Television talk show set lit at “intimate conversation” levels. Live audience.
One, a bespectacled, earnest male interviewer sitting in an easy chair grinning ear to ear. Blond hair in a spiky moussed cut, heavy beige face makeup, gym-lean body clad in double-breasted dark pinstripes. He looks like a child next to the man sitting on the heavy steel bench opposite him.
Two, a giant dressed in a crisply-starched white dress shirt and black dress trousers, but ordinary clothes cannot disguise his eight-foot height or his stiff, thick skin. He is sporting a black baseball cap and mirrored sunglasses, and he has a case of the fidgets. (above you can see what he looks like when he’s ready to play beach volleyball. (art credit: Adam Withers)
<perky theme music swells and fades>
Host: Welcome to the Brian Grimm show. I’m Brian Grimm, but of course you all know that. <leans forward towards his guest while audience laughs> Hi, there. You’re my biggest interview ever, you know that? <more audience laughter>
Brian: What should I call you? I’m not very knowledgeable about the military. Ranks and all that. I want to get it right.
Guest: You can call me Jack.
Brian: Oh, please. Come at me with the whole deal. Name, what you do, all of it. My viewers like to get all the juicy details.
Jack: Full name and rank? Jack Coby, lieutenant, retired, United States Marine Corps. Gateway Company, Mercury Battalion. I work for the Department of Public Safety now. Not a lot of employment opportunities for an eight-foot tall armor-plated dude. I don’t think you need my serial number on top of all that, do you?
Brian: No, that is quite complicated enough. So is it Jack like Jack and the Beanstalk, only you’re the giant? <pause for more audience laughter> Jack is usually a nickname for something else.
Jack: No, I’m Jack, not John or Jackson or anything else. My only nickname…can I say Jackass on TV? That’s the only other thing people call me.
Brian: I wouldn’t dare call you that. I was delighted when the Department approached my producers about having you on the show, but I confess you are one scary fellow. Will you tell us more about your powers? What’s it like, being what you are?
Jack: Getting nervous, are you? I read somewhere you test positive for R-factor yourself. Is that true?
Brian: <squirming> Ah—yes, it’s true. Someone leaked my medical records. Hazard of being a celebrity. I haven’t rolled, though. Not yet. You don’t have to answer, of course. I didn’t mean to be insensitive. <clears throat.>
Jack: Didn’t you? Isn’t that your job? That sure sounded like a soft-pitch so I could reassure you that you’ll still be human even if you end up like me.
Brian: Errm. <audience titters nervously> Maybe? I confess I have my moments, wondering what’s going to happen to me when I get older.
Jack: <Smiles wide enough to show large, curving, sharp canine teeth> Relax, man. You’ll probably never tansition from latent to active. Most poz don’t. Less than 5 percent of the overall population, if I remember right. Even if you do roll, you probably won’t end up like me. T’s, P’s, and R’s are super rare. And Tee’s are the most extreme.
Brian <leaning forward> Which brings us back to my question. What is it like, if you don’t mind sharing? Are you typical? I’m told you’re pretty rare even for a Tee.
Jack: Yes and no. I’m T5, in the middle for power, with a Y-variant, so I still look mostly human. Minimal armoring, no horns or major spines, and claws not much longer than fingernails. I’m also photosensitive, so I’d appreciate the camera light aiming a little higher, thanks. The prime Tees are twelve feet tall at baseline, and bigger yet in rampage high-power mode.
<stock video imagery comes up on the rear walls of the set, showing cut shots of troops advancing on a jungle position, with uniformed giants marching alongside armored vehicles and normal-sized infantry.>
Jack: Oh, hey. That was an exercise in Hawaii. I remember that. I’m the little guy there by the rightmost troop carrier. See the difference? I’m only big and have the turtle-skin. Oh, and we’re all nearly impossible to kill between the armor and the regeneration. But the thing that makes me rare? I hit rollover at fourteen instead of forty or older like most people. Only ever been a couple of early-onset Tees who survived rollover. That’s what most people obsess about.
