Chapter 6

Hector woke up and groggily got up out o bed. He felt cool from his freezing sweat. As he descended on his own two feet, he felt like he was going to just fall forward like someone who had just been stabbed in the back.

He’d had his first bout of PTSD in years last night. It was the eyes. It was always the eyes for him. Hector could clearly picture Mingus’s eyes looking into the camera. They were as real as the ones he stared at every day in the mirror.

Hector had been foolish enough to watch the news. He watched as people mourned the death of a beloved public figure, and Hector knew it would only get worse when they realized that the public figure had spent his private life fighting for the good of the city and the world.

“It’s not real,” Hector kept telling himself. But the words sounded hollow to him. Everything felt real, he even had an exact replica of his own home in this world. And it didn’t help that Thaddeus had gone completely quiet in his head. It was if Thaddeus enjoyed watching him collapse inside his own mind.

Hector found himself walking toward his training room. It was exactly how he left it in the real world. The weights were still in the exact spot that he expected. He walked over to the punching bag that was exactly how he left it, right down to the small tear in the top right corner.

Without putting on gloves, Hector hit the bag. Hitting it hurt his knuckles, but the pain felt good. He proceeded to pound the bag with no rhythm, just rapid strikes that would render a real opponent crippled for life. He imagined himself hitting Thaddeus for putting him in this situation, and his punches got harder. He was almost determined to see what would break first, his hands or the bag.

After nearly an hour of with the bag, Hector let out a cry and gave one last massive punch and walked away, leaving the bag swinging like rapid metronome. He instinctively began to unwrap his hands, only to realize for the first time he wasn’t wearing any wraps, or any protection for his hands. He went back over to the bag and steadied it. He saw his own blood all over it.

“It’s not real,” Thaddeus’s voice rang in his head.

“What?” Asked Hector, not fully processing anything at that moment.

“The blood, it’s not real. None of this is. It’s all a figment of your imagination. Well, my imagination. In your head.”

Hector had had enough, “get me out of here.”

The voice just laughed, “Don’t be so dramatic, you know what you need to do to get out of here.”

Then, an idea came into Hector’s mind, “I do know what I need to do.” He strided toward the drawer beside his couch, and he pulled his handgun out of it. It was fully loaded, just like it would be in the real world. Hector turned it around and faced the barrel toward his own forehead.

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” the voice chided.

“Why not? If none of this is real, then I won’t actually die.”

“Look around you, Hector. You logically know that this world isn’t real, but your conscience believes that it is real. Feel the pain on your hands, it’s the exact pain that you would expect from hitting the bag. The gun in your hand feels exactly how your brain expects it to, and if you pull that trigger, it’s going to feel exactly how you would anticipate. Your conscience will believe that you are dead, so for all intents and purposes you will be. Even in the real world.”

“Why did you not tell me this before I came here?” Hector demanded.

“You didn’t ask,” the voice replied simply, “you were so caught up in the idea or a challenge, you didn’t ask about the risks. So, if you want to get out of this world you’re going to have to do what I tell you, which is to destroy this world. And you know how to do that, don’t you?”

The normally calm and calculated brain of Hector was starting to feel shaken. His thoughts were racing to the point where he could feel his head burning.

“You’re a b*stard!” Hector screamed.

“You can call me whatever you want,” the voice said, “it won’t change what you have to do.”

And then, the voice was silent.

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Chapter 5

Eric Bishop watched from a distance as detectives and rescue teams scrambled around to look for survivors from the blast at the Mingus Tower. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind of who the target was. They all knew that Mark Mingus was in almost the exact spot of the explosion, and they all assumed that this was an act of terrorism. But Bishop knew better.

The police didn’t know what Mingus truly did at night. They probably assumed that he did what most billionaires did, and they didn’t know what most billionaires did either. But Bishop knew that Mingus was the Mind Doctor. In fact, Bishop had worked closely with him on many occasions. So when he heard the news of the explosion, Bishop came right over to St. Charles.

Bishop had originally doubted that Mingus was killed, after all, there had been many attempts at his life before, and none of them had succeeded yet. But the police evidence reports of security footage of Mingus walking into his office not even a minute before the explosion was indisputable. Bishop figured that it was only a matter of time before the police found the secret elevator that lead to Mingus’s hideout.

