The next day at the construction site was strange for Alan. Everyone seemed aware that he stopped the bus from smashing into the tree, and that they were all alive because he did. Even Castor was on his best behavior. He still jeered at Alan from time to time, but it had less bite to it than usual. Castor handed Alan a warm cup of coffee.
“Here you go, kid. Don’t say I never gave you nothin’,” Castor cleared his throat. “Now get to work, hero. And this doesn’t mean I like you!”
The comment felt nice enough – if not for Castor’s sarcastic ‘hero’ quip – so Alan took the coffee and enjoyed what seemed like a luxury around the construction site.
“Nice. Coffee,” Marshall said as Alan came up to the crowd waiting for work. “Enjoying the hero perks, I see.”
Alan rolled his eyes. “I didn’t do anything you guys wouldn’t have.”
“But you did do it. That takes guts…”
“Or – you know – a lot of stupidity,” Athena joked, as she walked past them to the food truck. She called out to Alan, “But we’re thankful all the same.”
Work seemed to fly by. Everything was blurry and loud, beams being welded into place and slamming into place with ferocity.
A supervisor’s whistle sounded in the site, and everyone stopped working. At first Alan though maybe someone had gotten hurt, but the real reason for the stoppage was much worse. Alan could see some commotion happening at the front gate. A couple of Board operators were talking with one of the supervisors, then the supervisor pointed at Alan. Alan felt the blood in his veins run cold, a hard pit in his stomach.
“Alan Mitchell, stand down,” one of the operators shouted, his finger pointing through the crowd, and it parted as he walked to clear the distance.
Everyone parted. Everyone except for Castor. Castor was cleaning up the picnic tables where people had left their snacks and had stopped when all the commotion had interrupted his work. He was livid with the operator.
“What the hell do you think your doing?” Castor asked as loudly as he could, his voice echoing across the construction site.
“Alan Mitchell, come with us immediately.”
“Are you punishing him for saving us? That’s messed up, man,” Castor replied, his arms folded over his chest. “Says a lot about what you think of us. You know you’re one of us, right? You’ll never be one of them by selling us out.”
The operator looked past Castor, his jaw clenching in an effort to keep his composure.
“Alan Mitchell, stand down,” the operator replied, “Don’t make me say it again.”
“Castor, it’s okay,” Alan called out and started walking forward, but Castor wasn’t having any of it.
“I’m not moving, man. This is stupid, and you know it,” Castor said in an antagonistic tone. The operator rolled his eyes, and shoved Castor out of the way with a flick of his hand and a thought in his telekinetic head. Castor slammed into the half-constructed building, and his body slumped to the concrete floor.
“Come with me, Mr. Mitchell,” the operator said calmly, and then turned to his partner. “Gerry, grab the other one. Insubordination to an operator. Automatic three strikes.”
The other operator, Gerry, picked up Castor in one hand, and the four of them walked back to a young woman waiting at the gate.
“Prepare for exfiltration,” the operator ordered in his calm tone.
The woman nodded, and held a hand out in front of them. A blue pool of energy spiraled into being, and the operators pushed Alan into it. Alan felt like he was being pulled apart at his extremities. It seemed like someone was pulling his arms and legs to their farthest reaches. Then it all imploded, scrunching together at the center of himself.
Alan was blinded by a white light, but, as he acclimated, he realized he was kneeling in a white room. The room appeared almost seamless, a round structure with no corner and no visible door. The operator picked him up by the arm and pulled Alan into a standing position.
“Move,” the operator commanded forcefully, wrenching Alan forward and onto his feet.
A doorway appeared in the white room, a piece of the wall sliding away, disappearing into the curve of the round space. They entered a hallway, with metal grated floors and solid white walls. Alan looked up at the ceilings, which were long light panels illuminating the bright hall.
“Tax dollars at work, I see,” Alan said sarcastically, and the operator shoved him forward.
Alan looked over and saw Castor was still knocked out, his body slumped over and bobbing in Gerry’s arms as they walked. He recalled how intimidated he was of Castro at the beginning, and to see him carried like a child was chilling.
“I’ll take this one to the holding area. Don’t wait on me for the Board meeting.”
The operator acknowledged Gerry, and pressed Alan further down the hall, as Gerry branched off to the left with Castor’s limp body in tow. Alan looked up and committed Castor’s hallway number to memory: A5. A dark amusement came over Alan as he realize that memorizing a hallway number wouldn’t mean much since he would never escape. He heard the stories. No one ever came back from the Board meeting. Now he knew where they went, and it was still as mysterious as it had been before. White halls with metal floors. Seamless disappearing doorways. Long hallways filled with light. No shadows to retreat into. No doubt, cameras everywhere. Alan’s scattered mind catalogued all of these observations for a future opportunity never to come.
