“You know, Varun, my job would be far simpler if you didn’t chain my hands with secrets,” Jill said from behind her paperwork. “The relationship between a doctor and patient requires trust. It’s hard enough to accomplish when I’m not walking on eggshells to avoid mentioning their jobs.”
Despite her being one of the few white women in this complex who were shorter than I was, she was anything but as timid as her mousy appearance would imply. Perhaps it was because both of us had the same PhD on our walls, or perhaps it was because she knew we both knew she was right.
“Can’t be helped.” It was a hollow answer, but the only one I had to offer. It wasn’t even true; had I made the request, she could have been inducted into the maze of nondisclosure agreements and government scrutiny, but I wanted to spare her. She looked at me like a mother whose kid claimed he’d clean his room later. “I’ll see what I can do. Right now, I’d like to hear your impressions of Mister Cross.” He, unlike Phoebe, was legally allowed to consent to his records being made available.
“Three sessions is hardly enough time to formulate a professional diagnosis,” she said. “Especially when dealing with a patient like him.”
“Is he causing trouble?” It didn’t seem likely, given what I knew of the man, but some people had an aversion to therapists despite no other behavioral disorders.
She gave a humorless scoff. “The exact opposite, in fact.” Oh. That fits the profile. “He’s the absolute model of compliance. He’s personable without being demanding, patient, and so damn smart it’s scary. I think he’s learned more about me than I’ve learned about him. In fact, I suspect the only reason he asked for sessions was so that he could learn how to do my job.”
“That fits the profile,” I said. “His military record is full of notes like that. Perfect soldier, obedient and brilliant at his job, but ultimately not fit for command due to an aversion to responsibility. I think his superiors breathed a collective sigh of relief when he retired rather than take a desk job. After that, he took his retirement as his chance to go back to school and apply for NASA.”
“Aversion to responsibility?” Jill’s eyebrow raised even as she moved her papers aside. “Of all the words I would use to describe Warren, I must admit irresponsible never came to mind.”
I hesitated for a second. I liked to think I was proficient enough in English to pass as a native speaker, but I still made the rare mistake. “What I mean is, he’s very structured, and accountable for his actions, but he’s also averse to responsibility.” I could tell Jill still didn’t understand what I meant. “In the special forces, he was everything they wanted in the field, but never able to step into the role of command. In his personal life, he’s never had a relationship lasting more than six months. On a superficial level I’d almost suspect Avoidant Personality Disorder, but it doesn’t hold under scrutiny.”
“A strong desire for personal discipline, coupled with an aversion to long term relationships,” Jill concluded. “You’re right, that does fit with AvPD. However, he’s shown no discomfort in social situations, nor does he exhibit fear of rejection or criticism. And AvPD tends to strongly desire leadership positions, for the sense of control it provides.”
I smiled as she put together the correct conclusions. I wished I could tell her more about the man’s background; she was the better therapist, perhaps she’d be able to help him if he’d let her, but this was one secret my professional ethics agreed with. Whether Mister Cross chose to confront his personal demons was his decision to make, not mine. “While we’re here, I’d like to bring up Doctor Reed, as well.”
“If you’re asking about her relationship with Warren, you know I won’t divulge that information. But I think it’s public knowledge she’s infatuated, and having met him I can see why. Tell me, how much of him is natural, and how much is part of your cyborg program?”
“Uh, I’m not sure what you mean.”
Jill just shook her head slowly. “Honestly, Varun? You have a top secret project that required Phoebe’s involvement for the last five years. You needed her powers in particular, and I might have a better understanding of the true scope of Phoebe’s ability than she does. A seven year old has the deduction skills to put this together.” She stood, locking her eyes on mine. “Please, just promise me you’re not doing what those sickos in Detroit tried to do.”
“No, of course not.” It stung a little, that Jill feared I’d do something so horrible. It didn’t help that the spectre of Omega Cybernetic Potential’s cyborg-zombie experiments haunted every step of getting approval for the Blue Steel project. “Mister Cross is a volunteer, and everything we did was prosthetics or implant based. We didn’t touch his brain in any way. Please, Jill, you know I would never make Phoebe do that. She’s been through enough hell.”
Jill relaxed some. “I know. It’s just, I guess I’m just frustrated by all the secrets is all.”
“Me, too, but I have to answer to my own bosses. And our clients.” I didn’t bother to hide the contempt in my tone. As someone who built his entire fortune and career off the funding of the military-industrial complex, no one despised it more than I. “The thing is, I was recently invited to a major Hollywood party, and asked to bring a guest.”
She looked reluctant to agree. “Phoebe’s self-aware enough to function in society, but I’m not certain that is a healthy element.”
