Monday, June 29, 2009

Pop Goes The President...

Gee, I wonder if that Mistlethwakey guy is going to important later in the plot? All right, this is one of my favorite chapters- intrigue, suspense, assassination, and more of Amanda. In the last draft, this chapter was almost Amanda free, but I realize now what a fun and interesting character she is; I really enjoy writing her, and I've been shoehorning her in every chance I get. Shame what ends up happening to her...
Anyway, here's a new chapter! Enjoy, and please leave comments!

Chapter 10

In the two months since the assassination attempt, Isaac Latterndale had been having trouble sleeping. He lay in bed, contemplating his mortality, thinking about his life, wondering if he was happy. Somewhere in his subconscious he realized that his life would end soon; if Mistlethwakey had been the one trying to kill him, there wasn’t much point in denying the inevitable. After a month of mostly sleepless nights, he had gotten a prescription for sleeping pills. His physician promised that they were very powerful, but they didn’t help. Every night, Isaac would get in bed at about ten, lay back, close his eyes… and start pondering everything. At about three in the morning, he would finally drift into a shallow, fitful sleep, only to awaken again at seven or eight.
One morning he had awoken to see the morning newspaper, with the headline: IS LATTEERNDALE’S HEALTH FAILING? Reading the article disturbed him; apparently, he wasn’t looking too good in interviews or press releases. Another morning he had chest pains, and was rushed to the hospital. While there, he was informed of the various stress related maladies that were slowly killing him. Ulcers, migraines, constipation, rashes, even what appeared to be a stress fueled tumor in his left lung.
A week after going to the hospital, Isaac came to a terrible yet beautiful realization: he was loosing his mind. His job had pushed him too far, his mind had snapped, and now his body was falling to bits. He called a press meeting and announced a four month leave of absence, in which his duties would be attended to by Carl Gutierrez, his vice-president. After making this announcement, Isaac found he was suddenly able to sleep soundly again.
Not that everything was perfect. Reporters still wanted comments about the assassination, and the Chinese government sent several strongly worded letters letting everyone know that they did not sanction the People’s Republic’s actions, and that they were quite sure that no PRC agents were active anymore. Isaac didn’t care. He was on vacation.
Everything went well for about a week. Then the problems started again. Isaac spent all night trying to sleep, moving from one momentarily comfortable position to the next. He couldn’t think why he was having such a hard time sleeping. There were still some sleeping pills in the bathroom, but he didn’t bother getting them. His mind focused on one thought: If Mistlethwakey is the one trying to kill me, I will die… He couldn’t explain why, but somehow he knew he wouldn’t live through the night…
Ever since the World Peace Banquet, Isaac had suspected—no, known—that Mistlethwakey was behind everything. There was no reason for Merv Lemlin, acting on his own, to try to kill the president. Of course, it was understandable that Lemlin would want revenge, would want to cause as much pain as possible to those who had caused such pain to him. But the president had had nothing to do with the E.H.U.D. project. True, he had been involved in acquiring the initial funding for the program, and, as president, had helped to keep it secret, but other than that, he hadn’t thought about the project for years. Sometimes he would forget about it for months at a time. It was only the occasional progress reports that kept him from forgetting about it entirely.
And it was clear from some of the events chronicled in those reports that the subjects knew perfectly well who was in charge. And who caused them pain.
So there was no chance that Lemlin had been acting on his own will. Besides, his memory blocks failed, even though Mistlethwakey assured everyone they wouldn’t. Mistlethwakey had to be the mastermind behind al this.
But why would Mistlethwakey want to kill Isaac? So that he could be president himself? That didn’t make any sense; if Isaac’s were to die in office, the only people who would benefit would be those in the immediate line of succession. Like Edgar, who just happened to be Mistlethwakey closest friend.
But Edgar was fifth in succession.
Isaac grimaced as the answer came to him. There were still many, many E.H.U.D.s left. Mistlethwakey would arrange for the deaths of the rest of the cabinet, until Edgar would be able to stop the threat and become a national hero.
The only thing that still didn’t make sense was why Mistlethwakey would bother promoting Edgar, when Isaac himself had been such a pliable puppet only a few years back. Maybe because he was starting to distrust Mistlethwakey. And probably because Edgar was younger, more photogenic. True, he wasn’t very charismatic; but there was enough of Isaac in him that he would be seen as a younger, more vibrant Isaac Latterndale who was, after all, the first president since FDR to have more than two terms in office and had ended the threat of communism once and for all. And if Mistlethwakey were pulling the strings, Edgar wouldn’t need to be charismatic.
The one problem with this supposed plan, as far as Isaac was concerned, was that it depended on him dying. Since his wife had succumbed to cancer shortly after his election, Isaac’s life had been a little worse off, but he wasn’t ready to die.
Maybe there was some way to get out of this. Resign in the morning, move to Guam, spend the rest of his life happy as Edgar and Mistlethwakey and whoever else wanted to destroyed the world. Yes, that was what he would do: retire. First thing… tomorrow…
Isaac yawned, his mind finally at rest, and drifted off into sweet oblivion…
And was instantly awakened by a loud knock at his door. Isaac looked at the clock beside his bed. He had been asleep for about two minutes. “Who is it?” he yelled angrily.
The response was muffled by the door, but it was still understandable. “It’s Lertenz, sir. I hate to disturb you, but you have a visitor. It’s urgent.”
“It can wait!” Pulling the blanket over his head, Isaac tried to go back to sleep.
“Sir, I half to warn you, your guest has a right to enter your room, and is only resisting out of politeness.”
Well, that narrowed the list considerably. Someone with E.H.U.D. level clearance was trying to visit him. Isaac could think of only one person who would do that.
Isaac thought back to something his mother had told him, just before his wedding. After he had proposed to Nancy, he had delayed the marriage for over two years. He didn’t know why, he had just done it. But eventually Nancy had been able to overpower him and set a date for the wedding. His mother was overjoyed. She had come into his dressing room, only an hour before the ceremony, and they talked for a while. Then, out of the blue, she said, “Isaac, one day your indecision is going to get you killed.” He had managed to laugh it off, but the words stayed with him.
And now they were coming true. If he had resigned a week ago, this wouldn’t be happening tonight.
There was no way to escape this. Isaac hefted himself off of the bed, grumbling and cursing to himself as he felt his way through the dark to his closet, slipped into a housecoat and a pair of slippers, and then shuffled to the door. He paused briefly, wondering if he could survive a jump from the window. No, his indecision was going to kill him. He opened the door, and there was Mistlethwakey.
Mistlethwakey opened his mouth to speak, but Isaac was faster. “I don’t want to die.”
“No one ever wants to.”
There was a loud thump off to the president’s right. He looked and saw Frank Lertenz, his head of security, sprawled face down on the floor.
“He’s all right,” Mistlethwakey assured him. “He’s just asleep. We can talk freely.”
Isaac thought once more about jumping out of his bedroom window. “Is there someway for me to survive this?”
Mistlethwakey gave him a rueful smile. “I’m afraid not.”
Any fear he may have felt immediately left the president. Mistlethwakey’s response confirmed that he was there as an assassin. “Can this be painless?”
Mistlethwakey nodded. Isaac pushed past Mistlethwakey and walked down the hall until he found a comfortable chair and sat down.
Mistlethwakey silently followed him.
Isaac looked down at his feet, and then at the carpet beyond them. “I never could have survived this, could I? You’ve been planning this ever since you got your program approved.”
“I’ve been planning this much longer than that.”
“You know, I never wanted the third term. Or the second one for that matter. I was going to retire to Guam with Nancy, but then she died, and I got caught up with everything…”
Mistlethwakey didn’t respond.
“You know, I didn’t figure out you were going to do this until just a few minutes ago. I mean, I’ve suspected you ever since Lemlin tried to kill me, but just tonight, I figured it out. It was actually Lemlin that tipped me off. There was no logical reason for him to try to kill me, unless you wanted me dead. And now, now you’re going to keep killing off everyone until you get down to Edgar, and he’ll be your little puppet.”
Mistlethwakey didn’t respond immediately. Isaac waited patiently, and eventually Mistlethwakey said, “You’re fairly close, but you missed some important details.”
“Can you tell me the details?”
Mistlethwakey chuckled quietly, and walked around to the other side of Isaac’s chair. “No, I can’t tell you that. But I will answer one other question. Any question you want. Just ask.”
Any question… A last request. That’s what this was. After the question was answered, Isaac would die. He thought about making a break for it, trying to run, but as he looked at Lertenz’s sleeping form, and Mistlethwakey’s lean, muscular body, he knew he wouldn’t have a chance. He would have to settle for an answer. But what did he want to know? How did Mistlethwakey get through security? How did he expect to get out? What purpose would it accomplish killing him? Mistlethwakey was legally untouchable, but that wouldn’t help him when people found out he had killed the president. In the end, Isaac had to admit he couldn’t think of a good question, so he settled instead on an easy one. “Why? Why are you going to do this?”
Mistlethwakey stared blankly at the ceiling. “I’m doing this so that a new age of peace and prosperity can come to the world. And I’m killing you because I have to, in order for the world to enter this brilliant new age.” His voice was thick with emotion, and it sounded almost as if he were reciting something. “To be fair, I don’t want to kill you. I don’t want to kill anyone. But I have to. If I don’t, the consequences would be unimaginably devastating.” He paused briefly and cleared his throat. When he spoke again, his voice was more conversational. “That’s in theory, at least. Not that I’m willing to test the theory. But rest assured, your death will be a good one.” His voice fell to almost a whisper, and Isaac had to lean towards him to hear what he said next. “And be happy that you’re dying now. It’s better than what everyone else will have to go through.”
Isaac opened his mouth to say something, but Mistlethwakey spoke again. “I’m sorry, Mr. President, but you’ve already had your question. I’m afraid we have to get down to business now.”
Isaac thoughts flashed back to Nancy, and then to his dreams of Guam, and then onto the rest of his life. His parents, his brothers, his nephew. And from his nephew to this man standing in front of him, and onto his plot, and onto Lertenz lying unconscious in the hall, and… Something clicked into place. Isaac blinked and looked up at Mistlethwakey. “You’re one of them, aren’t you?”
Mistlethwakey smiled sadly, reached inside his jacket and produced a small pistol. He took a few steps backwards, raised his arm, and aimed carefully at Isaac’s forehead. The president’s head snapped backwards, and with a final wheezing exhalation, he slumped in his chair. Mistlethwakey stood motionless for a moment, saying a silent prayer for his president, and then he left the White House.
Three minutes later Frank Lertenz, head of presidential security, awoke to find himself lying on the floor a few yards away from the body of President Isaac Latterndale. Police and emergency personnel arrived soon after and carefully inspected the entire building. Near the body they found two hairs and several smudged finger prints on the wall. These were immediately rushed off to an undisclosed location and barely an hour later, the hair and prints yielded the identity of the person who had assassinated the President of the United States.