The hallway appeared to end in nothing, but Alan soon realized that a doorway would present itself with proximity to the operators footsteps. Perhaps the operator wore something that alerted the doors to part? Alan shook his head at the sheer audacity of his thoughts. What good would it do him to figure out there systems. He was, now more than ever, a prisoner.
As if on cue, the doorway opened itself in front of them in the hall, and they entered in an expansive round room yet again. There was a small table before them with a single chair, and beyond it was a curved, elevated desk where his tribunal no doubt would sit and cast judgment.
“But where will you sit?” Alan joked, and the operator slammed Alan into the chair.
“Touchy,” Alan replied under his breath, his eyes rolling in their place. Yet another room without doorways, curved in porcelain majesty. Alan would’ve guessed they were in heaven, if not for the stark lighting and the clear sense that he was about to be punished judiciously and without mercy.
A doorway to his right appeared, and four individuals entered. Two men and two women. They were older, possibly in their late thirties or early forties. One man wore a military uniform while the rest were dressed in business attire, no doubt politicians of some sort. They all carried themselves with a sense of complete boredom. Alan imagined he had pulled a number at the super market and was just another number for them to serve a sentence. The man in the military outfit, sat first and fixed his puffing green uniform. As the others sat the man handed down file folders to the woman next to him, who handed the leftovers to the next person, and so forth until they were holding Alan’s file.
“Alan Mitchell,” the military officer said, his eyes scanning the paper in front of him. He cleared his throat and looked up at Alan. “You are charged with reckless endangerment of the public, destruction of government property, genetic perjury, insubordination, and cross-contamination of a crime scene. How do you plea?”
“Genetic perjury – wha-?” Alan looked around, but no member of the Board seem to be giving his response much notice.
“How do you plea?” one of the women asked again impatiently, her blonde-haired pulled back in a tight ponytail and waving behind her head. Alan swallowed the lump in his throat and looked at the other members of the Board. The center chair was mysteriously empty.
“Mr. Mitchell, this is really more of a formality,” the other man spoke up, moving his eyeglasses back up onto the nose of his bridge. “We have evidence of these crimes. Therefore we have no need for the Director to attend this ruling. If you would plea so that we may move along.”
“Not guilty,” Alan snapped out spite. “I don’t understand half of the charges, so…”
A small screen rose up out of the floor, positioned at an angle so that the accused and the Board could view it. Footage began playing back from the bus accident.
“The accused registers a plea of not guilty,” the second woman replied, her short black hair forming around her face with a sharp line between her dark skin. “Charge number one: reckless endangerment of the public. The accused is seen in vehicle surveillance tampering with the motor vehicle above, clearly causing disruption of the vehicle, the surrounding area, the second vehicle, and the passengers aboard said-vehicle.”
“I was reacting to -,” Alan tried to speak up. The woman gave him an annoyed look.
“The Board finds you guilty. The second charge: destruction of government property. As we can see in the playback, you clearly warp and manipulate government property, causing its full and ultimate destruction. The Board finds you guilty.”
Alan decided he wouldn’t speak up again.
“Charge number three: genetic perjury.”
The charge amused Alan because it seemed like a strange way to talk about his ability. He also couldn’t understand what they meant by perjury.
“Exhibit B of photographic evidence provided by satellite imagery, shows the crash scene in full detail from a top-down view. It clearly shows that the tree is pushed by its roots backward before the bus could make contact with it. This clearly demonstrates that the accused has lied under oath about his genetic deviation. He can not only manipulate magnetic fields, but, in fact, is capable of telekinetic episodes. We find the accused guilty of lying under oath under the Genetic Deviations Act.”
Alan sat in wide-eyed confusion. It never occurred to him that he could move other objects. He always assumed that since he moved predominantly metal materials that he was a Magnet.
“Wait, I didn’t know I -,” Alan started, but was quickly rebuffed by the dark-haired woman.
“The fourth charge: insubordination. As our operator has disclosed, Alan Mitchell and Castor Baynes did not come cooperatively before this tribunal. Therefore they have been found guilty.
“And the final charge: cross-contamination of a crime scene. As shown in Exhibit A and B, the accused knowingly exited the vehicle after the incident and walked over to the civilian’s car, thus contaminating the crime scene as a known genetic deviation.”
The military officer then spoke up, “This Board finds you guilty of all crimes as laid out by the Department for Mutated Persons. Under section 28a of the Genetic Deviations Act, you are hereby taken into the complete and direct custody and care of the Board for such a time as is deemed necessary for full rehabilitation. Appeal is not granted. Dismissed for further questioning.”
The man in eye glasses slammed down a gavel, and the operator picked Alan back up and took him out of the room. Alan was dragged through a new hall with labels of B numbers, and throw into a concrete cell.
“You will be retrieved when we have further questions. Your abilities have very little use here, and we have 24/7 monitoring, so don’t make me return. Have a nice stay.”
Alan looked down at his cloth cot, and then caught something out of the corner of his eye. He stared at the wall across from him. Someone had scrawled in small, jagged letters: Hotel California.