Thursday, May 31, 2012

E.H.U.D.: Part 1, Chapter 2

Chapter 2

Today was the end of the third month of John’s new life. It was also the day of his release from the hospital. And, he realized as his parents came bursting through his door bearing brightly wrapped packages, today was his birthday.
“Hey! You guys remembered! Hell, I didn’t even remember.”
“Happy birthday, Johnny,” his father said, depositing his present on the bed and wrapping John in a bear hug.
“Oh, let me at him, I haven’t seen him in almost two months!” Now it was mother’s turn to try and strangle the life out of him.
“Two months? That’s nothing.” John looked up to the door and saw a tall, middle aged man that looked a lot like he did. “I haven’t seen the sorry schmuck in close to ten years.”
“Oh my God, Reggie, I didn’t think you’d come.” John reached out and embraced his brother. It was good to have Reggie there; he was usually able to keep mother and father from being… well, themselves.
“Somebody’s got to help you get moved, little guy, and the folks are too old.”
“Hey,” father said, “who’s too old? We’ve already got the room ready and everything.” He smiled at John and clapped him on the shoulder.
John cleared his throat and looked away.
“What? What’s wrong?”
“Um…” John suddenly wished he had broached the subject earlier. “I, uh, already have living arrangements planned.”
Mother appeared between father and son. “No, out of the question; you’re coming with us. Where else could you go anyway? It’s not like you had life insurance.”
“Well, the thing is, the army—“
“Yes, we know, they told us—all the medical bills.”
“What?” father demanded.
“They’ve kind of set me up with an apartment at Sky Crest.”
“Whoa-ho!” Reggie moved the presents off the bed and sat down. “Things seem to be looking up for you!”
Mother shook her head. “No, it’s not a good idea. You need to be with family.”
“Mom, I had family; you guys were right there when I came back. It’s more than any son could ask for.” He reached down and tried to hug her, but she moved away, determined to stay offended.
“And look how grateful you’re being for all we’ve done for you!”
“Mom, I can’t stay a kid forever. I have to move on sometime.”
“Don’t say that! You’ve already moved on once! It was more than I could bear; I cried for more than a year!”
“She did,” father confirmed.
“I want you close; I can’t lose you again.”
John spread his hands. “I’m sorry, mom. I’m a grown-up now; I have a world to conquer. But don’t worry, I’ll visit.”
The tension in the room stretched on for a few moments more, then snapped as mother returned to John and hugged him.
“Speaking of visiting…” father muttered.
Reggie checked his watch. “Damn. She should be out by now.”
John raised his head from his mother’s shoulder. “Who?”
Reggie stood up and headed out the door. “I’ll be right back.”
“Who? Did he bring Rachel?”
“Mhh,” mother grumbled.
“They having problems?”
Father chuckled and shifted his cap. “You’ve got no idea.”
A few minutes later Reggie returned leading a sullen-looking teenage girl. Her hair appeared to be naturally red, but there were streaks of black through it. As she surveyed the room with an expression of resigned boredom light glinted off a stud in her right nostril.
“John, I’m sure you remember my daughter.”
Yes, John had to admit, he did. She was a sweet seven year old, proudly stomping around Reggie’s house and showing anyone she could the bloody remains of a dislodged tooth. But now, having been transformed into this zombie that just took up space in the middle of the room… John suddenly felt the years of his vegetative state catch up with him.
“My God, how old am I?”
Rachel snorted. “Wow, glad you were able to get through high-school with that.”
“Rachel!” Reggie hissed. He smiled apologetically at John. “Sorry, she hasn’t been herself lately.”
“Whatever.” Rachel went and sat in the glide rocker, absently kicking at the presents stacked around it.
“You’re thirty-seven,” father said, trying to ignore Rachel.
John slumped onto the bed. “Shit.”
Reggie snorted. “Tell me about it; I turn forty next month.”

Two hours later, John was sitting in a wheel chair, being guided down a hallway by a nurse. His family walked around him, and he was only a few hundred yards from freedom.
When they reached the foyer, John saw Dr. Shemuptura and asked his nurse to wheel him towards her.
The doctor looked up from her palm-top as she saw John approaching. “Ah, John, I hoped to see you before you left.”
John extended his hand and the doctor shook it. “Thanks for everything, doctor. I wish I didn’t have to be here, but since I did, I’m glad I got to meet you.”
“The same, Mr. Donalson, the same. I know it might be uncomfortable to think back on all this, but I’d be honored if you would keep me updated as your life progresses.”
“Will do, doctor. See you around.”
“Goodbye John. Make up for your lost time.”
John smiled, then signaled for his nurse to return him to his family.
They didn’t say anything as they continued through the last few feet of the foyer. Then, the doors swooshed open… and John was free. He stood from the wheelchair and stretched, breathing in the warm May air. This wasn’t the first time he had been outside since his rebirth, but it was the first time he truly felt like the world was open to him.
He smiled at his family. “God, this feels good. It’s like… like I’ve been born again.”
Rachel snorted. “Two birthdays on the same date.”
John jumped in the air and whooped.
Reggie smiled. “Okay, okay, yes you’re happy. Unfortunately we’re running late, so we need to get to the station fast, okay?”
John took a deep breath and pushed his glasses back up on his head. “Yeah. Okay. Is the cab here?”
He looked around and saw his father waving from further down the line of cars that fronted the hospital.
“Okay.” John reached down and hugged his mom. “You guys drive safely, okay? I’ll see you tonight after I get settled in.”
“You sure you don’t want to drive up with us?” There was an unmistakable sound of pleading in her voice.
“I’m sorry, no; I don’t really feel comfortable driving long distances right now. The cab’s bad enough, but I really feel better with the train.”
“You can come with us, Mom,” Reggie offered.
Father arrived, leading the cab. “If she goes with you, who gets your car, Reggie?”
He shrugged. “I could take the train down later then drive it home.”
Mother smiled and nodded. “Yes, that works—“
“Marge.” Father’s voice was devoid of emotion.
“I want to be with my—“
“Marge. It works better this way. You can get dinner ready to your heart’s content, and John can get settled in. You’ve been without him for two months; what’s a few more hours going to hurt?”
She sighed. “Yes, you’re right, you’re right. I’ll go get Reggie’s car then.” She turned quickly and headed in the direction of the parking garage.
“It’s a wonder we never got divorced.”
“Great sentiment, dad.”
Father smiled and rubbed John’s head; the hair was still stubbly. “You know I love the woman.”
“Yeah, dad.”
The cab honked impatiently, and Reggie gestured for John and Rachel. “Time to go.”
John quickly embraced his father and went to the back door of the cab. Just as he was about to get in, the earth shuddered and he stumbled.
Car alarms activated all around the parking lot, and a few seconds later a sound like muffled thunder rolled past them.
“What the hell was that?” Rachel gasped.

