Friday, July 31, 2009

Again, No Witty Title...

I had a really interesting essay planned to include in this space, but I decided against it. Instead, I'm going to put in a plug for my art prints! for only $10 +s&h, you can get a print of one of my pieces of fine art! I will have pictures up next month of the quality items available! All pieces are printed with a five color process on high-quality, glossy photostock, and will be signed and numbered by yours truly! Just leave a comment or drop an e-mail if you are interested in seeing the catalogue a bit early!

And without further ado, chapter 13!

Chapter 13

It was now Thursday, and even though he had only gone out for lunch the previous day, John found himself sitting with his family in an up-scale restaurant. He didn’t particularly want to be there, especially considering what had happened last time he went out to eat, but he knew his family expected him to be there. Last night his mother had called him, telling him that in the years since he left their lives, the family had taken to celebrating Rosh Hashanah by going out for a nice dinner, rather than the full celebration that they had performed in his childhood.
Despite John’s initial refusal, his mother had pointed out that the family hadn’t gather in force since the barbeque earlier that year, and that Rosh Hashanah was a special time, and that it wouldn’t be right for John to deprive them of his presence. After all, he was the baby of the family, and they still missed him dearly. After twenty minutes or so, John had relented, and so here he was, sitting at a long table, surrounded by most of his family.
Despite his mother’s efforts to gather everyone, there were a few notable absences from the gathering. Some of the cousins hadn’t been able to make it, and, as usual, John’s Aunt Beverly, who hadn’t been there at his homecoming party either. The most noticeable absences, however, were Reggie and his daughter Rachel. John’s mother was upset that they weren’t there, but John’s father, Phil, was able to calm her down by reminding her that Reggie had called ahead to say he’d be late.
In the end, Reggie wasn’t that late. He and Rachel managed to get to the restaurant shortly after the drinks were served, thus giving them plenty of time to order before the rest of the party’s food had arrived.
Rachel sat down in the chair to the left of John. She looked pale and tired, with bags starting to form under her eyes. Whenever anyone tried to talk to her, she muttered a short reply and glared at the table. Reggie, on the other hand, was much more talkative. To John, he seemed to be too talkative, as if he were trying to make up for his daughter’s silence. He tried to strike up a conversation with John about how work was going, but John didn’t have much to tell him. His job consisted primarily of being assigned a project, working on it for a few weeks, and then moving on to something else. When he had run out of things to say, John turned the question back on Reggie, expecting a decent sized reply about how exciting things were at the hospital, but Reggie managed to divert the conversation by saying that none of his stories were really the proper things to talk about before eating.
With that conversation prematurely over, John looked around at all of the relatives gathered here. They were all talking with each other, breaking off into little groups and communicating, sharing stories and lives. John wanted to have some sort of contact with them, but he just felt so isolated. He had experienced something no one else there had, and it had cut him off from everyone. The family moved on, and he didn’t. He didn’t know half of these people; they didn’t know him. What conversations could he have with them? He had to have some sort of conversation. He looked around again, and noticed a boy of about thirteen sitting a few seats down on the other side of the table. He recognized the boy, but couldn’t quite remember who he was.
The boy was sitting near Rhonda, John’s sister. John tried to remember back to the barbeque; Reggie had introduced him to Rhonda’s family… she had two—no, three children, but John couldn’t remember any of their names.
Finally, he leaned over to Rachel and whispered, “Do you know Rhonda’s kids’ names?”
Rachel glanced around, and then replied, just as quietly as John, “Frank, Jo, and Chester.”
“Which one is the oldest?”
John smiled. “Thanks.”
Rachel looked around again, and then smiled uneasily. “You’re… welcome?”
John readjusted himself in his seat and fought off a smile. He finally had a conversation topic.
He cleared his throat and said, “Hey, Rhonda.”
Rhonda was busy wiping partially chewed bread chunks off of Chester, but she straightened up and looked distractedly at John. “What?”
John gestured towards Frank, who was tapping a fork on his cup. “It looks like he’s almost ready to take the Bar.”
Rhonda blinked and glanced at her son. “Him? Oh, no, he’s going into engineering, not law.” She returned to cleaning Chester.
John was more than a bit flustered by her response. “I—I meant… Remember when we were little, that’s what dad called having a Bar Mitzvah? Like, ‘Oh, Reggie’s almost ready to take the bar?’ ‘John’s ready to take the bar?’”
Rhonda looked back at John. “It doesn’t matter either way. We’re Methodist.”
A thin, balding man with a moustache leaned forward to talk. John guessed he was Rhonda’s husband. “I was raised Methodist by my mother, and Jewish by my father, but I always felt I was more Methodist than Jewish, and I didn’t want the kids to have to go through the dual life I did, so we decided the whole family would try to be Methodist.”
“I, uh, I see…” John lied. Growing up, Rhonda had always been constantly active in the Jewish community center, and always volunteered at the synagogue. John had no idea how she ever could have been talked into switching faiths…
The thin man nodded, and then turned to talk to someone next to him.
Rachel leaned towards John and whispered, “That was Rhonda’s husband. No one really likes him, but gramma and grampa put up with him because he does their taxes.”
John nodded. “He seems like an accountant…”
Rachel held back a laugh. “One sentence from him and you already hate him.”
“No! I don’t… okay, yes. Yes I do.”
This time, Rachel couldn’t hold back her laughter, and neither could John. They laughed for a few moments, gathering stares from the rest of the family. With some considerable effort, they were able to stifle the laughter.
After that, they began talking, and the conversation lasted for quite some time. They discussed accountants, bald people, politics, the way that politics was affecting the world, and from there, school.
“It’s getting pretty bad,” Rachel said. “About a fourth of the students have dropped out, another quarter have been pulled out by their parents, and everyone who’s left is treated like a criminal. No one’s allowed outside at any time, we can only get in with student IDs, all fieldtrips have been canceled, and all the teachers talk about are those **** E.H.U.D.s. The biology teacher talks about how their powers work, math teacher works them into all of our word programs, the English class is actually pretty fun, we’ve been studying super-human archetypes in science fiction, and the comparative religions teacher says that they foreshadow the apocalypse.”
“Yeah, we have a guy at work who says that.” John paused to eat a mouthful of salad. “So,” he said, his mouth still full, “you’re taking comparative religions?”
“Dad made me. He said it’ll prepare me for college.”
“You like it?’
“No. I mean, who cares what Buddhists believe? If I’m interested, I’ll ask one of them!”
“Any classes you do like?”
Rachel snorted. “You wouldn’t really care. You’re done with high school, you’re free.”
“But to me, high school just finished a few years ago. It’s till something that haunts my nightmares.”
Rachel laughed at that. “Okay, all right. Civics is pretty fun. We started going over basic government types, and it was actually pretty interesting, seeing how all the different ways work. But the teacher is a bit of a jerk, and he failed me on the last project.”
“School just started, and already you have a project?”
“It was an AP class, and everyone in there took pre AP last year, so we just did a refresher and started in with projects.”
John nodded. “What was the project about?”
“It was about the E.H.U.D.s, of course. The premise was that they destabilize the government enough that it collapses, and we have to start a new society.”
“Sounds like it could happen. What’d you do?”
“Well, I figured the E.H.U.D.s would still be a threat, so no new large-scale government could develop. I went with small collectives, were everyone pools their resources and lives off of social work.”
“And what problem did your teacher have with that?”
“He said I was just ripping off communism, and that it had already proved ineffective, so it was stupid to re-use it.”
“That makes sense. Communism always fails because people aren’t able to conceive of themselves as one mass whole, and the bureaucracy needed to implement it can’t support its own weight.”
Rachel sighed. “That’s one of the parts I fixed. People can’t work together on such a large scale, but all throughout history the most stable, the most lasting societies have been tribe based. The groups I’m talking about wouldn’t have more than about a hundred people, at the largest, and everyone would know each other. And even though all the resources of the… the… social unit, we’ll call it, are owned by the social unit, it can’t be used by the social unit. An individual has to buy the resources from the social unit, through communal work, or by buying in with their own supplies. Everything is owned by the collective except the individual, so their work can either go towards other things, or towards the collective, which they can exchange for supplies.”
“Define ‘supplies.’”
“We’re assuming a societal collapse, so I’m thinking something like the situation in The Postman, so—“
“What’s that?”
“Oh,” Rachel paused. A waiter reached past her and took her cup, then replaced it a moment later with a fresh one. “I can’t remember who wrote it, but it was one of the first super-soldier books we studied in English Lit. It has a government-free America, were industry also collapsed, and so things like batteries, bullets, food stuffs, and consumer goods were important. I guess they’d be the ‘supplies.’”
“If we had complete collapse, there would be quite a bit of anarchy.”
“The social units would function as peacekeepers. I’m sort of basing this off of Native American culture. The SUs would be independent units, but they would form alliances and do basic trade, so if an enemy came, they would band together against the threat, and then break back into the SUs when the threat passed.”
“This is actually pretty good. And he failed you on this?”
Rachel’s expression turned sullen. “Yeah. He said it was too derivative.”
“Well, it’s government. All of modern government is derivative. It builds off past systems. What did he expect?”
Rachel shrugged.
“What did the other kids do?”
“Mostly benign anarchies and stuff like that. One kid made a theocracy based around himself.”
“Wow. All right, I got another question about your system. If this has to be done long-term, what do you do if the population in a given SU starts rising?”
“Just like cells. They would split. If we get up to say 200 people, maybe seventy-five of them age zero to ten, seventy-five teens, and fifty adults, we’re assuming that most of the adults are split into married pairs, and that they have the kids, maybe twelve couples, with their kids, maybe a few unmarried teenagers, they’d have the right to choose for themselves, they’d all buy as much as they could from the SU, and then go off to somewhere else and start again. But my main assumption was that the post-collapse world would probably have hardships that would keep the population fairly stable. People would have more kids, but the anarchy, food shortages, lack of medicine… And this is all assuming there’s no natural disasters.”
“Or, the biggest threat, foreign powers coming in.”
Rachel didn’t say anything for a moment. “****. I didn’t think of that.”
“I guess your teacher didn’t either.”
“No, he was just looking at America…”
“So, I guess you’re idea doesn’t work after all, at least in the context of the assignment.”
“But if it’s any consolation, I think the idea could work if there were a global disaster.”
“Oh, that’s sweet… and a bit disturbing…”
“Thank you.”
The conversation slowed after that, and in an effort to keep it from dying completely, John dredged up a name from the barbecue and asked Rachel, “So how is Wayne doing?”
Lucy shifted her gaze down to the table. “Well, we haven’t seen each other much, since I had to start school, but he’s doing okay. And… and I really don’t want to talk about it… we’re having some problems…”
John nodded sympathetically. “I understand. I’m currently having a bit of a relationship problem of my own.”
“Yeah, my fiancé from before the… you know, before, is engaged to someone else, and I’m okay with that, but she isn’t, and her fiancé is blaming me for what’s going on.”
“Wow. Yeah, that’s… that’s pretty bad. We’re not having problems like that, but… well, I’d rather not—“
“I understand,” John repeated. “If you ever do want to talk about it though, just call.”
“Sure, thanks.” Rachel smiled, and then focused her whole attention on her food.
John watched as the conversation died in front of his eyes. He was actually connecting to someone, discussing ideas they were both interested in; it wasn’t just the polite small talk he shared with his coworkers. Rachel was now his friend. John couldn’t help smiling at that. He had a friend.
The dinner lasted for another half hour, and then began to break up. In two or threes, people got up and left. Eventually, John too got up and walked towards the door. He was just about to leave when he felt a hand on his shoulder.
It was Reggie. He was sweating slightly, and his eyes could never rest on John for more than a few seconds. Watching the movement of his eyes, John realized that throughout the whole dinner, Reggie had never looked directly at him or made eye contact. Strange.
“I need to talk to you, John.”
John glanced out of the front window of the restaurant. It was starting to get dark. “We’ve had all evening to talk. Why do you want to start now?”
Reggie glanced back at the small group of relatives that lingered at the table. “This is a… private conversation. I didn’t want to say anything in front of the others. Here.” He gestured to a small alcove near the restrooms, and John reluctantly followed him. As soon as John arrived, Reggie began talking.
“I saw the president’s speech yesterday. It provided the final piece of the puzzle. You’re an E.H.U.D.”
John rolled his eyes. “Are you serious?”
“Yes, I—“
“Someone at work said the same thing. It makes no sense!”
“Yes, it does! You were gone for fifteen years, presumed dead, and when you came back, you didn’t exhibit any signs of a coma patient, even a short-term patient! Also, why do you think the government was so eager to help you out? From what you’ve told me, you suing them would actually be cheaper than what they’ve done for you!”
“Okay, so I’m an E.H.U.D.! So what?!”
Reggie’s voice fell to a whisper. “So if you are, you are a danger to everyone around you. You need to turn yourself in before you do something dangerous.”
John didn’t know how to respond to that. He raised his arms as if to gesticulate, but then dropped them again. He walked a short distance away and leaned on the wall, and then pushed himself up and walked back. “All right, you want proof? You want proof I’m not an E.H.U.D.?”
“In July, the day immediately after Lemlin showed up and this whole thing started, I met a woman who had seen me when I was in the coma!”
“A government employee?”
“Yes, the Queen of England—of course not a government employee! It was Udarian’s wife!”
“And who’s—“
“The man buried under my headstone! I saw her walking down the street, and I recognized her, and I followed her to the synagogue, and later I researched her, found out who she was, and realized she had visited me, and I had somehow gotten a sense of who she was while I was comatose!”
“Some sort of sixth sense let you recognize her?”
John shook his head. “I don’t need this. Go ahead, report me, whatever. Tell the Nazis you found a Jew.”
“Hey that’s not exactly a fair comparison! The E.H.U.D.s are a threat and—“
“And anyone can be reported on suspicion.” John turned and walked back to the exit, and then turned back once more to look at Reggie. He wanted to say something, but he was to angry to think of anything. He shook his head, and walked out into the night.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

