Thursday, May 30, 2013

E.H.U.D.: Chapter 14

Chapter 14

A LEGO facsimile of John's SkyCrest loomed over his living room.  The tower, built not quite to scale, touched the ceiling, and John had begun to add the smaller out-rigger towers the previous week. 
He took a step back from his creation, careful to avoid the line of paper taped to the floor, labeled “Trench” in bright blue hi-lighter.
“It's not going to work, John.”  Alice's voice boomed from the apartment's speaker system and echoed off of the central tower.
John bent and rummaged through a bin of beige bricks; the one he needed had been there just a moment before.
John stood and applied a brick to one of the looping buttresses that connected an outrigger to the main structure.  “And I'm saying just do it.”
Alice sighed, the speakers reproducing it as a rush of static.  “You're really not helping the situation, you know that?  I've tried telling them that the balcony isn't feasible, but they won't listen.  You just going along with it makes it harder.”
Another brick went onto the building.  “I'm not concerned with feasibility.  It's what the client wants, so I'm giving it to them.  The plans reflect what they've asked for.”
“It'll only take a day or two to make the changes, to get the balcony working, and then I'll go over it with them, explaining why it won't work.”
“You're—you're not getting it.”  John bent under the buttress and clipped a brick to the bottom. 
“What am I not getting?”
“What the client wants, the client gets.  They want a building designed, they get it.  Whether it works in the real world or not isn't our problem.  Just give them their fantasy building.”
Alice didn't respond for several long moments.  “You have to face reality, John.  You can't just make up what you think is real and hope the rest of the world goes along with it.”
One of the buttresses was beginning to sag more than usual; John grabbed it and squeezed the bricks closer together.  “Fine, whatever.  Change the balcony.  I'm sure the client will love the project delay.”
“Screw it; I have more important things to do on a weekend then listen to you be an asshole.”  There were three rapid beeps, then the call disconnected. 
John bent down and rummaged for a brick.
“What was that all about?”
Bricks scattered as John started.  He looked over his shoulder and saw Rachel, dressed in flannel pants and a tee-shirt, standing in the doorway to the living room.
“Just some stuff at work.  The client has a design in mind that isn't holding up to physics test, but refuses to budge on aesthetics.  I'm saying leave it as-is and let the contractors get through to him.
Rachel nodded and walked over to the sofa; she groaned as she sunk into it.  “God, I love this couch.”
“Oh, hey, your dad called.”
“Yeah.”  John reached down and began gathering the scattered LEGOs.  “He'll be home in about an hour.  He wants to talk then.”
“What time is it now?”
“About two-thirty.”
“Shit, I was out for a long time.”
John nodded, half distracted, as he noticed one of the outriggers drooping. 
Rachel gestured the television to life and began watching a mindless cartoon about anthropomorphic rats and chickens rooming together in the big city.  John continued to build.
"Hey, I can I talk with you about something?" Rachel asked during a commercial break.
"Sure."  John dropped into a chair across from Rachel.  "What can I do you for?"
"What I did... You know, the riot."  Rachel folded her legs and stared blankly at the TV.  “I wasn't sorry I did it, you know?  Last night, after I got Tisha and me arrested, I still thought I did the right thing.  I was trying to change the world, I was doing something.  Now it just... seems stupid.”
"Is there a question in that?"
"Dad thinks it was stupid.  Was it?"
“You want the truth?”
Rachel nodded.
“Yeah, it totally was stupid."
Rachel winced. 
"I'm not saying kids like you can't change the world, but kids like you usually don't know when to pick your battles.  Fight for what you believe in, but don't go rushing in head-on.”
“Edgar did.”
John clenched his teeth.  He wanted to keep the Defenders at arms' length.  They were polluting his reality, and he hated how conversation always seemed to come back to them.  “Edgar didn't know what he was up against.  I'm sure if he had, he would have made a different choice.”
“So what should I do now?”
John shrugged.  "Live your life.  Forget about politics, forget about trying to make a difference.  Excuse the cliché, but life is precious; you never know when you're going to drop into a coma for a decade.  And above all else..."  He smiled.  "Wait for your dad to get home and let him handle it."
Rachel flashed him a sardonic grin, then returned her attention to the TV.

