A Different Matter Altogether, Part 1
By Camospam, Wendy K. and Gabi.
A Non-Canon Whateley Universe Adventure
“You’ve got to be kidding!”
“What?” Retorted the big man, turning in his seat to stare at the boy sitting beside him, “You said you needed to get to Alberta to spend time with your girlfriend.”
“I did - I do, but I’m sure I mentioned at some point about not liking heights.” Cameron emphasized the heights bit, frustratedly motioning towards the airport they had just driven up to.
“You said: “Big jets have too many moving parts, if something fails up there you couldn’t do anything to keep it in the air.””
“Sure, that’s because: I, Don’t, Like, Heights. The thought of falling out of the sky gives me nightmares.”
“Yah see, that’s the beauty of my idea about flying in a small airplane, if the engines do go kaput, the wings on these babies can let it glide to the ground. No falling involved.”
“What if the wings fall off? Did you consider that?”
“Now you’re just nit-picking. Get on the silly plane. Don’t let fear control your life.”
“If it’s no big deal, why aren’t you flying to see your family?”
“Because they don’t make airplane seats to fit generously proportioned people like me. Besides, I’m claustrophobic.”
“I think you just ruined your own argument.”
“I’ve come to grips with reality,” huffed Buck. “You’re just being stubborn.”
“I’ve flown twice now, one of which crashed. Not good odds in my book.”
“Come on, you’ll be late, the plane’s loading. What will Lynn say if you don’t show up on time?”
“She’ll understand completely, and tell me to come safely.”
“You’ve got a lot to learn about women my boy. Don’t keep her waiting, you never disappoint a woman on purpose.”
“That’s not fair!”
“‘Love is a Battlefield’ according to Pat Benatar. Now show a little backbone and put a smile on that face before it permanently sets into a scowl.”
“Tell me why we partnered up again?”
“Because you love me, and I push you to new heights.”
“Oh, that’s funny.”
“Cameron, just go. You’ll be fine. Enjoy Whateley and look after your friends. Text me when you can.”
“Thank you Buck, for everything.”
“Any landing you walk away from is a good one!” The pilot’s comment brought Cameron little comfort, although a cheer rose from the other passengers aboard the little turboprop puddle jumper.
The small aircraft was still bouncing, jostling everyone aboard as it wheeled along the tarmac as it slowed down from being airborne. Hard to tell if the turbulence in the air was worse than the rough airstrip surface. While the plane coasted along its propellers slowed, the engines no longer needing to strain at keeping them aloft, the noise level abated lessening the sensory overload Cameron had been fighting.
The pilot’s announcement provided upon arrival only added to Cameron’s angst over flying, was getting to their destination really that much in question? The worst part had been how the plane’s route had it stopping at every little community with an airport between Vancouver and Calgary. They’d barely gotten up into the air when the plane would begin descending again, Cameron’s obviously frayed nerves maybe played into the pilot’s levity.
Regardless, the flight was exactly as Buck had said it would be: “an experience!” By flying, it allowed Cameron to stay an extra day working with Buck, finishing up the last construction job the man had arranged that summer. Working with Buck had been a great learning opportunity, and they’d become good friends.
Cameron hated that there was nothing to be done should something go wrong up in the air, which let’s face it - something always goes wrong, if not today then for sure tomorrow. The entire flight was spent with white knuckles gripping the armrests, hoping: not today, please not today. Which is a might calloused for those flying tomorrow - let them pray tomorrow never comes.
But now that the plane landed - without incident, Cameron breathed a sigh of relief. He’d lived if just barely, his list of travel options kept getting shorter. He liked trains - nice and safe and firmly affixed to the ground. Flying was definitely to be stricken off any future plans if he had any say in it.
The plane taxied up to the terminal, what a thing to call a place to inspire confidence. The plane was directed to a spot near the large building and came to a stop, the pilot opened the door and helped all eight passengers exit. Cameron joined the other passengers grabbing whatever luggage they’d brought as it was unloaded. Cameron only had his backpack and a small wheeled suitcase, most of his belongings stashed away in his dimensional holdings.
“Head in through the doors and follow the arrows to Arrivals.” Informed the pilot, between everyone saying thanks on their way past him.
Calgary International Airport was a busy place, with the comings and goings of people traveling across Canada and around the globe, it seemed like a maze to Cameron as he entered and looked about at the hustle and bustle. It was a short walk to reach the main building, Cameron couldn’t help but notice how Security guards watched everyone’s movement.
Approaching the Arrivals area where luggage was picked-up as it splayed out on rotating conveyer belts. Cameron could see the exits and headed towards them, but was intercepted by a pair of Airport Security officers, who blocked his egress.
“Please remove your glasses. We have reason to believe you’re a mutant.”
Cameron did as asked. His shining eyes becoming a beacon drawing everyone’s attention.
“We’re taking you for an MCO screening.” At which Cameron was escorted to a highly guarded room off the main concourse. The fortified room consisted of two checkpoint stations, only one of which was manned. A line on the floor indicated a stop point to await before being called forward.
To get ahead of the invariable, Cameron took off his backpack, so it was nearby if he needed to dig out his ID, he waited in line as it moved ahead one person at a time, under the ever-watchful eye of Security.
At his turn, he was asked, “Business or pleasure?”
“Pleasure, I’m visiting friends, before we travel to Quebec.”
“Your ticket says it was business class.”
“All the seats looked the same to me.”
“Don’t be funny.”
“Okay. My boss bought the ticket so it must have been a business expense, he said he owed me for keeping me late at work. But my visit is personal in nature.”
“You don’t look old enough to be a working stiff.”
“I’ve had health issues, it stunted my growth.”
“Are you a mutant?”
“No sir. I’m not a mutant.”
“Your eyes say otherwise.”
“An often made mistake. The glow isn’t due to a mutation,” advised Cameron, who held up his silver-coloured protective visor. “I wear these glasses to avoid drawing unwanted attention.”
“Uh Huh! Why don’t I believe you?”
“I have some documentation that explains everything.”
“Don’t sass me boy. I’m a professional, a mutant’s a mutant is a mutant, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure it out, so drop that attitude.”
“I didn’t imply …”
“Your flight papers say you claimed preflight that you’re not a mutant.”
“I need to see your MID.”
“I don’t have one.”
“It’s a felony to refuse to show an MID when asked to produce it.”
“I realize, but since I’m not a mutant, I don’t carry an MID.”
The MCO agent hit an alarm under his counter, red lights began to flash and two Calgary police officers burst into the room.
Cameron put his hand into his backpack to retrieve the card Andre the MCO Director had sent. A Security guard called out, “He’s got a gun!”
From behind, Cameron was tackled, he bounced when hitting the ground striking his head on the floor. Cameron was mildly dazed before his face got sprayed with mace. He coughed at the chemical irritant as it constricted his throat, his eyes watering fiercely.
Cameron was put into restraints by one Policeman as the other checked his bag: “Nothing in here but some aluminum slabs, a banana, and a bottle of water.”
“Where did you hide it?”
“What?” sputtered Cameron.
“I don’t have a gun.”
“What were you reaching for?”
“There isn’t any ID in this bag. You’re lying. I’m placing you under arrest.”
“Please. You’re making a mistake.”
“Shut up you stupid Mutie, if you keep ignoring instructions, I can make this much worse for you.”
Cameron sighed deeply.
“What’s that? I didn’t hear you?”
Cameron didn’t respond, just duck-walked as the police manhandled him out into the airport’s main concourse. A hush fell over the people nearby who cleared a path through the crowd, parents dragged their children away from the dangerous mutant offender. Amidst the mayhem he saw Lynn and her parents, he gave his head a small shake to warn them off.
Cameron was paraded through the airport with one officer ahead, as the other followed behind holding out his truncheon, tapping Cameron with it to correct any perceived misstep, hoping for any reason to use it on the boy to its fullest intent.
A Police car was parked nearby outside the airport, Cameron was roughly loaded into the back seat, still handcuffed making entry difficult, and still having difficulty breathing from the pepper spray. The drive to the police station took about a half hour, once there, he was unloaded at the underground parkade, then he was put into a holding cell with the handcuffs still on his wrists.
It took an hour or so before he was brought into an interview room, a small space that consisted of a table and two chairs facing each other. In one chair sat a policeman, Cameron was directed to sit in the other chair. Behind a mirrored wall was a recording device and another officer.