It's Not A Dream Sequence, I Swear!

Okay, time for a weird chapter... Really, It's not a trippy dream sequence. It just appears to be. It does have an impact on the story later down the road... Big kudos to the first commenter who can figure out what it is...

Chapter 12

In accordance with his declaration that he would live in the White House, despite its being compromised, Edgar began settling in immediately after his speech was over. He walked slowly through his new home, looking into each bedroom, wondering where he and his wife would be sleeping until the next election. Although if Mistlethwakey managed to make good on his promises, it would be much longer than that. Edgar was looking into one particularly large room when he was approached by Frank Lertenz.
Edgar ignored his head of security, confident that if what he had come to tell him were important, Lertenz would eventually speak.
Of course, Edgar was not disappointed. Less than a minute after arriving, Lertenz cleared his throat and spoke. “Sir, your wife and son have just arrived at the south entrance.”
Edgar continued his examination of the room, looking into the attached bathroom and walking into the closets. When his examination was finished, Edgar turned to Lertenz and smiled. “Have our luggage brought to this room.”
“Yes sir.”
While Lertenz hurried away to alert the staff of the president’s choice of living quarters, Edgar walked downstairs to the south entrance and saw Amanda and Ethan standing just inside the security checkpoint. Ethan was looking around in a kind of morose-disinterestedness; he had been to the White House many times before, and it had long ago lost the wonder that it used to inspire in Ethan. Also, he was still a bit mad at his father for missing his performance.
Amanda, on the other hand, was shaking with cold fury. As soon as her husband came into sight, she stormed over to him and, oblivious to the audience of her son and the White House staff surrounding them, began to yell at him.
“You were the one who wanted Ethan to continue with those **** music lessons, and then you can’t even stay around long enough to see his **** performance! All he wants is to make you—“
“I’m the president.”
“--happy, and you can’t even sit still long enough for him to try! You disappear without telling us anything and then you—“
“I’m the president.”
“—send cars to pick us up not even telling us where you…” Amanda’s rage slackened long enough for her to realize what her husband had said. “Say that again…”
Edgar smiled his biggest, most annoying smile. “I’m the president.”
Amanda gasped and covered her mouth with her hands. “You’re—no, that can’t—no! I—Than that…” She stood still and breathed heavily. Then something seemed to occur to her. “But if you’re president, then…”
Edgar nodded solemnly. “My uncle is dead. That’s what they came to get me about.” He glanced at one of the security men who had arrived with Amanda. “They didn’t tell you?”
Amanda shook her head.
“And you didn’t hear anything about… anything? Not even the speech I made?”
Again, Amanda shook her head.
“You missed a good speech. Televised, very important.”
Before Amanda responded, a weak tremor passed through the building, followed a sew seconds later by a muffled explosion. The security personnel all pulled out weapons and got into defensive crouches. Edgar stood tall in the midst of them, laughing quietly to himself. “C’mon guys; if you couldn’t keep my uncle safe, what makes you think you’ll do any better with me?”
Amanda, crouched low and with an expression of mild panic on her face, looked up at her husband. “what did happen to your uncle?”
Edgar grabbed her arm and pulled her upright. “I’ll tell you about it later. Right now, I think we should have a personal tour of our new home.”
He began leading Amanda away, but after a few steps she stopped and looked her husband in the eyes. “You’re not doing anything else today without your son.”
Edgar sighed and looked back at his son. Ethan was standing tall, obviously unafraid of whatever the explosion had been. He was brave, Edgar had to admit. And he did owe him a bit of quality time after missing his recital. Edgar sighed again and then waved at Ethan. “Fine, you can come on the tour, too.”
Ethan smiled, and ran to catch up with his parents.

