The Phil Phorce is a fictional periodical featuring my favorite characters from my own writing. It comes out in episodes, once every three months or so. To find out more and to read previous episodes, please go to these two pages: About the Phils and the Phil Phorce. Please enjoy Phil Phorce, Episode 6: Soap Opera.
“Sir, do you have an appointment?” The secretary at the Dyslex Soap Company looked at the crowd of Blanks standing behind Percival and frowned at her schedule. “Do any of you have appointments?”
“Your boss has an appointment,” said Percival, narrowing his eyes; “with justice.”
The secretary didn’t say anything as the Blanks filed past her desk.
“Melodramatic, don’t you think?” asked Jordan.
“I spent the whole ride over here thinking up that phrase,” said Percival. “I thought it was rather good.”
They marched through a maze of occupied cubicles. Every so often, someone would appear in a doorway, but they were otherwise ignored.
“When you said you were doing a raid, I thought it was going to be a secretive sort of thing,” said Percival.
“We always do our raids in broad daylight,” said Jordan. “It keeps us from tripping over things in the dark.”
“Not very covert, though.”
“No, of course not. But when you decide to kidnap two innocent men from one of the most dedicated teams in the world, do you really expect retaliation to be subtle?”
“I guess not,” said Percival.
Jordan pointed down the hall to the large office at the end. “Is that him? The head honcho?”
“As head honcho-ey as you get,” said Percival.
Jordan kicked the door open and strode in, planting his hands on the desk and getting right in Marcus Callaway’s face. “Where are my men?” he shouted.
“Now who’s being melodramatic?” muttered Percival.
“What are you talking about?” Marcus’s eyes widened in recognition as he saw Percival over Jordan’s shoulder. “So you were investigating me!”
Jordan slapped the desk, rattling the paperweights. “Where are they?”
“I don’t know who you’re talking about!”
“Two men under my command disintegrated because of your stupid soap, and I want to know what happened!” Jordan slapped the desk again.
Percival grabbed his shoulder and pulled him back. “Why are you so angry? Why are you even doing this much to get those men back? Can’t you just make some more to replace them?”
“We aren’t machines, Percival,” said Jordan, still staring at Marcus. “You don’t think of us as human, but we aren’t much different. We live and think exactly the same as you do. The only difference is that we are forced to accept our destinies, unlike humans, who can choose. We don’t much identify with heroic movies in that respect—the choice to turn back was never ours.”
“But still, if those two men have destinies yet to fulfill, nothing can stop them in the end. Why not just leave them here? They’ll find a way to do what they’re supposed to eventually.”
Jordan whirled around and thrust out his chin, glaring at Percival. “Do you not understand what we do? We aren’t part of the Blanks just so we can find our destinies—we’re part of the Blanks to be part of a community of people just like us. We don’t do what we do so we can die early—we do what we do to gain satisfaction that when we die, we won’t have completed just one destiny, but many. We know we’re destined to die eventually. That’s why we came together, so we could be as effective as we can in the meantime. This is our one choice, our one chance! Humans like you can choose whether to do good or do evil, or do nothing, until you die. We don’t have that luxury, so we make the one choice we can make. We know we all have deaths worth dying—why not live a life worth living?” His voice dropped to a hiss. “This man had a family. A wife and two kids. The boy— he had parents too. Do you want to leave them to who knows what fate?”
Percival looked away from Jordan in shame, but the rest of the Blanks were glaring at him too. He swallowed. When he spoke, his voice cracked. “I’m sorry.”
“It doesn’t matter,” said Jordan. “I would save my men whether you advised against it or not.” He stepped around Percival and leaned over the desk toward Marcus. When he spoke, his voice was terribly soft. “You did this to my men, and I need to know where you have them and where your equipment is.”
Marcus shook his head. “We make soap, that’s all. I have no idea what— What are you doing?”
“Just looking,” said Jordan, holding up a sample packet of dragonwort soap. “Dragonwort… a strange plant to make soap from. It’s funny—when I first saw this, I thought it said ‘teleport’. Well, if you’re right and it’s harmless, would you try it for me?” He turned to his men. “Handcuff him.”
Marcus was pale as they zip-tied his hands in front of him.
Jordan took a pair of scissors from the desk and snipped off the top. “What a nice color, though. I’ve always loved this shade of green.” He tipped the packet toward Marcus’s hands.
The closer he got, the faster Marcus breathed.
Jordan stopped abruptly and turned to Percival. “How long do you think it will take him to dissolve completely if I only use a drop?” He turned back to Marcus. “You might not even dissolve—just pins and needles all through your fingertips. Perhaps you’ll lose a finger, and it’ll float around in subatomic particles until some unlucky machine attracts it and reforms it. You might even feel the finger after it reappears, wiggling around like a little lost worm.”
Marcus swallowed hard. All eyes in the room were glued on the tiny drop of green soap slowly rolling out of the package. It lowered itself on a flimsy strand of liquid, then dropped.
At the last moment, Jordan flicked his hand sideways, sending the drop onto the desk instead of Marcus’s hands. Marcus whimpered.
“Oops, clumsy of me,” said Jordan. “Of course, if you can happen to remember making products like this, you might be able to save yourself a lot of discomfort. If you could tell us where the receiver is, you might even live.” He appeared to consider for a moment, then shook his head. “No guarantees, though. Who wants to see this man disappear into dust?”
All the Blanks raised their hands. Percival did too. He had to admit, he was curious about this process.
“Okay, then,” said Jordan, squeezing the packet until another drop rolled out. “Painful demise it is.”
“They were just tests,” said Marcus quickly, staring at the drop of soap. “We needed to see if this soap actually worked, and we didn’t want to test it on our own people.”
“I wonder why not,” said Jordan.
“Look, I didn’t know,” said Marcus. “We knew you were customers, but we didn’t think you were FBI.”
“That would be my fault,” said Percival. “I told him we were federal agents the first time I was here.”
“You mean… you’re not?” Marcus frowned. “I’m going to put you in jail for assaulting me in my own workplace!”
“And what about abducting two men? Do you think someone could go to jail for that?”
“Now, where is that receiver?” asked Jordan, again tipping the soap package toward his hands.
“In the basement!” squeaked Marcus.
“Thanks,” said Jordan. He waved the package in Marcus’s face, sending several drops spinning quite close to his ear. “You have made the right decision.” He tossed the soap into the trash can. “Let’s find the basement and shut down this receiver.”