15 Years Ago
“Wow, way to go, stupid. Stupid idiot!”
“Am not! I did just fine.”
“Nuh uh.” A little girl, with olive skin and long black hair, thrust a sheet of paper into the face of the boy she was talking to. “See? I got perfect!”
The boy scowled and shoved her away. “So? I passed. I’m not stupid!”
“There are, like, five questions, stupid! And they’re so easy! Everyone else got perfect too, you know!”
“What? No! Danielle missed some, too!”
“Yeah, that’s ‘cause she’s stupid, too!” The girl stuck her tongue out. “Stupid Mote!”
“Stop it, Kate!” Mote snapped at her. “I did fine! The rest of the class scored like me, too!”
“What’s going on in here?”
Mote and Kate looked to their left, where an older man had just entered the room. His face bore the beginnings of some wrinkles and his hair was graying, but he still stood with an impeccable posture and tidy clothes.
“Mote’s being stupid, Mr. Wallen!” Kate shouted as she pointed at Mote.
“Am not!” Mote immediately countered.
“Let’s keep it down in here, okay?” The man stepped forward and glanced sternly between the two children. “What’s this about being ‘stupid’, now?”
“She thinks I’m stupid just because I didn’t get a perfect grade on our math quiz.”
“And you are,” Kate retorted.
“Let me see.” The man approached the two, holding out his hand to accept the papers they were holding. He then looked them over, taking the time to absorb the information before giving Mote a stern look. “Well, Mote, I wouldn’t say that you’re stupid. But I do have a question about what you’ve done here. It almost seems like you intentionally got some of these wrong.”
Mote frowned. “What?”
“You showed your work, which is good. More than Kate can say.” The man passed her a reprimanding glance before turning back to Mote. “But the answers you wrote don’t match the work you showed.”
“That’s because he’s stupid.” Kate stuck her tongue out at him again.
“Am not! And I didn’t do anything on purpose, either,” Mote insisted.
“I don’t know. I’m seeing this a lot from you, lately,” the man replied. “Mote, you have some real potential in you, I’m sure. You could be matching Kate and Mark with your grades, but it’s like you’re holding yourself back.”
Kate proudly planted her fists on her hips. “Yeah, you could be special, like me!”
“I don’t want to be special,” Mote immediately countered.
“There’s nothing wrong with being special,” the man responded. “Being special means that you’re remembered. Everyone that is remembered by history was special in some way.”
“What about normal people?”
“They get forgotten. Nobody remembers what normal people do. If you want to be remembered, you have to rise above the rest.”
Mote scowled. “But what if I don’t wanna?”
“You should want to.” The man crossed his arms. “You have the potential, I know you do. You just have to realize it.”
“No! I don’t.”
“Yes, you do—”
“No! I’m normal!”
The man looked down on Mote with pursed lips. “Whether you like it or not, you already aren’t normal. If you were, you wouldn’t be here, with me. If you want to get out of this system, then you have to listen—”
“No!!” Mote shouted once more, his face scrounged up in anger — and small sparks appearing across his arms and hands.
Kate drew away in surprise, but the man didn’t seem to notice. Instead, he stepped closer, his eyes still on Mote. “Alright, I’ve had enough of this. I’ve tried to get through to you, but you just refuse to listen. Now come with me.” He reached down and grabbed Mote by the arm. Mote reflexively jerked back, and then — with no warning, and no thought — a blast of electricity jumped from Mote’s wrist to the man, throwing him against the far wall, where he slumped to the floor.
Mote stared at the man, wide-eyed. He couldn’t tell if he was alive, but his hand was smoking, and he wasn’t moving. Slowly, Mote looked down at his hands, and then over at Kate, who stared at him with a mixture of awe and fear from behind the door into the room. “What…” he muttered, “what… just happened…?”
* * *
Present Day, 1 Day Later
— Friday, September 30, AD 2129 —
“Well, Colonel, short as your mission was, I think it’s safe to say that the intel you gathered is incredibly valuable.”
“Now if only all of my missions could achieve the same productivity to deployment time ratio,” Saito replied with a smirk.
