I can see it in your eyes, Constantine.
The first time I think I saw my partner, you know - as more than just a good match, more than the guy I'd stuck with to get us both through Quantico - he was chest deep in swamp water, trying to untangle a boat propeller from the death grip of some weeds. It was just, I don't know, the different angle, maybe. I wasn't used to looking down for Constantine, and I could see the way his shoulders stooped into the task, biceps moving as he yanked stubborn plants out of the housing that was supposed to protect the turning blades from - shit like this, really.
We were both cops, in another life, it's why we'd stuck in classes, even though we both had to get over our initial contempt. I was New York born and raised, and four years on beat before I got my first promotion. He had abandoned his father's farm in Chicago to live in the city proper, leaving his mother - 'Ma' Fitzweiss - to take care of a dwindling number of animals after his dad's bad ticker gave out. Constantine had made lieutenant in no time, pulled young out of homicide before it could destroy him.
I mean, I looked up his files when we were assigned. Nobody got into Mindcrime without either a reason or a demotion. I thought, 'is this guy for real?' I figured he had to be hiding something. I was. But the more I saw him, the more we worked together, I just started to believe in him, you know?
Then he looked up from the propeller, smeared in gross crap, and he hurled two handfuls of muddy, greasy, plant shit into the boat (at me, I think, but it didn't make it that far). "I fuckin' hate fishing," he said, and he looked right at me, like this was my fault. (It was.)
It was then, I think, I realized what he was hiding and who he was hiding it from. I think I laughed at him, I don't really remember. His next handful of mud hit me.
I mean, who goes fishing with their newly assigned CIA partner after he gets both their asses suspended for a week, both of them the freshest, lowest rungs on the ladder in the least rewarding division, when they hate fishing?
But damn if he didn't get that propeller going again, so we didn't have to swim back and rent another boat just to yank this one loose.
Twenty weeks in Quantico, Virginia. Eighty six entering students, three classes of twenty two students, and one with just twenty. We were in the smaller class. Manageable groups. I could tell the cops from the military, we almost segregated ourselves instinctively. I know what you're thinking - body type. Cop mustaches. It's not like that.
Constantine carried himself more reasonably than the ex-militaries. He was older than they were, had a street-wise vibe. Same things he probably saw in me.
"Fitzweiss," was how he introduced himself, turning sharply away from the group gathering to one side and talking about tours of duty. His accent hit on the ret of his words. "Chicago's fifteenth."
"New York," I answered, and watched his expression sour. "Where my precinct was bigger than yours."
He let me win that one. Maybe because he had a goddamn purple heart and the scars to prove it. Maybe because I was the only other guy his age, the only other cop, or the only other person worth a shit based on those prior qualities.
So yeah. We stuck. We understood each other a little bit instinctively - better than the mix of army-navy-airforce guys seemed to. We knew we had us, they had them. It was all we needed to at least keep us mostly united.
Assignments came as no real surprise. The CIA didn't fuck around too much when it came to recognizing the most compatible candidates. Besides, I had put in a request - if I got stuck with an ex-marine goon eight years younger than me, I'd have shot him or quit. Possibly both.
"What division?" I'd asked, casually, the first time I got him to show up for drinks instead of blowing me off. I had no why idea he'd even left his precinct. Born cop, you know the sort. Maybe his past.
"Mindcrimes," he said, looking up to see my reaction. I thought for sure he was joking, except for that look.
"Corporate secrets, pulled out through dreams?" I had never really thought about it. Seemed like science fiction to two kids born in the seventies, anyway. Maybe not to him, though. "You can't prove that shit."
I thought I was wrong, maybe this guy had a martyr complex or something.
"I didn't know it even existed," Fitzweiss - Fitz by now, an old precinct sort of standby that I was given. Maybe for my comfort, maybe to make him feel a bit less like a little fish that had stumbled into a big pond. The ocean, maybe.
"But I get this call - the kind where it's just codes on paper, but you get the shivers. Cop-sense. Body, hotel room. Big name. Looks like a suicide - pain killers, alcohol - only the whole room's covered in words.
Like he's trying to get it straight, to force himself to think in straight lines. Stuff doesn't hit him that way anymore, but he tried. I had to document it all - and it was pretty fuckin' chilling.
You figure, gotta be somebody paranoid. Off the deep end, but the more I look-"
Fitz hesitated, scrubbed a hand over his face. He's the kind of guy you want on homicide. The kind who'll track shit down and shake it until he's satisfied. The kind of guy that homicide invariably destroys. I was in larceny. Bodies never bothered me, so maybe they figured I didn't care enough for homicide. Maybe they thought I was safer in a department where my name didn't go into the papers.