Scanning the crime scene, Bishop eventually found who he was looking for. It was Detective Hal Davis, a tall man in his late twenties whose brown hair looked dangerously close to balding. What set Davis apart was the fact that he was able to deduce the Mind Doctor’s secret identity in his first year as a police officer. He was quite possibly the only person in the city who knew what kind of change the death of Mingus would cause. And he was most certainly the only police officer that Bishop had every worked closely with.

“Hal,” Bishop called out.

Detective Davis turned at the sound of his name. After a moment’s hesitation, he recognized Bishop and strided toward him. Ducking under the yellow tape, he took an abrupt turn to the left and signaled with his head for Bishop to follow him. He walked about fifty feet, before stopping and turning around, and Bishop met him at the spot.

“Sorry,” said Davis, “I didn’t want to be overheard. Over here, you’ll just look like a distressed relative of a victim.”

Bishop nodded and began to speak, “do you know who did this?”

“We have a few suspects, mostly business rivals and super villains, but those all look to be dead ends.”

“It’s not flashy enough to be the work of the Red Crusader, or any one of his other… Rivals,” Bishop agreed.

“There is one interesting piece of evidence.  The security cameras had a small glitch at around one-thirty. We barely even noticed it at first.”

“Well it’s not too hard to get past a security system,” Bishop said.

Davis shook his head, “you don’t understand. This building had some of the best security in the world. It was the top-of-the-line quality from Rookman Industries. It’s said that the Mingus Tower is the most secure privately owned building in the world.”

“No, the most secure ones are the ones that you don’t know exist,” Bishop stated, and he walked away, leaving Davis  gawking at him in confusion.

Chapter Four

It was nighttime in St. Charles. Although it was too cloudy for the stars or the moon to take much of an effect on the darkness, the streetlights and the virtual billboards provided Hector with enough light to see what he was doing, but not so much light that it was impossible to avoid detection.

Hector had bought a navy blue suit with a matching tie and briefcase. Although he did not want to be seen, he did not want to look like he was hiding. If anyone looked at the security system, they would just assume that Hector was a worker who forgot something at the office. The cost for the clothes was too microscopic to even be counted as a cost for Hector. He had discovered that all of his assets from the real world had transferred to his new world.

Hector pulled out the his key card. It wasn’t a key card meant for this particular building, but when Hector had built the key card system he had given himself a Master Key over all the locks produced in the world. He had done it more or less on impulse, but now he was glad that he did. Although Thaddeus could’ve just input one into the story, Hector only wanted to work with tools he would have in the real world.

Hector walked across the dimly lit lobby as he was typing on his phone. The average observer would’ve assumed that he was texting, but he was really overriding the security protocols that he’d buillt himself. Now that the cameras and the motion detectors were dead, Hector was free to ride the elevator up to the top floor of the building, which was the office of Mark Mingus, the Mind Doctor himself.

The elevator let out a ding to show that Hector had reached the sixty-eighth and last floor. Hector walked past the receptionist desk where the Mind Doctor’s frequent love interest, Henrietta, sat. He walked up to two large oak doors. These walls weren’t protected by Rookman Industries, rather they were protected by a knock frequency detector, where, you had to tap the right spot at the right time on the doors for them to open. Hector remembered how Mingus had done it in the book. He reached up, and gave two rapid taps, then he moved his hand to the left and gave a tap, then to the right, and then back up.

Nothing happened at first, and then the doors slowly opened toward the inside of the room. The room had an emerald green floor, with maroon walls, which was the same color scheme as the Mind Doctor’s crime fighting suit. Next to a large, bulletproof window, was an oak desk that matched the doors at the entrance of the office. Hector knew that if he entered the right code onto the keypad on the desk, then the walls would rotate, revealing an elevator that would go down an old abandoned garbage chute and into an arena-like room that was many layers underneath the ground. In that room was where the crime-fighting suit of the Mind Doctor, and a concoction that allowed him hear the thoughts of those in danger.

The desk, however, was the important part of Hector’s plan. His plan was quite simple. It is much easier to kill Mark Mingus than the Mind Doctor. So Hector went to the desk, set the briefcase down, and got to work.

Once he finished working on the desk, he had one more place to go… The security room.

