First things first, another picture. This one is entirely digital, and rather small, so a print order would probably have two images on the page. I'll have more traditional work (including my Tulsa post card series!) up later in the week.
Second thing: just a little personal update. I spent all day at church today, and it was amazing. If you don't have a wild, wacky, utterly open church, I suggest you rush out and get one now.
Third thing: As I mentioned in my last post, I went and saw The Film Which Shall Not Be Named. It was bad. But a few days after seeing it, something hit me: The Accelerator Suits, with their integrated hydraulic systems, perform almost the exact same function as my E.H.U.D. armors! So, before anyone accuses me of plagiarism (it doesn't matter who thought of it first, only who got the first major publicity) I would like to point out that the armor, which serves to both protect and grant increased speed, acrobatic ability, and endurance to its wearer, existed in its current form as far back as Draft 1 of E.H.U.D., which was written in the summer of 2007. So the existence of such similar things in both my work and in The Film Which Shall Not Be Named are just pure coincidence, nothing more. And besides, mine are sexier (see new title picture at the top of the page.)
Fourth: I now have a title image! Yay! No longer do I have a generic little thing saying "The Realms of Neldak." Oh no, now I have my very own title card, complete with the latest version of the E.H.U.D. cover! Unfortunately, the letters had to be hand written, as my computer doesn't have Stencil STD and I can't afford to purchase it. Now all I need to do is figure out how to get my ads working... (HTML gurus, e-mail me!)
And finally, item D: Chapter fourteen! This little chunk is something that is new to Draft 3. It was originally thought up to be a short story, kind of explaining Edgar's background. However, it now serves not only its original purpose, but also gives some meaningful character development to both Amanda and Mistlethwakey. And don't worry, there will be even more character development ahead.
You see, I actually like Amanda. In the last two drafts, she was simply Edgar's wife, and served no purpose beyond that. She was even going to just die at the end (I can't give more details, as this would ruin the book.) But as I started rewriting the book, completely from scratch, I realized that she has quite a bit of potential, and is one of the more interesting characters in the book, much more so than Edgar is. So I've given her her own subplot, which in turn enriches Edgar and Mistlethwakey, and later the E.H.U.D.s, as characters. The new end not only has her surviving, but also playing a vital role in the background of the second book!
One final note: Chapter fourteen is the final chapter of Part One of the book. Look forward to Part Two sometime next week, and possibly a comic adaptation in the next couple of months. Woot!
So, without further ado (please comment, please comment, please comment...) I proudly present...
The car drove over a bridge in northern Virginia and hit a pothole, causing Amanda Latterndale to bounce and hit her head on the low ceiling. She grunted and rubbed her head.
“Are you all right ma’am?” asked the guard in the front seat.
“Yes, I just bumped my head, that’s all.” She looked out the window, watching houses and telephone poles zip past. “About how much longer until we get there?”
“Just a few more minutes, ma’am.”
Amanda sighed and leaned against the window. She didn’t think the drive would take this long. When she had woken up for the second time that day, Amanda had eaten breakfast, read a chapter of a book with Ethan, and then gotten to work, setting up the White House as a home for her family while Edgar went off to attend to official matters. Eventually, she had gotten bored with moving in personal items from the old house, especially since each item had to be taken apart and completely searched by secret service, and had turned to brooding about her relationship with Edgar.
When she had started thinking about divorce earlier that morning, she had thought that the idea had come suddenly, that she had had a fresh insight into her husband, but as she thought about it now, she remembered that she had actually had the insight back during the World Peace Banquet. It started even before Lemlin’s attack, when Edgar had so completely ignored her—no, not ignored her, treated her as if she was some annoying co-worker not a wife. He treated their marriage as a job, a burden. And she was tired of it.
Not for herself, of course. She might be unhappy with her life, but she could always start writing, or volunteer at a school, which was of course what first ladies traditionally did. No, she was tired of Edgar’s attitudes about the marriage because that attitude also applied towards their son. Edgar had never been particularly pleased to have Ethan, and now that he was president, he could use his increased workload as an excuse to avoid him. And if Edgar was going to just drop out of his son’s life, Amanda wanted to make it official, so she could raise Ethan as she saw fit.