“Well, well, look’s like we’ve got ourselves a dumb-ass Mutie deciding to get all uppity. Only a moron would refuse to show an MID. You haven’t learned your place yet, have you dum-dum? Ya gotta learn to play by the rules ya idjit.”
In the cell, Cameron had been able to rinse his eyes in the tiny basin and drink a little water to calm his rough throat. They wanted to play hardball - so be it, he didn’t reply to the provocation.
"Nothing to say, huh?”
“Would it make any difference?” Cameron decided that he really shouldn’t antagonize them.
“Not in the least! If it was up to me mutts like you should be put down at the first sign of gene-filth. You’ve just made my life so easy by flaunting the law and not carrying an MID, it means a one-way ticket straight to the slammer.”
“This is Canada isn’t it?”
“Oh! Another one! Judge Beverage just loves your kind coming in - spouting off about all your rights, entitled little twits! Let me enlighten you - you ain't got none!”
“When do I see a judge?”
“We can hold you for forty-eight hours without charges.”
“And I suppose you’ll keep me in restraints for the duration?”
“You ain’t so dumb after all. Now, you got a name?”
“It’s the number I’m to provide when interacting with police agencies.” Bossman Ray had recommended to Cameron that providing his badge number would improve interactions with other enforcement agencies, Ray had wanted a report on how his trip went. Cameron was beginning to wonder if Ray was a Precog too.
“Uh-huh. What’s your name?”
“My registered code name is Outlook.”
“Just keep digging that hole you’re in deeper dumbass. Only Mutts have code names.”
“I want the record to show I did not withhold identifying myself.”
“Too late for that.”
“Do I get a phone call?”
“No name, no phone call.”
The cell Cameron was placed into was private, since he was put into isolation it only made sense. The room had a cot and a toilet, and very little else. Sitting on the edge of the cot it was apparent that they'd spared no expense on the mattress - as in it was the cheapest thing money could buy.
From out of his Warehouse supplies Cameron selected a nice thick pillow top mattress, it had to be trimmed to fit the bed frame, but what a difference! Laying down for some rest it felt like a long warm hug that lasted all night.
Upon delivery, the prison meals left something to be desired, like food. The cook seemed to be from a school that taught everything on the plate needed to be brown - including the salad. It isn’t that Cameron was a snob, or a connoisseur of fine dining or such, but his Mom had always advocated for a balanced diet.
Weighing the plate before him, it fell on the side of starchy, bland, and gross. The biggest surprise was that it didn’t plug the toilet when he flushed it down. He was certain that would have been the result if he’d eaten it.
Out of Storage he brought some of the extra plates he’d ordered when eating at restaurants, and been put into reserve. Over the summer he’d amassed a good stock of supplies, he wouldn’t be running out again anytime soon. It had annoyed Buck at first, whenever they drove past a roadside fruit stand or farmers market Cameron would ask to stop. They found some excellent buys along the way between jobs.
His days in the cell became routine, bad food, bad company, bad attitude. The latter on the part of the guards who would bang on his door whenever passing by, waking him if he was sleeping.
On the morning of what became the third day since arriving in Calgary, fifty-six hours after his arrest, a police officer entered the prison block and unlocked Cameron’s cell. He was walked down a series of corridors to then get loaded into a van. He was driven to the Provincial Courthouse and brought into the building under guard. He was next shown into a courtroom and forcibly seated, facing the judge’s raised dais.
A man in a suit sat down next to him, his court-appointed lawyer since he wasn’t allowed to contact his own legal representative: “I recommend you plead guilty, the Judge will look favourably at that.”
“No presumption of innocence?”
"They have you lying recorded on camera, and not producing an MID when requested. There’s no denying your guilt. What were you thinking?”
“Am I required to have you represent me?”
“You should have used your phone call to contact a lawyer, if you didn’t want me.”
“I wasn’t allowed the use of a phone.”
“Of course, mutants ain’t considered people in Alberta. Can’t give human rights to animals.”
“Do you uphold the prevailing attitudes?”
“I’m only here for a pay-check. You can rot in hell for all I care.”
“Thank you, but I would like to represent myself.”
“Suit yourself,” at which he picked up some papers and his briefcase and departed.
“All rise for the honourable Judge Beverage.”
Standing up was slightly awkward with his arms confined but he managed to keep his balance and rise respectfully, the Judge took one look at Cameron’s shining eyes and shook his head in disgust.
“Proceed,” directed the Judge as he took his position.
The prosecuting attorney spoke to the Judge: “The accused refused to display his MID when requested, necessitating his arrest and incarceration. He displayed aggressive behaviour towards the arresting officers at the airport, and during processing at the Remand Centre. He was placed into solitary confinement to minimize upsetting the other prisoners in holding.”
“How do you plead?”
“Not guilty, your honour.”
“Son, there’s no excuse for non-compliance. The police have a recording of you refusing to provide duly requested identification. And it says here some nonsense about you giving the authorities a code name, that’s proof positive that your a mutant.”
“I use a code name to be accepted in the mutant community, and if I had an MID, I would certainly have shown it. But since I’m not a mutant - I am not required to carry an MID.”
“You expect this court to believe that your shining eyes aren’t a result of a mutation?”
“Yes your honour.”
“Oh, this is gonna be good! Why don’t you tell me how the law doesn’t apply to you?”
“I refer to the case brought before the Supreme Court of Canada; Burke versus the MCO. It was established that a non-mutant person cannot be required to obtain and carry Mutant Identification documents.”
“That makes you number three this year. Every high and mighty mutant coming in here, referencing that Burke fiasco in Ottawa, claiming they have rights and freedoms.”
“Alberta doesn’t adhere to Canadian law?”
“Until I get clear direction from the High Court of Alberta, Mutants have fewer rights here than cattle.”
“Thank you for clarifying. May I ask when we’ll go to trial?”
“What’s your hurry?”
“I’m on a timeline, I was on my way to visit friends in Southern Alberta, then we’d head to Quebec for a friends wedding, after which I’m attending school in the United States.”
“So you’re a flight risk! Thank you for clarifying that." The Judge's attempt at taking a verbal jab at the boy. "I set bail at two million dollars,” delightedly said the Judge, certain that such an amount would keep the delinquent incarcerated.
“Do you accept cheques?” Sought Cameron unfazed at the number.
“Bailiff?” Asked the judge, caught off guard by the turn around.
“Yes your honour, cheques are accepted once cleared by the bank.”
“Wonderful. May I have access to my backpack?”
The tagged evidence was brought out and Cameron was handed his pack, he pulled down a zipper and reached inside.
“Your honour, that evidence was thoroughly searched, there are no documents inside it - it only contained some aluminum slabs. The defendant is attempting to pull a fast one on this court.”
“Here we go,” exclaimed Cameron, pulling out and holding up his chequebook. Then retrieved a pen to write with. “Who do I make it out to?”
“Province of Alberta will suffice,” instructed the Bailiff.
It took a moment of juggling to coordinate his hand movements while in cuffs, but he wrote out a cheque, tore it out of the book, and handed it to the waiting Bailiff.
The Bailiff in turn handed the cheque over to a Court Clerk who began processing it.
Cameron recalled his accountant: Albert Miller, telling him to make a paper trail, ”I’ll require a receipt please.”
The judge saw an opportunity, asking: “Bailiff, What’s the name on that cheque?”
“Cameron Burke your honour.”
The prosecuting attorney made an audible gasp, no one else in the courtroom seemed to recognize the name at first.
“Why didn’t you identify yourself, we could have avoided this unpleasantness,” the attorney exclaimed.
“I suggest you review those tapes - I tried to prevent an escalation, but some overzealous police work forced me to shut my mouth, despite my efforts to correct the situation. Besides, it allowed me to experience your hospitality, or should I say hostility.”
“You could have revealed yourself at the Remand Centre.”
“I did! I gave my code name and RCMP badge number, I did not attempt to conceal my identity. That nobody bothered to make the effort to check; isn’t my problem.” To highlight his situation, he further asked, “ When you were assigned this case, did you check?”
“Well, no, but …” stammered the attorney.
“Wait, you’re claiming to be Cameron Burke, the one who the Supreme Court ruled in favour of against the MCO?” Sought the Judge, now wary of the implications.
“The same,” responded Cameron, holding his hands together tightly, a visible cue to the effort it was taking to keep his emotions in check.
“And you said you’re an officer with the RCMP?”
