Chapter 2: 'Mental Health and Oblivious Living'

Quick author's notes. Things in double quotes (") are spoken. Things in single quotes (') are thoughts. Some of the characters may seem out-of-character, but what do you expect? It's an alternate universe. You'll see their old selves surfacing in due time. Most of them, at least.

Ezekiel Rage sat quietly mulling over his coffee in the cozy house he shared with his wife and daughter on the Quest's Massachusetts property.

He was thinking about them again.

His wife, Abby, noticed. "Is it still so bad, Zeke? It's been eight years."

"Outwardly, they're fine, Abby, but it's the small things..."

"My husband, the psychotherapist spy bodyguard. Emphasis on "psycho." Zeke smiled. Abby took the news of his job much better than he would have thought. Especially when he mentioned that the job was getting them a cushy residences in both a beautiful part of Massachusetts and an equally beautiful island in Florida, not to mention friendship with two big celebrities. That smile faded, however, as his thoughts wandered back to his friend, his best friend, Benton Quest.

"It's in his routine now, Abby. Right after...Jonny died," Zeke hesitated, trying to remember the name of the long dead child, "he walled himself off from everyone, even Rachel, and started working nonstop. Even if he has gotten over it, which I doubt, he's gotten so used to doing this that he does it on autopilot. He's opening up, but he's still pushing himself much too hard... It's not healthy. He gets about four hours of sleep a night and works another eighteen! His only non-work thing he does is play with Karla for a little while and maybe some conversation with me. Now, I know we have great discussions, but I don't think it's enough to preclude anything else fun!" Zeke gave a wan smile. "Hopefully now that the Questworld project is over, the development can be handed over to the other techs at Quest Enterprises, and he can slow down."

Abby sighed. They had this discussion almost weekly, but she had to admit he was right. "Hopefully. Rachel needs him. It's helping her, not to mention me, to just have girl talk again, but they need each other! They're great with Karla, but there's this ...look they get in their eyes. It's like they bottled up their emotions, and hid it from each other." She sipped her coffee. "They need to talk about this."

They sat in silence, thinking of the people that have become almost family to them. "I tried to get I-1 to get a therapist to talk to them, but because this routine is getting them technological results much faster then any of their projections, they want to keep him like this."

Suddenly, the security alarm blazed. "Damn..." Zeke swore under his breath. He grabbed one of the non-lethal incapacitators out of a sliding panel on the wall. "Abby, go to Karla. Make sure she's okay." He ran out into the night and stopped short, his jaw dropping. He thought he saw a spider.

A big spider.

Upon closer inspection, he discerned it was a black ball with very thin, spindly legs. Not altogether intimidating, if you could discount its size. That size was a little hard to ignore, however.

[Author's MST: He got closer to that thing? Voluntarily?]

It was approaching the mansion rapidly, already having ripped out the security fence. Zeke raised his weapon ineffectually, when suddenly light blazed from the top of the lighthouse not far from the mansion. A large beam hit the spider, enveloping it, and lifted it over the edge of the peak, subsequently imploding it. The torn remains fell to the rocks below.

Zeke was surprised, to say the least.

He ran to the lighthouse, sputtering. "Doc! What just happened there?!"

"Hm? Oh hey, Zeke. What's up?" Benton said, absent-mindedly.

"Didn't you see the large, intimidating, THING out there!? Didn't you notice the alarm!? Didn't you notice the annoying, flashing red emergency lights that are going on as we speak!?"

"Huh? Oh, actually I didn't. Iris," he said, speaking to the air, "Emergency over?"

"Yes, Dr. Quest." A feminine voice said, in a surprisingly rich voice.

"Then turn off that racket" he said, bending back over his work.

Zeke stood there silently for a few minutes, incredulous. "Uh, Ben? That beam back there. That new?"

"Huh? Oh yes. Now that I've finalized the software/hardware bundle for the Questworld commercial package, I didn't have anything to do, so I made practical some of the theories about remote matter kinetization. Simple tractor beam hooked up to the security sensors and tactical computers. That programming for that is brilliant, by the way."

"Thanks. And Iris, she sounds different, and strangely familiar..."