Defense Secretary Edgar Latterndale sat at the massive table that took up most of the White House’s cabinet room. He glanced down at his palm-top computer: it was nearly ten, and the president hadn’t shown up yet. That in itself wasn’t strange; the president was notorious for scheduling events before his morning cabinet sessions and showing up late, but this time was different. There wasn’t anything on the schedule; in fact, the president had assured them yesterday that today he would try his hardest to arrive on time.
After half an hour, it looked like this promise, like most of those he made while campaigning, was empty.
Edgar didn’t mind, however. He needed the extra time to go over his notes, to try to convince himself that what he had been given about the morning’s events was factual. It seemed impossible; spontaneous combustion was something that hadn’t been taken seriously since the 1800s. Yet here it was: spontaneous combustion was believed to be behind a case of domestic terrorism.
Edgar checked the time again. Ten o’clock, straight up.
Normally, news of spontaneous combustion, or even news of domestic terrorism, wouldn’t come through him. That was the NSA’s job. But there were just enough facts about the incident, just a few extra details that pushed the incident squarely into Edgar’s territory.
The most important detail, however, was that it was one of Edgar’s immediate subordinates who had spontaneously combusted. That wasn’t something he was looking forward to telling the president.
Speaking of which…
The door to the cabinet room opened and President Isaac Latterndale walked in, smiling briefly at his gathered advisers. “Sorry for the delay, folks; brunch ran long.”
Everyone knew what that meant: he had been trolling for campaign contributions.
The president pulled out his chair at the head of the table and sat down. “Right. I know we have a lot on our plates this morning, no pun intended, but what I want to know is what the hell happened?”
“You meant the explosion?” asked Press Secretary Eli Rosencrantz.
“So that’s what we’re calling it? Yes, the explosion.”
Edgar felt his palms begin to sweat. If the president was turning to Eli first, it meant he suspected something was wrong.
Eli wiped his fingers across a small screen. “Well, it seems that a utilities pipeway in the Metros exploded, knocking out an entire line and killing some fifty people. Reports are still coming in, and rescue workers are of course on the scene. From early examinations, it seems to have been a case of age, of an antique infrastructure reaching its natural limit.” He paused and locked eyes with the president. “Perhaps a move should be made to over-haul the Metro and pre-empt any more disasters like this from occurring?”
The president stroked his beard and considered the story and, more importantly, the proposal at the end. Finally he nodded. “Good job, Eli. Feed that to the local authorities; get someone in the House to work on pushing the overhaul.”
Eli nodded in return and tapped furiously at his screen.
The preliminaries where over; now came the hard part.
The president then turned to Edgar. “All right, cuz, we’ve heard Herr Spin Dokter’s version; what say you?”
Edgar glowered, his dark eyes disappearing under his brow. He hated it when the president brought up their relationship. He had worked hard getting where he was, yet every time the president referred to him as “cousin” or some derivation thereof, it was as if his record were wiped clean and he was reduced to some simpleton riding a wave of nepotism.
He cleared his throat and tried to focus on the task at hand. “We’re unsure of the motives behind what happened. There is a distinct possibility that it was a terrorist attack of some sort, but no one’s claiming responsibility. Personally, I believe that it was simply an accident.”
“An accident?” the president frowned. “So, what, Eli was telling the truth for once?”
This was what it all came down to. “Maybe ‘accident’ is the wrong word. I mean that there was no malicious intent; it was just an event. Based on security footage, the blast was centered on a single person. Specifically, Ashleigh Chuskus.”
Edgar paused as he let the name sink in. It took a moment; the name was familiar to everyone at the table, but no one seemed to immediately remember why.
The president was the first to get it. “This would be one of the Ashleighs from the Defenders, wouldn’t it?”
There was a collective gasp from around the table. The Defenders was a subject that was rarely brought up privately—never publicly. The Defenders were the president’s dirty little secret, a special military project created by—and thoroughly hidden in the wording of—the ADI bill. For the president to mention them at all spoke of something far more serious than a simple Metro explosion.
“Yes, this would be an Ashleigh from the Defenders.”
“And you say you have footage of this?”
Edgar held up his computer and pushed a few buttons. Around the table, the others pulled out their own computers and stared in silence as a group of people crossed a subway platform and stood waiting near the tracks. One woman, blond and emaciated, with bulging eyes, turned and looked directly into the camera that had taken in the scene. She smiled, raised the middle finger of her right hand and… exploded. One minute she was there, surrounded by hundreds of other commuters. The next, there was a flash of light and the scene went dark.
“How did she do this?” the president said softly.
“You won’t like the answer.”
“Try me.”
“I have no idea.”
There was dead silence.
“No evidence of explosives?”
“So far… none.”
“There’s only one possibility, then,” the president said, staring vacantly at the table top. “She did it all by herself, with no natural explanation.”
Glances were shared around the table. The president had voiced their worst fears: A Defender had used paranormal powers. It was one thing to read status updates, to hear progress-reports from the scientists who had helped in the creation of the Defenders. It was quite another to hear the president acknowledging that these powers had been responsible for a real-life disaster.
“Which opens up a worse possibility,” the president continued. “Chuskus knew what she was doing. Which means that, for whatever reason, her psychic conditioning has screwed up, and she went rogue.”
The president looked up at Edgar. “If one can screw up, others can.”
“I agree completely.”
“I don’t want them going rogue on me.”
“I understand.”
The secretary of the interior tapped on the table. “So what are we going to do about it?” She sounded nervous.
No one scrambled to answer her question.
The president snorted. “We do nothing. For the rest of this meeting, we’re going to pretend like nothing happened; the Metro’s getting old, and the aging infrastructure is collapsing. We’re going to talk about trade relations, legislation, violence in the Middle East, whatever.” He pointed at Edgar. “As soon as we’re done here, you’re going to Arlington and having a little heart-to-heart with General Mistlethwakey about what happened this morning. Find out what he thinks happened to Ashleigh, see what he thinks about the rest. Above all, come back with answers for tomorrow. Got that?”
Edgar nodded. He wasn’t happy about it, but he had expected it. General Mistlethwakey, the eccentric little man who had help to create the defenders, was the most likely to know what to do next.
“What happens if Mistlethwakey has no idea what’s going on?” Edgar asked.
The president shrugged. “Then we have one hell of a potential disaster on our hands, and we try to scrap the project any way possible.”

