Brace sat in the former mayor’s office in the overstuffed, plush leather chair and looked out the large window overlooking the city as he considered the revitalization of Waukegan. A day had passed since Brace “retired” the former Senator of Illinois and the former mayor of Waukegan. He sat there awaiting the machines from fellow Honored The Futurist. The Futurist was almost solely responsible for the great strides in technology as well as the massive reforms that the technology allowed. Soon the reformation machines would dot the horizon as they ate the wall and knocked down the fence reclaiming the materials for future use. Then the people would be moved around so that blocks could be demolished and rebuilt to allow for the new housing that every citizen was entitled to. As that happened the mag trains would be installed providing free public transportation while the harbors were built to allow trade. With the technology available to him this could be accomplished in a matter of a few months rather than years.
The nearly 7 foot tall Tower walked in. Wherever Brace was Tower wasn’t far behind. Dressed in black canvas tactical pants with a black tactical vest she had her standard issue long coat off showing her muscular arms.
“I just finished briefing The Futurist, she says machines will be here tomorrow.” Tower stood at the door.
“Why the delay?” Brace asked around the fist pushed into his cheek as he continued staring out the window.
“Well, Mass Transit is ready now but Futurist needs to prep the machines. Transit assures us he’ll deliver as soon as they are ready. We have a staging area ready just outside the wall.”
“What happened here House? Who could do this, all this suffering, and to what end?” Brace voice cracked. He only ever called her House when it was just him and her in a casual setting.
Tower walked into the office and lightly sat down in a chair across the desk. Tower was given the nickname Brick Shit House from the American’s because that’s what she was. Tall and strong and invulnerable they thought it was a better descriptor than Tower. Since the program ended though few people called her that other than Brace and usually only then when they were alone.
“I don’t know Brace. It’s hard to say what exactly happened or why…” Her Russian accent became more prominent as she relaxed.
“This place was supposed to be a port. I’ve been getting shipping manifests, cargo manifests. I’ve been getting maintenance reports on the mag trains. Financial consensus’ confirming receipt of public money. These people… all these people are owed five years of backed salaries, they’re owed the public housing, and they’re owed lives. Lives that have been taken away from them…” Brace said finally turning to Tower and looking at her with a pained look in his eyes.
“Yes, yes they are and now that you’re here you will make sure they get it.”
“Bug and Jinx are reported living here and their escape led me back here. What do we do? Do we go after them? Why didn’t they contact me before now?” Brace asked.
“I don’t know…” Tower offered. “Clearly they weren’t in a position to do much of anything.”
“Not only are they owed salaries but their pensions as well. Where did all that money go? Salaries, pensions, subsidies, money for infrastructure…” Brace trailed off.
“We need to find that out.” Tower assured him.
Several moments of comfortable silence occurred.
“Who could hide all this from me?” Brace finally asked.
“That’s the big question Brace.”
Brace rubbed his forehead before rubbing his eyes.
“Are you alright boss?” Tower asked.
“Yeah, I’m just really tired is all, it feels like I haven’t been getting enough sleep lately.” Brace replied as he hung his head.
Finally after fidgeting in front of the door wondering what to do she spoke “Paper… Paper… the store should have opened an hour ago…” it was more a whisper than anything. “Paper…”
The door flung open and there stood a short, petite woman with a round face, big round glasses and black hair pulled into a pony tail. She stuck her head out and looked back and forth before grabbing Knock-Knock and dragging her in and pushing her into the living room.
“Knock-Knock, look who’s here!” Paper Pusher said with a big arm motion revealing Bug and Jinx. Bug was seated awkwardly on the arm of a couch and Jinx was leaning up against the wall near the window. Paper Pusher spoke with a pleasant London accent indicating her as a member of the UK Honored.
“Oh my god!” Knock-Knock said with a smile running up to hug each person. “How have you been?”
“Stranded in a dystopian nightmare up in Waukegan.” Jinx said flatly.
“Oh, Waukegan… Paper when did the trains stop going to Waukegan?” Knock-Knock asked Paper Pusher.
“Not since Brace took over.” Paper Pusher said trying to hide her smile.
“What brings you two here?” Knock-Knock asked.
“That’s what we’ve been talking about. Tell her boys.” Paper Pusher said motioning to Jinx and Bug with her head.
“We escaped from pure misery and we thought it was like that everywhere, Bug and Paper have some… history… and knew she was here so he thought it would be a good idea if we walked down to Chicago to come… and… save… you…” Jinx explained.
“Save us from what? Our base $25,000 a year salary or our massive pension?” Knock-Knock asked sarcastically with a snort and a glance over to Paper Pusher who was not as amused.
“Yeah, well, the walk down here has been enlightening. Apparently everywhere isn’t like Waukegan…”
“Tell her what you want to do!” Paper Pusher said excitedly.
“We want to get some of the Honored not aligned with Brace and confront Brace about what’s going on. Hold him accountable for what’s happened.” Jinx concluded.
“Um, Paper… can I talk to you privately. In the bedroom.” Knock-Knock said quietly to Paper Pusher while gesturing with her head.
After Knock-Knock and Paper Pusher left the room Jinx and Bug began talk themselves.
“What are we doing, man?” Jinx asked limply moving his upper body as he turned towards the window and walked toward Bug.
“It’s a good idea.” Bug replied.
“During the walk down here we saw nothing to indicate that we’re going up against some power hungry dictator. Things don’t seem that bad outside Waukegan.”