An hour later Reggie stumbled in, his scrubs rumpled and his eyes haunted.  "Fucking junkies... why do they always bleed so much?"  He dropped onto the couch next to Rachel.
John crawled out from under an outrigger and waved at his brother.  "You want food?"
John brought him a sandwich.  Reggie ate in silence, watching TV with his daughter.  When the episode ended, he gestured the TV off, and cleared his throat.
"Okay so...  I called your mom today.  She isn't exactly thrilled with your actions as of late, but she thinks--and I agree--that it would be best for everybody if you took the rest of the semester off and moved out to California."
"What?"  Rachel's eyes bulged as she sat up straighter.  "For how long?"
"At least until the first of the year.  Possibly longer."
She looked as if she were about to argue: she was leaning forward, eyes narrowed, mouth open.  Then she saw John.  He nodded, and she closed her mouth and sat back.  "Okay."
Reggie looked over at her.  "Really?  Wow, I'm impressed.  Thank you for handling this like an adult."
John returned to his tower and smiled.  He was proud of Rachel for picking her battles, but more than that, he was proud of himself for actually giving out good advice.
"Now, um..."  Reggie swallowed and stared into his lap.  "Aside from thinking about the big issues, and keeping you away from all the stuff going on here, there is one other reason we want you somewhere a little safer.  Your friend, Raoul?"
Rachel stiffened.  Reggie looked sidelong at her, watched as she turned towards him.  "I'm afraid that... he, uh, he was pretty injured already."  He sighed.  "Damn it, the doctors always do this part.  Honey, I'm sorry, but he passed away early this morning."
Silence stretched between them.  Rachel seemed to deflate, her posture relaxing as she sank in on herself.  Tears were welling now, and she coughed, sneezed.  "Oh, my God," she mumbled.  “I killed him."  She began to cry, her voice raising into a wail.  "I killed him, it's all my fault, I killed him, killed him...”
Reggie lunged sideways, grabbed his daughter, held her in his arms.  She convulsed as she gave into fitful sobs.
John stepped around his tower and made eye contact with Reggie.  He looked so tired, so scared.  John nodded.  No words were said, but he knew that now it was his turn to take care of a brother.