General Lead didn’t smile back, or even change his facial expression much at all — but the barely audible sound of air rushing out his nose still managed to snap Mote out of his thoughts, at which point he turned his attention back to the other three individuals present in the briefing room: Major Hackett, Kate, and Kirstin. Hackett sat next to Saito, her posture impeccable and her hands clasped on top of the table as she kept steady eye contact with whoever was speaking at the moment; Kirstin, on the other hand, sat hunched in her chair with her head bowed to obscure her eyes with her bangs while she fiddled with her thumbs in her lap. Kate sat across from Hackett, and next to Mote, though she seemed barely interested in the meeting at all as she toyed around with a blackish-silver rhomboid device, sporting the same sword insignia that Mote saw on the Aldredian armor.
Thoughts of the armor, coupled with the context of the debriefing he was currently attending, brought Mote’s mind back to the previous day’s events. After clearing out the Drakkars in the immediate vicinity, the Frigate Out of Hand beamed aboard all of the Black Suns along with CSF-1 and the Eximius Vir and then fled the scene. A single Earthian Frigate was no match for a Drakkar Cruiser, after all, so Saito prioritized returning to Earth and informing the General about current events. After dropping off CSF-1 and the Eximius Vir, Out of Hand left to drop off the Black Suns at a low-tier world with an Interstellar Gate so that they could return to Black Suns space; meanwhile, the Earthians took the evening and the next morning to rest before meeting up with General Lead to properly debrief him. Saito had just now finished going over the actual events of the mission when Lead remarked on its value.
“Well then, let me begin by addressing the most pressing matter first,” General Lead began, drawing Mote’s attention back to the meeting. “Given the presence of a Drakkar ship so close to Earth, and so far from their own territory, I’ve raised the alert level of the fleets. Are you sure it was just the one Cruiser, Colonel?”
“I’m as certain as I can be,” Saito replied, “Commander Huerta of the Out of Hand assured me that it was the only ship their sensors picked up.”
“I see. Well I’ve dispatched a small strike group to the planet all the same; if the Cruiser is still there, they should be able to take it down, or at least chase it off. But one key issue still remains…” Lead paused to glance at each of the others present, prompting them all — even Kirstin and Kate — to center their attention on him. “Why did the Drakkars show up where they did, when they did? Given your report, Saito, they obviously knew about the location of the dig site ahead of time. But how?”
“We did run into Drakkars during our mission at the beginning of the week, sir,” Hackett pointed out. “Maybe they were able to figure out where we were going.”
“No, that can’t be right,” Kate immediately refuted. “The Drakkars that we fought at the dig site were a different faction from the ones you guys ran into earlier. And everyone knows that the different factions don’t get along. There’s no way they’d share this kind of info.”
“How do you know they’re different factions?” Mote questioned.
“Are you kidding?” Kate passed him an incredulous glance. “The guy that took Captain Feng’s Ciei said he was Prosusicivious, the leader of the Prolatio Drakkars. You know, the ones with tails? But the ones we fought yesterday didn’t have any tails.”
“Do you know which faction it was?” Lead asked.
“Er… no. They were all wearing full-body armor, so we couldn’t get a look at their body markings. They at least weren’t from the Sursum faction, since their head spike thingies didn’t bend upwards.”
“Obviously it’s unfortunate that we don’t know exactly which faction we’re dealing with here, but does it actually matter?” Saito pressed, “what does matter is that they somehow discovered the dig site and decided that whatever there was valuable enough to send a Cruiser after, even tens of thousands of light years out from their own territory.”
Lead nodded in agreement. “The Colonel’s right. Which is why, once we’re certain that there is no further Drakkar presence in the area, I’ll be assigning a permanent guard to watch over the planet. I’ve also asked Directors Riese and MacTavish to set up a research team to more thoroughly investigate the planet; it’s clear that our last survey was… insufficient.”
“M-MacTavish?!” Kirstin stared at the general, wide-eyed with fear, before finally settling back in her chair and sighing of relief. “O-oh… y-you mean my f-father…”
Mote frowned at the mention. Kirstin was no slouch when it came to field research, but it was rumored that she was only placed on CSF-1 due to the fact that her father, Scott MacTavish, was the Director of SERRCom’s research and development division, the Earthian Technological Advancement Agency — better known as the ETAA. Scott was responsible for much of SERRCom and Earth’s technological progression over the past two decades, and as such he held a lot of clout within SERRCom. Mote disliked the idea that nepotism could fly within the organization, but he couldn’t help but wonder, given Kirstin’s… quirks.