“Jinx, that can’t be the only place like that. We have to figure out why Brace is using places like that. They’re basically concentration camps. Paper Pusher and Knock-Knock escaped but maybe the others weren’t so lucky. Maybe Brace built the camp around us instead of directly imprisoning us…”
“Listen to yourself…” Jinx interrupted his eyes imploring Bug to reconsider.
“Come on. We’re doing the right thing.” Bug looked directly into Jinx’s imploring eyes and all Jinx could see was the sincerity and honesty Bug felt over this cause.
“Alright, it’s your show.” Jinx finally said with a shrug.
In the bedroom Knock-Knock and Paper Pusher were having a similar conversation.
“Paper, what are you doing?” Knock-Knock asked.
“It’s an adventure Ki-Ki!” Paper Pusher said using her nickname for Knock-Knock
“But it’s Brace…” Knock-Knock started “Do you really want to challenge Brace?”
“Oh, it’s not going to go that far. Besides, Brace wouldn’t kill us… right?” she paused and Paper Pusher and Knock-Knock looked at each other briefly before looking away and letting the question sit there a moment “And besides besides maybe they’re on to something. We might actually end up doing something good.”
“That sounds like a terrible reason to do this…” Knock-Knock said.
“Come Ki-Ki, I’m soooooooo bored. And I know you’re kind of bored too. This could be fun, plus I’d get to spend some time with Bug and you could spend time with Jinx.” Paper Pusher said singing the last part of the sentence.
“I don’t even like Jinx…” Knock-Knock trailed off.
“Please, please, please? It’ll be a chance to get out and see some of the old crew...” Paper Pusher said with a begging motion of her hands.
“What about the store? It’s your store.” Knock-Knock asked.
“The stationary store will be fine. It’s always slow anyway. Our salary and pensions will be automatically deposited and rent is automatically deducted, everything will take care of itself until we get back and with you we can come back here any time.” Paper Pusher argued.
There was a moment of silence as Knock-Knock considered everything.
“You’ve been saying we should take a vacation. This is our chance, we haven’t been out of Chicago since Brace took over.”
“Okay. Fine. I’ll go.” Knock-Knock said which caused Paper Pusher to jump up and down clapping her hands lightly.
Paper Pusher and Knock-Knock rejoined Bug and Jinx who were sitting in silence.
“Alright,” Knock-Knock started “What’s the plan?”
“Well,” Bug replied “We need more than four people. Even if one of them is Paper Pusher.” He said with a smile and nod to Paper Pusher who blushed “So, we were hoping you could help us with that.”
Knock-Knock and Paper Pusher looked at each other for a moment.
“Well,” Paper Pusher spoke “We know where Radar is.”
“Didn’t Radar lose her powers?” Jinx asked flatly.
“She did, but she still keeps in contact with us. I think she keeps in contact with everybody she can, you know old habits and all that.” Paper Pusher said.
“Great, let’s start there.” Bug perked up and extend his arm out “Knock-Knock, lead the way.”
The remaining three followed Knock-Knock to the door. Knock-Knock took a deep breath, closed her eyes and sighed. There was a moment and she knocked on the door three times. It didn’t need to be three times but she preferred to knock that many times. She reached for the handle and slowly opened the door revealing a deep purple, swirling light.
“After you.” Knock-Knock said with an arm gesture.
The other three walked through the door and Knock-Knock went last shutting the door behind her.
Report on Honored Member Codenamed Knock-Knock (partial)
…I have assigned Knock-Knock to the Insertion/Extraction team. While Mass Transit has the ability to instantly transport anything in a certain radius around him Knock-Knock has the unique ability to open a door into any place anywhere on Earth, as long as a receiving door exists. Mass Transit is limited in the need to know where he is going and have what or who is to be transported to be in his immediate vicinity while Knock-Knock can simply open a door and keep that door open until everyone is extracted and the portal remains open until Knock-Knock closes the door at which point it becomes impossible for anyone to follow. However her frail stature and adversity to inflict violence, even in a self-defense situation, makes her an exploitable weakness. She needs to be protected and preferably by one of the big guns. She and Paper Pusher have developed a friendship and I am happy to assign Paper Pusher to protection duty if mission parameters allow it…
Report on Honored Member Codenamed Paper Pusher (partial)
…Paper Pusher has a zeal for field work that I find admirable. Her ability to control and manipulate paper seems, superficially, to be one of the fluke useless powers, like Cabbage Patch, Crazy Cat Lady or Gourmand, but through practice and pure ingenuity she has learned to use her powers in ways that are incomprehensible to me and difficult for me to replicate when I tap her powers. This ingenuity has turned her from potential joke and benchwarmer to vital member of the field team and one of the big guns I prefer to use for any operation. However her lack of a political or ideological worldview makes her potentially unreliable…
Status Update on Honored Member Codenamed Cold Comfort
To: Grandfather, Grandmother
I have spoken to Cold Comfort multiple times since the incident. She claims to have problems relating to her fellow Honored and is feeling increasing distant from humanity itself. It is entirely possible that her experiences in the program and in the field are having unforeseen psychological effects on her. She has moments of anger followed by moments of regret, she is withdrawn and refuses to speak directly about some of the things she’s experienced. My recommendation is to relieve her of active duty and place her on reserved status much like you did with Gourmand while providing mental health assistance.
RE: Status Update on Honored Member Codenamed Cold Comfort
We have all spoken and Brace agrees with your evaluation which has led us all to agree to change her status. Her power levels were quite high and skill was quite great, her contribution will be missed but her health is more important. We grant her the reserved status officially however unofficially we are granting her early release with full benefits and full pension. Please do not let Gourmand know that we are allowing early releases, I don’t want to have to have another talk with him.
NEXT MONTH: The Origins of The Honored One-Hundred!