By Javier "Bloodstone" Palomo

January 1, 2039

At exactly 0221 EST Gabriel Price sat bolt upright and reached for a phone that wasn't even ringing yet, knocking over a half empty bottle of pills in the process. As it turned out, the sound that had disturbed him was all in his head. For Gabriel this was not unusual. He was completely awake, completely alert and he could still hear the ringing clear as crystal.

Picking up his pills, he placed them back where they belonged and noted the time. "Work related," he muttered to himself as he scanned the room. At this hour, it better be. If this had anything to do with Grace's new boyfriend there would be hell to pay. He closed his eyes once more, though he had no intention of going back to sleep. Even if he wanted to, the noise would keep him up.

A familiar shiver raced down his spine as he pressed the cold, metal fingers of his right hand against his temple. His instructors at Langley always chided him for the amateurish gesture, but he wasn't on the job right now and it helped him concentrate for some reason. He searched the area for any hint of mental activity, expanding his consciousness outward in an invisible globe of pulsating psychic awareness. In a fashion not unlike that of conventional radar, he received two return pings. As expected, there were only three sentient minds in the apartment, his and the kids. Based on the theta patterns he perceived from the scan, Grace and Adam were both fast asleep. Opening his eyes, he let the globe collapse. The ringing was still there and was in fact growing louder....

Raising his arms over his head to stretch, he spared a glance at the other side of the bed. It was empty, as usual, as it had been for the past four years. It really didn't make sense that he had sold the house and most of her things, but kept their bed. Just as he started to reminisce about how much he missed her, the noise in his head fell silent. His hand shot out to grab the phone again and he hit TALK before it could finish the first ring.

"This is Price."

"Congratulations kid, you've just been promoted. See you at the office. Happy New Year."

"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir." The other end of the line went dead, so he simply said "Happy New Year to you too, sir," to no one in particular. Gabriel looked at the clock again as he got up to get dressed. 2039 had only been here for two hours and twenty-four minutes and he already hated it.

Before he left the apartment, he recorded a quick video message for the kids. Standard stuff really; business trip, don't know when I'm coming back, I'll call in the morning. He hated lying to them, but at this point in his career it was probably for the best. As far as they knew, their old man was just some wage-slave salesman that was on call 24/7.

The truth of the matter was that he worked for the Bureau of Esper Affairs. On the face of things, the BEA was just another federal agency, an obscure acronym that most people had never even heard of. That was to be expected however, since they specialized in a field that comprised less then three percent of the world population. Compared to government divisions like the CIA or the FBI, the Bureau was a rather small organization. But, when your job is to research, monitor and control an asset as priceless as the nation's active psychics, you command a certain degree of respect no matter how small your operation.

Even in a sprawl like the DC metroplex, the traffic wasn't too bad at 0230. The drive in would be quick, but that still gave Gabriel time to think. It wasn't very often that he got a call directly from the boss. It also wasn't very common for him to have to report to the home office. Normally his handler would assign him his ops via secure channels. And what was this talk about a promotion? He wasn't even up for a review for another five months.

Before long, he arrived at the bureau. While he didn't exactly hate coming here, it wasn't a picnic either. It would probably take him longer to pass through all the security protocols then it had to drive in. As soon as he set foot on the property he got the feeling he was being watched, which he knew from experience was true. To make matters worse, the place literally gave him a headache.

All espers are sensitive to psychic energies being used around them. Unfortunately, the sensation that went along with this ability could best be described as someone jabbing a finger in your frontal lobe. The more powerful the psychic energies, the more pressure you felt. In most cases, for your average esper, this sort of thing would just be uncomfortable. On rare occasions, the sensation might be outright painful, but that usually only happened when in the presence of truly vast psychic power.

However, Gabriel was a lot more sensitive then your average esper. Given what he did for a living, this was usually a blessing. Here and now, it was more of a curse. The bureau was a veritable hotspot of psychic sensations. The combination of so many espers working in such relatively close proximity, as well as the accumulated residual energies seemed to give the building a presence of it's own. He preemptively popped two painkillers before walking through the front door.

He hadn't made it half way to the front desk before a mild wave of nausea hit him, but he tried not to let it show. The guard looked him up and down before asking him to state his name and business.

"Gabriel Price, here to seem Mr. Khan," he said sharply.

"He's expecting you." The guard nodded in the direction of an elevator, as if Gabriel didn't know the way. "Go on down."

The elevator required a handprint and retinal scan. Gabriel removed the glove from his left hand and pressed his left eye up to the scanner. The door opened and, as he crossed the threshold, the sensors in the elevator did a complete body scan. Sitting in some security room some guard was now privy to such things as where he had his pistol holstered, how many knives he had on him, the fact that he kept his wedding ring on the same chain as his dog tags and that most of his right side from the waist up was no longer flesh and bone. Gabriel punched the button for subbasement D, all the while thinking to himself how old fashioned it was to scan someone like him for weapons. It wasn't like most of the agents in his division actually needed weapons to do their job.

The elevator chimed to mark his decent. After the fourth, he came to a stop. As the door slid open, he heard a familiar voice. "Right on time."

"Sir," he said as he looked down at the small, dark skinned man in front of him. Yaseen Khan was sixty-eight years old, the head of the division and one of the only men in the world that Gabriel found legitimately intimidating. In his line of work, he'd met many powerful espers, most of the time in less then ideal circumstances. But if the rumors about the boss were true, none of them were anywhere near as scary.

"Walk with me kid, " Yaseen said as he turned to leave. Gabriel fell silently into step. They passed by the operations center, which even at this hour was buzzing with activity. Being a handler was a 24/7 job, just like being an agent. There were close to thirty men and women in that room and all of them looked busy, each of them feeding vital intel to operatives in the field.