But she couldn’t just run away. And, truth to tell, she wasn’t totally convinced it was the right thing to do. Like getting married in the first place, getting divorced was a big decision, and should not be taken lightly. She would research the options; see weather Ethan would truly be better off with just his mother.
On the other hand, Amanda couldn’t ignore her husband in all of this. Just because she saw him as cold and distant didn’t mean there wasn’t another side of him. Maybe he was only distant at home, and if all that was needed to improve were just a few minor improvements, the price would certainly be worth it. So now Amanda needed to find out more about her husband.
She couldn’t ask Edgar’s father, he was suffering from Alzheimer’s and didn’t even remember who Edgar was, and Edgar’s mother wasn’t doing much better, although for other reasons. Amanda couldn’t remember what was wrong with her mother-in-law; some sort of obscure disease. And of course, Amanda couldn’t talk to Edgar’s uncle… So, family was closed off to her. Besides, ‘family’ was just about the same thing as ‘home,’ and Amanda already knew about that.
The next group of people to talk to were Edgar’s business associates, the people he worked with. Old military friends, congressmen, the higher-ups at the Pentagon, the presidential cabinet. They would all certainly have a very different view of Edgar than the one Amanda had.
When she settled on the ‘co-workers’ category, the name of General Mistlethwakey had instantly come to mind. She remembered numerous times when Edgar had inadvertently mentioned him at home, and Amanda had met him several times. He was actually quite nice.
Amanda called the pentagon and asked to be put through to General Mistlethwakey, but the receptionist informed her that the General had asked not to be disturbed, as he was very busy completing paperwork to end his military service and accept his appointment as Secretary of Defense. Once Amanda reminded the receptionist that she was the first lady, she was immediately transferred to Mistlethwakey’s office.
Mistlethwakey sounded pleased to hear from her and made small talk for several minutes before Amanda was able to tell him the purpose of her call. Mistlethwakey listened, and when she was done, told her that this was something not discussed over the phone. She asked where they should meet, and he had said that that was something that shouldn’t be discussed over the phone, either. He said he would send over a currier with the location of the meeting, and that the Secret Service could drive her there.
And so here she was, driving mile after mile to get to her secret rendezvous with Mistlethwakey.
The car pulled up in front of a low office building and Amanda’s driver got out, led her into the building and through several hidden elevators and then into a large room separated from the last elevator by a wall of glass. Sitting at one end of the large table that filled the room was Robert Mistlethwakey, who stood up and walked to Amanda, enfolding her in a warm embrace. “Mrs. Latterndale, it’s always a pleasure seeing you.” He turned and nodded to Amanda’s driver. “Thank you for bringing her. Could you please wait outside?”
The driver nodded in acknowledgment and walked to the other side of the glass wall.
Mistlethwakey led Amanda to a chair and then sat down beside her. “So, what can I do for you?”
Amanda took a deep breath, and started. “You may have noticed… at various parties, picnics, whatever… Well, Edgar and I are having marital problems.” Mistlethwakey nodded, and Amanda continued. “I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately, and like I mentioned on the phone, I’m thinking of getting a divorce… But I don’t want this to be a rash decision. I want to know what other people can tell me about my husband, so I can get a full picture of him before I decide.”
Mistlethwakey leaned back, a pained expression on his face. “In my honest opinion, I would suggest that you get the divorce.”
“To be perfectly honest… Your husband is evil.”
Amanda raised an eyebrow. “What do you mean, evil?”
“I mean a complete monster, someone without remorse, who is willing to do whatever it takes to achieve a goal, no matter how much it hurts others.” Mistlethwakey laid his hands on the table and stared at them. “This is what I didn’t want to talk about over the phone. When you told me what you wanted to know about, I knew this was the time for me to tell you. Now, you have to understand that what I’m about to tell you is in the strictest confidence, and that even if you tried to find out more, there’s no real way to check my story, for reasons that you’ll see.” He sighed, and looked directly at Amanda. “I really don’t want to tell you this, but I think you have a chance to know.”