Amanda Latterndale shifted in her chair, moving her left leg over her right, and then readjusted her skirt. She then focused her attention back onto the stage at the other end of the field. A pudgy little boy waddled up the short flight of stairs to the stage, dragging a large French horn behind him. The boys tutor walked up behind him, introduced him and the piece he would be playing, and then went back to her seat at the edge of the stage. The little boy raised the horn and started to play, rather poorly, a piece that Amanda couldn’t even recognize, despite the introduction.
The sounds of laughter and happy screaming floated across the park from the playground, and Amanda found her gaze drifting that way. Little children ran free, stumbling, falling into the dirt, and then getting back up and running again. Amanda turned back to the recital and scanned the front row of seats until she saw Ethan, sitting morosely next to the empty seat that until only a moment before had held the child who was even now playing. Amanda felt a stab of guilt; her son should be out playing with those other kids, not wasting a perfectly good Saturday on a dull music recital.
This thought surprised Amanda. She was the one who had originally wanted Ethan to learn an instrument, and to participate in these recitals. But ever since her experiences at the World Peace Banquette, Amanda had slowly come to realize the shallowness of her life, and she wanted Ethan to grow up enjoying his own. She was now much more relaxed when it came to raising Ethan. She let him stay up a little later on school nights, have friends over just for fun, and even skip a private French lesson when he wasn’t feeling up to it.
Of course, Edgar didn’t approve of this in the least. He would loudly storm around their bedroom, yelling angrily that Ethan wasn’t a baby, he was a small adult, and as such needed to be raised as one. It didn’t matter if Ethan hated these recitals; they were good for him and he would one day come to value the skills and social connections that he gained at the recitals.
The most recent argument had lasted for the better part of a week. First, Amanda had suggested that Ethan be allowed to cut back on his extra curricular activities during the school year. Edgar had vehemently refused, saying that without all of the sports, instruments, and other lessons, Ethan’s schooling would suffer, and that he would have nothing to do but mope around the house and waste his mind. Next, Amanda had suggested that they allow Ethan to pick which extra curricular activities he wanted to participate in, and Edgar responded by saying that the boy was to young to know what was best for him, and that it was their responsibility as parents to decide these things for him. Amanda then pointed out that Edgar didn’t have any of this madness going on when he was a child; he had been allowed to go relatively free, and he turned out all right. That made Edgar furious, and he had shouted for an hour that he had had to scrape his way through college and through life to get where he was know, and that if he had had the opportunities Ethan had had, he would have taken them and appreciated them. The various parts of the argument then repeated over and over, endlessly continuing until here they were, sitting in the park with a hundred other miserable parents, watching Ethan and his peers play music and look just as miserable as everyone else.
Someone nearby coughed and Amanda turned her head to see Edgar shifting uncomfortably in his chair and pulling at the collar of his Polo shirt. It was funny, Amanda thought, that for all of the bluster Edgar gave about wanting Ethan to continue with these recitals, Edgar genuinely hated sitting through them, and would much rather be anywhere else. She leaned over and was about to make a snide comment about how if he didn’t want to be there, maybe Ethan didn’t want to either, but then thought better of it and patted her husband reassuringly o the thigh. “Don’t worry, it’s almost over.”
Edgar glared reproachfully at her. “I should hope so. I don’t know how I ever let you talk me into letting Ethan do this.”
Amanda recoiled in shocked anger and was about to say something, but Edgar was still talking.
“At least the program director only does these **** things every three months. But couldn’t she wait until the children could at least play the instruments before dragging s out to listen to this?” As Edgar talked, his voice gradually grew louder, and by the end of his statement he could be heard for several rows. Incredulous parents turned to glare at him, but as soon as he noticed this, he too turned and glared, sometimes looking around, as if he didn’t know who had been talking, but was quite angry at them for doing so. Soon the other parents lost interest and returned their attention to the stage.
He was such a hypocrite. Amanda felt almost sick being married to Edgar. As she thought about it, she realized she had been sick of it for a long time. She had always promised herself that she would make this work, that she wouldn’t quit. But now… Maybe…
The only thing keeping Amanda with Edgar was Ethan. He didn’t particularly love his father, but he would be heartbroken if Edgar were forced to leave his life. But what would the presence of Edgar do for Ethan’s life? He was distant and demanding; Ethan could certainly do with a break from his father. Maybe what Amanda needed to do was call her mother, and take Ethan to visit her for a few months, while she worked out her relationship with Edgar. She already knew the names of several good marriage counselors…
The pudgy little boy up on stage gave a few more spit-ridden blows on his horn, then made a quick bow and waddled from the stage. The audience gave a polite but brief smattering of applause, and then fell to talking amongst themselves while the little boy’s tutor came once more to the front of the stage and said a few more words.
Even though Amanda knew who was performing next, she still dutifully looked at the program: Ethan Latterndale, age 9. Violin. Amanda looked back up and smiled as her son awkwardly stood up and dragged his violin case towards the stage.
Edgar leaned back and rested his arm on the back of his chair. “Poor guy,” he said, gesturing towards a large man near the front of the audience. “But it’s really his own fault. Shouldn’t have let his kid pick the French Horn. Too loud, unrefined. Think what would’ve happened if we had listened to you and let Ethan pick his own instrument.” He snorted derisively. “He might have picked the tuba!”
Amanda ignored him and looked back towards Ethan. He was on stage now and his tutor was talking. When the tutor was done, Ethan stepped up and looked nervously over the audience. His gaze rested on Amanda, and she waved to him. He smiled briefly, and then turned his attention towards his father. Edgar just gave him a stern glare, and Ethan quickly looked away.
Ethan then tuned his violin for a moment and began to play. The music was rough and unrefined, but Amanda could already tell that he had improved immensely since the last recital. She said as much to Edgar, but he just grunted and continued to stare sullenly into the distance.
Maybe a divorce wouldn’t be so bad after all, Amanda thought.
Amanda was so absorbed in her son’s performance that she didn’t notice the tremors of excitement that suddenly ran through the audience. By the time she did, most of the people were craning their necks in the direction of the parking lot and muttering quietly. Ethan had also apparently noticed this, as his bow slipped and a particularly painful note screeched out of his instrument. Amanda sighed inwardly. Of course something bad had to happen during her son’s turn on stage.
She didn’t want to leave Ethan, not even for a moment, but eventually curiosity got the better of her, and she too turned to see what was going on.
Coming down the street, and quickly filling up the parking lot, were about twenty black limousines. As each one wound its way through the various barriers and pathways into the central part of the parking lot, Amanda was able to catch a glimpse their backs, and was surprised to see that none of them had license plates.
Next to her, Edgar was becoming more agitated. “You know who that is,” he whispered. “Secret Service.”
He was right. A moment later a car in the middle of the convoy opened its doors and three men stepped out, each dressed in a dark suit and wearing thick sunglasses. Amanda recognized Frank Lertenz, head of presidential security, leading the group. Something was definitely wrong.
When it became clear that the men were definitely coming towards their gathering, the children’s music director stood up, told Ethan to stop for now, and then stormed out onto the open field behind the audience to meet the intruders.
Despite the director’s best attempts to remain quiet, Amanda could still hear her telling the men that this was a private gathering, that their presence was a disruptive influence on the children, and that they were not most definitely not welcome.
Two of the men stayed behind to talk to the director as Lertenz continued on. The director noticed and tried to confront Lertenz, but one of the men she was next to grabbed her arm and wouldn’t release her, despite her screams of protest.
Lertenz finally reached the back row of seats and walked straight towards Edgar.
“Mr. Latterndale, would you please come with us?” he asked.
“I’d love to,” Edgar said sarcastically, “but I’m in the middle of y son’s music recital. Can this wait?”
“No. This is a matter of national security. If you refuse, I have been authorized to detain you.”
Edgar looked over his shoulder at Amanda. “Well, you can’t argue with that. Looks like I’ll see you later.” He stood up and left with Lertenz. As they passed the spot where the music director was struggling with the other two security men, they released her and headed back towards the parking lot. The music director snorted angrily, smoothed her hair, and returned to the stage. She apologized profusely, and said that the recital would continue as planned, despite the interruption.
Amanda didn’t hear what was being said; her undivided attention was on Ethan, who was now standing off to one side of the stage, tears forming in his eyes.
Amanda crushed the program in her hands. She would not forgive Edgar for this. Their son deserved better…