By the time the Edgar managed to get to the Pentagon it was after noon, and the lunch hour seemed to make the building feel even more crowded and chaotic. Based on the crowds swarming through the labyrinthine passages, it would probably be another twenty minutes before Edgar could talk to General Mistlethwakey. Assuming he was in his office. Edgar had called ahead and warned the general’s aide of his arrival, but with Mistlethwakey, anything was possible.
Despite his relatively low status in the Washington hierarchy, General Robert Mistlethwakey was a force beholden to no one but himself. He was friends with everyone, and everyone owed him favors. And Mistlethwakey always reminded those who owed him of this fact. If, for whatever reason, the general was out of his office, there was nothing Edgar could do but wait. And as he continued to walk through the never-ending halls, Edgar had the sinking feeling that the general would make him wait. As he was nominally Mistlethwakey’s boss, it was highly likely he would be forced to wait for some time, especially since he had the audacity to arrive during lunch. The general enjoyed his mealtimes; Edgar couldn’t remember a time when he had seen Mistlethwakey not eating.
His thoughts were interrupted by the tune of “Home Means Nevada” coming from somewhere around his waist-line. He pulled a small loop of plastic from his jacket pocket and slipped it over his ear.
“Hello, Amanda.” The music abruptly stopped as he spoke.
“Where are you?” His wife’s voice sounded pleasant, but with an unmistakably bitter edge.
“I’m at work; where are you?”
“I’m at Ethan’s recital.”
Something was wrong. “But that isn’t till three.”
“It was at ten.”
“Since when?”
Amanda sighed. “Since it was first scheduled. God, Edgar, you’ve known about this for five months, and you promised Ethan you’d be there; you said you could get time off.”
“Well, I’m sorry, but something more important came up.”
“More important than your son?”
Now there was a loaded question. He was in enough trouble for missing the recital. If he answered yes, Amanda would go into a tirade about his priorities; if he said no, then she’d be even angrier over his absence.
At least he didn’t need to worry about anger from Ethan: there would only be sullen silence from that front.
Edgar dodged around a group of civilian contractors and came to an answer.
“Yes, there was something more important than Ethan. I’m sorry it had to be that way, but the security of the entire nation is greater then the temporary happiness of one boy. I know it’ll be hard for him to take, but if he can learn that lesson, he’ll be a better man for it.”
“And if he grows up learning that a man abandons his own family for the well-being of others?”
Edgar had neither the time nor patience for this. Besides, he still had to deal with Mistlethwakey. “Look, did you film the damn thing?”
“Good, then tonight we’ll all have a nice dinner around the TV and watch it.”
“It won’t be the same—“
“Exactly. We won’t have sixty complete strangers around us, Ethan won’t be scared shitless, and we can be comfortable.”
There was no response from Amanda.
“Hello? You there?”
“I’ll see you tonight. We’ll talk then.” Her voice had lost its’ disguise of pleasantness and had taken on an edge of unforgiveness.
“Goodbye, dear.”
Amanda hung up.
That probably could have gone better…
Edgar slipped the loop from his ear and returned it to his pocket. He could feel anger bubbling up inside him: he knew the recital was at three, it had always been at three, it must have changed recently, despite what Amanda said. And even if it had always been at ten, what kind of idiot schedules a music recital at ten on a school day? And who was Amanda to lecture him on his priorities, on how he related to his son? It wasn’t like she spent any more time with Ethan; she was the one who insisted on shoving him off on any teacher, councilor, activity facilitator—
Edgar took a calming breath and pushed his anger away, forcibly forgetting it. An impossible explosion had occurred, he had missed the recital, and now he was going to see Mistlethwakey. That was the world, that was the way it was. He could deal with anything else later, or preferably not at all.
When he finally arrived at Mistlethwakey’s office, Edgar was surprised to find that the general was in.
The general looked up at Edgar when he entered, swallowed whatever was in his mouth, and smiled. “Ah, Mr. Secretary, always a pleasure.” He held up a half-empty carton of donuts. “Can I interest you in some late lunch?”
“I’m good.”
Mistlethwakey shrugged and took one for himself.
Edgar blinked at the incongruity in front of him: Mistlethwakey, who was constantly eating, seemed to be the poster child for gluttony. And yet, according to the general’s personnel file, he weighed in at one hundred and twenty-five pounds. Looking at him, Edgar doubted that number: Mistlethwakey couldn’t weigh more than one hundred even.
The donut quickly disappeared, and then Mistlethwakey smiled, his skull clearly visible through his tight skin. “So, what can I do for you?”
“Answers would be nice. What happened this morning?”
Mistlethwakey looked blank for a moment, then nodded. “You mean the Metro explosion?”
“You know full well what I mean.”
“Right.” Mistlethwakey smiled. “I know Isaac doesn’t want too much surveillance on the Defenders, but I have a few people keeping an eye on them. The last week or so, Ashleigh’d been acting weird, losing weight. Nothing unusual, though. Then she quits her job and starts going on long train rides for no reason.” He shrugged. “Then today…”
“Today what? Today she blows up? I already know that Bob. Worse, Isaac knows that. And, let’s be frank here, it does nothing for his faith in the program. In fact, I think this could very well kill the Defenders.” If there was one thing Edgar had learned in Washington, it was that the threat of budget cuts always worked on people.
Not Mistlethwakey, apparently. “No one’s going to kill anything here. This Chuskus thing, it’s a hiccup is all. We’ve got too much invested in the Defenders; Isaac recognizes that. It looks like he’s already got Eli covering this, so no more needs to be said.”
Ignoring the problem. That was what the general suggested they do. In all honesty, it was a tempting proposition. No one, least of all Edgar, wanted anything to do with the Defender project. It was too strange, too convoluted. Even though Edgar agreed with its basic principles, the idea that it could lead to domestic security, he still wouldn’t mind seeing it shut down. Perhaps if he told the president that Mistlethwakey had no answers to their problem, the project would be shut down…
“This is the project’s first hiccup after ten years,” Mistlethwakey said. It won’t dry up just because of that.” That was something Mistlethwakey did; he seemed to know what people were thinking. Another thing he did was insist things happened his way, even if reality contradicted him.
Edgar smiled. “That’s not the first hiccup though, is it?”
Mistlethwakey’s eyes narrowed.
“There was that incident with Major Fendleton. Now that, that could easily have killed the project. But I was nice enough to keep that between you, me, and the twenty-three soldiers who died in his rampage.” Edgar dropped the smile. “Now, unless you give me something to tell the president— something good— then I’ll just have to tell him that you’re second in command deliberately tried to sabotage the project.”
As soon as the words were said, he regretted them. Mistlethwakey manipulated you. It didn’t work the other way around. Mistlethwakey probably had enough dirt on Edgar to get him replaced by any number of more accommodating defense secretaries.
Against all expectation, Mistlethwakey smiled. “I must same, I’m rather impressed to see that you have the balls to stand up to me like that. You want something to tell the president, fine, I’ll give you something.” He stood and began to slowly pace around the room. “There’s no way her memory scrub could have failed by accident. Our laser-guided amnesia’s fool-proof. There is no way she could have remembered about her special abilities or about her time as a Defender.
