Mindbender

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The Greenfield Breakout

It was June 12, 7:54 a.m. That’s when I remember glancing at the time on my phone. I was up early, and grouchy, and drinking hot coffee like it was the elixir of eternal youth and I was a hundred years old, which didn’t help my mood much, but it made me happier about being angry.

Sitting in the surveillance van that Spider had procured, I felt out of my element. I had the same eyes that she did, but I was out of contact, cut off from everyone else. Everything relied on things going according to plan, and I had enough history with plans that I knew that you were never smart enough to out-think every eventuality once the plan was put into motion. Something always went wrong.

Which was why I’d made it a rather simple plan. I’d gotten lucky with my hasty plans thus far, but a well-planned hack was a thing of perfection, whether you were hacking brains or other systems. I’d never been much of a computer hacker, but my brain hacking was…well, let’s just say I was at the top of my field, and there was no one else up there with me to tell me otherwise. But I didn’t want to overcomplicate it. Too many variables, too many things that could break. All if it dependent on the success of the first part, for there to be any hope of succeeding. Once we got the guys inside, there were options. Until then, there was no Plan B.

I had coffee in a thermos. I had cigarettes. I had a heart that was pumping so much nervous adrenaline through my body that my ass cheeks flexed in the seat and my feet drummed on the floor, back and forth, as if I was running. A nervous, scarred junkie with a stubbled head and a furry face, chain smoking and spinning around in the chair and watching every monitor as if my life depended on it.

Even if mine didn’t, Keith’s certainly did.

On a monitor in the top center of the car I saw it: the delivery truck pulling into the loading area. I sucked my lip into my mouth in surprise. He was a little early. It was probably okay, but…he still got here earlier than we’d planned. For the very first thing in the whole plan to not go exactly according to plan made me exceptionally nervous.

Right on cue, my phone thrummed on the seat next to me, and I saw the notification from Spider.

It’s okay.

“I know it’s okay,” I said. “This part doesn’t depend on timing. Still, he didn’t exactly follow my instructions.”

So what?

“Shut up,” I said, watching the truck opening up and a man getting out of the driver’s seat. A beefy fellow with a salt and pepper goatee. Emmet Case, not exactly on time. Emmet was the loosest of cannons, held together by a prayer and my rigorous mental scripting exercises. But yes, it bothered me. My control was absolute. Emmet Case had been one of the hardest to script, because of his long list of bans and ingrained behaviors. To say he was stubborn by nature would have been putting it lightly. But I had him locked down. I had him figured out. It wasn’t that.

But then I remembered something that I’d told Mac before the whole thing went down, a quiet instruction I’d given him, far away from my phone or any other wired or wireless technology. Then it all made sense, and I smoked on my cigarette with a bit more venom after that, and then I had to stand, and started pacing in the van, trying not to bump my head, while I watched the cameras.

Emmet walked over, scribbled something on a clipboard, and a few people in official uniforms moved into the back of the truck to begin unloading. I knew that Spider had already looped the feed inside the facility, so when Emmet slammed the door to the truck, trapping everyone inside, I knew that the other five who were stashed inside would hopefully make quick work of them, giving that they had the element of surprise. Then Emmet grabbed the guy who had handed him the clipboard and decked him with all his strength, throwing himself overboard in the process. Even through the grainy camera feed, it was impressive, knocking the guy flat and unmoving.

Five minutes later, my Sinful Six were dressed in stolen uniforms and security badges, and moved out of range of that camera, and inside of Greenfield proper.

“No sweat,” I said, and lit up a cigarette with shaking fingers.

We have minutes at best.

“Yeah,” I said.

The kind of minutes you can count on one hand.

“For someone who wants Keith rescued, you’re doing an awfully good job of invoking bad karma here.”

You should have just gone in yourself.

“No. Sorry Spider, not again. Not like that. And definitely not with you involved.”

That’s sweet, but I can take care of myself.

“Not with you involved because you have a history of double-crossing people who are doing you a fucking favor.”

Oh.

“Not everything is about you.”

It’s hilarious to hear that coming from you. So then why are you doing this?

“Because fuck them, that’s why,” I said. “They screwed you over to get to me, but Keith wasn’t involved. You weren’t charged with any crime, you weren’t even fucking dead yet, and they just took him. If I was him I’d be praying that someone showed up to kick everyone’s asses and get me out of there. That shitshow in Oregon was almost a total failure for them. Almost. But they still got Keith.”

That’s actually more noble of a position than you think it is, Lance.

“Stop using my name,” I muttered, but it was a reflex by now. “It’s me giving them the middle finger, okay? It’s me saying, ‘You didn’t win shit’. I’m taking back all the gains they ever got in fucking with me. It’s that, okay? It’s that, and partly that you won’t ever leave me alone until I help you get him back.”

