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 TvTropes.org, 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...
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.”
“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.”
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 www.ehud.gov. 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…