“Unless…” he paused and faced Edgar, “someone, at the source, purposely botched the scrubbing so that Ashleigh remembered. Sabotage.”
Edgar felt his stomach clench. “You think Fendleton could have done this?” He had thought the Fendleton incident would be his blackmail, but it cut both ways. If Mistlethwakey let it be known that Edgar had been aware of a potential flaw in the project and had kept it a secret, it would be the end of not only his career, but possibly his life. Treason was still a capitol offense.
Mistlethwakey shook his head. “No, Fendleton was already dead by the time we scrubbed the Defenders. Besides, this isn’t just speculation; I know for a fact there was sabotage. I was the one who ordered it.”
The off-handedness of the confession almost let it almost fly past Edgar. “You did what?”
Mistlethwakey stopped pacing. “I sabotaged the program; usurped it for my own purposes. It’s not that hard a concept.”
Suddenly blackmail didn’t seem that big of a concern. “You did what?”
“After putting down Fendleton’s little uprising, I got to thinking about what he said: the Defenders have potential to completely change the world’s current power structure. Nuclear arsenals would be a thing of the past, and no one would dare challenge them. But his ideas were a bit too chaotic. They need to be controlled.”
Edgar was still having a hard time getting around the blatant treason the general had committed. “So you just released them onto the streets to do whatever it is they want?”
“No, no of course not. I merely changed the scrubbing procedures so that they’re more likely to have spontaneous memory recovery from outside stimuli, as opposed to going off through implanted commands.”
Edgar now stood and confronted Mistlethwakey face to face. “But why? Why would you compromise the program, hell the whole damn country?”
All levity disappeared from the general’s face. “Because the world is a screwed up place, Ed. And with the Defenders, we have a way to fix that. If we don’t use that, if we just use the Defenders to protect our own interests, then we’ve just committed an unforgivable atrocity.”
Edgar shook his head. “I can’t let you do this. You have half an hour to start running before the president finds out and shuts this whole thing down.”
Edgar turned and walked away, still reeling from this sudden twist in his day.
Then the possibilities began to occur to him: this was a way out of the whole program. The president wanted his dirty little secret purged, and this was it. Edgar would out the crazy general with his secret private army, would be able to exonerate the entire administration from involvement, would be an American hero. This was his chance for greatness. Sure, the potential of the secret program would be wasted, but it seemed a fair price, all things considered.
“Just because I’m saving the world doesn’t mean there aren’t personal rewards.”
Edgar stopped and looked back at Mistlethwakey.
“My plan is to let the Defenders out to wreak a little havoc; hopefully the others will do better than Ashleigh did. Then someone, someone with great political clout, will arise to save America from the chaos that the Defenders will cause. He will of course have inside help in the matter, but no one else has to know that. Once the threat is contained, America will be seen as not only humbled by its own arrogance at creating this new monstrosity, but also as strong and ready to put on a new face in light of the recovery from this disaster. This new, friendlier America will then be embraced by the world, and will be listened to when it suggests solutions for the rest of this world’s problems. All of this can happen, Ed, if you don’t turn me in. Keep covering for me for a little while longer, and Pax Americana can sweep over the earth. All I need to hear are five little words.”
Edgar sighed. Everything in him screamed out against what Mistlethwakey was saying. The Defenders were too big a potential threat. Even if they were used as the plan called them to be, they were a nightmare. But if they were loose, they could be the biggest threat to freedom that humanity had ever faced.
Mistlethwakey smiled, and something in his eyes burrowed down into Edgar’s soul. “Five little words…”
“What’s in it for me?”
Mistlethwakey clapped his hands. “Bingo! What’s in it for you? Well, for one, you could be a hero, the person everyone remembers as the savior of mankind from the Defenders. For two, well, you could be president.”
Edgar’s patience was wearing thin. “We both know I’m fairly unelectable.”
“Who said anything about an election? Just give me six months, and I promise the presidency will be yours.”
There it was. It was one thing to talk about usurping America’s most dangerous super weapon since Fat Man and Little Boy, and it was quite another to threaten the life of the president. “No. I will not be involved in killing the present, or any of the others between me and him.”
“You wouldn’t be involved; the Defenders would.”
“What you said before, about unspeakable atrocities?” He waited until Mistlethwakey nodded. “Same principle applies to knowing about assassins. I could care less if Isaac keeled over right now, but I won’t be involved in his death.”
“I don’t think you’re getting what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about an end to petty do-gooders in the UN, I’m talking about an end to self-important demi-dictators yelling about American imperialism when we walk in and free a country from tyranny. In short, I’m talking about world peace; a step towards utopia.”
“You’re talking about killing people for a plan that only might work!”
“You can’t make an omelet without sacrificing a few innocents.”
It was a cold sentiment, devoid of anything Edgar recognized as humanity. But the meaning behind it sounded familiar: it was a lesson he had said that his son needed to learn. Edgar was no hypocrite. If his son needed to learn it, so did he. Without making a conscious decision, Edgar realized he was in. There was only one little detail that remained unexplained.
“Why me? Why am I the one you want? Why not Isaac, or you?”
“Well, Isaac’s been around too long; some people don’t trust him. As for me, my heredity keeps me from going any higher than vice, even if I was in a position to inherit the throne like you are—which I’m not.”
Edgar nodded, then backed away and leaned against a wall.
“I’ll give you six months of silence. The president won’t know about this conversation. If you haven’t done enough of your little plan for world peace by then, I turn state’s evidence, and you and your little army are finished.”
Mistlethwakey spread his hands. “Fair enough. And in exactly six month’s time, you’ll be president. Deal?”
“Its one seventeen now.”
Mistlethwakey smiled. “I said exactly, I meant exactly.” He returned to his chair. “Now, before you go, we still have the little matter of what you tell the president regarding Ms. Chuskus. I suggest you tell him it was merely an accident.” His eyes unfocused as he continued to speak, his voice becoming flat and bored-sounding, as if he were reading from a report. “We’ve never dealt with long-term psychic scrubbing before. Despite our best efforts, it’s an untried science, and something must have gotten through the barriers and brought up some memories. After that, in a moment of panic and understandable rage, she accidentally used her now unfamiliar… paranormal abilities, I guess would be the word, to blow herself up. I would suggest that extra surveillance be brought to bear on the others, and maybe speeding up the original time table to preclude further incidents.” He clasped his hands and looked at Edgar. “Simple.”
Edgar nodded at that, and turned to go. He still felt unsure of his decision, unsure if silence was the best policy. If Mistlethwakey’s plan didn’t work, he was just as guilty of treason as the general. But if it did work…
“I hope I can trust you, Bob.”
He couldn’t see Mistlethwakey’s face, but his tone of voice suggested a smile. “Of course you can. You can always trust a man with an army of super-soldiers.”

