The Cuckoo's Progeny
07: Information Anyone?

Copyright© 2016 Vincent Berg. All rights reserved.

“I’m intrigued by your ability,” Gary said after they’d been driving for some time. He was driving Al’s car, due to his defensive driver training, allowing Al the freedom to respond to emergencies. “What kind of limitations do you face with it?”

Giving Gary his full attention, Al leaned against the door. “The biggest one is my lack of control. I don’t go looking for insights, they just hit me. It’s also not universal. I don’t get warnings about every disaster. It seems distance based—unless it affects someone I care about. I suspect I miss a lot—such as muggings which don’t threaten someone’s life. How about you? We didn’t ask, but do you possess any particular abilities?”

“Well, nothing as dramatic as yours or Be’s, but we do. It’s a combination of things. First, we’re able to use virtually anything as a weapon without any training. It’s almost instinctual. We’re also strategic thinkers. We plan events multiple steps in the future, including the actions of our opponents.”

“Fascinating! Your skills seem related to your jobs. That might mean someth—” They were interrupted by the chirping of crickets. “Sorry, that’s me.” He fished out his cellphone, holding it to his ear. “Hello?”

“Is this Albert Collins?” a voice he didn’t recognize asked. Al was instantly on guard, as no one familiar with him would call him by his full name.

“Yes it is. Who is this?”

“My name is Philippe Moritz. I’m a reporter for the Daily Tribune. I spoke with your mother earlier.”

“My mother? I can’t picture her calling you.”

“Don’t worry, she didn’t. I heard about your story from your neighbor and I contacted her to get your perspective.”

Al’s phone buzzed, indicating another call, but he realized the call was too important to ignore. He couldn’t ask the reporter to kill the story if he kept him hanging. Not even glancing at who the caller was, he hoped he could finish quickly. “I’m sorry, but I don’t have anything to tell you.”

“Hold on a second. Just hear me out.” Philippe took a breath before continuing. “We ran an article about you based on what your neighbor, Mrs. Lopez, and your mother told me. The feature, published this morning, is already a tremendous success. Our phones are ringing with people intrigued with your story. If you don’t mind, I have some follow-up questions for you.”

“Seriously, Mr. Moritz, there’s nothing to tell. I went outside, saw Malcolm chasing his ball and a car barreling down the street. I did what anyone would.”

“I understand, but this is a heartwarming story, tinged with concern over Mrs. Lopez’s alarm over unsafe drivers. Our fans want to know more about your personal relationship to those involved.”

“We know each other, being next door neighbors, but we’re not close friends. We wave in passing, but rarely say more than ‘Hello’.”

“And yet you were willing to risk your life for them.”

“I hardly risked my life.” His phone chirped again, distracting his thought process.

“That’s not the way Mrs. Lopez remembers it. She claims you were mere inches from being struck by the car, and your sister was nearly run over. That’s why she’s so concerned. This one driver threatened not only her son, but three separate people by her irresponsible driving.”

“I’ll admit the woman was reckless. She never slowed down. Besides, it wasn’t about who they were. I saw a kid in danger and reacted.”

“Come on, Mr. Collins. You know as well as I do that’s not the case. Most people think twice before risking their lives and few would respond as rapidly as you did. The majority would react like Mrs. Lopez, too shocked when her son ran off to react in time. Yet you dove right in.”

“I don’t think you’re giving people the credit they deserve. Most people will do the right thing, but the opportunities to play hero are rare. As you said, typically people just don’t recognize them for what they are.”

“And yet you did, which leads to another question my readers are curious about. According to your mother, you ran out of the house without warning, as if you knew the danger Malcolm was in before the car even reached your street.”

Al frowned, biting his lip. “That’s hardly the case.” His phone chirped a third time, irritating him. “Not only is it untrue, but it’s physically impossible. I was ... impatient and eager to get moving. I went outside and saw the driver was out of control.”

“Again, that’s not what the witnesses say. According to Mrs. Lopez, you never even glanced at the car when you ran across the street.”

“Did she also mention how I was ‘sent from above’ to rescue her son?” Al paused to let that sink in. “I wouldn’t give much credence to such recollections. They’re colored by shock rather than facts. In retrospect, I see my actions as more reckless than heroic. Blame it on my age, but you could as easily be reporting on my death rather than a near miss.”

“Except Mrs. Janus, another neighbor, says the same thing. She saw you and waved hello, but you never once paused to glance in either direction. When she saw you racing into the street, she glanced up just in time to see the car approaching and you and your sister narrowly missing it. From her account, you couldn’t have seen the car, since it was traveling so fast.”

“People remember events based on emotions rather than details. When they don’t recall the specifics, they invent them to fit their impressions of the event.”

“So you’re saying the eye witnesses were mistaken?”

“No, I’m saying my memories of what happened differ from the story you’re repeating. I don’t know if that’s because they want to make me out as some kind of hero, if I’m just feeling stupid after the fact, or you’re trying to make this into a bigger deal than it is to sell more copies, but I’m trying to set your inaccurate record straight.”