"Oh, I hope you don't mind. During lunch I cooked up a wave-pattern algorithm for the synthesis of age from simple voice recordings. I used Karla's voice, okay? That's how she'll sound when she's about twenty. Pretty useless, but I didn't have anything to do."

Zeke shook himself out of the stunned, open-mouthed silence he found himself in. "No, that's okay. Uh, you might want to think about that attack. Someone did attack, with some pretty impressive technology. Don't you want to know why? Or what they wanted?"

"Oh, just file a report with I-1. They'll look into it. And we're safe here anyway, if they come back. This is one of the most secure residences on the planet, mostly because of you." Benton smiled at his friend.

"Well, I wish we could have gotten some samples from that thing. It might have helped the investigation if you didn't destroy the weapon," Zeke said disapprovingly. He quickly relented though. "Well, you say you don't have anything to do? That's great! Why don't we all go out tomorrow. Play some tennis, do something out of routine." Zeke emphasized the last three words.

Benton's eyes clouded. He looked genuinely scared of the prospect. "I don't know..."

Zeke continued. "...It'll be good for all of us to get out of this cramped compound, so let's do it, okay?" He put a steely glint in his eye. 'I sympathize, I really do. God knows what I would do if Karla died, but I'm going to get him to do this if it kills me. It's for his own good,' he thought.

Benton saw that glint. "All right... but—"

"Benton," Zeke warned, "don't make me bring Karla and her puppy-dog look out here..."

The eminent scientist shut his mouth slowly. He then smiled brightly.

"Don't you work for me?" he questioned.

"Nope. That's just something we made up to make you feel more important. Iris, activate program-code AG." Zeke smiled as he said the words.

"Activated." Another feminine voice intoned. "New Artificial Intelligence Persona loaded."

"Suze?" he asked the new AI. "Lock down archives. No access allowed, priority code 'All work, no play."

"Archives locked. The access privileges of subject: Benton Quest and subject: Rachel Quest are now suspended."

"Oh, and don't let Meach get control of the system," Zeke said, referring to another AI in the Quest's computer system. "She's liable to override the last command for Benton." 'I swear she's got a crush on him...' Zeke thought. "Thanks, Suze."

"You're welcome, Zeke." Suze said.

'Was that suppressed laughter in her voice? No, it couldn't be' Benton thought.

Zeke broke into his thoughts. "Go to bed, Ben." Not that Zeke really believed Benton would, but he would make up for it tomorrow.

He'd make sure of it.

The Southern California weather was typically beautiful. Jessica Bannon breathed in the cool breeze as she ran through the park. If it weren't for the winds, the day would've been unbearable. As it was, it seemed a whole lot more comfortable (and a lot less humid) then Jessie's childhood home of Columbia.

Jessie had moved to the States when she was about seven, and loved it. It wasn't only the weather that made her feel this way. It was her parents. For a little while their relationship was touch and go, because her mother didn't like her father's job, and its unusual hours. Everything was better, however, when Race Bannon was officially "retired" from service because of a record number of successful missions. That, and the fact that the upper brass didn't want to deal with his just-below-insubordination attitude. They couldn't very well fire him without an uproar from a lot of other agents, so they got rid of him, with a generous severance package and pension.

This was far from Jessie's thoughts, however. She was running home, eager to see if her dad had remembered his promise...

She ran through the suburban neighborhood to a cozy, two-story house of slightly Spanish architecture. She ran through the yard to the kitchen, squealing with unsuccessfully restrained excitement. "Hi Mom!" She said quickly, absently kissing her mother on the cheek. "Where's Dad?"

Estella Velasquez smiled at her daughter's excitement. "He's in the living room. He was trying to put something together, or something. He was looking for the hammer earlier..."

"What?! If, he couldn't! Ooooooooh! DAD!" Estella chuckled as Jessie tore out of the room. She became downright hysterical when she heard a frightened yelp come from the next room, in Race's voice.

Race held up his hands in surrender. "Jessie, Ponchita, calm down. I didn't do anything..." He glared at his wife, who had just entered the room, still laughing softly. "Here you go." He handed his daughter a pristine, shrink-wrap intact box with a stylized "Q" on it.