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

E.H.U.D.: Part 1, Chapter 1

Prelude to Apocalypse
By Hezekiah Bennetts

30 Years From Now

Part I: Resurrection

Chapter 1

In the beginning, there was darkness. At least, that was the first thing he could remember. Other things slowly began to fill the void: the feel of concrete beneath him, the chill of the air around him, the distant shouts and cries of anguish as his soldiers fought on.
Through all of this, Allen stood waiting. He knew he should be out there helping them, swarming through the tunnels with the men and women devoted to his cause. Every few moments, he could feel their minds touching his, asking him why he didn’t help. But he couldn’t help, couldn’t answer. All he could do was wait.
That seemed to be what his life had been for the last… forever. Just waiting. To take action would bring consequences; he couldn’t afford consequences.
One particular mind called out of the darkness, a strong mind, the one he had chosen to replace him in the time to come. Where are you? There’s too many… we don’t have the strength…
Now. Now was the time to act. At this point, there were no consequences for his actions; everything he did now was set, was preordained. Was right. I’m coming…
Around him, minds suddenly fell quite. Active soldiers shut down, dropped from the war.
Allen? What are you doing?
There was no answer he could give that would satisfy the others. His boots thudded as he crossed the concrete expanse. Soon, he could feel a door in front of him, could feel it opening. Beyond the door stood a man, old yet muscular, his body standing erect in a military uniform even as his eyes stared unseeingly into the void.
Allen touched the man’s shoulder and smiled wistfully, even as the few remaining minds railed painfully against his. “It’s time, old friend…”

