BUSINESS TRIP

By Javier "Bloodstone" Palomo

January 2, 2039

Your normal commercial business trip from DC to Hong Kong, assuming a single stopover, would take slightly less then nineteen hours. The trip was approximately 8,150 miles one way and would fly you through a minimum of four international territories. As near as Gabriel could tell the only reason the copilot was announcing this, and half a dozen other useless bits of trivia, was to impress upon him just how fortunate he was to be traveling via scramjet. Suborbital flights had still been semi sci-fi when he was growing up, but a lot had changed in the last thirty years. According to the girl on the other end of the intercom they were hurtling through the air at 2,500 mph at an altitude of 62.5 miles above sea level. Also, dfij literally means "hitting an airplane", but is actually Mandarin for jacking off.

Of course, the she didn't tell him that last tidbit, but it was the first thing that popped into his head when she started babbling. He couldn't help it really; rapid telepathic assimilation of multiple languages did messed up things to his head. The painkillers that he had taken afterwards probably weren't helping either. Then again, that copilot did have a nice round kha chu, so maybe he couldn't blame everything on drugs or telepathy.

To get his mind out of the gutter, he decided to review the mission dossier. "Sooner we get this over with, sooner we go home," he thought to himself as he pulled the pinky drive from his shirt pocket. Plugging it into the port on his right forearm, he sat back and waited for everything to load up. The neural interface between the metal limb and the hardware in his skull allowed the menu options to be digitally overlaid onto his field of vision. Fact sheets and floor plans snapped into focus on the ceiling of the cabin. Hotel accommodations, transportation arrangements, safe houses, drop points, extraction points, cover ID. In typical BEA fashion, everything was all planned out for him. All he had to do was show up, find the target and, if necessary, pull the trigger.

He opened a surveillance trid of the last known location of the target, a two-story house that had been Capt. James Cockrum's base of operations for the better part of three months. He rotated the three dimensional image, zooming in and out, scoping the scene for the best means of entry, examining the details. Just as he was noting how expertly the small flowerbed was arranged he felt a dull throb of pain. Either the zoom effect was straining his optic nerve or the pills were no longer preventing his absorbed fluency in Chinese from kicking his ass. He blinked a few times, rubbed his eyes and then let the lids fall shut as he tried to will the pain away. It was no good. All he could think was that there were too many hells in feng-du, the realm of the dead. Surly there had to be a "hell of endless headaches", and if so he was certain that's where he would end up one day.

Truth be told, Gabriel wasn't even sure why the brass had wanted him to learn all three dialects. Almost everyone in Hong Kong spoke Cantonese and English. Mandarin and Hakka were increasingly rare outside of historical sites and ethnic restaurants. Still, Gabriel wasn't the type to question orders, even if it meant enduring a migraine from pulling twenty-five odd years of language skills from the skull of a hotshot net diver named Quentin Quatermain.

He'd only met the kid a few hours ago, but he already felt like he'd known him for years. Gabriel hated the kind of false familiarity that came with deep mind probes, but it was a common side effect. Since he hadn't liked the kid when they started the session, Gabriel had to wonder if it had all been a setup, if that familiarity had been the boss's intention all along. Still, even after such an intimate reading of the kid's brain, he wasn't quite sure what to think of him. Only thing he was sure of is that things weren't always what they appeared.

Because of his accent, Gabriel had pegged Quentin as a Brit. He was only half wrong. The kid was originally put on assignment because he knew the territory well. He'd been born and raised in Hong Kong. Grew up in a trendy historical district known as London Town and, according to his files, he still had family there. Surprisingly, those files would have required a very high security clearance to read, but Gabriel had just sort of stumbled across the info while trying to get a handle on Cantonese verb conjugation. Most people had pretty chaotic thoughts and the kid's were really no exception. But there was a prevailing order to them, almost as if they had all been tagged and filed before being dumped in a storage locker. It was probably a result of just how much of the kid's brain was now made up of processors, super conducting metal and digital storage. But enough about his new partner, he had to focus on the task at hand.

When he opened his eyes there was a sudden flash of color, a swirl of black and blue and something else. Gabriel flinched slightly, instinctively raising his left hand while reaching for his holster with his right. He stopped himself when he realized the image was already gone, evaporated like a dream. All that remained was the cabin of the scramjet with the three dimensional image of a house superimposed upon it. He closed the file and pulled the drive from his arm. Was that a gold button he had seen, like something on a shirt or jacket? Perhaps a cufflink or tie tack? He couldn't say. The vision had appeared so briefly that all the details were swallowed up before he could take them in. He reached for the pills in his jacket pocket. He didn't need them, not yet anyway, but he just wanted to be sure they were there.

In any other line of work, seeing things on the job would probably get you a psych eval. Might even get you put on medical leave or fired if it persisted. But as an agent in the Bureau of Esper Affairs, it was all in a day's work. Well, for Gabriel Price it was anyway. That particular talent really wasn't very common amongst his kind.

According to BEA statistics, of the relatively small population of known espers, 79.6% were psychokinetic to one degree or another. Why God or natural selection had chosen them to be the dominant species was anyone's guess. But it was such a vast majority that, to the world at large, esper was synonymous with flying, throwing cars, and blowing shit up. Of course most espers could do none of those things. Manifestations of that scale required a degree of power or precision that less then a third of all psychokinetics actually possessed. Still, there were espers like Ran around who could practically move mountains with their minds. They were the ones the flatscans remembered best.