“Yes your honour. If there’s nothing else, can I have these handcuffs removed?”
“Officer, kindly remove Constable Burke’s restraints.” The policeman seated beside the prosecutor stood and started to walk towards Cameron.
“If it pleases the court, my rank at the RCMP is Inspector. It would be appreciated if my case file reflects the proper title. And I’ll thank you to please ensure a copy of that file including the video gets sent to my attorney: Mr. Emit Paulson, a partner with the law firm Montcliff and Lewis, based in Boston.”
“Surely we can come to some kind of arrangement, there’s no need for a trial.” Backtracked the Provincial Prosecutor getting a sense of the trouble he was now in.
“I beg to differ. I was forced to spend in excess of forty-eight hours in confinement without charges. That occurred, after a humiliating arrest and public shaming, all without just cause I might add. Is it within this court’s authority to roll back the clock, return to me the time that’s been wasted, and restore a reputation that’s been slighted?”
“Calm down Mr. Burke, you’re in no position to question the integrity of this court.” Demanded the Judge trying to halt a runaway train.
“So it would seem, and why a trial is my only obvious recourse. So again I ask, when can a trial be scheduled?”
“I have an opening in my calendar early December. I expect to see you here in person Mr. Burke.” the Judge’s pronouncement was bitter on his tongue but followed judicial procedure in setting a date.
“I appreciate an opportunity to have my name cleared in a court of law.”
“A trial wouldn’t be in the public interest,” lamented the Alberta Prosecutor.
“Likely not. I suggest you open a dialogue with my lawyer,” retorted Cameron. “Considering I won a settlement of a billion dollars against the MCO, I’ll let Mr. Paulson know not to even enter negotiations for anything less than that amount, plus a public proclamation granting mutants full human rights in Alberta.”
Both the Judge and prosecutor reeled at the ultimatum they’d been presented.
Cameron was shown to the courthouse exit, a guard bringing the boy’s luggage as an escort, when outside, the officer tipped his hat and left him be. Cameron looked around and broke into a smile upon seeing Lynn and her Mom waiting for him in a truck parked on the street. If he wasn’t used to it by now, Precognition could mess with a person’s mind.
“You’re having fun aren’t you?” Chastised Lynn as he climbed in.
“Fun involves happy times with friends - like you. That was purely business, the situation clearly calls for a change and I’m the catalyst to bring it about.”
“Admit it, you enjoy destroying people’s convictions,” said Lynn delighted at an opportunity to do some lite taunting.
“Only those that are going to help others,” agreed Cameron, winning a laugh from both Lynn and Terry.
“See, I told you, you had fun,” smirked Lynn at having won the argument, the usual outcome.
“Fine, but the real fun starts in court,” admitted Cameron. “Where’s Doug and Alan?”
“They had work to get done back home, it’s their kind of fun,” supplied Terry. “Where to?”
“Can we get some food? Prison rations leave something to be desired.”
“What are you interested in?” Was asked to determine the best restaurant to fill the bill.
The Franklin’s farm was situated in the Foothills of Southern Alberta, a wide open landscape with a serious lack of trees, the ever-present wind no doubt the reason trees didn’t thrive. However, grasses grew plentiful and covered the rolling hills while the Rocky Mountains set a stunning backdrop.
It was lovely, and Lynn revelled in showing her home to Cameron. They walked and talked as she pointed out what she loved about the place. She stopped at the family garden, it was impressive and Lynn rubbed a garden gnome as they passed it. She told the story, it was left as a marker by a troupe of traveling gnomes, it says gnomes are welcome.
Mr. Franklin and Alan had constructed the foundations for three of Cameron’s designed windmills, many of the parts it would require to build had been amassed already, but it would take ages for them to be completed.
Cameron was able to assemble the new-fangled machines by engulfing the raw materials into a blue haze and then setting them into place - ready to go, one after the other. The windmills looked like giant mushrooms, the topmost portion rotating in the wind. The men stood stunned - looked at each other, then broke into surprised laughter.
“We were wondering how to build them,” admitted Doug Franklin as he patted Cameron on the back. “That’s a mighty handy little trick,” he added, getting an arm punch from Lynn - a trait learned from her Mom.
“Ow,” he complained. “At least Terry pulls her punches,” as the Shapeshifter rubbed his offended arm. “Been meaning to ask,” continued Doug. “Why the matter manipulation? I get the golden eyes and making folks spout truth an all to get to the bottom of stuff, but why the matter trick?”
“Dad!” Objected Lynn at her father’s lack of tact.
“I’m being honest, you said as much yourself at dinner the other night,” revealed Doug.
“It’s a good question,” admitted Cameron. “I’ve wondered about it myself. My guess is so I’d be accepted by mutants, be allowed into the fold as it were.”
“It’s handy as all get out, to be sure,” conceded Doug accompanied by a head bob.
The Franklin’s all piled into the family’s old pick-up; the drive to Edmonton to catch the train would take several hours. They had hardly made it to the highway when the truck gave a shudder and stalled, the old girl had seen better days. Doug called for a tow as they waited roadside.
Cameron looked at his inventory in Warehouse, selecting a big truck he’d acquired from out of the train wreckage. It took some repairs, mostly body damage, but he brought it out and set it behind them.
“Whoa!” Exclaimed Doug Franklin. “That’s one purdy set of wheels.”
“Do you have a dollar on you?” Asked Cameron of the man.
“Sure, why?” Wondered the man as he handed over the coin.
“Cause you just bought yourself a new truck,” said Cameron.
“I can’t do that. It ain’t right,” complained the rancher.
“I was paid to get rid of it in the first place. I can’t drive, so it’s better to let you have it than to let it go to waste,” said Cameron assuring that it was legit.
“We ain’t ones for charity!” Defended the man’s hurt pride.
“Then consider it a downpayment for partnering with me in an electricity generating company. My accountant keeps telling me I need to diversify my portfolio.”
“Now that’s an idea I can sink my teeth into,” admitted Doug after giving it some thought. “We should talk.”
“Will the drive to the train give us enough time?” Pondered Cameron.
“Should do,” smiled Mr Franklin, now excited about the long drive to test out the new set of wheels, as he ran his hand down the truck’s side.
“I thought Dad was going to blow a gasket.” Alan’s comment given as the three set their bags down in the private train car, once again provided for Cameron’s use as he and his companions crossed the country in a leisurely fashion.
“You insulted him,” accused Lynn. “He works hard to provide for us.”
“I never meant to. I’m sorry it came across that way. I wanted him to like me!” Explained Cameron, caught in the trap every prospective son-in-law falls into.
“You did right by offering to go into business with him,” commended Alan. “He was tickled by that, and now having access to money to expand our ranch is something he’s always wanted.”
“I don’t know why I hadn’t thought about it before,” confessed Cameron. “Considering how I absorb energy I need to secure a steady supply. I should look into other methods of generating power.”
“Can we talk about something else? I need to unwind.” Lynn’s hint was heeded, and the trio settled into a relaxed mood as the train began to roll out of the station.
“So how does this work?” Was Alan’s question after nobody had volunteered to explain the fancy accommodations provided aboard the Eastbound train.
“I helped the train company clean up after a nasty accident, part of the compensation they offered was a rail pass, which includes … this.” Detailed Cameron gesturing to the train car.
“Sweet,” summed up Alan. “When do we eat?”
“Alan’s priorities are pretty straightforward, food always tops the list.” Lynn’s expression spoke of humour and concern, she worried Cameron might be put-off by her family’s antics.
“I agree, lunch was a long time ago. Let’s head down to the dining car and stretch our legs.”
Sitting back in the reclining chair, Cameron sighed contentedly ‘This is how travel should be done’. Cameron couldn’t help from smiling at how happy he was, no stress, no worries, just sit back and let the miles pass by out the window.
Alan had been concerned at how long the trip would take, but once he settled in, he began to enjoy himself too. When Alan napped in his panther form he took up the entire couch - and snored, while his paws batted at something as he dreamed. Lynn giggled as she pointed his movements out to Cameron.
At one point, somewhere in Ontario, Lynn was dozing in a chair enjoying the sunshine. Alan took Cameron aside and asked:
“Are you aware of Lynn’s history?”
“Do you mean how you used to have a little brother?”
“Yeah,” confirmed Alan. “Are you okay with that?”
“Considering the opposite happened to me, I have no problem at all.”
“Oh! Nobody told me, makes sense.”