The limousine was packed with people even before Edgar and his three escorts got in; he had to climb over two people before he could even get to a clear seat. When he sat down, to took a moment to get comfortable, and then glanced quickly at his car mates. He shifted uncomfortably, and then took another, longer glance. It was like being in front of a mirror. The two men opposite Edgar looked almost exactly like him: early middle age, dark wavy hair going grey, thick beards.
Edgar blinked and then looked at the two men flanking his doubles. They were almost exactly like Lertenz.
“What the **** is going on?” Edgar asked hesitantly.
Lertenz craned his head around to look out the window. “I’ll tell you as soon as we’re on the road.”
One by one, the limousines pulled out, and when the one they were in got into traffic, Lertenz hunched his shoulders and said, “It is my sad duty to inform you that Isaac Latterndale, President of the United States of America, died this morning.”
Edgar raised his eyebrows. “And you couldn’t wait until my kid’s recital was over to tell me?”
Lertenz shook his head. “Also, Carl Gutierrez, Vice President of the United States of America, also died.”
Edgar thought he knew the direction that this conversation was going in, especially considering his fellow passengers, but he didn’t want to say so. “Why should I care?”
“The president was assassinated inside the White House, and the Vice President shot himself last night. He died this morning while being taken to the hospital. And, included in his suicide note was the location of a cache of very condemning documents about the E.H.U.D. project. Documents that eliminate about half of the cabinet from the succession process.”
Edgar glanced quickly at his two doubles. One of them grinned sheepishly. He turned to Lertenz. “Does this mean what I think it means?”
Lertenz nodded gravely. “Yes, sir. You are now the acting president of the United States.”
Edgar leaned back in the seat and tugged absently at his beard. Lertenz was still talking, but he tuned it out. President. President without having to campaign, to make alliances, to do anything other than place his hand on a Bible and repeat after a judge. And his uncle was dead. God must love Edgar… Well, either God or Mistlethwakey. This must be part of the Plan. Edgar thought back to the small case that Mistlethwakey had given him at the Banquet. He had checked on it just yesterday, and it hadn’t opened, so this must be another part of the plan that required Edgar to be sincerely surprised. And, truth to tell, he was surprised. His hands were dirtier than most when it came to the E.H.U.D. program, but just as with the Lemlin incident, Edgar’s name was nowhere to be found.
And just as with the Lemlin incident, presidential security had proved to be useless. Edgar was certainly glad that he was on Mistlethwakey’s side; the old man was a formidable adversary.
Edgar was still engrossed in his thoughts when the limo pulled up to the back entrance of the White House. Edgar tried to stand, but Lertenz put out his arm to stop him. “Not here.” Edgar sat back down, and one of his doubles, along with one of Lertenz’, got out of the open door and hurried into the building. “We’re not taking any chances,” Lertenz said dryly. “And we still have a few more stops to make before all of this is done.”
The limo drove on for another ten minutes. Edgar had nothing to do during the trip, so he spent it staring at his remaining double. The double didn’t seem to mind at first, but he slowly became more and more uncomfortable, eventually breaking eye contact and looking out of the window.
Edgar snorted and then he too looked out of the window. They were crossing the Potomac back into Virginia. Edgar noted that most of the other limousines had disappeared; the Secret Service was taking this seriously.
A moment later, the limo stopped in front of some sort of official building. It only had three floors, and appeared to be made mostly from glass and brick, but Edgar suspected it probably had a shelter of some sort in the basement.
“All right,” Lertenz said, quickly flicking his eyes back and forth, “this is our stop.”
Lertenz and Edgar climbed over their doubles and walked briskly to the door and straight to an elevator. They went down into the basement, and then across to a locked door. Lertenz opened the door onto a small office containing two large men and a fairly large filing cabinet. The two men stood up and moved the cabinet, revealing another locked door. Lertenz led Edgar through into another elevator which descended after Lertenz swiped a security badge through a reader mounted near the door.
Edgar stood casually next to Lertenz, who was picking at the back of one of his fingers. “So,” Edgar asked in an uninterested voice, “where you on duty last night when my uncle died?”
Lertenz shifted from one foot to the other. “Yes.”
Edgar raised an eyebrow in mock incredulity. “And they still left you on assignment.”
Lertenz cleared his throat. “I’d prefer not to talk about that.”
Edgar let the subject drop.
The elevator door opened, and they stepped out into a small foyer. The wall across from the elevator was made of fogged glass, with the Presidential Seal painted on the door in the middle of the wall. Lertenz stepped off to one side and gestured at the door. “The rest of the cabinet is inside, waiting for you to be sworn in, and then to handle the release of the news of the deaths.”
Edgar nodded, and then opened the door. Inside was a softly lit room with a long table in the middle, with seven people sitting around it. He was surprised to see how few people were there; apparently the documents that Carl had squirreled away were more detailed than he had thought. He mentally took roll of who was there; they were mostly allies, but to Edgar’s dismay, he noted that Rosencrantz was still there. Hopefully Mistlethwakey could still solve that.
Before Edgar could even announce his arrival, an elderly woman, the chief justice, shuffled painfully forwards from the far end of the table. She extended a Bible towards Edgar, who placed his hands on the cover, quickly repeated the oath of office, and pulled his hand away. The chief justice lowered the Bible and then shuffled out of the room. The entire cabinet watched her leave, and as soon as she was gone, Edgar sat down at the head of the table.
Before he even had a chance to take a breath, Julia Telk, Secretary of the Interior, began speaking. “What the **** is going on here, Ed? All of us here were just as involved in the project as those who were indicted this morning.”
Edgar inclined his head towards her. “Yes, but they got caught.”
“Our names are on more of this ****. How long till the rest of us get found out? With the way things are going, it might be better to just plea bargain.”
Edgar ignored Julia’s last statement and turned to Rosencrantz. “All right, the esteemed former president and vice president are dead. We have to tell the public, before someone finds out on their own and yells ‘cover-up.’ Ideas.”
Rosencrantz frowned briefly and then nodded. “We could say that they died of perfectly natural causes, and… and that finding the document cache on the same day was an unfortunate coincidence.”
“Do they have to know about the document cache?”
“Yes, because they’re going to know that half the cabinet has been indicted in multiple felony charges and placed into protective custody,” called out Evan Peters from the back of the room.
“Well,” Rosencrantz said slowly, “we could just trash the previous administration, play up the corruption angle, and say that Carl shot the president and then himself.”
“No,” said a voice from the door. “What the public need to see is that your administration is honest, trustworthy. You won’t pull stunts like the E.H.U.D. project. Complete disclosure on the facts surrounding the deaths, as well as the program.”
Edgar rolled his chair around to face the new arrival. Standing in the doorway was General Robert Mistlethwakey.
“What are you doing here?” Julia asked coldly.
“The President called me from his motorcade and asked me to come.”
Mistlethwakey made the briefest of eye contacts with Edgar, and somehow Edgar knew the words he must now say. He turned back to his cabinet and gestured at Mistlethwakey. “Ladies and Gentlemen, allow me to present our next Secretary of Defense.”
Julia half stood, her hands clutching the edge of the table. “He can’t be Secretary of Defense; he’s an active military officer! And need I remind you that this whole **** thing was his idea?! We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for him!”
Edgar shrugged. “George Marshall was allowed an exception--”
“George Marshall wasn’t active duty.”
“--and in case you haven’t noticed, we’re in an unprecedented state of crisis here.” Edgar gestured to the room at large. “I need all the advisors I can get.”
“You need congressional approval for this,” Peters said.
“Oh, I’m sorry, but do you see congress here?”
Peters seemed to be busily studying the grain of the tabletop.
“For now, I’m keeping him on as acting secretary until such a time as congress can officially settle the matter.” Edgar then pointed at Julia. “As for your second point: need I remind you that you were the one who acquisitioned the real estate that made this all possible? From national parks, no less?”
Julia was about to respond to this, but Mistlethwakey stepped forward and stared at the cabinet members looking each one of them in the eye. Only Edgar was spared from his gaze. “Who acquisitioned the land? Who set up the program?” His voice was low and hypnotic, and everyone stared raptly into his deep, empty eyes. “Who knows anything at all about this? The previous administration was horrendously corrupt, but we won’t let that stop us. We learned a little about the sinister truth behind the E.H.U.D. program form Lemlin’s and Gutierrez‘s document caches. It would be better if we knew more, but we don’t. We’ll have to do the best we can with what little we know.” Mistlethwakey nodded once, and then stepped back to Edgar’s side.
Edgar stared up at Mistlethwakey in fascinated horror. The rest of the cabinet members were blinking furiously and looking unsure about what had just happened. Edgar wondered if Mistlethwakey had ever used this strange power on him. And what was the source of this power…
There was a moment of perfect silence, and then Julia spoke up. “All right, I’ll support you about him being Secretary. But I think the first thing we need to do after reporting the deaths is get to the bottom of this E.H.U.D. mess once and for all. It disturbs me that they could do something like that right under our noses for so long and we never realized it.”
Edgar raised an eyebrow. “You know nothing about the program?”
“Of course not!” She sounded offended. “What are you implying?”
Edgar shook his head. “Nothing. I was just wondering if you had had a chance to read the documents from this morning.”
“Oh…” Julia sounded as if she didn’t believe him, but she didn’t say anything else.
Mistlethwakey cleared his throat, and every eye was instantly on him. He smiled sheepishly. “I hate to interrupt this conversation, but if you do go with the complete disclosure route, there is something you need to know. We have some information on the identity of the former president’s assassin. Based on DNA evidence collected at the scene of the assassination, we believe the killer to be one Maria Tumpuelo, recently returned from living with her parents, both army personnel, who were on long-term duty in Germany.”
Julia rubbed her chin. “That name sounds familiar.”
Rosencrantz snorted. “She’s a correspondent. She’s in and out of the press room at least ten times a month.” He chuckled sourly. “****. And she just snuck in and popped him.” He too rubbed at his chin. “How did you get DNA from her?”
Mistlethwakey walked briefly out to the foyer and returned holding a folder. He then went around the table distributing the papers it contained to the cabinet members. “As you can see in the report, Ms. Tumpuelo had some sort of nasty virus while in Germany, and had quite a bit of blood taken at the base’s medical facility. Now, if you would all turn to page the next page in the packet I just gave you—“
There was the rustle of pages, and then a simultaneous gasp from everyone in the room. “Oh, ****!” Rosencrantz yelled.
“Exactly,” Mistlethwakey said mildly. “We found that out this morning. We also learned of several other names. Not all hundred, but many. Enough.”
Mistlethwakey made one more orbit around the table, and then sat down near Edgar. Edgar hurriedly flipped through his packet and soon found a list of some twenty names. He skimmed them, and then stared sidelong at Mistlethwakey. Would his name be included on a complete list?
“I have a suggestion on how to handle this situation,” said Mistlethwakey, “although this does infringes on Mr. Rozrncrantz’ territory a bit. What I think you should do is send out a video statement, sometime within the next hour, to explain to the American public what has happened to their elected leadership this morning, and what you’re doing to better the situation. Say that we have a lead on the killer, but the assassin’s identity will not be revealed until an arrest is made. Then divulge the information found in this morning’s packet. It has a rundown of the E.H.U.D. program’s goals, methods, and timetable, as well as the names of several people involved either in the management of, or actually in the program. Tell the people about your policy for honesty, and about your steadfast refusal to be afraid of these terrorists that the previous administration unleashed on America. Anything you can’t tell them directly, put on a public website, along with copies of the original documents. Complete honesty. Let America trust its leadership again.”
The room fell silent once again. “That was beautiful,” Peters said. “I actually feel patriotic…”
Everyone else nodded.
Edgar assumed that that Mistlethwakey must still have some sort of control over the rest of them; the speech was nice, the advice sound, but he could see it was nothing special. Of course, it didn’t matter what he thought about it. The way that Mistlethwakey had laid it out so clearly told Edgar that this was part of the Plan, and that he had no choice but to go along with it. “Eli, get together a camera team. I want it in the White House, somewhere nice, but also somehow heroic looking. Battle pictures in the background.” He wheeled his chair around to face the glass wall. “Lertenz! Have cars ready to take me to my new home, and pick up Amanda and Ethan when the recital’s over!” He turned back to the table and stood up. “Ladies and Gentlemen, this is the start of a great new American Age! Let’s do this thing!”
Rosencrantz scrambled out of his chair and headed to the elevator, while the rest of the room’s occupants gathered papers and chattered excitedly.
And standing off in one corner, forgotten in the excitement, was Mistlethwakey. He smiled. It had all gone according to plan…

