by a donkey. Considering she wasn’t in Tijuana, she had no idea what the hell had happened. Slowly she got to her feet, and a strong hand helped steady her and help her to a chair.

“Wha’?” The cottonmouth was killing her. “Water,” she croaked.

Kevin hurried off and quickly returned with a full glass. It was like drinking rainbows; and Daisy sighed as the liquid worked it was over her tongue and down her throat. “That’s better.” Her vision was clearing as well, and it allowed her to see the concerned look on her old friend’s face.

<Old friends.> She repeated the thought and memories began to surface.

They were positive memories. They were talking and laughing, in and out of costume. She was over at his house, not this house, but a house. He was barbequing, kids were running around freely, and she was nursing a beer. Judging by her clothing and the fact that she hadn’t “nursed a beer” in a long time this memory was decades old.

Everything was ok for a few moments, and then more pain hit. It wasn’t as bad as before. This time it only felt like a guy had hit her in the head with a tire iron instead of having an anvil dropped on her noggin for thirty thousand feet.

“What happened?” She winced, trying to shake off the pain.

“You’re mind…” Kevin sounded so sad, “it’s very fragile. I did what I could, but you need to take it slow. Understand?”

Daisy knew that tone. It was the tone he’d used back when they’d first started working together; when she was a gung-ho, headstrong wildcard that was going to do more harm than good. She felt another stab of pain building, so she cut off the line of thought.

“Yeah, I’ll take it slow,” Daisy nodded, taking another gulp of water. “What did you do?”

Kevin was quiet for a long time, and Daisy could see the internal struggle waging in his eyes and posture. “They told me not to tell you.” He came to a decision. “But the hell with them.”

Daisy laughed despite the lance of pain it brought on. <Now that’s the Mastermind I remembered. How could I ever forget?>

He was quiet for a full minute, but Daisy didn’t bother him. She knew he wanted to choose his words carefully.

“I told them this was going to have long term negative effects,” he began, shaking his head at a memory Daisy didn’t have. “And I told you the same thing, but neither of you listened.” Daisy didn’t say anything, but this felt like a confession. “Every time we wiped your memory we were doing more and more damage. When I heard about your breakdown a few years ago, and you didn’t contact me I feared the worst.”

Daisy knew Kevin was a lot older than he looked, but in the moment he seemed ancient.

“You always had to be the best, Daisy. You always had to save as many people as you could. It drove you, it possessed you. I told you to take it easy, everyone told you to take a step back; but you wouldn’t listen. No one person can save the world, but you sure as hell tried.” He rubbed his eyes. “Soon helping your own country wasn’t enough. You had to help others too.”

“But Heroes aren’t allowed to operate internationally.” Daisy felt stupid the second the response came out of her mouth. The whole reason she was here was because Colonel Ford had told them that wasn’t true. Off the record of course.

The look Mastermind gave her said the same thing. “You volunteered to help out ForceOps, and I was assigned as your handler since we’d worked together a few times before.”

“What did we do?” It was the answer Daisy wanted to hear more than anything, and it was also the thing she dreaded most.

“Whatever needed to be done?” The old Hero shrugged. “At first it was easy. The DVA was young and everything was chaos. We were able to slip back into Vietnam and start back up right where we left off.”

Daisy could remember it now. A small team, all Supers, all dressed the green fatigues. They’d done dozens of missions together; fighting the Vietcong and other Supers. Only a handful had made it home. The entire memory played out in Daisy’s head before she realized it was different than previous flashbacks. She wasn’t consumed by the invading memory. This time it was normal and simple; how it was supposed to be.

That thought alone brought a smile to her face. What Kevin said next did not.

“We did at least two ops a year after that. We fought Soviet Supers, destabilized governments, assassinated people our government wanted dead.” Another burden fell on Daisy’s shoulders, and judging by the sag in Kevin’s this was a burden he’d been dealing with for a long time. “We worked together for twenty years. We went behind the DVA and our teams’ backs and put a lot of bad people in the ground, but eventually we couldn’t do it anymore.”

Daisy could feel that now. It wasn’t a complete memory, but a sense of tiredness that seeped into her bones at the thought of it. It didn’t matter if Reaper and Mastermind were two of the best operatives in covert ForceOps; they’d eventually had enough.

“It hurt you more than me, physically at least,” Kevin continued. “My skills allowed me to keep my memories from our missions. That and a nondisclosure agreement which basically states if anything shows up in the news they’ll come to my house and shoot me dead on the front doorstep.” His self-deprecating chuckle wasn’t funny. “But you needed to have your memories wiped.” He said “wiped” with a pain and hate that Daisy was only beginning to understand.

“You can’t really wipe away memories. They’re always there. Our mind is too powerful to allow anyone to take that from us and still allow us to function normally.” Kevin shook his head. “I wasn’t going to allow them to cause any serious brain injury, so I developed memory blocks. You wouldn’t be able to remember. If another advanced mind came looking they’d have trouble finding them.” A hint of pride crept into his voice. “I am the best at what I do. But if someone did find out we’d be able to extract you before anything went wrong. You’re not exactly a push over.” They both grinned at each other.

“What happened?” Daisy asked again after he paused for a while.

“At least two mission a year for twenty years, plus a handful of additional missions when it was deemed an imperative to national security; that’s what happened.” Daisy did the math and had to fight back tears.

<What did he do to me? No…what did I do to myself?> A few tears slipped past her defenses.

“I can only do so much.” He sounded like he was pleading with her. “All that ForceOps cared about was secrecy. They don’t understand the mind and how it works. It’s a solid construct to them, something I can just jump into and wipe things away. They didn’t understand.” Daisy could see years of frustration oozing out of her old friend.

“The mind is a river. It’s free-flowing and not contained within a construct. I can put up damns to block the water from going certain places, but then the water builds up in others. It builds up so much that it eventually floods. That is what happened to you, Daisy. I built too many damns, and you flooded.”

Daisy didn’t know what to say to that. She didn’t know how to feel. <Who the hell would know what to say when they were told that people had screwed with their mind so much it finally broke?>

“But I’ve started to fix it.” Those words brought Daisy back to what was happening.

“No…if they find out…”

“Fuck them.” The anger in Kevin’s voice had her involuntarily leaned back. “I’m almost a hundred years old. My wife is dead. My kid’s kids have kids. I’ve lived a good life. If they’re going to kill me then so be it; but I won’t let my friend suffer anymore.”

Daisy didn’t know how she got there, but she was suddenly hugging the old man so tight she might actually be the one to kill him.

“Thank you.” Daisy didn’t know what else to say. She knew he was putting his life in her hands, and she was going to do anything she could to protect that trust.

They stayed like that for a while, just happy to be together. Then they talked about pointless things, things from Daisy’s past that she’d forgotten. It wasn’t until past midnight when they finally broached more serious topics.

“Ask me anything. I’m an open book.”

“I remember a nighttime raid on a desert camp. We encountered someone…something that tore us apart. What happened?”

It appeared she’d asked the one question Mastermind dreaded answering, but he was true to his word. He told her all about Saif al-Din.

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5 thoughts on “A Change of Pace – Chapter 62

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