Black Box

And you may ask yourself, how did I get here?

Ladies and gentlemen, this is your life!

On the plane back to Toronto, Vanessa asks Phia why Ben seemed so focused on attacking her. The group learns that Ben had been left to fend for himself (along with the unconscious Alpha and Bravo) when they had to flee the Lenin Museum in Kyrgyzstan. Although Phia explains that her choice to leave Ben was fully justified – as Pete & Eugene had disappeared, and Suzi was in the midst of some sort of psychic fit – she admits that it’s possible Ben holds a grudge. When Vanessa asks what Phia’s plan is if Ben returns – as he escaped alive – the response is simply that the group will deal with it.

After landing in the Toronto, the group adjourns to the nearest coffee shop (a Starbucks) in which to debrief. They agree that while they are all focused on rebuilding their lives, they will still check in at least once a week lest some new threat appears and people start disappearing again. Bidding farewell for the time being, the group scatters to find out what has become of their friends, family, and occupations over the past year and a half.

Pete, Suzi and Vanessa all quickly learn they have lost their apartments. Eugene’s condo is still under his name and, although lacking in electronics (after he destroyed them before fleeing Toronto the first time), it appears to be in good order. Upon returning to the university, Eugene is asked how his experience teaching in Chile went. After a few false starts, and claims that he was instrumental in rescuing some miners, Eugene asks after his job. He is told that a Professor Brown was brought in to replace him but, as he does not have tenure, there may be room for Eugene to return to academia.

Phia, too, still has a place to call home. Both her apartment and store have survived the past 18 months intact, although apparently not without some indignities. Melody, the employee Phia left in charge, eagerly asks after the writing retreat that Phia was apparently on. Phia claims that she has a new manuscript in the works, and is optimistic about its prospects. Melody also explains that has made some significant changes to the variety of books on offer at Papyrus Dreams (including the new Stephanie Meyer masterpiece, and an entire section of “Chicken Soup” books). After enduring what little small talk she could, Phia politely asks Melody to leave, saying that the store will be closed for a few days while Phia “assesses the situation”.

Now homeless, Pete goes to his parents house. He finds his mother – on her third glass of afternoon wine – and they catch up. His mother asks after his experience backpacking in Europe, and Pete easily spins a few tales of adventure. He also learns that his father has a new job at the Cortex Corporation, which has been keeping him quite busy.

Suzi’s first stop is to check on her practice. She is greeted warmly by the receptionist, who asks after the wedding. She admits that everyone was surprised to hear that Suzi got married, but she is delighted that she also “found the Lord”. With a masterful poker face, Suzi thanks the receptionist for the well-wishes. In asking after her clients, Suzi learns that many (particularly Mr. Jones) have asked to be informed when she resumes treatments. However, her office has since been leased, so Suzi begins the search for both an apartment and office space.

Vanessa eagerly returns to Scarborough, and her mother’s home. Her mother looks well, although more tired than Vanessa remembers, and asks how it was teaching in England. After discussing the vagaries of the British school system, her mother admits that the neighborhood is going downhill. Apparently there has been an influx of drugs, and the gangs are become a greater problem. At Vanessa’s former school, everyone is quite happy to see her. Unfortunately, although they would love to have her back, she will have to go through the school board to get another job.

Weeks pass as the group settles back into their lives. Although they are able to manage their cover stories relatively well, they all have occasional problems when they are unaware of some specific detail that the Department implanted in their friends’/family’s/co-workers’ minds. Phia, having gained some new mastery in her abilities, simply re-writes peoples memories to suit when the issue arises. Similarly, Suzi is able to pull the lies directly from people’s minds, and so tailor her conversations to suit. However, she has a great deal of trouble with her father, who was already intensely suspicious of the cover story he’d been programmed with. Eugene (declining to use his abilities), Vanessa and Pete have the most difficulty. For Eugene, the primary problem is with his former intern Veronica, who eventually starts to avoid his company completely.

Over time, they all start to rebuild. Suzi re-opens her practice (to the delight of her former patients), Pete resumes avoiding his parents, and Phia reconnects with her friend Sgt Fields.

Disgusted with what has happened to her neighborhood, Vanessa enlists Eugene’s help to drive the drug pushers out. Using contacts from her troubled past, Vanessa is able to gain the names & addresses of the key players. Eugene is then dispatched to get within view of them, and strongly suggest that they rethink their lives. In seemingly no time at all, there has been a dramatic reduction in drug & gang-related crime. However, Vanessa’s contacts are also starting to talk among themselves, and some appear to be frightened to speak with her.

At the same time Pete, understandably paranoid, enlists Suzi’s help in investigating his father’s new employer. Hiding in the shrubbery outside of his parents’ house one evening, Suzi is able delve into Pete’s father’s mind. She discovers the most recent command implanted was to “take the job”. She is also able to determine that the command was given four months ago (by far the most recent command any of the group’s friends or family were given), meaning it could conceivably have been given by the Department. Regarding the job itself, it is building medical imaging machines (CAT-scans, MRIs, etc). He was apparently head-hunted by a Mr. C[somethingididn’twritedown]. As they leave the house, Pete & Suzi agree they should tell the others at the next coffee gathering.

Before the next coffee gathering occurs, Pete makes a distressing discovery. Since regaining his freedom, he has begun paying closer attention to the news (both local and international) watching for evidence of psychic disturbances. While skimming through the headlines one night, he stumbles across a story about a local author – Ms. Sophia Walker – who has been taking advantage of the “web 2.0” to publicize her new book. Following a link to Phia’s blog, Pete learns that she is planning to publish a fictionalized account of the group’s activities over the past year and a half.

The topic of Phia’s book is first on the agenda when the group next meets for coffee. Pete, Vanessa, and Eugene are absolutely livid that Phia would do something so reckless and unthinking without discussing it with the others first. For her part, Phia seems genuinely surprised that they are so upset. So argues that the details will be changed, and that she is simply trying to use the situation to move forward with her life. Hurt by Pete’s accusation that she is only thinking of herself (as always), she counters that she has only ever tried to protect the group, who she considers her family. Whether Pete is at all convinced by this remains unclear. Ultimately Phia agrees to take down the excerpts she had posted so far, and put her book deal on hold.

In an effort to keep the peace, Suzi brings up the issue of Pete’s father’s job. The group decides to look into it further. Phia offers to encourage him to leave the job, but Suzi argues that may do more harm than good.

That night: Phia takes down the story; Eugene is visited by a sobbing Victoria; Pete learns he can fly; Suzi’s dad comes to visit and inquire about her relationship with a Vanessa Scott; and Vanessa’s apartment is invaded by three dead-eyed humans. Initially confident she can deal with the problem, Vanessa begins to worry when she is tossed about her apartment like a rag-doll by a tremendous wave of TK.

Quotes without context

“Exposition Jim, you’re back!”

“I spoke Spanish when I arrived! I was charming!”

“Yes, I finally saw the light.”

“Lots of natural light, well-ventilated.”
“Well it’d have to be.”

“Unlike some people, we handle our problems with violence.”

“Athena is a great warrior. I’m exploring my feminine side.”

“In Scarborough, crime fights you!”

“You got your new rims, for your car.”
“Your parents’ car.”

“They call her . . . Mrs. Scott?

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JCat Bootler

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