You are so full of shit. Just admit that you are doing a good thing, for the right reasons.

“Nope. I also have been waiting an awfully long time to get in your pants. Before you start citing high-minded motivations, you should always start lower. Much lower.”

She didn’t reply, but I’d lost interest at that point myself. I was much more interested in the six different men marching down the terraced sidewalk in a group, moving past the lunch building, and to the dormitories.

“It’s time for the split,” I said, and breathed out a sigh with it when I saw the six men drop into two groups of three. Three of them headed to the dormitories, the other three headed for the front gates, shadowing along the buildings, moving military-style, covering each other and watching around corners. Then they melted into the campus. That was the fire team: Wil, Mo, and Doug. They were wearing backpacks, and rather large ones at that.

Meanwhile my hand-picked rescue crew of Mac, Emmet, and Cameron got to the dormitories just in time for Cameron, whose eyes were glued to his watch, to punch himself in the balls, promptly at eight am.

Which is why they were supposed to wait until after 8:00 to arrive.

My phone vibrated, and I already knew what it said. Spider telling me that if I hadn’t been such a child, Mac and Emmet wouldn’t be hauling a howling and sobbing Cameron to his feet when they could have already been going inside the building to get Keith.

I felt embarrassed enough not to reply.

Soon enough they were inside, and we switched to the cameras inside the boys’ dorm. It was late enough that kids were awake and horsing around, brushing teeth and generally getting ready in the way that boys get ready when no one is around yet to get them organized. But still more decorum than I would have expected in such situations, so I imagined the US military machine was rapidly conditioning these children into well-conditioned mindslaves of a different kind.

Start young enough, and anyone can do what I can do. It just takes longer.

And don’t forget what I said about the Vibe, either. It’s a real thing, it’s a conformity magnet. Sociopaths can’t feel vibes at all, and I can feel it but can choose to ignore it, unlike most people. It’s a subtle distinction that I hope is not lost on anyone who wants to call me a sociopath. The kids were under the Vibe as much as they were under The Man’s conditioning. It’s why I don’t mess with kids’ heads anymore. It feels wrong. Kids heads are messed with enough by everyone else as it is. You think I’m a monster? You should see the shit that kids go through, and what their parents do to them, all while thinking they are doing the right thing. I get a front row seat. I get to see it happen, and see exactly how it happens.

What makes me a monster is sitting there and letting it happen. Yet I do it all the time, and I hate myself for it. Because of free fucking will. Yes, I trample all over it when it suits me, and I really do help people, but I don’t have enough handkerchiefs not to mention blood in my sick body to fix the entire world.

Every one of my little mind puppets at Greenfield had memorized Keith’s face so much they could see him in their sleep, so finding him was quick and easy work. There was an exchange of words as their lips moved on the camera, and my phone vibrated.

What are they saying?

“Mac is supposed to say, ‘I was sent here by your Mom. Get ready, because we have to leave right now.’”

He’s a smart kid. He won’t go anywhere without the password.

“I’ve got it covered. I know it’s ‘Cuda’.”

What??

“A pet fish he had as a kid, right? Had it for only one day, because he took it out of the water and tried to sleep with it. His dad said it was a ‘real barracuda’ and Keith just called it ‘Cuda’ and loved that fish all day long. Literally, to death. Right?”

You were in my head for twenty seconds, and you found out mine and Keith’s password? And that whole fish story about Cuda?

“It’s close to your heart, so to speak. It’s extremely important to you, it’s second nature, so yes. I picked it up quickly.”

But you never told me about it.

The easy reply was to tell her that she hadn’t told me she’d set me up to get me killed, but I figured if she sat with her hypocrisy for a moment she’d figure it out. Instead of saying anything about that, I grinned at the phone as I saw Keith being quickly escorted out with Mac’s arm around him.

“Watch this,” I said.

Once they got outside, they headed back to the delivery truck. They had a ways to go, and then, even from inside the van, I heard the explosion. There it was on camera 4, the south tower going up.

What the fuck are you doing?

“Creating a distraction. I told you there’d be a distraction. You agreed that we should have a distraction.”

I didn’t tell you to blow anything up! Where did you even get explosives?

“Emmet was a chemistry teacher before he got fired from that job and bumped down to minimum wage.”

omg

Yeah, it was a big one. They’d set it at one of the guard towers, and the whole thing was roiling flame and oily black smoke. It drew every eye in the place, kids, adults, and armed soldiers with guns—rubberneckers to the scene of an accident.

And then, at that most excellent moment, with everyone bathed in firelight and sirens screaming, that’s when Wil Cartwright took his shot, and put one of the facility’s soldiers down.