That night, after everyone had settled in, Edgar lay in bed next to Amanda, trying unsuccessfully to get to sleep. In the course of the afternoon, Edgar had found out that the bedroom he had picked out for Amanda and himself had been very bed his uncle had slept in the night he died. That news hadn’t disturbed Edgar at first but now, after hours spent trying to get to sleep, trying to get comfortable, Edgar’s mind wandered and began to follow strange paths, and now he couldn’t forget the morbid connection he had to this bed. The man who slept here last was dead. Also dead was the woman who had killed him; that was the explosion that Edgar had felt shortly after his family arrived. The death of a second E.H.U.D. assassin…
Most of the White House’s security staff was afraid that more assassins would try to make their way in and kill Edgar, but Edgar was confident that he was safe from the E.H.U.D.s. Of course, the reason for this confidence was that he knew who had sent the E.H.U.D.s, and knew that he had no reason to kill Edgar.
But even with this confidence, Edgar was still not entirely sure he was safe. Until a few weeks ago, the man who had slept in this bed had been a loyal pawn of Mistlethwakey, but now that his usefulness was over, he was dead. Would that happen to Edgar? He had Mistlethwakey’s promises of the Plan, promises that Edgar would rule the world. But how did he know he was the only one who had been given that promise? Maybe poor Uncle Isaac had been told that he would be the recipient of Mistlethwakey’s machinations. Maybe Edgar’s replacement in the plan had already been chosen…
These thoughts led to other thoughts, which in turn led to other thoughts, which led to yet more thoughts, which eventually led back to Uncle Isaac. Edgar found it a bit amusing that it took the old man’s death for Edgar to start thinking about him with the old familiar name he had used in his childhood. When Edgar was younger, he had adored his Uncle Isaac, the daring young politician and volunteer firefighter who would come over for Sunday dinner. But over the years, Edgar had come to realize just how shallow his uncle was. He married some woman he had met at a political convention, and then had run for a seat in the House of Representatives on a radical reform ticket. A young Edgar had overheard a conversation between his father and his uncle in which his uncle had revealed that he didn’t even care about the positions he had run on; he only used them because they were popular and likely to get him elected. Edgar personally didn’t find anything wrong with that. But then his uncle revealed that his whole purpose in running, his whole goal of eventually becoming president, was not to make a change, not to wield power, but was solely for the purpose of retiring wealthy and not having to do any more with his life after it was over.
The thought of that disgusted Edgar, even at the age of eleven. The world was constantly in motion, and it needed a strong leader. Whoever took on the all important role of president had to be constantly ready to do what was necessary to keep the world as it should be, to make it better if it was possible; the world could not afford four years run by a lazy simpleton who merely wanted to look back on his life and say, “Yes, I did it, now I can quit.” Being president wasn’t an end; it was the means towards making a better future. It was at that point that Edgar decided that his uncle was nothing but a fool to be pitied and that he, Edgar, was meant to go to the top and be the rightful ruler of the world.
Of course, that was when he was eleven. Over the next few years, as he took government classes in school, he learned about how limited the powers of the president actually were. But he decided to stay with his goal; if the president didn’t rule the world, it was certainly a good place to look for the person who really did.
And now, as he struggle to find sleep on his first night as president, Edgar realized he already knew who ruled the world: Mistlethwakey. And Mistlethwakey had promised him the power to rule the world, the power to make a difference.
Edgar sighed. His thoughts always came back to Mistlethwakey.
It was time to give up. Edgar pulled himself into a sitting position and looked at the clock on the nightstand. Two o’clock. If he wasn’t asleep by now, he was likely never going to get to sleep. Careful not to disturb Amanda, Edgar pulled himself out of bed and put on a housecoat. He paced around the room, stopping whenever he passed bookshelves to check if they contained anything interesting. Of course, they invariably didn’t.
Eventually, Edgar got bored and walked out into the hall. The two men guarding his door snapped to attention ad saluted, but Edgar ignored them and continued his walk.
Down the hall from his bedroom, Edgar saw Frank Lertenz standing guard in front of Ethan’s room. Another morbid connection with the night before suddenly occurred to him. Just how did Lertenz get away with staying on duty after failing to stop Maria Tumpuelo?
Lertenz happened to look up, and he too saluted the president. Edgar acknowledged him with a nod, and then continued past him into his son’s room. The room was too dark to see any details, but Edgar remembered where the bed was situated so that he could walk to it and stare down at his invisible son. He wondered what effect this sudden move was having on the boy; it was certainly a step up in the world, Ethan should be proud of that, but now, with all of the extra security, he most likely wouldn’t have a chance to play with his old friends. In fact, he probably wouldn’t have a chance for any friends. He would be taught by a combination tutor and body guard from now on, and of course the music recitals and after-school sports were completely out of the question. Edgar smiled at that thought. Ethan had never liked the activities he was allowed to participate in, and now he wouldn’t have the opportunity to participate any more. He would probably like that.
As Edgar continued to stare down at his son, he began to wonder why he had had a child in the first place. Edgar didn’t like kids; he never had. In fact, he had promised himself early in his career that he wouldn’t have any children. What had changed his mind? Edgar thought back first on his reasons for not having a child: they were distracting, they would make him appear older in the eyes of the public, how he raised a child would be one more way for the public to pass judgment on him. Why had he ever gone back on that decision? It certainly wasn’t Amanda’s doing.
No, definitely not Amanda, but another woman. Edgar’s mind drifted back to his years in college, to a particular young woman named Shandra. She had been his first, his only love outside of himself and his ambition. She was earning a degree in philosophy, in sharp contrast to Edgar’s own political science major. She had first come to him looking for help with a history class, and after spending a few study sessions together, they began having long talks, discussing societies throughout history, and how prevailing philosophies had shaped the political landscapes of the world, causing empires to rise, reinvent themselves, survive, decline, and eventually die. From these conversations, they eventually developed a deep love for each other, and in time Edgar told her of his political aspirations. Shandra found this fascinating, and helped Edgar to change his image to appeal to current philosophies and social norms so that he would be more electable. And one of the changes she suggested was to have a child. He had of course refused, but she had turned his argument against him. A child would be a distraction: It would show the public that he had a life outside of politics. A child would make him seem older: It would make him seem more responsible and mature. A child would be a source of judgment: It would be a sign to the people that he could manage someone’s life, and by extension could manage a country. She had explained to him that the United States was still dominated by patriarchal philosophies, and that the highest station in life that one could have was father. Edgar didn’t believe her, but when she pointed out that the child would probably be her child as well, Edgar had relented.
But that had all changed when he lost Shandra in his junior year. To this day, Edgar didn’t like to think about it, so he shifted his memory to a little over a year later, when he had married Amanda, and she had tried to convince Edgar that they needed a son. He had managed to resist her arguments, debates, pleas, threats, anything she had tried for years, but he eventually gave in. And now he remembered why. He was watching the news late on night when he had seen a bit about Shandra’s new best-selling self help book. That must have been the night when…
Edgar sighed and came back to the present. It was no use reflecting on motives; he had a son, and so he would have to deal with the consequences.
After standing over Ethan for a few more minutes, Edgar went back into the hall. He passed Lertenz and went back towards his room, hoping that maybe now he could finally get some sleep. Of course, he probably wouldn’t be able to. If anything, his mind was more mixed-up than it had been ten minutes ago… Edgar stopped and turned back towards Lertenz. Something wasn’t right. Lertenz always, always greeted the president, be it Isaac or Edgar, whenever he saw them, yet he had remained perfectly motionless when Edgar left Ethan’s room. Edgar walked carefully towards Lertenz, expecting—hoping—that he would salute, or nod, or move in some way. Lertenz didn’t move. Edgar was now only a few feet in front of Lertenz, and he waved his hands in front of the guard’s face. Lertenz continued to stare straight ahead.
Edgar snapped his fingers, and then punched Lertenz in the face. Except for his head tilting back and then forward again, Lertenz didn’t move. Edgar shoved his face near Lertenz’s ear. “Hello?! Hello?! Frank, are you alive?!” he yelled angrily. Again, no response. Edgar grimaced. “**** it Frank, let this be some weird dream! I can’t deal with this kind of ****!”
“He can’t hear you, Mr. President,” someone whispered.
Edgar whirled around, sure that whoever had spoken was directly behind him. There was no one there. Edgar took a few steps down the hall and then stopped, looking around frantically for the source of the voice. “Who said that?!”
“Come and find me…” The voice echoed slightly through the empty hall.
Edgar closed his eyes tightly, and blinked as he opened them again. His uncle had died the night before, and already strange things were happening. He glanced quickly over his shoulder. Lertenz was still standing there, blood trickling out of his nose. Edgar tried to tell himself that it was all just a dream, that he should go back to bed and go to sleep… but if it was a dream, how could he go to sleep?
“I’m waiting…” said the voice.
Edgar crept slowly forward, not sure how exactly he was supposed to follow the voice. It seemed to come from everywhere. The further down the hall he went, however, he felt an electric tingling across his skin. This must be the right direction.
As he walked, Edgar noticed that all of the guards he came across were frozen, just as Lertenz had been. One was even posed reaching out for a can of soda that had been left on a table. Edgar stopped and stared at the man. He was perfectly motionless except for the arm that was extended towards the can; it trembled slightly. Edgar reached out and pushed the arm down. It took considerable effort; the guard’s muscles were tensed in that one pose. Edgar backed a few steps away and then lunged at the guard, toppling him backwards. The guard’s muscles remained taut, and he hit the ground awkwardly. Edgar heard a few joints popping. So, something was causing all of the guards to stop and maintain whatever pose they had been in…