Monday, June 22, 2009


Okay, I'm not too happy with the opening chunk of the novel, so I re-did it. Not only do I think it flows a little better, but it now kicks off a couple of plot-threads that get more important later on, as well as starting the whole dream-sequence motiff that is used so extensively later on in the book. So, here's the new opening to chapter one. Bonus points if you can identify each of the characters featured herein! As always, please leave feedback. KTHNX, bai.

Goats stood in the light of the setting sun, grazing absently at small shrubs and tufts of grass, swatting flies with their tails, and looking up at the occasional loud sound. Sitting a few yards away from his herd, a young boy sat on a pile of rocks, staring absently over the scrubland around him. Nothing had happened all day, and he was bored.
Just as the boy was about to start carving a root he had found, he heard a low thrumming sound. It grew steadily louder, and all around him the goats looked up into the sky. Long moments passed, the boy staring out to the horizon, hoping to catch a glimpse of whatever was making that noise.
A few seconds later, a small swarm of helicopters, flying low and fast, came into view and passed over head. Expertly painted American flags were clearly visible on the sides of all of the vehicles, and the boy, abandoning his goats, turned and ran towards his village, hoping desperately to arrive in time to give warning.
Inside one the helicopters sat a group of fifteen American soldiers, all of them wearing bulky tan body armor. They were talking in groups of twos and threes, occasionally glancing up to the front of the aircraft where a pale, dark haired man sat, looking blankly at the far wall. Sitting to his left was a woman with Asian facial features, and to his right a bald man with glasses. Whenever a soldier would look at the pale man, the woman and the man would stare back at the offender, and soon the soldier would look away. After several minutes of this, a tall, muscular man in his early thirties stood up in the back of the helicopter. He cleared his throat noisily, and all eyes, except those of the pale man, turned towards him.
“All right, we have orders, straight from the general. This,” he said, tapping the folder clutched tightly in one hand, “will be your final exam. Do the right thing and we turn you loose to do your duty.”
“I don’t want your **** duty,” muttered an elderly black man with short dreadlocks.
“Tough,” the standing man replied. “You have to have it one way or another. Back to the subject; we will be landing at a village about twenty miles outside of Gaza. It’s become a final hold-out for the Palestinians and the Free Peoples of Islam, so be ready for some tough fighting. I want this place wiped off the map, no survivors.”
“There are children there,” the pale man said. A wave of muttering rippled out from around him, but he blinked and all sound ceased.
“I don’t care. More importantly, the general doesn’t care.”
“The General cares about what I tell him to care about.”
The other soldier ignored this comment. “Does anyone have questions?”
The Asian woman raised her hand. “What are the limits on this? Just regular ordnance, or…?” She left the question hanging. The other soldiers nodded at what she said.
“Keep to the laws of physics and plausible deniability. We don’t want some reporter stumbling upon anything that can’t be explained.” The soldier swept his eyes around the group once more. “Last chance for questions.”
The bald man with the glasses raised his hand.
“Yes, Mr. Donalson?”
“I won’t kill any children.”
The standing soldier smiled viciously. “You will do exactly what I say you will do.”
As he said this, the interior of the helicopter seemed to fade away, replaced by low buildings and men running, screaming…
“Mr. Donalson?”
The bald man was running, his rifle held ready, the trigger pulling back again, and again…
“Mr. Donalson…”
The boy, running back into the village, saw them standing their, the great behemoths moving through his world. The bald man saw all of this through the boy’s eyes as the boy ran and hid in the remains of a crumbling hovel. A shadow loomed over him, a struggle, a single, brilliant flash—
“Mr. Donalson—“

Monday, June 15, 2009

I Can Has Cheezegurger?

Yay, updates! Today we have chapter 9! Origionally a small, almost throw-away bit that just added a bit to the John/Lucy/Shaun story, this new version introduces characters that become important later in the novel, as well offering some more commentary on the effects that the E.H.U.D.s have on society. I hope y'all enjoy! (And please comment!)

Coming later this week: New G.I. Joe, T3 reveiw.

