Ant leaned on his cane for support. It irritated him that he even had to use a cane but he also recognized as much as he fussed about using one he still needed it. He had been out of commission for far too long and was anxious to get back to work. The general didn’t clear him for active duty so he decided this was a perfect time to initiate his plan. He had painstakingly assembled his team for one specific mission. Now it was time to implement it.
He walked into the room where his team patiently waited for him.
Cooper stood in the corner and nodded at him. While he was in the hospital, they had worked out this presentation. The time had come to lay the cards out on the table and get everyone on the same page.
“Thanks for coming everyone,” he grunted and sat heavily in a chair.
“Of course,” Al said. “Although I’m a little surprised the general has you back at work so soon.” She sized him up.
Ant cleared his throat and looked at Cooper. “Our next target is a man by the name of Jacob Peterson.” He took some photos out of a file and laid them on the table.
“Wow,” Al said. “How old is he?”
“As far as can be determined, he is an octogenarian. It is believed he has experimented with robotics possibly other extreme measures to preserve life. Personally, I think he is just too evil to die.”
Malone nodded his head. “So, a real people person, eh?”
“Here is a list of known and suspected victims,” Ant handed out a lengthy list of names.
“A socialite?” Malone asked and continued to look down the list of names. “Wait, Tony Layton and Elizabeth Baldwin?” He looked at Cooper.
Al looked at Cooper. “Your uncle and mom were both his victims?”
Cooper pursed his lips together. “It looks that way.”
“You told me about your mom, you didn’t tell me about your uncle.”
“I just found out.”
Al looked back down at the list and then at the photos on the table. “This is the guy at the hotel? Alias Clyde Jericho?” She waited for Ant to respond. “This is the guy that shot you?”
Malone looked at Ant quickly.
“It is,” Ant answered slowly.
“No,” Al pushed the photos away. “This isn’t a mission, it’s a personal vendetta. You know what happens when it gets personal like this? You make mistakes. People get hurt,” she stood up. “Partners get hurt.”
Ant nodded. “I know what you went through with your last partner. Really, I won’t blame you if you walk out that door. But before you do, hear me out.”
She looked at the door then back at him. “Go ahead.”
“Agent Patrick, I handpicked you and Baldwin there for this specific mission. Your skills and abilities are exactly what this team needs to accomplish this particular mission.”
She didn’t look convinced.
“What about me?” Malone asked. “Was I handpicked for your team?”
Ant looked down at his paperwork. “Not by me.”
Malone’s brow furrowed. “Ouch, that hurt just a little bit.”
Ant ignored his comment and moved on. “I had to wait until we were completely bonded as a team. Baldwin over there,” he nodded at Cooper, “he was the holdout.”
Cooper shrugged his shoulders.
“So, the outsider, the last pick bonded before your pick?” Malone asked and leaned back in his chair with a smile.
Ant continued to ignore him. “Baldwin sure didn’t act like a team member. So, I had to wait until he could put our team ahead of his personal interests.”
“And you think he can now?” Al asked looking at Cooper skeptically.
“He already did,” Ant said with a trace of a smile. “You see, he has a personal interest in Jacob Peterson…”
“His mom,” she said.
“Oh, it’s more than that. But I’ll leave that to him to explain. I’ll just sum up and say he put his personal interest aside and helped you with the bomb and then he came with me to the hospital.”
Her look at Cooper softened.
“He is finally on Team Ant,” Ant said. “Aren’t you?”
Cooper nodded his head. “I am.”
Al looked at Cooper then at the door. Then back at Cooper. “Okay, fine,” she sat back down. “I’m not saying I’m in yet. I need more information. What’s the intel?”
“It all starts with the Samson Pill,” Ant said and slid another paper from the file onto the table.
“What?” Al asked. “That’s a myth.”
“It’s no myth,” Cooper said.
“How do you know?” Al asked looking at him.
Cooper looked at Ant who nodded his head for encouragement. “Because it is a part of me. I took the Samson Pill.”
“Guys, what is the Samson Pill?” Malone asked.
“That’s ridiculous,” Al said.
Ant tapped on the paper he just laid on the table. “Twenty-five years ago, a man by the name of Henry Buttlefeld created the Samson Pill.”
“Guys,” Malone started again.
“The Samson Pill was supposed to be some kind of miracle drug. Fixes your flaws. Makes you superhuman.” She sized up Cooper. “No offense, but you don’t look like any kind of superman to me.”
“I found this pill when I was young and I swallowed it,” Cooper didn’t really want to get into too much detail. It didn’t seem important to tell them it was an accident.
“You found a pill and just swallowed it?”
“I was only eight years old!”
“Well, I hope the pill helped you become smarter than that. Who pops a pill they just find?” she sat back in her chair and seemed to be enjoying the grilling.
Cooper started to defend himself.
“What kind of flaws?” Malone interrupted. “Wait, is that what happened to your asthma?”
“And your lactose intolerance?”
Cooper nodded again.
“And is that when you became all confident and smart and…you know, stuff?”
“And built?” he flexed his biceps.
“Wait, are you saying this is true? The Samson Pill really exists and you swallowed it when you were a kid?” Al asked leaning forward again.
“Yes, and yes,” Cooper answered.
“The Samson Pill exists.” Al said slowly.
“Existed. The only known one was consumed by Baldwin here. It has affected every aspect of his life. Even the way he wears his hair,” Ant chuckled.
Malone and Al looked at Cooper. “I can’t explain it but there does seem to be some kind of connection between my cognitive abilities and the length of my hair. This is the best length for my hair for me to function at my best. I grew it out once during a hippie faze when I was in France.”
“I remember that,” Malone said slamming his palm on the table and causing Al to jump. “You were so neurotic and edgy and annoying,” he laughed. “Just go, go, go all the time. And you had so many ideas. It truly was annoying.”
“I can imagine,” Al said.
“One time in high school some football players shaved my head,” Cooper explained. “That was also a miserable time. I felt like I was in a fog. I couldn’t concentrate, couldn’t focus.”
Al was surprised to find out Cooper wasn’t popular in school. She just assumed he was always some popular pretty boy.
“No, this is the most comfortable length. I can get things done, have clarity of thought, but can turn things off up here,” he tapped his forehead with his index finger “when I need to.”
Al and Malone sat quietly pondering.
“It’s a lot to take in,” Ant said. “But if we are going to be a strong team, we need to be able to trust each other. We have to get everyone in the know. No secrets. No hidden agenda.”
“Well, that’s a lot to process,” Al said looking over the photos and papers on the table. “Is that everything?”
Cooper looked at Ant.
“There’s probably one more thing you should know,” Ant said. “My birthname is Anthony Layton. I’m Cooper’s uncle and I am responsible for him getting his hands on the pill.”
Malone’s jaw dropped.
“Okay,” Al said slowly. “Maybe we need to back up and go over a few more details before we get to the actual plan.”