“I can’t wait forever…”
It took everything Edgar had to not run away from the voice. Amanda would be back in the room, she would comfort him… But she would probably be just like the guards…
As Edgar reached the end of the building, he felt an irresistible force pulling him to the left. By this point, Edgar had resigned himself to whatever strange fate this was, and without even pausing to think about it, he turned and continued walking. He was now in the main corridor of the second floor, and as he took another step forward, the strange pull on him dissipated. Edgar didn’t know where to go now, but he knew he had to find the source of that voice. “Hello!” he called, secretly fearing that there would be an answer.
“I’m here…” this time the voice was coming from a definite direction. It had a slight echo, yet seemed somehow cut-off or muffled. Edgar guessed that whoever was speaking was in the main lobby, and was calling up the staircase. That was assuming, of course, that someone was speaking, and this wasn’t all a dream. Edgar couldn’t decide between the two possibilities. He couldn’t even decide which one he wanted to be true…
The few small lights that were spaced evenly along the walls suddenly dimmed and died out, leaving the corridor completely black. No, not completely black. Edgar strained his eyes at something ahead. It was a soft glow…
Edgar continued forward, and soon the glow resolved itself into a pale bluish-white light filtering through the banisters of the new grand staircase that had been installed some ten years back. So the light was coming from the same place the voice was. Edgar cautiously edged towards the stairs, his mind alive with speculation about what his uncle might have seen the night before, what an E.H.U.D. might do if they were trying to kill someone. As he reached the end of the end of the wall, where the corridor opened up into the two-story lobby, Edgar looked down and was surprised to see bright light, almost like a thick fog filling the space, obscuring the lower part of the lobby and making the stairs appear to drop into an abyss.
There was nothing else that could be done. Everyone in the building except for Edgar seemed to be frozen… there was no one else to help him… there was only impenetrable darkness above and impenetrable light below. Edgar somehow knew that if he tried to do anything except go on, that the source of the voice could stop him. Taking a deep breath, Edgar stood up straight, squared his shoulders, and took the stairs down into the light.
As he neared the bottom of the staircase, the light seemed to roll back from him, almost like fog. Ahead of him was and a thin shadow which quickly grew darker and acquired mass until it eventually resolved itself into the silhouette of a man.
It was Mistlethwakey.
Mistlethwakey slowly smiled. “You found me…”
Edgar’s heart beat faster. His thoughts from earlier that night returned to him: What if Mistlethwakey had no intention of letting Edgar be the beneficiary of the Plan? What if Edgar was just one more tool for Mistlethwakey to use and cast aside, like he had done to his uncle? He knew then that it was a mistake to ever trust Mistlethwakey. It was time for the betrayal.
Mistlethwakey shook his head and chuckled softly. Edgar didn’t think Mistlethwakey was able to read his mind, but now… “You’re not going to die, Mister President. This is just another step in the Plan. You agreed to the plan, so you can’t complain now. Besides, I don’t think you’ll remember this.” His expression became grim. “Unfortunately, this going to hurt quite a bit. I know; I’ve been through it myself.” He spread his hands. “I wish there were another way to do this, but…” He trailed off and shook his head.
Edgar took a step backwards. He didn’t want to be here. He didn’t trust Mistlethwakey, and he had no idea what the man was going to do now. He cautiously turned his back on Mistlethwakey, but found that he could no longer see the staircase. What was going on? He was completely surrounded by the bright fog.
Hearing a footstep behind him, Edgar turned and saw Mistlethwakey slowly advancing on him. A jolt of fear passed though Edgar, and he backed further away. “I don’t want this… Whatever you’re doing, I don’t want this. I don’t want the Plan, just let me go and I swear I’ll never—“
“Never what? Never hurt anyone? Never run for office? Never, never… never…” Mistlethwakey stopped and looked wistfully into the mist. “You know, all I ever wanted to do was to help people, to make the world a better place. You think that that’s why you’re doing what you’re doing, but I think you’re doing all of this to show your uncle that you’re just as good, if not better, than he is. But in the end, it doesn’t really matter. You’ve made your choice. You made your choice an infinity ago, and it’s too late to make a change now.”
Mistlethwakey began moving again, but continued talking. “One question that always bothered me was who was actually responsible for what is to come: you or me? The only reason I did what I’m doing is because of you, and the only way you were able to do what you’re going to do is because of what I did.”
Now Edgar stopped moving. He had no idea what Mistlethwakey was talking about. “What?”
Then, with a sudden burst of speed, Mistlethwakey reached Edgar. Mistlethwakey reached out his hands and, before Edgar could resist, delicately gripped his head. Edgar tried to pull away, but he found that his body was frozen, just like the guards upstairs. He stared at Mistlethwakey’s left shoulder, not able to see anything that was going on. In his peripheral vision he noticed that the light was growing more and more like fog, thickening and swirling around them…
Edgar’s vision blacked out as a horrible, wrenching pain ripped through his body, and he suddenly found that he could move again. He jerked back and sprawled on the floor, arching his back and writhing and clawing at his head were Mistlethwakey had touched him. The skin was warm to the touch, and then burning, smoldering, glowing with heat, and then it spread to the rest of his body, burning through every organ, every vessel, every cell… With one great spasm of pain, his body burst into iridescent, unnatural flame, burning away all of him, stripping away flesh and bone, incinerating the old cells…
The flames stopped, and Edgar lay gasping, new and naked, on the floor. He breathed deeply for several long seconds, and then looked down at his body. The skin was soft, the hair thick and smooth. He raised his hands and found the palms un-creased. He flexed his hands experimentally, and watched in amazement as deep lines etched themselves into his skin. He looked around were he lay and found an outline of ash. His housecoat…
“Congratulations, Mr. President,” Mistlethwakey said cheerfully. “You now have a new body. Use it wisely.” He looked up suddenly as a drift of fog curled and swirled away. Edgar saw it, too. A person had walked past them.
Mistlethwakey looked back down to Edgar. “My part is done, but you need to… deal with your ghosts, shall we say, before you can live your life and do what you have to do.” With that, Mistlethwakey turned and disappeared into the fog.
The fog drifted in closer around Edgar, and then swirled around as shapes moved through the light. At first, Edgar had a hard time seeing them; they were just blurry shadows. But as more and more of the shades walked past, they became more human.
Then, Edgar recognized one of them. It was the shade of Leonard Shelby, someone he had known in college… someone he knew was dead. Edgar stifled a scream and scrambled backwards. Another shade passed him. His father.
More and more shades surrounded him: people of all ages and races. Each shade looked like a real person, completely detailed and alive, but all were made of the same fog that surrounded Edgar. And each one was someone that Edgar knew was dead. There was Merv Lemlin, and there was one of the men Lemlin had killed in his rampage. There was Amanda’s great aunt, and Maria Tumpuelo. Edgar thought he saw Mistlethwakey wandering through the swarms of the dead, but it wasn’t the same Mistlethwakey he had seen only minutes before.
For a while, the shades ignored Edgar, just stumbled blindly through the fog, gathering in number. And then one of them, Edgar couldn’t tell who, came towards him and passed through him, leaving behind a soul-chilling cold. The shade that had passed through Edgar looked down at him, and then smiled savagely. Instantly, the other shades shifted their attention to Edgar, and they began to move towards him, purpose glinting in their ghostly eyes. As the nearest shades reached Edgar, they stretched out their hands, trying to touch him, their hands warping and becoming bony claws as they neared him. Edgar scrambled away from the claws and got quickly to his feet. He turned in a circle, looking for some way to escape from the shades, but they were all around him. A dull humming filled the space around him, and the shades once more closed in. This time, however, they were crouching and wary, and they lashed out quickly, digging their claws into his flesh, pulling themselves closer to him. Edgar tried to pull away, but the claws stayed and pulled at his skin, ripping the flesh and sending blood spraying outwards into the void. Edgar shrieked in terror and agony, and the shades shrieked too, but seemingly in sadistic joy.
More and more of the shades continued to appear, each one heading straight for Edgar, swarming around him, swallowing him in a mass of violent, unearthly joy. Edgar writhed, gasped for air, tried to break free from their vicious claws. He finally gave up struggling, sank to the floor, and let the shades take him. As they surrounded him, dug at him, he felt the pain lessen, felt himself slipping away, joining with the fog, becoming one of the shades…
Just before the ghostly forms fully consumed him, Edgar saw one final shade emerge from the swirling fog: a portly, bearded old man with a small hole in his forehead. Edgar smiled bitterly. Uncle Isaac.
The shade of Isaac smiled, his face becoming gaunt, his teeth jagged. He waddle forward, his arms outstretched to consume Edgar. It was all going to end…
Edgar would not allow it. His uncle would not stop him, would not beat him, would not be better than him. Edgar gathered all of his hatred, all of his weariness, all of his years of work and focused them in on his uncle. With an earth-shaking howl of fury, Edgar released it all, focusing the blast down onto the shade. Like bright, yellow, atomic flame, everything within him vented out at his uncle, engulfing, melting, destroying the shade.
The other shades stopped what they were doing and looked down at the man they were clutching. Their expressions of grisly joy turned quickly to apprehension and then outright terror, as Edgar once more rallied himself and let out the flames of his anger in all directions, clearing the house, cleansing the shades from this world, pushing back the fog until…
…Edgar stood on his knees in the empty lobby, naked and exhausted, bleeding from hundreds of small wounds. He focused everything in him back onto his body, and felt the wounds dry, close, and heal without a trace.
As soon as that was done, he heard a quite laugh fill the room.
“Good, that was good…” It sounded like Mistlethwakey. “You’re almost ready… Of course, I can’t have you remembering this…”
Edgar felt a presence enter his mind, moving through his memories. He pushed back on it, and was surprised to find that the presence actually yielded a little. But then the presence pushed again, and Edgar felt his body go limp, saw the floor rising up towards him, and then—