Chapter 9

Fred Norgent, detective with the Philadelphia Police, got out of his car, carrying a twelve pack of sodas. His wife, who was standing up near the play ground with their two children, called out to him and Fred waved to her. He looked around, found where the barbecue grill was set up, and headed towards it. By the time he reached the grill, he was sweating heavily. Even though summer wouldn’t officially be over for almost a month, Fred had dressed warmly, not expecting the sudden heat wave that struck earlier that morning. But no matter how uncomfortable he was, he couldn’t be truly mad. His kids were happy. It was Labor Day, the last day of summer for the kids, and they wouldn’t want a cold day. Besides, barbecue always tasted better in the heat.
“Scorcher, huh?” asked Shaun Wendleferce, the master of the barbecue.
Fred handed him the soda. “The whole reason I moved out of Nevada was to get away form this.”
Shaun put the sodas into a cooler. “Yeah, but I bet Nevada’s worse than this. Here.”
Fred took the piece of ice that Shaun handed him and rubbed it on his forehead. “At least in Nevada you expect this. Now I’m stuck here in a sweater.”
Shaun returned to the barbecue and flipped a few burgers. “Could be worse.”
“You could have to work today.”
A brief snort of laughter was the only response Fred gave. He walked a few feet away from the barbecue, sat down in a portable lawn chair, and tried to worm out of his thick sweater. It wasn’t easy, the material kept sticking, but eventually he was sitting in there in a tee shirt. He sighed contentedly and looked out over the park. It was nearly empty. Frank sighed again, but this time it was wistful, almost sad. For as long as he had been having these Labor Day get together with his friends from the force, the park had been filled with picnickers and kids and people playing with dogs… Now it was almost empty, people cowering in their homes, sure that psychic terrorists would come out any day know and melt their brains from the inside. The only people who dared to be out in the open were policemen and there families. It was almost as bad as the nuclear threats at the end of the Gaza War.
And as much as Fred hated to criticize the president, no mater who he or she was, he had to admit that Latterndale was doing a poor job of handling this. The latest statements from the White House were hinting that the exiled government of the People’s Republic of China were behind Merv Lemlin and his strange powers, and what good would it be to blame China? The president had already brought down the PRC, and peacefully, too, so what was he going to do now, send troops over and root out all suspected Communist sympathizers? It didn’t help the president’s position that Chinese officials flatly denied involvement in human experimentation and opened up their borders to outside investigations. They weren’t cowed by Latterndale’s maneuvering. If Fred had to choose a country to blame for such an impossible thing as an honest-to-God super-soldier, he definitely wouldn’t have picked such a week and friendly country as the Free Peoples of China, even with the fact that they still had outlawed PRC agents working in the country. No, Fred would’ve chosen a much more dangerous and capable country; the United States, perhaps, which was what Lemlin had said in the first place.
Some people, though, didn’t even think that it was a whole country that produced Lemlin. Some theories were fairly logical: splinter groups within the American government, the remnants of Al-Qaeda, even the remnants of the FPI, looking for revenge for Gaza. Of course, a super-soldier couldn’t have been made in a year, so it probably wasn’t the PLO. Other guesses of Lemlin’s origins were a bit more bizarre. Aliens were a popular scapegoat, along with the usual group of idiots who blamed this on the Jews. One crazy old man who had been arrested two weeks ago had been ranting about Lemlin being part of a Black Panther conspiracy to kill off the white man. Fred had had to personally restrain the man after he had accused Fred himself of being part of the conspiracy, and had tried to attack him. His coworkers had gotten a kick out of that one. Fred smiled to himself. In a way, the old man had gotten a kick out of it as well, although it was delivered by Shaun, not Fred.
Speaking of Shaun…
Fred got up from his chair and went to see if Shaun needed any help with the cooking.
“Yeah,” Shaun said, pulling a large platter out of a bin next to the grill, “start loading the bratwurst on here while I call Lucy.”
“She’s not here yet?” Fred asked, taking the platter and picking up a pair of tongs. “I figured she was over with Sheila and the kids.”
“Nope. She was supposed to be here over half an hour ago, before you left to get the drinks.” He scanned the parking lot. “She always calls if she’s running late.”
“I’m still amazed you two haven’t settled down yet. You can’t put it off forever; when?”
A shadow seemed to pass over Shaun’s face. “We’ve had some… I don’t want to talk about it.” Shaun pulled a can of soda out of the cooler.
Fred pulled a few bratwursts onto the platter. “Is it because of this John guy?”
Shaun grunted.
“You’re gonna have to work through this sooner or later. Besides, I thought you said that Lucy agreed to stop seeing John?”
“Yeah, well, she keeps ‘bumping into him’ around town.”
Fred carried the platter over to a picnic table. “It’s your own fault, you know. You never married her, so you have no legal recourse in the matter. She’s a free woman. If I found out Sheila was messing around with another guy, I’d be furious; but if we weren’t married, there’d be nothing I could do.”
“Surprisingly enough, I don’t—“ Shaun stopped in mid-sentence. Fred turned to look at him, and then continued turning to see where Shaun was looking. A green car had just pulled up in the parking lot, and Lucy was getting out of the passenger side; a moment later, a bald man, who Fred assumed to be John, got out on the other side.
“****,” Shaun muttered.
“Hey, come on! I get enough of that at the precinct. My kids are here, and they don’t need to be hearing that.”
Shaun returned to the grill and focused all of his attention on the burgers he had just put down. Down in the parking lot, Lucy was waving at Fred. Fred waved back, and soon Lucy and John had made it up to where the grill sat. Lucy reached out and hugged Fred, then introduced Fred to John. Despite all of Shaun’s complaining about John, Fred couldn’t see what was so wrong with him. He seemed nice enough, readily shaking hands; he wasn’t very talkative, but Fred wouldn’t hold that against him. The way John was constantly looking around, always seeming slightly confused, gave Fred the impression that this man was a bit on the simple side, but harmless enough.
Lucy went over behind Shaun and hugged him. He stood up abruptly and whirled on her, brandishing his tongs like a weapon. Lucy shied back, and laughed bemusedly. “Maybe you’re taking this a bit too seriously, Shaun. Remember the last time you tried to kill someone with a kitchen appliance?”
Now Shaun laughed. “Sorry, I didn’t know you were here. I was just trying to… and you kind of surprised me.”
“I’d be interested in hearing this story about killing people with kitchen appliances.”
Shaun glanced over his shoulder and saw John. “Oh, sorry, I didn’t realize you were here. How are you?”
“Pretty good, pretty good. I didn’t mean to crash your picnic, but Lucy called and said she had car trouble, and said it’d be okay if I drove her over and stayed for lunch.”
Shaun smiled stiffly. “Oh, yeah, it’s okay.”
He returned to the burgers and shifted them while everyone else stood around waiting. When the burgers were starting to brown, Shaun went to the cooler and pulled out a few slices of cheese, and then spread them on some of the burgers.
Fred realized that starting a conversation would be up to him. “So,” he said, to no one in particular, “what’d you think of that new Washington correspondent that channel five got?”
Lucy shrugged. “She was okay, I guess. I didn’t catch here whole report.”
“I don’t watch the news much,” John admitted. “Who’s this, again?”
Lucy twisted her mouth in an expression of concentration. “Maria… Maria something…” She snapped her fingers. “Maria Tumpuelo. She’s the new correspondent.”
“You guys actually know the names of the anchors?”
Fred smiled. “We take our news pretty seriously, on the force. Lucy started getting into it while Shaun was deployed in Israel.”
“I didn’t know Shaun was in the army.”
There was a particularly loud sizzle from the grill. “Marines, actually,” Shaun muttered angrily.
“Yeah, well, anyway, she kept up with the news and is addicted as the rest of us. But tell me, if you don’t watch the news, how do you know what’s going on in the world?”
“Internet, mostly. Videos, message boards. I’m currently in a debate on a science board on weather or not Merv Lemlin constitutes proof in the supernatural.”
This piqued Fred’s interest. “Not content to read the news; you create the news, huh?” Fred walked to the picnic table that Shaun was using as a base of operations and sat down. “So what are your thoughts on the subject?”
“I think it’s all faked.” John sat down next to Fred. “A video of a man throwing chunks of metal through the air without touching them isn’t much more convincing than a preacher making people fall over; it just means whoever made the video had more of a budget, and an unwilling audience. What about you?”
Fred thoughtfully scratched at his beard. “I don’t really know. I believe in God and all that stuff already, but I don’t think there was anything supernatural going on that night. I believe Lemlin: his powers are of a purely scientific nature.” He laughed. “Of course, that’s not the predominant thought here in the city. We’ve had at least a quadrupling of new attendees at our church since that night.”
“And,” said Lucy, “the president of the Atheist Association of America was quoted as saying that based on Merv Lemlin’s display, he is now willing to concede the possibility that there is a God.”
The conversation continued on for a while, ending only when Shaun declared, “Allright, food’s ready, everyone down to the playground!”
As Fred, John, and Lucy began to walk down to where Sheila was waiting with her two kids, Shaun made an amendment to his earlier statement. “Could someone help me carry these trays down there?”
“I will,” John said.
Lucy leaned in close to him. “Thanks. See you down there.” She kissed him on the cheek and continued towards the playground.
John returned to the picnic table and was picking up a platter of bratwursts when Shaun reached out and put a hand on his shoulder.
“Not yet. I need to talk to you first.”
John could hear a menacing edge in Shaun’s voice. Before John had a chance to sit down, Shaun grabbed him by both shoulders and shoved his face uncomfortably close to John’s own.
“I know what you’re doing,” Shaun hissed. “You may not even realize what you’re doing, but I do. All summer Lucy’s been thinking about you, talking about you at the weirdest times. Bumping into you. And I know about that moment you two shared at McDonalds. You and her may have had something in the past, but that’s just it; the past. Just leave her alone. Let her move on. We have a relationship. Not you. Okay? I’m not prone to violence; But God so help me, if someone, anyone, steps between me and Lucy, even you, I may become violent.”
John tried to back away. “Look, I’m sorry, but this is the first I’ve heard about it. And we live in the same city; eventually we’re going to run into each other.”
“Well, stop trying to!” Shaun yelled.
“I’m not trying to!” John yelled back. He vaguely suspected that everyone down at the playground could hear them, but he didn’t care. “You think I’m doing this on purpose? Ever since—ever since I woke up, there she’s been, holding on to me! I’d forgotten her, and I’d be just as happy if she’d forget me!”
“If you’d really forgotten her, then why did you come back?!”
“I was mentally unstable at the time! I didn’t even remember her, and then whoosh, it all comes back! You don’t know how disorienting that is! If you have problems, talk to her about it! I don’t want to get involved in this.”
Shaun released his grasp and walked a few steps away, clutching at his face. “Oh, God, if you hadn’t come back, we’d be happy!”
“I tried to stop it the day after I first saw her. She continued it. So don’t threaten me.”
Shaun laughed quietly to himself. “He promised if you didn’t come back, everything would go well…”
This sudden shift in the conversation took John by surprise. “Who said that?”
Shaun dropped his hands and looked around nervously. “Who said what?”
John was growing impatient. “That thing you said about ‘he promised,’ pr whatever.”
“That was—that… After you showed up, after that thing at McDonald’s, Lucy and I went to a relationship counselor…”
John knew he was being lied to, but he didn’t press the matter. “I’ll tell you what. After today, I’ll leave you two alone. I’ll try to avoid Lucy; if I can’t I’ll try to get away. I’ll get happily out of your lives.”
Shaun shook his head ruefully. “It’s too late for that. She loves you know. She wants to be with you, not me…”
John again picked up the platter of bratwursts. “I’m sorry, but that’s between you and Lucy. I’m not involved with this anymore.” He glared at Shaun. “If you have anymore problems with me, you can discuss it with my lawyer.”
Shaun stood by the grill, watching John as he walked away. “I knew I couldn’t trust him… it’s just like last time…” Then he too picked up a platter of food and carried it down to the playground.
Lunch went well enough, with plenty of food for everyone. Fred’s two kids, Brian and Lisa, managed to drop a burger apiece on the ground, and a stray dog messed with the group at one point. But other than that, everything went well. Or so it seemed.
Fred noticed that John kept his conversation with Lucy to a minimum, and that neither Shaun nor John would make eye contact with each other. Fred knew why, of course; when no one had come down the hill with the food, he had gone up to check on them and had overheard part of their argument. And as much as he wanted to side with his old police force buddy, he had to admit that John was in the right.
When lunch was over, Sheila cleaned up the kids and Shaun and Lucy went to clean up the barbecue grill, leaving Fred and John to clean up the picnic area. On the way back from a trip to the garbage barrel, Fred put one arm around John’s shoulder and pulled him to a stop. “I noticed that you and Shaun were a little tense during the meal.”
John tried to shrug, but found it rather difficult with Fred’s arm in the way. “We had a conversation…”
Fred smiled sardonically. “I heard part of it.”
“If you already know what’s going on, then why are you—“
“I just want to say that while I know it’s not your fault, I think you’re doing the right thing in not interfering in their relationship anymore.” He lowered his voice to almost a whisper. “I also know Shaun pretty well, and he’s a great guy, but he can get… dangerous at times. I don’t think he’ll do anything, but if he does, just give me a call.” He handed John a business card and then walked back to the playground, leaving John standing near the garbage barrel.
John silently put the card in his pocket. Shaun frightened him, Lucy was acting strangely around him, he still felt distant from his family, and Walter was… well, Walter. But John knew that he could count Fred as a friend.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

I Can't Think Of A Witty Title...

Yeah, it's been a while since the last update. I still haven't done the reveiw of T3, and I have a new custom 'Joe to show of. But right now, I have chapter 8 of E.H.U.D. In the last draft, this chapter was much shorter and featured later in the novel, but with this draft I decided to use it to flesh out the universe a little, expressing some of the day-to-day consequences of the apperance of a group of super-powered terrorists. Also, I set up something in this chapter that won't pan out until book three, but which I felt was essential to establish.

Other notes: I ask everyone, please, please leave comments. Also: I found out recently that when pasting in text from MS Word, Italisized words don't stay that way, so I appologize for any confusion that made on the last few chapters...