The General simply glanced at Kirstin, and then over at the rhomboid device in Kate’s possession. “Yes. Though there is another lead that you obtained on your previous mission… correct?” He looked back at Kirstin.
“…O-oh! Y-yes…” she stuttered out, unprepared to be directly addressed. “U-um, th-the coordinate… right…”
“I’m given to understand that you obtained it from the Aldredian armor that you recovered. Speaking of, where is that armor right now?”
“Right here!” Kate held up the rhomboid device. “Pretty amazing, huh?”
Lead frowned. “I’m not sure I follow.”
“This device can be used to ‘summon’ the armor, for lack of a better word.” She then shoved the rhomboid into Mote’s hands. “Show him!”
“Don’t order me around,” Mote countered.
“Oh c’mon, you order me around all the fucking time. Just show the General the damn armor already!”
“Tch…” Mote snorted in irritation, but nonetheless grasped the device in his hands and thought about recovering the armor. A moment later, a bright white light covered his body and quickly gave way to the spectacular designs of the Aldredian armor. He passed the General a quick glance of acknowledgment before dismissing the armor with a thought and tossing the rhomboid back at Kate. The ability to somehow store an entire armor within a hand-held object was incredibly useful — Mote didn’t deny that — but he didn’t like the idea of arbitrarily selective technology. Surely, it must just be broken. Or maybe Kate hasn’t tried hard enough to bring the armor out herself…
“Hmm…” Lead stared at the rhomboid for a moment before glancing toward Mote. “That armor… according to MacTavish’s post-mission notes, it only responds to Lieutenant Emerson, is that correct?”
Mote felt all eyes fall on him. “It is, sir,” he responded uneasily.
“Do you know why?”
“I don’t. I didn’t even do anything special when interfacing with the technology back at the dig site.”
“The Black Suns Commander we were with seemed to think it had something to do with his genes,” Kate commented, and then shrugged. “Sounds like bullshit to me, but who knows? It’s got to be something unique to Mote, at least.”
Lead’s brow furrowed. “What’s this about his genes? Are you suggesting that this technology only responds to a certain gene?”
“It was just a guess on the part of the Black Suns Commander, sir,” Mote insisted. “The technology is ancient; it was probably just malfunctioning.”
“Oh bull-fucking-shit,” Kate countered. “It isn’t just the armor that likes you. It was also the force field, the tomb door, and also that other device CSF-1 found on a completely fucking different planet! This is beyond the realm of coincidence.”
Mote scowled. “But it doesn’t make any sense. There’s no way that technology designed to recognize only a certain gene would pick up that same damn gene thousands of generations later. And that’s even assuming that the Aldredas actually did breed with ancient humans!”
“We may simply not have the proper understanding here, as the last time I checked, none of us present are geneticists,” Lead commented. “So leave the genetic testing hypothesizing to the ETAA. The coordinate obtained from the armor is more immediately important. Even if we assume that Emerson is the only one who could have activated the device recovered earlier this week, the fact still remains that the Drakkars found their way to the dig site around the same time as us. They may have other means of locating Aldredian technology, and as such they may already be on our trail. Or ahead of us, even.”
“I take it you want us to check out this new coordinate, sir?” Saito questioned.
“Respectfully, sir — is that really a good idea, after what happened last time?” Hackett asked.
“It is because of what happened last time that I want you to look into this,” Lead replied. “As Saito said earlier, the Drakkars clearly value this technology. And if I remember my galactic history lessons correctly, the Drakkars were around at the same time as the Aldredas, so they should know better than anyone just what Aldredian technology is capable of. If they want it, we want it, and we need to try our best to keep it out of their hands.”
“Never a moment’s rest with CSF-1, is there…” Saito sighed. “Alright, General. Where are we going next?”
“According to Researcher MacTavish’s report…” Lead glanced toward Kirstin; she promptly looked away and shrunk in her chair in response. “…The coordinate recovered from the armor is located in Dead Space. That makes things tricky.”
Mote nodded along absentmindedly. “Dead Space” referred to large regions of the galaxy that were completely devoid of Chaos Energy, making it impossible for Chaos Energy-based technology to function, or for Chaotics to use their abilities. Luckily, SERRCom didn’t have many Chaotics and generally didn’t make as much use of Chaos Energy-based technology as the rest of the galaxy, but they still preferred to avoid Dead Space whenever possible all the same.