“I want to know.”
Mistlethwakey nodded solemnly. “About two years before Edgar met you, he was involved with a woman named Shandra Harris. Have you heard of her?”
“She’s on all of those talk shows, right?”
“Right. Anyway, she’s not important to the story right now, but I want to go ahead and introduce her. During this same time, Edgar was trying to get accepted in a very selective internship program at a very prestigious stock brokerage. Only one top-ranking student a year was accepted and Edgar was an obvious shoo-in for the slot. But at the last minute, another man, Leonard Shelby, was chosen for the slot. Your husband was furious, but there was nothing he could do about it.
“Well, about a week later, someone started a rumor around campus that the Shelby had only gotten into the program because he had provided certain… ‘services’… to the man in charge of the program. I don’t believe that Edgar started this rumor, but he certainly used it for his own purposes. He managed to scrounge up enough evidence to prove the rumor true, and got both Shelby and the program head fired. He did this anonymously, of course, but the intern took it into his mind that Edgar was behind his firing, which of course, he was.
“A few nights later, while Edgar was walking back from a party to his dorm, he was ambushed by Shelby and two of his friends. They shoved Edgar into the trunk of their car, and drove him out into the middle of the woods. Once they got there, they started beating him with a baseball bat.”
Mistlethwakey held up a hand. “You have to understand, this was a very important internship. Getting into the program guaranteed a person a good place in the field, or at least a resume that would get them hired just about anywhere. Shelby not only lost that, but he got publicly outed for committing acts that are questionably legal at best, and were at the time considered very immoral. Personally, they still disturb me, political correctness be ****ed. Not only that, but there was even talk of a legal case for bribery, solicitation, and fraud. Ruined the guy’s life.”
“But still,” Amanda protested, “that doesn’t excuse what they did!”
“No, nor does it excuse what your husband did. In a fit of self-preservation, he was able to overpower the one who was doing the actual beating, and turn the bat on him, knocking him unconscious. That was self defense; perfectly justifiable. But he didn’t stop. He started in on the other two, knocking out one and killing the other.”
Amanda gasped again. “He--- he never told me—“
“Afterwards, he killed the other two men.”
This time, Amanda didn’t say anything. Mistlethwakey remained silent, and let his last statement sink in.
Amanda remained silent for a few more moments. “How did he get away with it?” It was barely a whisper, but Amanda knew Mistlethwakey would be able to hear her.
“He loaded the bodies into their car, drove out of the forest back to the city, got fresh clothes at a Wal-Mart, bought with cash at a self-checkout, drove back out to the forest, and lit everything on fire. After that, he walked back to the college.” Mistlethwakey paused, and then leaned back in his chair. “Killing enemies who attacked you first, that’s one thing. But once he got back to the college, he forced Shandra Harris to lie for him, to be his alibi, saying that they had been together all evening. Two days, the police came to find him. It took them that long to identify the bodies in the car. Edgar was a prime suspect, being that he had the biggest motive to kill Shelby. But, he had an alibi from Ms. Harris, and there was no physical evidence linking him to the scene of the crime.”
“What about his clothes?”
“I assume they burned sufficiently that they couldn’t be used at all.”
“And so the police just left Edgar alone.”
Mistlethwakey nodded. “The case was never solved. Knowing about the persistent rumors surrounding Mr. Shelby, the police closed the case as being a hate-crime. End of story.”
For several minutes, no one spoke. Amanda couldn’t believe what Mistlethwakey had just told her. Edgar was not a very good person, she had known that for years, but she couldn’t believe that he would kill someone in cold blood. And she never suspected… “How did you know about this?”
“I have a surprising amount of friends in the world. One of them happens to be Shandra Harris, the only person besides Edgar to know what he did.”
The thought of Edgar sharing this with someone other than her caused a fierce twinge of jealousy inside Amanda. “And how do you know she was telling the truth?”