“And that’s when I wake up.” John Donalson was surprised at the sound of his own voice. Once again, he had been caught up with the strength of the vision, lost in its reality. He wondered how long it had been since he had begun to tell the story…
“What makes you think you’re awake now?” This voice didn’t surprise him. If anything, it had the opposite effect, pulling him down, soothing and smothering him in its rich, powerfully feminine tones.
He felt himself shrug. “I hadn’t thought of that.”
“You still have your eyes closed.”
Eyelids split, and there was light. John found himself looking out at a blank world, a swirling void of colors and fog. Below him, there was no ground, above him no sky; there was only his body, bald and naked.
“And me; don’t forget me.”
Yes, of course. Floating close by was Suzanne, as bald and naked as he was. But whereas he looked like a skinned rat, she looked like a goddess, purple high-lights glinting off of her dark skin.
“Somehow, I don’t think this is anymore awake than before. At least in the dream, I had some frame of context.”
She gestured to the void. “This isn’t contextual enough for you?”
“No. I have no idea where I am, what I’m doing. And where are my clothes?”
Suzanne shrugged.
“And most importantly, who are you?”
She shrugged again. “How should I know? This is your mind; I didn’t choose to be here.”
The revelation hit John hard; around him, the swirling colors began to dim.
“Not that I wouldn’t choose to be here, given the choice.”
Well, that was better anyways.
They floated for a while longer, John contemplating the void around him and Suzanne… doing whatever it was that she did.
Suddenly, the colors began to shift, to grow more vibrant, to coalesce into recognizable shapes. At the same time, Suzanne began to fade.
“No! No, don’t go; I can’t make it without you!”
“You have to John.” Nothing remained now but a smile and the ghostly outline of her face. “Just live life without me.”
He reached out to touch her smile, but it was gone. “What do I do without you?”
“Try waking up…”

A woman’s voice, thin and slightly accented, sang over him. “Johnnn… Little Johnyyyy… Come to meeeee…. Come to mommyyyy….”
Eyelids split, and there was light. This time, there were few colors: pastel pinks, mint greens. The shapes the colors adorned were strong and well defined: glide rocker, dresser, Mother.
She hovered over him, alternately rubbing his face and rubbing the tears from her own. When she saw that his eyes were open, she smiled and held a hand to her mouth. “Oh, thank you, God. Thank you for returning him…”
The words passed around John. He stared up at his mother, trying to think of why she was here, where here was.
She looked so old.
“Gnnrthhh… Gh’gggg…” That wasn’t good.
“Shh, shhh… Don’t try to talk, not yet. The nurse will be here soon.”
That answered things. Little facts began to register: The little wires trailing from his sleeve, the industrial fluorescents overhead, the terrible buzzing that filled his head. God, what had happened?
The last thing he could remember was driving home from a meeting with some clients. He was on the road, he was full, he had had maybe one more drink than he should have-- Oh.
Well. That was why he was here, and where he was. But why did his mother look so old?
“Oh, John… Oh….”
Suddenly, it didn’t matter. The room was dull and warm, his mother was rubbing his face, and he was so tired…

A day later, John was sitting up in bed, his mother spoon-feeding him flavorless mush, his father dozing in the glide rocker.
He had had to reevaluate some of his earlier assumptions in the light of new evidence. For one thing, his body had changed; his once thin, nearly muscular build had been reduced to a point just shy of starvation, pale skin stretched tight over bone and gristle. For another, his father looked far older than he should; he had changed from a well-kept fifty-something into a broken-down sixty-something seemingly overnight. A drunken car accident didn’t cover this.
There was motion near the door, and John tried to turn and see it, dribbling porridge on his gown in the process.
“Oh, dear… Levi, get me another napkin. Levi! Wake up!”
A woman, slightly younger than his mother, entered the room and stood in front of John. She smiled, her mouth growing far too wide for her face.
“Hello, John. How are you feeling today? Good? If you can, please blink once for yes, twice for no.”
John blinked.
“Good, very good. Tell me, are you feeling well enough to talk?”
“Not right now, doctor. He’s tired, he needs to eat—“
“Please, Mrs. Donalson, let me do my job, thank you?”
Despite some grumbled complaints, John’s mother wiped his mouth and stepped aside so that he and the doctor were face-to-face.
“So, are you feeling up for a talk?”
John blinked.
The doctor nodded. “That is good, yes. My name is Doctor Chandra Shemuptura; I am a physical therapist, with quite some experience in trauma counseling. You know you are in a hospital, yes?”
John blinked.
“Now, what I am going to tell you is why you are here. Some of it may be a bit hard to take at first. If you find it is too much and wish to end our talk, please just blink as many times as you can, and I will return when you are feeling better. Agreed?”
John blinked.
“Good. It seems that you were having a meeting with business associates at a restaurant in Cherry Hill and on your way home you were involved in a very severe car accident. You were hit head-on by an army officer who was traveling the wrong way down the highway. Are you good so far?”
John blinked. So far, this all matched up nearly perfectly with his own assumptions. The only thing he hadn’t anticipated was that he wasn’t responsible for it.
“Would you like to continue?”
John didn’t blink. He held his eyes nearly closed, thinking. Based on what the doctor had said, the way she was preceding so cautiously, the change in himself and his parents, he knew the rest of the story wouldn’t be nearly as easy to swallow as the first. But at the same time, the little clues called out for him to solve them, to put this whole little mystery to rest. With a sense that he had somehow made the wrong decision, John firmly closed his eyes and opened them wide.
“EMTs arrived and took the two of you to a nearby hospital for emergency treatment; you were both rather bad off. And somehow, we’re still not sure how, at that point your identity was confused with that of the officer, Lieutenant Brian Udarian. In a rather cosmic coincidence, you two both had very similar facial structures, the same blood type, similar builds. What with the damage to your faces, no one could tell you apart, and fingerprints and dental records were rather…” The doctor paused, readjusted her glasses, cleared her throat. “Yes, so, you were confused for each other. Once stabilized you, under the name Brian Udarian, were transferred to the Walter-Reed Army Medical Center in Washington. Before arrival, you fell into a coma. John Donalson, the man once known as Lieutenant Udarian, unfortunately never stabilized, and died some three hours after— “
The doctor stopped abruptly as John began to blink back tears; no wonder his parents looked so bad off. As far as they knew, he had been dead for… for however long this coma had lasted. They weren’t a painfully tight-knit family, but they were close enough, and the loss of a son, even temporarily, would have shaken his parents. Images of funerals, of nights spent crying with aunts or drinking with uncles flew through his mind. He was at once touched and horrified at what their reactions must have been to the news.
Someone- probably the doctor- patted his arm, and then he heard her say, “Goodbye for now, John. I will return when you are feeling better.”
No! No, the last thing he needed was to be left like this, with the story hanging! He had to know what happened. Now.
His parents could probably tell him some of it. But mother was still too choked up at his return, and father had never been a good story teller.
Opportunity faded with every dull click of shoe leather against tile as the doctor moved away.
With an effort, John turned towards her and tried to speak. “D-dctrrrr… Sssstttaaaaa….”
She turned, and walked back towards him, then disappeared as mother cradled his head and tried to move him back to a more comfortable position.
“Oh, John, please, no, don’t strain yourself.”
Hands appeared on her shoulders. She stiffened and continued to stare at her son.
“Levi, now is not the time—“
“Marge.” Father’s hands slid down and rested on Mother’s, then pulled them away from John. “Let the boy be. He’s been through a lot, and it looks like he wants to go through more. He’s back, he’s not going anywhere, so just let him make his own decisions right now.”
Mother’s eyes became hard, her mouth set; John knew that look. She knew what was best for her son, and wouldn’t let anything stop her from being a mother now. But something in father’s words must have gotten through, because she pulled back and let the doctor within her sphere of protection.
One of the doctor’s hands joined father’s on top of mother’s. “Mrs. Donalson, Mr. Donalson, why don’t you two wait outside while I finish with John?”
“Please, I think it will be for the best.”
They both left, with only token resistance on mother’s part.
The doctor flashed John a conspiratorial smile. “I think you can handle this better than anyone gives you credit for. The mind is incredibly capable of stretching itself. Now, where was I?”
John fought back the urge to try and remind her.
“Yes, you were in Walter Reed, confused for Lieutenant Udarian. There, I am afraid, you remained in a permanent vegetative state for some eight years.”
With great effort, John remained calm.
“After some time, however, the government felt that it was a wasted effort caring for you, as you were unlikely to recover, and called for a consultation with Udarian’s wife, who agreed that it was for the best that you be moved to a private facility.”
Where was this wife before? John silently demanded. Why didn’t she come and out me as an imposter before all of this?
Almost as if she had heard what John said, the doctor paused and backpedaled. “His wife, Naomi Udarian, was present on the first night of your hospitalization, and tentatively identified you as her husband. This was of course, before the reconstructive surgery; after that, she positively identified you as her husband.”
For the first time, John registered the complete lack of any kind of mirror in the room. He dreaded what would face him when he encountered one.
“Naomi visited you several times, but her work overseas prevented her from constant contact.” She paused and pushed her glasses back up her nose. “I’m sorry, I’m rambling. Are you still with me?”
John blinked.
“Excellent. Following the decision to move you to a private facility, your records were re-examined, and small discrepancies were found, enough so that your identity was called into question. It was then that Mrs. Udarian herself discovered the key to making a definitive identification, something that no one had thought of before. You see, Lieutenant Udarian was raised in a rather conservative Catholic household.”
John glanced quickly down at the blanket covering his body and then back up to the doctor.
She nodded. “It was certain that none of the medical staff had performed the operation, so…” She shrugged. “The only question left in my mind is how no one noticed Udarian’s differences when he was buried in your place.”
John tried to shrug, but the movement was awkward and caused a bit of pain. A sudden wave of tiredness washed over him, and he could feel his eyelids drooping.
The doctor noticed and gently patted his arm. “I won’t keep you much longer. I’ll just finish by saying that with your identity confirmed, your parents were contacted, and they immediately rushed to see you. It appears that there presence has been most beneficial, as you are with us now. Wouldn’t you agree?”
John tried to blink in acknowledgement, but after his eyes closed, he found it impossible to open them again.