“I promise it’s a classy party.” Not to say I haven’t been to a few which weren’t. “Those who have wives will be bringing them. It’s mostly screenwriters, directors and the occasional producer trying to convince people like myself to invest in their favorite pet projects. Given what I know of Phoebe’s condition, being able to put a human face on the makers of stories, rather than as some nebulous godlike being which controls all powers, might help her have a breakthrough. At worst, it’s an opportunity for her to socialize away from Imbued.”
Jill considered it for a moment. “She doesn’t have a secret identity to protect, and is high functioning enough to hide her beliefs from strangers. As long as you can promise she’s safe from more direct harm, it can’t hurt her.”
“I’ll make certain she stays away from the wine.”
I glanced over at Phoebe, who was in the middle of shooting down another suitor, in the business sense of the word. Phoebe was a pretty girl, but enough to stand out in this gathering of Hollywood elites and the beauties which flocked to them. However, she’d have no trouble convincing people she was a new actress or director’s date to get to know.
Said suitor, the wife of one of the directors, left after a brief chat. Enough for her to appear polite after learning my date had nothing to offer her. Phoebe then went back to talking to the guest who captured her attention. Whatever their conversation, both seemed enthusiastic about it.
I accessed my memory chip to analyze the boy. Joshua Binks, twenty two, one of the writers of some sitcom called Superzeroes. From what I understood, it was a low budget comedy about Imbued with stupid, silly powers that seemed useless, but they managed to save the day when more capable, and intelligent, heroes constantly failed. Nobody, least of all the creators, expected the breakout sensation that it became.
Phoebe seemed to be holding her own, and the writer didn’t look bored or weirded out by her. Jill was perhaps too protective of the girl. Woman, I reminded myself. Phoebe is almost twenty six, and despite her issues she has a brilliant mind and an ability to read human behavior that is quite literally superhuman. She can handle strangers as well as anyone in this room.
Besides, she was safer here than any other possible place in the city. Harassing a date, even one introduced as a ‘family friend’, was a faux pas in the best of light. Harassing the family friend of a man who regularly made multi-million dollar investments was outright career suicide. For my part, I turned back to my own conversation partners.
“Sorry,” I said. If they minded my brief distraction, they kept signs of it well hidden. “As I was saying, it’s remarkable how powers reflect cultural trends. Just last month, a kid in the U.K. got a Brawler five ability, with movement so fast it borders on teleportation. But only so long as no one is currently able to see him. Camera footage showed him surrounded by a forcefield that looks like a winged woman.”
“Oh, like the Weeping Angels? I loved that episode. So creepy,” the woman said. She was brunette, but old enough that it was dyed rather than natural. Like most women in Hollywood, she still looked like she was at most thirty years old. “You know, I was offered a guest role during the fifth season, but I had to turn it down since I was too busy writing for my own series.”
I consulted my memory chip, which brought up the information I needed so fast it could have been mistaken for real memory. Sarah Strawn, widow, mother of… I turned it off, now that I had it in short term memory. “Oh. Urban Development, right? I loved the mother-daughter dynamics.” The chip had been so kind as to inform me she often talked about how she modeled the daughter character in the show after her own teen’s antics.
She smiled and brought her hands together in a way that proved she was an expert actress when it came to feigning sincerity, at the very least. “So you’re a fan?”
I smiled and offered an apologetic shrug. “I caught an episode every so often.” Sarah wasn’t the only person in the room who knew how to act. “I’m afraid I rarely find the time to relax with the television these days.” My implants informed me that I was telling a half-truth: I’d gone over seventy hours relying upon equipment instead of sleep, and if I didn’t fix that soon, I’d risk permanent memory loss of the events of the last week.
“The sacrifices we make for our careers,” the man said as he nodded sagely. Geoff Davidson, too, was as aged as one would expect of directors entrenched in Hollywood, but in far worse shape than his competitor. “Speaking of careers and your theory on pop culture, there’s a girl in town with the power to enlarge men and women.” He gestured toward his crotch and then chest when he said ‘men’ and ‘women’ respectively, a wide grin on his face the whole time. “Calls herself the Puberty Fairy.” He was as sleazy as one would expect of directors entrenched in Hollywood, as well.
“Oh god, her!” Sarah sighed. “Did you hear about the side effects of her power? It really is like going through puberty a second time!”
Read about it. Sure. “I heard about her. I’m not sure whether I’m glad or disappointed her power doesn’t reverse aging. Wars have been fought over even the rumor of eternal youth. But it does go to show you the power of the media to influence events. Doesn’t take long after a movie is released to see real individuals with abilities resembling the characters on screen.”