Monday, May 27, 2013

E.H.U.D.: Chapter 13

Chapter 13

A pudgy young man sporting what he hoped was a goatee cast a shadow over the alcove, blocking light and, thankfully, wind.
“Goddamn it, it's Friday, it's practically the fucking weekend,” Rachel grumbled, squatting in the sparse snow that had blown in before her friend Raoul had taken up wind breaking duty.
Tisha snorted.  “It's only four-thirty.  Your dad was later than this yesterday.  My mom gets at least as much slack.  Rush hour.”
“Fuck rush hour.  The whole world's changing, and we're not out there!  If we can get to the station before six, we can be in New York by nine, U.N. by ten.”
“So your dad said yes?”  Tisha looked sidelong at Rachel, and Rachel squirmed. 
“I didn't tell him Wayne was going.”
“Hey,” Raoul interjected, “how come he gets invited, but I don't?”
“Cause you've still got a shot at valedictorian,” Tisha answered.  “We wouldn't want you caught in a riot and killed.  Or worse, arrested.  Keep you out of the good colleges.”
“What makes you think there'll be riots?”
“Cause I'm fucking cynical.  Not as cynical as Rachel, but I know how the world works.  Even though making them was wrong, lots of people will still want the Defenders to stay American.”
“No, man, no one will want to fight.  They'll all be with Terstein; they'll all be trying to help the EHUDs.  The ones who bother enough to go to the U.N., at least.”
Tisha shrugged.  “Well, I'm fine with you going.  We can't exactly stop you, either.  What do you think, Rach?”
There was no reply from deeper in the alcove.
Tisha turned.  “Rachel?”
Rachel sat flat in the snow, back against the wall, staring out at the packed schoolyard.  “A riot.”
“A motherfucking riot.  That's how we'll do it!”  Rachel jumped up and grabbed the fringe of Tisha's jacket.  “We show how serious we are, how we're not letting all this shit get us down, how we're not going to take illegal imprisonment, how we're not going to let the government do all this again.  We stage a rally, right here, right now, and we say, 'Let us go!'”
Tisha raised an eyebrow.  “All three of us know that's a bad idea.”
“No!”  Rachel let go and flashed puppy-dog eyes at Raoul.  “C'mon, it's just like when Latterndale stood up to Merv!  Us against the school!”
“Okay, first thing,” Tisha said, getting a firm grip on Rachel's shoulder and turning her around, “You can't pull the 'scary EHUD' card, alright?  We're on their side.  Second, it's too soon.  Someone died Wednesday.”
“That was bigger, and someone had a gun!  Who has a gun here?”  She looked to Raoul for support, then back to Tisha.  “C'mon, you always say you want to make a difference.  Going to the U.N., that's great, that helps the bigger picture.  But what about this small stuff?  Who takes care of this if not us?”
Tisha let go and narrowed her eyes.  “You just want to fuck Wayne sooner.”
Rachel raised her eyebrows.
Silence stretched out for several long moments before Raoul cleared his throat.  “I say we do it.  What they're doing here?  It's wrong.  Our parent's haven't done anything about it, and the school board hasn't listened to us so far.  No one defended the Defenders when their rights were violated.  Who'll defend us?  Fucking no one but ourselves.”
 Rachel smiled and started to perform a victory dance before Tisha stared her down.  Rachel cleared her throat and gestured to the yard beyond Raoul.  “Okay, let's think this out.”
They peered around the edge of the alcove.  At the far edge of the schoolyard was the main gate, guarded by the school's four full-time security guards, six off-duty police volunteers, and a handful of teachers who looked just as uncomfortable as the hundreds of students milling around in front of the gate.
“Okay.”  Rachel pulled back and retrieved her mobile.  “I'm going to organize a protest online.  Raoul, Tisha, you go and drum up some people.  Try to get the popular bitches: Amanda, Sahara, maybe Jewel.  We'll meet in front of the gate in fifteen, okay?”
“Now it's just a protest?”
Rachel shrugged.  “We'll start there and see what happens.”
“Have you thought about what happens if they try to shut us down?”
Rachel shrugged again.  “They can't catch all of us.”
Fifteen minutes later the crowd of students trapped in the yard began to contract, a solid nucleus coalescing in front of the gate. 
The off-duty officers noticed.  One stepped forward, raised his hand and waved to the students.  “Hey, kids.  Gonna need you to step back, please.  Cars are still coming.”
The students didn't move.  “Let us go, man!” Raoul called.
The officer shook his head.  “Can't do that.  Have to stay here until your parents pick you up, or until your bus gets here.”
“This is illegal!” Tisha yelled.  “Detainment without just cause!”
Her words seemed to break something in the crowd, and a chorus of “Yeah!” and “Nazis!” echoed off the school’s bricks.
“This is what happened to the Defenders!” Raoul yelled.  “They held them, they tortured them!  What's keeping you from torturing us?”
The officer, sensing that police interference wouldn't help the situation, stepped back and gestured at one of the teachers.  The teacher stepped forward and tried to diffuse the situation, but her words were drowned out by the student's enraged chanting.
“It's the fucking weekend!”
“Let us go, you Nazis!”
“Illegal imprisonment, man!”
Rachel stood off to one side, watching as her plan became a reality.  Beyond the gate, she saw a minivan pull up, and felt the thrill of success as the guards noticed the van, then concluded that they couldn't let it in.  A parent had come for their child, but as soon as the gate was opened the students would rush out, would overrun guards and break rules.
So the minivan had to wait outside.  It honked, and somewhere in the school yard a girl yelled, “C'mon, my mom's out there!”
And as the tension mounted, as the guards and teachers and off-duty officers pulled closer together, as the students pushed forward to create a greater presence, Rachel saw what was needed to make this work.  She crouched, picked up a handful of snow, balled it, and let fly. 
“The fuck?!”  Tisha looked around, trying to see who had hit her in the head with the ball of slush.
“They're throwing shit!” Rachel yelled, waving her arms and gesturing at the guards.
That was it.  A phalanx of students rushed forward, swinging backpacks and skateboards, ready to let out a decade of pent-up rebellion.
For their part, the off-duty police kept their heads.  They fell back into defensive postures, making sure they held nothing that could be construed as weaponry; none of them wanted to be the next Shaun Wendleferce.  It was the teachers who panicked and tried to fight off their attackers.
More students pushed forward, there was a scream as a canister of pepper-spray was emptied, and the riot began in earnest.  The police now had no choice but to defend themselves.
The angry yells, the prospect of easy victory and peer acclaim excited Rachel, and she found herself pulled forward into the throng.  She moved until there was a gap around her, slung off her backpack, felt inside for anything to throw into the melee.
Folders flew, loose paper floated through the still air, books fell like deadly rain.
Seconds—minutes—hours later, Rachel heard sirens.  She looked up from the basketball coach, his face bloody as he succumbed to the savage beatings of three teens, and saw sirens flashing behind a curtain of snow.  Metal screeched as police cruisers crashed through the gate.
The student's didn't run.  They abandoned the teachers, the staff, the guards, and swarmed over the newly arrived police.  Rachel rode the wave, swept up in the ecstasy of tension released.  She saw blue uniforms before her, heard amplified shouts—
Felt pressure in her back, felt a blossom of pain across her face as she hit the concrete.  Someone knelt on her back, wrenched her arms behind her.  A plastic loop was slipped over her wrists, pulled tight, and then she was alone, lost at the bottom of a sea of humanity, trying not to drown in the flood she had unleashed.