The second most common type of espers were the telepaths. They comprised roughly 13.8% of the population and were, for the most part, a rather pathetic lot. The majority of them never learned how to do anything useful with the power. Your average 'path could sense the emotions of those nearby, an ability that often just resulted in the esper having wild, erratic mood swings. Occasionally these individuals would also experience other people's thoughts and memories, sometimes hearing them as voices in their heads, or seeing mental images that couldn't possibly be things they had ever seen or done. Needless to say those that didn't learn to control the power were usually driven over the edge by it. Gabriel wasn't really the type to feel remorse about what he was paid to do. He was a professional and he'd been at this for a lot of years. But he sure as hell wasn't proud of how many telepaths he'd been ordered to hunt down, mostly because they had all been so damn young. Considering the alternatives, it was probably for the better. Those rare telepaths with real talent tended to be a dangerous bunch of skull fuckers. They were every paranoid's worst nightmare: they could peer into the very depths of your soul, make you see things that weren't there and make you do things you didn't want to.

The third category of espers were the clairvoyants. The term was kind of a catch all for that 5% of the esper population, a label that scientists had stuck on a minority within the minority because they just didn't fit in anywhere else. As the name implied, clairvoyants could see a bit clearer then most could. Or at least they could see the world differently. They were sensitive to things that even other espers couldn't perceive, seeing patterns where others saw only as chaos. It was often an entirely intuitive process, the clairvoyant rarely able to explain exactly how they knew the things they knew. As the numbers showed, there weren't a lot of clairvoyants out there, so there wasn't a lot of hard data on what they could actually do. It was mostly rumor and speculation, with a little bit of spin doctoring thrown in for good measure. The ability to predict the future and relive the past were common feats that had been attributed to them. Less common was the ability to see far off places or speak to the dead. Gabriel figured most of that was bullshit, but he'd seen too much in his day to completely rule out the possibility. For every dozen palm reading, crystal warring, whack jobs in the world there was a Mr. Khan. The boss was either the most powerful clairvoyant that Gabriel had ever met or he was the most convincing liar of them all. Either way, the man was simply never wrong. Well, never was a strong word, but statistically speaking the boss' predictions were always within a 3% margin of error.

The final 2% of the esper population consisted of those that had talents in more then one category. That was where Gabriel fit into the picture. He exhibited abilities from all three categories. He powers weren't very strong anymore and they were a pain to use. But what he lacked in brute strength he more then made up for with finesse and versatility. He'd been trained by some of the best and brightest in the field.

Then again, so had his target. Capt. James Cockrum was a decorated agent of the BEA and an exceptionally skilled psychokinetic. In addition, he had close to fifteen years of experience in the field and another three if you counted his time as an analyst and profiler. The man was a social chameleon, having rubbed elbows with everyone from heads of state in the EU to migrant workers in the Bear Flag Republic. He specialized in undercover work and had the skill set to show for it. Bad as it sounded, Gabriel actually had to hope the Captain was currently a captive somewhere or dead. In the unlikely event the man had gone rogue, there wasn't much of a chance that Gabriel was going to find him.

His thoughts were disturb by a soft, synthetic female whispering "incoming call" into his headset. He taped a button on the com and said "Johnson here. What can I do for you?"

"Oh hey look who's already in character," came the reply from Quentin Quatermain. "No offense Gabe, but really, 'Michael Johnson'? Who makes these cover ID's for you? I mean, could you get any more mundane? How are you going to get laid with a boring persona like 'Michael Johnson, ad agent extraordinaire'? It's got no ghost man. No ghost at all. What you need is a Q2 special! I could..."

"Did you call me for something important," Gabriel interrupted, "or did you just need to talk?" Despite the fact that he was annoyed, he managed to keep most of it out of his voice. The false familiarity meant he knew Quentin was nervous about the assignment. And when he got nervous he tended to blabber on uncontrollably. Not that he needed to be nervous to blabber.

"Right, sorry bout that. Anyhow, I've been monitoring your apartment like you asked me to. Everything's fine by the way, no worries. Just wanted to let you know that your daughter's up. Don't seem like she's noticed you're gone yet. She just got out of the shower."

"I thought I told you no video surveillance!" Familiarity or not, he was ready to break Quentin in half.

"That you did, boss man. Hey, I'm not watching her on the cams! What kind of perv do ya think I am? No, on second thought you been in my head, don't answer that one. So, what was I saying? Oh, right I've been monitoring the water pressure in the house, plus humidity, thermals, audio, pretty much everything but visual. Your daughter has a great voice by the way. Did you know she does a remarkable impression of, um, what's her name? The old bird they play on all the classics sites. Last name o' Spheres or something like it."

"Spears," Gabriel said with a sigh. "Yeah, her mother liked that shit. Used to sing it at karaoke all the time."

"You do karaoke, Lieutenant? I didn't figure you the type."

Gabriel really did not want to think about that. He wasn't in the mood for small talk. "You said she's out of the shower?"

"Sure did"

"Alright, patch me through."

"You got it!"

The line rang three times and before she picked up.

"Hello?"

"Hey honey, it's daddy. You'll never guess where I am..."


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