 

Hector woke up in his hotel room. Apparently, the need for sleep is a consistency in both the fictional and the real world. Whether or not the body was doing actual work, his mind was working overtime and needed rest. Another thing that he discovered was that he needs to eat. As Thaddeus had said in Hector’s mind, “the rules in this world apply to you, so you will need to eat, sleep, and perform all of the other necessary body functions.”

Hector glanced at the alarm clock next to his bed, although he always knew what time it was within a few minutes, he needed to be precise at this moment.  Hector turned on his phone, and saw a picture of Mark Mingus’s doops to his office. Only it wasn’t a picture, it was a live feed from the security camera in order to tell when Mingus went into the room.

Hector stared at his phone screen for about four hours. He didn’t mind. He was like a hunter in a tree stand, safe with the knowledge that once the prey comes into sight, all of the waiting would be worth it. And eventually, all of the waiting paid off.

Mark Mingus appeared at the bottom of the phone screen camera, and walked into the center right next to the desk, and he was totally oblivious to the rig of explosives that Hector had placed there.

Hector grabbed his detonator and placed his thumb onto the button. Then, Mingus seemed to stare right at the camera. Hector froze. He looked so real. As much as he loved a challenge, Hector had never wanted to hurt anyone.

Hector shook himself, and reminded himself that the man on the phone screen wasn’t real, and then he pressed the button. There was a flash of light, and then the screen went black.

 

He

Chapter 3

Chapter 3

Hector set his book down. It was the last one of Thaddeus’s novels.  In order to prepare for his role, Thaddeus had insisted that Hector read all of the books about his superheroes. Thirty years of writing for Thaddeus took Hector two weeks to read. In the words of Thaddeus, “your superpower is your knowledge.”

Hector had never really thought of himself as any kind of superhero or villain. When he was younger, most children dreamed of flying, Hector had dreamed of finding a new way to fly. One that would make rocket ships obsolete.  He didn’t like the idea of magically being able to do anything. What was the challenge in that?

Eventually, it was recreational period, and Hector had a phone call to make. There was a long line of people, but they spread out and let Hector go to the front. Evidently, they had heard what had happened to the four people who had attacked him. However, they heard it was eight people, and three of them were dead.

Hector got to the front of the line, and stood there waiting for the person using the phone to be done. The phone-user looked up like child who had been caught with his hand in his father’s wallet.

“Baby,” the caller said hastily, “baby I’ve gotta go. I know, I know, baby… Love you too! Bye!”

The caller turned to Hector, “a-after you… Sir.”

Hector shrugged. He’d never threatened the guy, but it was useful that everyone was afraid of him. After all, he wasn’t here to make friends.

He recalled the phone number that Thaddeus had given him weeks before and punched it into the phone. The phone on the other line rang once, and then was picked up.

“Mr. Smith,” said Hector, calling him by his birth name, “I’m ready.”

Hector was lead into a plain, silver, eight by eight foot room, with a large, cushion less chair in the middle of it. Next to the chair, was some sort of machine with wires protruding from it. Thaddeus and Doctor Truman were waiting on either side of the chair. Truman then indicated for Hector to sit.

Hector got in the chair, and they pulled some straps from the arm and wrapped them around his wrist.

“The effects can be shocking, and you may lash out. We’re doing this for your safety and ours,” Truman explained. Hector nodded, but he was still nervous. There were few things that Hector was afraid of, and not being in control of his movements was one of them.

Doctor Truman proceeded to place wires onto Hector’s head. Hector recognized each spot where they were being put. The frontal lobe, in order to read his movement, intelligence and behavior among other things. The parietal lobe, for intelligence reasoning, language, and reading. The occipital lobe, for his vision. The temporal lobe, for his hearing, emotions, and other sensory details. The plugs weren’t set up in the areas of the brain required for breathing, and other necessary for survival functions. Those would take care of themselves.

“This will hurt a bit,” Truman warned.

Thaddeus stood over him, “remember the mission, Hector. If I know you as well as I think I do, you will be back before you know it.”

Just then, Hectors brain felt like it was exploding. He could feel electrical currents run back and forth inside of his head. He was dimly aware that he was screaming in pain, which was something that had rarely ever happened to him. He longed to drop to his knees, but his wrists were completely confound of movement underneath the straps.

