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.”

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