2010-01-16: I Hate Cliffhangers



Also Agent Hamm and a bunch of Alpha Protocol agents, played by Dee

Date: January 16, 2010


Lee's students are arrested for having powers! But…they don't, and they're not, sort of.

"I Hate Cliffhangers"

New York City

Moments after The Perfect Cliffhanger

"I'd suggest explaining yourself." Agent Hamm sits down across from Lee Jones. The back of a dark van may be more suited to a criminal undertaking than questioning by a government operation, but they're improvising and they're not wasting time.

The chilly parking garage must belong to the agents who have utilized it, because no one has driven in to park since the students and their teacher have been filed into. It's quiet. Agents are taking the students aside one-by-one to identify and question them while the others are told to stay where they are in an uncomfortable line.

Lee leans back in his seat a long way, stretching out his legs. Since he notes that Hamm doesn't want to waste time, Lee starts by saying, "Don't you just hate when you're watching a movie or a TV show and they have some amazing cliffhanger, like, the guy drives his car over the ledge, or they open the safe and the money's gone, and then the next episode or in the next scene they completely change around the scenario so that the cliffhanger is completely false? Like, the guy jumped out of his car at the last minute, or the money was just in the safe's false bottom. Where everything that you thought - or worse, everything you felt - about what was happening was just completely fake? Some third-rate screenwriter's eject handle that an Internet fan fiction site would be embarrased to host? It just shows contempt for the audience. Contempt." Since he's not cuffed anymore, he gets a handkerchief from his pocket - who carries a handkerchief these days? - and holds it to his bloody nose briefly, wiping it as best he can. "Anyway, that's this, so."

Agent Hamm may be a straightforward individual, but he isn't dumb. "Get to the point," he tells Lee with a suspicious edge. "Are you or are you not 'Leto Jones'?" They know the answer already, clearly. He plucks a folder from a case on the floor, glancing at it. "Says here you're rumoured to work for a certain 'Company'…" Strange that they'd even have that information. "Tell me about that."

Minutes pass where there are, as requested, no interruptions during Lee's interrogation. Footsteps sound from a distance, though, getting closer, gravel crunching underfoot as a man steps into the light. He's carrying a folder, paging through it with a calm sort of demeanor, even if his eyes give away a severe degree of worry. The worry is mostly because he's interrupting Agent Hamm.

"Sir… Sir, I know you wanted no interruptions, but you need to see this. To be perfectly honest, this kid…" He holds out the folder. "Dennis Beaumont. His father's the city desk editor of the New York Post. Got an award from them a couple years back? Some of the guys there say he's got the badges of four NYPD officers hanging on his wall like trophies. He just… destroyed their careers. Guess they stuck their noses in too deep, huh? If this Ken Beaumont guy finds out we have his kid…" The agent appears slightly nervous, rocking back on his heels.

Lee says, "Lee. I go by Lee Jones. For reasons that should be obvious. Unless you're a science fiction nerd, Leto's a girl's name. What do you want to know? I filed my taxes on time. You wouldn't be here asking about my students, would you? Because that's confidential. Under, uh, a federal law, not to put too fine a point on it."

Agent Hamm, in turn, interrupts his stern regard of Lee to look back over his shoulder at the agent. "Beaumont, you say. Well. Tough break, we've seen trickier. Keep IDing them." He faces Lee once more and folds is arms over his chest with a pop of broad shoulders. "We are federal law, Mr. Jones. Just explain why these kids are special before we have to start questioning their families too. Or maybe your family. You've got a sister, right? Nima?"

Lee nods. "Okay, see, now that's good, getting to the point is good. I mean, you completely messed it up because you still haven't figured out the situation. Let me explain it to you." he says encouragingly. Okay, patronizingly. "If someone is too strong for you to break, if someone is too powerful for you to touch, then you threaten someone they care about who is weaker, who you can get, then the strong person capitulates because they love the weaker person. It's a classic move, I can see why you would like it. But the problem with that is that you think you have the stronger one here in the van and the weaker one out there in Philadelphia in a comic book store. You already have the weaker one. My sister's smarter, faster, stronger and better than I am in pretty much every way I can think of. I'm more cowardly, more callow, more self-absorbed and dumber than her. So if you want to go after my sister, that's fine with me, in more or less the same way that it's fine with me if you stick your hand in a blender while it's already running." He laces his fingers together smugly. "All kids are special, Agent Hamm. I mean that very sincerely and I hope you think about what that belief really means before you ask me another question."

"But sir…" The first agent says. Obviously, he's not keen on losing his job.

But before he can continue that thought, another agent is walking toward them. This one a well-dressed woman, her heels clicking loudly and echoing on the cement floor. She's much more direct than number one.

"There's a problem. Look - this kid. Granddaughter of a congresswoman named Isaura Calderon. Controls the budget. I thought you'd like to know." She holds the folder out to the senior agent. "What do you want me to do with the kid? Robin Padilla?

