Arabian Nights

Chapter 12: Mixed Metaphors

Brennan reached over and hit the "set" button on the timer. 10:00 flashed once and then began to count down. Pelant moved to the computer which was of course, not connected to the outside world or to the internet in any way. It contained a copy of the OED and an exhaustive thesaurus, as well as graphing and mapping programs, should he want to explore connections that way. Instead, Pelant booted up Word and started typing. He typed for five minutes, stopping and starting, intensely focused and seemingly unaware of those around him.

Those around him, for their part, tried to stay still but it was truly surreal, this sunny Sunday afternoon, to find themselves arrayed in the cool sterile air of the Jeffersonian watching this most hated man type on a computer. Hodgins felt the rush of rage and fear and protection clawing to get out of his chest. The desire to finish what he started so many months ago and choke the life out Pelant was hard to ignore. But however uncomfortable they might have been, no one spoke or whispered. They just watched.

Finally, after 6 minutes and 34 seconds, Pelant pushed back his chair and stood up. "Let me be clear, Temperance." Brennan didn't respond to his words but just watched, waiting. "I guess five words, words that represent what you think these," he gestured toward Cam, Caroline, Sweets, Hodgins, and Wendell, "people, these pawns, mean to your team of crack forensic crime solvers." The sarcasm and scorn were heavy in his voice.

"That is correct, yes."

"And if I guess all five correctly, I have five extra lives, extra chances, to crack the passwords on the suitcases."

"That is also correct."

"And I have ten minutes to do it."

"Yes."

"May I guess again at some point in the game, if I am wrong?"

"Yes, after you attempt each person's password, if you achieve it, you may guess at the word contained therein. That will be your final opportunity."

"And not that I don't trust your sincerity," again, the mocking smile stretching the glossy red strands of the badly healed ruined face, "but you guarantee my safety during the game, right? I mean, Dr. Hodgins is looking positively murderous right now. I haven't done anything to him lately, and I have to admit, I am a little worried about him."

"Your safety is guaranteed for the duration of this game." She spared a glance for Hodgins, warning in her eyes, in her raised brows and tight mouth. He nodded shortly, angrily. Keeping her gaze on Hodgins, she added. "If anyone here attacks you physically during the guessing rounds, you may advance directly to the treasure."

"Good. That's cleared up then." Pelant rubbed his hands together. "Well, then, to my guesses. My guesses are, for Dr. Saroyan: Booth-Stealing-Slutty-Bitch."

Cam's eyes widened in surprise and there was a gasp from the witnesses-perhaps Daisy-but Brennan didn't react at all. Pelant continued, cheerfully, the venomous words tripping from his lips easily.

"For Dr. Hodgins: Sub Genius Scientist Suck Up. For Ms. Julian: Government Flunky. For Dr. Sweets...and sorry to be repetitive...Superfluous Bad Scientist Suck Up. For Ms. Montenegro: Humanity."

Brennan was still but her eyes were alert with inquiry and curiosity. He had surprised her and she was considering what he said, why he said it. Why throw away four chances for extra tries?

"You are correct in what I wrote on Angela Montenegro's slip of paper: humanity is the word I chose. You have one extra life." She didn't hesitate to move on to the next part of the game. "And now you have another 10 minutes to guess the password on Dr. Hodgins suitcase."

Hodgins stepped forward and, getting no closer than absolutely necessary, placed his suitcase on the edge of the table closest to him and walked away quickly, taking his place next to Wendell. Brennan's fingers flicked over the keyboard and the countdown reset. She glanced over at the rest of the team and they all took this as a sign to sit down. Hodgins alone remained standing. The countdown started again as Pelant started typing, searching through words, and thumbing them into the lock's password keypad, searching for the answer. Through this all, he kept up a droning monologue. Relentlessly bitter and biting both, it was nevertheless better than the tense silence of the last search.

"Let's see...I'll get some of the obvious answers out of the way...skeptic skeptical skepticism and paranoid and paranoia and conspiracy although that isn't really a role but maybe Dr. Hodgins is dumb about grammar. It's funny that I actually know the least personal information about Hodgins. Of all of the people here, he has protected personal information best, mostly by not sharing it, not writing many personal emails or keeping a blog when he travelled as a teenager or filling out detailed profiles of likes and dislikes on social media sites. I have read all about your political activity-" A quick glance over at Hodgins. Malicious black eyes meeting furious blue ones. "If this were an epic quest, you would never be more than a hanger on, Doctor Hodgins. At best you'd be one of the alchemists helping the lead magician, or if you were on the quest, you'd be the redshirt, the guy they send to investigate the sound that seems out of place in the night. You'd be the girlish scream in the dark suddenly cut off by a knife to the throat. Oh, the hero would avenge you, not even man enough to protect himself, never mind to be a real asset to the group. So let's see...bugs, bugguy, how the hell do you spell entomologist. Oh yeah that's it, but not it. How would you see yourself? Insight analysis scientist..."

Hodgins stood rigid, listening as Pelant mocked and tried passwords. "You were a loose canon, angry and at times unmanageable, unquestionably brilliant but your anger at the world was palpable and affected your relationship with coworkers." This last was said in the shape of a quotation and Hodgins recognized words from a long ago work work evaluation written by Daniel Goodman. Brennan was right. Pelant had read anything he could find on them.