“It at least means that the Drakkars shouldn’t be able to do their Ciei thing,” Hackett pointed out.
“It does,” Lead agreed, and then looked toward Mote and Kate. “But it means that the Eximius Vir won’t be able to use their abilities, either.”
“Actually, about that,” Kate interjected, “we all know that we can use our powers in a CENT field, which is basically just Dead Space lite. Who’s to say that we can’t use our powers in actual Dead Space, as well?”
“The vastness of Dead Space is on a very different scale than the meager few meters of CENT fields.”
“Oh c’mon. I’m the Intellitechnic here, shouldn’t I be making these conclusions?”
The General’s eyes narrowed into a glare. “Excuse me?”
“…What?” Kate scowled. “Oh, come on! I’ve been trying to set up Dead Space tests for over a year, but I keep getting cock-blocked—!”
“That’s enough,” Lead barked. “I appreciate your input, Lieutenant, but I will not accept the attitude.”
“Katherine,” Mote hissed, “listen to him, and shut the hell up.”
“Tch…!” She pursed her lips, her brow furrowed in anger, but she spoke no further — instead choosing to cross her arms and slouch back in her chair.
“Now, as for the actual mission…” Lead moved on, his attention pointedly turned toward Saito and Hackett. “The Eximius Vir will sit this one out. Colonel, you’re to take CSF-1 and embark on a joint exploration mission with Commander Sela Rabine of the Black Suns.”
“…We’re still running with the Suns?” Saito frowned. “If I may ask, sir… why?”
The General sighed in response. “They’ve extended the same ultimatum to me that they gave to you,” he eventually responded. “If we don’t share the information we gain from this armor, then they’ve threatened to inform the CSA of the artifacts that we’ve recovered.”
“Do you think the threat is credible?”
“It wouldn’t be the first time that the CSA seized Aldredian artifacts from non-member nations. The Nimalians have suffered such treatment many times over, and SERRCom wields even less power than them. So, unfortunately, it would seem that we have to play ball with the Black Suns.”
“Great.” Saito rolled his eyes. “I had hoped to never lay eyes on that one Colonel ever again…”
“You won’t have to,” Lead replied. “I’ve been informed that Commander Rabine is in charge of the team meant to work with you.”
“Oh. Good. She seemed to have a level head.”
“When do we leave, sir?” Hackett asked.
“I appreciate you wanting to get to the point, Major,” Lead commented, “but you won’t be leaving for another five days. It will take around that long for the Battlecruisers Genesis and Origin to be retrofitted for Dead Space operation.”
“If it’s going to take that long, why not just take the Gate?” Saito questioned, “there’s probably a Gate on this next planet, right?”
“Even if there is, we have no idea if there is already a Drakkar presence. If there is, then they will undoubtedly be watching the Gate, making it nigh impossible for a ground team to make it through successfully — all we would have achieved in that situation is informing the Drakkars that we’re onto them. To avoid that, I’m sending you by ship, and as is, the Flagship Strike Group — consisting of Genesis and Origin — are our most effective ships for this particular mission, even considering the necessary Dead Space retrofits.”
“Right… I see.”
“I’ll forward further mission details in the days to come,” Lead commented, and then turned toward the other members of the meeting. “Now, is there anything else to cover?”
Kate opened her mouth to speak, but Mote quickly cut her off. “No, sir.”
“Good.” The General glanced toward Kate momentarily. “…Watch your attitude in the future. I have little patience for it.” He then stood up without waiting for her response, prompting everyone else to stand as well. “If I have any further questions, I will ask the relevant persons privately. But for now, you’re all dismissed.”
Lead promptly retreated into his office, while Hackett simply nodded toward Saito and left on her own. Kate made to leave as well, but Mote grabbed her by the shoulder.
“We need to talk about your attitude,” Mote growled.
“Oh fuck right off.” Kate simply rolled her eyes and shook him off. “You always say that. If you really mean it this time for whatever fucking reason, then sure, whatever, we can talk later. For now, I’ve got more important things to do. Like check out this sweet-ass new armor storage system!” She promptly disappeared through the room’s exit and down the hallway.
“W-wait! Th-that armor…!” Kirstin quickly stumbled around the table and scurried after Kate, stuttering out an apology toward Colonel Saito along the way.
“Tch…” Mote scowled as he watched them leave, and then glanced toward Saito. “…I’m really sorry about her, Colonel.”