"Robberies, " I answered, really thinking about it, as Fitz seemed to need time to put his concepts into words. "They tear people up. You sleep at home because it's safe. Impenetrable - then someone you don't know walks right in while you're gone or asleep and takes your jewelry, your savings. Shit no one will say is important if they get out of a fire with their family intact, or their house is torn down by a tornado. It's just that someone was there."
Fitz nods. "You can move your home," he says. "But your mind? Can't move that."
I hadn't thought of it that way. "So this guy, he was robbed of - what? Ideas? Concepts?"
"Financial and marketing strategies. Suddenly, the competitor knew exactly where to go to block this guy. But no one could find anything - like you said, hard to prove.
It was a mess of a job though. Even if it's just dreams, that's straight down into your subconscious. They - whoever they were - weren't delicate.
His mind knew something had happened, he knew, but no one'd listen. He caught himself turning on his wife, so he took himself away. Still enough of him left for that much, anyway.
He called for help, but we couldn't help him. No one can, yet. He saved his wife, though. That makes him a goddamn hero in my book."
I didn't have the heart to tell Fitz that the survivors rarely felt that way. Instead, I just sat back, thinking. He drank his drink, not all with me. I had a few memories like that, myself.
"What are you in for?" he asked, with a wry smile for the joke. I didn't even have to think.
"Mindcrimes," I answered. He might have even believed me, but he laughed anyway, like he hadn't expected me to be convinced. I'll admit now, it was only partly his words and conviction to do the good thing with no thought of reward.
I put in my change of course papers the next day, early, so he wouldn't catch me.
The work was frustrating as hell. Four teams, eight guys and the odd administrative bitch, you know how it goes. Too many cases, not enough answers. We were the press party - so the American government could appear to at least be doing something about the rogue technology it had birthed, then let run delinquent into the minds of others.
We trained on a PASIV unit, taken under the wing of 'Champ' Charles Cixous.
"Totems. Those who do this routinely have a routine. Like shooting, if you're into killing shit clay pigeons or you're a goddamn sniper," Champ growled. He never spoke, always sounded pissed about something. Maybe that the technology he'd backed so hard not only had a split personality, but was actively both sides of the coin for problem and solution. Maybe he had a hell of a hemorrhoid, who knows?
"It's how they keep track. Eventually being lucid is instinct. You'll never 'go gentle into that good night' again after I'm done with you. So if you're always thinking like you're real, boundaries get thinner.
Make 'em complicated as hell. Who knows what the fuck these guys may try to do to your soft parts - memory, emotion - if they kidnap you."
"Pretty ballsy," Con answered, with a smirk and a shrug. He sat leaning forward almost all the time, elbows on his knees and head tipped back to look at everything straight on, like he was about to launch himself. Except, by then I knew he was utterly relaxed when he did it, rounded shoulders, easy eyes. "You think it's likely they'll try it? Everything I've seen suggests they'd rather pack up and run away - since it's so hard to prove."
"You ain't seen shit," Champ snarled at him with so much vehemence that Con actually sat up to back off a little. "You back an animal into a corner, you'll see what kind of shit nature equipped it with to kick your ass back out your smart ass mouth."
I laughed, until Cixous turned his glare on me.
"Two days to get your shit together and come back with a totem, assholes. If it's such a goddamn joke, come back with a whoopie cushion, and I'll show you how to fucking laugh."
We rarely got to leave his lessons without being thrown out. I didn't take it to heart, neither did Con.
Two days later Champ tied us in a knot and let us hang ourselves with it. It's impossible to explain how real a dream is when you're in it, and the combined power of three minds gives it all it needs. Your mind - subconscious - unwillingly bares itself because rationally it needs to populate these areas. Instinctively you fill empty spaces. A mind, with thought. A city, people.
I woke years older, scraped bare and worn thin, gasping, heart thundering. I had lost the world. Twenty minutes only, but that's all he had needed. My mind rolled over and over, memories, reality, revving like an engine struggling to catch.
Constantine woke quieter, but his eyes were deep and hollow as I felt, and he sat straight and still like he was counting his limbs, counting his breaths.
Champ wasn't even in the room, he'd just left us to run down the clock. A warning was scrawled on the white board, seven words in Champ's handwriting.
"Try again. See you in a week."
One of us said 'christ', but I couldn't tell you which, and we got the hell out of there. Con looked at me, grabbed my arm hard - it hurt, but it was real and I was grateful.
"Don't drive," he said, and then closed his eyes for a long minute, disoriented. "Call a goddamn cab."
I don't know if i he was insomniac before then but - that was the first night he called me at four a.m. Even that early on, I didn't mind. I wasn't sleeping, either.
"I'm at Cagney's," I told him. He showed up maybe twenty minutes later. Like survivors, we drank until we were glad we'd come by cab, and our shaken souls somehow got us both out with girls. Maybe they like damage - we probably looked like we had PTSD. Fuck, maybe we did, not dangerous enough to hurt anyone. Just hurting enough to be wild and callous about who we connected with. We just needed the connection, someone to settle my thoughts - they were cutting around in my head like shrapnel.
