Martha sat in the back of the police car, Albert driving and the scrawny police officer up front.
Felix sat next to her in the back
He just sort of floated in the middle of the divider, sitting on the armrest in front facing backwards.
His front half was poking through the thick plastic
"I am curious, though.
How did you learn about...
All of this?
It's just that most people usually have a sponsor, a teacher, that gets them in."
Rossin talked over the sound of the engine and Martha repeated:
Felix waved his hand, his question answered
"How does anyone learn about this observation, that there's a secret cabal...
A bit of luck I guess.
There were some posts on the internet, and that took me down a rabbit hole.
That there was a meritocracy, and..."
Again he didn't pause
Second lesson: ready?"
And he fell silent, Martha started to ask
But he raised a hand
Rossin started tapping his fist to a beat and counting his finger after a set, She looked at Rossin
"Don't say anything more than you need to."
She rolled her head just enough to give the impression , 'okay, but what does he want to hear?'.
Rossin finished counting with his finger
'He means information is power, the more freely it is shared the more diluted it is, the less useful it is to you...'
'One word answer, something to show you understand...
"Power over you, power you lose."
Felix paused, considering
He looked at his hands
"Then why teach at all?"
Martha thought he doesn't really obey this second rule often, he's quite talkative
"Nothing lives forever, everything dies, many deaths before the final one."
Martha saw the yellow police tape in front of her house and her neighbor's
Felix barked an order and Albert pulled into their driving lot - breaking the tape in the process
The officer in the front seat shivered, then exited the vehicle
"Go clean that up."
The officer abruptly turned around and opened the door
Martha watched his casual disregard of those he gave orders to
Felix walked over to the neighbors building and rang the door
"Let us out."
"Did he have any flat-mates?"
"I think one.
Son I believe."
The door opened, and Felix pulled out his phone, shoving it in the man's face
His words cut off as he grew limp.
And walked to the center of the room
He wore a glassy eyed stare that didn't see anything
Felix put the phone back in his pocket
He commanded the smaller officer inside, while Albert stood placidly with the yellow police tape
"You, in here!"
Albert stood outside as Felix held the door
Martha moved in and Felix followed
Rossin continued, more frantic than before
'Look at nothing on this phone...
Or your phone, any phone for that matter'
'Simple that, no looking at the phones of strangers...'
Martha walked to where the outline of a body in white caulk was sketched into the wooden floor
'A general hook setter...
I did not get a good look at it...
Because you did not...
Which is good - it looks like it is just a general command to follow his voice prompts.'
And they did as they were told
Felix strolled to the couch - and sat down - beckoning Martha to join him.
She sat across from him on the u-shaped couch
"Clean that up, both of you."
Martha shook her head
"He's in the back of the mind somewhere.
And his relative will help bring him out.
Flat-mate, or neighbor would have been fine - just someone who knows him.
Have you ever been to the back of the mind?"
Martha raised her hand, shook it in a noncommittal gesture
"You know what it is?"
"More or less, less than more..."
"Alright then, well, it's a place...
Not connected by location, but by...
And if you've never been there...
It's not 3-dimensional...
It's a lot higher...
More like infinitely dimensional.
Each place is connected to every other place along some emotional path - and a place here, again...
Isn't a physical location, but a concept, or an idea."
"When I say your neighbor is in the back of the mind...
It's not like he's at any one of these ideas.
He's larger than a single idea - he's taking up several, in a local cluster...
The longer he's dead -the more he's been forgotten - the more spread out those ideas - that network - becomes.
To eventually the point where he doesn't exist as an identity anymore.
Where the largest part of him is one of these small ideas...
He mixes in the ocean, when he was a drop before...
It's a long process - when no one knows who you were, you cease to be.
That is the final death: the death in the back of everyone else's mind."
'He is mostly right...
But he is leaving some things out.
But it is a fair gist of what it is.
He is pretty good at explaining, I think.'
"So how does he..."
"No, not recognize that he's not himself...
He'll be in someone else, won't he?...
And that too, how does he come back?"
He emphasized the last with an overtly high falsetto
"He'll have a brand on his head - his identity, ignored by those that don't know him.
And anyone who sees it will think it's him.
Even if they don't recognize him at first.
Once they get a look at his face they'll be like, 'oh my god, I didn't recognize you'..."
Martha thought for a bit, Felix waited
"And their memories will be written over to match the face they expect.
The face they saw before will have been the face they presume to see now."
"So what if he...
Hits his head, damages the...
Wait did you say brand?"
Felix pulled out of a pocket, a small metal circle - with a small based trapezoid
It looked a bit like the omega symbol.
The small base had a series of dials, each rotatable and with a notch for each letter
Rossin leaned over to inspect the device as Felix spoke
But it's unlikely...
It's not like anyone stops recognizing him when he turns away for a second.
It imprints on whoever sees it: they see the person they expect to see when they see this person...
This new face is the face that has always been in their minds...
It rewrites memories to match.
Even if the mark is destroyed - everyone still recognizes the new face as the old...
It's a namshub for everyone else, not the wearer."