“It does, doesn’t it,” agreed Cameron, adding: “I think we can find a balance, I hope we can. We’re not in a hurry or rushing into anything.”
“Was marking her idea?”
“Yeah, she sprung that one on me. No clue what had happened till later.”
“It’s a commitment, a lifelong promise. I want to know …”
“If I’m the right guy for her?”
“Well, yeah. I’m still a big brother, no matter what …”
“I wish I could give you some assurance, that we’re destined to be together or such. The thing is; I don’t know what tomorrow will bring - that’s more Lynn’s thing. I only know that since meeting Lynn I feel a sense of belonging, it’s like a warm ember in my heart that’s fighting off the cold.”
“You’re not using her, for her ability to see the future?”
“No, my future already has a set course. I just hope Lynn’s path doesn’t veer off from mine.”
“Do you love her?”
“To be honest, I don’t know what love is. I thought I knew at one time, but it’s vague and hard to grab hold of. But I want to.”
“What’s the problem?”
“I wish I knew. Can I ask how you and Ella are doing?”
“She and her Dad are hunting more of the dark warriors. I was with them for a while but my family needed me back home for harvest.”
“We’ll meet up again once I get to Montreal.”
“You don’t sound too excited about it.”
“I am, it’s just…”
“I want to marry her, I just don’t think I have anything to offer her - she’s an Oberon, and …”
“You doubt your love is enough?”
“Well aren’t you two a pair of lovesick puppies.” Accused Lynn, wide awake and sitting across the chair having listened in, but stood up to confront them.
“Hey!” Shouted Alan as if she’d caught him reaching into the cookie jar.
“If you love her, tell her. It’s that simple. Dancing around doesn’t solve anything. She likes you dummy, Ella’s worried that you wouldn’t want to pair up with an Oberon. And as for you Mr. Shy and Elusive” claimed Lynn, as she wrapped Cameron into a long and passionate kiss. “I’m willing to wait, ‘cause I’m worth it.”
The stunned males dealt with shock by remaining silent until dinner.
It was so easy for the hours to have turned into days. Reading, eating, naps, eating, playing games - while eating; come on you need to mix it up a little. When the announcement came that the train was pulling into Montreal, Cameron was calm which was a first in a very long time.
Upon seeing Grace and Marcus, little Mark, and the trifecta of trouble waiting for them at the station. Cameron broke into tears of joy as long hugs ensued. His friends had arrived earlier flying in from Prince George. It was a reunion that warmed the boy’s heart as smiles melted the distance between his family.
A bonus was having both the Oberon's waiting at the station as well, it was joyous to see all the gang. In a surprise move, Alan knelt before Ella, he’d spent hours coming up with the right words to say. Ella didn’t allow him the chance to say a word, she kissed him long and hard then rubbed her neck against his.
The finer details about Were marking were explained to the uninitiated. Lynn snapped photos to share with her folks, her Mom would want to know. Alan had a huge goofy grin, his fretting long forgotten.
The group exited the train station, having made a scene and blocked people’s passage. It was hard to say goodbye after seeing the Were’s for so short a time, but promises of catching up again when at Mediwhila lands were reassuring.
Travel arrangements had been made, but as they waited, Grace was acting reserved with Lynn, she’d not meet the girl who’d laid claim on Cameron. Old habits of being a protector didn’t die easily and Grace was leery about such a forward girl. Lynn garnered the situation and was on her best behaviour. It was an awkward moment when the two eventually hugged, Grace held the girl tight, whispering: “You hurt him, I hurt you.”
“Got it,” was replied by Lynn also in hushed tones, as the two engaged in a minor squeezing contest that might require some bone resetting later.
A fancy touring bus pulled up, it had been hired to transport all of them together to Trois-Rivières, it was comfortably appointed with plush leather seating and room to move about with snacks and drinks aboard. It was ideal to allow for conversations as everybody caught up, and the inevitable making of plans for the coming festivities, along with the coming year at Whateley.
The wedding ceremony itself wasn’t an overly extravagant event, it was held on Veronique’s family’s property which had been decorated and laid out to accommodate all the guests. Ken had asked John Bastain to be his best man, but included his other RCMP teammates: Al Koenig and Cameron, acting as his groomsmen. All the RCMP in attendance wore the bright red dress uniforms typically set aside for formal occasions, a wedding counting among such events.
Nique’s sister and her cousins made up her honour guard and paired with the red-clad men.
Cameron’s partner during the ceremony was Nique’s fourteen-year-old cousin, she was nervous and shy and spoke little English, and seemed disappointed when meeting Lynn who absolutely rocked an emerald green dress that drew all eyes and left Cameron dazed.
Large tents covered the catered tables, both families encouraged everyone to share in the couple’s joy. A delightful spectacle was seeing Rhododendron’s aunt on Roche’s arm, evidence of a blossoming relationship.
As the evening was winding down, Ken and Veronique began accepting congratulations from wedding guests in a receiving line; they looked happy and made a good couple. By the time Cameron and Lynn approached the bride and groom, the attendees had dwindled down to close friends and family.
“Thank you for inviting us,” offered Cameron as he shook Ken’s hand, to then pass him an envelope. “I hope you don’t mind my taking the liberty of booking an Alaska cruise for you, it’s an open ticket for when you both can arrange time off.”
“That’s very generous of you,” mentioned Ken in appreciation.
“I dragged you to every conceivable nook and cranny of the country, it seemed proper to continue the trend,” joked Cameron.
Lynn leaned close to Nique, whispering: “Pick the white two-story house with the big yard, your dog will love it.”
“We haven’t decided if we want to buy a house,” puzzled Veronique.
“We don’t have a dog,” added Ken.
“You will,” confided Lynn. “A big slobbering mangy beast you’ll name ‘Ranger’.”
“You’re sure?” Exclaimed Ken. “Ranger was my family dog’s name back when I was a kid.”
“Trust me,” assured Lynn. "White two-story, big yard for a big stupid dog.”
“Okay,” stuttered Ken at the given advice, knowing Lynn didn’t impart Precognitive forbearance lightly.
Nique leaned in to kiss Cameron’s cheek, saying: “Thank you for coming.”
“My pleasure,” smiled Cameron in return, happy for the couple.
Holding his arm, Nique pulled Cameron aside “Cameron, I’m sorry to mix business with pleasure,” ensuring they were a distance away - Nique continued “I was asked to gauge your availability to assist Foreign Affairs with a little problem.”
“One of our Consulates has been attacked, the embassy’s personnel were evacuated safely, unfortunately, staffers’ children had been attending school offsite and have been captured. Of those taken hostage, are the Ambassador’s two children plus two more, the Ambassador is a close personal friend of the Prime Minister, and every effort is needed to secure their freedom. Your name has come up as a possible resource.”
“A group of religious zealots attempting a coup to overthrow a country.”
“What is it you want of me?”
“To help extract them.”
“Am I expected to quench the coup attempt?”
“No. It isn’t Canada’s role internationally to interfere with other nation’s politics, just protect Canada’s interests. The military has dispatched a small squad of trained operatives. It’s our desire to insert you into that team as Foreign Affairs’ representative.”
“I think it best to leave it in the military’s hands. I’m not authorized to … not supposed to interfere. I’m sympathetic to the children’s plight, but I can’t solve everybody’s problems.”
“Won’t you help? Its children, innocent young kids whose only crime was to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
“Let me ask and I’ll get back to you in a couple minutes.”
Cameron sat at an empty table and closed his eyes, not that you could tell beneath the visor. Lynn sat next to him but remained silent.
In his mind, Cameron climbed the stairs to his Sunroom, at the door he noted his power collectors still gathering energy to charge his battery. Standing in the doorway he spoke: “Do I have permission to go?”
His tutor arrived standing just inside, aglow with unmeasurable power: “Go. Do not overstep. Expect to see disturbing things - it is already under the scrutiny of another. You will meet her, she too is of the chosen. Remember to act with discretion - always.”
“Thank you. Anything else?”
“Be certain not to get delayed, your assignment awaits at Whateley.”
Raising his head Cameron looked about. Lynn had waited beside him but gazed at him with curiosity barely held in check.
“So?” She asked
“I’m sorry. I have to leave. Will you guys be okay to get to Whateley without me?”
She gave him a gentle punch on his arm, some might call it a love tap, to then say: “Don’t overestimate your importance or anything. We’ll be fine, in fact; Rho is going to take us shopping in Montreal. Anything you need?”