Just when Hector was sure that his brain had turned into a jello-like swimming pool in his skull, he found himself standing in the middle of a crowded street. Hector looked around, and saw a skyscraper with a huge letter M on it. The voice of Thaddeus rang inside of his head.

“Hector,” the voice said, “can you hear me? Dr. Truman assures me that you can. You are currently in Saint Charles, the city of Mark Mingus, also known as the Mind Doctor.”

Thaddeus didn’t need to say anymore. Hector had read the books, he knew all about the Mind Doctor. To the general public, he was Mark Mingus,a billionaire researcher neurologist who had made huge steps for humanity in brain research. Mingus had since expanded his operations into numerous philanthropy programs and had revitalized the city, all the while digging up dirty secrets from corrupt politicians and stopping petty crime. His superpower… Mind reading and control.

Hector had to appreciate Thaddeus’s sense of irony. His mind had been taken control of in order to fight a mind controller. Hector had already thought out how to take out the Mind Doctor, and the solution was easy, take him out from a distance.

This could not be an intelligence operation where Hector would use a disguise or an alter ego, because the idea of tricking a mind relder was absurd. He must set a trap.

Hector then heard Thaddeus’s voice in his head, “I made this easy for you, go to the Mingus Tower and examine the key card reader.”

The building was about one hundred feet away from Hector, but with the foot traffic, it took him about two minutes to get there. When he got to the front door, he bent down and studied the key card reader. On the reader, in faded black letters, it read, “Rookman Industries,” Hector’s security company that he had made his billions on.

Now that breaking into the building was easier than he could have imagined, Hector just had a few things he needed to pick up. At nightfall, Hector would make his move.

Chapter 2

Hector Rookman sat down on his cot and stared at the blank white wall of his cell. As of now, he didn’t have a roommate. His roommate had been among the four people who tried to jump him, and he had been forced to defend himself, so his roommate was now in the hospital ward along with the other attackers. Hector didn’t know what it was about being rich that made inmates want to kill him, but he was alright with it. He preferred to be alone.

When he was among the richest people in the world, he had always kept his private life as it should be… Private. So the inmates had no idea that the time he wasn’t spending working or sleeping, he spent practicing various martial arts. It had started as a calming method for his PTSD. When he got back from the army, he would have outs of paranoia and would oftentimes lose track of what was real and what wasn’t. That was five years ago, and he still suffered from minor bouts.

Now, martial arts were the opposite of a calming method for him. He needed something to get his heart racing, and to feel the heat of battle, practice or not. When he used a punching bag, it became an enemy to him and he would unleash upon it. One of his friends from the army suggested professional fighting to him, but Hector knew that once he starts, he can’t stop. The feeling was thrilling to him when he was beating on an inanimate object, but it terrified him that he could do that to a person.

The one person that Hector did not regret hurting was the would be kidnapped. He didn’t know why the child he saved did not step forward, but he was glad he saved her anyway. He still might not have been put into prison, but the judge seemed to have a chip on his shoulder about those who are rich. He was desperate not to be accused of being corrupt, or favoring those who had money.

Hector stood up and examined himself in the mirror above the sink in his cell. It was his ritual to study himself everyday. He looked into his own eyes and his blue eyes stared back. They were the eyes of a man who studied everything, who took in every detail. There was a tint of fear in them too. Not the panic of someone haunted by an outside source, but the eyes of a man afraid of himself.

After the eyes, his other significant feature was his size. He was six feet and three inches tall, and packed with muscle from his martial arts. His build was like a professional sprinter, with long, muscled legs and well-defined arms.

Despite his large frame, Hector did all that he could to avoid being recognized. His black hair was unkempt, even when he had a choice other than the orange jumpsuits that a prison provided, he just wore whatever would fit him. He never cared about the brand of clothing. He went to a private institutions where he had to wear uniforms throughout his youth, and joined the army where he wore almost exclusively camouflage. So, to worry about style always seemed irrelevant to him.

The barred cell door slid open and Officer David stood outside. He regarded Hector wearily. He hadn’t been part of the group to pull Hector off his attackers, but he had heard vivid descriptions of the former billionaire having to practically be pried off the last conscious aggressor.