Chapter 8

John was in his office, hunched over his desk, slowly circling a stylus in the air over his computer monitor. He reached out, highlighting a joist on the plans he was working on. He used the stylus to nudge the joist a few inches, and then ran a stress test on the design. The building held, so he switched back to blue-print view and stared at the plans for several minutes.
John’s current project was designing a new building for the Hemermin Museum of Sculpture and Three-Dimensional Art. It was a project he greatly enjoyed; the client had few requirements and offered a great deal of freedom, pointing out that John’s final design would itself be three-dimensional art.
Leaning in closer, John stared down at the reflective floor in the main exhibition hall that the client had requested. No matter how hard he tried, John couldn’t get the light to play exactly as he wanted it to. He had tried several different types of material, and had moved the room’s primary window all across the wall over the entrance corridor, but the light just wasn’t illuminating the statues the way he wanted it too.
He rotated the view until he saw the building from the side, and then pulled at the center of the floor, bringing down by about three quarters of an inch. He was a bit worried about this move; the client had asked for a “sea of glass” and had specified that it had to be perfectly flat, but making the floor concave was the only way to get the proper illumination. John rendered the plans and ran them through a lighting simulation. The digital sun ran through its daily track, visible from all angles through the window. The light shifted and moved around on the floor, but reflected up and lit the undersides of the statues that John had chosen to fill the mock-up: The Thinker, David, La Pieta, The Sproing. It was beautiful, but not quite perfect. John switched back to a normal view of the plans and added a band of reflective material around the edge of the roof. Then he went back and ran the light simulation again. The sun bounced off of the floor, and any light that wasn’t caught by the statues came down behind them, via the reflective strip. Perfect.
John wrote up the changes he had made, re-ran the simulation, this time recording it, and sent both the list of changes and the recording to his client. Then he saved the project, closed the program, and turned his attention to his real obsession of the morning.
He opened up AmeriSearch and typed in the president’s name. The results he got were the same ones he had gotten on his last break, over an hour ago. He sighed and sat back in his chair.
Ever since the world had woken up that morning, there seemed to be only one thing anyone could discuss: last night’s attempt to assassinate Isaac Latterndale. John was no different than anyone else; he also wanted to know exactly was going on, and why. So far, however, the details had been scarce. Once the news of the attempt became common knowledge, and after a reporter on the radio had accidentally mentioned Merv Lemlin’s parting letter, Eli Rosencrantz had promised that the White House would be offering an official statement at some time that day. “’Just give us enough time to get our lies straight,’” Walter had quipped.
While John was interested in the story as much as anyone else, there was also a personal side to his desire to know more. After being apart from history, and missing the great goings-on of the world for fifteen years, John felt that this was his time to get immersed in the issue, to find out the facts and become immersed in the debates; this was something he could tell his grandchildren about.
And now, after waiting an hour for just a little bit more of the story, nothing.
John absently rolled his chair back and forth a few times, and then checked his e-mail. No reply from the Hemermin Foundation yet.
With nothing left to do, John went back to his design program and opened up his personal project. Various sub files flashed across the screen as the computer loaded the complete architectural files of Johnstown, the massive construct John had been working on in his free time for the past two months.
The file finished loading, and John looked in awe at what his hands had wrought. Over a mile and a half high, the central tower of Johnstown was an engineering miracle. For the first two weeks at Cohen & Associates, John had been running various tower designs through computerized stress tests, building the tower higher and higher. Unfortunately, the highest he was able to get the tower, using practical materials and methods, was about four thousand feet. So John got creative, stretching the base of his tower to be half a mile in diameter, with large vaulted interior domes spreading the weight of the upper floors. He then shifted the internal structure from a pre-loaded traditional lattice-work of cross-beams and stacked floors to a massive pile of dodecahedrons, each connected to each other and to a central column by a collection of shock absorbers. The joints of the dodecahedrons were also made out of shock absorbers, allowing the entire building to warp and flex in strong winds. True, the dodecahedrons required an interesting system of elevators to service them all, but on the whole, the building was a marvel. Around the central tower were twelve smaller ones, each slightly under a mile high, connected to the central tower by long wings, sweeping down from the outrigger towers and then swooping back up to connect with the main spire.
A few people had come by John’s office while he was working on it, and had commented favorably on it. But even though John enjoyed the praise, he always felt slightly guilty, because he knew that while some of the work was his, especially the design for the shock absorbing system, the tower had actually grown out of someone else’s work. Specifically, it was an outgrowth of SkyCrest Apartments.
After only a week of working with C & A, John had found himself going through the company’s network, looking over files from past jobs. Everything was there in the network: the original customer specifications, sketches, schematics, digital renders, and, if available, photos of the finished buildings.
He had quickly found his way to the SkyCrest project, and had started studying the blue prints. The building was quite unique; it was nothing more than a thin concrete tube, with a basement and twelve floors of space, including the fitness center, lobby, and some stores. Everything above that, all the residential floors, were just prefabricated units: two five-apartment semi-circles with points to attach to the elevator system, pushed together and stacked around the core. John’s first experiments with changing the building had been to get it significantly taller, but when his experiments started to collapse in the stress-tests, he had been forced to change the design, leading to his eventual inclusion of the dodecahedrons.
John broke from his reverie and touched a dodecahedron’s floor panel. The image zoomed in on the panel and slowly rotated it. John touched it again, and then pressed delete on his keyboard. He then went into free-draw mode, and sketched out several long, thin panels and designated them as “Reinforced- Aluminum Crossbar.” He then placed several of them in the shape of a pentagon and placed shock absorbing material between them, so they formed a complete panel. Then he placed it back into a dodecahedron, tested it, and then applied the change to all of the dodecahedrons.
After a few moments, John’s thoughts slipped back to the SkyCrest files, and then to some of the other files he had seen while looking around. There were several museums, bus depots, the capitol of some small country that he had never heard of. But what interested John most was a file marked “Presidential Nuclear Disaster Survival Bunker.”
When John had tried to open the file, a warning had popped up, telling him that the information inside was classified and not to be discussed with anyone outside of the company, on threat of termination of employment, as well as stiff legal penalties. John had indicated his assent and the message had been replaced with plans for a massive underground compound. Above ground was a heavily-fortified two-story bunker, with a small reception lobby and a freight elevator. The elevator went down for almost one hundred feet before reaching more of the building. The first floor underground was a processing station, with several smaller elevators and a large area labeled ‘Detoxification Center.’ Below that were residential areas, with sleeping arrangements for about fifty people, and beneath that was a kitchen. The building continued down for several stories, including practical things such as huge storage rooms, air processing equipment, and water recycling centers. There were also some strange things: an Olympic-sized swimming pool, an arcade, and an art gallery. But what John found at the very bottom of the building was the strangest thing of all.
Filling the entire bottom floor was some sort of clinic, and, like most of the rest of blue-print, included furniture and equipment. But this was very strange equipment. Gene sequencers, cold storage modules, three super computers, and ten gynecological exam tables. John stared at the plans for several long minutes, trying to comprehend what on earth all of this was for. Eventually, he had given up, closed the file, and tried to ignore it.
John’s computer beeped and he came back to the present. A message had appeared on his desk top; Hemermin had answered. John checked his e-mail and smiled. His changes were approved, and he was now finished with the project. He closed down the file for Johnstown, opened up the Hemermin Museum, exported it as a finished plan, along with several 3-D renders, and then sent it all back to his client for final approval.
Then John opened AmeriSearch and checked for more news on the assassination attempt. There, at the top of the page, was the official White House statement on the events of the previous night. John eagerly clicked on the link, and read the statement.
“At approximately eight fifteen last night, a man claiming to be Merv Lemlin, Private first class of the United States Army, deceased, entered into the World Peace Banquet being held here in the White House, and attempted to kill President Isaac Latterndale. While this man did not succeed, he did kill and injure many guests and security personnel before being killed himself. Despite the High Security precautions at the banquet, the assailant was apparently able to bypass security using what can only be described as supernatural powers. Several prominent scientists have reviewed footage from the banquet and have been unable to determine how the attacker was able to perform the acts he committed. A recording of the attack is now available at the White House website, although I must warn you that it contains disturbing images, and it is not recommended that anyone under the age of eighteen view it.
“Immediately before beginning his attack, the mysteries assailant made several allegations against the president, accusing him of approving and overseeing an illegal human experimentation program on American citizens. The assailant also sent several documents concerning these allegations to leaders of the senate. After rigorously examining these documents, experts working for the Central Intelligence Agency have verified them as being fabrications, and that evidence suggests these documents, as well as the would-be assassin, were sent by a foreign power to terrorize the United States.
“President Latterndale would like to reassure his fellow American citizens that he will not be pushed around by these terrorists, and that he will be unwavering in his quest to discover who these people are, and what the source of their mysterious powers is. Thank you, and good day.”
As soon as he finished reading the press release, John clicked on the link that would take him to the video of the attack. The video was edited together from four different video sources: three cameras on the White Houses’ closed-circuit system, and one from a news crew that had been allowed into the banquet. With the constant shifting between angles, and of course the contents of the video, John was sure he was watching a Hollywood fabrication. He almost laughed as a soldier was jerked into the air and exploded in a shower of gore. This was preposterous! Did the president really think he could fool the American public with such a flagrant lie?
John left his office and went to find Walter. Walter was always the first one to know interesting facts, and he probably already knew the names of the director, producers, and actors in the president’s farce.
“No,” Walter said, “it’s authentic. All they did was edit the sources together, so we could see the best angles.”
“Yes, but what this Merv person did was impossible!”
Walter shrugged. “I know. But last night they had the original news video on YouTube before they edited it. I was halfway through watching it when they pulled the video, but it showed the same stuff. The president’s covering up something, but it’s not what Merv did to him.”
John sat down in the one spare chair in Walter’s office and shook his head. “I can’t accept that this is reality. What he did was—was firmly in the realm of science fiction. Maybe—I don’t know, maybe this whole thing was faked from the beginning, and even the original news video was faked, to make all this look more real.”
Walter picked up a knick-knack from his desk and absently tossed it from hand to hand. “It is pretty hard to believe. You know Donnie, the new intern?”
John nodded.
“He’s spent all morning trying to convince everyone that this is the first sign of the Apocalypse, and that Merv will recover and become the Antichrist.” Walter raised an eyebrow, making it clear he didn’t believe Donnie.
John shrugged. “That means nothing to me.”
“Oh, right, I forgot.” Walter spun his chair around a few times and stared out his window, still playing with his knick-knack. “It really doesn’t matter what religion you have, I guess. We all have to deal with proof positive of the supernatural, now.”
“Or proof positive of a big conspiracy.”
Walter let out a bark-like laugh. “I bet you all those crystals-and-pyramids nuts are having a field day with this.”
John didn’t reply.
Walter continued to spin in his chair. “Huh?”
John still didn’t respond.
Walter stopped spinning and snapped his fingers at John. “Whoa, hey, are you there, buddy?”
John shook himself and looked strangely at Walter. “A big conspiracy.”
Walter stared blankly at John. “What?”
John smiled broadly and gestured frantically. “There’s some sort of big conspiracy going on. Have you seen that bunker design on the network?”
“Yeah, I was the head of the team on that one.”
“Really? Well, anyway, the threat of nuclear war dropped to almost nothing after the Soviet Union broke up, and preparing for World War III became unimportant. So suddenly this president, apparently one of the most controversial presidents in the last… forever, commissions this top secret bunker. And at the very bottom, the most protected place in the bunker, is a clinic with three super computers. Do you know what super computers are used for?”
Walter looked like he wasn’t exactly following John’s train of thought. “Computing… superly?”
“For doing the complex calculations involved in manipulating the human gene sequence!”
“Yeah, the gene sequencing machines were a bit of a giveaway there.”
John shook his head in frustration. “That’s not important! So anyway, Latterndale arranges an assassination attempt, with the most off-the-wall, bizarre assassin he could think of, survives, and blames a foreign country. Tensions rise, it starts World War III, and the president hides in his bunker till it all blows over!”
