Individuals: The Director of Death

Mark of a New Era

It had been a while since the last assembly; since the last time a new Individual's spark had awakened. Days were quiet now. No more nights of staying up late or working through documents. No more reports that needed filing or writing. Yes, when was the last time since a call was given to alert the coming of a new Individual? How long ago was it since they spoke about what abilities these children had?

Children… They were the real reason why this world was so full of Individuals. The reason for so many meetings and assemblies. Yes, the last assembly was so long ago that many thought there would never be another one again – that these Individual children were already coming to extinction.

But Arthur Massimo always believed there were some of them left, just waiting to awaken that special spark. And as he made his way to the conference room, he concealed the pride he felt that he was right. No one else believed that there were others still roaming, but he never doubted them. He knew they would come up sooner or later. It was just a matter of time before one appeared.

Massimo stopped before two well-polished steel doors. In his early days, these had been a pair of finely-carved wooden doors. But recent influence from the Mideans had changed some things.

Mideans. Mortals neither Individual nor keeper.

As if on cue, the doors whirred to life. They slid open, allowing Massimo to pass.

The others were already gathered around the long table, some looking thoughtful and disturbed, others fine but quiet. Obviously, the news that a newly recruited Individual had appeared wasn't pleasing to them. It never was. Even Massimo himself knew that.

At the end of the table sat the head director of the council. Old and experienced as he was, Lord Darius had recruited and trained several Individuals during his glory days. Many looked up to him, Massimo being only one of many. It had been a while since anyone had seen Darius in person. In those days, there was laughter in his eyes and the old smirk on his face. Now, he was different. His smooth hair was gray with age, and he was hardly recognizable as the old head director, healthy and young before time caught up with him.

Massimo took his place three seats to the right from Darius. Massimo was only in his late twenties – exactly twenty years old when he was asked to join the council. It hadn't been thatlong ago, had it?

Once everyone was settled in after a few minutes, the first of the council members – Jonathan Bridge, a man of very clean and precise features – stood up and addressed his fellow members.

"This is a very rough time for all of us especially since a new Individual has come up for the first time in a long time," said Bridge. "It's never easy: recruiting and covering up any evidence left behind. But there is something you should know."

He held up his hand. In it was a rather thick folder with a few ends of white paper and files sticking out. Massimo wondered what was contained in it. The way it was arranged made it apparent that this had been a rushed project. Files for this new recruit, perhaps?

"The time we are in will be a new era," Bridge continued. "It may be hard to believe, but more will be recruited into the Individual life. The boy we have here marks that era. And for that, he will be expected to have a life just like he deserves. He is young, and we cannot burden him as children his age in the ungifted realm are not."

The ungifted realm… A world full of those who know nothing about Individuals. Full of mortal people or the Mideans who considered Individuals as outsiders. A world parallel to their own. How long ago had he been to their world? Cities of stone, cars that made too much noise, people with faces so serious that they look as if they might walk over you if you didn't move. Massimo knew it was a world not so different from theirs, yet the people in it would think otherwise.

"Massimo," Bridge said so suddenly that Massimo started.

Why was Bridge suddenly addressing him in front of everyone?

Oh, the look Bridge was giving him! Confused, serious, yet so in control. He handed Massimo the folder, and, as he did, Massimo noticed his slightly shaking hands. "You're in charge of the new recruit," he said as Massimo scanned through the pages. "You were the one who believed that there were still Individuals left. And, as I've heard, you haven't yet led an assignment on new recruits since you joined the council. Everything you might need to know is in there."

In the years he had spent here, Massimo learned that when somebody said you were in charge, you had no choice but to accept it. An assignment… Massimo had always imagined himself leading one, but genuinely leading one was an entirely different story. Suppose he failed? Oh, he would never forgive himself.

Massimo landed on the profile of this new Individual. "Hajime Clark?" he read from the page, raising an eyebrow at the unique name. How strange…

"It's said Ha-ji-mey." Bridge corrected politely. "You'll take charge of him."

"How do I find the boy?" There wasn't a picture to be found.

"I think you'll find him over there." Bridge gestured to the guarded door behind Darius.

Murmuring started to arouse. Others glanced at one another in surprise. An Individual recruited so soon? How? No one thought that it was possible for them to recruit this Individual so quickly, but no one dared pointing that out in front of the council. Of course, who would? Sometimes those answers were better left unsaid.

Darius clapped his hands. The whole room abruptly fell silent. The head director stood up slowly, allowing bones as old as his to take comfort in standing, and looked at everyone slowly one by one. He seemed to rest his eyes on Massimo for the longest. Or was that just his imagination?

"I just want to remind you why you are here," said Darius in a cracked voice. When was the last time he had spoken in front of a crowd? "We are here to teach and protect, not to hunt. We do not take these Individuals away because of their abilities, but because we do not want their exposure to the Midean world and because we want them to learn. Some of you remember that, but some of you have forgotten." He paused for a few moments, sighed and then waved a dismissive hand at them. "Now, you're all free to go. This assembly's over. You will be alerted for the next one. Expect it to be soon."

There was a short pause to reflect on the head director's words before the other members of council stood to resume their other tasks. Massimo stood and started to join the exiting members as well, but a gesture from Bridge made him stay where he was.

The room was cleared in a matter of seconds that soon only Darius, Bridge, Massimo and a guard standing by the door were left.

"Where's the boy?" Massimo asked when the silence embraced them all.