“Rookman,” Officer David began, “you have a visitor.”

Curiosity pricked Hector. The guards had been instructed to not let in any more reporters wanting an exclusive with him, so that meant this visit would probably be personal. But Hector wasn’t close to anyone.

Officer David lead Hector into the general meeting room, and indicated to a round table. Sitting on the opposite side of the table was two men that Hector had never seen before. One man was about five and a half feet tall, with hair gelled to look like an actor’s on the red carpet, and an arrogant-looking face.

The man beside him was built like a scarecrow. He was almost as tall as Hector, but he was lanky, with a balding head, and glasses that loosely fit on his face. There wasn’t an ounce of muscle on him.

The shorter man stood up and grinned maniacally. “Mr. Rookman,” he proclaimed, “Thaddeus Chesterton.” and he extended his hand, and awkwardly pulled it back when he realized that Hector was in handcuffs.

Thaddeus clearly knew who Hector was, so he didn’t bother introducing himself. However, Thaddeus was looking at him expectantly, as if he expected Hector to be excited by the mere sight of him.

“Does my name mean anything to you, Mr. Rookman?” Thaddeus persisted.

Hector shrugged, “it sounds like a made up name,” he responded. Thaddeus’s smile that seemed to be welded onto his face wavered for a moment. Hector realized that he had struck a nerve. He did it on purpose, Thaddeus was far too confident for Hector’s liking, so he just wanted to put him in his place.

Thaddeus was back to smiling again. He would never forget how Hector had insulted his perfect name, that was made up but it certainly did not sound like it. But, however angry he was, he needed Hector, so he kept his charm going.

Thaddeus began, “I have something for you Mr. Rookman. I have an interesting opportunity. Have you ever dreamed of being an actor?”

Hector thought he knew where this was going. “I’m not going to give you the rights to make a movie about me.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t dream of it, Mr. Rookman. What I want from you is for you to make my next story. You see, I write novels, about superheroes. But I seem to have lost my touch, that’s where you come in.”

Hector had to admit, he was totally lost, which didn’t happen very often. “What do you want me to do?”

“Nothing much, really. Just what you are best at. React. Adapt to an environment around you. What I’m going to do is introduce you into a new world. And what I want you to do is destroy it.”

Hector was still totally confused. He had no idea what this author wanted, but he was a patient man, so he decided to let Thaddeus drone on.

“I’m not making myself clear. Are you a superhero fan? Basically what I want you to do is go into a Superman movie, and destroy the Justice League.”

“If I did agree to this,” Hector began, “how would you get me into this world?”

Thaddeus indicated to the lanky man who had been sitting quietly during this entire conversation. “That’s where my friend, Doctor Truman, comes in.”

Doctor Truman stood up. Despite his ungangly appearance, he spoke with the confidence of a gambler with weighted dice. “As you know, a couple of years ago, it was leaked that the Central Intelligence Agency had neurological wave interpretation machines, or mind readers. As of now, they are quite rare. The less known fact is that not only is there the technology to read the mind, but we can  read to the mind. We can put in thoughts or images.”

Hector finally understood. “You’re going to brainwash me.”

“In a sense, yes. But not for any cynical reason, and there should be no lasting effects.” In reality, you will be strapped in a chair the entire time, but in your mind, you will be in a whole new world. There has been extensive research on this, it is completely safe.”

“No,” said Hector, “why would I ever agree to this?”

Thaddeus spoke up, “I’ve done research on you, Mr. Rookman. As a child, you were frequently getting into trouble for fighting other children who were oftentimes bigger and older than you. As soon as you were eligible, you joined the army. You quickly moved up rank until you were a sergeant, maybe too quickly for your liking. Because you left the army as soon as you could and invented whole new security systems and became an entrepreneur and one of the richest people in the world. However, throughout this time you picked up martial arts. I know that you are a private man, but judging from the rest of your accomplishments, I’d be willing to wager that you are quite good. When you were in prison, you took on four prisoners, who I’m told were not small men. A little bit later, you hacked your way out of this place with a smartphone only to be caught a little bit later. I know you are a smart man, Mr. Rookman, I know you could’ve easily hidden away anyplace in the world if that was your intent. But it wasn’t. You just wanted to see if you could break out. You’re always craving to fight, more than that, you crave a challenge, and there is nothing in the world that can challenge someone like you.”

