James ‘Jack’ Houghs aka ‘J’accuse’
Born in 1946 to a privileged family in one of Manhattan’s finer suburbs, Jack’s card turned at puberty. Finding that he could sense the feelings of others, over time he built up a tolerance to the constant waves of emotions around him and also the ability to push them in the direction that he chose. The teenager was unable to resist the temptation that these abilities gave him and Jack came out of his early shell to more than make up for time as a ladies’ man and a charismatic leader among his peers.
Following his family’s expectations, Jack attended Harvard and graduated in Law. Returning to New York he spent time building his way up in the profession to some considerable success – a mixture of family connections, his preternatural abilities and a surprising degree of hard work that had nothing to do with either. Unfortunately, unsavoury habits built up in his teenage years and only refined during his time at university were to lead to the destruction of all he had built…
Awake and the lack of external emotions is like a balm to my senses. Nothing pushing against my psyche, no need to steel myself constantly – how novel. Not for… how long? Brief memory of a glowing green pair of eyes. Unnatural light source, hardened plastic floor, and walls. A cage, with other cages beyond the walls, strangers within: two clearly Jokers, one woman, varying levels of emotion. How peculiar to use only my eyes to observe what others are feeling.
A TV sitting in front of the cages like a stage in an amphitheatre flares to life, eliciting a range of reactions. I listen to the words – the ultimatum – while also watching the others and find the balm turning to frustration as I can’t feel them as well. It’s beyond a habit, it’s a need, an addiction I am not complete without. Timer starts its countdown.
Then I’m back, I’m fully me, and there’s anger and fear from multiple sources. Fury erupts completely in one cage and electricity answers; a man dies. Confusion and fear heighten. The smell doesn’t reach us in our cages, which is a blessing. I imagine burnt dog hair. Talk to the others, read out the contract in lay man’s terms, offer what I can. Sign and return the paperwork through the ceiling. Exit cage.
Slowly the others make the only decision they can. Some head off to investigate the area. That itch that says that this specific point in the universe is not a good place to be heightens as the counter decreases. The woman tries to affect the beaten southerner with her powers and only adds more steel to his backbone. He’ll die rather than be forced to do anything. Have to respect that in some way, although it’s clearly foolish in others. I talk him down and we get out of there before tons of concrete destroy the cages, the TV and the body of one unlucky Joker.
From there it’s out and in to the sewer tunnels. The Joker changes his jumpsuit’s colour, blanks my surname when he sees me making to rip my surname off mine. He produces light from a stone so we can see where we’re going.A sense of camraderie begins. The boy moves ahead, unseen, still felt. Smell, mush of mud, excrement beween toes, up to knees on occasions; push it away. Then it’s a rush of action, blips of emotion – flight/fight – as hard wired reactions to the violent situation kick in. Albino alligators die quickly. I flick aqueous humor off my hand and step over the last corpse as we move further through the tunnels, hopefully closer to the world above.
Tunnels. Smell. Step after step. A junction, a sign and the sensation of at least 100 people in the direction of the Carnivale, a mere eight in that of the Port. The latter are higher up. After some further checks by others we head in the direction of my desire.
Getting closer to the eight we enter a building basement and work our way up from below. Within a distance of about 200 yards I lose contact with the emotions of those we move towards; someone is blocking me. We look through a door’s window and gather ourselves, O’Reilly linking the minds of Patriks and myself so that we can communicate without words. LeRoy again resists – perhaps because of his previous experience with the blonde’s powers, perhaps an inability to trust others enough in the short amount of time we have known each other to allow this quite intimate act.
Action. Flames. A quickly placed rabbit punch seems my main addition. Fight over.
Finally we get to street level, seven of the eight with us. A working phone booth is found. Conversation occurs regarding calling the police or not and the correct decision is made. We step into Patriks’ limousine and leave as the approaching sirens are still two blocks away.
After a stop for fried chicken, Patriks welcomes us to his loft. He provides a shower and alternative clothing. We speak briefly as a group and I explain my need to distance my real life from this new chapter, while making sure that they realise that this is not a personal judgement but a limitation from my story to date. More time has passed than any of us realised; a week has passed. I run the variables and take my leave, calling my mother from a few blocks over and wait to be picked up.
My old room, my old bathroom. Parents downstairs, worried but no longer concerned.
I check the lines in my arm where the needle(s) went in. Further examination of my body discovers a patch of hair shaven closer than it should be at the back of my neck, a raised spot which juggling two mirrors doesn’t help with identifying. I need some specialist help. When talking to the police in the morning I will make sure to show all these points – it will assist in my story as well as, hopefully, allow me some insight. I fear, considering the time I’m aware of and the actual time away, that some mental conditioning may have occurred and the memory removed. Perhaps blood samples will show something.
In order to get as much detail as I can, I return to my bed and settle carefully down on it, forcing myself to think back through the last week, to any emotions, and through those to any memories linked to these. Pain in the back of my head. Out the back of the club where I was assaulted, not remembered until now. A sign – of a martini with a neon cherry in it; somewhere in Joker town where I’ve been a few times recenlty, but with no averse reaction implicit to the club. Brief but intense pain on my right wrist. Helpless. Image of a large television monitor screen – large pair of woman’s lips with a cigarette. Nothing of a green glowing pair of eyes, which I had expected. Danger sense goes off. I begin to withdraw as pain mounts. Last image is that of the usually unseem sigil on my wrist.
I nap fitfully, woken at last by mother – looking older and more tired than I had realised. After breakfast Pater drives me to the local precinct, the time passing slowly with the expected highlight of the disappointment speech just before he drops me off.
After a short wait I work through things with the detective who has had my case allocated. There is a numbing of my tongue and a pain at the back of my head when I try to agree to a blood test. The detective hands me a handkerchief to staunch the flow that starts from the hole on my neck.
With a few taxi rides I move things along with visits to a JP at the courthouse and to Dr Hibbert, our family GP. His concern with the mark on my neck is palpable and after blood is taken for testing he runs me through a few tests, including x-rays, then puts me on a course of antibiotics as a precaution after the previous night’s sewer excursion.
Contact with my boss Denny, clears things up there, as his main interest is in my being in court for the case on Thursday, not where I’ve been the last week. I check in with reception to let them know that I’ll be back tomorrow and am given a list of messages, including one from Patriks. After contacting him I finish up my errands and get to his place.
Patriks, LeRoy and young Washington are present, the latter keeping out of sight if not out of mind. After hearing of a search and deliver mission of a shapeshifting woman who wears a rose broach with which it appears we have been issued , I update them on my medical findings to date – it seems likely that most of them do have similar wounds – then assist in finding Miss O’Reilly’s phone number. The lady in question arrives after she has returned home after work and eats with us. Her neck has been affected similarly to mine.
The fact of how the package arrived at Patriks home is rasied and I question the possibility of us being under observation or one of us being a mole. Scanning directly after I find that Patriks and Washington are clear, but that O’Reilly and LeRoy are blocking my ability to emotionally read them. While I further raise the possibility of mental conditioning, Patriks uses security cameras to discover that men dresses as exterminators arrived at his building on the second day we were all incogito – the same day that some exterminators, supposedly organised by Mrs Horowitz, my neighbour in 3B, arrived at my apartment.
Finding an eletronic surveillance device in the telephone, Washington tells the rest of us that there are a number of the devices. We switch to non verbal means of communication and O’Reilly attempts to scan her own mind much in the way I did, looking for clues, signs of conditioning or the identity of a possible mole, despite my warnings as to my own experiences. She appears successful, although dreadfully enervated, and before passing out on the table points to me and utters my name.