Rossin whistled as Felix returned the device to his pocket
"The center part is the general command, the letters are just writing out the name - easy for others to see...
This isn't exactly my first rodeo - I've made some mistakes too.
Doing this without this is a bit of a pain, but possible."
"Just needs a bit of fire."
"...An electric brand, it's not a taser."
"A heated piece of wire, for the center...
I'm not sure how exactly you'd do the rotating letters."
He smiled and looked over behind him
The two under his command were stationary, finished with their work
Not a half-bad idea."
He pointed to the scrawny sacrifice
"Go light a fire, and you."
Without even any acknowledgement the officer moved up the stairs.
The other went into the kitchen to turn on the stove
"Go get changed - upstairs, not his clothing, the other one's."
Felix tossed the device to the son
"Anyway, about getting him back...
It's just identifying what collection of ideas, what network to put back inside.
That's what the son is for, he knows the boundary, the surface.
Which is exactly perfect - it'll contain all that's within...
There'll be some leakage...
Some parts won't make it back...
But it'll be a small amount...
Not enough to make a meaningful difference.
But every death...
There is some loss.
That's entropy: unavoidable..."
He looked back at the kitchen
"Twist the dial so it says your father's name on the branding side, put that side in the fire..."
He turned back to Martha
"And wear some kitchen gloves."
Rossin paced from the door to the kitchen entrance, listening and thinking
"Don't make that mistake...
Martha turned to Rossin, Felix looked back
'Okay - so you need to make sure he gets you to the New York academy, his ticket...
They want him as a teacher there - he can get you in...'
Martha looked back
"What is it?"
Felix's mouth twitched its corner into something resembling a smile
"Sorry, I thought I heard something.
What happens after this, you said you were a teacher, is there a school?"
He tilted his head
"I don't, well....
They have been asking me to teach...
Hounded me actually.
I just never had a reason to.
I would have rather spent my days practically alone...
Practicing alone, on a cruise around fiji.
Enjoying gourmet food, and silence."
Rossin urged her out of her pause
"There wasn't any reason either, I was a good student, but...
They didn't take to me, the teachers that is, to me too much...
I think it was their way of trying to keep an eye on me, that is, getting me to teach."
Not a happy one
"Or they knew you would be good at it..."
Martha waited, Felix studying her
"Or they knew I would be good at it...
Two things can be true, maybe it was both."
Martha wasn't sure if that last bit was directed at her, or himself, or a memory of his
But he snapped his head up at the sound of footsteps falling down the stairs
"I'll train you for a time, and if you're good enough - you can meet other's like you...
You know that phase.
Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely...
Imagine a few scores of people - eager to learn - to succeed - with this kind of power...
It turns you machiavellian - quickly.
Quicker than you know."
He turned his head back to the stairs
The officer had his uniform bundled in his arm
"We're mostly done here."
He reached out and grabbed the uniform, looking back at Martha
"I'll take that."
He turned his head back to the kitchen
"Rule three: less of a rule more of a suggestion: costumes are fun.
You can write in a costume in their mind, but why do the extra work."
Felix tilted his head to the once-been officer
"Son, go brand your new father on the forehead."
The son moved into the living room, brandishing the red hot iron device, and did as instructed.
Felix grabbed the back of both their heads and closed his eyes
A moment later,
And Felix leaned back
"And think deeply about your father."
"What exactly did you do?"
Felix leaned back
The father's expression was still blank
"That was it, just...
Putting the shape of him back into a physical form...
The son had a strong sense of him - easy to collect...
If you haven't been inside the back of the mind, it's...
Hard to explain...
Also - things move faster in there."
Felix yawned, and stretched
"Give it a moment, it'll be like he's waking up..."
He glanced outside
The sun just now angrily shined through the windows
Martha yawned - involuntary
"I've been on a flight since last night - and I've been awake for much too long, I'll see you in...
The evening I guess."
"I've had a night myself."
Rossin looked disappointed
He was shaking his head, Felix shook his as well
"There's my place, I have a couch."
This time he did wait until she nodded
"Rule zero: you ready?"
And with that he stood up
"Don't trust anyone...
Especially while you sleep."
He walked out the door
Martha waited on the couch and heard the police car pull away
Rossin paced back and forth
"That's the most important one of all.
Don't trust anyone - no one has exactly your goals.
Don't give them such an easy avenue into you as when you sleep."
Martha jumped when the neighbor came to life, his son also started awake.
They both turned to her
'I think we got him...
I am unsure what he wants exactly...'
Martha looked at his forehead and knew the face before her wasn't her neighbors.
But she couldn't tell what the difference was.
She had a sharp moment of vertigo as she remembered the body on the floor, a different body, and shook her head.
The moment passed
The father started toward her, prompting Martha to sprint for the door.
She just make distance before the son could reach her.
She ran down the street
She passed her house: focused on running down the sidewalk.
The son stood on the porch with his father
"What the fuck are you doing in my house?"
The father grunted, and angrily waved her off
"Seriously, how did she get in, we were standing right there?"
He grunted again, and walked back inside, closing the door
"Go make sure she didn't steal anything.
I didn't see anything on her..."