“Sorry, Sean,” the woman whose name was Barbara Preston said. “The news stories are getting out, but we're keeping you out of them. We're just not sure how the media would spin it.”
“Great, so my friends and family knew nothing about what I was doing here, because you were afraid of the media?” Sean asked sarcastically.
“The media has been critical of the government's reaction to the spill,” the agent whose name was Josh Moreno said. “It might sound worse if we claimed we'd recruited a superhero to help us. Who would believe it?”
“Why don't you tell us what you've done to help?” Jill asked Sean. She had not taken her disapproving eyes off her brother.
Sean smiled, but began to shake his head like he was going to refuse. He looked down for a moment, avoiding Jill's gaze, but then he recovered himself and looked back at each one of them. “Okay, how about a tour? Your escorts here were feds, though this is a state department office. Apparently, the regional EPA office is in Texas, so whenever a disaster happens over here in Louisiana they have to appropriate offices over here from somebody. Barb and Josh share a cubicle back this way. Can I get my friends into the back rooms, guys?” Sean asked.
“We can clear that,” Josh said, stopping to talk to a security guard.
Everyone else followed Sean as he played tour guide through the lobby to the nearest office doors. “I think she meant what you personally have been doing, Sean,” Roger said.
Sean did not answer until everyone was through the doors and out of the lobby. “You probably won't believe me. Even you won't believe it, Rog, but I just keep getting stronger every day. I've got abs of steel!” He interrupted himself to lift up his shirt. He had kept in shape before, but never had such a clearly defined six pack as he did now. “I can lift 1,800 pounds now,” Sean said as he lowered his shirt back into place. “Rog, I could whip Captain America in an arm-wrestling contest,” he said with a grin.
“I don't understand,” Lauren said. “What can being stronger do to help with an oil spill?”
Sean smiled, unable to resist bragging. “I can move sandbags faster than anyone else. I can carry cleaning supplies onto beaches that would normally be moved there by truck, only I don't scare the beached animals like a truck would.”
“There's more too,” Barbara Preston said, breaking in.
“Yeah,” Sean said, nodding. “You'll probably want to be sitting down for this next part.”
There was ample seating for everyone in the plain, undecorated lobby, but Sean and Barbara chose to stand. Roger, Jill, and Lauren sat in front of them like an audience. Josh had joined them and stood at the back.
“Mr. Causer is telling you the truth about his lifting capacity,” Barbara said. “We can't begin to explain how he consistently does it, but he's been repeatedly tested and gets the same results every time. What's more important to us, though, is that his body density is higher than normal too and his ability to resist underwater pressure. As you know, no divers can get down anywhere near the oil leak because it's so deep. All the work is being done by BP's robots.”
“But the robots could use a human supervisor down there,” Sean added. “That's where I come in. I've been training in a pressurized tank for a deep descent. I've already bested the world record and have time to get better if BP keeps dragging their feet.”
“Why is BP dragging their feet?” Jill asked.
“It's a territorial thing,” Sean said dismissively. “They say they've got it under control and don't need help. Yeah, right,” he added, sarcastically.
“Wow,” Roger said. “It's just like you've always wanted.”
“I know, right?” Sean said, grinning from ear to ear. “But wait – there's more. Who am I?” There was a pause where no one answered. “No, c'mon. Someone just say who I am.”
“You're Sean Causer,” Jill said.
“No. I'm Stardust.”
The three of them nearly fell out of their chairs at once. They stared hard as if their eyesight was failing them. They were sure they were looking at Sean a moment ago. Now they couldn't be sure, somehow. He still had features that resembled Sean, but it was like looking at someone you just met and thinking, 'gee, that person looks a lot like Sean', but knowing it was not him. Jill stood up first and moved closer. She walked slowly around the man in front of her, who patiently looked back and smiled. “You're who...?” she asked.
“Relax, I'm also Sean Causer,” Stardust said and, as soon as he did, everyone could recognize him as Sean again.
“That was so... weird,” Roger said.
“What just happened?” Lauren asked. She still could not stop staring at Sean and she seemed to be unconsciously gripping Roger's arm while she stared.
“As far as we can understand it,” Barbara explained, “Mr. Causer is somehow instantly mass-hypnotizing anyone around him.”
“Cool, huh?” Sean said. “If I'd said I was Popeye the Sailor, you might have thought I was Popeye the Sailor. It only seems to work to fool the part of the brain that recognizes people and the more I believe it the more believable it is for others.”
“Sean... for a minute there I couldn't even tell if you were a guy or a girl.”
Sean winced. “Ouch. Okay, gonna have to work on this power some more.”
“You just mind-controlled us?” Jill said, ignoring their banter and physically recoiling from her brother as the realization struck her. “I think I'm going to be sick.”
Man Thing by Jim Cheung
19 hours ago