Before Agent Hamm can reply to Lee's lengthy rebuttal, he looks to the female agent. "Congresswoman? Uh, well how about that. Why don't you make him wait and go back to doing your job, we'll get this sorted out. Lots of kids to go through." And then it's back to Mr. Jones. Hamm sighs. His time could be better spent. "I'm just doing my job here, Mr. Jones, tryin' to get this figured out. If there's been some mix-up then that's too bad, but what it looks like is… you're involved in something… your kids are involved in something… that's of interest to this operation…"

Lee replies, "My kids. These kids that you arrested, the ones who were going on a fiel trip today? Those kids. Those are the ones you're talking about. Right? My kids. Those are the ones I had. You're saying they're involved in something. Do you mean, are they involved with the worst-kept, godawful and most ill-conceived and pathetic 'secret' in the history of mankind, the existence of supernormal powers? Is that what you mean, Agent Hamm? Do the kids that you arrested today have supernormal powers? Is that your question to me? I mean, you're not 20 years old, you've had a career, you've worked and labored and striven and somehow you ended up here, in this van, with me, asking a question that you know it's a federal crime to ask? That's doubly confidential, one, educational information is confidential, and two, health information is confidential. Now, if you ask the parents to sign a permission slip, like I did when I proposed this field trip, then maybe I can help you out…" He trails off suggestively, knowing that the suggestion is ludicrous and nobody would ever take it seriously except him.

"Sir…!" Another woman. This one stops as she sees the other two agents, looking somewhat miserable. At a look from the third, who seems to be the kind to figuratively cause heads to roll if she doesn't get her way, sends the first to agents away. "Sir. I'm sorry, but one of the kids from Washington Irving has a civil liberties lawyer for a father. There's got to be a list of Guantanamo detainee cases as long as my arm. I highly recommend releasing this kid at once. We can't see any reason to keep her. She's not showing anything."

"Health— " Hamm, interrupted. The appearance of another agent has the man in charge shaking his head and pinching the bridge of his nose. "And none of the names are matching the names from the list, huh. All right. All right, release her. Hell, take their names and release all of them." He gets up from his seat in the cramped space to step backward and out the door, regarding Lee. "I know this is on you, Mr. Jones, I'd wipe that smug look off yer face."

There are some agents in the Protocol who are just not fit for field duty. Computer geniuses, technical wizards, sysadmins, people who are far too panicky to be suited for life outside a desk. It's one of these who comes running toward the van, yelling "Shit. SHIT" all the way there.

That can mean one of two things.

First, that there's something really wrong.

Second, a new Halo game has just been announced and the poor man has finally torn off his clothes and gone stark raving mad. Unfortunately for Agent Hamm, it's the former. "Hamm. Hamm! God— We are in deep. Look. Look at this!" He shoves a small portable computer into Agent Hamm's face, and hits 'play' on a YouTube video. What can be heard is the scene from just a little while before - caught on tape in high definition, the agents roughing up Lee and the kids. "There's like a bajillion hits on this thing already! Dude. Dude!"

Lee says, with all delicacy, "Agent Hamm. Don't be so hard on yourself. Or on me, for that matter. This program requires that you find and arrest children. It requires it. Without arresting and incarcerating children this program is a waste of time. Everyone who has thought about it for five seconds knows that. And nobody is perfect. There are children arrested every day all across this city and every other American city by mistake. I appreciate you saying that somehow this is my doing - as all narcissists would, really - but the fault is not in our stars, it's in our selves. You didn't get unlucky, or even tricked. You did what the program requires you to do. You had to arrest them. They had to be arrested."

Instead of yelling at the agent who shoves the computer in his face, Agent Hamm waits and listens with growing glower; then he yells at Lee. "We didn't arrest them, Mr. Jones, we brought them in for questioning, there is a difference! Arresting people without reason isn't actually or job, 'course you wouldn't know that. Listen, just stop talking, it's for your own good." With that, he closes the door on Lee.

"Make sure those kids get back to their families. We're going to release the teacher and pretend this didn't happen. I don't care how many people see that video, we don't exist to those viewers, remember. Don't have a goddamn panic attack, Agent. Our people'll sort this out. Few bumps. Some red tape. An angry congresswoman. The job goes on. Get back to work getting those kids released."

Lee has been thrown out windows for not shutting up, just yelling at him doesn't even crimp his stride, "That's the problem, see, when regular cops arrest kids by mistake, they can do that, they can release them, and say to the parents, it's, you know, a mistake. Just a mistake, we're sorry. We were questioning them. But you're not regular cops. The kids now go home and say 'all they wanted to know was whether we had superpowers.' And maybe an adult asks a question, or two, or a hundred, and then it becomes a question of whether your bosses will keep the secret, or keep all of you around. Which do you think they'll do?" The door closes, so Lee gets louder. It's probably all being recorded anyway. Government conspiracies always do that. "Do they really like you that much, are they that loyal? Are you that irreplaceable? Me, I know I'm not irreplaceable. There's thousands of better teachers in New York than me. Better, more experienced, smarter. I know if I cause problems for my boss, I'm gone. Is your situation like that? Will they stay loyal to you and give up the biiiiiig seeeecret?" Unsure if anyone's still listening, he lowers his voice - only the recorder will hear it - and sings a quick verse of 'Don't Rain On My Parade', just to see if anyone outside yells 'and now he's singing'. Nobody does.

All in all, each and every student in Lee's van was completely without powers, as far as everyone knows, and each and every one of them was a career-ending disaster on their own. A Supreme Court justice's favorite grand-niece. A four-star general's devoted JROTC son. The real twist of the dagger was when they found that one of the kids was the child of a top NYU geneticist. If Alpha Protocol made a list of everyone they didn't want mad at them, or to be known to, this would be a pretty good start on candidates.

Lee's release, an undisclosed distance away, is without incident. "I'm going to go do some karaoke with a platinum recording artist." he tells Hamm, not offering to shake hands as he is deposited unceremoniously on the sidewalk. "I bet you have a lot of paperwork to do."

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