An alarm clock began beeping incessantly, and Amanda slowly woke up. She yawned, stretched, and then rolled over, expecting to find her husband beside her. The bed was empty. She stared bleary-eyed at the place were Edgar usually hung his house coat, and seeing the house coat gone, assumed that Edgar was probably off somewhere doing… something… She yawned again. What time was it?
Amanda rolled over the other way and stared bleary-eyed at the clock. It was six thirty… thirty-one… forty-seven…
With yet another stretch and yawn, Amanda sat up, turned off the alarm, and got up. She slowly took a shower, got dressed, and then called and ordered coffee from the kitchen. Before the coffee could be delivered, she slipped out into the hall and walked down to Ethan’s new room. Normally, she would be going in to wake him up for school, but now that his father was president, she doubted that they’d keep him in school.
As she passed the tables, vases, and portraits familiar to anyone who had ever taken a White House tour, she couldn’t help but smile to herself. Growing up, she had had dreams of marrying young, having many children, becoming a writer and part time home-school teacher. She never thought that she would end up living here. Of course, she knew of Edgar’s dreams of becoming president, but she knew that he would never get elected. He was telegenic and could pass himself off as charming and charismatic, but the effect never lasted long. If he used it for the long periods of time involved in an election campaign, he would burn himself out and alienate everyone around him in little more than a month. But here he was, president…
Due entirely to a devastating scandal and the death of his uncle. Amanda’s smile faded as she realized this. And despite what Edgar had said on television, the danger wasn’t over. There was the possibility of more E.H.U.D.s, or mobs of protesters, or foreign powers attacking, taking opportunity of America’s weakened state. Amanda had a sudden urge to run into Ethan’s room, take him down to their car, and drive off to who knew where. It may be nice to be the First Family, but now was not a good time to take on that role.
Amanda was pulled out of her thoughts as she neared Ethan’s room and noticed that the man who was on guard duty… Lawrence, or Lertenz, or something… stood completely unmoving, not even blinking, his eyes staring straight ahead.
Amanda leaned in to take a closer look at the guard. She noticed his chest twitching slightly, as if he were taking hundreds of tiny breaths instead of breathing normally.
“Hello?” she asked tentatively.
Instantly, the man’s body relaxed, and he looked at her. “Hello, ma’am. Your husband is right ins—“ He stopped abruptly and looked around. “Why’s it so light? What time is it?”
Amanda was about to respond when there was a muffled groan from somewhere nearby and a loud scream from somewhere downstairs.
The guard reached under his jacket and pulled out a pistol and then ran down the hall. Against her better judgment, Amanda raced after him. The hall turned left, and lying in the middle of the hall was another guard, writhing on the floor, clutching alternately at his left ankle, which twisted at an odd angle, and his left hand, which hung limp and unmoving. Before the first guard—Amanda was fairly certain his name was Lertenz—could reach the man on the floor, several other guards descended on him and dragged him away. Lertenz continued to the grand staircase and crouched behind a banister, his pistol at the ready. Amanda had just reached him when he half-stood and pointed his weapon down into the lobby. His body relaxed a moment later and he hurriedly ran down the staircase. Amanda, still running, slid and crashed into the banister.
She could now see what the all the screaming was about. Down below in the lobby was a maid, shrieking and being led away by guards, and on the floor, naked and surrounded by a strange halo of soot, was her husband. Amanda’s first thought was that he was dead, but a moment later he curled into a ball, and then pulled himself to a sitting position. Lertenz reached him then, and Edgar began yelling at him. Amanda didn’t care what they were saying; she pulled herself off of the banister and ran down to Edgar. For one brief second, she had thought her husband was dead, killed just like his uncle had been, and she knew she couldn’t take that, couldn’t survive that…
Edgar pulled away from the embrace he was in. “Get off of me, **** it! I’m fine!” He looked down. “And someone get me some **** pants!”
He pushed past Amanda and headed for the kitchen. Lertenz stepped forward. “Sir, what—“
Amanda put a restraining hand on his shoulder. “Let me handle it.” She jogged after her husband, and when she caught up with him she grabbed his arm. He swung around and glared at her. Thirty seconds ago, she would have wilted, backed off, felt sorry for herself. But after the way he had responded to her honest concern, she held her resolve and glared back at him. “Ed, you tell me what is going on right now.”
“I have no idea.” Edgar jerked his arm away from Amanda. “I don’t know, but I’m naked and hungry, so I don’t very much care.” He turned away from her and stalked away.
It was useless going after him. He had gotten into this mood before, steadfastly refusing any love or support. In times past, Amanda had just let him do it, letting it continue for weeks at a time. Now, though… she didn’t know what she would do know…
Just before Edgar disappeared from sight, Amanda looked him over and saw that he was different. He seemed younger, more full of energy. The way he walked suggested a new power seething just under the surface.
“Mom? I heard someone screaming. What’s going on? Where’s dad going?”
Amanda turned to see Ethan coming down the stairs, still wiping sleep out of his eyes. Amanda sighed; she had hoped Ethan wouldn’t see any of this. “It’s nothing honey, just go back to sleep.”
“But its time to get ready for school…”
Ethan reached his mother, and Amanda took his hand and led him back up the stairs. “I know, honey, but things are different know. You might not be going to school for a while.”
“Really?” Ethan was probably excited about that, but he was too tired to express any emotion. Yesterday had been too stressful.
“Uh huh. So you can go back to bed now, and we’ll worry about school tomorrow.”
“Okay…” They were back in Ethan’s room, and Amanda helped him into bed, and then quietly left. She stood outside for a few minutes, not sure what to do, and then went back to her room and sat on the bed.
She had been married to Edgar for nearly eighteen years. She had hoped the marriage would work, had been devoted to making it work… but for his part he never seemed to try… And now, when she had reached out to him, he had rejected her…
She thought again about the threats that this sudden change would have for her son. He was now the target f every kidnapper on the planet. And deep in her heart, Amanda knew that Edgar didn’t care about Ethan. She wanted to stay with Edgar for her son’s sake but she knew she had to do what was best for him, no matter what. And now… now something had changed in Edgar. He seemed to be a different person today, and she didn’t like that person. Maybe it was time for a divorce…
But she couldn’t do it so abruptly, just like that. She would need to find out as much about what was going on as possible. Maybe Edgar was just reacting to the stress of his new office… She would ask around for advice: her mother, her therapist, Ethan’s counselor, her friends… and—she didn’t know why, maybe because he was closer to her husband than anyone else—Mistlethwakey…
But that could wait. Amanda undressed, burrowed under the covers, and went back to sleep.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Apocalypse... Now...