That's when it became something out of a movie. The kids screamed, assistants and staff scattered like roaches, and the military commandos began to take cover, track down, isolate, flank, and return fire against the insurgents. My three little would-be heroes.

In their own minds, they were. This was everything they’d ever wanted, taken out of its original context. All of them wanted to go down in a blaze of glory, and they all had their own little reasons for it, and since that was what they wanted, I found a suitable target and I gave it to them.

You’re going to get them killed!

“And you care?” I asked. “Meanwhile, not a single motherfucker is looking anywhere close to that delivery area right now. That side of the campus is completely unguarded.”

Except now the security team knows they are looking at a loop, that they’ve been hacked.

“And now they think they know why. So Doug, Wil, and Mo can cause some kind of terrorist attack. Human nature, Spider. They won’t see it coming. No one expects highly improbable things to happen in clusters. They only reconstruct it after the fact.”

You are way too confident about this.

I was actually scared shitless, but fooling Spider made me feel better about myself.

Mac got back to the loading dock, got Keith into the back of the truck, and then ran around to the front, giving it the gas. The truck lurched for a moment, and then it was gone, headed for the back gate.

I only hoped Mac could talk his way past the guard who was flagging him down.

Who said it was necessary to create that kind of a distraction in the first place?

“Don’t ask questions to which you already know the answer, darlin’. We needed a good distraction. Something that no one could ignore. Who can ignore a big explosion and a bunch of crazies with guns?”

You sent them in there to die.

“Yep,” I said, and I got up from the chair, taking the phone with me.

You’re moving. Where are you going?

“Out,” I said, and I left the van, and I closed the doors, and I took my coffee and cigarettes, and even my cigarette butts with me.

The wrecker was already there, waiting. The guy stepped down off the truck, saw me without seeing me, and did what I’d told him to do. He picked up the van, and proceeded with taking it off to be crushed into a cube of scrap metal.

Seriously, what are you doing?

“You had better stop worrying about me,” I said, lighting up a cigarette and dropping the butts I’d rescued down the sewer drain. Then I started to walk. “Because Mac will be making the rendez-vous soon at this rate, and after that it’s all you.”

You didn’t even stay to see what happened.

“I gave him a taser. I assume he stuck it in the guy’s face and got out of there.”

No, he talked his way out somehow. But you’re right, they are out. I don’t agree with your methods, but you did what I asked you to do. Thank you.

“We’re not there yet. You get Keith cleaned out of their system?”

Yeah. No records left of him anywhere in Greenfield.

“Still doing that thing you suggested? Turning over some info about it to the media?”

People should know about this.

“People do know. They don’t care.”

The right people don’t know.

“There are no right people, or haven’t you realized that yet?”

Whatever. Look. Thanks, okay?

“Just make room in your pants for me. I’m coming in.”

You got it, big guy.

I blinked at the screen for a long time after that.


Wil, Mo, and Doug died in battle, like warriors. Or like terrorists, which was how everyone took it. It was totally senseless, and everyone talking about how senseless it was kept cracking me up because of course it was senseless. It was a distraction. That was the entire fucking point.

You could tell the forensics team was pissed off through their tight-lipped excuses on camera. Every one of the killers wore clothes they’d picked up from a thrift store down the street, their bodies had recently been scrubbed with bleach water, and not a single one of them was left alive to question. Their weapons had the serial numbers filed off, because Doug knew a weapons guy, which meant that I also knew a weapons guy, but it was of no help to the investigators. Nothing in common between the assailants, no history of violence, and no known associations with each other. No suicide notes or manifestos, no warning signs on social media in the weeks leading up to the attack. Though Mohammed was Muslim, Wil and Doug were an evangelical and a Catholic, respectively.

All the usual narratives failed. There was one other mysterious individual found dead on the Greenfield campus, one Cameron Walker, who had even less in common with the others, but he too had died in a hail of gunfire, and left only questions to mark his passing. It was never his job to get into the truck. Once he had escorted Mac and Keith to safety, his job was to literally go die in a fire, or rather a firefight, and he did so like a man, with more dignity than he deserved.

Then, just a few hours later, a message was leaked to news outlets around the country and around the world, about the secret facility called Greenfield, where the US government was experimenting on children.

Spider won this bet of human nature. Plenty of people justified it, sure, but there were certain people, the “right” people, who took notice and if they didn’t take the program offline entirely, the government certainly took a more low-key approach after that, at least until the public forgot about it.

I gave the public about a month.


That night I stood by the waterfront, waiting for Spider’s notifications, after I'd put the battery back into the phone and turned it on. I’d just finished eating complimentary Chinese food, and it sat heavy in my belly like a rock.

It wasn’t a message, but her voice that I heard over the phone this time.

“Hi Mindbender,” she said, and sounded sad.