I let the girl tie me to the goddamn hotel mattress. Some kind of Chinese rope shit. She robbed me blind, but at least fucked me senseless and left me with some real experience. She left impressions of her mouth down low on my neck, where I could count her teeth the next day. Missing an incisor on both sides, but spaceless. Orthodontics. Details as real as the ones I remembered from my dreams.
I never went back to that memory to repair it with the LUCID, it was my anchor and I was scared as shit that if I tried, the whole thing would crush together and drop me down into the depths. I could maybe have fixed it so Con and I would have been 'right' from the shared trauma together. I didn't dare.
We took it seriously after that. It's one thing to see it, to consider the damage when you can observe it in another human being. You can tell yourself it'd be horrible to lose an arm, too. No matter how much you think about it, no matter how many people with lost limbs you see, talk to, learn from - it ain't shit. Champ had chopped our fucking dicks off and made us amputees, stumbling around to try and learn our new balances.
I had no fucking clue what to do about it. We were partners, though. Con and I and his ancient mutt sat in his living room when we'd recovered from our hangovers and pulled ourselves together as much as possible for two people who'd drank and screwed the night away.
"Whatever it is," Con said, his hands deep in the dog's fur at the back of its head, "it has to be unique. Personal."
"How the hell will we remember it?" I'd picked up a coin - one of my brother's AA tokens, his discarded 10 year marker. He'd moved onto 15 - living that nuclear family American dream. It hadn't spared me long.
"Habit. Has to be instinctive." Con dug in his pocket, pulled a lighter free. Until that point, I'd never seen him smoke, but I'd smelled it on him sometimes. He was pretty careful to shower it off - like he'd done the girl.
I reached out, in the universal motion of 'please?' and he handed me one. It was a Red - not a light or a long or a 'More'. Con didn't fuck around about giving himself cancer.
His totem, the first one, lay on the table. It was a wedding ring - no, I thought, maybe an engagement ring. Clearly a woman's. We both had stories we hadn't told each other, relying on something that shared meaning between ourselves and someone in our past, that was the problem.
"Something new," I said, exhaling smoke and passing back his lighter. I picked up the ring and he didn't protest before I decided it looked like something that came out of a shitty cop's salary, or maybe a crappier salary still if I was right about how old it looked.
"Yeah, but what?"
"Maybe we should lose it in our pockets," I said, turning the ring over - no inscription. He didn't wear one to match. "I mean, carry a bunch of shit - so it's not so easy to go through our pockets and guess."
"So, a common item," he said, seizing on the idea. "Like one we might already carry, but specialized. It might go unnoticed, but even if it doesn't it'll have some - catch? Some intricacy?"
He leaned back on the couch and smoked, and I watched his mouth expel grey-blue clouds. "You got any ideas?" he asked me at last - with sharp intelligence beginning to move back into his eyes, pushing some of the haunted hollow spaces out.
"Yeah, but I'm not telling you," I said, and grinned.
LUCID LOG, HR. 20. SINGLE SUBJECT
We take the dog out. Con's dog is this ancient, creaking thing by now. I know how he got it - I read it in his file how he pulled the damn thing out of a culvert in Chicago, back when his badge was about the only evidence he had of his existence.
He lives in this quiet neighborhood, where we all pack in, a commute's length from our 'office' if you could call the CIA HQ that. There's a pretty quiet radius of existence around the place, to be honest.
We're quiet for a while, the dog moving politely on the lead at the speed of an arthritic snail. I don't have to put my nose to the ground like the dog does to smell the spring. Wet earth and clean air. Mown lawns. Memories from the dream try to intrude here, protesting that yesterday (the dream one, in the middle, before the rest of real yesterday, I try to remind myself) had been autumn. It hadn't, not really, but we had been unanchored.
"You remember it?" Con asks quietly, while his dog tries to find a way to balance on three old legs in order to pee. I don't have to ask what he means.
"Every minute," I answer, wondering when it will fade. If it will fade. His eyes find mine, concerned - his eyes have a wide dark ring around the iris, as if to further segregate the color from the whites of his eyes, but you can only see it in sunlight. We both ache, but I know it'll fade under the weight of more reality. The real passage of time.
"Yeah," he agrees, sharing my burden with one syllable, and reaches out to grip my arm again, hard around the bicep, like he had when we woke.
Of course we didn't.
I went home, to try and sleep. He stayed home, to do the same. For myself, I didn't do that, either. I think it was maybe nine-ten a.m. the next morning, after a lot of alcohol, that I was brave enough to sleep again, or just incapable of retaining consciousness. I didn't dream, and when the cell phone rang with Fitz' number, I left it until it crawled its way off the table and silenced itself on the rug.