“A bathrobe, some socks, and maybe exercise clothes would be nice - sweatpants; that kind of stuff. I’m not sure what Physical Exercise courses Whateley has to offer but I’d better sign up for something. Should I give you some money?”
“I wouldn’t say no to some cash to help cover expenses.”
“A thousand enough?”
“If it isn’t, then you’ve got the wrong girlfriend.”
“I doubt that very much.”
“You always carry that much money around with you?”
“My Cupboard is the safest bank going. Nobody can access it but me.”
“Good to know. When do you leave?”
“Soon as possible I expect, time is always of the essence. Any insights you care to share?”
“Your trust issues aren’t going to improve.”
“Thanks, I guess, I’ll be careful. Call you soon, see you at Whateley within a week.”
Returning to Nique when she had a moment to spare, Cameron asked: “How will this work?”
“You’ll do it? Great! As I understand it, Foreign Affairs has sweeping powers, like how we’ve assigned you to the States.” At seeing Cameron’s hesitance, she added: “RCMP are often deployed as Peacekeepers, there shouldn’t be any issue - especially with your Foreign Affairs posting.”
“I’m troubled by the possibility that people will think I’m here to fix all this world’s ails, I have a set course and parameters to live within. But this I can do, don’t count on a next time.”
Nique handed him a business card for Ron DeVouge, a Navy Commander working with Foreign Affairs. Calling the provided number the man answered on the first ring.
“Hello, This is Ca - Outlook. Veronique Gosselin … Tallman now, has asked me to assist with extracting some children in harm’s way.”
“Excellent. We hoped you’d be able to help us. Canadian Forces has an extraction team en route. If we hurry we can rendezvous with them at Camp Nimpkish, before they deploy at sunset local time. I can get us onto a Hercules transport plane within an hour.”
“If you have the Camps co-ordinates, I can arrange to be Teleported. I’m not fond of flying - or teleporting if I’m being honest, but it’s the lesser of the two evils.”
“Foreign Affairs will cover any costs. How long will teleporting take, I’ve never done it before, sounds exciting.”
“You’re coming with?”
“I wouldn’t ask you to go if I’m not willing to be exposed to the same danger.”
“That’s encouraging. I’ll contact a Teleporting service I’ve used before. Please text me your location, I shouldn’t be long. By the way: Teleporting happens quickly and can be disorienting. If you’re susceptible to motion sickness - be forewarned.”
Canada’s Camp Nimpkish (location withheld)
It’s one of those knacks that’s peculiar to Teleporters, stepping out of the void and not finding oneself stuck inside something at the other end, like buried up to your waist in the ground, or halfway within a wall, or heavens forbid inside another person.
Cameron had asked Leap about it and didn’t get a satisfactory answer, not that Leap didn’t wonder the same thing, but he’d never figured it out himself. For John, it was like he could see where he was going when close and could shift for a safe arrival. But that wasn’t true of all Teleporters because Cameron made sure to ask them ever since his bad experience.
It turns out that each Teleporter Cameron talked to described a different experience of how teleportation worked. It didn’t reassure Cameron from his trepidation, but there wasn’t much objection to getting tethered together for safety.
The hired Teleporter: a young woman, had them arrive in an unoccupied space near to the camp’s main entrance. Certainly behind the camp’s closed gates, but in clear view of the posted guards. The reaction upon their arrival was shock at having three people instantly appear.
Ron DeVouge directed his party to raise their arms in the universal indicator of surrender, so the guards didn’t shoot them on sight. DeVouge provided an explanation and proof of his identity, asking to see the camp commander.
“DeVouge you old sea dog; Welcome to Nimpkish.” A handshake was shared between what appeared to be two longtime friends. DeVouge wasn’t clad in a uniform just some rough duty tactical clothes, whereas the other man was adorned in camouflage fatigues sporting a Captain’s insignia.
“Gareth Patel you scoundrel. They didn’t tell me you’d be here.”
“Would you have come if they did? Don’t answer that. How did you get here so fast, the extraction team isn’t due for an hour yet?”
“This young lady is a Teleporter,” he directed attention to the third person in the newly arrived group. “If I hadn’t spent all those years on rough seas in the navy, I’d be barfing my guts all over this lovely sand of yours right now.”
“I appreciate your consideration in minimizing our environmental impact,” noted Patel with a smirk. “Who’s the kid?”
“Let me introduce you to Outlook. He’ll be joining the rescue mission.”
“This is a military operation, Foreign Affairs ‘assistance’,” said the Captain with gestured air quotes, “isn’t required, he’ll just be added baggage.”
“If I’m not needed any further, I should leave,” interjected the female Teleporter.
"Can you hold on a minute? It seems my presence here is not welcome,” instructed Outlook.
“This isn’t open for debate, orders came from the highest level,” cautioned DeVouge.
“The Military doesn’t answer to the Minister of Foreign Affairs,” defended Patel not giving way to the challenge to his authority.
“I meant ‘the Top!’” Responded DeVouge, again with air quotes. “The Prime Minister’s Office, it’s a personal favour to a close friend.”
“Can’t trump that,” yielded the Captain. “So what’s his story?”
Cameron stepped up: “I’m an RCMP officer, on loan to Foreign Affairs and was asked to provide assistance. If there’s nothing else, I should send our ride on her way.”
“Oh great, just what we need, a policeman,” blurted out Patel. “This is an incursion into unfriendly territory, not some shoplifter with sticky fingers.”
“I’m also an Envoy with Foreign Affairs,” reassured Cameron, thinking it would sway the man.
“Even worse! Just the person those fanatics would love to get their hands on,” rebuffed the Captain at the perceived lunacy of the situation. “What were you thinking DeVouge? We want to get those kids out of there - not hand more over to them.”
“He’s … special.” Was all DeVouge was willing to reveal about Outlook at present.
“A Mutant?” Gleaned Patel. “Hasn’t anybody back home read the briefing notes? Those wacko’s hate mutants with an unholy passion - apparently mutations are an affront to all their overzealous beliefs. They’d just as likely let their hostages go in exchange for getting their hands on a bonafide mutant.” Raged Patel letting it all hang loose. “Is that why you’re here? A bargaining chip in exchange for the release of the hostages?”
“No. He’ll be helping with the extraction.” Said DeVouge; without the proper conviction to Cameron’s thinking. “I’m told he’s resourceful.”
“I don’t care about resourceful,” recoiled Patel at the suggestion. “I deal in men with solid - dependable experience, trained to handle themselves under fire. Not some runny-nosed kid that will cost me lives when push comes to shove.”
“Gareth, he’s standing right here,” remarked DeVouge at the man’s harsh words.
“Better I hurt his feelings here, then have him dead out there!” rebuked Captain Patel.
“I’m aware of the danger, I won’t be a burden,” promised Cameron.
“Don’t say I didn’t try to warn you,” responded Patel dismissively, to then add, “Talk to the quartermaster, you might as well get some shuteye before nightfall.”
Conference Room, Schuster Hall, Whateley Academy
Michiko Shugendo addressed the room’s attendees; “Thank you all for taking time out of your busy days and making yourselves available,” she had been tasked directly by the Headmistress to deal with a problem student.
The Dean of Students glanced around the room purposely catching the eye of everyone. Mr. Duncan the school’s Maintenance Supervisor, Franklin Delarose Whateley’s Chief of Security, representing Doyle Medical Centre was Doctor Ophelia Tenant, then Ms. Henderson the Academy’s Head Librarian.
To begin, Mrs. Shugendo informed her audience: “Mr. Gentz let me know he’s running a couple minutes late, but said we should proceed without him. It goes without saying that preparing for the start of a new school year is hectic for all concerned, so I hope you’re able to assist me with a sensitive matter.”
The meeting request had puzzled Chief Delarose, so he naturally had concerns: “Has something happened that you’ve needed to bring so many department heads together, instead of waiting for our regular weekly meeting?”
Mrs. Shugendo had to get ahead of the cart, lead the discussion to the results she needed. “Nothing serious - at least not like you might imagine. I find I’m needing to speak with all of you, since you’ve each built constructive relationships with Cameron Burke. Admittedly, Administration rather much dropped the ball with him last term. If you’re not aware, Whateley Academy is facing legal challenges from Outlook.”
“Cameron’s coming back, bloody hell!” Exclaimed Mr. Duncan, it was an opportunity his department couldn’t pass on. “I call dibs on him you lot, Maintenance gets first crack at him.”