Rachel lay on the examining table, cut off from the rest of the ward by a thin paper curtain.  She ignored the screams and curses of the busy emergency room.  How had it all gone so wrong?  One minute, they were rallying, about to make their break, the next they were dispersing, huddling around the building as thirty-odd kids were being dragged off to lock-up. 
On the upside, she wouldn't be spending her whole weekend in jail.  She touched her nose and winced.  Her fingers came away bloody.  On the downside, she wouldn't be spending her weekend in New York, supporting the Latterndale Plan.
The curtain was ripped aside and her father stormed into the imagined hospital room.  He looked, in Rachel's considered opinion, pissed.  "What the hell happened out there?" he demanded.
"You, uh, you got a little blood..." Rachel pointed at his shirt.
"Gunshot wound, squirter.  Forget it.  What the hell were you thinking, starting a riot?"
"Dad, I didn't--"
"Bullshit.  Tisha told me."
Reggie sighed and leaned against the table.  "Sixteen kids in hospital, Rachel.  One critical.  What were you thinking?"
She sat up, blood and mucus oozing down her face.  "Who?"
He shrugged.  "I don't know.  Heavyset kid."
He shrugged again.  "I don't know.  Look, Rach, I'm... I'm proud that you stood up for what you believed in.  That's admirable.  But it was also stupid, okay?  But... but there's something else I need to talk to you about."  He pulled a rolled-up sheaf of paper from his pocket.  "The blood test Perry ran when you got here."
Rachel slumped back on the table.  "What?  Did I get hepatitis during the whole two hours I was in jail?"
"Too early to tell.  The thing is... God.  Rachel, you're pregnant."
She sat up again.
Reggie didn't look up from the scuffed linoleum floor.  "About two months."
"No way..."  September 12th loomed in her mind, the day after Lemlin, the day after the world had changed forever.  She was supposed to be at Tisha's, studying.  In reality she had been with Wayne, staying up late into the night, discussing the future, coming to terms with the fact that they might very well die in the coming days as the Defenders took their righteous revenge.  At the height of fatalistic release, they had thrown consequence away and made love like there was no tomorrow.  But there had been a tomorrow, and another, and another, and it looked like there would be more tomorrows in the conceivable future.
"Obviously, considering that your youthful instincts just started a riot, I doubt you're mature enough for a child at this point, and would recommend you terminate the pregnancy--the sooner the better."  He turned to look at her, then rested his hand atop hers.  "I would recommend speaking with your mother first, let her have her say."
She didn't hear him.  The ring of green paper hanging from the curtain track above her seemed to stretch into infinity.  It felt as if she were falling, as if the new life inside her might burst out of her stomach, then proceed to devour her old life.
She felt incredibly young, incredibly stupid.  What was she thinking, starting a riot?  Edgar had been bold, had stood up to the nation and declared what was right.  That was all she really wanted...  She just wanted to do right...
Reggie sighed.  "Yeah, I can tell you're not listening.  Okay, so I'm going to patch up your nose, get a couple x-rays of your back, then John's going to pick you up."
Tisha was right, Tisha was always right...
Reggie pulled on a pair of rubber gloves and began to feel his daughter's nose.  "Good, doesn't feel broken...  Damn it, I'm too old to be a grandfather."