I admit that I've never read any of the Left Behind books, but I have seen the movies and read all about them on, as well as having seen many films in a similar vein. And what makes me wonder is why, after seeing clear signs of the apocalypse, no one starts to question it. I mean, if you had an insanely popular leader who suddenly said, "Oh, buy the way, I'm making it mandatory for every citizen to have '666' tattooed on their foreheads," you'd get suspicious, right? Yet in all these movies, everyone just goes along with it. Yet in the real world, you have 9/11, and everyone's trying to distort scripture into fitting the facts. So what if you had a situation like the one described in chapter 7? You'd have a lot to talk about, huh?

When I first wrote this chapter, it was just to give a big plot dump, and maybe add a bit of character development. But for this draft, I decided to go in more and explore the ramifications of the E.H.U.D.s, and what kind of religious spin might be put on them. So, tell me what you think.

Without further ado, chapter 11...

Chapter 11

A cell phone rang. Maria Tumpuelo, political correspondent for the AmeriNews Network, picked it up form the low wall next to her and flipped it open. It was her director.
“Why aren’t you in the press room?!”
Maria took a deep, calming breath. She had to tread carefully; she had seen people fired for arguing with the director when he was angry. “They’re not letting anyone in. Not even school kids.”
“Then get on the lawn!”
“They’ve cleared out every building for half a mile. Don’t worry, though, I found a location with a good shot of the White House.”
“A mile away, on top of a small office block.”
“Did they—“
“Yes, they signed a waiver.”
Her director was silent for a moment, and when he next spoke, he sounded much calmer. “Tell Jerry I want him up and running. We have about half an hour before the speech is done and you’re on-air. Is your monitor on?”
She confirmed that the her small monitor was on, and ready to show the President’s speech, and then she had her camera man switch on his gear and do a quick check. Maria stood still while Jerry focused the camera on her and adjusted the focus.
“How’s that?” Jerry asked.
Maria repeated the question into the phone. “It’s good,” her director said. “But you, um, you look a little… big today.”
Maria flattened her shirt with one hand, and then said, “Is this all right?”
Her director was constantly busy, and was not an enjoyable person to work with, but he was rarely rude. His response came slowly. “Have you been, uh… been hitting the donuts lately?”
“I haven’t gained any weight, if that’s what you’re asking.”
“That’s good to know. Maybe it’s just the camera. I’ll let you go now. Be sure to double check all your wires.”
“Sure thing.” She clapped the phone shut and returned it to the wall. She sighed inwardly. No matter how well she did her work, her director always reminded her to do basic, rudimentary things that were as easy for her as breathing. What chance was there that she would forget to check her mic cables? None. Had she ever done a shoot with pore sound quality? No. Did that stop her director from reminding her every day? Of course not.
Before she had a chance to ask him to, Jerry turned away from her, and Maria reached into her shirt to make sure that her mic was properly attached, and that it was plugged into the transmitter on her belt. After making absolutely sure that Jerry wasn’t looking, Maria felt to make sure that the other wires were in place. They were, and they were plugged firmly into the belt of explosives she had wrapped around her waist.
When it was time, she wanted everything to work out right.
And she knew it would be time soon. Unlike the rest of the world, she knew what had happened at the White House the previous night, and she was able to pick up on enough thoughts, even at this range, to know that she had left some sort of evidence behind, and that the New President Latterndale was already having a squad of troops in E.H.U.D. armor moving in on her. They would be here soon.
She only hoped that she wouldn’t be caught until the president’s speech was over and she was on the air. True, she felt bad that Jerry would have to die, but Maria wanted a very public revenge. Killing the president had been revenge, but it had only been her personal revenge, revenge for the killing of her family, for her kidnapping when she was only thirteen, for fifteen years of experimentation and pain.
But killing a squad of troops, as well as the possibility of sparking memories in the ninety-eight others, the way her memories had been sparked by the actions of Merv Lemlin, and letting the true E.H.U.D.s tear down this hopelessly corrupt government, that would be a fulfilling revenge.
The small video monitor that Jerry had set up on a tripod a few feet away came to life with the face of Eli Rosencrantz. “Attention, ladies and gentlemen of the press,” he said, “the president will make his address in five minutes. Thank you for waiting.” Rosencrantz left, but the monitor stayed on, showing an empty room with one chair set up in it.
Maria stared blankly at the monitor. Jerry said something, but she ignored him. Her mind focused on what she would have to do so very soon. She didn’t particularly want to die, but she would do it now; it was a worthy cause.