His enthusiasm brought a smile to Mrs. Shugendo lips, it bode well: “No, no. That’s not what I need from you. I mean to say, your excitement about the boy is encouraging and all. But I would like to understand Outlook better, get a feel for his personality, his wants and needs.”
Ever the insightful one, Mrs. Henderson made the connection: “So Admin is looking to butter him up.”
Mrs. Shugendo winced at the implication, even if it was true: “The Board of Trustee’s provided explicit direction that Outlook is to receive every courtesy, in hopes it garners us favour and lessens the impact of an adverse court decision. As it stands, I’m planning to put him into a penthouse suite at Melville.”
That surprised Franklin Delarose, of all the things Cameron had presented, a rich boy wasn’t one of them: “Those usually only go to the wealthiest of students. It could target the boy with attention he might not appreciate.”
Mrs. Shugendo pondered the tidbit she’d gleaned: “You feel he’ll desire a more discrete billet?”
It was Mrs. Henderson who filled in the blank: “Cameron never gave the impression he was wealthy, it could be counter-productive if he’s desiring to fit in.”
The student's file provided to Mrs. Shugendo told another story: “Let me assure you, Cameron has rather deep pockets. In fact, he’s paid his tuition in full, along with that of five other students. Not to mention his expense account is linked to a platinum credit card.”
Mr. Duncan mumbled at the revelation: “So you're telling us, he’ll not be needing a job then.”
It wasn’t Mrs. Shugendo’s intent to disappoint the man, but the school’s wellbeing came first: “Likely not. But back to the matter at hand, does anyone have any recommendations about a cottage assignment?”
“He seemed favourably disposed to the residents at Hawthorne,” announced FUBAR as he rezzed into the room and took a seat at the table.
“Nice you could join us Louis,” acknowledged Mrs. Shugendo.
“Sorry to be late; you’re asking where to put Outlook?” Assessed Louis Gentz of the conversation he’d missed so far.
To get everyone up to speed Mrs. Shugendo explained: “I opened it to the room for discussion. Poe had been considered - but necessity dictated otherwise. Melville was chosen for its creature comforts.”
“Is it true the boy lived in a tent … before?” Sought Dr. Tenant mystified by the possibility.
Mrs. Shugendo hadn’t wanted to hash out old news, but those present deserved to know: “Yes, it's been corroborated from outside accounts.”
A thought occurred to Mrs. Henderson: “Opulent accommodations may not hold sway with the boy. You mentioned he was sponsoring other students, wouldn’t placing them all into the same cottage with shared dormitories be more practical?”
Mrs. Shugendo gave up the facade, time to clear the slate: “I’m afraid not, Outlook’s psychiatrist diagnosed him as an extreme level introvert, and recommended he have a single room to give him space, his tuition reflects that additional expense. Also, four of his friends are female, so unless we put them all into a co-ed dorm like Hawthorne or Poe - but again, there’s a conflict we need to avoid at Poe with another student.”
To her credit Mrs. Henderson didn’t ask for details, instead, she focused on finding a solution: “Are we aware of any conflicts with residents at either Melville or Hawthorne?”
Mrs. Shugendo gave the Librarian a nod of thanks: “Not that I know of. Does anyone have anything to add?”
As Chief of Security, Delarose felt obliged to pass along pertinent information: “There might be a potential issue with Avatars in general. Some of the police reports I’ve been privy to have sketchy details regarding Outlook’s … activities off campus.”
Mrs. Henderson couldn’t let that morsel slide, it fell outside her sphere: “Can you be more specific?”
The Chief weighed what he should divulge: “It appears he’s able to separate a host from the inhabiting spirit. It leaves the host unharmed from all accounts, but no precise details on what becomes of the spirit.”
It was uncharacteristic for Ophelia Tenant to interrupt: “Should we even allow Outlook to attend Whateley? Isn’t that like letting the fox run amok in the henhouse?” Her comment stunned her friends, it wasn’t like the doctor at all.
Everybody at the table thought it, but it fell to Mr. Duncan to ask, “Do we know how many Avatars attend Whateley?”
Fubar had investigated that very question and been chastised by Administration for it: “Avatars account for approximately one-quarter of the student body.” Sometimes being Psychic forced you to be nosey.
Mr. Duncan's reaction was shared, “I didn’t realize there were so many Avatars. How does that number compare to all the different types of mutations in the world?”
No point getting sidetracked, so Mrs. Shugendo reined it in: “A good question, I imagine Dr. Hewley or one of the other scientists over in the labs are better suited to provide an answer. But in regards to his attending, the Trustees have no objection. Whateley doesn’t discriminate, our neutrality has villains mixing with heroes, as long as everyone plays together nicely.”
Dr. Tenant had a burr under her saddle and didn’t drop the topic: “That’s just it! By having Outlook here, aren’t we bringing a pre-existing war onto campus.”
Louis Gentz sensed something was eating away at his dear friend, so he opened the door to bring out her concern: “Look at your argument from another perspective: we’re already housing Avatars at Whateley, can we really call ourselves neutral - if we don’t let … anyone from the other side attend? We don’t even know what Outlook is to classify him.”
Ophelia Tenant wasn’t swayed, she remained unconvinced: “So we must endanger ourselves, just to prove we’re open-minded?”
Franklin Delarose needed to point out a relevant fact that nobody else outside Security would know about: “Outlook made a promise last year that he wouldn’t instigate any trouble, and I believe he kept his word. He gave us a vow to conduct himself peacefully, something that no other student has provided us.”
It was so obvious, the Doctor couldn’t understand why nobody hadn’t mentioned it: “You forget, he fought a war at Whateley. Mrs. Carson was so livid she was ready to nail his hide to the wall.”
The Security Chief might not have had all the details, but his investigation had been rigorous, even Admiral Everhart agreed with his conclusions: “Outlook and his friends sought to protect Whateley. The events of the day show that Outlook’s tactics, although unconventional, resulted in negligible damage to the school.”
The information coming out wasn’t shared to the people over in Maintenance, so Mr. Duncan was catching up here, “Your point?”
Delarose wasn’t purposely taking sides, but spoke from his experience: “Everyone can be dangerous, particularly when backed into a corner. Outlook demonstrated considerable restraint and a keenness to be helpful from all accounts. Can you honestly say that about the majority of the students coming here?”
“I’m afraid the issue we face is that we don’t trust Cameron,” conceded Mrs. Shugendo. “And for that matter - how do we have him trust us?”
It was something Mrs. Henderson could speak about: “I found that Cameron highly values honesty. I treated him fairly, and he returned it by being open and truthful. I could tell he withheld certain information - secrets if you will, but he wasn’t deceitful, more cautious than anything.”
Mrs. Shugendo couldn’t defend their actions: “Whateley has many skeletons in our closets, we can’t reveal every misdeed, students don’t need to know all that history.”
Dr. Tenant felt obliged to explain herself: “I agree, we don’t need a witch-hunt … especially not when Mystic Arts is turning out witches left, right, and center. I myself am concerned that Outlook is coming to expose our faults. Find a reason to judge us - and our students, to condemn us.”
Louis saw the conflict within her, so said: “I might point out, every student coming to Whateley will develop an opinion about this school, based upon their time here. Our hope as educators is that we’ve provided sound direction to young minds. Part of what we give them is by our example as a guide in life, but at the end of the day, a student takes away what they want to learn.”
Ophelia took the olive branch offered by asking: “How do you mean?”
Foob brought to the table hope: “We have an opportunity to show Outlook the good we have to offer. I feel his coming back is to give us a second chance, let’s not blow it.”
This is what Mrs. Shugendo needed to hear about the boy, “How do you suggest we do that?”
Without hesitation Mrs. Henderson spoke her mind, “That’s easy, we live up to our word. If we make a rule - we abide by it.”
Dr. Tenant almost laughed aloud, “Isn’t it the role of every teenager to test the rules, push the boundaries, see how far they can stretch the limits before …?”
Louis Gentz wasn’t a parent, but as a teacher he’d seen how to discipline unruly students: “All the more reason to set rules based upon sound principles, let the kids know why a rule has been made, then communicate a suitable punishment for breaking it. It’s a test of us and them, it’s all part of growing up.”
It made Mrs. Henderson think back of her time with Cameron: “I’ve noticed Cameron is honourable, and he does everything possible to adhere to direction given, if not to the letter of the law certainly to the intent for which it was given.”