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

E.H.U.D.: Chapter 12

Chapter 12

He wasn't ready to wake up...
Edgar sat up, opened his eyes, and tried to stretch in the confined cab of the utility vehicle.
“We're her, sir.”
Trees rolled by in the twilight, clawed hands ripping at the sky.  The road curved ahead through more woodland, leading to the unseen destination.  Then: evergreens parted, and a low bunker made of concrete and--Edgar cringed--glass, appeared at the end of a manicured drive.
The vehicle stopped, and they disembarked.
A thin woman with a weathered face appeared from the door recessed in the middle of the building's facade.  “Hello, Mr. President.  Welcome to Camp Eglon.”
It took a moment for Edgar to process the name; he had to fight his way back to college to make any sort of connection.  “Someone has a pretty sick sense of humor.”
“It seems to be entirely coincidental.”
Edgar nodded, then took a step back and looked again at the building.  His first glimpse from the car had been of a one-story structure, flat-roofed, extending for around two hundred feet and disappearing at a slight angle off into the woods.  The building was made of concrete, but had an angled glass wall fronting it, enclosing a small promenade.
The door the woman came out of was made of glass as well, leaving what seemed to be a rather gaping security hole.
“Is this place safe?”  He gestured at the glass-enclosed walkway.
The woman stretched out an unconvincing smile.  “Certainly sir.” 
Edgar nodded, still unsure.  The security for his transportation here had seemed ridiculously overdone, but the security for his home seemed merely ridiculous.  “And you are...?”
The woman extended her hand.  “Joan Ashby, chief of staff here at Camp E.”
“How come I've never heard of this place?”
Ashby shrugged.  “It's a presidential safe-house; we didn't advertise.  I'm sure Ms. Telk would know more.”
“Are there any other places like this?”
“Again, you'd have to speak with Ms. Telk.  Now please, a secure location makes no difference if you intend to stand in the open all day.   Besides,” here she smiled, though this time it appeared genuine, “your family is waiting.”
Inside the great glass door was a small foyer, walled, roofed, and floored in concrete, with another set of doors on the other side.  Ashby pressed her hand against a palm scanner and the door clicked.  She pulled it open and Edgar stepped inside. 
The interior was... dull.  Against every expectation instilled by the exterior, the interior looked like a well-appointed hospital reception area: beige walls lined with dark wood, tan carpet, small dark-wood chairs and settees. 
Ashby led him through a series of wide corridors, the blank walls interrupted now and again by doors or small tables topped by flower arrangements.  They twisted and turned, then came to a place where the wall opened up and fell away into a void.
Edgar looked out over a huge atrium, extending from his level down two or three floors, walled on the far side in glass that looked out over a dead, wooded valley.  In front of him was a staircase which began as the same beige-and-stained-wood as the rest of the building before transforming into an angled, crystalline structure of steel and glass, more reminiscent of the exterior than anything inside.  Far below it ended on a sea of polished black stone.
“That's the ballroom," Ashby explained, playing the tour guide.  "Why it's in a secret facility, I do not know.  The staircase has been known to cause a bit of vertigo in some of the staff.”
They continued on through the facility until they came to what Ashby deemed "the family room." 
“Dad!” the voice of Ethan greeted him before he was even in the room.
“I'll just leave you now, then.  Call if you need anything.”
Edgar nodded and then gasped as his son tackled him in a bear hug.
“I thought you'd never get here!”  Ethan continued to hold him, and Edgar tentatively patted his back.
“Yep, I'm here...”  He looked up and saw Amanda sitting in an arm-chair in the far corner.  She nodded, and he began to steer Ethan over to a couch near Amanda.  “So, how was your day?”
Ethan disengaged and walked with his father.  “It was crazy!  After the agents showed up they wanted us to leave, but mom didn't want to, but I said we couldn't leave you alone.”
Edgar shot his wife a look, but she was suddenly engrossed in reading the titles on a bookshelf.
“So then they took us to a big house in the middle of nowhere, and Mr. Telk was there, but I didn't get to say 'hi' 'cause they put me in a room with some video games.  Then after that we came here.  It's really cool here, huh?”
Ethan fell quite as they sat down on the couch.  “Hey dad,” he said after they had settled in, “is it true?  Is Uncle Isaac really dead?”
Edgar looked to Amanda again, but she was otherwise occupied.  “Did you and mom talk about this?”
“No, the agents always needed her.”
Edgar sighed.  “I'm afraid that yes, Uncle Isaac's dead.”
Ethan turned that over for a few moments.  “Why?”
How could he answer that?  “Well...  He did some very unethical things, and now the consequences have caught up to him.”
“He made the EHUDs.”
 “Yeah.  Yeah, he did.”
“But you're not afraid of them.”
The image of Lemlin standing there, the pistol wavering in front of him, flashed through Edgar's mind.  How had Ethan interpreted that?  “I was afraid to stand up to them, but I was more afraid of what would happen if I didn't stand up to them.”
Ethan nodded and then, as only a child could do, completely changed the subject.  “Can we watch a movie tonight?”
Edgar looked to Amanda yet again, and this time she looked back. 
“I think the Gigawatt movie is out,” she said.
Edgar smiled.  They'd be able to pretend to be a normal family tonight.  “Assuming we can get access to the internet from in here.”