“I am, too,” Saito replied with a sigh. “But ultimately, neither of us are responsible for her actions. Don’t feel down about it, Mote. I’ll see if I can get Hackett or Sarah to talk to her.”
“Yeah. She works with Kate all the time on their big research projects, doesn’t she?” Saito shrugged. “I thought they were reasonably close.”
“She’s one of the few people who can keep up with Kate, sure, but she’s got her own problems as the Director’s assistant. We shouldn’t have to drag her into this.”
“I suppose. But we can talk about this later.” Saito wandered around the table and placed his arm on Mote’s back, guiding him out of the briefing room. “I have a few questions I wanted to run by you, actually.” He glanced at his watch. “It’s about lunchtime. You up for grabbing a bite to eat?”
Mote frowned in unease. “Sir…?”
“Oh, don’t worry, it’s nothing bad. If it’s your performance you’re worried about, then you’re doing fine. Mostly fine.”
“Ah, me and my mouth…” Saito sighed and began walking down the hallway toward the mess hall. Mote promptly fell into stride beside him, his expression one of concern. “Let’s start there, then. It’s about the recruits,” Saito continued, “I’ve heard that you’re being somewhat… harsh with them.”
“Would you not be harsh with a purposefully under-performing student?” Mote countered.
“Sure, but I think that assuming that any of them are ‘purposefully’ under-performing is a bit much. Hell, I’d say that assuming that any of them are even under-performing in the first place is a bit much.”
“Were you not equally, if not more harsh with them on their first day of training, sir?”
Saito snorted. “I just pulled the drill sergeant routine out of my ass. It’s a useful first-time tool to force them into the right mindset, but I’m not sure I’d keep it up forever. Truthfully, I’ve never even trained recruits before. Not really my job.”
“It isn’t mine, either.”
“…Ah, so that’s what this is about. You don’t like being taken off of missions to work on training them.”
“It’s a valid concern, sir! My powers are far more useful out there, in the field, than they are here, training a bunch of useless rookies. If not for them, I and the other Eximius Vir would have been with you on your Sunday mission, and Captain Feng wouldn’t be in the condition he’s in right now!”
“We’ve already been over this. Feng’s Ciei was stolen by a Drakkar Faction Leader, one of the most powerful individuals in the whole damn galaxy. And literally invulnerable to all damage, might I add. There’s no guarantee that your presence would have changed anything.”
“Still. Can’t we get someone else to train the recruits? It’s not your job, and it isn’t my job. So why do we have to do it?”
“You’re looking at this the wrong way, Mote. It may not be our job to train recruits, but it is our job to deal with Chaotics and all Chaotic-related matters. Hell, it’s in the damn name of our team: Chaotic Support Fireteam 1.”
“I’ll take your concern into account though, and bring it up with the General. Maybe we can figure out a better way to handle the new recruits, so that they aren’t stealing time away from your team or mine.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“But for the time being, I’ll need to you keep working with them. Especially since you’re sitting out the next mission. Try to be a little softer on them; it’s not exactly fair to hold them to the same standard as yourself. You should know already that you and the other members of the Eximius Vir are atypical Chaotics.”
Mote frowned in frustration. The Colonel was right when he said that the Eximius Vir were atypical; they were able to use their powers in a CENT field after all, whereas normal Chaotics couldn’t. And that was just one aspect of their power oddities. Yet, even so, Mote couldn’t help but feel disappointed and frustrated with a perceived lack of progress with the new recruits — particularly Austin. Something about him simply rubbed Mote the wrong way… but if the Colonel wanted him to continue training the recruits, then he’d do it. Begrudgingly, but he’d do it.
“…Understood, sir,” Mote eventually replied, as he and Saito turned another corner down the hallways of the base.
“And with that out of the way…” Saito passed a curious glance toward Mote. “What’s the deal with all these weird Aldredian artifacts only responding to you?”
Mote’s expression clouded. “I don’t know, sir. I’ve already said as much…”
“There’s nothing that comes to mind that could explain it? Nothing that you’ve done?”
“Hmm…” Mote looked away as he took a moment to wrack his mind for any possible explanation. He was certain that it had nothing to do with how he handled the objects — the rhomboid with the coordinates, the hologram at the dig site, the armor; he had done nothing special to any of them before they activated in his presence. But then, thinking back to the original rhomboid — the one that revealed the coordinates of the planet with the armor — Mote had an idea. “It… might have something to do with the vision I had.”