“And the gene sequencers?”
John nodded. “He’s already extended out into his third term. He wants power, and he wants to keep it. So,” John pointed dramatically at the ceiling, “he keeps himself alive through cloning!”
Walter didn’t respond for several seconds. “That’s your theory?”
Walter fell back into silence. “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.”
“He would harvest the clones for organs, raising them in nutrient-rich hyper-wombs so that they would grow fairly quickly and just have developed organs, the rest would be mostly dead—“
“That—That violates just about everything I remember about genetics from biology class.”
John sat back in his chair, and neither man talked for several log moments.
“Allright,” John admitted, “that was a pretty stupid idea.” He scratched his head. “So what’s your idea? How do you explain what happened last night?”
“That’s the best part, I don’t need an opinion. Unless another event like this happens, I’ll just let the philosophers and scientists work it out.”
“Yeah, I guess I’ll do that, too.” John glanced around the room, and noticed a clock on the far wall. One seventeen. John stood up to go. “Well, I better get back to work. Keep me posted on any new assassin news.”
“Oh, wait; there was something else I wanted to talk to you about.”
John stopped. “What?”
“You know Susan, in accounting?”
“Yeah, what about her?”
Walter grinned wolfishly. “It just so happens that her sister has agreed to go to dinner with me tonight.”
“Congratulations. What does this have to do with me?”
Walter’s grin disappeared. “She only agreed if I would be willing to make it a double date with Susan, and Susan’s a bit… Well, you know her.”
John edged closer to the door. “Yes, I know her. I want no part in this.”
“John, please.” Walter gestured helplessly. “I really like this woman, and the only way she’ll agree is if we double date. And you can’t double date without a date to… double with…” Walter trailed off. “Okay, I can’t think of anything witty to say, but please, I need this!”
“No, not after last time.” Two weeks before, Walter hade arranged for John to go out with a woman named Doreen, who Walter claimed to know from college. She and John had gone out for dinner, and then to see a theatre festival being held in a nearby park. John had spent the whole evening trying to think of things to say, but was always to shy to actually start a conversation. For her art, Doreen kept staring at her watch every few minutes, and shortly after arriving at the festival, she had wondered away from John, and he didn’t see her again. Since then, Walter had tried to set John up with one or two other women, but John had steadfastly refused. And he had no intention of accepting now.
“Oh, c’mon,” Walter insisted, “you already know her. She has a great personality, and she’s really funny!” As he talked, Walter made little hand gestures, as if trying to illustrate his point.
John tried to hold in a laugh, but it was too strong, and ended up coming out through his nose. “I’m sorry, but if I had to describe Susan, the word ‘funny’ would not be used in any context.”
“Okay, so she’s not actually all that funny, but you never know. You might actually like her.”
“That’s what you said about Doreen.”
“So I was wrong once.” Walter stared at John with large, woeful eyes and a protruding lower lip. “Please, John, you’re my only hope. I don’t know who else to turn to.”
John sighed. “Don’t you have work to do?”
Walter sighed and arranged his chair in front of his computer. “I guess you’re right, I should get back to work. After all, what is there for me, outside of work? For I am doomed to a life of perpetual bachelorhood. There shall be no true love in my life.” He faced his computer and typed morosely for a while. “Hey! Now they’re saying Merv was an alien!”
John reached for the door. “Fine, I’ll do it. But never ask me for something like this again, understand?”
Walter’s face split into a wide grin. “Oh, thanks, you’re a real life saver. I knew I could rely on you!”
“You also get my snack-room clean-up duty next week.” John was out the door before Walter had a chance to reply.
After going back to his office and finding no new messages, John went down to the accounting department, and asked Susan if she had any dinner plans for the evening. She smiled awkwardly and told him that yes, she did now, and what restaurant the plans were for. John worked through the details with her, and then hurried back to his office, as quickly as he could.
John went through the rest of his day, his fears alternating between the bizarre unknowable things Merv Lemlin had been reported doing the previous night, and the date he had to go on that night. John didn’t know why, but finding a girlfriend didn’t seem all that important too him. He knew most of the guys at the office were already married or hoping to get that way, but none of that interested John. The best explanation he could think of was that Luc was the only person he was ever meant to really, truly love, and since he had missed his chance with her, there was no reason finding someone else. He didn’t really believe that explanation, but after what had happened last night, he, and the rest of the world with him, weren’t sure what to believe anymore.
At four-thirty, John shut down his computer and left the office. Walter tried talking to him on the elevator, but John ignored him. They’d have plenty of times to talk at dinner that night.
John was halfway across the street when he remembered that the parking garage he usually used was under reconstruction, and that he had had to park almost a mile away. He sighed and grumbled to himself as he took off his jacket and loosened his tie. It was the second hottest day of the year, and now he would have to hike to get to his car.
After going what felt like at least two miles, John checked his watch. It was now almost five, and he said he would meet Susan at six. John looked around, sure that his alternate Garage must be nearby. When he couldn’t find it, John reached for his cell phone and flipped through its menus, trying to find the GPS feature that would allow him to find his car.
Just then, John felt a gentle tug at the back of his mind and he spun around, frightening several of the pedestrians around him. There was the garage. John smiled and headed towards it.
When he was just two blocks away from his destination, John happened to look up and notice a tall Oriental woman passing by, wearing a long coat and a pair of dark sunglasses. John’s eyes were drawn to the woman’s face. He didn’t recognize her, and he quickly looked away.
But he was certain that he knew her.
John looked back up and watched the woman as she continued down the street. He couldn’t describe it, but he had that same sure feeling as when he had thought up the name Allen for his computer; like a deep memory, half-forgotten, but coming back to the surface. As soon as he thought that, John saw an image of this woman, covered in grime and wearing a thin paper gown, yelling at him emphatically. John’s mind returned to the present, and he saw the woman walk around a corner and disappear.
He glanced quickly at his watch and shook his head. He would barely have time to get home for a shower before having to go out on his date. He sighed and jogged to get across the street in front of him before the “walk” signal shut off.
John was in the middle of the street when the image of the woman, again wearing the paper gown, popped into his mind. He didn’t know where the woman was supposed to be, or who she was, but he felt tense and unsafe, as if they were about to do something dangerous together. And it wasn’t just the two of them; there were other presences in his mind, others caught in the life-or-death struggle that suddenly filled his mind… And there was Allen…
A car honked, and John gasped, realizing that he had been standing in the street, blocking traffic. He checked his watch again. Apparently, he had been standing there for quite some time. He continued to stand there, staring at the garage he was parked and thinking about the woman. A moment later, one of the blocked drivers rolled down his window and cursed loudly at John, breaking him out of his reverie.
John turned around, and went around the corner where he had last seen the woman. The street was filled with people, but not the mysterious woman. John looked down the street for a while, but still didn’t see her. He glanced at his watch again, then once more down the street, and then started back on his way to his car.
There. Out of the corner of his eye, John saw the woman leaving a large building, probably a bank, and walk down the street in the opposite direction of where John was headed.
After one last bout of indecision, John put that night’s date out of his mind and followed after the woman.
She kept a brisk pace, and made frequent stops and side-trips, following no particular course, and sometimes circling blocks several times before moving on. John wondered more than once if she knew she was being followed, but he decided against that; there were hundreds of people out on the street at this time of day, and John noted that some of them had stayed with him and the woman for quite some way. But, one by one, the other people in the crowds made stops, or got on the subway, or simply walked off, only to be replaced by new people. In ten minutes, no one was left who had started out their route back where John had.
After walking for about fifteen minuets, the woman stopped abruptly outside a small drug store. John was so engrossed with following her that he didn’t notice she had stopped and would have run into her if she hadn’t moved from in front of him and gone into the drug store. John stopped and stared after his query, wanting to follow her inside and maybe start a conversation. Instead, he took this time to examine his motivations for this cross-town trek. He checked his watch again. 6:45. There was no way he could make it to dinner now; he had broken a promise for no more reason than idle curiosity. But was it really just curiosity, or something more? Sure, this woman was beautiful, but John wasn’t particularly attracted to her; in fact, there was a part of him that feared and even hated this woman. He couldn’t explain why, it was just a gut instinct, again like anything involving Allan. John ran the last half hour through his mind again: Strange hallucinations, blacking out with no memory of what he had been doing, that strange, tickling voice at the back of his mind. And this woman, this strange, scary woman. John was satisfied that at least his following her wasn’t due to any lusting on his part. But the question still bothered him. Why?
The door to the drugstore opened, and the woman came out and walked briskly away before John had a chance to see what was in the large bag she was now carrying. John was about to check his watch again, and then realized there was no more point in it. He was now committed to following this woman, no matter what personal qualms he had about it.
The chase continued, and each time they stopped at a pedestrian crossing, John would try to look over the woman’s shoulder to see what she had bought. John thought it wouldn’t be too hard; he was nearly a foot taller than she was. But she always shifted in such a way that he couldn’t quite tell what she had. It was almost like she knew he was there, and was trying to block his view. At the third stop, John was finally able to make out what was in the package. A dozen roses, arranged neatly in a plastic tube.
The “walk” signal turned on, and John followed the woman across the street. He now felt guilty. The woman was probably going to see someone in the hospital, or was herself supposed to meet someone for romantic reasons. What was he doing out here, stalking this woman? And yes, he told himself, it really was stalking her. He had no idea who she was, had no connection to her except for an overactive imagination, and now he was bending his whole life around her. How would she react if she knew John was following her? Or did she already know, already have the feeling that someone was following her, and was just biding her time before spinning around and dousing John in pepper spray?
Another question popped into John’s mind. What would Walter and Susan do to him tomorrow? John smiled ruefully. His coworkers’ anger didn’t frighten him half so much as this woman’s mere presence did.
He almost turned back then, lamenting the hour he had already wasted on this hike, but feeling sure he shouldn’t continue it, when he felt another tug at the back of his mind. John sighed and continued on after the woman.
Another hour passed in silence as the woman kept her steady pace for mile after mile. She had done away with her erratic path and was now walking straight, block after block. John stayed about ten feet behind her the whole way, sometimes staring around at architecture, sometimes at the people he passed, but most of the time at the back of the woman’s head. He glanced around again, and noticed that they were no longer downtown, but working their way towards a suburb. John briefly felt panic rising within him; he was following this woman to her home! What would he do then? Stand in her driveway all night and take up where he had left off tomorrow morning?
John slowed down and was about to begin the monumental trek back to his car when the woman suddenly stopped and passed through a small gate in the stone wall lining the street. John was surprised to see her go. He walked towards the gate and looked in. To his even greater surprise, John found he knew this place. This gate led to the back entrance of the cemetery where John’s grandparents were buried.
Why would she be going into a cemetery? John had just walked through the gate and into the large green yard when realization suddenly hit him. This woman was out mourning a departed friend or relative, and he had followed her, and was now intruding on a very private moment. He felt disgusted with himself. What was he thinking? So what if he thought he knew her, this was just wrong; he had already ruined Susan’s evening, and now he would ruin this stranger’s evening.
After taking one final look at the woman, who was now bending over a grave some twenty feet away, John turned and left. He had just gone back into the yard when he felt someone bump into him from behind. The woman ran past him, muttering to herself.
Or maybe not to herself. It sounded to John like she had said: “Check the grave, ****it.”
John stood in stunned silence, not sure what to do now. He did want to know who this woman had come to see, and even though it wasn’t any of his business, the woman apparently wanted him to know.
John distractedly scratched his elbow, and then went back into the cemetery. It wasn’t hard to find the grave; there was a pile of bright red flowers lying on top of it.
John approached the grave and studied it for a moment. It had one of those flat stones, and was virtually invisible from any angle except directly above. John knelt and read the name on the stone.
Jonathan Michael Donalson. Dated fifteen years ago, today.
John gasped and fell over backwards. His breath sped up and he was soon hyperventilating. He reached up and covered his mouth, trying to slow his breathing. Tears streamed down his cheeks. This was where he was buried… This was the place his parents had chosen to put to rest his… no not his remains, but someone’s… This woman did know him …
After ten minuets of writhing in the grass, thoughts and fears and hopes swirling through his mind, John stood, picked up a single rose, and walked numbly back to his car.
And with each step, one question was pounded deeper into his mind: Who was she?