Two hours later they were sitting on a couch, Ethan fast asleep between his parents.  The room was dark, but lit only by the blue of the television. 
“I didn't think he'd make it to the end.”
Amanda snorted.
Edgar scratched his nose ad sighed.  “So...   What did Ethan mean, when he said you didn't want to go with the agents?”
Amanda shrugged and folded her arms. 
“It's not safe being around you.  You're—you're acting stupid.  The country is in the middle of a crisis, and you start jumping at it, trying to be the hero for everyone.  You're an action star in front of Lemlin, then the only sane man in the cabinet, and now the bringer of truth for the country.”
“You saw the speech, huh?”
“What the hell is going on, Edgar?  This isn't you.  You lurk in the shadows and acquire favors; you don't make enemies.  Why are you suddenly so out there?”
The contentedness he had begun to feel evaporated.  “Because my country needs me to be.”
“If you keep sticking your neck out, you're going to get it chopped off.  You want to put yourself in danger, fine.  But now we're stuck here with you, and we're in danger, too.  On 9/11, at that stupid party, we were there for your career, not mine, and yet I got caught up in it, almost killed in it.”
MY—” Edgar began to yell, then stopped when he felt the movement against his side.  “My career?” he hissed.  “I didn't want anything to do with that stupid party.  You're the one who always has to go out and be seen.”
“Maybe that's because I'm not seen at home.”
Amanda stood and coaxed Ethan into a semi-awake state.
“What does that even mean?”
“C'mon, Ethan, bed.”
Amanda glared at him.  “I don't want to talk about this tonight.  If you can find time in your busy schedule, we can talk tomorrow.”
“I'm ready to talk tonight.”
“And I'm tired!  While you've been out moving up in the world, I've had my life uprooted!  I've spent all day in little rooms having people tell me just exactly how my life is suddenly at risk, and going over kidnap protocols, and blackmail protocols, and goddamn assassination protocols.  We are no longer safe, Ed.”
“When you're ready to tell me what's really going on, then we can talk.”  Amanda glared one last time at Edgar, then she and Ethan left the room.
Edgar slumped back into the couch and fumed.  Who did she think he was doing all this for?  This was all about making a better world for Ethan.  Couldn't she see how much this was taking out of him?  Couldn't she see the sacrifice?  He never wanted to be president, he just wanted—
Mistlethwakey.  This was all the General's fault.  He had talked Edgar into gambling everything, into committing treason, and for what?  For a shot at recognition, for a chance to make his son proud.  Well, he was president now, wasn't he?  He would take down Mistlethwakey, collapse his coup.  See how Amanda liked that.
What did she mean about 'what's really going on'? 
Today had  been hard on her, but she hadn't been the same since her run-in with Lemlin.  Had this last little bit pushed her past the edge of reason?  Deep down, in a place he wasn't willing to examine, Edgar expected that the opposite occurred; in the last twenty-four hours, she had climbed back onto the edge.
God, he wished he could know what she was thinking.