When his eyes finally did open again, there was his mother, trying to feed him. The day continued, his mother feeding, his father occasionally talking. Several times a nurse came in to check on him, clean him.
Life continued like this for several days, endlessly monotonous. The only distraction came when Doctor Shemuptura visited, bringing with her pain in the form of exercises designed to help John regain muscle mass and control. Within a week he was able to feed himself with only minimal help from others.
The next month was occupied with daily trips to a small gym, in which John was subjected to hours of physical therapy, followed by time spent with in trauma counseling, followed by one or two hours with his parents, followed by sleep. And, in the rare case that he couldn’t sleep, television. Every morning John awoke half dreading his daily routine, half anticipating the advances he would make in his therapy sessions: first sitting up, then standing, then walking short distances. The progress came fast, as he didn’t need to re-learn the skills, merely work up the strength to perform them.
It was early in the month when John had his first encounter with a mirror. It was a small hand-mirror brought to one of the counseling sessions with Dr. Shemuptura.
“I’m sure you’ve noticed by now that we’ve removed the mirrors from your room, and have always avoided them when taking you to the gym, yes?”
She reached inside a canvas bag and pulled out a paddle-shaped piece of green plastic. “I’ve wanted to keep your recovery as simple as possible, and wanted to keep stresses as few and far between as possible. I felt it best to keep your new face from you until you were in a more ready state to accept the change.”
John swallowed, unsure of how to interpret the doctor’s words.
“Oh, no,” she said, laying a reassuring hand on his forearm. “There is nothing wrong with this new face. It is just different from what you’re used to, perhaps a little hard to accept all at once.”
She slowly tilted the mirror until John could see his reflection. He had been prepared for a shock, but the face that he saw didn’t live up to the fears that he had built. There were a few differences: higher nose, thinner nostrils, little changes here and there. But for the most part, he was the same. What did shock him though were the changes that time had made. The skin around his eyes was looser and more wrinkled; his lips sagged around the edges. He even noticed a few patches of grey stubble around the edges of his shaved head.
“So… what do you think?”
John shrugged. “It’s me, I guess. Close enough, anyway.”
“You seem to have taken that very well.”
“How else could I take it? It’s my face.” He tried to sound calm, but his voice wavered slightly.
“You seem upset.”
“I’m just… old now, is all.”
The doctor nodded knowingly. “Yes, nearly a decade of your life, gone. So much time. Tell me: what will you do now?”
John thought carefully over his answer, pondering his lost time.
“I guess I’ll just have to make up for it anyway I can.”
The doctor smiled and rubbed his shoulder. “That’s the attitude I want to see.”
Sometime after the mirror incident, John was taken to one of his sessions with Dr. Shemuptura and was surprised to find another man in the room with her. He stood when John and entered and offered his hand in greeting. “Mr. Donalson, It’s a pleasure to finally meet you!”
John glanced at the man’s crisp green uniform, then at Dr. Shemuptura, who nodded and beckoned to the man.
John accepted the hand. “And who are you?”
The man forced a smile and returned to his seat. “My name is Major Stephen Polmelroy; I’m with the United States Army.”
“I’ve dealt with the army enough thanks.” He rotated his wheelchair so it faced the doctor. “So, what are we going to talk about today? How to react when old acquaintances feel uncomfortable with us?”
“No, I’m afraid our normal discussions will have to be put aside for today; Major Polmelroy wants to talk with you.”
“But I don’t want to talk with him.”
“He’s come all this way, just for you. It would be rude to turn him out.”
“Arlington’s only, what, half an hour away? I’m sure he won’t mind.”
For his part, the major managed to remain quiet and keep the same pained smile stuck to his face. This complete lack of obtrusiveness was what finally forced John to shrug, say “Whatever you want, you’re the doctor,” and turn his chair towards the major.
The major cleared his throat and folded his hands in his lap. “Mr. Donalson, I’m here, on behalf of the U.S. military, to offer our sincerest apologies for the rather… unfortunate circumstances of the past decade.”
“And that would be what? Keeping me at Walter Reed?”
“Yes and no, actually. While we’re more than happy that we helped to keep you alive, and while we claim no responsibility for the unfortunate mix-up that led to you being at Walter Reed, we do believe that it was entirely our fault that we failed to ascertain your true identity and return you to your family. So, we would like to officially apologize to you and your family for any undue stress caused by this,” he paused for a moment and scratched his chin, “mistake.”
“Mhmm.” John absently rolled his chair back and forth. “So you were sent all the way out here to say sorry? Is the price of stamps up too high to send a note?”
The major blinked and looked to Dr. Shemuptura for support, but she was busy examining a file on her palm-top computer. “Well, as a matter of fact, my superiors felt that in such an extreme case as yours, it was best to take a personal interest—“
“You just don’t want me to sue you for negligence and possibly kidnapping.”
The major sighed and closed his eyes. “In not so many words, yes.”
There was a moment of silence, broken by the sound of the wheelchair as it turned towards the door. “Yeah, I’ll see if my dad still has his lawyer on speed dial. Good talking to you Major Palmy—“
The major half-stood and raised a placating hand. “There is of course the matter of compensation.”
The wheelchair stopped. “How much longer is this session, doctor?”
“Fifteen more minutes I believe, although it can go longer if you feel that it may contribute towards your health.”
The wheelchair turned back into the room and the major resumed his seat. “Allright, Major, perhaps I was a bit hasty in my judgment. After all, you did take the time to come see me in person. Let’s talk.”
Something like a smile, almost a sneer, crossed the major’s face. “I’m so glad you feel that way.” He reached down and pulled up a thin screen from a bag next to his chair. He poked at it for a moment, and then returned his attention to John. “Well, seeing as how the primary victim of our mistake was your family, we have decided to repay any stress we may have caused them by completely paying for your expenses while you are here at this facility. Also, they won’t need to help you get back on your own feet after this; we’ll be paying you a small stipend for the first two years following your release, as well as providing you with appropriate housing.”
“How much is a ‘small stipend’?”
The major tapped at the screen again, then passed it to John.
“Wow. That’s yearly?”
Well, maybe it was good that John hadn’t left yet.
“And ‘appropriate housing’?”
“Well, we assumed you’d be returning to Philadelphia…”
“That’s right.”
“So, we went ahead and provisionally reserved a unit for you at Sky Crest Tower.”
There was no immediate response to that; there was none that was appropriate. Sky Crest Tower was, put simply, the most prestigious place to live in Philadelphia. Over sixty stories of luxury apartments topping a ten story stack of tenant amenities, attached to a massive mall that contained some of the most expensive stores in the city. Sky Crest was the eventual goal of every dreamer in Philadelphia. And, most importantly to John, it was the building that had inspired him to become an architect in the first place.
“I’ll take it.”
For the first time in the meeting, the major’s smile seemed to be genuine. “What, you don’t want to check with daddy’s lawyer first?”
“Fuck daddy’s lawyers; this is too good.”
“I’m glad you see it that way. And there’s more. To insure that you’ll be able to become a constructive member of society as soon as possible, we’ve talked Cohen and Associates into giving you your old job back.”
“Okay, I’m sorry, but that I can’t believe.”
If it hadn’t been for Sky Crest Tower, John would have never thought twice about becoming an architect. But if it hadn’t been for Cohen and Associates, John never would have thought twice about Sky Crest. C&A was to the architecture world what Sky Crest was to urban living: the best. And in order to be the best, they only hired the best. John had spent four years after college building up enough of a portfolio and reputation to prove to C&A that he was the best, and he had only been on the job for seven months when he had had his accident. Even after his hard-won start, there was no way that the firm would allow a relatively green architect a decade behind the times onto the team.
“I’m simply too out of it for Cohen; I’ll need to go back to college for at least two years before I’m ready—“
The major waved off his objections. “Things have changed since your accident. For instance, Cohen is now one of the architectural contractors for the government at large, and the army in particular. We hold some sway over them.”
“So… I can just drop in, just like that?”
The smile was beginning to thin again. “Just like that.”
John tapped at his armrest and stared absently at Dr. Shemuptura, who was still engrossed in her palm-top. “What’s the catch?” he said at last.
“You don’t apologize and then shower me with gifts without expecting something in return.”
The major shrugged and spread his hands. “We’re the army; we don’t need anything. Just maybe—“
“Well…” The major tapped at the screen and held it protectively in his lap. “Since we are going through the trouble of compensating you for any damages caused by our… possible negligence, it might give peace of mind to everyone involved if we knew there were no possibility of legal action on anyone’s part.”
He held the screen out to John and indicated a blank line.
John took the screen and stared at it, then looked at the doctor. “Dr. Shemuptura, how much time do I have left with you today?”
The palm-top remained the center of her attention. “I’m afraid I’m needed with another patient now. Perhaps it would be best to wait until another time to sign the document?”
John grinned. “Yeah, let daddy’s lawyer get his hands on it.”
He watched as the major’s smile froze and the color drained out of his face.
A minute dragged by in absolute silence. “Oh, what the hell?” John quickly dragged his finger across the screen, writing his name. He passed the screen back to the major and began to maneuver out of the room.
“Well, Major, it was wonderful meeting you. Dr. Shemuptura, a delight as always.”
This time, she did look up. “I look forward to tomorrow John. Say hello to your parents for me.”
John had just reached the door when something occurred to him. “Hey, Major,” he called over his shoulder.
“What about Udarian’s wife? She get a deal like this?”
“I’m afraid, Mr. Donalson, that that is a confidential matter, and is strictly between Mrs. Udarian and the United States Army.”
John shrugged, and continued out the door.