“I’m sure his mother is thankful, but quoting another source, ‘you ran out of the house and into the street without concern for your own safety’.”

“And who told you that?”

“I’m glad you asked. It was your sister, Betty Collins, who was there for the entire episode. I have to give her the benefit of the doubt in this case.”

“Was this a serious question, or another example of Gonzo Journalism? I know you haven’t talked to her directly, because we’ve been together the past two days.”

“I’m sorry if you think I’m trying to ambush you, but I’m genuinely curious. The progression of events is an important point; one our readers have been asking. I’ll report your opinion that it’s a non-story. However, I’ll also print your sister and mother’s opinions, as they’re germane to the story, as I just finished speaking to your sister. It appears you missed that conversation.”

Al closed his eyes and sighed before responding. “Just say those accounts are not how I recall the situation unfolding. Maybe I’m misinterpreting details, but since I was the one making the decisions, instead of merely observing, I prefer my own interpretations.”

“I’ll include that. It’s a wonderful closing. By the way, I hope you’ll read the article. I’m looking forward to your feedback on the finished product.”

When Philippe hung up, Al was steamed. “That damned idiot. That’s all we need. This was supposed to be a fluff piece, not a damn inquisition!”

“I take it the interview didn’t go well?”

“No. It was a local reporter, asking about how I could be in two places at once. I may have inadvertently exposed us by saving the wrong person’s life.” He started dialing before he finished his sentence.

“Who are you calling?”

“My sister, the reporter claimed he spoke to her, so I’m—”

“Hello, Al?”

“Be, what the hell did you tell—”

“I’m sorry. The reporter caught me off guard. I tried to call as soon as he hung up, but you didn’t answer. Based on his subsequent questions, I was sure he jumped to the wrong conclusions.”

“You mean the right conclusion. Damn, I may have screwed us all over.”

“No, you did the right thing saving Malcolm. But this shows we need to get together and iron out how we’ll respond to questions each time you save someone. It’s easy to say something stupid when asked about details out of the blue. We need to prepare if we don’t want to be surprised.”

“I’ll tell you what. Let’s stop at the next fast food place and discuss our stories. You may want to call him back and set the record straight about the sequence of events, but I want to be clear on what everyone said before I speak to him again. You can guarantee, now that the genie is out of the bottle, it will come up again!”

“Okay,” Al said some hours later, turning to include the two from the other car. They’d stopped and Betty and Delilah had switched to Al’s car so they could discuss their plans. “What now?”

“It’s just like the last time,” Betty said. “I’m getting two targets in two different locations. I’m beginning to think this wasn’t a one-time thing. We may all be paired.”

“It makes sense,” Delilah said, “if we’re the only ones of our kind. I’d hate to think we’re a complete subspecies, but something makes us different. Maybe it controls how we respond to each other.”

“I hardly think we’re a complete subspe—”

“So you think Al and I are pair bonded?” Be asked, jumping in.

Delilah laughed, laying a comforting hand on Betty’s shoulder. “Please, the two of you are almost married! If you haven’t consummated the relationship, it’s your own fault for not seeing the writing on the wall. You’re like two peas in a pod. You couldn’t be less like siblings if your life depended on it.”

“Well thanks for that,” Be growled. “I’m not sure it helps.”

“You’re welcome, now get over it,” she answered.

“She’s got a point,” Al said. “We need to consider what that might entail. The more we discover, the more disconcerting it gets. Pseudo incest might be the least of it.”

“Please, that might be the end result, but I’d rather avoid it. It’s still too ... yucky to contemplate.”

“Okay, I’ll drop it, but we need to evaluate this pair bonding thing in the future.”

“You may be jumping the gun,” Gary said. “You’re making decisions based on a single case. So far, Del and I only make up fifty percent of your survey. These could be two separate individuals. Granted, the fact they’re in the same location is suspicious, but there’s no sense jumping to conclusions until we have more definite answers.”

“Fine, so where do we stand?”

“Well, unlike Del and Gar, these two aren’t moving towards one another. They’re stationary. Assuming they’re human, if they’re working, they’re liable to remain where they are for some time. Both locations are close, one is in the coffee shop ahead of us.”

Al surveyed the local coffee shop Betty indicated, “Beans of a Feather”. When they exited the car, Al held his hand up, stopping them. “Uh oh. We’ve got trouble. Be, come point our target out. Delilah, since this might get complicated, keep the car running so you can drive Be to the other target. If this gets attention, the fewer people implicated the better.” He tossed her his keys and took off running for the store. The others trailed him, realizing when he mentioned a disturbance, it was about to happen.

At the door, Betty pointed out one of the baristas. “Good, now scram. This place is going to be a madhouse.” As she ran off, he turned to Gary. “We’ve got to get everyone away from the windows. I’ve got an idea, play along, but make sure that one table by the front window clears out, okay?”

Gary nodded, his adrenaline kicking in. “Yes, sir.”

“Just stay away from the center of the room, unless you like getting squashed.” Al turned and walked into the shop, shouting so everyone could hear.

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