The Ruiner: That American Life Pt. 4 "Four Threads, No Waiting"

"Hungry then?" Harris asked.

"Pancakes," the orphan answered, "Pancakes," and repeated for good measure.

"Used to love pancakes myself, there's a spot a few blocks away, I think. Want to go?" Harris didn't speak to the child the way adults usually do. His voice didn't take on an unintentionally patronizing tone, and he spoke to the child as though he were an equal, whether this was a by-product of his training or just another of his personality quirks, no one could say for sure. 

The orphan didn't answer with words but rather with a series of tiny leaps of joy into the air combined with the near hysteric squealing could not really be interpreted as anything other than an overwhelming endorsement of Harris' pancake plan.

"Alright then, pancakes it is. Soon as we find you something to wear. Can't have you running around half hanging out everywhere."

The child nodded with a newfound sense of understanding and busied itself with trying to reestablish a level of modesty that would facilitate pancake acquisition. Harris laughed to himself, feeling amused and oddly lighter due to the orphan's childlike enthusiasm.

"It's almost like he's a real kid instead of whatever godless lab creation he probably is," he thought while watching the orphan struggling to get out of his now too small t-shirt. 

About ten miles from where Harris and the kid were getting ready for an early breakfast, a man named Mu sat on the floor of a much nicer hotel waiting for a late dinner. He was sitting in the full lotus position, looking down his nose at a small candle which burned on the floor in front of him. The candle was slightly over halfway done.

The man's head was shaved. His skin was dark, but not Ebony- darker than Olive, deeper than a suntan; his facial features would lead one to assume he was of mixed African and Asian descent but that would just be an assumption. His height was currently obscured by his posture, but he was not a short man and stood slightly over six feet tall when his wasn't sitting. 

His body was obviously fit, but he didn't look overwhelmingly strong. He didn't need to look strong, only a small amount of his strength was in his muscular system. The rest, the true power, was in his nervous system. 

The candle's flame extinguished itself and at the same time, Mu, master of the Nameless Art, the man who turned men into gods (so long as the checks cleared), opened his eyes and surveyed his current surroundings.    

"I thought that room service would have been here by now. How long does it take to steam some rice?" he thought while picking up what was left of the candle before heading to the bathroom. As soon as he sat down to relieve himself, there was a knock at the door. 

"It's always this way," he mumbled as he stood up from the toilet and made himself decent enough to complete his food transaction. 

"What do you mean there's been no word from the courier? The asset was acquired hours ago, there's no reason it shouldn't be in a safe house by now. Yeah, yeah, I know. One more word about unforeseen circumstances and me going postal is going to become one. Call me back, I don't have time for your shit." Agent 34 slammed the phone down and opened her desk drawer. She removed a bottle of a well known, cruelly pink, over the counter anti-acid medication, opened it, and took a healthy gulp. She'd become so accustomed to doing so after phone calls that she no longer needed the included measuring cap. She just learned to feel the proper dose. Work had been busy of late, it’d been three or four days since she’s slept in her own bed, she kept a room at work where she napped and showered when she had the chance, which hadn’t been all that often. She was tired on levels she didn't know existed. It was amazing to her how much more stressful this end of things was. 

She placed the bottle on her desk the way a drunk places a drink on the bar. Carefully, well practiced, and with a touch of self-disgust. She put her bare feet up on her desk and let out a sigh that would over time, if she wasn't careful, turn itself into an ulcer, then maybe a tumor. 

"How the hell did I get anything done in the field?" She thought to herself. "Starting to see why Harris is so fucking cranky all the time."

After a ten minute timeout, Agent 34  picked up her phone and dialed Harris. As she predicted, there was no answer. After returning the phone to its cradle, she took a preventive shot of the pink goo and braced herself for the next round of excuses and setbacks that were, no doubt, on their way.

"Almost," Harris said to the orphan, "the diaper seems pretty solid. Pretty cool how you did whatever you did to those things to make them fit," he said referencing to the complex jury-rigged mass of diapers the orphan had somehow managed to form into a passable set of, well they sort of looked like shorts while somehow being obviously made out crap catchers, yet it somehow didn't look too bad. "That shirt is too small, you're busting out of it now as it is and you've been trying to take it off since you woke up, we need to do something about that."

"Give me one of your shirts," the orphan stated. He didn't demand or ask, he just said it, in the way that children do. 

"I only have the one I'm wearing. Hey, wait a sec…" Harris' internal monologue took over for his speaking voice, "there is a laundry room here, if there's nothing there, I can always break into a room and steal a shirt or something." 

"Hey kid," he said out loud again, " Can you sit here and not start a war for 5 minutes while I go get you something to wear?"

"Pancakes?" This time it was a question, an urgent one. 

"Almost kiddo, first a shirt, then pancakes. dig?"

Harris picked the child up and placed him on the bed. He knelt in front of him and continued, "I need you to sit right here until I get back. Then all the pancakes you can eat, plus a giant bag to take home. deal?"

The orphan's eyes grew wide with both excitement and cognition. Pleased that the boy understood, or at least seemed to, Harris gave the kid one more "Sit still, be right back in a jiffy," before exiting the room in search of a shirt.     