“Hey Spider,” I said, and I was sad, too.

“Thanks for getting Keith back. I thought maybe you’d do something bad, you know…”

“I know you did.”

There was a long awkward pause, and dead air. Then she said, “Is that why you didn’t come to meet me?”

“I sent Emmet instead.”

“I know.”

"The Feds got him." It wasn't a question.

"...Yeah."

“His corpse, I hope. His job was to kill himself rather than be taken alive.”

“…Yeah. Yeah, he did.”

I just shrugged. Smoked. Wasn't a whole lot to say about it.

“…Lance…” she said, and I could hear her sobbing. “How did you know?”

I lit another cigarette with the burning remainder of the last one, and tossed the butt into the water.

“I knew you were going to double-cross me, because Mac gave me a signal. He started early. I knew that something was up, something I couldn’t trust. He must have seen something. I figured it wasn't something on my side, but something on yours. You’d supplied me with a surveillance vehicle to watch the whole thing to go down, because I didn’t want to be close to the action. It was a variable you could control, I realized, and I couldn’t even necessarily trust the feeds I was seeing if you were trying to fuck me over. Just in case, I had a contingency plan for the vehicle, which I used. I took the battery out of my phone a short time after that, so you couldn't track me.”

“You had so little trust in me.”

“Gee, I wonder why? I’ve been in your head, remember? You are a fucking mother bear! You won’t hesitate to bury anyone in a hole who threatens your child, and my mere existence threatens you. I lied to myself about it for a long time, Della…even though I really knew. You like me, you like me a lot. But you can’t trust me.”

“Well. You’ve done things, Lance…”

“Things you asked me to do!” I shouted, and felt the hot salt as my eyes burned.

“I didn’t ask you to do all of that! A lot of that was you.”

“Yeah,” I said, and coughed as I swallowed smoke, “I’ve done some bad shit. But it saved your life. Saved Keith. I never betrayed you, Spider. Not once. I kept holding out hope for you…at the idea…” It hung there, and I couldn't articulate it. Didn't want to give voice to it.

She sighed on the other end. “What, Lance? What idea?”

"Nothing."

"Don't do that. You can at least tell me what the fuck you're talking about."

I took two long drags to gather my thoughts. “The idea...that someone could actually be in on it, okay? That someone could know what I’m capable of doing, and that they’d still be okay with it. It was this idea, this crazy idea that they could be in the same room with me without freaking out, without being terrified of what I know, what I’m finding out about them. That they could not always wonder if I’ve manipulated them. That they might not wonder if they are with me only because I’ve made them do it, wondering if they love me only because I've made them love me...”

It hurt to say it out loud, but it hurt with the truth.

“Lance…” she said, but it was a weak protest. There was nothing else she could say.

“No,” I said. “It’s not an idea, it's just a dream. At least it is with you. So I’m going to level with you, as a friend, one to one, villain to villain.”

“I’m not a—”

“Shut up,” I said. “Just shut up. You tried to get me killed, and I saved your ass. I rescued your kid, and first you tried to get me rounded up at the surveillance van, and then when I was going to meet you the feds were waiting for me. You have disrespected me, Spider, in a big fucking way! Multiple fucking times! You’ve decided I’m too dangerous to exist. Fine. You are lucky now that I don’t think that you are too dangerous to exist. So this is your last warning, last thing you'll ever hear from me: No more nice guy. I’ve done you two big favors. Count your blessings, and move on. We never have to talk again, I relinquish you from your solemn oath to let me get in your pants, since you never had any intention of it in the first place. You are such a g-g-goddammned l-l-liar!” The stutter always shows up at just the right time to steal my thunder.

“If you have any dee-dee-dee-decency,” I continued, clutching the phone, staring into it, and hoping she could see how pissed off I was and hoping she wasn’t just looking up my nostrils, “You'll have some gratitude. You won’t b-b-bother me again.”

“Lance,” she said, and I flipped the phone over.

“Lance, I’m sorr—” and then I ripped the battery out of the phone and I crushed the phone into a torrent of pieces with my furious smashing foot. The battery went into the water, and the pieces I could scoop into my hands followed it. I wiped away the tears and tried to see through them and found something I could kick that wouldn't break my foot and I knocked it over.

I haven’t owned a fucking phone since, and I hate her for it. But I’d be lying if I said I don’t miss her wit, and her banter. I still hear it in my head sometimes, almost like it's my conscience.

I left the waterfront, and a few streets later I had someone pulling over to let me in. I went a short distance to a convenience store to go take a pee, and then hopped a ride with someone else just because I was paranoid and wanted to throw any residual surveillance off the scent. I got out of town. There was still one little member of the Sinful Six left standing, and we had breakfast plans.

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