A cold hand rubbed Edgar's arm, and he pulled himself from the East Room, from in front of the podium, staring down Lemlin, out of the White House and onto the couch of the Camp Eglon family room.  He opened his eyes, and found only darkness.
Sometime in the night he must have undressed; he could feel the cold stickiness of the leather couch against most of his body.  He sat up and gestured for the lights to come on, but nothing happened.  He gestured at the television and it sprang to life, bathing the room in the harsh glow of static.
It took several long seconds for Edgar to realize that he was alone, and several more to realize that the television didn't usually project static; dead signal was blue. 
Voices whispering in the corridor drifted into the room, and Edgar snapped awake; visions of Isaac's corpse danced across his subconscious.
Edgar spent a moment searching for a weapon before giving up; it would be useless against a Defender.  He made his way to the door; if a Defender were here, he was already as good as dead.
The corridor proved to be empty, though he could still hear whispering from further along the hall.
No answer.
The possibility of Defender invasion gave was to the realization that, like most people, guards got bored on night duty and talked to one another.  If they happened to get too loud and wake him up, that was a matter to bring up with Ashby.  That went double for the faulty lights.
Edgar paced through the halls, wishing he had more on than socks and a pair of boxers.  With every step, he felt colder.
After some time he came to a cross hall and found a Secret Service agent standing at attention.
“You guys think you can keep it down, huh?”
The agent didn't respond.
“Don't be a smart-ass about this; it's been a long day.”
The agent didn't respond.
Edgar looked closer, trying to peer past the darkness, and saw that the agent was standing motionless, his breathing hardly perceptible.  He reached out and pushed on the agent.  The agent rocked backwards about an inch, but otherwise remained motionless.
There where whispers behind him.
Edgar spun around, expecting to see someone—
It was only him and the agent.
More whispers from the cross hall. 
Not knowing what else to do, Edgar followed the sounds, feeling the air chill and his mind disconnect from the moment.  The world he was in no longer seemed real.  Frozen agents, frozen air, frozen world...
He reached a closed door and pushed it open.  Inside, laying on a bed, were two bodies: the lithe, feminine form of Amanda, the lanky, boyish body of Ethan.  Edgar padded across the carpet and poked Amanda's arm.  The flesh gave naturally, warmly, very much alive, but stopped as soon as he encountered muscle.  Her arm was taught, motionless, just as the agent had been.  Edgar surveyed his family, heard no sound of breathing.  He leaned in closer, saw quick, shallow movements.
More whispering from the door.
Back in the corridor the air was ice-cold, and mist seemed to be clinging to the edge of floor and wall.
“I'm dreaming.”  His voice was hollow and echoed through the emptiness.
Or are you?
He rounded on the voice, unafraid of whatever had spoken.
Pale blue light came from down the hall, several degrees of magnitude brighter than the dull ambience that had suffused the corridor moments before.  Unthinking, Edgar walked into it, feeling the temperature drop as he went.  After he had gone several yards, he heard an increase in whispering.
Doubts began to trickle in.  What if it wasn't a dream?  What if Defenders were loose here?  Could they have followed, raiding the minds of Edgar's guards?  The possibility was there, but Edgar doubted a Defender would be stupid enough to waste time like this.  They had been trained too well; they would kill and be gone.
The light grew brighter ahead, burning away all shadow and curling like fog around thin poles that projected from the floor.  Edgar stopped, seeing the balcony that funneled into the staircase.
It was a whisper, louder this time, all around this time.  He realized that he hadn't quite heard it as it spoke, just felt it in his mind...  He hadn't realized until now, but the other whispers had just appeared in his mind, bringing with them a sense of purpose.
The purpose for this summons was down below, down the ladder of wood and crystal and steel, down to the endless plane of polished black.
I lied, Edgar...  I'm sorry for that...
They weren't purely words, but emotion, image, all translated in his mind as simple phrases.  They felt...  Unintentional.  The source of these word's didn't want them expressed, but couldn't hold them back.
I lied, my father...  my son...  There is no peace here, no peace on earth...  I lied so that you might do what you must do, what you have always done, what you will forever do...
As the voice spoke, as the thoughts continued to flow, Edgar felt the cold steel cutting through to his feet, the icy mist curling through his body...
A shape flashed through the fog, disappearing before Edgar could see it.
Do what you must...
Another shape, clearer this time.  Definitely human, thin, disheveled...  the corpse-like figure went unrecognized until Edgar saw the face: Ashleigh Chuskus.  As soon as the association was made, the figure faded back into oblivion.
Other shapes continued to writhe in the light; all were human.
With a shocked stumble at the lack of downward movement, Edgar reached the floor.  A patch of fog swirled before him, coalesced into Merv Lemlin.  This time, he wasn't in charge, wasn't leering down at Edgar.  He seemed afraid.
Edgar stepped forward, and the apparition vanished.
Further on, more fog swirled.  The shape made this time wasn't thin and wasted as the others had been, but bloated, sagging.  Isaac.
You had no idea...  But still you kept going...
The spectral form of the dead president reached towards him, its mouth wide in a silent scream, then fell forward and collapsed in a swirl of mist.
It all had to happen...
Yet another shape formed, again thin, again familiar.  The General. 
“What's going on, Bob?”
I'm not here...
As the voice didn't spoke, Mistlethwakey's form dissolved away, revealing another body.  This one was even more desiccated than the first, and familiar, but it too faded to be replaced by a final form, a tall man of indeterminate age and race.  He looked at Edgar with love, as a father might look to his son, then reached towards him.
You've come this far; now you must go until the end...  You will be pushed, farther than you thought you could go, but you will thrive like no one else...
The sentiment arrived all in an instant, then the spectral hand touched Edgar, passed through his head and into his body—
His body exploded in a shower of pain, filling with a dull red light that pushed back against the harsh blue-white all around.  He tried to scream, but he felt his throat writhing, collapsing in, filling with strange tumors that obstructed his airways.  He fell to his knees and stared in horror as his skin began to boil, writhe, turn to cancerous growth and then melt back, again, and again and again—
Nausea swept over him and he curled into a ball, his mind growing distant from his body, looking up not through his eyes but through everything, seeing the specters peering down at him, some in triumph, most in pity.
Above all was the tall man.
You chose this...  you did not know it, but you chose this...
There was a final burst of intense heat, and then Edgar was gone.