Brian: Fourteen. When the average rollover age is forty-seven? Remarkable. That must have been such a shock. Your family, how did they handle it?
Jack: Don’t know. Haven’t seen my parents since I rolled. Something about me being a murderer and a monster and all that.
Jack: <sighs> There’s no way you didn’t know that, but fine. I agreed to be on the show, this is outreach, so here’s the story. I had a big brother. He’s one of four people I killed during rollover, when the first rampage hit and I was out of my mind with disorientation. I got a choice: execution or redemption in service. I chose to put on the uniform and swore the oath.
Brian: You are an astonishing young man. Thank you for sharing that. Now, about rampage mode. That’s unique to Tee’s, correct? How does it work? Can you demonstrate for us?
Jack: Do you have something handy for me to demolish? No? Okay, then. No rampage. If I call up the energy, I have to expend it. It isn’t a rage thing. Couldn’t be good soldiers if we were always going crazy, could we? It isn’t unique to Tee’s, either. It shows up as a variant in a bunch of other series. . Uncontrolled emotion makes anybody dangerous. There’s a feedback loop for us. Fight-or-flight impulses can trigger a power burst and increase in abilities. A lot of variables can bring it on. Rampage mode is just one more power we learn to control and channel.
Brian: And you do marvelously. Speaking of soldiering…you certainly had a busy time in uniform. Maybe you’ll tell us a little about that? And you hold the world record for age past rollover, too, don’t you?
Jack: Oh, heck, no. Alice Akiyama is the record-holder. She was in her sixties when she rolled on First Night, back in ’43, and she hasn’t aged a day since. She’s a hundred something. But for early-onset cases? Yeah. I break that record every day I wake up. No big deal.
Brian: No big de–How can you be so calm about it? Nothing shakes you, does it? I’m in awe, honestly. The Crisis Night incident, the Elgin School bombings, the Gulf rescues…
<New images come up on the set walls and flash by one after another–clips of text headlines, running children, walls of flame, uniformed soldiers and police officers, blanket-covered lumps in rubble, smoking craters, crowds holding hands…>
Brian: Look at all that. You and your unit, they saved so many lives. Your bravery is just mind-boggling.
Jack:I never felt brave. I do seem to end up in the thick of things a lot. I volunteered for most of those missions. My CO said it’s an early-onset thing. He says because we know we won’t be around for long, we either go in hard or check out. Mostly I feel like I’m a regular guy. Dying young? That’s the straw I drew. Getting upset wouldn’t change it. I like to have some fun, have a few drinks, goof off. You know, regular stuff.
Brian: So would you say you’re someone who can handle pressure?
Jack: Pressure? Sure I can handle it. Oh– you’re fishing for a story again, aren’t you? My interview coach told me you people like stories. Okay, how about this thing my Mercury squad handled a few days before Crisis Night, what, a year ago or more now? It’s the kind of thing Mercury Battalion handles ten, twelve times a year, all over the country. No privacy violations, I won’t name names or places.
Brian: <rubs hands together, leans forward> This sounds good already. Go on, do.
Jack: This lady, she and her whole family were members of some Denial group. She refused to report to internment camp when her R-factor spiked, and she started rolling hot at home. Worse, you know how one house in every block is the one where all the kids go? Her place.
<Jack pulls off his sunglasses, squints at audience before replacing them> You all know what hot means, right? Someone rolls from poz to active in hours, not weeks or months? It can get gruesome when there are physical changes or elemental powers involved. She rolled full pyro. Prime pyro. P-1A’s like that–back on First Night those hot rollovers left Saint Louis and Spokane in ashes. And from the time they start glowing and showing, it’s maybe an hour to full uncontrolled ignition.