“The vision, right…” Saito nodded in thought. “I know that it gave you the coordinates for our mission on Sunday. Was that all you saw?”
“It wasn’t…” Mote passed the Colonel an uneasy glance. “…The rest was just gibberish, though. Nothing better than a regular dream.”
“A dream that started us on an Aldredian treasure hunt,” Saito corrected.
“You can’t really be putting this much stock into a simple dream…”
“A decade or two ago, I wouldn’t have. But after working with you and the other Eximius Vir, and seeing and hearing about some of the crazy stuff that happens out in the galaxy? I don’t know anymore.” Saito looked over toward Mote again. “You sure there was nothing else in that dream of yours?”
Mote’s brow furrowed. The dream in question had occurred several weeks ago, immediately prior to the beginning of the brief Chaos Quake. As such, he didn’t remember much of the details; but the fact that he still remembered some of them bothered him. A star map location, a large subterranean cavern, a field of battle, a woman with red hair wearing regal armor bearing the insignia of a sword — these four images were all he could recall, and yet, they made him feel… nostalgic, somehow. Which then only contributed to his frustration. Visions and dreams of foretelling fell squarely into the realm of fantasy. The future remained either undecided or undecipherable, and anyone who claimed otherwise was simply deluded into thinking as much due to their own dissatisfaction with the present — or so Mote thought. Yet, everyone around him was willing to place so much stock into these purported visions of his, and worst of all, the information contained within actually seemed to be valid.
“Oh.” Mote snapped out of his thoughts and turned his attention toward Saito. “…No, nothing. Nothing that would help.”
The Colonel sighed. “Well that’s a damn shame. And we don’t even know what triggered your vision, either… though I guess it’s safe to say that it’s tied to the Aldredas, somehow.”
“It’s pretty obvious, isn’t it? You have a vision that leads us to an Aldredian artifact that only you can activate, which then leads us to another set of artifacts that — again — only you can activate. It’s almost like these were meant for you… or for an ancestor of yours, at least.”
Mote scowled. “The gene thing again?”
“Seems like a reasonable answer to me.” Saito elbowed Mote playfully. “You really don’t like the idea of being special, do you?”
“I’m not special.”
“Says one of only eight Earthian Chaotics.”
“Tch…” Mote’s scowl deepened as he turned away from the Colonel. “I am where I am because of my own effort. There may have been some luck involved, but at the end of the day, I’m no more special than Mark, or Kate, or Danielle. They could do what I do just as easily as I. Hell, anyone who started where I did could just as easily end up where I am now. Even the new recruits should be able to one day match me. They just need the years of training and experience that I possess.” He looked down at his right hand, clenching it as several small sparks wreathed his fingers. “…Strength is earned. As is ability. And I’m no more deserving of either than anyone else. So either this new technology is broken, or everyone else isn’t trying hard enough to activate it.”
Saito frowned. “You really believe that, don’t you?”
“Respectfully, sir, the hell else am I supposed to believe? I never even knew my own damn parents, so this whole genealogy nonsense is a waste of time, anyways.”
“…I suppose you’re right.” Saito sighed wearily and looked up at the ceiling. “…Still, though—”
“We’re here, sir.”
Mote and Saito stopped just outside of the doors to the mess hall. Inside was the loud commotion commonly associated with lunch hour, and a variety of smells — neither pleasant nor unpleasant, though intriguing all the same — wafted out into the hallway.
“Ah… right. Lunch.” The Colonel rubbed his stomach eagerly. “Well, time to grab some mediocre grub. C’mon.”
“…Actually, sir, I think I’m fine for now,” Mote replied slowly.
“Hmm?” Saito glanced back at him. “…You sure?”
Mote nodded once. “I have some things I need to take care of. I’ll get lunch later.”
“Well, if you say so. But I’m starving, so if you’ll excuse me.”
Mote watched the Colonel push through the doors to the mess hall, momentarily drowning the hallway with the sounds of a packed cafeteria. The Lieutenant then withdrew down the hallway, hands in pockets as he tried his level best to distract himself from the conversations he had just had. He wasn’t special — he knew this. And even if he was, it was only through his own work and training that he got to be where he was today, not through outside help, or luck, or vague visions of the future.
Anyone else in his position could have done the same.