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A Terrible Idea 9

Jennifer had her staff bring in a reinforced seat, in order to accommodate her next interviewee.

His name was Caine, and he was a huge fucking asshole. He wasn’t necessarily the type of villain who went after any individual hero — hell no. He was just a general fucker-uper.

If he went into a bar? You could be sure as hell he’d fuck it up. If he saw a hero fighting another villain? Well, he’d jump in and fuck ‘em both up, because why not?

When they caught him, he had so many crimes on his rap sheet they were like, “Holy shit you’re like the Stephen King of criminals. By which I mean PROLIFIC as FUCK.”

(Of course detectives don’t usually talk like that when looking at rap sheets. But imagine if they did. Imagine. If. They. Did.)

Four security guards brought Caine in. They all seemed to be calm, but Jennifer imagined they weren’t. Caine had a terrifying combination of super strength and telepathy, an odd mix that made him threatening on multiple levels.

Still, Jennifer had dealt with telepaths before. And so, as Caine lumbered into the room, she kept her mind focused on a koan: First there is a mountain, then there is no mountain. Then there is.

It was an old trick she’d learned from a mentor of hers. You could just use any old phrase or saying, sure, but the whole point of a koan was that you were supposed to repeat it in your head over and over again. The more you repeated it, the more meaning you were supposed to derive from it. In Zen Buddhism, practitioners repeated koans in their head for the purpose of revealing layers and layers of meaning. Yet for all the complexity of the phrase, it was still easy to remember.

This wouldn’t have worked on all telepaths, of course, because there were so many different ways to think (and to have those thoughts interpreted): through pictures, feelings, subconscious rumblings, and, yes, words.

Caine could only read the thoughts that people formed through words — their stream of consciousness, essentially — which left him particularly vulnerable to the koan method.

And so, as he sat down, Jennifer thought: First there is a mountain, then there is no mountain. Then there is.

“The hell you thinking about?” Caine asked.

“The real question is, what can I do for you?”

First there is a mountain, then there is no mountain. Then there is.

“You can’t do shit for me.” Caine leaned back in the chair, scowl on his face. “I got a life sentence, lady.” First there is a mountain, then there is no mountain. Then there is.

“You also have a daughter,” Jennifer said. “She doesn’t like visiting you in here much, but I could give you weekend passes to go and see her.” She explained everything else to him: about the team and their mission. But it didn’t matter, not to the question of whether Caine would agree to join them or not.

Jennifer had something Caine wanted. He’d play by her rules to get it.

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