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.
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?”
“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.