Bridge signaled to one of the guards who, without a word, opened the door. Bridge walked into it, disappeared and came back out carrying a little boy who looked of about only a year or two in age.

A messy head of brown hair and bright eyes. The little boy looked so innocent and happy, hardly knowing where he was or why he was there…

"This is Hajime Clark?" Massimo couldn't hide his surprise. A baby. This newly recruited Individual was a baby?

Darius nodded. "The keepers informed us that his parents had just found out about their boy's unique abilities earlier this morning. They tried to tell the couple their son wasn't dangerous, that perhaps they should wait for the right time before turning him in, but…"

Bridge sighed. "It was pointless arguing with them. But we knew, sooner or later, that we'd have to acquire the boy…"

Massimo stared at little Hajime. He didn't expect such a young child to have awakened his spark at such an age. Individuals were Individuals, no matter how old they were.

Oh, children…

"What's his spark?" Massimo asked. The spark of an Individual always intrigued Massimo; the spark was the only reason Individuals were separated from the Mideans.

"Duplication. The boy cloned himself while his mother was preparing breakfast. According to her, she almost had a heart attack after she saw two of her sons," Darius replied. "David Clark is the boy's father. An Individual as well. Sadly, he failed to tell his wife about this world. She never knew that David is an Individual." He paused. "She still doesn't."

Bridge looked at the boy as he was holding him in his arms. Massimo could see the concern in his dark eyes when he looked at him. "We need you, Arthur," he said in a voice that almost gave away pleading. "This boy needs you."

Massimo looked at the now-orphaned child. Orphaned… It was sad to think that so many shared the same fate. The child looked at him with innocent eyes for a moment and then yawned. How could this one need him?

He stared at the boy for one more moment before nodding. "I'll do it."

Darius smiled. The old happiness in his eyes returned, even for just a moment. "You won't regret this, Arthur," he said softly. "Who knows? Maybe this boy will grow to become a big part of your life."

Massimo took the Hajime from Bridge, the boy yawning once more and falling asleep in his arms. He looked at the boy again, admiringly this time. If a boy as young as this could awaken his spark, what more hundreds of young ones out there?

"I assume we can count on you to never reveal who this boy's parents really are," said Bridge. It sounded more like an order than a question.

Massimo merely nodded in response.

Darius stood up suddenly. "I want you to take that child as your own, Arthur," he said in a soft voice. "If Mideans will somehow find out he's the child of David and Anna Clark, then everything we've ever worked for will fail. Don't let him wander to the world until he's ready."

Massimo nodded, though not as confident as he intended. "Of course, my lord."

Darius smiled, looking content. He walked past Massimo and Bridge. "You are two of my most trusted keepers," he said as the doors slid open to let him through. "I know you will not let me down."

And with that, the doors closed behind him, leaving Massimo with Bridge and the child Hajime. Just one question kept repeating in Massimo's head: how would he raise an Individual child?

"Jonathan," said Massimo, turning to look at him.

Bridge raised an eyebrow expectantly.

Massimo shifted the boy Hajime into a better position. "Has everything been cleared by the keepers already?"

"Yes, quite harder than we thought it would go," replied Bridge a little reluctantly. It wasn't an easy thing for him to admit such things when everyone knew that Bridge was in charge of the keepers. "His parents refused to let us take them to our realm. Well, David didn't mind it actually, but Anna did. She knew nothing of this world, and she agreed to have her memories of the boy taken away from her."

Massimo nodded sadly. Another obstacle that proved hardship to being a keeper…

Both Bridge and Massimo were keepers, colleagues, and all for as long as they could remember. They knew their responsibilities to keep the world of Individuals and other fellow keepers a secret from the ungifted realm of Mideans, thus earning their name. Keepers had no special abilities like Individuals themselves, but their task was harder than most tasks in the Individual realm. But then again, even the smallest secrets back in the Midean world were hard to keep. How much more secrets about people with unnatural abilities? Massimo even thought of keepers as the mortals in their realm. Yes, they seemed to be the inferior ones compared to the people whose secrets they were protecting…

Bridge was looking intently at Massimo. What a look he was giving him! "I know that's not the question you meant to ask me, Arthur," he said.

Massimo sighed. As always, his comrade knew him better than what he tried to believe. "I don't know, Jonathan. Lord Darius asked me to raise this boy as if he were my own. But how can I raise an Individual child? Or even a child for that matter? I've never had the experience in raising one, and now I have to do so alone."

"I understand, Arthur. But I think it would be best to trust Lord Darius as he trusts us." Bridge was looking at the sleeping child in Massimo's arms. "After all, he trusts you just as much as he trusts me."

"But why couldn't this responsibility be given to you instead?"

At first, there came no reply, but then Bridge sighed, his clean and precise demeanor suddenly dropping. For a moment, Jonathan Bridge was just a man, not the strong-willed leader he had made everyone see. "I could never be a parent to this boy when I'm always away on duty. What's the point of handing him to me when it'll just be the same: leaving him here alone like his parents left him?"

It was a time of great truth between them. Though he and Bridge already shared a close bond, he could feel that somehow they were doing something they had never done before – admitting hardships. What strange things being a keeper did to you.

Bridge smiled, despite of what he said. "Besides, this boy needs you more than anyone else in the Council. Someday, you'll find a good enough reason why. For now, go and have the day off. Spend some time with your new…son."

Massimo obeyed, walking out when the two doors slid open for him and the sleeping boy.

And as he walked further down the corridor, he couldn't help but think about soon-to-be-called Hajime Massimo.