On Wednesdays, there was a special discount for Cohen & Associates employees at Harold’s Better Place Bar & Grill. As usual, most of the employees had shown up to take advantage of the discount, and of the rather good double-jalapeño bacon burgers. Though John usually stayed in his office during lunch, he would occasionally come out to Harold’s on Wednesdays, although he would skip the burgers and have a steak.
Today, being a Wednesday, John was sitting with Walter and three other men in a semicircular booth, nibbling at a bowl of chips and waiting for his steak to come. Walter was actually having a serious conversation with one of the other men about what effects the recent events would have on the economy, and how it would impact the world of architecture.
“The thing is,” Walter said, reaching for a chip, “it’s going to cut back on expansion. Older buildings will just be traded around. And if anyone actually does want anything new, expect to see cutbacks: no fancy work, no innovation, just big cubes.”
“I won’t argue on the first point,” the other man said, “but I think big businesses are going to start a demand for unique designs, to set themselves apart from competition and to boost consumer confidence.”
“What you’re thinking of is Web architecture. No one cares about how nice a corporate headquarters is anymore; you can run a multi-national conglomerate out of your bathroom, and all anyone is ever going to see is your web page.”
“It doesn’t matter what the average consumer sees, it’s about what executives and investors see! It’s all about upping stock prices, and you need to impress investors with good real estate!”
With tempers beginning to flare, John decided it was a good time to shift the conversation somewhat. “This is all assuming that this chaos actually hurts the economy.”
Walter closed his mouth on whatever was about to come out. The other man, (it took a moment for John to remember his name, they didn’t work that closely), Albert, rose to John’s bait. “Historically, when our economy has run up against something like this, a small, unbeatable threat, consumer confidence has dropped, and we’ve gone into a recession.”
“Yes, but so far this whole thing has been focusing on our president, and threats that inspire a patriotic response are usually good, marketwise. Remember 9/11? And if this somehow expands into a war, it’ll be a popular war, stopping the foreigners who tried to kill our president; that’ll fuel more patriotism, and thus more money rolling in.”
The mention of war left the conversation open for Walter’s argument. “Ad if the country switched to a war footing, then the economy will be focused on production, and no one will need new buildings anyway, so even if the economy’s good, we’re screwed.”
“I think John’s assessment was wrong,” said a younger voice from behind the booth. All five men turned to look in the direction of the voice and saw a young man, Donnie, the new intern, leaning on the back of the booth.
The sudden attention seemed to unnerve Donnie, but he continued anyway. “You’re focusing on the president and patriotism. But the real thing is Merv himself and what he, and others like him could do. Most people think it’s the end of the world, and that causes a panic that would typically kill an economy. Remember Y2K?”
“Yeah,” Walter said, laughing, “Y2K, the great orgy of spending!” Walter almost yelled the last word. “It didn’t kill the economy! It helped it!”
“No, actually, I think he has a point on this one,” Albert agreed quietly.
The conversation might have continued, but a woman at the bar suddenly yelled: “Quiet, quiet, everyone! The President’s making an emergency address! Quite down everyone!”
“No one cares!” answered Walter.
“I do,” said John.
Albert nodded. “This is going to be interesting. He usually waits until prime-time to speak, so this has to be important.”
“Twenty bucks says he’s resigning,” said another one of the men in the booth with them.
Walter sighed and hunched his shoulders, wanting everyone to know just how annoyed he was. “Fine, we’ll watch, but I’m not happy about this.”
Word passed all thought the restraint, and soon everyone’s attention was focused on the televisions hanging over the bar.
On the screen, a grey-haired man, sitting behind a desk, faded from view and was replaced a moment later by a thin, bearded man who appeared to be in his early forties. There was instantly a buzz of conversation in the restraint as the diners speculated on who this man was. A few people said it was the secretary of defense.
The man’s identity was soon established. “My fellow Americans,” he said, his voice growing louder as a waitress turned up the volume, “my name is Edgar Latterndale, formerly the Secretary of Defense. But as of eleven seventeen this morning, I have been President of the United States. It is with a heavy heart that I make this, my first public address. Our country is now in a state of crisis. This morning, at approximately one thirty, former president Isaac Latterndale, was shot in the head outside of his bedroom in the White House. Security found him shortly thereafter, and he was declared officially dead at one forty-two A.M. And then, at approximately six fifteen this morning, Vice president Carl Gutierrez took a massive dose of prescription pain killers and several illegal substances, and was declared dead at six twenty-two.
“In the vice president’s will, which was examined immediately after he was found this morning, due to the allegations brought against Mr. Gutierrez earlier this year by terrorist Merv Lemlin, it was stated that a safety deposit box in his name should be opened and the contents presented to the National Security Agency. The box contained only a folder of documents, probably intended as a black-mail measure, that named many congressmen, military officials, and cabinet members who were involved in the E.H.U.D. Program, which was revealed to the public at large earlier this year, also by Merv Lemlin. Those named in the documents have been put on probation until such a time that the charges against them have been investigated.
“The document also gave further information as to the methods and purposes of the Program.”
The president paused for a moment, craning his head to look past the camera. “I’m sorry, I can’t take this teleprompter anymore; I have to be real from here on out.” He looked back into the camera and seemed to slump slightly. “Folks, this is live and unrehearsed, and I don’t know exactly what to say, but here’s the truth: I’m not up for election. I’m here for the next year and a half; I’m not playing ‘the game’.” He made small quotation marks with his fingers. “I have nothing to loose. So I’ll tell you this: I’m going to be completely honest with you; my administration will try to be completely honest with you.” The president scratched nervously at his beard and licked his lips. “I’m personally frightened by all of this. My uncle is dead; America is being attacked from the top. But I’m not going to give up. I’m not going to use you all to get reelected. I’m going to work with you to make this a better America. The contents of the Vice President’s box are not mine, they are the government’s. And you, you, are the government. You all have a right to know what’s going on, so these documents, no matter how much they hurt to read, no matter who’s career they hurt, they will be shared with all of you. You can find them on the internet as soon as I’m done here; for now I’m going to share them with you personally. Everything I know, you will know. I may be president, but this isn’t my America. It’s yours.”
A few of the diners cheered; it wasn’t a very eloquent speech, but it was nice hearing a president re-affirming what the American government stood for. Weather or not he could keep to this pledge of empowerment of the masses was another matter entirely, however.
On the screen, the new president cleared his throat and lifted a sheaf of papers. “All right, the first thing you need to know is that despite the penetration of the White House by terrorists, there will be no government in exile, especially not in our own country. I intend to keep everyone where they are: congress in the Capitol, the Supreme Court in their building, and I and my staff in the White House. The second thing: thanks to some DNA found next to the victim, the NSA has been able to identify a very likely suspect, and is currently on the track of this person.” The president stopped and smiled sheepishly. “Wow, I’ve only been at this for five minutes and I already have to go back on a promise. I promised complete openness, but I’m afraid that for the time being, until we are able to apprehend the culprit—sorry, suspect—until we can apprehend the suspect, we’ll have to keep their identity secret. Sorry. But we should have the suspect in custody soon.
“Moving on. Third thing: now we get to talk about the E.H.U.D. Program. It’s an acronym, standing for Enhanced Human Ultimate Defense. It was divided into two parts, called by these documents Covert and Overt. Not very creative, but it served its purpose. Overt was given the three-fold task of creating advanced arms and armor for American troops, creating an elite anti-terrorism task force, and creating a new level of security clearance that would allow anti-terrorism agents to act instantly while in the field, without waiting for higher ups to approve ideas or worrying about legal issues. This part of the program has affected all of your lives; I’m sure all of you have seen soldiers wearing the distinctive E.H.U.D. armor, either in person or on television. The security clearance was used more sparingly, and fewer people knew about it; but its existence was by no means a secret, and information on it was readily available for anyone who wished to look.
“Now, the Covert part is more than a bit different in what it did. The goal remained essentially the same: elite anti-terror forces. But the actual practice was…” the president paused and covered his mouth for just a second, looked briefly around the room he was in, and then looked back into the camera. “This is going to sound very science fiction, but I assure you all that I’m telling the absolute truth. In practice, the program was making super-soldiers. This involved kidnapping at least one hundred victims, and subjecting them to a series of manufactured viruses that changed their genetic structures in… in rather strange ways. According to these documents,” he waved them towards the camera, “there were one hundred successes. All of the successful victims manifested what are referred to as ‘telepathic and telekinetic phenomena’. Some of these phenomena can be seen in the recordings of the events at the World Peace Banquet.
“Now, I’d like to return for a minute to the victims of this heinous crime and what happened to them, and what the project planned for them. In order to bypass human experimentation laws, and to keep their actions secret from the rest of the world, the masterminds behind the E.H.U.D. program kidnapped their victims, and altered records to make it seem as if they had died, or moved away, or were in some other way completely unreachable by anyone who cared to find them. We’re not quite sure about the rational behind who was kidnapped; the document includes the names of some twenty-odd E.H.U.D.s, from all different races and station in life.” The president looked as if were about to continue, but then shook his head and said, “if any of you are watching this, and you know who you are, just call the National Security Association, and they will send someone out to help you. We know you may not trust us, but we are making an effort to make up for the sins of past administrations.”
