To say the Director doesn’t trust the intel the Karl-thing gave him would be an understatement, but he’s not fool enough to ignore it either. He sends his suggestions to OS-5 and gets back confirmation within half an hour: triple the compliment of men guarding the circle. Keep a close eye on Church movements. Be ready for everything.
In practice however, this proves to be more difficult to do than say. The Director pours through lists of deployment stations, scouring them for over-staffing, cutting back the ones that might not quite hold the same priority as others. And THEN he has to get the extra men to the Circle and get them briefed on the situation and absorbed into the Mole Rats’ command structure.
The end of reality itself might be on the way, but he is at least determined it’s going to be well-managed.
They’ve been driving for hours now. The sun is up and glaring at them through the windshield.
Vinny can feel the symptoms of sleep deprivation coming on hard now. He hasn’t shut his eyes in over 24 hours, and its getting to him. But he can’t bring himself to do it. Not while the woman sitting next to him is being held hostage by the thing living in his mind. He fights his way through a wash of emotions, guilt, fear, confusion, helplessness and tries to find something he can grab on to, anything to keep his head above water.
“Are you going to kill me?”
Vinny almost jumps in surprise. It’s the first thing the woman has said since he got into the cab. But then his surprise turns to suspicion. “Is this a trick?”
“I mean, is it really you moving your mouth and speaking. Because we’ve already established that the thing inside me can make you say the words it wants.”
“Is it a demon? Like in the Bible?”
“I- don’t know. I’m not much of a Bible guy to tell you the truth. Probably. Anyway, you’re evading the question.”
“No, I’m not. I’m sorry, I mean, I’m just so scared.”
She looks it too. Her makeup has run into streaks and Vincent sees that she’s crying again. Maybe she’d been crying all through the night. That realization hits him in the chest like a punch. He’s been so wrapped up in what all of this means for him, that he’d almost forgotten what his driver had been going through.
“I don’t think he can make me talk like this,” she says. “I mean, he can make me say whatever I want, but he can’t make me look like I mean it.”
“I…I’m sorry,” Vinny says, feeling the weight of guilt pressing down even harder now. “It’s not me. I don’t want this any more than you do. Believe me.”
“You still haven’t answered me. Are you going to kill me?”
But something inside him, maybe the Traveler or maybe the voice of his own self-doubt asks, How can you be sure?
But before he can think on this further the woman continues speaking, her voice halting and choked with something between grief and terror.“I always…always wanted to go to Florida. So I guess…I guess that’s a good thing right?”
Vinny smiles a sad, tired smile. “It’s not like what you see on TV,” he says. “Not where I live anyway. Whenever you see Florida on T.V. it’s either Miami or the Everglades. But most of it’s just boring suburbia and pine forests.”
“You’ve still got the beaches, right?”
“With sand as white as snow.”
“Really? I always thought that was, you know, Photoshopped or something.”
Vinny shakes his head. “They’re the real deal. Though a guy like me doesn’t get down there too often.”
“Imagine what it would be like to live in France.”
“Sorry, you were just talking about how TV shows things, and I was thinking that it must be terrible to be from France and every single time your country shows up on television there’s the Eiffel Tower in the background. I bet the majority of French people haven’t even seen the Eiffel Tower in person. What do you think?”
“I…I don’t know.” Vinny tries to process the fact that he’s having a semi-normal conversation with a woman that the ancient entity living in his head is coercing into driving him across the country and fails rather miserably.
“I’ll do what you ask, you know,” the woman says, breaking his reverie.
“I mean, that thing, whatever it is inside you, he doesn’t have to puppet me anymore. I promise I’ll be…compliant. Whatever you want me to do, I mean anything, you just say the word and I’m there.”
“I’m…not the one in control here. At least not of him,” Vinny says. “I’m…sorry about what he’s done to you.”
“I know, I know, I just thought, you know maybe that he would hear me.”
“Because…what’s your name?”
“Vinny. Vinny Price.”
“As in Vincent Price? The actor from way back when?”
“Yeah. I mean I’m not the same guy, I’ve just got the same name. But…you could probably have figured that out on your own. What’s your name?”
“Rachael. Rachael Anderson.”
“Rachael’s a nice name.”