The laundry room proved disappointing but not a total waste. There was a total lack of children's clothing available at the moment, but there was one extra-large adult novelty t-shirt laying on the folding table. Harris grimaced quietly inside as he read the crude attempt at humor haphazardly silk screened upon both its front and back. 

The front had a cartoonish graphic of a steaming pile of turds on it. Above the pile, in large official looking lettering it read "D.A.D." and underneath the artistic spectacle was the phrase "Dads Against Dooty" and on the back was printed the slogan "It's not just a job, it's a Doo-ty"

"This is exactly what's wrong with this fucking world today. Shirts like this, reinforcing shitty sitcom sexist stereotypes. It's good enough for pancakes though." 

Harris made his way back to the room and found the orphan right where he left him, sitting on the bed quietly repeating the word "pancakes" with the sort of glee only children are capable of mustering. 

Holding up the shirt he said "Hey! Ready for pancakes little guy? Should I name you? Maybe later, c'mon let's get this on you and go eat."

The orphan complied and Harris stepped back to see how the kid looked. "Not bad, neither of your mothers would have you caught dead dressed like that, your dad might have some problems too if you even have one. Lucky I'm not them. I'm not even a weird uncle, just your friendly neighborhood assassin."

The child stood before Harris, the hem of his shirt pooling around his feet.

"Ass ass in?"

"Let's get you some food, you're starting to make too much sense."

Alec Riely was still shaking from the incident at Harris' motel room even though he was already several miles away and in no real danger. His inability to control his fear was a bigger disappointment to him than the obvious failure of his current mission. He didn't know much about "Project Jack" but he knew enough. The whole reason he was in the States "investigating" UFOs was to keep tabs on the Parlence infant and ascertain whether or not he was a test subject that had somehow been adopted out into the wild, due to some sort of oversight, or just a regular kid.

Project Jack was a bio-engineering experiment that was attempting to grow people from infants to adults in under a month. The idea was that if "people" could be "fast grown" and pressed into military service the general population could be spared the indignities of the draft and the inhumanity of war. The reach and scope of military operations could also endlessly expand, given a nearly inexhaustible supply of compliant bodies, the sky would be the limit. 

It was a pretty far-fetched and recklessly irresponsible idea which, not surprisingly, swept through the British military and intelligence communities like a wildfire.  There was one serious hitch in the plan so far. The test subjects did age rapidly but they also still tended to drop dead after a few weeks, shortly after reaching a biological age of 80sih. That left about a week and a half where the subjects were fit for combat or intrigue. In other words, they were perfectly suited for cannon fodder and little else. A fact which didn't seem to bother anyone on the R&D end of things. 

Riley heard about the experiments and some of the horror stories about how some of the subjects were "not right" as the reports put it. While rare, some of the subjects exhibited short tempers, unusual strength, limited reasoning capabilities, poor impulse control, a reliance on magical thinking, a predilection to violence, and a host of additional unintended consequences that nearly had Riely soiling his pants when he read about them. In other words, they remained children in mind and spirit even as their bodies aged. The psychological static involved in having a brain in a body that was outgrowing it created an entirely new set of variables in human behavior.  As far as Riely knew, Harris was harboring a tiny mutant serial killer on the verge of a freak-out.

Riely nervously turned into his motel parking lot,  entered his room, gathered his belongings and checked out of his room. He then drove in the opposite direction from which he came for a few hours and found a different hotel, but of the same chain as the previous one. This didn't make him feel any safer, but it made him feel like he did do something, and that was enough for him at the moment. 

When he checked into his new room, he found himself unable to sleep, despite the hour and went about filling out and filing his reports on the incident. He should have been meditating and practicing the skills his government was paying so much for him to acquire, not avoiding his fear and giving into his internal weakness. 

"That's OK," Mu said to the room service girl, "not many people order steamed rice this late." Mu tipped his server and returned to his spot on the floor. He quietly ate his dinner while waiting for a phone call from Alec Riely. A phone call that should have happened over an hour ago. This didn't worry Mu as nothing really bothered him. Except for Harris, who could try the patience of a saint. 

Agent 34 waited until the phone finished its fourth ring before she answered it and by the time she hung up the call, she wished she was never born. "Jesus," she thought after returning the phone to its cradle, "I should have refused this promotion." She reached in her drawer for her stomach medicine only to discover that the bottle was empty. "I just got this morning," she thought to herself before putting her head down on her desk

"I think I'll call you Remo," Harris said over a glass of ice water while he watched the orphan decimate a ten-inch stack of chocolate chip pancakes. "Everyone needs a name and that's as good of one as any. What do you think?"

Lil' Remo ignored Harris, not out of rudeness, but hunger. His attention was entirely focused on putting pancakes inside of him and his world was currently only as large as his plate.  

"There's like eight kinds of syrup. Want to try the raspberry?" 

Lil' Remo looked up briefly from the soggy mess he had made on his plate, his eyes widened with joy and he quickly nodded his approval of the raspberry syrup. 

Harris obliged with a smile. There was something about bringing joy to this kid that made him feel different. Less angry. The kid was starting to grow on him, caring for someone was almost the opposite of trying to kill them in their sleep, he reasoned. It was nice to see the other side for once, he thought. For the first time in a long while, Harris felt human, but he was too busy feeling it to notice. 
Harris finished administering the raspberry syrup and relaxed into his seat with a smile on his face.