Chief Delarose nodded in agreement, and volunteered: “I would hazard to say that Cameron isn’t looking to be a problem for us. He had no issue earlier when I asked him to curtail being a policeman while on campus.”
“I agree with Frank’s assessment,” added Fubar. “ Cameron told me before that his interests are to observe the goings on at Whateley, not to interfere.”
“I don’t know if that’s enough for us to give him free range on campus,” reasoned Dr. Tenant. “He’s able to cure most ailments, but he withheld treatment from those he deemed unworthy. What’s to say he wouldn’t turn on those students who don’t measure up?”
Fubar found the hurdle facing Ophelia. Being a doctor was her life’s calling, that Outlook didn’t share her passion was incomprehensible, there was no higher goal in her mind. Louis made the effort to reason it out: “So he holds people to a standard, isn’t that the same for everyone - relationships are built upon foundations, you check and see what qualities a person has. When trust is damaged, walls go up and getting close may never happen again.”
It tore at Ophelia’s heart, wasted potential that would rather judge a person: “I guess what I’m worried about is that he’s here to expose people’s faults.”
Franklin gave a hint regarding what he harboured inside: “I don’t see that as a problem. We each make judgements on others all the time, some people will become friends, others not so much. We can’t control the future, we can only ride the waves as they come.”
It was the doctor inside that spoke: “I’m speaking about condemning somebody. I for one don’t understand what kind of authority Outlook has.”
Louis pondered the problem, he’d spoken with Cameron about this: “He only ever said he was an observer. Wait, there was something else, he mentioned he was also a catalyst, like an ingredient used to make bread rise.”
To his credit Mr. Duncan asked the pertinent question: “To what end? Is he looking to start a war?”
“I don’t know.” Was Foob’s honest reply.
Mrs. Shugendo glanced around the table: “Anyone?”
It might not address the issue, but Chief Delarose’s focus wasn’t on the hypothetical why as much as on the who and where: “I suppose it’s to see how a person reacts, to bring out their true selves.”
When Dr. Tenant said: “Have them shoot themselves in the foot?” It was almost sarcastic but held validity.
Mrs. Henderson shook her head to emphasize her reply: “I don’t believe so. Really, how different is it from us testing a student? We assign them grades, pass or fail them depending upon the results. Overall it’s to make them better, give them some direction, isn’t that our goal?”
Mrs. Shugendo’s comment was rhetorical: “But is it his?” It made her table-mates consider her reasoning.
Mr. Duncan broke the silence that had befallen them: “That is the question, isn’t it? All I can add is: Cameron’s coming back, that says the door is still open. We should use that opportunity to the fullest.”
Picking up the torch Mrs. Shugendo directed the discussion into: “All right, I think we all agree with that sentiment. So, we should get a commitment from Outlook to the effect that he won’t attack any of our Avatar students.”
As Chief of Security, Franklin Delarose couldn’t let that slide: “You’re forgetting, Cameron was killed on his first day at Whateley. He was the victim of an unprovoked assault. What makes you feel he’s the threat?”
That it wasn’t a foregone consensus surprised Mrs. Shugendo: “It’s more a matter of managing risk. Until now, bonded Avatars couldn’t be separated; Outlook could upset that apple cart, alter what’s been the norm.”
To try and prevent a prolonged argument Mr. Gentz reminded folks: “We’ve already hashed this out. His previous agreement with us stated he would not be the one to instigate or provoke hostilities.”
It fell upon Franklin to defend his position, a long-standing concern of his: “It feels like we’re getting bogged down on a single issue; consequences, that actions bear consequences. We don’t like that we might be held responsible, and we’re looking for an out.”
Mrs. Shugendo hadn’t been aware of the Chief’s issues, so she didn’t want to dismiss him: “A fair assessment. Many at Whateley don’t want Outlook attending, saying it weakens our legal position. The Board of Trustees’ direction has us damned if we do and damned if we don’t. I simply don’t know what I’m supposed to do?”
Louis took the bull by the horns by asking: “Isn’t it the same situation for Cameron? It appears to me that he’s come to Whateley to learn - to grow as a person. Just because we don’t exactly understand who or what he is, that doesn’t excuse our responsibility - our opportunity, to give him an education.”
Mrs. Shugendo considered his point before saying: “You’re right Louis, and I believe it falls into the reasonings of the Trustees and Mrs. Carson’s approach. I didn’t know anything about an ongoing war between spirits on another astral plane - or however you care to explain it. And honestly, my head hurts just thinking about it. But if Outlook leaves because we failed him, how can we claim neutrality?”
To illustrate his reasonings Chief Delarose added: “It’s not like we’ve never had a student come to us with an agenda before, any kid who has an inkling of who they’ll become is working toward that goal. It’s disconcerting that we are talking about coercing him to our will. Isn’t that displaying a lack of neutrality on our part?”
It was distressing to be fighting over a single student, but when Ophelia said: “It’s not like we’re attempting to change his religion,” it shocked all involved.
Louis took advantage of the situation: “Aren’t we? We’re suggesting he’s not even allowed to protect himself from an antagonizing enemy who’s willing to kill him. Whateley is as much as saying it’s open season on him, I think we need to alter our thinking, let Avatars know we will tolerate no attacks upon Cameron.”
Time was slipping away so Mrs. Shugendo wrapped it up: “Well said. I will bring that forward to Administration for consideration. Now, if no one objects, I think we can put that topic to rest. Let’s move on to other business regarding Outlook, like assigning him a Student Advisor.”
“Hey, come on, wake up! Captain Patel wants to see you before it’s wheels up.”
Cameron stirred, it felt like he’d just fallen asleep, but duty calls, “Yeah, okay, thanks.”
“How did you rate an air-conditioned tent? Ours is like 120 degree’s inside.”
“Not AC, I just like it cool to sleep.” He’d laid on the cot sweating for a while before taking the heat out of the air so he could sleep.
“Sure, whatever. Up an at-em, if you hurry you might have time for some chow before we leave.”
“You're part of the extraction team?” Deduced Cameron.
“And you’re the dead weight we’ve been saddled with,” an accurate statement from the soldier’s perspective, if not a little unfair.
“Afraid so. My name’s Outlook.”
“I heard, how’d you get that nickname?” Genuine curiosity, a good start.
“I have enhanced vision.”
“Everybody calls me Boot. We’re on the clock here, best get moving.” Getting a good look at the man, he wasn’t all that old, not even twenty yet. But something made Cameron take another look at him, a signature - very minor, hardly noticeable. An Exemplar maybe a level one in comparison to others.
“Right. Can you direct me to where the Captain is?”
“Follow me,” offered Boot.
Boot stepped quickly, at a pace that Cameron needed to jog in order to keep up. He stopped beside a large tent and pulled back a flap beckoning Cameron to enter. Once inside Boot stiffened and saluted: “Guest retrieved as ordered, sir.”
“Thank you corporal, you are dismissed,” ordered Captain Patel. “Young man, take a seat, we’ll be with you in a minute.”
Captain Patel and Commander DeVouge continued on with their discussion, referencing maps and satellite photo’s that Cameron scanned in a glance. Cameron took a seat and sat quietly, hoping it wasn’t considered inappropriate to be checking his phone for messages. Three texts from Lynn, one saying her father’s electricity production had doubled, the others asking how he was. He sent short replies saying he’d arrived and was okay so far.
The two men’s attention slowly drifted over to Cameron, with the Captain addressing the elephant in the room
“Why you? What makes you an ace up Foreign Affairs’ sleeve?” questioned Captain Patel, not wanting to hear any politically filtered jargon.
“I work for the RCMP in Special Investigations as an Inspector.” It was the truth, Cameron had told him such before.
“What good is that, we don’t plan on arresting anyone. This whole area is on the verge of an all-out war. What we need is to get our people to safety.” Patel wasn’t buying it, he wanted more.
“I’m gifted with enhanced sight, I can also harness energy and alter matter.” If brief, it was to the point; Cameron didn’t like to say even that much about himself.
“Okay, that might be useful,” the Captain’s mental gears could be seen turning by the tick on his face. “What about you DeVouge?”
“I’m to be your liaison with Foreign Affairs, supporting Outlook’s efforts.” So the Commander won’t be joining them in the field after all, nice to know.