“I have… I have my own ways. Like I said before, you can’t check this. You either believe me, or you don’t.”
“If this is true, I—I never expected… He never let on that he even had a secret like this…”
Mistlethwakey reached out and covered Amanda’s hand with his own. “That’s what makes him evil. Not that he did those things; other men have done worse. It’s the fact that he doesn’t wake up screaming about what he’s done. That’s what post-traumatic stress syndrome is; your conscience screaming out against what it’s done.”
Even though Amanda believed what Mistlethwakey had told her, she still became defensive when he called her husband evil. “How do you know if he screams or not?!”
Mistlethwakey pulled his hand away and shrugged. “He doesn’t, does he?”
Amanda refused to answer that. She was angry at Mistlethwakey; he had told her terrible things about Edgar, and as much as she wished she didn’t believe him, she knew the story was true. She had seen it in the way that her husband could so casually turn away his son’s affections, and then seem offended that Ethan had dared to try to be with him. Ethan wasn’t a person to him. No one was… Amanda felt anger bubbling up inside of her. She wanted to lash out, to hurt someone, to do something that would distract her from the terrible truth. She looked at Mistlethwakey and sneered bitterly. “What about you? You must have done bad things in your life. Do you ever wake up screaming about what you’ve done?” As soon as she said it, Amanda knew she shouldn’t have.
Mistlethwakey’s face hardened, but his eyes became soft and filled with pain. “No, ma’am. Every breath I take is a scream.” With that, he stood up and walked towards the door.
Before he had moved more than a few steps, Amanda had jumped to her feet and was grabbing at his arm. “Wait, no, I-I’m sorry; please, don’t go—“
Mistlethwakey turned back to Amanda and held her hands. “I understand, its hard accepting what I just told you… I understand…” He sighed. If I were you in any other situation, I would divorce Edgar. But right now, you can’t.”
“But I don’t want him around my son or—“
“Right now, he’s in charge of the country, and he has a record of being an amoral *******. He’s not the kind of person we need in charge. But do you know who you are?”
Amanda didn’t even know what Mistlethwakey was talking about. She shook her head.
“You’re his conscience. You’re worried about how he is elsewhere, because he’s not a good person at home. The answer is no, he’s not. And you can’t change him. No one can. But you can hold him back, keep him in check. I know you want to leave him. I don’t blame you. But please, for the sake of the country, for the sake of your son’s future, stay with Edgar until his term is over. You’re the only redeeming thing about him.”
“But—but shouldn’t we tell someone? He’s killed people! He can’t lead us!”
Mistlethwakey released Amanda’s hands and gestured expansively. “Who would we tell? What would we tell? There’s no evidence! And what do you think would happen if we were believed?”
Amanda understood what he meant. In the last two days, the government had been essentially decapitated. If yet another president were removed from office because of the skeleton’s in his closet, where would the country be? There were already rioters demanding that the corrupt government be abolished. Another blow to the trust of the people could lead to anarchy. And even though America had no active enemies, a destabilized United States was a prize too good to pass up. If Amanda listened to her conscience, she could plunge the world into war. Edgar would have to stay.
While these thoughts passed through her mind, Amanda felt a tear roll down her cheek. She had come to this meeting to find out if it was worth it to remain with her husband, and was going to leave absolutely hating him, but with no choice but to stay with him. She wiped the tear away and looked up at Mistlethwakey. “All right, I’ll stick it out until his term is over. After that, I make no promises.”
Mistlethwakey smiled reassuringly. “That’s all anyone could ever ask for. And you never know; he could change over the next year and a half. Irredeemable people have been redeemed before.” Mistlethwakey leaned down and hugged Amanda briefly, then turned and headed for the elevator.
After Mistlethwakey left, Amanda sat down and rested her head on her arms. She heard her driver come into the room, but she ignored him. She had to have time to sort through her feelings about Edgar. Before, she had been wary of him, tired of seventeen years of unfulfilled marriage. Now, she hated him. And, deep down, she couldn’t fight off the feeling that he was going to end up being responsible for her death… and Ethan’s…