"You're looking good kid." Mr. Khan commented. "How's the family?"

"They're good, sir. Adam's been doing well in school," he said with pride. Then, with a grin he added, "He's really tearing up the mat this season. 7-1-0. He lost on points; needs to tighten up his rides more. But he's going down state for sure."

Yaseen chuckled slightly. "That boy's a natural. Like father like son. How about your daughter... um..."

"Grace, sir. She's doing alright," he said. The truth was, he only had the vaguest idea how she was these days. She was fifteen and really didn't open up to him much anymore. "She's at that age."

"I remember that age," Yaseen said with a grin as they rounded a corner. Agent Flores came into view at the end of the hall, standing guard in front of the main conference room. She was an attractive woman, with dark features and a nice athletic build, but Gabriel hated having to get this close to her. She had a tendency to overdo it with the perfume and, if that wasn't enough to make his eyes water, she was also one of the more powerful psychokinetics in the division. She stepped aside to let Mr. Khan and him pass, then took up her position again before the door cold even swing closed.

The conference room held a long table, twenty chairs and one other occupant, whom Gabriel did not recognize. Gabriel could tell immediately that he was a flatscan, a baseline human with no esper abilities to speak of. He had a pale complexion and looked young, probably in his early twenties. His dirty blond hair was cut medium length on the left side, but shaved bare on the right, exposing an ear with half a dozen piercings. A short cable ran from an outlet in the center of the table directly to a cybernetic datajack above that ear. The man's eyes were shut tight and his head swayed back and forth erratically. He wasn't even aware that anyone had entered the room until Mr. Khan loudly cleared his throat, at which point his neon blue cyber eyes fluttered open in surprise. He tried to stand up, but was jerked awkwardly off balance by the cord stuck in his head.

"Gabriel Price," Mr. Khan said as the young man disconnected himself, "this is Quentin Quatermain. He's going to be your handler for this operation" This news drew a raised eyebrow from Gabriel, but if the kid noticed, it did nothing to blunt his enthusiasm.

"That's right, but everyone hereabouts calls me Q2," Quentin exclaimed with an unmistakably British accent. He stuck his hand out excitedly, which Gabriel took as Quentin said, "It's a real pleasure meeting you sir, despite the conditions. But don't you worry none, I've read all your files and I'm up to date on everything."

The kid continued to ramble, letting out a slight chuckle as he said "Man, I thought Cockrum and me had seen some shit, but boy was I wrong. Scary stuff all that. I'm just glad you're on our side!" he said with a wink and a smile. When he noticed Gabriel wasn't smiling he looked down at the gloved hand he was still shaking. "Oh hey, is this the replacement or is that your other one? I read it, but I can't for the life of me remember. You know, your files say you lost one but it doesn't exactly say..."

"Yeah, it's this one, " Gabriel interrupted with a squeeze. For a moment, he contemplated disabling the cybernetic overrides, but he was sure the boss wouldn't approve of him breaking any bones. He settled for the setting that simulated his normal grip strength, which was still more then enough to make Quentin squirm. When he let go and the kid pulled back and shook his hand as if it were on fire. Oddly, he looked more in awe then in pain.

"Now that you boys have met," said Mr. Khan, "Please have a seat so we can get down to business." They sat down side by side, the boss taking a seat directly opposite theirs. Quentin jacked himself back into the network, as the boss motioned and said "Quentin, the lights if you please."

The room dimmed. A trid projector in the ceiling cast a life sized, three-dimensional image of a man on the table between them. "You recognize him of course," the boss said plainly.

"Yes sir," Gabriel answered. "Captain James Cockrum. We never worked together, but he's one of the divisions top agents."

"Was," the boss corrected. "Cockrum has been on assignment in Hong Kong for the past three months. This morning, at 0115 EST, his bio readings went off-line. We've been unable to contact him via com or telepathy. Furthermore, we haven't been able to locate him via cranial implants." The boss paused for a moment to let this info sink in. The hologram changed into a series of photos of a nice residential unit. "This is Cockrum's dwelling in Hong Kong. Our last reading on him indicates that he was there before we lost contact."

"I assume we've already conducted a scan using building surveillance," Gabriel stated. The boss looked over at Quentin.

"Yeah, of course. First thing I tried when I couldn't raise him on the headset." The hologram changed again, showing some type of grid pattern. "Problem is, it's all off-line at the moment. As you can see here, HK electric says the flats got power, so most likely someone's gone and shut it all down." The image changed again, this time showing security footage from Cockrum's apartment. Cockrum was asleep, despite the fact it was daytime. Quentin explained, "He was out all night, working the case. Cameras and mikes go dead about two minutes before his biometrics go black, so at this point we got no idea what happened, but obviously we're expecting the worst. Jamie was the only agent we had physically assigned to HK until now." He glanced over at Gabriel.

"What was Cockrum's assignment?" Gabriel asked.

"I'm afraid that's need to know, kid," answered the boss.

Gabriel considered the next question carefully. He figured he already knew the answer. The boss wouldn't have gotten him out of bed otherwise, but he also hadn't stated that this would be that type of op yet. "Why send me, sir?"

"Because we don't know if Cockrum is dead. If he's been compromised, you and what's in that head of yours are our best chance of locating him." The boss paused, looking from Gabriel to Quentin and back again. "If he's gone rogue, you're the best man for that job too."

Gabriel nodded grimly. This very well could be that type of op. "Understood, sir."

What a hell of a way to be promoted.

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