“It’s just…I want you to understand where I’m coming from. I want your promise that that thing inside you won’t try to…to push me, or whatever you want to call it, again.”
“I told you before, I’m not really in control here, but-”
“I will die before I go through that again. Do you understand? If I sense that he’s even close to trying to get into my head again, I swear I will take this car off the road at full speed with all of us in it.”
“I’ve been raped before. I’ve never told anyone about it. Not even my husband. But I’m telling you now, so you’ll understand that I’m dead serious when I say that I would rather go through a hundred of those experiences than to have that thing you’ve got in your skull try to pry it’s way into my mind again.”
Vinny opens his mouth and then shuts it again, completely at a loss for what to say. Until the voice in his head says, [Tell her that if she cooperates, everything will be fine.]
“He…it, whatever it is, says you’ll be fine if you cooperate. For what it’s worth I don’t think he really likes doing things that way. It seems like it’s difficult or something.”
“It may be difficult,” Rachael replied, “but don’t think for a moment that he doesn’t enjoy it.”
On the same road, not more than half a mile behind them, a box truck is being driven by men wearing foil hats.
The one driving points at the dash mounted clock and the other nods and picks up what looks like an overly complicated walky-talky. “Base, this is the Mobile 5, do you copy?”
“I copy Mobile 5,” the handset crackles back. “Any deviation in expected course?”
“Nope. They’re headed your way, straight as an arrow. Assuming they don’t stop to rest, I’d estimate arrival time at sometime tomorrow morning. Ya’ll going to be ready by then?”
“Don’t worry about us, Mobile 5. We’ve got it under control here.”
“Roger that Base. Next call-in at Oh-Nine-hundred. Over and Out”
The man in the driver’s seat turns to his compatriot and says, “What do you think we look like? Couple of guys driving around wearing foil hats.”
“Hey, say what you want to, but if that thing is jiggering around with people’s minds I want no part of it. I’m more worried about the side effects.”
“What’s this stuff called again?”
“Telekill. Feeds off telepathic energy. Blocks psychic readings which is useful and all that, but they say that over time it feeds off your brainwaves. The longer you’re exposed to it the dumber you get. Stuff literally EATS your thoughts.”
“Yeesh. Where do the eggheads dig all this stuff up anyway? I mean, I’m prepared to believe in bigfoot or UFO’s or whatever, but the amount of weirdness I’ve seen since I started work with the Foundation is freaking ridiculous.”
“Dude, who knows? Why is anything the way it is? Sooner or later you got to learn to just take it as it comes, one day at a time.”
“Said the man wearing the thought-eating tinfoil hat.”
As it happens at that moment they aren’t the only ones with Telekill on their minds. Back at Site 14 the Director is waving a sheet of paper in the face of an irate engineer, and saying, “I EXPECT you to do your job, Wilkins.”
Wilkins does not react well to this. “Get one of your D-Class goons to do it,” he yells. “They’re expendable. I’m not. If you want me to build this for you, I’m going to need to see written confirmation with the signatures of every single member of OS-5. Until such time I’m not touching that stuff with a ten foot pole.”
The Director grabs the man by his lapels and pulls him close, his eyes burning into the engineer’s like a laser. Something passes between them, something unspoken, and then the Director says softly this time, “Are you SURE you don’t want to build my little project for me?”
The engineer swallows hard, his eyes suddenly filled with something between terror and confusion. “I’m…I’m sure we can work something out.”
“Good. How long have you been standing there gawping, Dr. Hyde?” the Director asks without turning.
“Er…sorry sir. Not long sir. Only, you’d better be sure about this, sir. OS-5 isn’t going to be happy you went over their heads on the Telekill thing sir.”
“The board moves too slowly in situations like this Hyde,” the Director says, leaning hard on his cane with each step he takes, yet still somehow managing to move in such a way that the younger man finds it hard to keep up. “They’ll forgive me for going over their heads if it saves their necks. Now what do you WANT?”
“Oh, sorry sir, I should have said. “It’s commander Maverick. He says everything’s in place.”
The Director stops suddenly, and Hyde nearly plows into him from behind before coming up short. “Do you ever worry, doctor, that you’re beginning to enjoy your job just a little too much?”
A confused look passes over Hyde face, before he replies, “No sir. Not the first time.”
And with that the Director breaks into laughter that seems to go on for a very long time.