Hector was silent. However obnoxious this man’s demeanor was, he was not stupid, and more importantly, he was not wrong.

“Why,” asked Hector, “I understand that you want an original story, but if I destroy this world of yours, you will lose your series which by the sound of it, is still making you money”

Thaddeus stared passively at Hector and asked suddenly,  “How old do you thing I am, Mr. Rookman?”

“Judging from the obvious extensive work you’ve done in order to look young, I’d guess mid-fifties, probably fifty-four,” Hector replied.

Thaddeus wanted to curse. He turned fifty-four three weeks ago. Not that his birthday was something he celebrated, why would he celebrate being one year closer to dying?

“Exactly right, Mr. Rookman,” Thaddeus admitted,  “and I’m sure that a man with your economic background has realized that money is not everything. This world that I have created is beginning to take a toll on me. I was the one who started it, and I want to be the one to end it. But with a repertoire of iconic characters that I have created, I cannot just stop writing. I need them to go out with a bang, not with a whimper.”

Thaddeus continued, “all that I am offering to you, is a chance. A chance for you to be the Alexander the Great, of a fictional world with zero consequences.”

Hector continued to be silent. He was thinking of all the negative consequences that agreeing to this proposal could lead to, but the prospect of a challenge excited him more than he could bear to admit.

“Yes,” said Hector, “I’ll do it.”

 

Frame of Mind

CHAPTER ONE

Thaddeus Chesterton looked angrily at the reviews of his latest book. “Wholly unoriginal, another stereotypical villain who’s ultimate plan is world domination,” said one reviewer. While another reviewer stated, “The man who originally brought non-graphic superhero novels to the mainstream has officially run out of ideas.” The most infuriating of the reviews read, “John Smith, A.KA Thaddeus Chesterton, was once thought to be our generation’s Stan Lee. Now, he’s looking like the George Lucas of superheroes. He started off with greatness, now he’s just milking each hero for all they’re worth, which isn’t much anymore.”

Thaddeus’s mind was a volcano of swirling lava. It wasn’t just the review that made him so rage-filled. It was the fact that the reviewer had used his birth name, John Smith. Thaddeus hated that name, and he hated his parents for giving him that name. “If you want something ‘wholly unoriginal,’ then you should ask my parents for baby names,” he thought to himself angrily. John Smith. Not only had his parents been bland enough to have the name “Smith,” they didn’t even have the decency to come up with something better than “John.” John Smith is the name an undercover agent would reject because it would be too obvious. Thaddeus hated the name so much, that he changed it to Thaddeus Chesterton. Three syllables for each name, and original enough for people to take a second look, but not so ludicrous that people wouldn’t know how to pronounce it.

Thaddeus continued with the self-torture of reading critic after critic, almost none of them had nice things to say about his story. After what seemed like an eternity in the deepest pits of Hades, Thaddeus finally got to the last of the reviews. The story ahead taken him months to complete, only for it to be a critical, and commercial flop.

Thaddeus looked at the bottom of the web page. The top article was a news story about an escaped convict being caught again. Curious to read about someone who was somehow having a worse day than him, Thaddeus clicked on the article.

“Self-made Billionaire/Convicted Murderer Back in Prison.” The article told of a man named Hector Rookman, who made a fortune in building security systems for houses. After living high and mighty for years,  he was found in an alley way with bloody knuckles and a man beaten to death beside him. He claimed that the man he was trying to kidnap a child, and he had intervened, but with no evidence of a child ever being there, and no eye-witnesses, he was sentenced to forty years in prison

Two days after he had been sent to prison, Rookman had to be restrained when he put four inmates in the medical ward. Three months later, he escaped by overriding the security protocols of the prison with a smuggled in smartphone. He was caught three states away, when a particularly observant guard who worked at the prison happened to be vacationing in the same spot, and he called the police on him.

Rookman was an indisputable genius, and according to the article, had military and prison fighting experience. And he was either an insistent liar, unlucky enough to be at the wrong place at the wrong time, or he was insane. In Thaddeus’s opinion, all of these were excellent qualities for what he needed. Thaddeus exited out of the article. He had a few phone calls to make.