A fire crackled merrily in the fire place, but it did nothing to raise Johns spirits. He sat slumped over on his couch, staring blankly at the rose sitting next to him. All the way back to his car, John wondered why he had taken the rose; he had even thrown it away twice, trying to convince himself that he had no right to it. But for some reason, something inside him told him that the woman had known that John was following her, and that the rose was somehow for his benefit, as if she were trying to tell him something, giving him a clue that only he understood. Unfortunately, he didn’t understand the clue either. And besides, if she had wanted to talk with John, she had had ample opportunity to speak with him. No, there was something else going on here.
And suddenly John realized what that something else must have been. As he continued to gaze at the fire, he thought back to his meeting with Dr. Polmelroy, back when he had first awakened. He had mentioned someone, a marine if John remembered correctly, whose body had been confused with his and, presumably, been buried in his stead. Maybe that woman had known the marine, and when the whole messy business had come out, had gone to see her long lost... whoever he was to her. John felt hope surging through his body. Since he was mistaken for the marine, the woman may have visited him in the hospital and he must have somehow made memories of her there. And that might have been why she hadn’t raised an alarm when she saw John at the cemetery, or if she had noticed him before then. She knew he was the poor confused soul who she thought was… was…
The name wouldn’t come. John stroked the rose and twitched his foot while he thought. It started with a ‘U’… Udarian… As hard as he tried, John couldn’t remember Udarian’s first name, if he had heard it at all.
One way to find out….
John felt his stomach twisting, and he glanced at a clock on the wall. He hadn’t eaten in nearly twelve hours. Well, he hadn’t been willing to eat before, consumed with guilt over that days’ actions, but now, with this new theory that perfectly explained everything, John felt absolved enough to have a quick snack. Taking a final deep breath from the rose, John put it down and walked into the kitchen. He shuffled through the cabinets until he found a box of crackers. He went back to the couch, ate a handful, and then called out to the computer, “Allen: Perform search for persons. First name: unknown. Last name: Udarian. Limit search: Deceased. Date of death: Today, fifteen years ago. Read first result.”
There was a brief silence while Allen performed the search, and then a loud beep when the results came back. “One results found: Udarian, Brian. Deceased.”
Brian, that was it. Yes, John was sure now that Polmelroy had mentioned the name. Swallowing another handful of crackers, John pulled himself to his feet and shuffled over to the nearest wall screen. Allen was displaying a military public records site. At the top of the page was a picture of Udarian. John was surprised at how much alike they looked. That must have been why the woman couldn’t tell that John wasn’t Udarian. Under the picture were displayed all of the basic facts of Brian Udarian’s life: full name, date of birth, rank at time of death, blood type. There was a link at the bottom of the page to access a complete synopsis of Udarian’s career, but when John clicked on it he was informed that the page was restricted, and he needed to use a Marine Corpse serial number and password to proceed further.
John wasn’t surprised or particularly concerned; this was private information, and really none of his business. He was about to shut down the search and have dinner when he felt a presence in the back of his mind. But instead of closing down all his thoughts or all but a few, this presence just slid through his memories, gently prodding some, completely bypassing others. John reached for the small keyboard under the screen and began to type the numbers that where appearing in his head into the first login field, and then type the name “Allen” into the second field. The presence instantly retreated from his mind, and the page reloaded, showing a detailed review of the life and career of First Sergeant Brian Udarian. John briefly skimmed through the beginning of the article, but got bored and jumped to the end. He stopped when he saw his own name mentioned, and began an in-depth reading.
“- following a collision with civilian John Donalson (22), 1SD Udarian was admitted to the Walter Reed National Army Medical Center, where he was given treatment for three hours before dying at 12:17. However, due to a clerical error, among other factors, he was not reported as…”
John read the next few sentences but then stopped. Certain phrases in the next paragraph jumped out at him, despite his best efforts to ignore them. “-maimed beyond recognition… multiple compound fractures… steering column bisecting chest cavity-“ There were even a few pictures. John swallowed and looked away. No wonder his parents couldn’t tell the difference between his and Udarian’s body…
John decided once again to close the page and have dinner—well, maybe he would skip dinner after seeing those pictures, when he noticed another link stating “Further Information Classified.” John couldn’t think what further information there could possibly be; the article was rather comprehensive. And from what he had read, the sergeant’s career had been rather dull. What would be classified?
Another dialogue box appeared, informing its reader that to proceed further without proper authorization would be considered virtual trespassing, and would be a felony, with a minimum of ten years in prison. Feeling particularly brave, John ignored the warning and re-typed “Allen” into the password field. The box disappeared, replaced by an entirely new window. John perused the article briefly, not quite believing what he read. The new article went on for pages, documenting Udarian’s extensive service in the Gaza War.
That was impossible.
When he had gone to visit his family for the first time after awakening, John’s father had told him the war had been only a year ago, when Udarian was long dead and buried.
A sudden image flashed through John’s mind. He was in a large plaza, with dilapidated buildings on all sides. Standing before him, dressed in thick slabs of camouflaged armor, was a man that John instinctively knew to be Brian Udarian. Armed men streamed into the plaza, shooting all variety of weapons at Udarian as he swung around, returning fire at his tormentors. John looked around inside this… Vision? Memory? And found that he, too, was wearing the armor, and that enemies were firing at him. Despite the hail of bullets, he didn’t feel anything; the armor was holding up. Udarian mowed down wave after wave of enemies, but they eventually overpowered him, knocked him down, pulled off his helmet, gouged at his exposed face with knives, fingers, rifle butts. Udarian shrieked, “John! John, help me *******it!”
He ignored the pleas for help, feeling rather good about himself for doing so. Another armor figure approached him, also oblivious to the dangers of enemy fire. Following his instinct again, John knew it was the woman he had followed. And now he had a name: Naomi.
He’s dead, John seemed to say.
We should have killed him years ago, Naomi seemed to reply. This has gone on long enough.
It’s almost over. John knew that he wasn’t talking about Udarian’s pitiful screaming, however. More important things were on his mind. Allen says things will be happen quickly after this.
What’s the signal, just in case?
John didn’t respond. There was a loud snap, and Udarian fell silent. A rose. On my grave.
As soon as this thought passed through John’s mind, he felt again the dark presence, shoving its way in, destroying memories, shattering reality, driving him to the floor, into the darkness…
John blinked. He was still standing in front of the computer screen. He couldn’t quite remember what had just happened… He was reading about Udarian’s death report, and-- and there at the bottom of the page was-- Nothing. The article ended. John scrolled quickly to the top and noticed something he hadn’t seen before: the name of Udarian’s wife. Naomi. Next to the name was a picture of the woman that John had been following. John did another search, this time looking for Naomi Udarian. She was a little-known luggage designer living in Paris, who occasionally came back to the states to visit her husband.
John sighed contentedly. All mysteries solved. He followed her because he somehow recognized her from his time comatose, and she hadn’t complained because she knew who he was. John walked back to his couch and picked up the flower. All had turned out well, and he no longer felt guilty for stocking the wom—Naomi.
He whistled as he walked into the kitchen and prepared supper. Walter may be mad that he stood up Susan, but all in all, John felt that the evening had been worth it.