"Cannon. Vengeance. Science, conviction, experimenter, explorer, evidence, career, job, vocation. Purpose. Ahhhhh." Pelant's sigh of satisfaction was almost a moan. With only one minute left he must have been getting a little worried. He looked Hodgins full in the face. "Purpose." Expecting more taunting, Hodgins was surprised when the other man said, "I can see that. Now that is ironic, to find something so essential in common with the team member I least identify with. We both crave purpose don't we?" He looked like he might say more, but thought better of it, turning his head to meet Brennan's gaze from where she stood in judgment.

"How'd I do?" Pelant grinned. "C'mon, you can tell me. I did good, right?"

She held up a hand in signal and the "spectators", witnesses really, clapped dutifully.

"Do you have a guess for what is inside the briefcase? The word I chose to represent Hodgins' value to the team?"

Pelant didn't hesitate. "Rebel."

Neither did Brennan. "Conscience."

Hodgins eyes glittered in the indirect light of the lab, his eyes snapping to Brennan in surprise. She didn't tell them what she was putting in the suitcases. He realized that he hadn't thought she was putting anything in them. He was curious, though and she must have been able to tell.

It was just the two of them for a minute as Brennan told her story, uncharacteristically hesitant and searching for words. "It is just that you were always so strident, so angry, and you were a scientist and yet you believed and put your intellect toward uncovering conspiracies. That first fact, my first knowledge of you...obscured what I have found, over time, to be much more...reliable...indicators of your place in the team. You act on what you think is right and despite being a truly outstanding scientist," Hodgins felt the smile form helplessly on his lips at her praise, "you never seem to forget what matters is the real person or people or ideals that our science is working on behalf of. You were the one who insisted, despite knowing you would be ridiculed or possibly even jailed, that we try to create a remedy for Arastoo from folk medicine. You were the one who stole evidence from the gravedigger to find her, to keep looking. I'm not sure that conscience is exactly the right word, but it is a way of saying that you use science to keep us from forgetting what we are using science to accomplish." And now Brennan looked surprised, at how much she had said, perhaps.

And Hodgins pressed his lips together and swallowed, emotion making his eyes bright and wet. He nodded and without a glance for Pelant, took his seat, crossing his legs and leaning back, ready to watch what happens next.

Pelant looked at Brennan, expecting something more from her perhaps. But she just reset the timer and turned to Cam. "Ready?"

Cam nodded shortly and rose, bringing the case to Pelant. The red numbers of the timer flashed and began their descent.

Things started to change when three pieces of information came together for Brennan. First, Booth's contradictory behavior, breaking their engagement but then simultaneously being absolutely steadfast and normal in their romantic relationship as well as reaching out to her through storytelling in such a eager and proactive way. Second, Angela's discovery that Pelant had likely been trying to kidnap or otherwise release Brennan from jail had he managed to get her arrested. And finally, Brennan's own shift in her line of questioning from the usually more fruitful how Pelant was doing what he was doing (listening and watching them in the most unlikely places and times, killing and posing people in bizarre and horrific ways, stealing Hodgins' money, to name just a few) to a question with which she was much less comfortable: why he was doing what he was doing. Motive, as Booth put it once, really wasn't her thing. That said, they had been proceeding on the assumption of a sort of general criminal megalomania...a craving for power of a previously helpless individual, the desire to play god. Several times, team members had mentioned feeling like Pelant was playing with them.

Brennan still visited Zach in the facility in which he lived. He had, in his time there, become even more of a game player than he had been previously, spending hours on advanced RPGs, as well as math games such as Bridge Builder or Topology Tower. The idea that Pelant was playing with them kept returning to Brennan, and Booth had taught her to watch for patterns, to never dismiss coincidences. Ultimately, it was impossible to dismiss the idea that this was a game to Pelant. And finally, she realized that Pelant wasn't playing with them.

He wanted to play with them. Specifically, with her.

That was it. Pelant's crimes had been designed to engage her. Even whatever it was that he had done to make Booth break their engagement (for she had no doubt of that now...well, only the tiniest doubt) had been done to hurt her, to prod her into reacting. Into playing. He was not only a villain. He was a gamer.

Brennan went to see Zach, bringing the profile and her suspicion. He confirmed her hypothesis in multiple instances and helped her decide how best to use the information to draw him out. A game, of course. With this revelation, other things started to fall into place. Instead of feeling that Pelant was omnipotent and watching everyone all of the time, they concentrated on the ways that he would be watching Brennan...her office, her home, her running paths, her favorite places in the park, one of which she notably chose to propose to Booth. With this information, Angela and a former computer hacker colleague/gamer friend of Zach's were able to tease the electronic threads of information back to Pelant's lair.

Finally, by Friday, they knew where he was, both virtually and physically, but had to acknowledge that to try to reach him in his own place was too risky. Who knew how many more defensive measures he had in place than the ones they knew about? They couldn't know enough about his safeguards and protections; they couldn't undo his undoubtedly deadly failsafes without the kind of direct access that would alert him immediately to their presence.

Angela needed time.

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