“That is an interesting thought experiment,” Geoff said. The smug look on his face made an interesting counterpoint to the annoyed look on Sarah’s when they both realized at the same moment that he beat her to an ‘in’ to my wallet. “If you had the choice, what kind of powers would you like to see a sudden increase of? Speaking in pure hypotheticals, of course.”
“Well, I haven’t given it much thought,” I said while fooling no one. “But I think for society as a whole, Gadgeteers are most beneficial. I know they make my job a thousand times easier.”
The pair looked at each other, the looks of smug and disappointed having switched places. Geoff took a moment to select his words before telling me what I already knew. “Can’t dispute that, but other than a couple choice franchises, Gadgeteers only do well at the box office if they’re the villains. Centurion’s in development hell since two different companies own the label and they refuse to cooperate over anything. And if we do a Rose Knight movie so soon after his death, the public will crucify us for trying to profit from his death.”
“It couldn’t hurt to look for popular small-time Gadgeteers,” Sarah cut in, eager for her own shot at my backing. Of the pair, she was the one with television experience. “I doubt it will be anything big enough to justify a big budget picture, but it could be a successful mini-series. If it proves popular enough, perhaps even a long running series. In the end, that might have more cultural impact than a single movie. As your earlier example shows, a concept doesn’t take much air time, if the impact is strong enough.”
Transparant as her ploy was, the logic behind it was sound. At the same time, I rather wanted an original character so I could encourage specific types of Gadgeteers, rather than a rehash of existant powers.
“On the other hand, television is an over saturated market,” Geoff said. “A movie, even a less than spectacularly successful one, will draw a bigger first time showing than any television series could hope for. It might be a risk, but as a medium budget movie it could get the showing it needs without breaking the bank.”
“Or you could make a Rose Knight movie and call it a tribute!” We all jumped when Phoebe cut in. How did she get so close? “It doesn’t even have to be about Rose Knight, himself. Make it about another Gadgeteer who has a power to repair other Gadgets, then gets hold of the costume somehow!”
How did she know? Of course she knew, she can read me with ten times the accuracy of an MRI machine, and she can do it from halfway across the room with a glance. Moving silently isn’t that difficult, either, during a party with lots of background noise.
“That is a great idea!” Geoff’s smile seemed genuine, this time. “And since we can get by with only stock footage of the real hero, we’ll be able to circumvent most if not all of his estate’s proprietary material. Plus it lets us use a young, fresh crew of actors who won’t charge as much while still benefiting from the franchise image.”
“You know, there will still be some very vocal detractors if we do this,” Sarah said, but she had a smile of her own. I also noted how she managed to insert a ‘we’ into the conversation in such a way that implied she was going to be part of production. The old ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’ strategy in action. “How about making it an all female cast? That way, when we get criticism for the movie, we can accuse the critics of being sexist. Exploit the controversy for free advertising.”
Geoff’s smile only widened. “Do you one better. Let’s make the pilot of the suit and the Gadgeteer two different people. Like the racists in the sixties claimed about the real Rose Knight. Then we can have a lesbian romance on screen between the two.” It seems he, too, had decided it was better to work as a pair. “With all the people who cry sexism at the drop of a hat already supporting us, they won’t be able to protest later without looking stupid. And it’ll bring the eighteen to twenty-five male demographic back to the theater, all for the low cost of an ‘R’ rating. Parents are too stupid to pay attention to the ratings, anyway.”
“I love it!” Sarah exclaimed. “It has a nice interracial angle to exploit, too. We’ll be all anyone can talk about from the moment we air the trailer until months after its release date! You can’t pay for that kind of coverage!”
Meanwhile, I did my absolute best not to visibly cringe. It would take me all night to convince the pair that this was a terrible idea. Even then, I wasn’t certain if I should stop them. As tacky and pandering as it was, they were right that it would generate huge amounts of free publicity, and in the world of Hollywood there was no such thing as bad publicity. At the same time, I didn’t want my name attached to the abomination that was growing before my eyes. I guess, as a silent partner, I can still have some control of development. Perhaps I can head off the worst of it, or hire a writer that can salvage something from this mess.
It turns out, Phoebe made the decision for me. “Hey, Josh!” she shouted just loud enough to draw attention from other nearby clusters of people. She ran back to her conversation partner, somehow keeping perfect balance in heels and a dress. “Remember that problem you were having with season four? I have the perfect idea! I better get credit!”
I smiled apologetically at the pair I was talking to. “Well, it is her idea for a power.” First thing I do when I get back to base is let Jill know her favorite project just saved the world. Then I’ll see if she wants to split a bottle of Bourbon.
I looked at the pair in front of me, who looked to be chewing over a way to make their ‘brilliant’ work without getting into a copyright argument. I knew it wouldn’t take them long to dream something up.
Forget splitting the Bourbon. I’m getting two bottles.