A rough hand touched Amanda's shoulder and shook her awake.  She looked up and saw the chief of staff, Ashby, looking down at her, her face grave.
Ashby held a finger to her lips.  “Don't wake the boy.  Come with me; it's an emergency.”
Amanda slipped out of bed, careful not to disturb Ethan, and padded out into the corridor.  Everything felt stiff; she needed a better mattress.
“Where's Edgar?”
“I'm afraid that's the emergency.”
They reached the opening that led to the ballroom, and Amanda could see, far below, a human form laying on the marble, surrounded by a cluster of Eglon staff.
“Oh, God.”
Amanda rushed forward and down the stairs.
“Ma'am, I think that—”
She didn't hear Ashby; her only thought was for Edgar.
She reached the marble floor and pushed through the people to get close to her husband.
He lay on the floor, naked, laying in a pile of what looked like ash.  His skin, what little of it wasn't covered in ash, was pink and fresh looking, like an infant's.
She knelt and tried to cradle his head, but an older man with glasses held her back.  “Please, ma'am, we don't know what condition he's in.”
Amanda didn't care; she had to get to her husband.  In that moment she forgot about her mistrust, about her fears.  All she saw now was the father of her son, standing in front of the monster, staring it down, sure to die, to leave them all to die—
Edgar convulsed and jerked upright, the ash falling away to reveal more of his body. 
Amanda gasped and gaped, shocked by how much Edgar had changed since she had seen him last.  His body seemed younger, thinner.  His ribs and shoulders protruded from his skin, his skull bulged out of his head under a shaggy mop of hair and a disheveled beard that flowed down onto his chest.
“Oh, God, Edgar.”
The man with the glasses leaned forward.  “Mr. President?  Can you hear me, sir?  I'm staff doctor—”
The doctor was drowned out by a series of wracking coughs from Edgar.  He climbed to his feet and looked with wide-eyed wonder at the morning sunlight streaming through the great wall of glass.
He stood transfixed for a moment, then turned and stared at the crowd that had assembled for him.
“No one...” his voice was hoarse and wavered slightly.  “No one speaks of this.  No one tells anyone...”
They all nodded, unsure of what else to do.
Edgar stood for another moment, then walked away in the direction of the stairs.  “I need food...”
Several members of the staff followed Edgar from the room, but Amanda remained where she was, staring down at the ash that had enveloped her husband.  She felt a cold certainty that this was going to become another of Edgar's deadly secrets, one more thing that threatened the family's safety should it ever come out.
And as she waded out into the ash, bent to pick some up and let it fall through her fingers, she knew that she couldn't let Edgar endanger the family any longer...