Brian: Oooh, I can’t even imagine. <Looks up> do we have pyro stock footage? Can we roll that? <The back of the set lights up with images of people incinerating buildings, trees, and bushes, melting steel beams, causing explosions…>
<Jack watches the images as he continues speaking> Yeah. Like that. The lady’s kids called their Dad. One of the neighbor kids ran home, told his mom, and she called the Department of Public Safety. The DPS scrambled a Mercury team for containment. Dad was driving off with Mom when the primary team teleported in. I do not know where the man thought he was going. Deniers. Who can figure? Panic. Anyway. The primaries weren’t in position to pursue, not with a burning house and a horde of kids right there to contain. My squad gets teleported on-scene expecting to be back-up, but there I am with a car driving off and smoke billowing out, neighbors screaming and getting in the way, and who knows how long before the whole block, maybe the whole town goes up in a firestorm.
Brian: Wow. <shivers>
Jack: Yeah. Tell me about pressure. It’s all about keeping your head. There’s a standard procedure, believe it or not. I called the play, Corporal Amy Goodall picked me up and launched me after the car — I was the smallest Tee in the squad, she’s the largest, twelve foot plus, no big deal — I land on the car roof, it crumples and entraps, my ‘porter sends me and it to the secured containment block back on base, and containment techs pulled the dad and me from the cell before the mom ignited. Boom, major crisis averted.
Brian: How close was it?
Jack: Ten seconds. She melted the containment block. Any hesitation from us, and she would’ve leveled ten blocks and killed hundreds of people. I guess she did good, once she got with the program. She ended up in reboot camp for Mercury once she got minimum control of course Talent like that always goes through the military first.
Brian: Not everyone does so well. How do you feel about the public anger directed towards the government’s Public Safety policies?
Jack: I was a Marine, ma’am, and now I work for Public Safety. It’s not my place to have feelings about policies. I go where I’m ordered. Mercury Battalion is a specialist unit, they handle the R-factor breakouts and containment and do a lot of R-null population outreach with the DPS, but we’re soldiers, first. Bottom line, all enemies of the United States, foreign and domestic, they’re my business.
Brian <mugs surprise and disappointment for the audience, who groan in unison> Seriously, Jack? You’re going to feed me the official line and nothing else?
Brian <waves off the uncomfortable moment> Fine, fine. Never mind. We’re running low on time. I’ll give you an easy one. Suppose you could wish for any power you wanted, change any one thing about yourself…
Jack: That’s a joke, right? Look at me. You think I wouldn’t rather be normal size, lead a normal life? You think I wouldn’t rather live longer than–hell, do I even know if I’ll wake up tomorrow morning? What do you think I would pick? I would wish to be for plain old regular human, null-factor, no chance of rolling over. That’d mean I would have a chance of seeing twenty-five, maybe even getting married and have kids or something someday.
Brian: That was…honest. Brutally honest. There I was thinking you’d toss off a joke. <nervous laughter from the audience.>
Jack: <laughs> Oh, well. If I only get to pick power-powers, then I’d love to be a ‘porter. One of the variants that only needs a visual aid for a targeting reference. Traveling the world whenever I was off-duty, that would be pretty keen.
Brian: That does sound fun. Now here’s one question I ask all my guests. Will you tell us a secret?
Jack: No. If I told you, it wouldn’t be a secret, would it? <grins>
<audience laughter and a patter of applause>
Brian: <waits for noise to quiet> Well that brings us right to the end of our time. Jack, you’ve been a good sport about all this. Really great. Can I throw one more at you? You don’t have to answer if you don’t want to. But the one question request that scores highest on every poll is this one: what’s your biggest fear?
Jack: Oh, that one I don’t mind at all. I have two big fears. First, look at me. I can bench-press a pickup truck, and I’m bigger than two bulls stacked on top of each other. I’m afraid I’ll hurt someone innocent by mistake. That’s a no-brainer, that one. My other fear? I’m afraid of people being afraid of me. Frightened people attack in self defense. Frightened people lash out. Some people really don’t think the poz are human. They see monsters when they look at you, Brian, as much as when they see me. And that–that should scare you a lot more than rollover itself. That’s what keeps me awake nights.
Brian: <sits up straight as perky theme music comes on> And that’s another great show, everyone. Educational and entertaining, plenty to think about as always. Thank you all, and good night!
* * * *
Some of my books have torn down the walls of
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