“You know I can’t just add some noob to a trained team of highly skilled soldiers. They work as a unit, have a defined command structure. You’d be upsetting their finely honed balance. Does anyone know what rank an RCMP Inspector translates to?” Patel wasn’t happy, but he couldn’t disobey an order, but it didn’t stop him from expressing his displeasure.
“I’m not here to take over, nor is it my intent to step on anyone’s toes.” Cameron figured the best way to handle this was to be peaceable, not ruffle feathers.
“If that’s the case, I’ve been advised from up above that you need to be inducted into the military. You need to sign recruitment papers before we go any further.” Patel had drawn his line in the sand, there sure was enough of it around.
“Is that necessary? RCMP are often sent on Peacekeeping missions.” Cameron’s danger sense flared, not really, Cameron didn’t have a danger sense - more a familiarity with what drives people, that of itself warranted caution.
“This ain’t no minor skirmish. We’re talking about a clandestine incursion into hostile territory. If you don’t agree to our terms, you’ll be left sitting on the sidelines, no matter what anybody else says.” The Captain threw out his ultimatum like he’d practised it, he was playing at something, but what?
Cameron countered: “I don’t have a stake in the game. If it’s too much bother, I’ll just make a call for a ride home and leave you to it,” no point stepping into an obvious trap.
DeVouge jumped at that revelation, his operation was coming apart. “Outlook! Think about the kids. Their chances are slim to none without your help.”
“Let me see your papers.” Was Outlook’s olive branch, in order to win you have to play the game, just what game they were playing wasn’t certain.
The pages handed to him - in triplicate, consisted of a standard government-issued document, much like the construction contracts Buck entered into. Each item was filled with clauses and conditions, laid out in exacting details, much of which didn’t fit within Cameron’s ideals or timeline, so he made appropriate adjustments - to each copy, striking red ink through the contentious requirements, substituting those with more suitable terms.
Considering his sight and ability to manipulate matter, it took far less time to finish making the changes than it might have taken someone to actually read the first paragraph of the document. A detail noticed by the men who shared a knowing glance between them.
Outlook grabbed a pen from off the Captain’s desk, asking: “Where do I sign?”
“You should read it first,” suggested the Commander, an almost considerate thing to say, given the situation.
“I’m good. What’s this world coming too, if you can’t trust the government?” Quipped Cameron, only too aware of the chicanery involved. Buck had complained often about what people tried to weedel while negotiating a contract, to extort extras - at no cost. “Do you guys want to read it?” Asked Cameron, holding the pages out to them.
“Not my first rodeo,” rebuffed Patel, trying not to show his hand.
Cameron signed the papers, in triplicate. Witnessed by Commander DeVouge, and attested to by Captain Patel. Signed, dated, and stamped the Captain handed the documents to his company Clerk.
“Good, now down to business. This aerial photo shows the city where the abductions took place. Circled in red is our embassy, the plume of smoke says it has been razed. In blue is the school the children had been attending, we believe the kids will have been moved to another more secure location. We have identified three possible locations the zealots could be using to hold captives: a police station, a prison, and a church.” The photo was a series of aerial photos patched together, once Cameron determined North he got a good lay of the land.
“I would guess the church as the most likely place,” surmised Cameron.
“Why?” wondered DeVouge, Patel was also taken aback at the boy’s assessment.
“People feel justified in committing the worst atrocities if they do it in God’s name,” explained Cameron.
“That’s a jaded opinion.” Patel’s comment spoke to his religious background.
“Yet it holds true. I didn’t say it was right, just that it releases people’s restraint for heinous acts, by saying God sanctioned it.” Cameron didn’t feel the need to make a federal case over it.
Patel made it brief: “The mission is to insert a team of men into the city, determine the hostage’s location by scouting the sites identified, and extract them in the most expeditious manner possible.”
“You make it sound like a cakewalk.” spouted DeVouge at the simplicity of direction given.
Patel didn’t flinch, “Just stating the obvious, no plan lasts long when boots hit the ground, so I want Outlook to understand what our objective is. If he can provide assistance, I expect him to step up and help the team succeed, I won’t tolerate grandstanding.”
“Ideally nobody will even know I’m there,” assured Cameron to solidify his place.
“Good, I leave it to the Lieutenant to assign roles as he sees fit. I expect you to follow his lead without question,” the Captain didn’t leave any room for questions.
Cameron confirmed, “I’ll do my part.”
DeVouge took his cue, and brought Cameron out of the Captain’s tent. ”The Lieutenant and his men are in the Mess grabbing dinner. Come on, I’ll introduce you.”
The mess tent smelled of macaroni and cheese and a mildly burnt meatloaf, as last meals go - it could be worse, if being completely honest.
Why did it have to be an airplane? Cameron sat facing the rear of the plane, just so he didn’t have to watch the rotating propellers, as the engines thrummed keeping them aloft. Not that seeing the ground far below didn’t make him want to hurl, nobody would enjoy seeing him regurgitate dinner.
The extraction team consisted of eight men, headed up by Lieutenant Tarnowski, his second being Sergeant Meikle. He’d received a cool welcome by the two in command, an understandable reaction to having someone forced upon them, much like when he joined the RCMP at first.
The rest of the crew had been more receptive, although he’d been told their real names, they each used nicknames rather than given names. Of them, the most friendly was Boot, the man he’d met previously in camp. Boot was the most junior team member of the team, still the new man and he seemed pleased that Cameron now held that lowly position.
Nicknames apparently originated from where someone lived: Loopy for example called Kamloops, BC home. Flip Flop hailed from Flin Flon, Manitoba. Freddy from Fredricton, New Brunswick. Chuck from Edmonton, Alberta … or Edmonchuk as it is known. Then there was Git, or Gitty, at first Cameron thought it was Giddy - like giddy as a school girl, but no. Git belonged to a native band named the Gitnadoiks.
To be social, Cameron asked Boot - "Why Boot?” Harlan explained he lived in a town in Saskatchewan so small it consisted of only three houses, in jest people called it ‘Left Rubber Boot’. So Boot it was.
The men were kitted out in desert camouflage, each loaded down with packs front and rear and held rifles. Lieutenant Tarnowski carried a longer rifle with a scope mounted on it. Most of the men also had pistols and knives. Cameron looked out of place, he had fashioned some clothes pre-flight that matched the ever-present sands colour, but he didn’t fit in with the soldiers geared out in military fatigues - not in the slightest.
Tarnowski handed him a parachute, his grunt indicating he should put it on.
“When do we land?” asked Cameron as he climbed into the chute.
“The Herc will return to camp after a reconnaissance sweep, we jump on the first pass. You have a problem with that?” Tarnowski’s brisk response wasn’t reassuring, and it was the first time Cameron heard about having to jump.
“No, not really. I mean, I’ve always worried about the plane falling out of the sky, it seems only natural to bail out mid-flight, vertigo notwithstanding,” expressed Cameron.
“I don’t need to know your history, do you have a problem?” snapped the lieutenant, he was seething already so Cameron held back his concerns about never having parachuted before.
“No sir,” was the only reply Tarnowski would tolerate, and he got what he expected from Cameron.
“Good, when the lights green, we jump.” At that, Tarnowski secured a tether onto Cameron's parachute to open it upon jumping out, then he left Outlook alone.
The Hercule's rear gate lowered, the wind it created meant voices couldn’t be heard. The red light switched to green and the first man jumped out, signalled by Sergeant Meikle to go. As the second in line, Cameron was pushed out jointly by the Lieutenant and Sergeant.
The black of night provided cover for the parachutists by obscuring their approach, although the plane’s engines attracted some attention from those below, resulting in searchlights seeking the aircraft. The City’s lights ahead helped pinpoint their destination, they had bailed to land outside the populated area.
The rush of air was equal to the surge of adrenaline he felt. When the drop line went taunt it jerked him backwards as the cord was pulled to release the parachute, except it didn’t. Cameron’s parachute remained closed, staying neatly tucked within the pack strapped to his torso.
Fear is an all-encompassing emotion, reason and logic take a vacation when your life is on the line. One shouldn’t try it for kicks and giggles.
Cameron had to quell the scream of abject terror that wanted to control his being, his life depended on it. He didn’t have time to delve into the non-functioning chute, he didn’t know how to fix it anyway, so he shucked it - letting it fall, it kept pace with his free-fall decent.
His sight was layered such that it provided panic-inducing details: a speedometer told him how fast he was moving while it increased with every passing second, another gauge measured his elevation ticking downward rapidly as the ground approached.
End Part One