After two months consciously living in the hospital, John was back to normal enough that he could move freely without the wheelchair. With this newfound freedom, his days began to change. He now took himself to physical therapy and went for walks around the grounds. Each lunch was spent with his parents in the cafeteria, chocking down bland food while he struggled through even blander small-talk.
His parents loved him, it was true, but his absence had led them to treating him more as a distant relative who had come for a rare visit: an enthusiastic welcome, followed by an awkward silence as each party wished the meeting would end. It almost came as a relief when one day father announced that his work was beckoning him, and that he had to return to Philadelphia. The next day he and mother left, promising to return for John when he was ready for the journey home.
With his parents gone, all John had to contend with was the bland food.
Following lunch, he would go back to the gym for some general exercises to get him into better shape, then return to his room and while away the hours by catching up on news, or reading, or playing games on the internet; anything to keep him away from his own thoughts.
One night, shortly after his parents left, John was sitting in his bed, idly surfing through the channels on his room’s wall-screen. An ad for toilet paper, a music video, a sitcom, a cartoon; nothing interested him. He kept flicking his fingers at the screen, and the channels kept changing, spiraling on in a litany of boredom. He was just about to shut off the television and go to sleep when something caught his eye. He twirled his hand counter-clockwise, and the channels began to descend. There!
On the screen was a reporter, a young Latina with close-cropped hair and a strangely frightening smile. For some reason, she looked familiar; the name Suzanne kept rising in John’s mind.
Behind the reporter loomed a massive wall that, based on the swarms of soldiers moving behind her, must have been the Pentagon.
John signaled for the volume to increase, then sat back and listened.
“—after more than thirty billion dollars and fifteen years spent on this project, most members of congress seemed pleased with the results of the ADI Bill.”
The scene suddenly shifted to an obstacle course in the middle of a field. John expected to see footage of soldiers running the course but was shocked to see what appeared to be hulking robots, human shapes covered in grey armor, running, jumping, climbing, and in one case breaking through the course.
“But all agree,” the reporter continued in voiceover, “that the best thing to come out of the research program is the Enhanced Human Ultimate Defense, or E.H.U.D., combat system, unveiled at the Pentagon last week.”
The scene now showed brief shots of different people, all identified by tags at the bottom of the screen as either being senators or members of congress, as they supported the reporters’ remarks.
“Oh, this bad boy is going to turn the war on terror around!”
“I have absolutely no doubt that, in terms of lifesaving mechanisms, the E.H.U.D. is the greatest invention since the seatbelt.”
“Within ten years, I hope we can have these ready for every soldier in the field. If we can keep our own safe, then we don’t have to be so harsh with the enemy. Think of a war where all we do is capture, disarm, pacify, and leave. Clean and simple.”
The reporter returned, again standing in front of the Pentagon. “But for all the enthusiasm over the E.H.U.D., many members of the public have been left wanting to know exactly how the system works.”
John certainly wanted to know. Those things in the obstacle course looked heavy and ungainly, but they were moving and maneuvering like Olympic athletes.
“The actual mechanics and design of the system are of course classified. However, the AmeriNews Network has been fortunate enough to be allowed an exclusive look at the inner workings of the E.H.U.D. combat system.”
The scene changed again, this time to an interior space that seemed to be a cross between a lab and a garage. A man of about thirty stood in front of a locker, dressed in white t-shirt and shorts. He held up a thick black one-piece suit. “This,” he said, “is the first layer of the E.H.U.D.”
He began to pull it on, entering through a slit in the front, then the scene faded into the future and the man stood fully dressed, with a black hood pulled over his head.
The man patted the thick material covering an arm. “The main part of the layer is a standard Gortex weave, able to withstand some good wear and tear, with fiber-mesh quilting on the inside.” He then leaned in close to the camera and shook a bit of the material. “But through the middle of the layer you have packets of a special gel, normally fairly sloshy, which turns tremendously solid when force is applied to it.” He squeezed off a section of the suit on his leg, then hit it with his other hand. The little node was as solid as a bowling ball.
“If a soldier gets hit with a non-ballistic impact, the attacking force basically hits a brick wall, which then fades out into the surrounding gel, blocking and absorbing most of the force, leaving little impact on the man inside the suit.”
The scene faded again and now the man held up a pile of rubber tubes and webbing. “This is the next layer of the suit: the pneumatic sinus system.” After a brief flurry of editing, the man was in the tangle. It criss-crossed over him, trailing thin tubes that connected to sturdy-looking bladders next to joints and along major muscle groups. John noticed that there were also what looked to be medical braces hidden under the sinuses, strapping the tubes close to the body.
“This is where the system really shines,” the man says. He ran in place for a moment, then crouched and jumped. The camera jerked upwards to follow him as he flew into the air and flipped just shy of hitting the ceiling. He landed in a deep crouch, and John could see the tubes and bladders pulsing.
The man smiled into the camera. “The pneumatic sinus system works with the body’s own movement to pump fluid and build up pressure, which can be stored and released in the normal patterns of moving. For instance, if you bend your knee, you move the fluids in such a way that they are sucked and stored in the bladders on the back of the thigh.” As he said this he demonstrated. “When you straighten the knee, an opposite suction is created in the frontal pouch, the fluid is released, and it changes position, providing a significant blast of power to the wearer’s simple, muscle-powered action. In addition to the purely mechanical suction power, the system is equipped with motion sensors that will also create suction and change the internal pressure based on perceived moves, so you don’t have to force movements; the suit works with you. With this on, a soldier need not worry about chasing combatants, getting out of firing zones, or dealing with battle-field rubble ever again.”
The camera faded again, but this time the man didn’t hold up a part of the system and explain it; he merely appeared, about a foot away from where he had been, covered in a thick black suit, much like the first layer. The shape of his body also appeared less human, more like the final combat systems shown earlier in the report. “This layer here is essentially like the first layer; it provides shock absorption and protection to the wearer. Unlike the first layer, however, this is meant to protect against ballistic impact.” He patted several disproportionately large mounds that corresponded to muscle groups, as well as several bulky areas between the mounds. “There’s reinforced armor here, similar to flak armor: Kevlar and Gortex fabric with ceramic plates. In addition to providing personal protection, this layer also protects the sinus system from damage.”
There was another camera shift, and now the man’s transformation was nearly complete: he was covered in thick plates of what had to be armor, with straps and buckles covering the seams and a large frill coming up to protect the neck and parts of the head. “And here at last is the final layer. Advanced body armor, covered in additional Kevlar and Gortex. I’d like to say more about it but,” the man paused and smiled, “I’m afraid that’s classified.”
He reached into the locker behind him and pulled out a full-faced helmet. He slipped it on over his head and turned back to the audience.
John felt a sudden revulsion at this final change: the face was now a pair of dead eye-slits and a grille of some sort where the mouth should be. The mask was corpse-like and alien, yet at the same time weirdly familiar.
The man spoke, his voice clear but modulated. “The E.H.U.D. system is not only proven to effectively protect soldiers against most small arms fire, it has also been proven to protect its wearer from large calibers, traditional armor-piercing rounds, weight loads in excess of half a ton, and high yield explosives. With one of these on, a soldier is no longer a mortal man. He or she is now an enhanced human ultimate defense.”
Now the reporter returned, walking in front of the wall of the Pentagon. “So there you have it: the E.H.U.D. combat system. Promised to be able to save untold lives on the field of battle, it has been fast-tracked for mass production by several military contractors. Despite this, it still may be years before it sees wide combat usage. Until then, it will be deployed to National Guard forces all over the country, for use in both peace keeping and disaster relief efforts. So, be on the lookout for these battlefield behemoths in a town near you very, very soon.” She winked at the camera. “And remember, no matter how scary they may look, they’re here to keep you and the men and women serving in our armed forces safe. For AmeriNews Network, I’m Maria Ruiz.”
A commercial started, and John signaled for the television to shut off. He lay in bed and thought about what he had just seen. The reporter had said that this armor system was revealed to the public a week ago, yet John couldn’t shake the feeling that he had seen the armor somewhere before, and he was also sure that he had not seen the first reports on them.
But as he began to think about it more, he realized that the unveiling may have occurred on one of the nights that he had forgotten to turn of the television before falling asleep; it had happened several times, and he was no stranger to AmeriNews.
Yes, that was a good explanation. John signaled for the lights to turn off, then closed his eyes and tried to sleep.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Long Time, No Updates...

So...  six months, no updates...  my bad.  It's been...  it's been, that's all I can say.  College, movies, etc.  So, I'm writing this to say...  No updates.  Not yet, at least.  Next week, updates continue again.  I'll be doing E.H.U.D. (again!) starting next wednesday, with a new chapter every wed. after that.  A word of caution, however: This E.H.U.D. is uncensored.  Be prepared for R-rated language.  As I continue to post, I'm going to try to actually finish this draft.  I figure I can have it done by the end of the summer if I keep other projects to a minimum.

In the meantime, please check out my art blog at; it also serves as a portal to the rest of my web presence.  Also:    This is the end result of a semester-long project I've been a part of.  I'll include more details in the coming week.  So, until wed. then...