"Ohhh, Thankyouthankyouthankyouthankyou!!" Jessie ran up to her room, clutching the state-of-the-art Questworld Consumer System (Green Edition).

"Teenagers..." Race grumbled, with a smile.

Jessie had been following the technology ever since the news first hit the Internet, and had waited for this moment for five months. Her friend Kris had been a beta tester, and even with barely any content, the system was awesome. Jessie, however, was the first one in the county to get a final system, complete with a Questnet satellite connection.

"Life is good." Jessie thought. She quickly but gently took out the earpiece visor, followed by a smooth, palm sized case that contained the custom processor, a disk drive, and a whopping gigabyte of QuestTech brand RAM. The whole system was voice operated, and there was a tiny and invisible microphone built into the earpiece. Impressive system, yet with Quest Enterprises revolutionary manufacturing and design techniques, the whole thing was relatively inexpensive. Not bad for a complete VR system that could do anything from games to three-dimensional scientific simulations. It could even do word processing, either with a virtual keyboard or pen, or pure dictation. Ostensibly, this system was to help Jessie with her homework.



Jessie busily started setting up the system, oblivious to the heavy make out session that started downstairs as soon as she left the room.

[Author's note: I regretted that last part as soon as I wrote it. Really.]

The weather wasn't as inviting in Calcutta, India, however, as a tall turbaned teenager noticed, before ducking into a nearby shop to escape the heat.

"Hey Pasha! I'm home!" Hadji Singh yelled out to his guardian. Hadji unwrapped the now-soaking turban from his head, mopping off the sweat from his forehead. Truth be told, he didn't particularly care for the turban, but he wore it both to please and honor Pasha. Underneath, his hair was styled into the "hot" look of the season, his black hair pulled into a ponytail, with the front slightly spiked. Hadji pulled off his sunglasses as he scanned the junk in Pasha's shop.

Pasha himself came out of the back room. "So, you with Lesli again?" He said with a smile. "Hope you didn't forget your job just because you're 'hopelessly, hopelessly in love.'"

"Pasha, you know me. Does the sleeping tiger ever miss a meal?"

Pasha groaned. "Man, I wish you would quit it with that proverb stuff. It's getting annoying."

"Here," Hadji said, grinning at Pasha's reaction. "I managed to lift some of the better material and equipment from those sweatshop-keepers at the northeast part of town. Serves them right. Remember, though—"

"...All profit goes to the poor, I know, I know. Sheesh. I know you're the best thief in all of Calcutta, but for once I'd like something to show for it..." Pasha trailed off, not wanting to instigate another rant (or God forbid, another proverb) from Hadji.

"Anyway," Pasha continued, "I got a surprise for you. I managed to wheedle a great price off that contact you made on the internet. And I bought it with money made from legal scrounging, so here." Pasha thrust a lightly wrapped package to Hadji. He never was comfortable with giving things, even gifts, away for free, even to the boy he thought of as a son.

"Is this what I think it is? Yes! You even got the color I wanted!" despite the fact that Hadji was well respected (even feared, by a misinformed few) by all of the street toughs of Calcutta, he could be just like a little kid sometimes.

Hadji ran to his room above Pasha's shop, eager to set up his Questworld System (Royal Purple Edition).


To be continued...


Author's Note: Whew. This part could've kept going on and on, but I decided to cut it off here. A lot of the stuff I was going to put in this part will be held off to the next part, which is already written and will be out soon. My beta readers, if you had anything to add, sorry for sending this out prematurely, but oh well.

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[ Home | Contact Author | JQHQ ]

Date: 6/18/99 8:18:48 PM Eastern Daylight Time

Category: ALT, E, implied A, some H (depends on your sense of humor. Mine is admittedly odd)

Rating: TV-Y, pretty tame, this one is... Some language, but I'm in high school, so I don't know what's acceptable anymore. Seems like everything is, nowadays. [shrug]

Archivers: Take it if ya likes it...

Disclaimer: I don't own anyone. It's too messy, in legal terms.