There was no other movement for several seconds, and then a phone number appeared at the bottom of the screen. The president’s eyes flicked away from the camera, where he had apparently seen some sort of signal, and he continued his speech. “Back again to the subjects. They were kidnapped roughly fifteen years ago, and the original plan was for them to be kept with the program for another two years, at which point they would have their memories of the time in the program erased, using both chemical and psychological means. They were then to be released into the population at large, with some form of post-hypnotic suggestions implanted to cause them to decide to join the military at some pint. They would then be transferred into current Enhanced Human Ultimate Defense commando squads, and somehow rediscover their telepathic and telekinetic abilities, thus giving the United States government its very own super human army.
“For some reason, unknown to even Gutierrez, the subjects were reintroduced into the general population over the last six months, nearly two years too early according to the previous plan. That, coupled with the breakdown of the memory erasure program, led to Merv Lemlin, and the suspected assassin of the late President Latterndale, doing what they did. I don’t mean to cause panic when I say this, but there is reason to believe that the other ninety-eight E.H.U.D. subjects may pose a serious threat to our safety.
“Now, I’m going to change gears a bit here, to just say that while it may seem easy to blame the previous administration for their involvement in this heinous act, the practical stages of the program have been going on for fifteen years, and the planning stages for at least three years before that, so the blame goes much further--”
“Oh my God…” Albert stared in shock at the television screen.
“What?” John asked.
“How long were you in the coma?”
John blinked in astonishment. “What does that—“
“HOW LONG WERE YOU IN THE COMA?” Albert bellowed.
John shied away from him. “For fifteen…” he trailed off. “Oh, God…
Albert nodded slowly. “You told us all what happened. You said that they said you were dead… and then they pulled you out from a coma. A coma that started fifteen years ago. Completely unreachable, yet still alive.”
“It’s obvious.”
Walter snorted. “No. No, if he had psychic powers, we would’ve figured out by now. He would’ve done something.”
Albert shook his head. “No, he could just wipe our memories. You saw the footage form the Banquet, you saw how Lemlin just waltzed in right past security.” He leaned forward and stared at John. “Do you know how nearly impossible it is to get a job at Cohen?”
John looked around shrugged, and dropped his hands on the table. “Where’s that steak at?”
“No, no, I’m serious,” Albert continued. “I was an award winning architect, one of the best in the country, and I barely got my job. You have no experience other than school, and you’re fifteen years behind industry.”
“I don’t want to-“
“I always assumed you knew someone, had connections, but this- this is—“
“What?!” John flung out his arms and glared at Albert. “You think I got this job to keep me happy until I up and joined the army?!”
Albert took a quick sip of his soda and looked at John. “Yes, yes I do.”
By this point, almost every diner’s attention had drifted from the television to the argument that John and Albert were having. John seemed to notice the new attention, and he stood up and stared at his audience. “What? What do you want me to do? Mind your own **** business!” He sat back down, just as a waitress arrived with his steak. The waitress backed quickly away while John unwrapped his utensils and began eating. Albert continued to stare at him and sip his drink.
Soon enough, everyone’s attention returned to the television, and eventually John turned to see what was happening now. He had missed the end of the president’s speech, but the grey-haired news anchor had returned. “—again, if you want further information on the details surrounding this current catastrophe, and for the complete text of the documents the president presented, go to Or just AmeriSearch “E.H.U.D. That’s E, H, U, D.” The camera moved, and the anchor went from being in the center to being on the left side of the screen. A small video feed of a young appeared over his left shoulder. “We now go live to Maria Tumpuelo, political correspondent with the AmeriNews Network to gain some insight on the president’s rather unorthodox speech.”
The image of the woman expanded to fill the whole screen. She smiled, and turned slightly so that more of the White House could be seen behind her. “Thank you Randy. Actually, I found the president’s speech quite interesting, but I’m not going to talk about that. I’m going to talk about how, fifteen years ago, a group of armed men broke into my house, murdered my family, and dragged me away. I’m going to talk about how I was kept against my will in a Nazi-esque concentration camp, stripped of my civil rights and being used as an experimental subject.” She glared into the camera. “And I’m going to talk about how I walked into the White House last night, right in front of everybody, and shot that disgusting ****** right between his beady little eyes.”
There was complete and utter silence in the restaurant. John calmly took another bite of steak.
“My only real regret is that Merv couldn’t be here to see what I managed to do; I’m sure he would be proud.” She smiled wistfully. “I know I am. But you know what? This isn’t the end. There are still those in power and those further down the chain, the people who cleaned the toilets in the camps, who are still out and free. And the rest of us, the E.H.U.D.s who remember, we won’t stop until all of them are brought to justice. President Latterndale? If you really want to do good, root out his whole thing and let it rot in the open. And if you can’t do it, then it’s up to the American public, to find justice and to avenge the horrible wrong done to our country. Return us to the shining city on the hill that we were originally meant to be.” She paused to wipe a tear from her eye, and then glanced quickly up towards the sky at the sudden sound of helicopters swiftly approaching. She looked boldly into the camera. “Unfortunately, I won’t live to see it. They’ll be coming for me any minute, and when they do, I—I… I’m sorry, Jerry, but I don’t think you’ll make it either. You’ll have to be a martyr…”
There was the sound of running feet, and the camera drooped a little. A moment later, helicopters appeared in the background, and there was an amplified shout of, “YOU ARE SURROUNDED! SURRENDER IMMEDIATELY AND YOU WILL NOT BE HARMED!”
Maria smiled; it was all that could bee seen of her face. Then, without her even moving, there was a flash of light and the picture was reduced to a blank blue screen.
The image switched back to the grey-haired anchorman, who sat motionless for several moments. Someone off-screen yelled, “Say something!” and the anchor shook himself, then looked into the camera. “We’ll be right back after these messages…” The image switched again, showing the start of an automobile commercial.
In the restaurant, everyone sat transfixed, not moving their eyes from the screen. Eventually, everyone’s eyes swung down to stare at their feet, or the table in front of them, or whatever was beneath them. After a few minutes, weak conversations started, but soon quickly died. No one really felt like talking.
Except Donnie. At some point he must have moved from his own booth, because when he started talking, John was surprised to find Donnie sitting right next to him. “This is a sign of the end, Donnie said. “This is the kind of stuff they talked about in Revelation.” Seeing that no one was contradicting him, Donnie took it as permission to keep talking him. “Bad things are going to start happening; this is only the beginning. You have to ask yourself, ‘If I were to die tonight, where would I end up?’”
Walter leaned back and glared at Donnie. “You know, this is what I hate about Christians, always, shoving their religions down everyone else’s throats. Let’s just be glad no one else tries these tactics. Can you imagine a Muslim walking up and asking you, ‘If you died tonight, how many virgins would you have?’” Even though his words were humorous, Walter’s voice was cold and bitter.
“I thought you were a Christian,” John said.
Walter shrugged. “I’m Lutheran. But you don’t here me shoving it on you, do you?”
“I’m just trying to do what I think is right,” Donnie said softly.
“Yeah, well, do it somewhere else.”
“But come on,” Donnie protested, “you saw what just happened! She blew herself up on live TV! You saw what Lemlin was able to do! Don’t you think that maybe something is going on?”
“If it is really the Apocalypse,” Albert asked, for once on Walter’s side of an argument, “then where’s the mark of the beast?”
Donnie had no answer for that. Albert turned to Walter and they both smiled smugly. The silence was broken by the television. The anchor had returned, visibly shaken but ready to continue. “In other news, several members of the House of Representatives have proposed a measure that would require every citizen to have a tracking device surgically implanted, so that every citizen could be looked after and protected, and to prevent something like the E.H.U.D. kidnappings from ever happening again.”
Walter and Albert’s expressions quickly disappeared, and they returned to staring at Donnie. “What?” he asked innocently. “I didn’t say anything.”
Despite their ideological differences, John found himself liking Donnie. Anyone who could annoy Walter so much was worthy of respect. “Walter once told me that you said Merv Lemlin was the antichrist. Is that right?” John asked.
Donnie shook his head. “I said he was somehow associated with the antichrist. Possibly his prophet, or maybe one of his disciples.”
“Whoa, wait; hold on, where does it say disciples in the Bible?” Walter demanded.
“Well, nowhere, actually,” Donnie admitted. “But think about it: you have the antichrist who is, well, the anti-Christ, then you have the prophet, who is the anti-John the Baptist, so by logical continuation, you have the anti-disciples.”
“And you think that Lemlin is one of those?” John wasn’t getting much of the conversation, but was able to understand enough to keep up.
“I think all of the E.H.U.D.s might be those.”
“But,” Walter said, “there were a hundred E.H.U.D.s, and only twelve disciples. And how do you know that the E.H.U.D.s aren’t from God?”
“I don’t know,” Donnie admitted. “But I doubt that if they were from God, they’d be killing people.”
John smiled. “You apparently haven’t read the Tanakh.”
“All I know for certain is that something bad will be coming very soon. It may be the apocalypse, it may not be, but it will be something that no one forgets.” Donnie paused and looked at his watch. “It’s also well past one, so we need to be back at work.” He stood up and walked away. “I’ll see you all there!”
“This hurts me to say,” Walter said, “but he’s right on that last point. I’ll see you all later.”
John sighed and looked down at his steak. He had only taken three bites out of it. He looked up once more at the television, to see a feed from a helicopter circling over what was left of the roof that Maria Tumpuelo had been standing on. John looked back at his steak. He wasn’t all that hungry anymore…

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Teh Updates!!1!!!

Okay, so it's been a while since I've updated. I've had college, visiting relatives, KGB raids, and alien invasions to deal with for the past month. Oh, well. Anyhoo, I'm going to go ahead and cancel the T3 review; it's too late now. I'll just summarize what I was going to say: Great film. Nicely encapsulates the best from the previous two films, and turns out to be the best of the trilogy. Let the hate-mail begin!

In other news: I'm about 3/4 of the way through this draft of E.H.U.D., and I'm going to continue to work on it, but I'm currently planning another project, to debut here on the site shortly. It will represent an entirely new concept in 'novel.' It will be like nothing you've ever seen before! But before I do that, I'm going to need to change the blog up a bit, along with starting an aggressive viral marketing campaign. For the blog, I need to make my own custom background and title card, and while I know how to do that, I don't know how to put it up on the blog. If anyone can tell me how to do that, please just leave a comment!

All right, I don't know what else to say, but look for Chapter 11 to be coming out later this week! Peace out, minions!